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Revealed: The hidden forces behind violent clashes in Mombasa

A section of some of the 104 suspects who were arrested inside Masjid Musa arriving at Shanzu courts to be charged with seven counts including being members of Al Shabab in this picture taken on Feb 7, 2014. They were however not charged but were remanded until 12 Feb. PHOTO | LABAN WALLOGA

By By Gabriel Dolan
Saturday, February 08, 2014

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The events surrounding and following the police raid on Masjid Musa mosque in Mombasa last Sunday are symptomatic of the divisions and poor leadership that characterise life at the Coast.

It is disturbing and polarising and shows few signs of improvement. The boldness of the youths in identifying the controversial and contested Masjid Musa as the venue for the jihad convention suggests that they chose to be confrontational and assertive.

They must have guessed how the police would respond. The event was banned but it was not prevented from starting.

There was no effort to surround the mosque or prevent the youths from entering.

In fact it would appear that the police tactically allowed the youths to congregate and then prepared to arrest and detain them for intelligence gathering.

Seizing computers and materials as well as 126 members of the congregation suggests that the police saw the convention as a golden opportunity to identify and arrest the leadership and gain intelligence information on the movement’s tactics.

However, that alone does not explain why the police ended up with the deaths of nine youths on their hands.

Did the police lure the youths to the mosque with the intention of killing a number of them or did they just lose control of the situation? The response from the political and religious leadership to the tragic deaths was also shocking. (READ: GSU officer killed in Mosque chaos)

Local politicians only focused on the police force and had nothing to say about the threats or violence from the youths. The national Muslim leadership spoke before a voice was heard in Mombasa.

What is really going on and what is behind the threats from the youths? There is little doubt that the radical salafi jihadist ideology is taking root in Coast.

Found within the Sunnis, it is synonymous with wahhabism and while still a minority it is gaining root among the youths at a very fast rate.

The failure of the traditional Islamic structures to address the growing marginalisation and impoverishment among the coastal youths has left a real vacuum for alternative teachings.

The aim of salafi jihadism is to transform society and to liberate the poor but the temptation to use violence to achieve these aims is why it is such a threat to society and those of other religions.

The marginalisation of coastal people and the high unemployment among the youths are well documented so we just need a cursory reminder of their dire plight. A recent survey by Ipsos — the market research firm — reveals that 41 per cent of coastal people have not completed primary school and only one third have gone beyond secondary schools.

Despite the huge tourist investment, 55 per cent of coastal workers earn less than Sh10,000 a month and despite promises and pledges, 41 per cent of the population do not have title deeds for their land.

There is not a single comforting or hopeful statistic in the whole survey. The region has been neglected and defiled and now feels that it cannot catch up even with the introduction of devolved governance.

The salafi jihadist ideology then is particularly attractive for impoverished youths as within the coastal Islamic faith there are no credible alternative voices that give expression to their grievances in a peaceful manner. The youths claim that both Council of Imams and Preachers of Kenya and the Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims have conspired with the Executive to loot their land and deny them jobs and education.  There is also the constant belief that you will gain spiritually and materially by joining the salafi jihadist movement.

That in turn suggests that the extremism is being funded and sponsored. Already three prominent Mombasa businessmen, including the owner of a bus company, have been taken to court on suspicion of funding illegal activities. When Imams and preachers earn less than Sh10,000 a month then the temptation to sing a different tune on the promise of more money is irresistible.

Besides, all the indications are that the political class infiltrated and subsequently destroyed the Mombasa Republican Council since it disappeared after last year’s General Election. The movement of course like the current one was based around grievances that were genuine but the politicians hijacked it for their own purposes and then discarded it after March 4 election. Is it any wonder that the youths have no trust in the political class either?

The harsh response by the State to perceived threats has blocked most opportunities for dialogue and trust building and left Muslims alienated in the country.

The executions of Sheikh Rogo in August 2012 and Sheikh Ibrahim in October last year together with the disappearances of Kassim Omollo and Samir Khan have gone without investigation or explanation. In December last year Sheikh Mwayuyu was murdered in Tiwi days after police had warned that he was planning attacks on churches.

Most residents have blamed the Anti-Terror Police Unit for these killings and together with arbitrary arrests and frequent renditions have made trust between Muslims and the State difficult.

Consequently the security machinery rarely gets any credible intelligence from them. It is a fact that more youths will be recruited this week to take the place of those killed at Masjid Musa.

This situation will not be resolved by more force, a lesson that the world learned from the ‘war on terror’ in Iran, Iraq, Pakistan and elsewhere. The soft force of professional intelligence working together with neutral arbitrators is the best and may be only hope. The police would be better deployed to investigate those who fund the illegal activities and those who control the huge transport and shipping businesses and illicit drugs trade if they want to get to the root of the problem.

The youths seen on our TV screens are only the visible side of the problem, which is a lot deeper and bigger. The area is crying out for brave, decent and honourable leaders to resolve the tragic mess.

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