Every election year since the reintroduction of multi-party politics in 1992, a mysterious group of agitators claiming to speak on behalf of Coast indigenes emerges, threatening violence and other hazards to its perceived enemies.
In past years, these fifth columnists have unleashed havoc that has led to many deaths, vast dislocations and destroyed the investment opportunities in the region, which unfortunately depend on mercurial tourism for survival.
These groups are as predictable as the cycle of elections and their language and targets are forever intertwined.
During the Kanu days, they enjoyed State support and were used to keep the nascent opposition at bay.
The emergent groups
In Likoni, Kisauni and Mtondia in 1992, the emergent groups had a singular mission aimed at evicting residents born or originating from upcountry areas like Nyanza and Central provinces whose candidates then were giving President Moi a run for his money.
Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, the doyen of the opposition with his phalanx of Young Turks, was the biggest threat then in the Forum for Restoration of Democracy (Ford) and later Kenneth Matiba, who engendered a near fanatical following close to the elections.
Not surprising then that the communities who bore the brunt of the violence were the Luo in Likoni and Kikuyu in Kongowea and parts of Mtwapa.
The perpetrators of the violence that left many dead have never been known.
However, in Likoni, some local candidates were accused of providing sustenance for the attackers and even police protection as they fought a futile war to forestall a Ford win.
Even earlier, during an uprising spearheaded by the Islamic Party of Kenya that threatened Kanu’s decades-long stranglehold of the Coast political scene, another fifth column was cobbled together by Kanu bigwigs to neutralise the new opposition.
The organisation acquired the name United Muslims for Africa (UMA) to fight IPK especially in the Old Town and Majengo areas of the island.
The architects of this new group were Kanu hirelings who received vast amounts of money from party financiers in Mombasa to hire thugs of every extraction (mainly non-Muslim) to torch vehicles and shops in the town’s streets and put fear in the mobile IPK squads who had defied police efforts to quell them.
Their name was deliberately intended to drive a wedge between the Muslim community in view of the perception that most IPK leaders were from the lighter-skinned Arab ancestry.
Despite their outrageous behaviour, they were never arrested and some of their leaders later received prime plots and government contracts for their loyalty to Kanu.
During the second multiparty elections in 1997, Kanu’s strongmen, with the tacit approval of some top government officials, organised the bloodiest attack on civilians and police ever witnessed in the Coast, leading to the death of over 100 people.
There were reports that some of the attackers were brought in from a ragtag army that had been terrorising a neighbouring country. Indeed, the macabre nature of the butchery shocked even the security forces.
After the initial violent offensive, the armed men were quickly withdrawn and the Digo militiamen left to bear the brunt of the General Service Unit retaliation that killed several locals in what was popularly tagged the Kaya Bombo invasion.
Towards the 2002 elections when Kanu was finally edged out of its four-decade stay, a new group took up arms in the Kwale hillsides to demand address of the marginalisation of the region and threatening to uproot upcountry residents, leading to a police crackdown that destroyed the tourism season that year.
The Mulungunipa Group was said to be the precursor to the Mombasa Republican Council but it went quiet after harsh reprisals that saw scores of villagers thrown into prisons.
From the look of things, it emerges that there are certain political brokers within the region who have down the years been used to create insecurity with the intention of enabling certain political actors to benefit from the demographic shifts.
While the grievances of the MRC are genuine, especially those related to land issues, the options they give seem asymmetrical to the problem, such as demands for secession.
The findings of the Akiwumi Commission after the catastrophic and bloody attacks of 1992 and 1997 in Kwale, Likoni, Kisauni and Mtondia left no doubt in anyone’s mind that the violence was instigated by the political class in power using the finances of a powerful cabal of businessmen who were beneficiaries of multi-billion duty exemptions for their loyalty.
The cartels that dominate Coast politics are starting to take shape.
Since these landmarks elections are a “do or die” scenario for many candidates, caution must be exercised judiciously by the protectors of public peace to ensure that potential losers do not opt for the way of violence.