Wycliffe Muga: Coast too divided to be viable state

Last week I pointed out that any hope for what we now call Coast Province seceding to form a new mini-state or semi-autonomous region would be heavily compromised by the fact that the ethnic groups indigenous to the "Lower Coast" have an abiding fear of being dominated by those from the "Upper Coast".

And that the only condition on which the people from the Lower Coast would join such a project of secession would be if there was a guarantee that the new geopolitical entity would be led by someone from the Lower Coast.

But that is only the beginning of the problem: within the Lower Coast, there is an equally severe political division between the Muslims and the Christians.

This is essentially because there is an ethnic as well as a religious division here: What we refer to generally as "the Mijikenda communities" of the Lower Coast are chiefly composed of various sub-ethnic groups, including the almost entirely Muslim Digo and Duruma, of Kwale District, and the mostly Christian Giriama, Kambe, Jibana, Chonyi, Kauma, and Rabai of Kilifi , and Malindi Districts.

And there is just as much political mistrust between the "South of Mombasa" Mijikenda communities and the "North of Mombasa" Mijikendas. Complicating matters yet further is the bit¬ter political rivalry between the so-called "black Muslims" (i.e. the Swahili, Bajun, Barawa, etc) and the so-called "white Muslims" who are of relatively pure Arab blood, and can in many cases trace their roots to Oman.

The "white Muslims" are in general very much richer than the "black Muslims", and so have most of the economic power. But they are relatively few and so the "black Muslims" tend to be the decisive force in politics.

As such, what many up-country people see as "Coast Province" is not a homogenous and unified political entity, which could reasonably remain cohesive if it seceded.

In the totally improbable event of such a secession, what we now know as Coast Province would break up into three or four smaller units, none of which would be a viable semi-autonomous region, much less a mini-state.

This is why past out-standing Coastal leaders never considered secession as a strategy to empower their people. They have at-tempted instead to solve these problems within the existing political boundaries.

The last politician to be a serious contender for the designation of "Coast political kingpin" was Emmanuel Karissa Maitha, who died a year after attaining his dream of serving in the Cabinet.

His political strategy was not to run for President or to lead the people of the Coast away from the rest of the country. His goal was to unite the Coastal communities.

He liked to point out that Coast Province had roughly 20MPs much the same as what we generally term as "Luo Nyanza".

Also that the Coast had just a little more than one million voters which was the same as what "Luo Nyanza" had in 2003 when Maitha served in the Cabinet.

He would then ask why it was that "Luo Nyanza" had been a potent force in national politics from the moment that Kenya returned to multiparty politics in 1992, while the
Coast was still a political backwater, fought over by the contending presidential candidates.

The answer, of course, was that while Luo Nyanza was united, Coast Province was not. So where in one case you would be certain to have roughly 20 votes in Parliament working as one to advance the causes dear to the residents of Nyanza Province, and a million presidential votes to contend with at every General Election, the Coast did not present either the same threat or the same opportunity because it was so hopelessly divided.

His conclusion from all this was that Coastal leaders would only be taken seriously by the rest of the country when they learned to speak with one voice, and to support one regional leader who could bargain for them with the central government.

Of course he said this with the idea in mind that he alone was capable of holding the position of regional leader for the Coast. But the fact that this logic was intended to serve his personal ambitions does not mean that his calculations were false.

More importantly, he at least had the courage to look for real solutions to the problems unique to Coast Province, and to recognise that these problems could only be solved through unity. He did not succumb to the cheap politics of demanding secession.

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