Twenty years ago, Prof Kivutha Kibwana organised a high-powered conference for African scholars in Dar es Salaam. He requested me to present a paper.
My paper was titled “Winding up the State: Why African States Should Legislate Secession as a Constitutional Right for Ethnic Nationalities.”
The paper created disquiet in Tanzania as it argued that Zanzibar and Pemba should be allowed to form an independent state. Twenty years later, many countries, including Ethiopia and Kenya, have embraced the central thesis of my paper and legislated secession as a constitutional right.
The paper compared the state to a corporate entity. It made the case that if a company was managed well, made profits and paid dividends to the shareholders, all were bound to be happy.
On the other hand, if a narrow clique stole from it, ran it, ate alone, excluded the majority and abused the rights of shareholders, then the company was bound to fail and become worthless. The state is the same as a company, and the African state is a grossly abused company.
The grievances raised by the Mombasa Republican Council (MRC) have been dismissed as trivial by the government and the group is being wished away by the rest of Kenyans. President Kibaki even ordered the law enforcement forces to take action against the group.
Many Kenyans see the MRC as ungrateful, misguided, and lazy coastal inhabitants. Both the government and the people of Kenya are making a grave historic mistake.
I am not making a case for the secession of the Coast Province. I am making a case for respecting the rights of the coastal people. Unlike the government and many Kenyans, I don’t value the Coast province as a land mass, instead I value the people who inhabit the Coast province as human beings with rights.
The coastal people, in terms of state aggression, neglect, marginalisation and abuse of human rights, come second only to the inhabitants of northern Kenya.
Why is the MRC agitating for secession? Kenyans should realise that secession is not pursued by people as a hobby, pastime or as an experiment. Secession is the last option when human beings can no longer tolerate oppression and abuse. Secession is forced on people.
Nobody chooses it.
Take the case of Southern Sudan. Secession and the war of liberation was forced on them; they genuinely wanted to be part of Sudan.
The North refused to treat the South as human beings. Then the Southerners fought and liberated themselves. Don’t force coastal Kenyans to follow the Southern Sudan example.
MRC complains that the coastal people are squatters on their land. That is a historical truth. The land at the Coast has been grabbed by the elites from the Kenyatta, Moi and Kibaki regimes and their cronies.
Land is a very sensitive issue and people, when dispossessed of their property, rally around the emotive issue of land.
MRC complains that coastal people don’t get their fair share of government resources. Again that is a historic truth. Look at the scandal of the board of directors of the Kenya Ports Authority created by the clueless Amos Kimunya.
He sees it fit to saturate the board with members of his ethnic community. His instinct was primal. The action by Mr Kimunya is the government’s default mode.
MRC complains against human rights abuse and mass discrimination in the name of fighting terrorists. The Kenya police and the intelligence have grossly violated the rights of the Coast inhabitants. Mass arrests, disappearances and malicious prosecution are the norm.
The MRC grievances are genuine and rightful. The government must address the land issue and forcibly acquire land grabbed by the rich and powerful.
The government must also devote resources to the Coast Province, and stop discrimination and gross abuse of human rights.
Ahmednasir Adbullahi is the publisher, Nairobi Law Monthly firstname.lastname@example.org