Allies of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s Jubilee Coalition and former Prime Minister Raila Odinga’s Coalition for Reforms and Democracy have been blamed for the chaos surrounding the election of Council of Imams of Kenya officials.
The most controversial outcome of the polls held last Tuesday was the ouster of the entire South Coast branch officials chaired by vocal Sheikh Amir Hamisi Banda.
There have been reports that the Council of Imams of Kenya (CIPK) is split along political lines, with the national office, which is yet to hold its polls, allegedly firmly under Jubilee. The ousted officials are perceived to be supportive of CORD.
The Banda faction did not endorse Jubilee during the 2013 General Election, and has been critical of the Uhuru administration. The group boycotted last week’s polls, handing an easy win to new officials believed to be allied to Jubilee.
Banda has said he and his allies will not relinquish office, and has threatened to expose the national leadership soon, blaming his removal on his branch’s persistent criticism of the Government.
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“We have been fierce critics of the Jubilee Government, while our Mombasa office, which is the headquarters, has been leaning towards the Government. We don’t recognise the elections held and if they want, we will have two councils,” Banda told The Standard on Sunday.
He accused the national office of side lining him and hand-picking sycophants for branch posts.
Sheikh Abdallah Ateka, CIPK’s national chairman, dismissed these claims, accusing Banda of not disclosing that he was an ODM nominated civic leader after the 2007 polls.
Ateka declined to discuss secretary general Sheikh Mohamed Dor’s appointment as Kenya’s high commissioner to Oman.
“If Dor was picked by Jubilee he (Banda) was also nominated by ODM. Why is he not telling us that?” Ateka charged.
That events at CIPK have turned political is not a surprise. Besides addressing Muslim grievances and lobbying for their rights, the imams have always had dalliances with political leaders.
At the height of its fame in the early 2000s, CIPK emerged as the leading defender of Muslims.
One of its greatest achievements was lobbying for the return of Kenyans taken to Ethiopia after being arrested in Somalia in 2007. They were accused of being terrorists supporting the Islamic Courts Union toppled by Ethiopian troops.
Dor and his lieutenants, including Sheikh Mohamed Khalifa and recently deceased Sheikh Mohamed Idris, featured daily in news bulletins, raising issues dear to Muslims.
And then they plunged into politics in 2007 by sealing a political pact, alongside the National Muslims Leaders Forum with the Raila-led Orange Democratic Movement. Under the Memorandum of Understanding, the Muslim organisations were to deliver the Muslim vote to ODM in exchange for policy, legal and administrative changes to support Muslim causes in the event Raila was sworn in as president.
However, the 2007 polls ended contentiously and in bloodshed, and ODM was unable to deliver its programmes, but Dor was nominated to the Tenth Parliament.
Soon, splits emerged within CIPK, reflecting the divisions within ODM itself. Key CIPK leaders fell out with Raila, claiming he had neglected them. They were promptly embraced by prominent rebels in the party then, setting the stage for the migration to Jubilee in 2013.
Dor and his allies became critical of Raila and supportive of pro-Kibaki politicians, a trend they carried on to the Jubilee administration.
A key trigger of Dor’s fallout with Raila was the former prime minister’s disagreement with then Mvita MP Najib Balala, who had played a role in the formulation of the MoU with ODM.
Today, CIPK is at another turning point, but this time, according to lawyer Abubakar Yusuf, who studies Muslim trends, “it is on its deathbed because it has lost its credibility and influence among Muslims”.
The cause of this is said to be CIPK’s decision to hold its first ever elections at branch level, whose outcome has been disputed in key areas and advanced splits and unleashed a flood of disputes.
Some observers think the polls were aimed at raising the lobby from a low that included last year’s killing of its chairman, Idris, and radical youths’ violent removal of Idris and other imams affiliated to CIPK from key mosques such as Sakina, Musa and Umar Khattab in Mombasa.
“Our problems began when CIPK issued a statement saying there was no jihad in Somalia and dissuading Kenyan Muslims from going to fight there,” Idris said before his death.
But other analysts believe CIPK’s political inconsistency and subservience to politicians sealed its fate among local Muslim youths suspicious of the Government and some of the organisations that funded CIPK.
Meanwhile, following Tuesday’s polls, new battle lines have emerged. The CIPK national office admits these are the first polls since its formation in 1997. Officials claim polls have been held in 34 branches, although analysts believe only two branches are active, in Mombasa and South Coast.
“We are preparing to conduct national elections. Whoever has lost in the branch elections should understand that this is the nature of any competition and should not blame Jubilee or CORD politics,” national assistant treasurer Sheikh Hassan Suleiman said in reference to vocal critics in South Coast who claim they were rigged out in the recent polls.
“Only Kwale, Mombasa, Kajiado and Turkana are yet to hold elections,” he said.
The South Coast branch’s new organising secretary Abubakar Omar also scoffed at claims that he and the new officials were hand-picked in fraudulent elections and said the elections started at ward level, where clerics elected a chairman, secretary and treasurer. These officials, he said, then balloted for county-level leaders.
In the new list Abdallah Funga is the new chairman, with Salim Mwajembe as his deputy. Faraj Omar from Kinango is the new secretary and Ramadhan Mwasengedza is the treasurer.
Omar extended an olive branch to the Banda faction, promising to work with former officials.
But Abubakar believes only drastic steps can save CIPK. These include accommodating the youth and Muslim theologians “with a national and international outlook” in its ranks, as well as debunking the perception that CIPK is a Mombasa organisation, not a national one.