Thursday, 25 October 2012


Historically, a form of layered sovereignty applied to East Africa’s coast that left the region’s city-states and communities free to conduct their affairs as long as they remitted taxes and duties to Zanzibar. This ended in 1963 with the integration of the coastal protectorate into the Republic of Kenya. The coastal leaders supporting the majimbo platform of the Kenya African Democratic Union (KADU)—adopted in opposition to the mwambao movement’s campaign for independence—saw their hopes for a large degree of self-rule dashed under Kenyatta’s centralist government. Banner (2008) states that, “efforts to secure coastal autonomy represent a regionally and historically specific type of sovereignty pursued by mwambao activists not simply to guard political and material privileges, but more broadly to express a language of political legitimacy that still resonates today.” While coastal communities have always nurtured the desire to exert sovereignty over their own affairs, land, and resources, the rise of the Mombasa Republican Council over the past year has imbued the issue with a renewed vibrancy and purpose. The coastal communities’ fears over losing control of land and key economic resources in 1963 were realized over the next five decades. This has led to a crisis of state legitimacy. Post-independence social exclusion and regional development rigged in favour of outsiders and local elites has led to a situation where members of the indigenous population now refer to themselves as “Coasterians” and to the non-coastal settlers as “Kenyans”. A surprising sense of unity is replacing the acrimony persisting in the wake of the self-governing mwambao and federalist majimbo campaigns during the run-up to independence in 1963. The Mombasa Republican Council is the unlikely agent of this emergent coast nationalism. Although formed at a time when other disaffected parties were contemplating militant forms of resistance, the MRC has ostensibly distanced itself from the region’s acquiescent politicians by challenging the historical agreements leading to the coast’s integration into modern Kenya. A 2008 ban on it remains in effect even after a Kenyan court dismissed charges accusing the MRC of being an armed gang. Even though their grievances might be genuine, their resorting to violence and other ugly measures inevitably renders them a ‘successful failure’ indeed. Worse, unlike in the days of the late Ronald Ngala & Sharif Nasir, when the coastal region had real leadership, the current fashion of leaders is shaky, un-tameable, unpredictable and are either unwilling to openly declare their support for M.C.R or are simply not for them! Moreover, M.R.C has since been outlawed and consequently, the government has declared a fully fledged crack down! It seems natural now for Omar Mwanamuzi and Mraja to surrender, denounce their ‘illegal’ activities and announce to their loyal followers that they have just realized ‘Pwani ni Kenya’, will always be Kenya, wapende wakatae! © Cheruo Levi Cheptora 2012

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