Regional conflicts haunt Kenya

Kenyan authorities are investigating allegations that the Mombasa Republican Council is receiving support from Sudan and some member states of the Arab League, claims Khartoum vehemently denies.

Perturbed by the militancy of a group that wants to declare independence for the coastal region around Mombasa, Kenyan authorities are said to be reviewing their relations with Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir at a time when Kenya is becoming increasingly entangled in regional conflicts, which could threaten its stability.

In response to the allegations, the Sudanese ambassador to Kenya, Kamal Ismail Saeed, said Nairobi had not raised the matter with his government. “We are not aware of any official authorities accusing Sudan of being behind the Mombasa Republican Council; it has never brought to our attention that the concerned Kenyan authorities have any suspicion that the Sudan government is funding the council.”

Concerns about the involvement of foreign powers in the outlawed separatist group, which has become increasingly bold in its push for secession from Kenya because of “historical injustices”, were raised during a recent national peace conference in Mombasa.

The director general of the National Security and Intelligence Service, Michael Gichangi, stunned the conference – at which President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga were present – by openly accusing unnamed foreign powers of interfering with Kenya’s territorial integrity. He would not tell journalists who Kenya’s external aggressors were. But Somalia, where Kenya is fighting al-Shabab insurgents, has been the main source of terrorist threats in the East African region. Al-Shabab foreign trainers come from diverse countries such as Iran, Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Calls for secession
Before the conference, in a state of the nation address in Parliament, Kibaki warned the separatist group that Kenya was a unitary state and would not cede territory to it or anyone else. “Kenya is one nation and any attempts or calls for secession should be rejected and shall not be tolerated. Specifically, the coast region has been part of, is part of and will remain part of Kenya,” the president said on April 24.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a senior intelligence officer in the political ideology division of the security service said the executive had been briefed about a “destabilisation agenda” by some oil-producing countries in the Middle East.

He linked it to a recent three-nation agreement to build a road and high-speed railway link, a $22.5-billion investment known as the Lamu port, South Sudan, Ethiopia transport and development corridor. When complete, the development corridor will divert transport business, a major source of revenue, from Port Sudan to Lamu.

Furthermore, the source said, some Arab League nations sympathetic to al-Qaeda were financing the insurgency in Kenya and aiding Khartoum, which was retaliating

for Kenya’s role in the secession of South Sudan from the north.

A Kenyan high court ruling that the Sudanese president must be arrested if he sets foot in Kenya almost led to the severance of diplomatic relations between the two countries last year.

Although Nairobi moved quickly to limit the damage caused by the ruling, which was upheld after an appeal by the state, Khartoum has not forgiven the Kenyan government. Bashir is wanted by the International Criminal Court, to which Kenya is a signatory, to stand trial for crimes against humanity in the western province of Darfur.

Saeed said: “From a political point of view, Sudan entertains good diplomatic relations with Kenya and there is no sense or logic to damage such relations. Sudan believes in the territorial integrity of the African countries and usually desists from meddling in the internal affairs of its neighbours.”

The intelligence source linked growing separatist threats to the broader unrest sweeping the East African coast. The forces behind the groups, he said, were also behind the unrest in Tanzania’s Indian Ocean archipelago of Zanzibar, where the Association for Islamic Mobilisation and Propagation wants the secession of the islands of Unguja and Pemba from mainland Tanzania.

Since the beginning of April the association has been involved in violent demonstrations for the autonomy of the islands.

The Mombasa Republican Council, which shares the Islamist ideology of the al-Qaeda-financed Somali insurgents, al-Shabab, wants secession based on the 16km coastal strip that was governed by the sultan of Zanzibar from 1895 to 1920.

Senior government officials have shied away from addressing these sensitive matters publicly. Foreign affairs permanent secretary Thuita Mwangi said he would “rather say nothing”, although he added that Sudan, before the signing of the comprehensive peace agreement with the South, had toyed with the idea of establishing a consulate in Mombasa.

Saeed confirmed that his government had planned to do that, but shelved it because of budgetary constraints. “If the financial [situation improves], we may contact the competent authorities to reconsider the case. Mombasa, being the main port in the region, will help to promote Sudan’s exports such as sugar, cement and gas to the region. A consulate in Mombasa will facilitate Kenyan tea exports to Sudan. Kenyan tea exports to Sudan are worth more than $100-million,” he said.

Kenyan government officials ducked questions on the issue, but a member of the parliamentary committee on defence and foreign relations, George Nyamweya, said the committee was aware of the allegations, which was why his United Democratic Forum party wanted to sponsor a motion in Parliament to form a select committee to have ­discussions with the separatist group before the situation spiralled out of control.

“The government is in a catch-22 situation and may not be willing to publicly debate because the Mombasa Republican Council is an outlawed group. But a select committee can get to the root cause of the growing unrest,” Nyamweya said.

He added that one of his party’s concerns was that the “real faces” behind the movement spoke through proxies. “The people who claim to represent the Mombasa Republican Council do not have the resources to wage a secession campaign. The powerful forces behind the group have so far been invisible,” he said.

The chairperson of the committee, Adan Keynan, has not commented on the matter.

Reports of Khartoum’s involvement were first leaked when the Kenya Defence Forces, in Somalia since October last year, prepared for a final push to oust al-Shabab from Kismayu port. But the Sudanese ambassador rubbished the accusation and said: “Sudan believes in co-operation between African countries rather than conflict. We extend to fellow neighbouring African countries a hand of construction, not destruction. We believe intra-conflicts should be solved through negotiations, not subversion.”

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