MOMBASA, KENYA— The Mombasa Republican Council (MRC), which has previously threatened a coastal boycott of the March 4 Kenyan elections, is not expected to disrupt next week’s polling, but the extent to which its supporters will participate in the process remains in question.
In 2010, the MRC was deemed a criminal gang and banned by the Kenyan government. That ban was lifted in July 2012. However, in October, Kenyan police arrested the MRC's leader, as well as its spokesman and other supporters, accusing them of plotting to disrupt school examinations.
As a secessionist group, the MRC wants to form its own country, saying the coastal region is a cash cow for the rest of Kenya because of the revenue generated from the Mombasa port and lucrative tourism industry. MRC supporters point to their own unemployment, lack of education and land grievances, and argue that their demands are justified.
Because of these issues, MRC supporters have, until recently, said that they would encourage coastal residents to boycott the elections, a troublesome prospect for electoral officials who have been working to increase voter registration, prevent technical glitches, avoid violence and instill general public confidence in the elections.
Amina Hussein Soud, Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission elections coordinator for the southwest coast region, says she's not worried about the MRC causing trouble, because many supporters have registered to vote and some are even running for office.
"We urged them, on registration, and almost 80 percent of them registered…I urged them to be a part of the leadership so they went on and vied," she says. "So now, some of them are aspirants. So if they are aspirants, why would they fight us? They are a part of the game now, you see?”
Despite these developments, Soud confirms that top MRC leader Omar Mwamnuadzi and his spokesman, Mohammed Rashid Mraja, are not registered to vote.
“The two of them refused because they were saying that they are still taking us to court [so] they cannot go bend to that," she says. "But the rest of them did because I remember registering a person from Taita and [he] was the chairman of the MRC in Taita. I registered the chairman of Kisauni…so I’ve registered most of them and I believe that these people will want to use their votes.”
However, there are some MRC supporters who aren't interested in using their votes.
Ali Mbwana Mwatebe is one of them. As chairman of the MRC branch in Likoni, located near the Mombasa ferry, Mwatebe says he was one of the MRC supporters arrested last October.
Although he refuses to participate in the upcoming elections, he is adamant that he and his colleagues are not looking for problems.
"Our aim is not to disrupt the elections, but these councilors vying for the seats are the ones spreading propaganda that the MRC is not together with this exercise, which we have on the fourth," says Mwatebe. "With us, we are for peace. We are not ready to cause any disturbance.
But he reiterates that the MRC’s goals remain the same, to secede from Kenya.
"We want to separate ourselves from Kenya," he said through an interpreter. "We want an independent Pwani, coastal region, but it should follow the right channels, not war. We are not ready for any war. What we want is to have our own coastal region in peace."
According to Soud, there are 699,700 registered voters in the counties of Kwale, Mombasa and Taita Taveta, which have been considered MRC stronghold areas.