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Tension in Coast palpable as State moves in on MRC

By - Tobias Chanji | October 11th 2012

By Tobias Chanji

This week, the political climate in Coast Province grew more tense with the start of the crackdown on Mombasa Republican Council (MRC) members.

By the time of going to press, MRC spokesman Mohamed Rashid Mraja, Secretary General Hamza Randu had been captured in Mombasa and charged with inciting violence. Other arrests were conducted in Tana River where three people, Bakari Omar Jillo, Mohamed Omar Yusa and Simba Omar were detained in Malindi awaiting charges.

On Monday, Ali Mbwana Mwatebe and Ali Juma Mwajambo who were arrested in Likoni on Sunday were charged with incitement and given a bond of Sh500,000 each which they had not raised several days later. Others charged for similar crimes were Saidi Juma Mwachaunga of Kwale while Faraj Kazungu Konde and Omar Gwashe were charged for offences arising from the previous week’s fracas in Mtwapa in which Fisheries minister Amason Kingi’s bodyguard was killed by machete-wielding youth.

There were reports that police and a special anti-terror squad sent from Nairobi were closing in on MRC founder and ‘president’ Omar Mwamunwadzi’s stronghold in Ng’ombeni, Kwale County, raising fresh fears about the likelihood of violence and fate of elections in volatile areas especially in the areas where these suspects come from or were detained.

It is crucial to note that MRC sympathies have been cited in the Tana River County which has lately witnessed ethnic violence. Police declare there is no threat in hotspots which also now include Lamu, which has experienced tribal tension as a result of a rising number of ethnic Gikuyu voters against the local Bajuni.

Political alliance

The Gikuyu voters in Lamu are facing the same pressure as the Akamba in Shimba hills of Kwale County whereby reports that the Akamba are plotting a political alliance with the local Duruma has alarmed the mainly muslim Digo tribe.

On Tuesday, the coordinator of Council of Imams and Preachers of Kenya for North coast Ali Hussein warned the arrests could cause more trouble in the region.

Mr Hussein argued that intelligence officers should unveil those behind the recent violence in Coast province “instead of blaming it on the MRC because the MRC is raising issues that are not genuine”.

But a response by a Christian preacher reflected the conflicting opinions these arrests have ignited and which might spill over into the  election in places like Kilifi  where Bishop Ronald Nzai of Methodist church  in Kilifi  welcomed the crackdown claiming some MRC leaders are threatening security.

Bad call

He said although MRC had a right to agitate for the rights of the Coastal people, its approach and separatist calls were bad.

Though the Government is putting on a brave face that things are normal in its quest to have a peaceful general election, things are different on the ground and if not handled carefully very few people from the Coast region would participate in the polls.

In Kwale, a state of uncertainty has gripped the electorate and politicians though the police have continuously assured them that peace will prevail.

Going by the numbers of those who participated in last month’s recruitment as clerks for voter registration, more should be done by the Government as hot spots keep on rising day by day.

“We have like three or four places in Kinango Constituency that are perceived to be hot. There are Taru, Samburu, Kinango town and Tsunza that have been mostly affected. There have been rumors that a group of people have been issuing threats for locals not to participate in the polls though we do not have concrete evidence like in other places where inciteful pamphlets have been circulated. We really need security beefed up in these areas,” says the Kinango Independent Electoral and Boundary Commission coordinator Alphonse Tsui.

Worse scenario

The scenario is worse in Matuga constituency where the Mombasa Republican Council enjoys a sizeable following. Intelligence reports have already established areas such as Ng’ombeni, Tiwi, Tiribe, Kombani, Vuga, Waa as major hotspots and, incidentally, majority of the Mombasa Republican Council’s hierarchy were born and bred in those areas.

“It is even in the public domain of these areas and as a constituency we are so much challenged. The only place that seems to be better off is Kwale town because of security and Mwaluphamba where even locals will not allow a stranger to pass unquestioned,” says Matuga’s coordinator Hellen Sidi who also adds that some information could not be released to the public as is sensitive and could jeopardise what they are trying to correct.

In the last month’s IEBC interviews for the clerks that was done on September 26, only a handful participated though a majority had applied for the job. In Tiwi, only six turned up and another interview is slated on 23

Only a handful

Many did not turn up for the interview due to the threats by the MRC to stay away from poll-related exercises, according to a councillor from the affected area and who did not want to be mentioned for security reasons.

“They don’t want locals to do anything that will endear them to IEBC. Even politicians are not left behind. We can’t talk of our manifestos or party issues openly as to them, it is campaigning which they don’t want,” he says.

Before his arrest, MRC secretary general Mr Randu said it is not behind any threats on the polls but was categorical that coastal people will not participate in the polls and they would continue with the crusade of staying away.

As Matuga grapples with the idea of looking for more people to fill the slots, Msambweni Constituency has gangs camping and taking oaths in forests and also circulating separatist Literature. On Monday, a man suspected to be a member of MRC Jadi Saidi Mwachaunga  was charged in Kwale Court at Mwamambi area of Diani location of being in possession of a pamphlet written Pwani si Kenya (Kenya is not part of Coast). The court was also told that the suspect was facing similar charges of unlawful assembly of 2010 and the case will be heard on November 2.

During an interview with The County Weekly, Msambweni AP Commandant Wilson Gichuhi said the they have combed the areas they believe are hot spots.

“These are Dzombo forest that has been used for oathing, Majoreni, Vanga and Diani which is more. Areas surrounding Msambweni town are not as hot,” he said.

No cause for alarm

“In spite of all this, we are prepared for any eventuality. Security is tight and currently, we have formed response teams in every district to deal with any culprits and we are telling the public that there is no cause for alarm, they have to participate in polls come what may,” Mr Gichuhi said.

The MRC was banned alongside other groups by the minister of State for Internal Security through a gazette notice on October 18, 2010.

However, the group led by Randu Ruwa, Robert Tukwatukwa and Nyae Ngao did not take the ban lying down and instead instituted legal proceedings against the minister to have the ban lifted.

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