October 18, 2012
Days after arresting secessionist Mombasa Republican Council (MRC) chairman Omar Mwamnuadzi, authorities in Kenya have vowed to continue cracking down on any group that incites public violence.
Mwamnuadzi was arrested on Monday (October 15th) along with 38 other suspected members after his group attempted to resist arrest during a raid and opened fire on police. Two people were killed in that incident, and a dozen others were injured including four police officers. An AK-47 and 15 rounds of ammunition were recovered during the raid, police told Sabahi.
Three days later on Thursday (October 18th), police arrested Kenyan parliamentarian Sheikh Mohammed Dor for inciting violence after he publicly offered to fund the MRC. He was later released on bail and his court date is set for November 13th.
MRC advocates for the secession of the Coast Province from Kenya. Coast Province Police Chief Aggrey Adoli said MRC members have been attempting to create unrest since last year, increasing efforts as the general election nears.
Last March, members of the group disrupted a mock election conducted by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IBEC) in Malindi, attacking staff and voters. "They injured IEBC officials and a security officer at the St. Andrews Primary School and the HGM School in Malindi's Kisumu Ndogo neighborhood," he said.
Journalist Joylene Sing'oei, who was at St. Andrews Primary School to report on the mock exercise for The Standard newspaper, said a group of armed youths entered the room and began intimidating participants and shouting. "They were armed with machetes saying they were not part of Kenya and would not allow the exercise to continue," Sing'oei told Sabahi.
She said the band fled after snatching a gun from one of the officers; the injured IBEC staff members were later taken to Star Hospital in Malindi.
More recently, the group threatened to disrupt Kenya's national examinations, which started on Monday, and asked residents to abstain from voting in next year's general election.
"MRC [members] have a right to boycott the elections, but we will not allow them to stop others from participating in the general elections," Adoli said.
On October 8th, seven MRC members were arrested and charged with inciting violence for their role in an attack at a rally for Fisheries Minister Amason Kingi in which four people were killed. The accused comprised high-ranking MRC members, including MRC spokesman Mohammed Mraja and branch officials Ali Mbwana Mwatete and Ali Juma, all of whom denied the charges. They have since been released on bail and are scheduled to appear in court later this month.
Adoli said security forces are taking MRC threats seriously and have taken all the necessary precautions to maintain public safety. He said security had been beefed up in Mombasa schools to ensure student safety during national examinations.
The police chief said since security operations began two weeks ago, they have arrested more than 100 group members; those who were found innocent were released immediately while others have been charged and are due in court. "We will not rest until all those responsible for inciting and funding the violent conduct of the group are arrested," he added.
"The only option the group has is to denounce their hate speeches and incitement. President Mwai Kibaki has given us orders to deal firmly with those out to cause instability before they become a bigger problem," he said.
Coast Provincial Commissioner Samuel Kilele told Sabahi that the group is using violence as a strategy to seek attention.
"The group knows that the general elections will be keenly watched by other countries and foreign media and they want to squeeze their agenda in by causing chaos," he said.
Adoli told Sabahi that MCR is taking advantage of the July ruling by the Mombasa High Court to overturn the group's designation as a terrorist organization to freely engage in criminal activities and attempt to sabotage the elections.
In August, Attorney-General Githu Muigai appealed against that reversal, citing the group is a threat to national stability. The case is now pending in Kenya's Court of Appeal.
In the last several months, Kenyan officials and civil society groups have been engaging in a number of initiatives -- from voter registration improvements, civic education, and peace campaigns to the recruitment of additional police officers -- in an effort to ensure a repeat of the December 2007 election violence is avoided, and that the transition of power is successful.
In the 2007 election, over 1,200 people are estimated to have been killed in post-election riots. In addition, more than 300,000 people were displaced including 80,000 children, according to the United Nations.
Sheikh Juma Ngao, chairman of the Kenya Muslim National Advisory Council, told Sabahi that resorting to violence over claims of marginalization from the central government is not the solution.
"When an individual or a group claims they are not part of Kenya and they want to secede they are only dividing the country and the government should move with speed to nip the situation in the bud before it becomes a bigger problem," Ngao told Sabahi.
"We are getting reports of leaflets warning people who hail from other regions to leave Mombasa, and this is endangering the lives of people from Coast who are scattered in other parts of the country because they may be attacked [in retaliation]," he said.
Ngao says it is not the first time the province has had to deal with secession groups; in the past, leaders behind such groups have revealed themselves as driven by self-interest, he said.
Nonetheless, the sheikh said the government should not turn a deaf ear to grievances advanced by the group, but instead should address them and act on what is possible in good faith. If approving secession cannot be met, a compromise can be reached on other issues, he said.
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