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Region’s unbridled hope despite poverty
By Njuguna Mutonya
Updated Sunday, June 16th 2013 at 00:00 GMT +3
By Njuguna Mutonya
Those who try to junket Mombasa as an insular town devoid of diversity both culturally and socially are way off the mark because it has for centuries been a cocktail of cultures and racial con-mingling.
Recent commentators about matters coastal have been creating the impression that for example, certain communities (who suddenly became enemies during the multi-party push for democracy in the 1990’s Moi era) are recent migrants while in reality they have been in the region for decades.
A close look at some of the historical tracts written by indigenes like my popular treatise –Life and Politics in Mombasa by Hyder Kindy will confirm that Kenyans from Central , Rift Valley and the Great Lakes region were present in Mombasa as far back as the 1930’s where they worked at the port , railways and even in the security sectors.
In fact, some of the leaders of the first major strike ever held in Kenya, was led by stalwarts like Mzee Chege Kibachia who I have traced to Changamwe where he lived until very recently.
He was the leader of the January 13th 1947 general strike which lasted 12 days and paralysed Mombasa and which led to his detention by the colonial government.
The present purveyors of ethnic hatred do not even want to acknowledge that as far back as 1589, Mombasa was visited by Africans from even further afield in the name of the Zimba, renowned for their cannibalism who barbequed quite a big portion of the population.
In the Charles Miller classic –The Lunatic Express, he narrates how the Zimba mercenaries who were known for their anti-white tendencies came calling in Mombasa under the yoke of the Portuguese and how the residents were caught in a dilemma whether to allow them in and be eaten or whether to chose freedom and allow them to assist in pushing the Portuguese back into the Ocean.
They chose to let them in and the barbeques began.
There is no doubt that the region has suffered general marginalisation through the various regimes that have ruled for long periods in Kenya but it is also true that natural migrations or through settlement schemes have also provided inter-ethnic co-existence which has only been tested during our noisy election periods. Two years ago , I visited the Lake Kenyatta settlement scheme in Mpeketoni, Lamu county and was impressed at the level of socio-economic advancement of the locals who were originally landless peasants-victims of the Mau Mau struggle .
In the more than 30 villages we visited over a four day period , we witnessed poverty at various levels but unbridled hope at the devolution exercise which has now seen some of them enter the administration cadres as high up as deputy governor and with a Member of Parliament to boot courtesy of the their numbers. In Shimba Hills which I visited last week where another ethnic group was settled after independence smack in the forest, the optimism oozes like honey borne of the fact that when left to their determinations and a non-threatening local administration, they would not need to ask for any other assistance .
The situation is even more comely in Taveta which essentially is home to numerous ethnic communities ranging from the neighbouring Taita’s, the Taveta themselves, the Pare, the Maasai, the Kamba, Luo, Kikuyu, Somali and even some Chagga’s from neighbouring Tanzania.
While there is no alternative to affirmative action in providing the indigenous communities in these areas with access to land as a resource , it is equally in the national interest to forge inter-ethnic harmonious co-existence based on realisation of the different synergies they can offer.
To allow political failures to continue to harp on the ethnic differences without offering solutions of how each group can maximise their returns from the resources available is essentially treasonous since we know it has occasionally led to death and social disorder.
In Rwanda ethnic incitement is a jailable offense.
Left alone , Kenyans have managed to create their own engagement programmes and it is only when the politicians come calling that neighbor turns against neighbour. We saw it in Likoni in 1992 , 1997 and even in 2007 when lives were lost and property and economic units were disabled and desecrated.
In 2007, I remember I called my Mother to ask her the fate of a large community of non-indigenous constituents in Gatura , Gatanga division who first arrived in the area in the 1970’s from Kericho and who had been providing labour in the tea plantations.
She was categorical: “No one can touch them because after all those years we have stayed together, they are like our brothers. They are safe,” She said .
Despite the fact that the political contest pitted one of their own against the incumbent from the region , they had created reasons for cultivating mutual acceptance based on need.
Society also tends to develop higher values when they accept the existence of non-similar cultures amongst themselves. The migrants to Gatura introduced several practices amongst them chang’aa and fish-eating .
But it is football where they excelled and made the Gatura Sportiff Team almost a legend in the region as they joined our ranks and exhibited sportsmanship for which they are renown but not without hiccups.
One Sunday afternoon in 1982 as we prepared to play with a team from the southern part of the constituency, the opposite team refused to enter the field until the five “migrant footballers “in our first 11 were removed.
We stuck to our guns insisting that they were genuine residents and we eventually won the match.
For Mombasa , the diversity is even greater with the visitors recorded since the middle ages coming from all corners of the Indian Ocean from the Chinese , the Ottomans , the Omani Arabs, the Portuguese , the British and even today continues to attract visitors from allover the world .
It is a natural melting pot basing its pedigree from history and I am sure it will never change.