News / Africa

Violence, Discontent Swell Along Kenyan Coast

Heavily Muslim Mombasa has been wracked by both a secessionist movement and Islamists linked to al-Shabab, Mombasa, Kenya, November 17, 2012. (H. Heuler/VOA)
Heavily Muslim Mombasa has been wracked by both a secessionist movement and Islamists linked to al-Shabab, Mombasa, Kenya, November 17, 2012. (H. Heuler/VOA)
— A wave of violent protest movements has been sweeping East Africa's "Swahili Coast" in Kenya and Tanzania. Areas on the coast have seen grenade attacks, church burnings and calls for secession. These movements are rooted in a sense of injustice and neglect.

Mombasa Republican Council

In a crowded back alley in Mombasa, where old men drink tea and women wash clothes, James Mwatsahu talks of revolution. He is a member of the Mombasa Republican Council (MRC), a movement channeling the frustrations of Kenya’s coastal people into calls for secession.

For years, the MRC was illegal, and its members are still regularly detained by police.  Recently, the MRC has been accused of attacking election officials. Disillusionment with the government runs so deep in these parts, says Mwatsahu, that national elections would be pointless.

“We are saying, if they do not want to listen to us, then why do we go for voting? And who are we voting for? Are we voting for the same people who do not want to listen to us? So we are saying we don’t need any voting here in the Coast Province, because the people who we can vote for don’t want to listen to us,” he said.

The MRC claims that the coast is not part of Kenya at all. Some say this is just a way to call attention to the province, but Mwatsahu really does think his province should go its own way.

“Really, what we need is to secede," added Mwatsahu. "We can’t agree about this.  We don’t have faith in the Kenyan government.”

Secessionist movement

The MRC is just one ripple in the wave of discontent sweeping East Africa’s Swahili coast. Sporadic violence and calls for secession reach down as far as Dar es Salaam. In coastal Kenya, it has given rise to riots, grenade attacks and church burnings.

Goodluck Washe, a community volunteer who works with local farmers and fishermen, says that in this area, such violence is unusual.

“The coastal people are very happy-go-lucky," said Washe. "They are calm people, and they are mild in their nature. It’s very interesting now when you see them, they are starting to arm themselves. It’s because they have been pushed to the wall.”

The most pressing grievance here is landlessness. Title deeds are increasingly in the hands of the rich, making hundreds of thousands of locals into squatters subject to eviction.

Unemployment

This, along with high unemployment, is having some dangerous side effects, according to prominent Muslim cleric Sheikh Ngao Juma. The lack of opportunities for young coastal men has made al-Shabab, a Somali terrorist group, seem like an attractive option, he says.

“Many youth are jobless," said Washe. "It’s not easy to get land in this region, you can get a piece of land in Somalia. So they are brainwashed and they go there - if I go to Somalia, I am employed as a military, I am armed, I shall get my salary, I get a parcel of land, I get a Somali beautiful lady there, and if I die I go to paradise with the 70 ladies untouched! So they cross over.”

With al-Shabab activity on the rise, Kenya’s anti-terror police have been cracking down, mounting raids in Mombasa and arresting dozens of suspects.  

But Francis Auma, of the Mombasa-based non-governmental agency "Muslims for Human Rights," says such heavy-handed tactics have only widened the rift between the community and the state.

“The community attitude towards the policemen has been one of mistrust," said Auma. "There are many cases of people disappearing, there are many cases of people being mistreated by police, physically injured, [or] they die on the way. Hardly a month can go off without killings, and people believe strongly these are the police who are doing this.”

Police crackdown

One example is Badru Mramba, a samosa salesman who was taken away in handcuffs two weeks ago, and, according to his wife Rehema, simply disappeared.  She says she has been looking for him, but fears the worst.

“Since Wednesday I’ve been to police stations, I’ve been to court, morning and afternoon sessions," she said. "I’m not seeing him till today, Monday. Many cases you hear, people have disappeared, you see them on bushes, dead. So you don’t know who these people are. I’ve heard nothing.”

But not everyone disapproves of the recent police operations.
 
Reverend Miltone Mudegu outside his church, which was attacked by Muslim youths during riots in August, Mombasa, Kenya, November 18, 2012. (H. Heuler/VOA)Reverend Miltone Mudegu outside his church, which was attacked by Muslim youths during riots in August, Mombasa, Kenya, November 18, 2012. (H. Heuler/VOA)
x
Reverend Miltone Mudegu outside his church, which was attacked by Muslim youths during riots in August, Mombasa, Kenya, November 18, 2012. (H. Heuler/VOA)
Reverend Miltone Mudegu outside his church, which was attacked by Muslim youths during riots in August, Mombasa, Kenya, November 18, 2012. (H. Heuler/VOA)
Miltone Mudegu, a pastor at a Pentacostal church that was attacked and burned by Muslim youth during two days of rioting last August, says the police crackdown - both on extreme Islamists and on the MRC - is making Mombasa safer.

“We are thanking the government for what it’s doing, especially by confronting those who are instigating that mentality that the coast is not Kenya," said Mudegu. "You know, they are fanning the anger of these people. The government has taken the right procedures.”

Even if the government succeeds in suppressing the violence, says Auma, the coastal people are still angry and frustrated, and it could be dangerous to allow such tensions to simmer.

“People are still watching, but there’s anger," said Auma. "So it will just build up, build up, and trust me, this is not good, because one day one time, it can bring a lot of trouble. Once we suppress a lot of stuff, it can come out negatively.”

Kenyans will be electing a new president in March. But in the meantime, with the country’s history of electoral violence, the government is keeping a close watch on its restive and unhappy coast.

You May Like

China Investigates Former Powerful Security Chief

Former security chief and member of Politburo Standing Committee, Zhou Yongkang, under investigation for suspected 'serious disciplinary violation' More

India, US Look to Reset Ties During Kerry Visit

This week's talks will be first high level interaction between two countries since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took charge More

Video Young African Leadership Program Renamed to Honor Mandela

YALI program, launched by President Obama in 2010, aims to build skills in business, entrepreneurship, public management and civic leadership More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spati
X
Reasey Poch
July 28, 2014 7:18 PM
China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spat

China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video ESA Spacecraft to Land on a Comet

After a long flight through deep space, a European Space Agency probe is finally approaching its target -- a comet millions of kilometers away from earth. Scientists say the mission may lead to some startling discoveries about the origins of the water on earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Young Africans Arrive in US for Leadership Program

President Barack Obama's Young African Leadership Initiative has brought hundreds of young Africans to the United States for a six-week program aimed at building their knowledge and skills in fields such as public administration and business. Out of the 50,000 young Africans who applied for the program, just one percent was accepted. VOA's Laurel Bowman caught up with some of those who made the cut and has this report.
Video

Video In Honduras, Amnesty Rumors Fuel US Migration Surges

False rumors in Central America are fueling the current surge of undocumented young people being apprehended at the U.S. border. The inaccurate claims suggest the U.S. will give amnesty to young migrants from the region. As VOA's Brian Padden reports from Honduras, these rumors trace back to President Obama's 2012 executive order to halt deportations for some young undocumented immigrants already living in the United States.
Video

Video Students in Business for Themselves

They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid