Secession Is Not The Best Option For Coast
The Coast region has been a beehive of activity over the past two weeks as two statutory commissions and the Kenya Muslim Youth Alliance (KMYA) held public forums over various civic matters. The Truth Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC) and the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) were in Coast Province on separate missions to undertake civic activities within their respective mandates, while KMYA was launching youth parliaments in various counties in the region as a way to encourage and enhance the participation of the youth in matters of governance ahead of the devolved system of government.
But as these forums were being held, the region was also in the news over unrelated, but very sensitive security matters, as police raided the residences of a prominent Mombasa Muslim cleric and a British woman on suspicion of being accomplices of a Somali terrorist group. As much as the civic engagements that TJRC, IEBC and KMYA were undertaking had no direct bearing on the police operation on the suspected associates of terrorist groups, the issues the former organisations were dealing with significantly contribute to the activities that the two terror suspects were being sought for.
During the TJRC, IEBC and KMYA forums, the traditional grievances that the people of Coast province have expressed over the years were replayed. Many complained of marginalisation and exclusion from the mainstream of the country’s socio-economic and political agenda—a factor that has lately been used by the shadowy Mombasa Republican Council (MRC) as an excuse to rally local people in this region behind an agitation for secession of the Coast province from the rest of Kenya.
Indeed the idea of secession has gained a lot of currency in Coast province, And although MRC remains an outlawed organisation, the ideology propounded by this group remains very attractive to many young people of this region who have been persuaded into believing that seceding will firmly put them in charge of their own affairs and thereby is the answer to the economic and political frustrations that they face today. At the heart of this agitation is the ownership and distribution of the vast resources of Coast region, which, by and large, benefit people considered to be 'outsiders'.
An audit of resource ownership and distribution at the Coast indeed reveals an unacceptable pattern of marginalisation and exclusion of local people—something that makes their ‘rage’ legitimate and the secessionist talk appear attractive to many youth in this region. In fact, this kind of rage is what is slowly driving many youth at the Coast into the arms of extremist groups whose activities have prompted security agents to conduct operations such as the one against the prominent Mombasa cleric arrested recently. But the question is: Is secession the best option out of this problem?
A participant in one of the KMYA forums agreed that the current disparities in resource distribution at the Coast, especially land ownership, is untenable and something must be done to correct the imbalance in order to make people of this region feel like they are part and parcel of the Kenyan nation. He, however, cautioned against agitation for secession, saying this is not the solution to their problem. He instead called upon the people of Coast region to make maximum use of the coming devolved system of government to address past injustices committed in the distribution of land and other resources.
“As much as we can blame historical injustices in disparities in land allocation in our region, we need also to keep in mind that Kenya’s longest-serving Minister for Lands was from Coast region, yet he was not able to do much to help us. This means leadership and the legal regime have also played a big role in our plight,” said the participant who sought anonymity for fear of inviting the ire of aggressive groups.
In essence, this participant was saying that instead of agitating for secession, which could be a long and treacherous path to take, the people of Coast region should give a chance to the new constitutional dispensation, which contains provisions, and instruments that adequately address their grievances. “The new constitution has virtually given us what we have been asking for, hence no need for this secession talk. If we elect the right leaders and effectively use the instruments of devolution at the county government, we shall be in charge of our resources and still remain in a position to benefit from resources from other regions of the country in a manner that would be far much advantageous than if we seceded,” he added.
Indeed if one does an opportunity cost analysis, there is a heavy price to pay for pursuing a secession agenda than it is to remain part of the Kenyan nation and benefit from the devolved system of government.
It is, however, encouraging that the MRC leadership is slowly realising the futility of secession and starting to embrace the devolved government option as a viable opportunity to address the grievances of this region. Accordingly, there is need for the government and other stakeholders to conduct more civic education in Coast province to sell the viability of devolved government as the solution to the age-old grievances. And the people should reciprocate by embarking on serious self-reflection that would enable them choose visionary leaders who can make maximum use of the devolved system of government to empower their people in terms of resource distribution and wealth creation.
The writer is the deputy secretary general of the Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims (Supkem).