By MOSES KARANJA
Prime Minister Raila Odinga’s daring move to embrace the outlawed Coastal militia, the Mombasa Republican Council (MRC), throws the government policy on organised militia into disarray.
The deal imperils the efforts by the security establishment to crack down on the MRC and other militias and complicates a case pending in court on their illegality after the Protection of Organised Crimes Act banned 33 such militias.
Formed in the 1990s, the group argues that Pwani si Kenya (Coast is not Kenyan territory) and has been recruiting across the province, calling for creation of an independent coastal nation, inspired by Eritrea from Ethiopia and Somaliland from mainland Somalia.
MRC spokesperson, Mohamed Rashid Mraja, traces their grievances to British colonial treaties and Kenya’s transition to independence in 1963.
The lynchpin of the MRC narrative is Seyyid Said bin Sultan Al-Said (or simply Seyyid Said), the Sultan of Muscat and Oman from 1804. After transferring the seat of power from Muscat to Zanzibar in 1840, as the capital of his cloves and slaves mercantile economy, Sultan Seyyid Said found Mombasa with its Mazrui governors as the hardest nut for to crack. After war in 1837, he defeated the Mazrui family and conquered Mombasa, adding it to his Oman Empire.
His successors as Sultan of Zanzibar, Sayyid Majid bin Said and his son, Said Barghash, leased the 10-mile wide coastal strip, largely belonging to the original African inhabitants of the Zenj (black) coastal strip to the Imperial British East African Company (IBEAC) in 1887 and, two years later, signed a treaty that turned Mombasa under British protectorate in the 1880s.
An agreement of October 8, 1963 between Kenya’s Prime Minister Jomo Kenyatta, his Zanzibar counterpart Mohammed Shamte and the British Government replaced the 1895 deal that placed Kenyan Protectorate under British rule. Upon independence, the territories officially formed Kenya’s territory.
Taking a radical stand, the MRC claim there was a 1963 agreement fronted by Mwambao United Front Group signed between Kenyatta and Shamte for a 50-year lease of the strip. Since the 50 years are expiring in 2013, they seek a referendum to secede from Kenya.
MRC has recently threatened to use violence should government continue using the same against them, urged coastal squatters to resist eviction by government and have sought the support of the Council of Imams and Preachers of Kenya to further their cause.
The coast province has had its legacy of electoral and ethnic violence since the advent of multiparty elections in 1991. With over three million inhabitants, the narrative of wenyeji and wabara (natives and outsiders) dominates the political discourse. The rationale has been to stereotype upcountry people as having appropriated to themselves local resources unfairly at the expense of indigenes.
Youth militias like Revolutionary Republican Council, MRC and Kaya Bombo drive out ‘outsiders’ from the region to achieve an intended poll result. The dynamic changed in 2007 with the targets being members of Gikuyu, Embu and Meru community, especially in ODM strongholds like Changamwe and Mombasa town.
Simultaneously, government organised mediation talks through the National Cohesion and Integration Commission but MRC pulled out in November 2011 claiming the government regarded them as an illegal outfit and until that was undone, they would stay away.
It will be remembered how in 2008 during the swearing-in ceremony of the coalition government how the PM called for dialogue with Mungiki, further staining the security forces efforts to deal with the gang.
A united front from the government should be promoted to avoid sending mixed signals to the organised groups but unfortunately the PM’s move plays to the contrary. The premier sets a dangerous precedence to existing militias or militias-to-be.
Writer is a researcher with Africa Policy Institute on Strategic and Security issues.