The Government of Kenya should negotiate with Mombasa Republican Council (MRC)
By Maurice Amutabi
The Mombasa Republican Council has been declared illegal. It seeks to engage in secession which is an illegal act in Kenya’s constitution. Mungiki is also an illegal group and was getting out of hand when government decided to engage its leadership through dialogue and negotiation. The car wash stands, recruitment to the National Youth Service and matatus posts that many of the unemployed youth took up served to engage many of them in gainful employment. The Mungiki threat and menace slightly dissipated as a result.
Sometimes negotiation does not mean weakness; it simply means that one is recognizing there is an alternative to violence. The macabre bombings in Nigeria on Christmas day in which over 40 were killed and which were claimed by radical Islamist Boko Haram should be enough reason for the government of Kenya to engage Mombasa Republican Council before it gets out of hand.
When Boko Haram started few years ago, it was a low level, radical Islamic group that seemed to represent no one, but it has recently changed into a deadly group largely as a result of government reaction. Boko Haram had what looked like innocent and mundane grievances by Muslims. It was started by people who felt left out in education and forgotten by a system they thought was too western. They were basically feeling left out in social (education) activities largely because of lack of western education and lack economic opportunities and avenues of expression.
The reaction of the Nigerian authorities was violence, including cases where their leaders were arrested and executed through extra-judicial ways. Boko Haram reacted with even more violence. What Nigeria now faces is a crisis of great magnitude because Boko Haram activities are polarizing the country, between Muslims and Christians, a fact that Boko Haram are aware of in their propaganda war. Boko Haram’s decision to target churches was meant to provoke such scenario, of Christians condemning all Muslims as violent, and therefore drawing sectarian lines.
Mombasa Republican Council has been making all kinds of threats against the state. It was particularly vocal against arrests of terror suspects by the counter terrorism police squad. It was against the suspects being tried in Ethiopia, Uganda and United States. It organised marches and protests, arguing that the police were targeting Muslims unfairly. The same protests met the arrests of suspects involved in the bombing in Uganda. Recently during the evictions of squatters in Mombasa, the Council seemed to have prepared placards which were distributed to many people, demanding secession.
There is a sense in which the Council has become a rallying point whenever the coast has any grievance against the central government. It has been used as a device of interest articulation, even by coastal leaders. Not long ago, talks were proposed between the government and the Council but the council made unreasonable demands, saying that they should be unbanned first before talking to government representatives. What is important is that the government should find a way of engaging the council before it becomes uncontrollable. There are fears that the Council could be infiltrated by dangerous groups such as Al Shabaab and make it hard to engage.
Mombasa Republican Council may have genuine grievances such as where public land has been grabbed by some selfish leaders at the expense of poor people at the coast. We know that much of public land at the coast was allocated to influential individuals through corrupt officials of the Ministry of Lands in collaboration with individuals around the presidency. At the time, all one required was a letter from the president authoring allocation. Through this, land was grabbed and allocated unfairly to individuals in government and the evidence is all there.
On Christmas Day, thousands of people squeezed into the only remaining public beach in Mombasa – Jomo Kenyatta Public Beach – because the rest of the Indian Ocean beach has been grabbed by private developers, mainly beach hotels which have fenced the beaches off, locking ordinary people out. It is only in Kenya where hotels are allowed to fence off beaches, otherwise the practice all over the world is that sea front and river fronts are government owned and therefore everyone has access.
There is also evidence that senior positions at the Kenya Ports Authority (KPA) have always been held by people from upcountry, usually with connections to powers that be. Many senior managers are often people with connections with the ruling clique and the people from the coast have demanded that their sons and daughters should be considered for such positions. These are not outlandish demands and the big reason why the government should engage the Council now.
Prof. Amutabi teaches social sciences at the Catholic University of Eastern Africa, Nairobi