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.


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)
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

Tired of Waiting, South Africans Demand Change ‘Now’

With chronic poverty and lack of basic services largely fueling recent xenophobic attacks, many in Rainbow Nation say it’s time for government to act More

Challenges Ahead for China's Development Plans in Pakistan

Planned $46 billion in energy and infrastructure investments in Pakistan are aimed at transforming the country into a regional hub for trade and investment More

'Forbidden City' Revisits Little Known Era of Asian-American Entertainment

Little-known chapter of entertainment history captured in 80s documentary is revisited in new digitally remastered format and book More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populationsi
April 24, 2015 10:13 PM
A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.

Video Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populations

A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.

Video Data Servers Could Heat Private Homes

As every computer owner knows, when their machines run a complex program they get pretty hot. In fact, cooling the processors can be expensive, especially when you're dealing with huge banks of computer servers. But what if that energy could heat private homes? VOA’s George Putic reports that a Dutch energy firm aims to do just that.

Video Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festival

Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.

Video UN Confronts Threat of Young Radicals

The radicalization and recruitment of young people into Islamist extremist groups has become a growing challenge for governments worldwide. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council heard from experts on the issue, which has become a potent threat to international peace and security. VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports.

Video Growing Numbers of Turks Discover Armenian Ancestry

In a climate of improved tolerance, growing numbers of people in Turkey are discovering their grandmothers were Armenian. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians escaped the mass deportations and slaughter of the early 1900's by forced conversion to Islam. Or, Armenian children were taken in by Turkish families and assimilated. Now their stories are increasingly being heard. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul that the revelations are viewed as an important step.

Video Migrants Trek Through Western Balkans to Reach EU

Migrants from Africa and other places are finding different routes into the European Union in search of a better life. The Associated Press followed one clandestine group to document their trek through the western Balkans to Hungary. Zlatica Hoke reports that the migrants started using that route about four years ago. Since then, it has become the second-most popular path into Western Europe, after the option of sailing from North Africa to Italy.

Video TIME Magazine Honors Activists, Pioneers Seen as Influential

TIME Magazine has released its list of celebrities, leaders and activists, whom it deems the world’s “most influential” in 2015. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports from New York.

Video US Businesses See Cuba as New Frontier

The Obama administration's opening toward Cuba is giving U.S. companies hope they'll be able to do business in Cuba despite the continuation of the U.S. economic embargo against the communist nation. Some American companies have been able to export some products to Cuba, but the recent lifting of Cuba's terrorism designation could relax other restrictions. As VOA's Daniela Schrier reports, corporate heavy hitters are lining up to head across the Florida Straits - though experts urge caution.

Video Kenya Launches Police Recruitment Drive After Terror Attacks

Kenya launched a major police recruitment drive this week as part of a large-scale effort to boost security following a recent spate of terror attacks. VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports that allegations of corruption in the process are raising old concerns about the integrity of Kenya’s security forces.

Video Japan, China in Race for Asia High-Speed Rail Projects

A lucrative competition is underway in Asia for billions of dollars in high-speed rail projects. Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia Thailand and Vietnam are among the countries planning to move onto the fast track. They are negotiating with Japan and the upstart Chinese who are locked in a duel to revolutionize transportation across Asia. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok has details.

Video Scientists: Mosquitoes Attracted By Our Genes

Some people always seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. Now, scientists have proved that is really the case - and they say it’s all because of genes. It’s hoped the research might lead to new preventative treatments for diseases like malaria, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

Video Bible Museum Coming to Washington DC

Washington is the center of American political power and also home to some of the nation’s most visited museums. A new one that will showcase the Bible has skeptics questioning the motives of its conservative Christian funders. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.

Video Armenia and Politics of Word 'Genocide'

A century ago this April, hundreds of thousands of Armenians of the Turkish Ottoman empire were deported and massacred, and their culture erased from their traditional lands. While broadly accepted by the U.N. and at least 20 countries as “genocide”, the United States and Turkey have resisted using that word to describe the atrocities that stretched from 1915 to 1923. But Armenians have never forgotten.

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.

VOA Blogs