Who are the MRC?
The Mombasa Republican Council (MRC) has recently resurfaced in the media spotlight again after the government arrested some of its suspected members during an alleged oathing ceremony in Likoni, Mombasa County. It is not surprising that the MRC has frequently been getting in trouble with the law as it was among the 33 groups that were declared 'illegal organized criminal groups' by the Government of Kenya through a Gazette notice issued last year (2010) October. So just who are the MRC? And exactly what are their motives?
The Mombasa Republican Council is a group based in the Kenyan Coast that was formed with the intention of righting what they believe to be wrongs done to the coastal people. Since its formation in the mid to late 90s, the MRC has had one clear agenda. Secession. The MRC spokesman Mohamed Rashid Mraja said they formed the movement to liberate the coastal region due to decades of alleged marginalization by successive governments. They make eerily similar claims to those brought forward by the shifta (Somali militia) who wanted to secede parts of North Eastern Province in the 1960s to be part of a 'Greater Somalia' – the shifta were eventually stamped out in a deadly confrontation that left several people dead.
History of the Coast Land Issue
Unlike the Shifta, the main issue the MRC has is land. The land problems in the coast can be traced back to 1887 when Seyyid Said leased the 10mile (16km) wide coastal strip to the Imperial British East Africa Company, which effectively made the coastal inhabitants squatters in their own land. In 1895 an agreement was made between Great Britain and Zanzibar under the supervision of Sultan Seyyid Hemed Bin Twain, Queen Victoria and the British Government in which Mombasa was to remain a protectorate under the British. The Sultan allowed the British Government to administer Mombasa for its Political and Business activities. This agreement stipulated that the sovereignty of Sultan would be maintained.
The story continues in 1962, just before Kenya got its independence. There were talks on whether or not this 1895 agreement should be altered. It was found that the coastal strip was not economically viable on its own and that the port of Mombasa was very important to Kenya and the East African region in general. So it was recommended that the Sultan be compensated and the region be made officially a part of Kenya. The recommendations also stated that the (then) new constitution recognize religious freedom that would allow the muslims the right to follow the Sharia Law in matters of religion and personal status. The Sultan was assured that the Sharia Courts would continue to function in Independent Kenya and that the authority of the Chief Kadhi would be preserved for Muslims in matters of personal status. When it came to a case between a Non Muslim and a Muslim, the general law would apply. So the Sultan agreed to give up his claims to the region. So in the 1963 Lancaster negotiations between the British and the Kenyans, the deal was sealed and the coast's hopes for autonomy vanished as well, despite the presence of the Mwambao United Front group – who wanted the option of being able to secede from Kenya and if possible join up with Zanzibar.
The government has since not revoked this agreement. Instead, after independence, all the land was transferred to the Government, which in turn gave the land to individuals who were not the original area residents. This happened when a law was passed that said that the first legislation of land will be valid and irrevocable regardless of how one acquired the title. So the elite and influential people in government at the time went ahead and registered themselves as the original owners of the land, an act that resulted in the coastal people becoming squatters in land they considered theirs.
The officials of the MRC claim to have documents that say that there was another 1963 agreement signed by the then Prime Minister Jomo Kenyatta and his Zanzibar counterpart Mohamed Shante. According to them, the agreement was a 50 year lease, which meant that the government was to return the region to the indigenous people... by 2013. The MRC Secretary General, Hamza Randu says this 1963 agreement integrated Mombasa as an independent region in the broader Kenya and that no part of it could be changed without the approval of the people from the protectorate.
The MRC Ideologies
As a result, the MRC says the coastal strip is not in need of any protection by the Kenya Government that was inherited from Colonial Britain. It says that it has in place a structured system, complete with a constitution, so it is ready to govern. The MRC officials also add that it is funded by top businessmen and politicians in the region (Mombasa).
The MRC is adamantly pushing for the partitioning of Kenya's territory, raising issues of marginalization, discrimination and neglect of the coast people. The MRC says it does not support the use of violence. The officials add that the members should not be considered rebels as they are only fighting for what they perceive to be their country – Mombasa. The MRC also say that theirs is an inter religious affair, because it affected all coast people, an assertion that was proven recently when the Pwani Church released a statement in support of what the MRC was doing.
The MRC states that despite the coast being a major contributor to the national economy (through the Port of Mombasa and Tourism in general), the coast people are yet to benefit from its resources and so they are under developed as a result.
The Current Constitution
The MRC has been declared unconstitutional because:
- Although Article 36 of the constitution guarantees the freedom of association and assembly for every person, the intent and motive of the association that one is forming is very important so that one does not contravene the spirit of the constitution. The internal security minister pronounced MRC's motive to be parallel to the stability and unity of this country
- The desire of the MRC to separate Coast Province from Kenya is unconstitutional and that is why they cannot be allowed to go on with their agenda. Article 3(2) of the constitution outlaws any attempt by anyone to form a government that is not inline with the constitution, which the MRC seeks to do.
- Article 5 of the constitution strictly outlines the Kenyan territory to include territorial waters and territory of Kenya that was there on the effective date. So any attempt to change the territory of Kenya is unconstitutional and will not be allowed.
Effective date - is on 27th August 2010 when the constitution came into force as per Article 260.
Under article 60 of the new constitution, there is an attempt to address the past land injustices through the enshrinement of the principles of land policy. It provides that land shall be held, used and managed in a manner that is equitable, efficient, productive and sustainable in accordance to the following principles: equitable access to land; security of land rights amongst others.
Article 67 further establishes the National Land Commission whose functions amongst others includes initiating investigations on its own initiative or on a complaint, into present or historical land injustices, and then recommend appropriate redress.
Also, It is expected that the issues raised by the MRC will be duly tackled with the establishment of a devolved government, which is aimed at facilitating access to services. With the division of Kenya into counties, the constitution recognizes the right of communities to manage their affairs and further their development.
There seems to be light at the end of the tunnel because the Government has recently softened its hardline stance against the MRC by calling for dialogue. While the idea of seceding from Kenya is radical and should not be entertained, the Coast people may have some legitimate grounds for complaint. It is vital that the government seeks to actively address these issues especially those pertaining to land and porverty. No group of people in the country should feel marginalized in this day and age as we all work towards building a greater and more prosperous Kenya for all who live here.