Julienne Gage produced this report
Kenya’s Coast Province boasts of wealth of opportunity — pristine beaches, deluxe hotels, a major port and an oil refinery — but for locals in the picturesque city of Mombasa, it’s hardly a paradise. Years of land grabbing and cronyism have made them squatters on their own ancestral lands. Increasing numbers of residents feel they can only gain a stake in the region’s wealth by seeking autonomy from the federal government, but a new Kenyan Constitution going into effect next year squelches that. As Kenya gears up for its 2013 presidential elections, hundreds of thousands of local residents plan to boycott.
According to Human Rights Watch, the vast majority of Coast Province’s nearly 2.5 million residents support a secessionist organization known as the Mombasa Republican Council (MRC). The group claims treaties dating back to the end of colonization and the start of Kenyan independence would allow them to become self-governing in 2013. While the MRC’s Christian and Muslim leaders say their mission is peaceful, the movement appears to be splintering. As the Kenyan government cracks down on MRC activities, some of the region’s most vulnerable residents are turning to violence.
Julienne Gage is a freelance journalist based in Washington, D.C. She reported on this story in Kenya while on a producing contract with the International Reporting Project this summer. Follow her on Twitter @juliennegage