After Kenya vote drama, secessionist talk enters mainstream

Opposition activists demonstrate in Nairobi, Kenya, in this file photo. (AP)
Updated 08 November 2017

After Kenya vote drama, secessionist talk enters mainstream

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa: During Kenya’s election upheaval, a few protesters displayed images of the flag of the “People’s Republic of Kenya,” a notional breakaway state. Some posted online images of Kenya divided into two nations along ethnic lines, reflecting a growing sense of marginalization in some opposition strongholds despite some progress in allocating more rights and resources to aggrieved communities.
In another new challenge, Mombasa Gov. Hassan Joho, another governor and more than a dozen lawmakers have revived old calls for coastal counties to secede, alleging discrimination by the national government since Kenya’s independence from British rule in 1963. Critics have dismissed the call as political posturing in the wake of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s disputed election win on Oct. 26, but the rhetoric highlights the skepticism of some Kenyans about the unity of one of Africa’s most influential nations.
However unlikely, secession is “an idea that was extremely marginal, and now it’s gone mainstream,” said Abdullahi Boru, a political analyst in Kenya.
Recent independence bids in Spain’s Catalonia region and Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish area ran up against the power of the state, and the bloodshed that accompanied the path to statehood in African nations, including Eritrea and South Sudan, is a measure of the toll of some secessionist bids.
Separatists in Kenya are likely to encounter immense political pressures, legal obstacles and a possible crackdown by security forces even if they can organize effectively. Meanwhile, Kenyan officials note, even counties where opposition thrives continue to work with the capital, Nairobi, on development and other projects spurred by a 2010 constitution that seeks to give local areas more clout and funding.
Secession is a rallying cry in the camp of opposition leader Raila Odinga, an ethnic Luo who boycotted the October election after challenging the victory of Kenyatta, a Kikuyu, in an August vote nullified by the Supreme Court because of flaws. Odinga has said he is forming a peaceful “resistance movement.”
The October election is also being challenged in court. Odinga says yet another vote should be held within 90 days, capitalizing on the frustration of supporters who say Kikuyus and their Kalenjin allies have dominated the country for too long.
“Let them divide Kenya into two” if another election is not held, said Veronica Akoth, an Odinga supporter in the western city of Kisumu, an opposition stronghold. Some Kisumu protesters have chanted, “Kisumu si Kenya,” which means “Kisumu is not Kenya” in Swahili.
The slogan is a variation on “The Coast is not Kenya,” a saying that maintains coastal communities are different from the rest of the East African nation, partly because of their history as a territory under the authority of Zanzibar’s sultanate.
Joho, the governor of Mombasa County that includes the major Indian Ocean port of the same name, belongs to an opposition coalition formed by Odinga. He and his allies have indicated that their secession campaign would be lengthy, requiring consultations with community leaders. However, the governors of four out of six coastal counties have not joined Joho’s call.
Secessionist violence plagued Kenya shortly after independence, when security forces fought Somali insurgents seeking to join with neighboring Somalia. In the late 1990s, opposition leader Mwai Kibaki suggested secession for central Kenya after an election period marred by violence. Kibaki was elected president in 2002 and became a staunch advocate of the Kenyan state.
“At the core of the call for secession is the failure by successive governments to address the issues of historical land injustices, exclusion from development, etc. Historically, presidents in Kenya often rewarded those loyal to them with development and those who showed any signs or forms of dissent with exclusion,” Natasha Kimani, an analyst at the Chatham House research center in Britain, wrote in an email to The Associated Press.
The idea of secession, however, is unlikely to take root because Kenyans have largely embraced decentralization, seeing it “as a way to bring resources and services closer to the people,” Kimani said. She cited development successes in “marginalized areas” such as Turkana, Marsabit, Mandera and Lamu.
Kenya’s election turmoil, including violence that left dozens dead, created a “very polarized and ethnically divided environment that we haven’t seen for quite a long time,” said John Tomaszewski, regional director for Africa at the Washington-based International Republican Institute. But he doubted that secession can succeed in the near term, saying: “I don’t see that we’re at a stage yet where something like this could be carried out.”

Taste of kindness: Buddhist monks serve iftar at a Dhaka monastery

Updated 59 min 26 sec ago

Taste of kindness: Buddhist monks serve iftar at a Dhaka monastery

  • The monastery’s generosity has not gone unnoticed by the fasting Muslims

DHAKA: As the clock strikes 6 p.m., Shudhhanondo Mohathero hurries to the kitchen to alert his army of 15 monks that they have less than 40 minutes until iftar. 

Soon, people will begin queuing outside the Dharmarajika Bouddha Bihar, a Buddhist monastery in Dhaka, where Mohathero hands out free food packs to fasting Muslims who are too poor to buy a meal to end their fast.

It is a tradition that 89-year-old Mohathero started 10 years ago when he assumed responsibility for the temple’s upkeep.

“Since the early days of the monastery, we have received tremendous support in celebrating different Buddhist festivals from our Muslim friends. So I thought it’s time to do something in return,” Mohathero told Arab News.

Built in 1951, the monastery, which is located in Basabo in the eastern part of Dhaka, has been involved in various social welfare activities. Since the start of Ramadan this year, almost 200 food packs have been doled out every day, with plans to double the number by the end of the month. The 15 monks who live in the monastery prepare the food boxes for iftar.

At a cost of around 80 cents, which is funded by the temple, each box contains traditional Bangladeshi iftar items such as puffed rice, boiled and seasoned chickpeas, jilapi (a deep-fried sweet pastry), beguni (deep-fried eggplant) and dal bora (a fried item with smashed lentils and dates).

“In previous years, our junior monks used to prepare iftar at the monastery. This year, however, we are starting to outsource the items due to the sheer volume,” Mohathero said. 

“Since the early days of the monastery, we have received tremendous support in celebrating different Buddhist festivals from our Muslim friends. So I thought it’s time to do something in return.”

Shudhhanondo Mohathero, Chief monk of Dhaka’s Buddhist Monastery

The monastery’s generosity has not gone unnoticed by the fasting Muslims.

“I have been receiving iftar from the monastery for three years. Since my husband works as a daily-wage laborer, this iftar has made our lives very comfortable,” Asma Khatun, a local resident, said.

Another devotee, Sharif Hossain, said that iftar from the monastery “is like a divine blessing.”

“After losing all my properties in a river erosion, I moved to Dhaka just a few months ago and started living in a slum. I can finally feed my family with the iftar provided by the monks,” he said. 

Talking about his experience being part of a project that builds communal harmony, Prantar Borua, an apprentice monk at the temple, said: “We feel proud and happy to be doing such an extraordinary thing. It’s a small contribution to the community, but it’s the best we can do at this moment.”

The monastery’s generosity has won praise from the Bangladesh authorities, too.

“It’s a nice initiative from the Buddhist community, especially at a time when the world is experiencing many hate crimes and interreligious conflicts. It upholds the spirit of religious harmony,” Abdul Hamid Jomaddar, joint secretary of the Religious Affairs Ministry, said.

“Our government believes in the coexistence of different religions, which is the beauty of this secular land,” he added.