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

Republican Majority in Congress Off to Rough Start

Standoff over Homeland Security funding exposes philosophical, tactical problems within party More

Pakistan Blocks Baloch Activist from US Trip

Human Rights Commission of Pakistan slams Islamabad officials for stopping people from leaving country to attend human rights conference More

Video Muslims Long Thrived in North Carolina Before Students Killed

Idyll shattered February 10, when three Muslim university students living in Chapel Hill were gunned down by a neighbor More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Muslims Long Thrived in N Carolina Before Slaying of 3 Studentsi
X
Jerome Socolovsky
March 05, 2015 9:04 PM
The killings of three Muslim students in North Carolina early last month came as Muslims across the United States have felt under siege, partly as a result of terrorist attacks being committed internationally in the name of their faith. But Muslims have long thrived in university cities in this part of the American South. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Muslims Long Thrived in N Carolina Before Slaying of 3 Students

The killings of three Muslim students in North Carolina early last month came as Muslims across the United States have felt under siege, partly as a result of terrorist attacks being committed internationally in the name of their faith. But Muslims have long thrived in university cities in this part of the American South. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Fuel Shortages in Nigeria Threaten Election Campaigns

Nigeria is suffering a gas shortage as the falling oil price has affected the country’s ability to import and distribute refined fuels. Coming just weeks before scheduled March 28 elections, the shortage could have a big impact on the campaign, as Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA.
Video

Video Report: Human Rights in Annexed Crimea Deteriorating

A new report by Freedom House and the Atlantic Council of the United States says the human rights situation in Crimea has deteriorated since the peninsula was annexed by Russia in March of last year. The report says the new authorities in Crimea are discriminating against minorities, suppressing freedom of expression, and forcing residents to assume Russian citizenship or leave. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video 50 Years Later African-Americans See New Voting Rights Battles Ahead

Thousands of people will gather to mark the 50th anniversary of a historic civil rights march on March 7th in Selma, Alabama. In 1965, dozens of people were seriously injured during the event known as “Bloody Sunday,” after police attacked African-American demonstrators demanding voting rights. VOA’s Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights pioneers who are still fighting for voting rights in Alabama more than 50 years later.
Video

Video Craft Brewers Taking Hold in US Beer Market

Since the 1950’s, the U.S. beer industry has been dominated by a handful of huge breweries. But in recent years, the rapid rise of small craft breweries has changed the American market and, arguably, the way people drink beer. VOA’s Jeff Custer reports.
Video

Video Video Claims to Show Shia Forces in Iraq Executing Sunni Boy

A graphic mobile phone video is spreading on the Internet, claiming to show Iraqi forces or Shia militia executing a handcuffed Sunni boy. Experts have yet to verify the video, but already Islamic State followers are publicizing it across social media, playing on deep-rooted sectarian fears. VOA’s Jeff Seldin reports.
Video

Video Ukrainian Authorities Struggle to Secure a Divided Mariupol

Since last month's cease-fire went into effect, shelling around the port city of Mariupol has decreased, but it is thought pro-Russian separatists remain poised to attack. For the city’s authorities, a major challenge is gaining the trust of residents, while at the same time rooting out informants who are passing sensitive information to the rebels. Patrick Wells reports for VOA.
Video

Video Volunteer Gauge-Watchers Help Fine-Tune Weather Science

An observation system called CoCoRaHS is working to improve weather science, thanks to thousands of volunteers across the country who measure precipitation in their own backyards, then share their data through the Internet. VOA's Shelley Schlender reports.
Video

Video NASA Spacecraft Approaches a Dwarf Planet

NASA’s Dawn spacecraft will make history on Friday, March 6, when it becomes the first man-made object to orbit a dwarf planet named Ceres. It is located in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, almost 500 million kilometers from Earth. Among other objectives, Dawn will try to examine two mysterious bright white spots detected on the planet’s surface. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Young Muslims Radicalized Online

Young Muslims are being radicalized ‘in their bedrooms’ through direct contact with Islamic State or ISIL fighters via the Internet, according to terror experts. There are growing concerns that authorities and Internet providers are not doing enough to counter online extremism - which analysts say is spread by a prolific network of online supporters around the world. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Positive Messaging Transforms Ethiopia's Image

Ethiopia was once known for famine and droughts. Now, headlines more often point to its fast-growing economy and its emergence as a regional peacemaker. How has Addis Ababa changed the narrative? VOA's Marthe van der Wolf reports.
Video

Video Answers Elude Families of MH370 Passengers

For the families on board Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, an airline official’s statement nearly one year ago that the plane had lost contact with air traffic control at 2:40 AM is the only thing that remains confirmed. William Ide reports.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More