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Evangelical Christians plot to capture power in Muslim dominated Mombasa County

By BENARD SANGA | March 17th 2014
A section of youth fighting another in an alleged faith-based clashes in Mombasa. Political leaders have been urged to narrow such differences, as they are elected to office by people of diverse religious inclinations.  [PhotoS: file/standard]


Mombasa, Kenya: Can Christians wrest political power in Mombasa County if they chose to?

Although this question is quietly being discussed in mainly evangelical Christian circles in Mombasa it is not entirely new and is also a matter for rising concern for the Muslim elite that has dominated local politics since independence.

Besides, it would not be the first time that a section of the local community is organising politically, on religious lines following the rise of the defunct Islamic Party of Kenya in the area in early 1990s.

Security intelligence sources in the region indicate that despite public pretensions religious consciousness is on the rise in Mombasa especially following recent events including the killings of Muslim and Christian preachers in the area.

In apparent acknowledgement of the role of incitement in the growing consciousness security authorities recently seized hate cassettes of the late Sheikh Aboud Rogo and Tanzanian incendiary preacher Hassan Ilunga, which Christians accuse of inciting violence against Christianity. “Extremists on both sides are girding their loins for a showdown some day,” says an intelligence officer, who adds that while evangelical priests are trying to create a siege mentality/victimhood among Christians following recent attacks on churches Islamists are exhorting supporters with claims that they are being swamped by secularists, Christians and apostates “in their own land.”

Mutual myths and conspiracies abound with both sides exaggerating their moral ‘superiority’, alleged persecution and warning of worse times ahead “unless something is done.”

“While evangelical Christians lament that the local authorities have always been dominated by Muslims who allegedly frustrate building of churches, their rivals in the Muslim faith say they are in fact victims of historical marginalisation by Western leaning Christians including frustrating the growth of Islamic schools,” says the intelligence official, who cannot be named while quoting the extremists.

The intelligence officer says surveys by the National Intelligence Services indicate that Christian agitators may be having a long term plan for Mombasa, most likely led by a leading evangelical priest and foreign Christian fundamentalists starting with “the easier seats to capture such as the Mvita parliamentary seat because they believe lack of political power has crippled their evangelical fortunes.”

Unknown to most readers, these feelings cropped up during the last General Election, when Christian agitators secretly plotted to take over several posts. In the cross-hairs of the plotters was the governor’s post and Mvita parliamentary seat. The plotters seemed buoyed by a newly published survey, which showed that, contrary to publicly held views, there were more Christians than Muslims in Mombasa.

A prominent Pentecostal Church, whose properties have been burnt and vandalised by suspected jihadists publicly endorsed a Christian candidate in the gubernatorial race.

In a report by the Mars Group of January to February 2013 titled Kenyan election; early warnings and long-term monitoring Mars Group described the state of religious peace as ‘antagonistic’ and indicated that the church in question displayed the candidate’s posters inside and outside the church.

Against Christians

In one of his political rallies, the candidate openly claimed “there is open hostility against Christian candidates in the Mombasa gubernatorial race,” as he tried to rally the Christian vote.

According to a survey conducted by IPSOS Synovate in January last year, Muslims in Mombasa represent only 41 per cent of the population against Catholics, who are 19 per cent and Protestant Christians at 40 per cent.

And according to the 2009 population census Mombasa County had a population of 939,370 and later 412,602 registered to vote last year.

Just before the last elections the IPSOS Synovate also released statistics suggesting that immigrants had outnumbered the indigenous Miji Kenda and Swahili over the years. Miji Kenda, who are mainly Christian, were rated at 29 per cent of the Mombasa population, with Luo at 16, Kamba and Luyia at around 12 per cent, each while Arabs and Swahili were rated at just 2 per cent.

Whereas it is not easy to establish the component of registered Muslim and Christian voters, most analysts indicate that Christians, many who are from the so-called upcountry tribes, are better educated and therefore more politically conscious.

Most of the Muslims in Mombasa County are ethnic Digo, Arab and Swahili. Until the last election, however, the so-called upcountry Christians were reluctant to seek political power in Coast or Mombasa.

The win by Hezron Awiti Bolo in Nyali, Mombasa and Julius Ndegwa in Lamu West changed that indicating that Christians were staging an uprising of sorts and that although they may have depended on their own tribal vote, the vote that propelled them to power was also mainly Christian. The alleged Christian plot in Mvita appears to have collapsed when Christians split late October 2012, according to the intelligence official.

Meanwhile, forecasts indicate that the Christian vote could grow due to rising immigration into Mombasa estimated at 15 per cent annually, according to a 2009 projection by the National Coordination Agency for Population and Development.

Religious leaders like Father Gabriel Dolan and Muslim activist Sheikh Juma Ngao believe that in the short term consolidating the Christian vote into a formidable whole will not be easy, given that the Christians in question are also divided along tribal and political lines.

But although Father Dolan celebrated the failure by the ‘Christian candidate’ to win the governor’s seat at last year’s election, he also warns attacks on Christians and their properties and perceptions that they are excluded from the decision making and business life of Mombasa County carry the force of uniting Christians. “I was very happy that the candidate that was fronted by a section of protestant churches did not win in the last election. But it should be said that Mombasa governor has to address concerns on exclusion of a section of his subjects, not only Christians but Hindus and even atheists,” said Father Dolan, a Catholic priest and human rights activist in Mombasa.

He warns that in recent times some politicians in the County had been swayed by their religious affiliations and come out to defend radical Muslim youths, which sent a bad signal to the Christian community.

Father Dolan said the region’s politics should still be approached in a secular manner and that it was wrong for Muslim political leaders to act in a manner that “creates a perception that they were supporting the youths attacking Christians.”

In several interviews with Christian congregations recent events at the controversial Musa Mosque appear to be a tipping point especially

when rioting youths from there torched a local Salvation Army church following the killing of muslim priests. Two priests were soon killed.

Now Muslims and Christians question why no one has been arrested for the arson and killings. Matter of fact prominent Muslims like Mombasa governor Hassan Ali joho and local Senator Hassan Omar publicly denounced the church burning and even visited the burnt remains and contributed money for rebuilding.

Hassan Omar said late last year that there was no justification for the church burning but also asked Christian leaders to condemn the killing of Muslim preachers.

The February 2 raid on Musa Mosque has only hardened positions. It has exposed the triumph of radical Muslims at the expense of moderate Muslims and sectarian harmony. Whereas Christian leaders remained largely mute over the conduct of the raid in which four people including a policeman were killed Senator Omar and Mvita MP

Abdulswamad Sharif were very vocal in attacking the police, posi tions that evoked partisan responses from Christian radicals.

Father Dolan said it was clear that some local political leaders’ decision on recent conflict was being perceived as largely influenced by their religious affiliation than the need to tame security apparatus’ use of excessive force in dealing with insecurity. “They forget that they were voted by Christians or people from other religions. Their moves can ignite such feeling (need for a Christian led political front)....”

Consciously of the complex emotions in this matter Governor Joho has remained largely neutral and above sectarian posturing earning the support and respect of most Christians.

Neutral Joho

In 1990s several Muslim clerics, including the current Council of Islamic Preachers of Kenya Secretary General, Sheikh Mohamed Khalifa and the then fiery street preacher Sheikh Khalid Balala did the same.

According to IPSOS Synovate’s Tom Wolf, in a chapter on politics that he wrote in the book Kenya Coast Hand Politics, in 2000, the 1992 Islamic movement in the region was born from the then marginalisation of the Muslim youths by the national government.

“The formation of Islamic Party of Kenya (IPK) was a new political initiatives that were responding to grassroots issues and needs. Drawing energy from a large class of marginalised Muslim youth, the party sought to articulate the grievances of neglect and perceived discrimination by successive KANU governments,” said Wolf in the book.

According to Khalifa, the 1992 movement should be perceived as part of the efforts to push for the multiparty politics and not a Muslims’ political agenda.

“We were agitating for our rights as Muslims but in our fight we were also very tolerant of other people’s feelings and that is why there was no attack on any church.

Abubakar Yusuf, a Mombasa based lawyer, warns that Christian agitation would be counter-productive and could invite unintended results. “Such moves will only harden Muslim extremists groups and other local illegal groups like the Mombasa Republican Council (MRC). Politics should be secular,” said Abubakar.

Kenya Muslim National Advisory Council (KeMNAC) national chairman Sheikh Juma Ngao says it will be impossible for one religion to rally their followers behind a candidate purely because of religion.

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