Skip to content

Islamic Extremism in Kenya – Dr. Arye Oded

July 5, 2013

topBanner_isl_mus_afr

Islamic Extremism in Kenya[1]

by Dr. Arye Oded

RIMA Occasional Papers, Volume 1 (2013), Number 14 (July 2013)

 

INTRODUCTION

Ever since Kenya received its independence in 1963, it has had to struggle with separatist movements, mainly in the two Muslim-majority provinces: The Coast Province, with its centre in Mombasa, and the NortheasternProvince, inhabited by Somalis.

This introduction will deal with the development of separatist movements and extremist groups in the Coast Province, known as Mwambao (“coast” in Kiswahili), where Arabs and some Swahili groups want to achieve greater autonomy or to secede from Kenya completely.

Already on the eve of Kenyan independence, the Omani-Arabs and some of the Swahili groups in the CoastProvince refused to be part of independent Kenya and wanted to be united with the Omani Sultanate of Zanzibar, which had ruled the Coast since 1840.  In justifying their demands, these separatists cited the important 1895 treaty signed between the British and the Sultan of Zanzibar stipulating that the British Protectorate of Zanzibar (declared in 1890) would not affect the Sultan’s sovereignty on the Coast.[2]

Indeed, the British tried to integrate the traditional Muslim administration on the Coast into the British administration.  Officers of the Sultan like the liwali (governor), mudir (district officer), akida (native chief) and the qadi (religious judge) were mostly Omani-Arabs.  Thus, a dual administration was created, Arab alongside British.  The Coastal Strip was called Sayyidieh (the province of the Sayyid, i.e. the Sultan).  The qadis were given judicial authority in religious and personal matters, such as marriage, divorce and inheritance.  In 1897, the British also appointed a chief qadi for the whole coastal area, with his centre in Mombasa, to judge appeals that came from the local qadi courts.  Nevertheless, British officers continued to have executive powers.

Taking part in the negotiations between the Kenyans and the British in London on the eve of independence were also representatives of a political movement on the coast (which called itself the Mwambao United Front).  They emphasized again that the Muslim inhabitants of the coast were “a distinct social group” and should be granted autonomy or the option of seceding from Kenya and establishing a separate state or “rejoining” Zanzibar.[3] 

However, in 1963 when Kenya became independent, the coast’s hopes for separation or autonomy were not realized.  The British decided that the coast would be an integral part of Kenya.  Later on, independent Kenya abolished the traditional administrative posts held by Muslims which were considered remnants of the Zanzibari Sultanate.  Only the religious post of qadi was maintained.[4]

The aspirations of some of the coastal Muslims to secede from Kenya re-emerged from time to time and this fostered government suspicions of the Muslims, still felt today.  The distrust between the two sides is mutual and the Muslims feel that the regime discriminates against them and considers them second-class citizens.  This has negative practical ramifications, such as the emergence of Islamic extremism among some groups in Kenya.

The latest Muslim separatist group, appearing in 2010, was the “Mombasa Republican Council” (MRC).  Its leader, Rando Ruwa, declared that his movement’s objective was to improve the situation of the coastal people and to “save” them from what he called the “neo-colonial government of Kenya.”  The MRC fed off Muslim discontent, long-held grievances over land which they claim was taken by the Kikuyu and frustration at the economic marginalization of the Coast by the central government.    The MRC’s motto was “Pwani si Kenya” (“the Coast is not Kenya” in Kiswahili).  On the eve of Kenya’s general election, which took place on 4th March 2013, the MRC increased its activities and repeated its demand for the Coast’s secession.  This was flatly rejected by the government.  Moreover, the MRC was blamed by the government for a series of attacks in which twelve people were killed.  Several MRC activists were arrested.[5]

Following is an account of the longest and bloodiest Muslim disturbances, that broke out on the Coast during 1992-1994, and which the author witnessed.  They provide an illuminating example of the causes for the appearance of Islamic extremism in Kenya and the government’s reaction to it.

Against the background of Muslim indignation in Kenya, a young sheikh, Khalid Balala, appeared on the scene. Balala was born in Mombasa in 1958 to a father originally from Yemen, Salim ibn Ahmad, who ran a butcher’s shop. As a boy Balala studied the Qur’an and Arabic in local schools. When he was seventeen he traveled to Saudi Arabia to fulfill the Muslim duty of pilgrimage to Mecca (the Hajj), and he remained there for more than ten years studying Islam at Medina University while making a living selling religious books. He then visited various countries in Europe and Asia. In Britain he completed a course in business management, and in India he studied Islam and comparative religion. He claims he decided to combine the knowledge he had acquired of Islam and of business management in order to “sell”, that is, to disseminate, the Islamic religion.[6]

Balala returned to Kenya in 1990 and was until mid-1992 an unknown street preacher in one of Mombasa’s bustling market squares, Mwembe Tayari. He gradually began to attract public attention when his preachings became more and more political and critical of the government. His impressive eloquence, wide knowledge of Islam, and bold and fiery invective against the regime attracted large crowds, mainly young Muslims. Less blatant attacks by government opponents in the 1980s had led to arrests, and here was a sheikh who was not afraid and even proudly and publicly declared that he was “the only Kenyan who gives President Moi nightmares”.[7] Apart from his fierce criticism of the government in general and of Moi in particular, the likes of which had not generally been heard before, Shaikh Balala expressed views that, at first, were relatively moderate:

  • He demanded that Muslims be strict in observing Islamic practices, especially daily prayers.
  • He insisted on the importance of Islamic education and the setting up of Muslim schools.
  • He warned that tourism corrupted the morals of Muslims, who had begun imitating foreign attire and such pursuits as going to bars and discotheques.
  • He demanded that women dress modestly and keep themselves “pure”.
  • He repeatedly argued that Islam does not differentiate between religion and state; that politics is part of religion; that the cancellation of the ban on political parties gave the Muslims an opportunity to organize themselves and to raise their demands; and that the government should allow the Islamic Party of Kenya (IPK) to operate just as it allowed other parties.[8]
  • To placate the Christians, who claimed that Balala believed that shari’a law should be imposed on the whole population, Balala made it clear that the shari’a would be applied only to Muslims: “[The imposition of shari’a on the whole country] is not a priority for us but we want to show Muslims that we have our own way of solving political, economic, and social problems.”[9]  
  • Balala’ strongest criticism was directed against those Muslims who were active in the government and in the ruling party but who, he charged, only tended to their own private interests.[10]

In mid-1992, Balala joined the Islamic Party of Kenya (IPK).[11] He immediately became its uncrowned leader and spokesman, regulating the party’s founders to the sidelines. At this stage, with Balala’s charisma drawing many supporters to the party, they did not complain about being upstaged. From now on Balala led the demonstrations and other antigovernment activities. Under his leadership the IPK became much more radical; his supporters, especially the youth, clashed with the security forces and exercised control through threats and violence. Balala publicly demanded that Moi’s regime be toppled, accusing him of despotism and corruption.[12]

At this stage, the position of Balala and the IPK was strengthened by several factors. First, the opposition parties – especially the main one, Ford-Kenya, and its leader Oginga Odinga – supported the IPK’s registration. The opposition parties hoped that by demonstrating solidarity with Balala, they would obtain, in the forthcoming general elections for parliament and the presidency, the votes of Muslims who could not vote for the banned IPK.[13] Despite their party’s lack of official recognition, IPK leaders also participated in the assembly of opposition parties that was held on 11-12 May 1992, seven months before the elections, and they were encouraged by the support they received. This intensified the government’s anger as well as, in reaction, its measures against the IPK. The opposition parties also displayed their support for the IPK when some of their leaders took part in parades and demonstrations the IPK organized. Thus, when President Moi visited Mombasa in August 1993 to open the agricultural fair, there was a protest demonstration organized by the IPK against his visit; Rashid Mzee, professor, member of parliament and leader of Ford-Kenya, took part in this protest. Other leaders of Ford-Kenya, such as Paul Muita, first deputy party chairman and MP from the Kikuyu region, and James Orengo, a senior member of the party, attended mosques to hear Shaikh Balala’s sermons in order to obtain his support. These leaders’ visit to Mombasa just before the serious disturbances in September 1993 brought a strong reaction from Assistant Minister Sharif Nassir, who accused them of fanning the riots by inciting against the government.[14]

The relationship between Balala and Ford-Kenya began to change when, late in 1993, its leader, Oginga Odinga, began negotiations with the ruling KANU party about cooperation in development projects in the Luo areas. At the same time, Odinga started to show a more conciliatory attitude toward President Moi and relations between them improved. Angered by this closeness of Ford-Kenya to the regime, Balala announced that he was transferring his support to the second opposition party, Ford-Asili, led by Kenneth Matiba, but would continue to support Rashid Mzee because of his personal regard for him.[15] Balala even issued a joint statement with Muita, who also criticized Odinga’s conciliatory stance toward the government. The statemenr decried all compromise with Moi’s government, which it called a “dictatorial regime”.[16] Later the IPK leaders demanded a separation between the presidency of the country and the presidency Kanu, asserting that the national president should stand above all parties and not be identified with any single party.[17] In any case, despite the differences between the opposition parties, they all supported the IPK’s legal recognition and took pains to forge links with its leaders.

The IPK received another shot in the arm from Ali Mazrui, who, as we have seen, supported the party’s registration and identified with its complaints about discrimination against Muslims, and had even warned of disturbances and a “black intifada” if the situation did not improve.

Another factor that helped the IPK, at least indirectly, was the existence of divisions among pro-government Muslim politicians, stemming primarily from personal rivalry and competition for key posts in Kanu.[18] Especially helpful was the strong opposition to Assistant Minister Nassir, chairman of Kanu’s Mombasa branch, who had many enemies within Kanu because of his arrogant behavior and his desire to be the party’s only representative and spokesman in the CoastProvince.

Statements against Islam by Christian religious and political leaders at this time angered Muslims, intensified their fears, and made Balala’s stance that much more persuasive. Moreover, Muslims reacted fiercely when Cardinal Maurice Otunga called in January 1993 for a struggle against the spread of Islam in Africa. There was also much bitterness at Moi’s statement on 1 June 1992 about the Muslim slave trade. To further increase his popularity among Muslims, Balala sought an image as the defender of Muslim rights against discrimination by Christians. In an “open letter” to the Catholic Church, published in the press, Balala claimed that “your Church sometimes operates openly against Muslims and discriminates against them even though they are citizens of Kenya.” He mentioned the incident at the Consolata Secondary School in the Meru region, from which seven Muslim girl students were expelled because they fasted during the month of Ramadan and were absent from school. He also emphasized that the Kenyan constitution proclaimed freedom of religion and that Muslims were permitted to observe their religious practices.[19]

The position of Balala and of IPK supporters was also strengthened to some extent by financial and moral support from Sudanese, other Arab, and Iranian sources. During his trips abroad, Balala visited Sudan several times.[20] Moderate Muslims in Mombasa expressed fears that Iranian involvement and support from radical Muslims would cause tensions within the Muslim community.[21] Suspicions that Iran was supporting extremist Muslims were given wide publicity when, on 13 January 1994, the Standard published a full-page headline: “Terror Against Kenya: Islamic Fundamentalists to Take Over”.[22]

In December 1992, the popularity of the IPK led by Shaikh Balala emerged very clearly when it succeeded , in effect, in defeating Kanu in Mombasa during the multiparty elections to parliament. Of Mombasa’s four seats, Kanu won only one; the other three were won by opposition party candidates, two of whom, Rashid Mzee and Salim Mwavuno, represented Ford-Kenya, which Balala supported.

The Government’s Response

The Muslim unrest and wave of violence in Mombasa surprised and concerned the authorities. For one thing, they feared that Mombasa, which was Kenya’s port and an important tourist center, could be economically harmed by the disturbances. Second, the unrest stirred deep suspicions stemming from the attempts by the Muslim coastal strip to break away from Kenya at independence. Third, there was apprehension lest the unrest spread from Mombasa to other Muslim centers on the coast such as Malindi and Lamu, and to Muslim concentrations in large towns. Indeed, as we shall see, during this time in Lamu especially there were violent demonstrations against the government. Finally, the unrest in Mombasa aroused associations with the underground activity that had occurred in the NortheasternProvince and the Somali Muslims’ desire to secede from Kenya.[23]

The government’s response to the first disturbances in May 1992 suggested that it still did not understand the true nature of militant Islam.[24] It resorted to the use of excessive force, including arrests – especially the repeated arrest of Balala, who was even charged with treason, punishable by death (later the state lifted this charge). It quickly became evident that these arrests, and the security forces’ breaking into mosques in pursuit of demonstrators, only fanned the agitation and violence. Balala’s arrest cast him in the role of a hero who did not fear the authorities and indeed, during his trial, preached against them harshly. The more the government tried to intimidate him, the bolder and more radical he became. His photographs and speeches filled the front pages of the newspapers,[25] especially those of the opposition.

Throughout 1992 – 1993 the illegal IPK controlled the streets in Mombasa, despite the security forces’ actions against it. Thus, on 22 August 1992, two days before a planned visit by Moi to the city, the IPK organized a large demonstration attended by tens of thousands of Muslims – indeed the largest demonstration ever seen in Mombasa. It was led by Shaikh Abdul Rahman Khitamy, a respected Muslim leader. The demonstrators set out from the great mosque, the Sakina Mosque, passed in orderly, quiet procession through the city, and ended up at the office of the district commissioner, where they waved banners demanding the release of Balala, who was under arrest at the time. Other placards proclaimed “IPK – we shall overcome.” The commissioner was handed a memorandum that he was asked to pass on to the president, which demanded that Moi immediately release Balala, apologize for a speech in which he blamed Muslims for the slave trade, recognize the IPK, and register it legally.[26] Although this demonstration was quiet compared to the events a few months earlier, it did not signal a calming of the situation.

Aside from the “stick” of force against radical Muslim elements, the regime also began to offer “carrots,” showing readiness to pay more attention to moderate Muslim demands. In the past, Presidents Kenyatta and Moi had sometimes made gestures toward the Muslims to placate their feelings of discrimination and meet some of their demands, as in the case of ‘Id al-Fitr that was declared a general public holiday. After the violence of May 1992 and the disturbances that followed, the government increased funding for Muslim institutions, and the president and his ministers more often participated in assemblies to collect money for Muslim schools. For example, the president donated 20,000 shillings at a harambee( in Kiswahili togetherness- a rally for collcting money for charity) organized by Sharif Nassir and Minister Hussein Maalim Mohamed for the Muslim Academy of Kenya.[27] At these gatherings and during visits to Muslim areas, the President sometimes wore a white kaffiyah and a kanzu (traditional Muslim attire), which was widely publicized in the media.[28] Further concessions were made to pilgrims to Mecca, and their foreign currency allowance was periodically increased, for which Muslim leaders who supported the regime expressed gratitude. Shaikh Mohamed Amana, for example, chairman of the Islamic Reformation of Kenya (Islahil Islamiya), thanked the government for the concessions and pointed out that in 1994, 3,500 Muslim pilgrims from Kenya were able to visit the holy places.[29] Government representatives took greater part in Muslim holiday celebrations, where they greeted the Muslim community in the name of the president and his minions. Officials also stressed that Muslims had been appointed to senior posts, especially that the chief of staff, Mahmud Mohamed, was a Somali Muslim.

An interesting example of the “carrots” approach occurred in the Muslim region of Lamu. The district commissioner, John Sala, whose harsh actions toward the inhabitants had contributed to the agitation in 1993, became more moderate, apparently on orders from above. In June 1994, he informed the Lamu inhabitants that they would receive title deeds to their land and that the government had allocated money for building roads in the regions of Lamu and Faza so as to solve the transportation problems there. He also announced that the government was ready to provide loans to entrepreneurs in the region to develop industry. The assistant minister of labor and employment, Abdul Karim Mohamed, publicly thanked the government for the attention it was devoting to Lamu, particularly the heightening of security measures (see below).[30]

In the field of higher education, President Moi acceded to Supkem’s request and in January 1996 issued a presidential order granting recognition to the Mikindani College for training Muslim teachers, which entitled it to award degrees; until then, the Ministry of Education had not recognized the college’s degrees. That same month, in response to a request by the Muslim leadership (and in this instance also the Christian leadership), the president announced the cancellation of the requirement to teach sex education in all schools.[31] As mentioned earlier, in response to Muslim demand, in 1994 the government banned the distribution of Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses.

Along with extending the carrot as well as the stick, the government used the divide-and-conquer method. The United Muslims of Africa (UMA) was established in May 1993. Its founders were black African Muslims who supported the government, headed by Shaikh Swalih Ali; Omar Musumbuko, one of the leaders of Youth for Kanu 1992; and Emmanuel Maitha. All three were active in Kanu and had campaigned for its victory in the 1992 elections. It seems that the organization was set up with the blessing of members of the ruling elite, although the police would sometimes arrest (and later release) its activists, apparently as a way of countering the accusation that the government was behind it.[32]

According to a large announcement which was published in The Standard (25 May 1993) and signed by its founders, the objectives of the UMA are as follows:

“UMA is against IPK which has been constantly engaging in abuse to the head of state and leaders affiliated to other political parties, for this is against Islamic teachings. Qur’an is against hooliganism and thuggery agitated by the leaders of IPK. UMA is ready to defend the integrity of Africans from this disease that has been inflicted to the continent of Africa by rich particular Gulf states to create havoc between various denominations in Africa. UMA is here not to engage into any confrontation with anybody but warns all Muslims who have been letting loose their sons and daughters to engage in riots and destroying of property for we are here to clean the once respected religion of Islam. We are opposed to the Islamic Party of Kenya for the following reasons:

  • At the time of the installation of Islam in the pagan Arabia, Prophet Mohammad (S.A.W.) did not form a political party to fight the Muslim rights in Mecca.
  • Islam is to submit oneself into doing the will of God (SWT) but not to commit oneself into hooliganism, violence, burning of property and encouraging the youth in meditation and hallucination to disrupt peace.
  • No consultation on the modalities of fronting the Muslim rights within the Muslims and the government was ever made from the various Islamic denominations eg. Sunni and Shias, of which have the right of integration under the banner of Islam.
  • Exploitation of Islam by selfish and fanatics for their own personal gains as evidently displayed by a few people in our society for Islam is not for a cheap place. Like a Social Hall but its for God and nobody else.
  • UMA harbours no political ambitions neither their support to politicians to further their personal gains but there to develop a foundation to help promote the living standards to all who are African and accept Africa with its realities.
  • UMA is going to help and assist those people who fell victims of the hooliganism brought about by the IPK.
  • UMA is for all Muslims and should not be seen to be dividing Muslims on racial lines.
  • UMA wants all Muslims and non-Muslims to be brothers and sisters as they have always been before the formations of divisive groupings. There should be respect among them all to promote Islamic and African brotherhood.”   

The UMA’s main goal, openly declared, was to fight against the IPK and Shaikh Balala. The UMA demanded the cessation of the “slander” of the president and the government and of the IPK’s demonstrations and incitement, which, the UMA charged, had caused division among the Muslims and the spilling of blood, contravening the commands of the Qur’an. It accused the IPK of seeking to turn Mombasa into a center of Islamic fundamentalism and sowing discord between Muslims and Christians. The UMA leaders pledged to work for Muslim unity and for an atmosphere of brotherhood between Muslims and non-Muslims. Since, in these leaders’ view, the Arab countries’ intervention in Muslim affairs had contributed to the unrest, they demanded the cessation of such activity, especially on the part of the rich Gulf countries. In contrast to the IPK, the UMA opposed the politicization of religion and demanded the separation of religion and politics.[33]

In its propaganda the UMA tried to portray its conflict with the IPK as a struggle between black African Muslims and Muslims of Arab descent, whom they nicknamed “brown Muslims.” The UMA aimed to defend the black Muslims against the “Muslim immigrants from the Gulf countries whose purpose is to create chaos between the different Muslim communities on the continent.”[34]The UMA particularly stressed that most of the IPK leaders, including Shaikh Balala, were of Arab descent and were supported by Arab countries. Balala’s features are not, in fact, those of a black African; it is true that the original IPK founders, Omar Mwinyi and Abdulrahman Wandati, were black, but with Balala’s accession they were shunted aside. The UMA further accused the IPK of expelling black imams from mosques and replacing them with imams of Arab descent and threatened to boycott mosques run by Muslims of Arab descent.[35]This accusation was mostly false, but it was effective because of the historic rivalry between the two groups.[36]

The establishment of the UMA brought increased tension in Mombasa. Young UMA members disrupted IPK demonstrations by staging counterdemonstrations, and violent clashes soon erupted. During 1993 – 1994, the disturbances reached new levels of intensity.

On Friday, 28 May 1993, there was an almost completely observed general strike in Mombasa in response to posters distributed by the IPK. The posters warned that “all those who violate the guidelines of the IPK will be considered as enemies, and we will take appropriate steps against them because they are opposed to our way. We warn them that the IPK will catch them and set them on fire.” Another poster showed a picture of MP Rashid Sajad, a close ally of President Moi, with the caption: “If you neet this man, kill him!” The timing of the strike was connected to Shaikh Balala’s appearance in court to stand trial and his supporters’ demand for his immediate release. The response to the call for a strike in Mombasa was startling: all transportation stopped, almost all stores closed, and the only people in the streets were groups of IPK and UMA activists who fought with each other while the police tried to maintain order.[37]Several days later, Sajad’s and Sharif Nassir’s cars were set on fire. Sajad was not the only one against whom a fatwa was issued: Balala also issued one against UMA leader Emmanuel Maitha, demanding that he be caught and whipped, and Maitha had to go into hiding. For this threat Balala was again arrested; the police also found and arrested Maitha for questioning and then released both of them.

In June and July 1993, the IPK-UMA clashes were fierce. IPK youth threw petrol bombs at Kanu’s branch in Mombasa, and UMA members demonstrated and hurled petrol bombs at IPK leaders’ houses and Balala’s house (he was not at home at the time). Balala accused the government of trying to eliminate him and issued an ultimatum that if within fifteen days those who had thrown the bombs were not apprehended and punished, he himself would take extreme measures. The police arrested several young men from both camps, suspecting they were among the bomb throwers. On 8 July, the UMA held a demonstration of 5,000 people during which its leaders handed a memorandum to the provincial commissioner denying that they were to blame and demanding that measures be taken against the IPK and its leaders. In August, Nassir prepared another visit for President Moi to Mombasa. On this occasion, Balala organized a large, peaceful demonstration of about 10,000 Muslims protesting against President Moi, the government, and the planned visit.

The unrest in Mombasa also spread to Lamu. The disturbances there began, as noted, as a protest gathering against the district commissioner, John Sala, who, according to the inhabitants, displayed contempt toward Muslims and even refused to receive a delegation sent by them to air their grievances. Their complaints concerned the lack of security on the roads, especially the road from Malindi to Lamu, where there had been many incidents of robbery and murder. The inhabitants also felt that the Lamu area was neglected and that there were no development projects there. Sala’s refusal to hear these grievances, and the police order to disperse the gathering, ignited severe rioting in early September 1993. Rioters shouted pro-IPK slogans; homes of government supporters and government property were set on fire and in some cases destroyed, including the law courts, the tax offices, and Kanu’s offices in Lamu. Shaikh Balala and the other IPK leaders immediately exploited the situation, praising the protesters for their courage and urging them to keep protesting until they achieved their objectives.[38]

The Lamu disturbances intensified government fears that the trouble would spread to other areas, partly because they had erupted simultaneously with serious renewed agitation in Mombasa after Moi’s visit there. Early in September, Balala called for a “national strike” to be held on 20 September to protest the government’s “brutal policy,” and on that day Mombasa as well as Malindi turned into ghost towns. Many residents, however, stayed in their homes so as not to be injured in the clashes between IPK supporters and the security forces, not out of solidarity with the IPK. In Mombasa, petrol bombs were thrown at the Kanu office and at the central police station; the clashes involved injuries and deaths, especially in the city’s old quarter, the IPK’s stronghold. In Malindi, too, there were confrontations with the security forces.[39]

During 1992 – 1993, the IPK was at the height of its power and constituted a serious concern to the regime. Moderate Muslims and even some Christian groups joined the demand for registration of the IPK. In a long article in The Standard on 30 May 1993, “More Caution over Booming Unrest,” the Christian journalist Dominic Odipo argued that the IPK’s success in the strike two days earlier in Mombasa proved that it constituted a substantial force and therefore should be legally registered; failure to do so would only increase its popularity and effectiveness. Odipo pointed out that even the trade union umbrella organization, COTU, which had declared a general strike in 1992, had not had such success. He warned that if the government continued to oppose the IPK’s registration, the result would be chaos in Kenya that could well worsen. In the opposition newspaper Society, in an article on 4 October 1993 “Coast Polarized,” Christian journalist Mwangi Chege also expressed fear that the disturbances would snowball if the government did not agree to register the IPK. He attributed the disturbances to discrimination against the Muslims and criticized the security forces’ brutality. 

There was also criticism of the government, mainly from opposition sources such as MP and Ford-Kenya leader Rashid Mzee, for supporting the UMA and its activities.[40]But even progovernment Muslim leaders viewed the UMA’s emergence with concern. Supkem, which was critical of the IPK, came out against the UMA’s activities, contending that they had contributed to the bloodshed; Supkem apparently regarded the UMA as a rival Muslim organization. Another Muslim organization, the Kenya Koran Teachers’ Union, accused the UMA of fostering division and racism because it attacked imams who were not black, averring that “after all, in the mosque you do not pray to the imam but to Allah” and that Islam opposed discrimination on the basis of color or race.[41] Sharif Nassir, for his part, fearing that his rivals for Muslim leadership on the coast (such as Rashid Sajad) stood behind the UMA, attacked the organization’s leadership.[42]Interestingly, even the only Muslim minister in the government, Hussein Maalim Mohamed, expressed unease about the UMA and its violence.[43]This criticism again manifested the divisions and competition for leadership within the Muslim community.

The government, for its part, saw to it that within the framework of its anti-IPK activities, there were statements against the IPK by progovernment Muslims, and it did this first and foremost via Supkem (Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims). Against the background of Balala’s arrest in July 1992 and the demonstrations protesting it, Supkem organized a large Muslim delegation of religious leaders, businesspeople, and public figures who met with President Moi and expressed their reservations about the IPK and Balala, assuring the president of their loyalty. This meeting took place despite the IPK’s threats that members of the delegation would be punished.[44]Later the government organized gatherings of Muslim MPs and other public figures that censured Balala and his party. On 20 June 1994, in a large Muslim assembly at Wajir in the Northeastern Province, MP Ahmad Khalif voiced support for the government and condemned the IPK.[45] During the entire period of demonstrations and disturbances, the chief qadi issued pronouncement opposing the violence perpetrated by Balala and his supporters – which sowed division among the Muslims – and stressing that Moi’s government preserved freedom of religion and hence deserved gratitude.[46]

Division in the IPK and the Fall of Shaikh Balala

By acting against the IPK, the government aimed at limiting the party’s influence. Ultimately, however, what seriously damaged the party and Shaikh Balala’s position was a split within the IPK itself. Some of the party’s founders began to question the extremism of Balala’s actions, including his threats against government leaders and his constant calls for demonstrations that caused harm to the residents of Mombasa and led to deaths and injuries. Among other things, he announced that he had under his authority ten suicide bombers who were ready to carry out whatever he ordered, and he declared several days later that he had managed to recruit total of fifty-five potential suicide bombers.[47]Nor did the IPK founders look favorably on his issuing fatwa edicts against people, such as Sharif Nassir, Emmanuel Maitha, and Rashid Sajad.[48] Furthermore, in late 1993 and the first half of 1994, Balala intensified his personal attacks on President Moi and his provocation of the security forces, which led to further deaths and injuries. In one violent incident in March 1994 between the security forces and young IPK radicals, petrol bombs were thrown at government institutions. In this instance, the disturbances spread into Bondeni, the old quarter of Mombasa, and several young men were injured. These young radicals even nicknamed themselves the Islamic Jihad Organization and printed posters vowing to take measures against the government.[49]

In May, several IPK leaders decided to organize a procession to mark the second anniversary of the May 1992 disturbances and, the deaths of IPK leaders whom they called shahids (martyrs). The district commissioner warned them not to hold the demonstration; they held it nonetheless, although this time only about 200 participated; the security forces shot several demonstrators with rubber bullets and again there were injuries.[50]In mid-1994, another group emerged that opposed the IPK. Composed of Muslim and Christian supporters of the government, it called itself the Coast Protection. Led by Nyonga Wa Makemba and the UMA activist Emmanuel Maitha, this group threatened to disrupt every demonstration that the IPK organized. It also acted against members of opposition parties who supported the IPK’s activities. Thus, when one of the leaders of Ford-Kenya, Raila Odinga (son of the party’s founder Oginga Odinga), announced in May 1994 his intention to visit the Coast Province, the Coast Protection Group accused him of inciting the coastal residents against the government and warned him that he would be endangering himself if he came.[51] Odinga indeed changed his mind and did not visit Mombasa.

The IPK founders concluded that Balala’s violent militancy was provoking harsh reactions by the government and by progovernment organizations and damaging the economy of the CoastProvince, especially Mombasa. They began to criticize Balala publicly, charging, among other things, that he had not been elected leader of the party and had in fact “hijacked” it – and that he used the party as his own private domain, acting arbitrarily without consulting the IPK founders. Balala, they noted, would boast that without him the IPK would disintegrate.[52]He deviated, they claimed, from the founders’ original aims of representing Muslim demands by legal means and establishing a democratic society influenced by Islamic principles; instead, Balala had undermined both the law and democracy. They accused him of being hungry for publicity, more interested in capturing headlines than in the welfare of Muslims, and even of embezzling money donated to the party and using it for his own private needs. They questioned how the sheikh, who not long before had been a poor preacher in the streets of Mombasa, was now the owner of numerous houses and cars.[53]Some of his opponents within the IPK warned that the radicalism of some of his teachings and actions went beyond the acceptable – for instance, his order to apprehend Muslim women who walked about Mombasa after sunset and publicly flog them.[54]

In June 1994, the IPK leaders decided to expel Balala from the party, and that September they even supported a fatwa issued against him by the UMA, according to which anyone who encountered him was required to kill him for harming Islamic values by his incitement to violence. The IPK leaders had joined in the fatwa, they explained, because Balala had become a “threat to the Muslim community.”[55]

Immediately after his expulsion from the IPK, Balala decided to form a new party called the Islamic Salvation Front, modeled on the militant Islamic party in Algeria. But this was a desparate move that did not bring him any supporters. In August 1994, inEurope, Balala gave an interview to the BBC in which he boasted that he had under his command a well-trained and well-equipped private army of several hundred young Muslims, whose purpose was to launch “Phase 2” of the struggle, aimed at destroying Moi’s regime.[56]Several Muslim religious leaders who were critical of the government, including Shaikh Ali Shee, now came out publicly against Balala, contending that the Muslim community had never authorized him to be its spokesperson and that he had violated the Qur’an’s commands to seek peace and damaged the good name of all Muslims by his warlike words and deeds.[57]

Late in 1994, Balala left Kenya for an extended trip to Europe and Asia to garner support for his party, during which he continued his sharp attacks against his country’s government and president. In April 1995, while in Germany, he requested a passport extension at the Kenyan embassy in Bonn and was informed that, according to instructions received from Nairobi, his passport had been canceled and he was forbidden to return to Kenya. The government claimed that Balala also had Yemenite citizenship and could go to Yemen; moreover, the holding of dual nationality was prohibited under Kenyan law. From exile, Balala sued the government in court for the return of his passport.[58]He even declared that he was resolved to return to Kenya with or without a passport and boasted that he intended to run for president in the 1997 elections. He gave himself the titles “Shaikh General Balala” and “Simba (Lion) Balala,” indicating mental imbalance. He even expressed support for Richard Leakey, who had announced the formation of a new opposition party called Safina, and promised he would soon send $2 million to support its activities. When Safina’s establishment was also prohibited by the government, Balala regarded the party as a fellow sufferer. President Moi, for his part, exploited Balala’s declaration and criticized the ostensible contacts between Safina and the IPK.[59] It is absolutely clear, however, that Leakey had no interest whatever in connections with Balala.

In September 1995, during preparations for the holiday of the Maulidi, marking the birth of the Prophet, Balala issued a statement from abroad threatening that he would, through his agents, turn the festivities into antigovernment demonstrations.[60] Moi again responded, assuring the Muslims that the security forces would protect them from any attempted disturbances. During the festival, reinforcements were sent to Mombasa to ensure order, and the processions went ahead quietly. Balala’s absence from Kenya greatly weakened his supporters and the radical Muslim groups. The IPK, for its part, declined drastically in influence and its activities almost ceased. Occasionally opposition groups tried to raise the question of the revocation of Balala’s passport. For example, in December 1995, Rashid Mzee, deputy chairman of Ford-Kenya, introduced the issue in parliament and demanded that Balala’s passport be restored to him; the minister of state in the president’s office responded by reiterating that Balala had illegally held dual nationality and was not entitled to Kenyan nationality.[61]

By the end of 1995, Shaikh Balala and the IPK had already faded from the headlines and not much was written or heard about them. Balala’s fall had been as swift as his rise.

In 1997, the subject of Balala reemerged in a short episode when, seeking to infiltrate into Kenya, he managed to get on a flight from Germany, his place of exile, to the Nairobi airport. Immigration officials who recognized him called the security forces; they put him on a German plane and returned him to Germany. The date of his arrival was in fact known to some opposition leaders, including the Ford-Asili leader Kenneth Matiba, and they tried to prevent him from returning to Germany by blocking the German plane with their bodies but were removed by the security forces. At the same time, opposition groups were organizing demonstrations to demand a change in the constitution before the 1997 elections, and it seems that some of the opposition leaders wanted Balala’s assistance in their endeavors.[62]

Then, on 2 July, the Kenyan government made a surprise announcement cancelling the ban on Balala’s return to Kenya, and he returned on 12 July. This unexpected move on the eve of the 1997 elections, amid intensifying conflict between the authorities and opposition groups, apparently stemmed from several factors: Balala had taken legal action against the government, and the Supreme Court ruled that he must be allowed to return to Kenya and raised doubts about the cancellation of his passport; Kenya wanted to demonstrate that it was a law-abiding country; the government assessed that Balala’s position had weakened and he would only have a divisive effect on the Muslim opposition groups; and his family promised, apparently with his consent, that he would refrain from violence.

On his return, Balala continued to criticize the government but more moderately, and he also criticized the opposition, claiming that it did not reflect the views of the majority. On one occasion, when he began to denigrate the government in front of journalists, his mother, Fatima Sadiq bint Salim, warned: “I shall stitch his mouth up unless he tones it down.”[63] Nevertheless, Balala could not always restrain himself. On the eve of the 1997 general elections, Balala was one of the opposition speakers at the Uhuru park rally. He declared that he intended to disrupt the polls because they had been rigged by Kanu. The government, as a precaution, had Balala arrested in Mombasa shortly before the voting began.[64]

In any case, it seems that for the time being the sheikh does not enjoy the sort of fame and publicity he once did and does not pose a threat to the regime.

Finally, it is worth pointing out that, in the twin bombings of the US embassies in Nairobi and Dar es-Salaam on 7th August 1998, Al-Qa’ida – the perpetrator – exploited the tension between the Muslims and the government and succeeded in recruiting a few local Muslim extremists to assist with the logistics of these acts of terror.

 


[1] Chapter 14 From Islam and Politics in Kenya by Dr. Arye Oded.  Copyright © 2000 by Lynne Rienner Publishers, Inc.  Used with permission by the publisher.

[2] Salim,A.I., Swahili-Speaking Peoples of the Kenya Coast, East African Publishing House (Nairobi,1973) p.247

 

[3] Bernt Hansen, Holger and Twaddle, Michael (eds.), Religion and Politics in East Africa, Fountain Publishers (Kampala, 1995) p.235.

[4] Oded, Arye, Islam and Politics in Kenya, Lynne Rienner Publishers (Boulder, London, 2000) p.65.

[5] For the MRC and its activities and ideology, see the following:

–          The Star, Nairobi, 14 -15 Nov.2012; http://www.bbc.co.uk/world-Africa-1965D148, 19 Sep.2012; http://www.bbc.co.uk/world-Africa-21966209, 28 March 2013; http://allafrica.com/stories/printable/201304030305.html, 2 April 2013

 

[6] Weekly Review, 17 September 1993, p. 3; The Standard, 14 July 1993.

[7] “Islamic Party of Kenya: Changing the Face of Coastal Politics,” Drum, October 1993, pp. 6-8, 17. 

[8] Interview of Raphael Kahaso with Shaikh Balala, “We Are Coming to Win,” The Standard, 28 October 1993.

[9] The Standard, 28 October 1993.

[10] Daily Nation, 5 November 1992.

[11] The IPK was established in January 1992, when the multi-party system was introduced. It was banned because of the principle that Kenya is a secular state separating between religion and politics. Therefore no political party should be based on religion.

[12] The Standard, 28 October 1993.

[13] Weekly Review, 17 September 1993, p. 8.

[14] Ibid.

[15] The Standard, 28 October 1993.

[16] Weekly Review, 24 September 1993.

[17] Daily Nation, 3 June 1994.

[18] Kanu (Kenya African National Union) was since independence in 1963 the only party in Kenya until the multi-party system was introduced in 1992.

[19] Taifa Leo, 4 March 1993, p. 9.

[20] Evidence presented to the U.S. Congress by researcher Khaled Durna, 6 April 1995.

[21] Among those who, in interviews, expressed fears of Iranian involvement were Hisham Mwidau (Mombasa, 30 March 1992); Shaikh Khamis Ahmad Said (Mombasa, 12 September 1992); the Muslim journalist Muhamed Warasmah (Nairobi, 11 October 1992).

[22] On moderate Muslims’ opposition to Iranian involvement in Muslim affairs in Kenya, see the many letters to the editor in The Standard, 2 October 1994. On the support of radical Muslims, including Sudanese, for the IPK, see Drum, October 1993, pp. 6-8, 17.

[23] On attempts at separation before independence and on the Kenyan government’s apprehensions, see Hyder Kindi, Life and Politics in Mombasa (Nairobi, 1972).

[24] Serving at the time as Israel’s ambassador to Kenya, I was present at discussions on this matter with government representatives.

[25] For example, Sunday Nation, 22 May 1994.

[26] JPR, 30 June 1993.

[27] The Standard, 11 July 1993.

[28] For example, the Kenya Times, 1 September 1993, printed a large photograph of President Moi in Muslim attire during his visit to the Muslim region of Lamu.

[29] Taifa Leo, 12 May 1994; Daily Nation, 24 March 1994.

[30] Daily Nation, 3 June 1994.

[31] Weekly Review, 12 January 1996, pp. 17 – 18.

[32] On the view that Kanu leaders established the UMA, see the Christian journal JPR, 30 November 1993, p. 6. The Muslim journalist Mohamed Warasmah expressed the same opinion in an interview on 13 January 1993. See also “Tension Reigns in Mombasa,” Weekly Review, 4 June 1993, pp. 13 – 14; Weekly Review, 17 September 1993.

[33] On the organization and its aims, a large announcement was published signed by its founders, The Standard (25 May 1993). See also Mustafa Idd, “Coast Muslims Face Big Split,” Kenya Times, 14 July 1993.

[34] Weekly Review, 17 September 1993.

[35] Kenya Times, 8 July 1993.

[36] The Standard, 25 May 1993, reports on the disagreements over the appointment of imams to mosques, Kindi (Life and Politics) deals at length with the background to the controversies between Arabs and black African Muslims.

[37] Sunday Standard, 30 May 1993; Weekly Review, 4 June 1993, pp. 13 – 14.

[38] Weekly Review, 17 September 1993, pp. 3-9.

[39] On the simultaneous riots in Mombasa, Lamu and Malindi, see Weekly Review, 17, 24 September 1993.

[40] Weekly Review, 17 September 1993.

[41] Kenya Times, 8 July 1993.

[42] Weekly Review, 17 September 1993.

[43] The Standard, 11 July 1993.

[44] Donal O’Brien, “Coping with the Christians,” in Holger Bernt Hansen and Michael Twaddle, eds., Religion and Politics in East Africa (London: 1995), p. 214.

[45] Kenya Times, 22 June 1994.

[46] The Standard, 18 July 1995.

[47] Weekly Review, 4 June 1993, pp. 13-14.

[48] Daily Nation, 17 May 1993.

[49] Ibid., 5 March 1994.

[50] Ibid., 25 May 1994; Sunday Times, 29 May 1994.

[51] The Standard, 26 May 1994.

[52] Sunday Times, 24 April 1994.

[53] For a detailed summation of the complaints against Shaikh Balala, see the article by one of the IPK leaders, Khalef A. Khalifa, “Principles of Democratic Leadership,” Weekly Review, 17 September 1993, pp. 10 – 12. 

[54] Kenya Times, 8 July 1993.

[55] Ibid., 5-6 September 1994.

[56] Daily Nation, 5 September 1994.

[57] Kenya Times, 23 December 1994.

[58] East African Standard, 1, 24 July 1995; Daily Nation, 18 August 1995.

[59] East African Standard, 1, 7 July 1995.

[60] Kenya Times, 5 September 1995.

[61] Daily Nation, 13 December 1995; Kenya Times, 14 December 1995. In the natter of Shaikh Balala’s citizenship, the Yemeni embassy in Nairobi came to his assistance by declaring, in June 1997, that Balala was not a citizen of Yemen. The ambassador explained that, although Khalid Balala’s father was a Yemenite, Balala himself had never received Yemenite citizenship and had never even visited Yemen (Weekly Review), 13 June 1997, p. 11.

[62] Weekly Review, 13 June 1997, p. 11.

[63] Reuters, 16 July 1997.

[64] Africa Research Bulletin (ARB), December 1997, p. 12920.

Islamic Extremism in Kenya[1]

INTRODUCTION

Ever since Kenya received its independence in 1963, it has had to struggle with separatist movements, mainly in the two Muslim-majority provinces: The Coast Province, with its centre in Mombasa, and the NortheasternProvince, inhabited by Somalis.

This introduction will deal with the development of separatist movements and extremist groups in the CoastProvince, known as Mwambao (“coast” in Kiswahili), where Arabs and some Swahili groups want to achieve greater autonomy or to secede from Kenya completely.

Already on the eve of Kenyan independence, the Omani-Arabs and some of the Swahili groups in the CoastProvince refused to be part of independent Kenya and wanted to be united with the Omani Sultanate of Zanzibar, which had ruled the Coast since 1840.  In justifying their demands, these separatists cited the important 1895 treaty signed between the British and the Sultan of Zanzibar stipulating that the British Protectorate of Zanzibar (declared in 1890) would not affect the Sultan’s sovereignty on the Coast.[2]

Indeed, the British tried to integrate the traditional Muslim administration on the Coast into the British administration.  Officers of the Sultan like the liwali (governor), mudir (district officer), akida (native chief) and the qadi (religious judge) were mostly Omani-Arabs.  Thus, a dual administration was created, Arab alongside British.  The Coastal Strip was called Sayyidieh (the province of the Sayyid, i.e. the Sultan).  The qadis were given judicial authority in religious and personal matters, such as marriage, divorce and inheritance.  In 1897, the British also appointed a chief qadi for the whole coastal area, with his centre in Mombasa, to judge appeals that came from the local qadi courts.  Nevertheless, British officers continued to have executive powers.

Taking part in the negotiations between the Kenyans and the British in London on the eve of independence were also representatives of a political movement on the coast (which called itself the Mwambao United Front).  They emphasized again that the Muslim inhabitants of the coast were “a distinct social group” and should be granted autonomy or the option of seceding from Kenya and establishing a separate state or “rejoining” Zanzibar.[3] 

However, in 1963 when Kenya became independent, the coast’s hopes for separation or autonomy were not realized.  The British decided that the coast would be an integral part of Kenya.  Later on, independent Kenya abolished the traditional administrative posts held by Muslims which were considered remnants of the Zanzibari Sultanate.  Only the religious post of qadi was maintained.[4]

The aspirations of some of the coastal Muslims to secede from Kenya re-emerged from time to time and this fostered government suspicions of the Muslims, still felt today.  The distrust between the two sides is mutual and the Muslims feel that the regime discriminates against them and considers them second-class citizens.  This has negative practical ramifications, such as the emergence of Islamic extremism among some groups in Kenya.

The latest Muslim separatist group, appearing in 2010, was the “Mombasa Republican Council”(MRC).  Its leader, Rando Ruwa, declared that his movement’s objective was to improve the situation of the coastal people and to “save” them from what he called the “neo-colonial government of Kenya.”  The MRC fed off Muslim discontent, long-held grievances over land which they claim was taken by the Kikuyu and frustration at the economic marginalization of the Coast by the central government.    The MRC’s motto was “Pwani si Kenya” (“the Coast is not Kenya” in Kiswahili).  On the eve of Kenya’s general election, which took place on 4th March 2013, the MRC increased its activities and repeated its demand for the Coast’s secession.  This was flatly rejected by the government.  Moreover, the MRC was blamed by the government for a series of attacks in which twelve people were killed.  Several MRC activists were arrested.[5]

Following is an account of the longest and bloodiest Muslim disturbances, that broke out on the Coast during 1992-1994, and which the author witnessed.  They provide an illuminating example of the causes for the appearance of Islamic extremism in Kenya and the government’s reaction to it.

Against the background of Muslim indignation in Kenya, a young sheikh, Khalid Balala, appeared on the scene. Balala was born in Mombasa in 1958 to a father originally from Yemen, Salim ibn Ahmad, who ran a butcher’s shop. As a boy Balala studied the Qur’an and Arabic in local schools. When he was seventeen he traveled to Saudi Arabia to fulfill the Muslim duty of pilgrimage to Mecca (the Hajj), and he remained there for more than ten years studying Islam at Medina University while making a living selling religious books. He then visited various countries in Europe and Asia. In Britain he completed a course in business management, and in India he studied Islam and comparative religion. He claims he decided to combine the knowledge he had acquired of Islam and of business management in order to “sell”, that is, to disseminate, the Islamic religion.[6]

Balala returned to Kenya in 1990 and was until mid-1992 an unknown street preacher in one of Mombasa’s bustling market squares, Mwembe Tayari. He gradually began to attract public attention when his preachings became more and more political and critical of the government. His impressive eloquence, wide knowledge of Islam, and bold and fiery invective against the regime attracted large crowds, mainly young Muslims. Less blatant attacks by government opponents in the 1980s had led to arrests, and here was a sheikh who was not afraid and even proudly and publicly declared that he was “the only Kenyan who gives President Moi nightmares”.[7] Apart from his fierce criticism of the government in general and of Moi in particular, the likes of which had not generally been heard before, Shaikh Balala expressed views that, at first, were relatively moderate:

  • He demanded that Muslims be strict in observing Islamic practices, especially daily prayers.
  • He insisted on the importance of Islamic education and the setting up of Muslim schools.
  • He warned that tourism corrupted the morals of Muslims, who had begun imitating foreign attire and such pursuits as going to bars and discotheques.
  • He demanded that women dress modestly and keep themselves “pure”.
  • He repeatedly argued that Islam does not differentiate between religion and state; that politics is part of religion; that the cancellation of the ban on political parties gave the Muslims an opportunity to organize themselves and to raise their demands; and that the government should allow the Islamic Party of Kenya (IPK) to operate just as it allowed other parties.[8]
  • To placate the Christians, who claimed that Balala believed that shari’a law should be imposed on the whole population, Balala made it clear that the shari’a would be applied only to Muslims: “[The imposition of shari’a on the whole country] is not a priority for us but we want to show Muslims that we have our own way of solving political, economic, and social problems.”[9]  
  • Balala’ strongest criticism was directed against those Muslims who were active in the government and in the ruling party but who, he charged, only tended to their own private interests.[10]

In mid-1992, Balala joined the Islamic Party of Kenya (IPK).[11] He immediately became its uncrowned leader and spokesman, regulating the party’s founders to the sidelines. At this stage, with Balala’s charisma drawing many supporters to the party, they did not complain about being upstaged. From now on Balala led the demonstrations and other antigovernment activities. Under his leadership the IPK became much more radical; his supporters, especially the youth, clashed with the security forces and exercised control through threats and violence. Balala publicly demanded that Moi’s regime be toppled, accusing him of despotism and corruption.[12]

At this stage, the position of Balala and the IPK was strengthened by several factors. First, the opposition parties – especially the main one, Ford-Kenya, and its leader Oginga Odinga – supported the IPK’s registration. The opposition parties hoped that by demonstrating solidarity with Balala, they would obtain, in the forthcoming general elections for parliament and the presidency, the votes of Muslims who could not vote for the banned IPK.[13] Despite their party’s lack of official recognition, IPK leaders also participated in the assembly of opposition parties that was held on 11-12 May 1992, seven months before the elections, and they were encouraged by the support they received. This intensified the government’s anger as well as, in reaction, its measures against the IPK. The opposition parties also displayed their support for the IPK when some of their leaders took part in parades and demonstrations the IPK organized. Thus, when President Moi visited Mombasa in August 1993 to open the agricultural fair, there was a protest demonstration organized by the IPK against his visit; Rashid Mzee, professor, member of parliament and leader of Ford-Kenya, took part in this protest. Other leaders of Ford-Kenya, such as Paul Muita, first deputy party chairman and MP from the Kikuyu region, and James Orengo, a senior member of the party, attended mosques to hear Shaikh Balala’s sermons in order to obtain his support. These leaders’ visit to Mombasa just before the serious disturbances in September 1993 brought a strong reaction from Assistant Minister Sharif Nassir, who accused them of fanning the riots by inciting against the government.[14]

The relationship between Balala and Ford-Kenya began to change when, late in 1993, its leader, Oginga Odinga, began negotiations with the ruling KANU party about cooperation in development projects in the Luo areas. At the same time, Odinga started to show a more conciliatory attitude toward President Moi and relations between them improved. Angered by this closeness of Ford-Kenya to the regime, Balala announced that he was transferring his support to the second opposition party, Ford-Asili, led by Kenneth Matiba, but would continue to support Rashid Mzee because of his personal regard for him.[15] Balala even issued a joint statement with Muita, who also criticized Odinga’s conciliatory stance toward the government. The statemenr decried all compromise with Moi’s government, which it called a “dictatorial regime”.[16] Later the IPK leaders demanded a separation between the presidency of the country and the presidency Kanu, asserting that the national president should stand above all parties and not be identified with any single party.[17] In any case, despite the differences between the opposition parties, they all supported the IPK’s legal recognition and took pains to forge links with its leaders.

The IPK received another shot in the arm from Ali Mazrui, who, as we have seen, supported the party’s registration and identified with its complaints about discrimination against Muslims, and had even warned of disturbances and a “black intifada” if the situation did not improve.

Another factor that helped the IPK, at least indirectly, was the existence of divisions among pro-government Muslim politicians, stemming primarily from personal rivalry and competition for key posts in Kanu.[18] Especially helpful was the strong opposition to Assistant Minister Nassir, chairman of Kanu’s Mombasa branch, who had many enemies within Kanu because of his arrogant behavior and his desire to be the party’s only representative and spokesman in the CoastProvince.

Statements against Islam by Christian religious and political leaders at this time angered Muslims, intensified their fears, and made Balala’s stance that much more persuasive. Moreover, Muslims reacted fiercely when Cardinal Maurice Otunga called in January 1993 for a struggle against the spread of Islam in Africa. There was also much bitterness at Moi’s statement on 1 June 1992 about the Muslim slave trade. To further increase his popularity among Muslims, Balala sought an image as the defender of Muslim rights against discrimination by Christians. In an “open letter” to the Catholic Church, published in the press, Balala claimed that “your Church sometimes operates openly against Muslims and discriminates against them even though they are citizens of Kenya.” He mentioned the incident at the Consolata Secondary School in the Meru region, from which seven Muslim girl students were expelled because they fasted during the month of Ramadan and were absent from school. He also emphasized that the Kenyan constitution proclaimed freedom of religion and that Muslims were permitted to observe their religious practices.[19]

The position of Balala and of IPK supporters was also strengthened to some extent by financial and moral support from Sudanese, other Arab, and Iranian sources. During his trips abroad, Balala visited Sudan several times.[20] Moderate Muslims in Mombasa expressed fears that Iranian involvement and support from radical Muslims would cause tensions within the Muslim community.[21] Suspicions that Iran was supporting extremist Muslims were given wide publicity when, on 13 January 1994, the Standard published a full-page headline: “Terror Against Kenya: Islamic Fundamentalists to Take Over”.[22]

In December 1992, the popularity of the IPK led by Shaikh Balala emerged very clearly when it succeeded , in effect, in defeating Kanu in Mombasa during the multiparty elections to parliament. Of Mombasa’s four seats, Kanu won only one; the other three were won by opposition party candidates, two of whom, Rashid Mzee and Salim Mwavuno, represented Ford-Kenya, which Balala supported.

 

The Government’s Response

The Muslim unrest and wave of violence in Mombasa surprised and concerned the authorities. For one thing, they feared that Mombasa, which was Kenya’s port and an important tourist center, could be economically harmed by the disturbances. Second, the unrest stirred deep suspicions stemming from the attempts by the Muslim coastal strip to break away from Kenya at independence. Third, there was apprehension lest the unrest spread from Mombasa to other Muslim centers on the coast such as Malindi and Lamu, and to Muslim concentrations in large towns. Indeed, as we shall see, during this time in Lamu especially there were violent demonstrations against the government. Finally, the unrest in Mombasa aroused associations with the underground activity that had occurred in the NortheasternProvince and the Somali Muslims’ desire to secede from Kenya.[23]

The government’s response to the first disturbances in May 1992 suggested that it still did not understand the true nature of militant Islam.[24] It resorted to the use of excessive force, including arrests – especially the repeated arrest of Balala, who was even charged with treason, punishable by death (later the state lifted this charge). It quickly became evident that these arrests, and the security forces’ breaking into mosques in pursuit of demonstrators, only fanned the agitation and violence. Balala’s arrest cast him in the role of a hero who did not fear the authorities and indeed, during his trial, preached against them harshly. The more the government tried to intimidate him, the bolder and more radical he became. His photographs and speeches filled the front pages of the newspapers,[25] especially those of the opposition.

Throughout 1992 – 1993 the illegal IPK controlled the streets in Mombasa, despite the security forces’ actions against it. Thus, on 22 August 1992, two days before a planned visit by Moi to the city, the IPK organized a large demonstration attended by tens of thousands of Muslims – indeed the largest demonstration ever seen in Mombasa. It was led by Shaikh Abdul Rahman Khitamy, a respected Muslim leader. The demonstrators set out from the great mosque, the Sakina Mosque, passed in orderly, quiet procession through the city, and ended up at the office of the district commissioner, where they waved banners demanding the release of Balala, who was under arrest at the time. Other placards proclaimed “IPK – we shall overcome.” The commissioner was handed a memorandum that he was asked to pass on to the president, which demanded that Moi immediately release Balala, apologize for a speech in which he blamed Muslims for the slave trade, recognize the IPK, and register it legally.[26] Although this demonstration was quiet compared to the events a few months earlier, it did not signal a calming of the situation.

Aside from the “stick” of force against radical Muslim elements, the regime also began to offer “carrots,” showing readiness to pay more attention to moderate Muslim demands. In the past, Presidents Kenyatta and Moi had sometimes made gestures toward the Muslims to placate their feelings of discrimination and meet some of their demands, as in the case of ‘Id al-Fitr that was declared a general public holiday. After the violence of May 1992 and the disturbances that followed, the government increased funding for Muslim institutions, and the president and his ministers more often participated in assemblies to collect money for Muslim schools. For example, the president donated 20,000 shillings at a harambee( in Kiswahili togetherness- a rally for collcting money for charity) organized by Sharif Nassir and Minister Hussein Maalim Mohamed for the Muslim Academy of Kenya.[27] At these gatherings and during visits to Muslim areas, the President sometimes wore a white kaffiyah and a kanzu (traditional Muslim attire), which was widely publicized in the media.[28] Further concessions were made to pilgrims to Mecca, and their foreign currency allowance was periodically increased, for which Muslim leaders who supported the regime expressed gratitude. Shaikh Mohamed Amana, for example, chairman of the Islamic Reformation of Kenya (Islahil Islamiya), thanked the government for the concessions and pointed out that in 1994, 3,500 Muslim pilgrims from Kenya were able to visit the holy places.[29] Government representatives took greater part in Muslim holiday celebrations, where they greeted the Muslim community in the name of the president and his minions. Officials also stressed that Muslims had been appointed to senior posts, especially that the chief of staff, Mahmud Mohamed, was a Somali Muslim.

An interesting example of the “carrots” approach occurred in the Muslim region of Lamu. The district commissioner, John Sala, whose harsh actions toward the inhabitants had contributed to the agitation in 1993, became more moderate, apparently on orders from above. In June 1994, he informed the Lamu inhabitants that they would receive title deeds to their land and that the government had allocated money for building roads in the regions of Lamu and Faza so as to solve the transportation problems there. He also announced that the government was ready to provide loans to entrepreneurs in the region to develop industry. The assistant minister of labor and employment, Abdul Karim Mohamed, publicly thanked the government for the attention it was devoting to Lamu, particularly the heightening of security measures (see below).[30]

In the field of higher education, President Moi acceded to Supkem’s request and in January 1996 issued a presidential order granting recognition to the Mikindani College for training Muslim teachers, which entitled it to award degrees; until then, the Ministry of Education had not recognized the college’s degrees. That same month, in response to a request by the Muslim leadership (and in this instance also the Christian leadership), the president announced the cancellation of the requirement to teach sex education in all schools.[31] As mentioned earlier, in response to Muslim demand, in 1994 the government banned the distribution of Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses.

Along with extending the carrot as well as the stick, the government used the divide-and-conquer method. The United Muslims of Africa (UMA) was established in May 1993. Its founders were black African Muslims who supported the government, headed by Shaikh Swalih Ali; Omar Musumbuko, one of the leaders of Youth for Kanu 1992; and Emmanuel Maitha. All three were active in Kanu and had campaigned for its victory in the 1992 elections. It seems that the organization was set up with the blessing of members of the ruling elite, although the police would sometimes arrest (and later release) its activists, apparently as a way of countering the accusation that the government was behind it.[32]

According to a large announcement which was published in The Standard (25 May 1993) and signed by its founders, the objectives of the UMA are as follows:

“UMA is against IPK which has been constantly engaging in abuse to the head of state and leaders affiliated to other political parties, for this is against Islamic teachings. Qur’an is against hooliganism and thuggery agitated by the leaders of IPK. UMA is ready to defend the integrity of Africans from this disease that has been inflicted to the continent of Africa by rich particular Gulf states to create havoc between various denominations in Africa. UMA is here not to engage into any confrontation with anybody but warns all Muslims who have been letting loose their sons and daughters to engage in riots and destroying of property for we are here to clean the once respected religion of Islam. We are opposed to the Islamic Party of Kenya for the following reasons:

  • At the time of the installation of Islam in the pagan Arabia, Prophet Mohammad (S.A.W.) did not form a political party to fight the Muslim rights in Mecca.
  • Islam is to submit oneself into doing the will of God (SWT) but not to commit oneself into hooliganism, violence, burning of property and encouraging the youth in meditation and hallucination to disrupt peace.
  • No consultation on the modalities of fronting the Muslim rights within the Muslims and the government was ever made from the various Islamic denominations eg. Sunni and Shias, of which have the right of integration under the banner of Islam.
  • Exploitation of Islam by selfish and fanatics for their own personal gains as evidently displayed by a few people in our society for Islam is not for a cheap place. Like a Social Hall but its for God and nobody else.
  • UMA harbours no political ambitions neither their support to politicians to further their personal gains but there to develop a foundation to help promote the living standards to all who are African and accept Africa with its realities.
  • UMA is going to help and assist those people who fell victims of the hooliganism brought about by the IPK.
  • UMA is for all Muslims and should not be seen to be dividing Muslims on racial lines.
  • UMA wants all Muslims and non-Muslims to be brothers and sisters as they have always been before the formations of divisive groupings. There should be respect among them all to promote Islamic and African brotherhood.”   

The UMA’s main goal, openly declared, was to fight against the IPK and Shaikh Balala. The UMA demanded the cessation of the “slander” of the president and the government and of the IPK’s demonstrations and incitement, which, the UMA charged, had caused division among the Muslims and the spilling of blood, contravening the commands of the Qur’an. It accused the IPK of seeking to turn Mombasa into a center of Islamic fundamentalism and sowing discord between Muslims and Christians. The UMA leaders pledged to work for Muslim unity and for an atmosphere of brotherhood between Muslims and non-Muslims. Since, in these leaders’ view, the Arab countries’ intervention in Muslim affairs had contributed to the unrest, they demanded the cessation of such activity, especially on the part of the rich Gulf countries. In contrast to the IPK, the UMA opposed the politicization of religion and demanded the separation of religion and politics.[33]

In its propaganda the UMA tried to portray its conflict with the IPK as a struggle between black African Muslims and Muslims of Arab descent, whom they nicknamed “brown Muslims.” The UMA aimed to defend the black Muslims against the “Muslim immigrants from the Gulf countries whose purpose is to create chaos between the different Muslim communities on the continent.”[34]The UMA particularly stressed that most of the IPK leaders, including Shaikh Balala, were of Arab descent and were supported by Arab countries. Balala’s features are not, in fact, those of a black African; it is true that the original IPK founders, Omar Mwinyi and Abdulrahman Wandati, were black, but with Balala’s accession they were shunted aside. The UMA further accused the IPK of expelling black imams from mosques and replacing them with imams of Arab descent and threatened to boycott mosques run by Muslims of Arab descent.[35]This accusation was mostly false, but it was effective because of the historic rivalry between the two groups.[36]

The establishment of the UMA brought increased tension in Mombasa. Young UMA members disrupted IPK demonstrations by staging counterdemonstrations, and violent clashes soon erupted. During 1993 – 1994, the disturbances reached new levels of intensity.

On Friday, 28 May 1993, there was an almost completely observed general strike in Mombasa in response to posters distributed by the IPK. The posters warned that “all those who violate the guidelines of the IPK will be considered as enemies, and we will take appropriate steps against them because they are opposed to our way. We warn them that the IPK will catch them and set them on fire.” Another poster showed a picture of MP Rashid Sajad, a close ally of President Moi, with the caption: “If you neet this man, kill him!” The timing of the strike was connected to Shaikh Balala’s appearance in court to stand trial and his supporters’ demand for his immediate release. The response to the call for a strike in Mombasa was startling: all transportation stopped, almost all stores closed, and the only people in the streets were groups of IPK and UMA activists who fought with each other while the police tried to maintain order.[37]Several days later, Sajad’s and Sharif Nassir’s cars were set on fire. Sajad was not the only one against whom a fatwa was issued: Balala also issued one against UMA leader Emmanuel Maitha, demanding that he be caught and whipped, and Maitha had to go into hiding. For this threat Balala was again arrested; the police also found and arrested Maitha for questioning and then released both of them.

In June and July 1993, the IPK-UMA clashes were fierce. IPK youth threw petrol bombs at Kanu’s branch in Mombasa, and UMA members demonstrated and hurled petrol bombs at IPK leaders’ houses and Balala’s house (he was not at home at the time). Balala accused the government of trying to eliminate him and issued an ultimatum that if within fifteen days those who had thrown the bombs were not apprehended and punished, he himself would take extreme measures. The police arrested several young men from both camps, suspecting they were among the bomb throwers. On 8 July, the UMA held a demonstration of 5,000 people during which its leaders handed a memorandum to the provincial commissioner denying that they were to blame and demanding that measures be taken against the IPK and its leaders. In August, Nassir prepared another visit for President Moi to Mombasa. On this occasion, Balala organized a large, peaceful demonstration of about 10,000 Muslims protesting against President Moi, the government, and the planned visit.

The unrest in Mombasa also spread to Lamu. The disturbances there began, as noted, as a protest gathering against the district commissioner, John Sala, who, according to the inhabitants, displayed contempt toward Muslims and even refused to receive a delegation sent by them to air their grievances. Their complaints concerned the lack of security on the roads, especially the road from Malindi to Lamu, where there had been many incidents of robbery and murder. The inhabitants also felt that the Lamu area was neglected and that there were no development projects there. Sala’s refusal to hear these grievances, and the police order to disperse the gathering, ignited severe rioting in early September 1993. Rioters shouted pro-IPK slogans; homes of government supporters and government property were set on fire and in some cases destroyed, including the law courts, the tax offices, and Kanu’s offices in Lamu. Shaikh Balala and the other IPK leaders immediately exploited the situation, praising the protesters for their courage and urging them to keep protesting until they achieved their objectives.[38]

The Lamu disturbances intensified government fears that the trouble would spread to other areas, partly because they had erupted simultaneously with serious renewed agitation in Mombasa after Moi’s visit there. Early in September, Balala called for a “national strike” to be held on 20 September to protest the government’s “brutal policy,” and on that day Mombasa as well as Malindi turned into ghost towns. Many residents, however, stayed in their homes so as not to be injured in the clashes between IPK supporters and the security forces, not out of solidarity with the IPK. In Mombasa, petrol bombs were thrown at the Kanu office and at the central police station; the clashes involved injuries and deaths, especially in the city’s old quarter, the IPK’s stronghold. In Malindi, too, there were confrontations with the security forces.[39]

During 1992 – 1993, the IPK was at the height of its power and constituted a serious concern to the regime. Moderate Muslims and even some Christian groups joined the demand for registration of the IPK. In a long article in The Standard on 30 May 1993, “More Caution over Booming Unrest,” the Christian journalist Dominic Odipo argued that the IPK’s success in the strike two days earlier in Mombasa proved that it constituted a substantial force and therefore should be legally registered; failure to do so would only increase its popularity and effectiveness. Odipo pointed out that even the trade union umbrella organization, COTU, which had declared a general strike in 1992, had not had such success. He warned that if the government continued to oppose the IPK’s registration, the result would be chaos in Kenya that could well worsen. In the opposition newspaper Society, in an article on 4 October 1993 “Coast Polarized,” Christian journalist Mwangi Chege also expressed fear that the disturbances would snowball if the government did not agree to register the IPK. He attributed the disturbances to discrimination against the Muslims and criticized the security forces’ brutality. 

There was also criticism of the government, mainly from opposition sources such as MP and Ford-Kenya leader Rashid Mzee, for supporting the UMA and its activities.[40]But even progovernment Muslim leaders viewed the UMA’s emergence with concern. Supkem, which was critical of the IPK, came out against the UMA’s activities, contending that they had contributed to the bloodshed; Supkem apparently regarded the UMA as a rival Muslim organization. Another Muslim organization, the Kenya Koran Teachers’ Union, accused the UMA of fostering division and racism because it attacked imams who were not black, averring that “after all, in the mosque you do not pray to the imam but to Allah” and that Islam opposed discrimination on the basis of color or race.[41] Sharif Nassir, for his part, fearing that his rivals for Muslim leadership on the coast (such as Rashid Sajad) stood behind the UMA, attacked the organization’s leadership.[42]Interestingly, even the only Muslim minister in the government, Hussein Maalim Mohamed, expressed unease about the UMA and its violence.[43]This criticism again manifested the divisions and competition for leadership within the Muslim community.

The government, for its part, saw to it that within the framework of its anti-IPK activities, there were statements against the IPK by progovernment Muslims, and it did this first and foremost via Supkem (Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims). Against the background of Balala’s arrest in July 1992 and the demonstrations protesting it, Supkem organized a large Muslim delegation of religious leaders, businesspeople, and public figures who met with President Moi and expressed their reservations about the IPK and Balala, assuring the president of their loyalty. This meeting took place despite the IPK’s threats that members of the delegation would be punished.[44]Later the government organized gatherings of Muslim MPs and other public figures that censured Balala and his party. On 20 June 1994, in a large Muslim assembly at Wajir in the Northeastern Province, MP Ahmad Khalif voiced support for the government and condemned the IPK.[45] During the entire period of demonstrations and disturbances, the chief qadi issued pronouncement opposing the violence perpetrated by Balala and his supporters – which sowed division among the Muslims – and stressing that Moi’s government preserved freedom of religion and hence deserved gratitude.[46]

 

Division in the IPK and the Fall of Shaikh Balala

By acting against the IPK, the government aimed at limiting the party’s influence. Ultimately, however, what seriously damaged the party and Shaikh Balala’s position was a split within the IPK itself. Some of the party’s founders began to question the extremism of Balala’s actions, including his threats against government leaders and his constant calls for demonstrations that caused harm to the residents of Mombasa and led to deaths and injuries. Among other things, he announced that he had under his authority ten suicide bombers who were ready to carry out whatever he ordered, and he declared several days later that he had managed to recruit total of fifty-five potential suicide bombers.[47]Nor did the IPK founders look favorably on his issuing fatwa edicts against people, such as Sharif Nassir, Emmanuel Maitha, and Rashid Sajad.[48] Furthermore, in late 1993 and the first half of 1994, Balala intensified his personal attacks on President Moi and his provocation of the security forces, which led to further deaths and injuries. In one violent incident in March 1994 between the security forces and young IPK radicals, petrol bombs were thrown at government institutions. In this instance, the disturbances spread into Bondeni, the old quarter of Mombasa, and several young men were injured. These young radicals even nicknamed themselves the Islamic Jihad Organization and printed posters vowing to take measures against the government.[49]

In May, several IPK leaders decided to organize a procession to mark the second anniversary of the May 1992 disturbances and, the deaths of IPK leaders whom they called shahids (martyrs). The district commissioner warned them not to hold the demonstration; they held it nonetheless, although this time only about 200 participated; the security forces shot several demonstrators with rubber bullets and again there were injuries.[50]In mid-1994, another group emerged that opposed the IPK. Composed of Muslim and Christian supporters of the government, it called itself the Coast Protection. Led by Nyonga Wa Makemba and the UMA activist Emmanuel Maitha, this group threatened to disrupt every demonstration that the IPK organized. It also acted against members of opposition parties who supported the IPK’s activities. Thus, when one of the leaders of Ford-Kenya, Raila Odinga (son of the party’s founder Oginga Odinga), announced in May 1994 his intention to visit the Coast Province, the Coast Protection Group accused him of inciting the coastal residents against the government and warned him that he would be endangering himself if he came.[51] Odinga indeed changed his mind and did not visit Mombasa.

The IPK founders concluded that Balala’s violent militancy was provoking harsh reactions by the government and by progovernment organizations and damaging the economy of the CoastProvince, especially Mombasa. They began to criticize Balala publicly, charging, among other things, that he had not been elected leader of the party and had in fact “hijacked” it – and that he used the party as his own private domain, acting arbitrarily without consulting the IPK founders. Balala, they noted, would boast that without him the IPK would disintegrate.[52]He deviated, they claimed, from the founders’ original aims of representing Muslim demands by legal means and establishing a democratic society influenced by Islamic principles; instead, Balala had undermined both the law and democracy. They accused him of being hungry for publicity, more interested in capturing headlines than in the welfare of Muslims, and even of embezzling money donated to the party and using it for his own private needs. They questioned how the sheikh, who not long before had been a poor preacher in the streets of Mombasa, was now the owner of numerous houses and cars.[53]Some of his opponents within the IPK warned that the radicalism of some of his teachings and actions went beyond the acceptable – for instance, his order to apprehend Muslim women who walked about Mombasa after sunset and publicly flog them.[54]

In June 1994, the IPK leaders decided to expel Balala from the party, and that September they even supported a fatwa issued against him by the UMA, according to which anyone who encountered him was required to kill him for harming Islamic values by his incitement to violence. The IPK leaders had joined in the fatwa, they explained, because Balala had become a “threat to the Muslim community.”[55]

Immediately after his expulsion from the IPK, Balala decided to form a new party called the Islamic Salvation Front, modeled on the militant Islamic party in Algeria. But this was a desparate move that did not bring him any supporters. In August 1994, inEurope, Balala gave an interview to the BBC in which he boasted that he had under his command a well-trained and well-equipped private army of several hundred young Muslims, whose purpose was to launch “Phase 2” of the struggle, aimed at destroying Moi’s regime.[56]Several Muslim religious leaders who were critical of the government, including Shaikh Ali Shee, now came out publicly against Balala, contending that the Muslim community had never authorized him to be its spokesperson and that he had violated the Qur’an’s commands to seek peace and damaged the good name of all Muslims by his warlike words and deeds.[57]

Late in 1994, Balala left Kenya for an extended trip to Europe and Asia to garner support for his party, during which he continued his sharp attacks against his country’s government and president. In April 1995, while in Germany, he requested a passport extension at the Kenyan embassy in Bonn and was informed that, according to instructions received from Nairobi, his passport had been canceled and he was forbidden to return to Kenya. The government claimed that Balala also had Yemenite citizenship and could go to Yemen; moreover, the holding of dual nationality was prohibited under Kenyan law. From exile, Balala sued the government in court for the return of his passport.[58]He even declared that he was resolved to return to Kenya with or without a passport and boasted that he intended to run for president in the 1997 elections. He gave himself the titles “Shaikh General Balala” and “Simba (Lion) Balala,” indicating mental imbalance. He even expressed support for Richard Leakey, who had announced the formation of a new opposition party called Safina, and promised he would soon send $2 million to support its activities. When Safina’s establishment was also prohibited by the government, Balala regarded the party as a fellow sufferer. President Moi, for his part, exploited Balala’s declaration and criticized the ostensible contacts between Safina and the IPK.[59] It is absolutely clear, however, that Leakey had no interest whatever in connections with Balala.

In September 1995, during preparations for the holiday of the Maulidi, marking the birth of the Prophet, Balala issued a statement from abroad threatening that he would, through his agents, turn the festivities into antigovernment demonstrations.[60] Moi again responded, assuring the Muslims that the security forces would protect them from any attempted disturbances. During the festival, reinforcements were sent to Mombasa to ensure order, and the processions went ahead quietly. Balala’s absence from Kenya greatly weakened his supporters and the radical Muslim groups. The IPK, for its part, declined drastically in influence and its activities almost ceased. Occasionally opposition groups tried to raise the question of the revocation of Balala’s passport. For example, in December 1995, Rashid Mzee, deputy chairman of Ford-Kenya, introduced the issue in parliament and demanded that Balala’s passport be restored to him; the minister of state in the president’s office responded by reiterating that Balala had illegally held dual nationality and was not entitled to Kenyan nationality.[61]

By the end of 1995, Shaikh Balala and the IPK had already faded from the headlines and not much was written or heard about them. Balala’s fall had been as swift as his rise.

In 1997, the subject of Balala reemerged in a short episode when, seeking to infiltrate into Kenya, he managed to get on a flight from Germany, his place of exile, to the Nairobi airport. Immigration officials who recognized him called the security forces; they put him on a German plane and returned him to Germany. The date of his arrival was in fact known to some opposition leaders, including the Ford-Asili leader Kenneth Matiba, and they tried to prevent him from returning to Germany by blocking the German plane with their bodies but were removed by the security forces. At the same time, opposition groups were organizing demonstrations to demand a change in the constitution before the 1997 elections, and it seems that some of the opposition leaders wanted Balala’s assistance in their endeavors.[62]

Then, on 2 July, the Kenyan government made a surprise announcement cancelling the ban on Balala’s return to Kenya, and he returned on 12 July. This unexpected move on the eve of the 1997 elections, amid intensifying conflict between the authorities and opposition groups, apparently stemmed from several factors: Balala had taken legal action against the government, and the Supreme Court ruled that he must be allowed to return to Kenya and raised doubts about the cancellation of his passport; Kenya wanted to demonstrate that it was a law-abiding country; the government assessed that Balala’s position had weakened and he would only have a divisive effect on the Muslim opposition groups; and his family promised, apparently with his consent, that he would refrain from violence.

On his return, Balala continued to criticize the government but more moderately, and he also criticized the opposition, claiming that it did not reflect the views of the majority. On one occasion, when he began to denigrate the government in front of journalists, his mother, Fatima Sadiq bint Salim, warned: “I shall stitch his mouth up unless he tones it down.”[63] Nevertheless, Balala could not always restrain himself. On the eve of the 1997 general elections, Balala was one of the opposition speakers at the Uhuru park rally. He declared that he intended to disrupt the polls because they had been rigged by Kanu. The government, as a precaution, had Balala arrested in Mombasa shortly before the voting began.[64]

In any case, it seems that for the time being the sheikh does not enjoy the sort of fame and publicity he once did and does not pose a threat to the regime.

Finally, it is worth pointing out that, in the twin bombings of the US embassies in Nairobi and Dar es-Salaam on 7th August 1998, Al-Qa’ida – the perpetrator – exploited the tension between the Muslims and the government and succeeded in recruiting a few local Muslim extremists to assist with the logistics of these acts of terror.

 


[1] Chapter 14 From Islam and Politics in Kenya by Dr. Arye Oded.  Copyright © 2000 by Lynne Rienner Publishers, Inc.  Used with permission by the publisher.

[2] Salim,A.I., Swahili-Speaking Peoples of the Kenya Coast, East African Publishing House (Nairobi,1973) p.247

 

[3] Bernt Hansen, Holger and Twaddle, Michael (eds.), Religion and Politics in East Africa, Fountain Publishers (Kampala, 1995) p.235.

[4] Oded, Arye, Islam and Politics in Kenya, Lynne Rienner Publishers (Boulder, London, 2000) p.65.

[5] For the MRC and its activities and ideology, see the following:

–          The Star, Nairobi, 14 -15 Nov.2012; http://www.bbc.co.uk/world-Africa-1965D148, 19 Sep.2012; http://www.bbc.co.uk/world-Africa-21966209, 28 March 2013; http://allafrica.com/stories/printable/201304030305.html, 2 April 2013

 

[6] Weekly Review, 17 September 1993, p. 3; The Standard, 14 July 1993.

[7] “Islamic Party of Kenya: Changing the Face of Coastal Politics,” Drum, October 1993, pp. 6-8, 17. 

[8] Interview of Raphael Kahaso with Shaikh Balala, “We Are Coming to Win,” The Standard, 28 October 1993.

[9] The Standard, 28 October 1993.

[10] Daily Nation, 5 November 1992.

[11] The IPK was established in January 1992, when the multi-party system was introduced. It was banned because of the principle that Kenya is a secular state separating between religion and politics. Therefore no political party should be based on religion.

[12] The Standard, 28 October 1993.

[13] Weekly Review, 17 September 1993, p. 8.

[14] Ibid.

[15] The Standard, 28 October 1993.

[16] Weekly Review, 24 September 1993.

[17] Daily Nation, 3 June 1994.

[18] Kanu (Kenya African National Union) was since independence in 1963 the only party in Kenya until the multi-party system was introduced in 1992.

[19] Taifa Leo, 4 March 1993, p. 9.

[20] Evidence presented to the U.S. Congress by researcher Khaled Durna, 6 April 1995.

[21] Among those who, in interviews, expressed fears of Iranian involvement were Hisham Mwidau (Mombasa, 30 March 1992); Shaikh Khamis Ahmad Said (Mombasa, 12 September 1992); the Muslim journalist Muhamed Warasmah (Nairobi, 11 October 1992).

[22] On moderate Muslims’ opposition to Iranian involvement in Muslim affairs in Kenya, see the many letters to the editor in The Standard, 2 October 1994. On the support of radical Muslims, including Sudanese, for the IPK, see Drum, October 1993, pp. 6-8, 17.

[23] On attempts at separation before independence and on the Kenyan government’s apprehensions, see Hyder Kindi, Life and Politics in Mombasa (Nairobi, 1972).

[24] Serving at the time as Israel’s ambassador to Kenya, I was present at discussions on this matter with government representatives.

[25] For example, Sunday Nation, 22 May 1994.

[26] JPR, 30 June 1993.

[27] The Standard, 11 July 1993.

[28] For example, the Kenya Times, 1 September 1993, printed a large photograph of President Moi in Muslim attire during his visit to the Muslim region of Lamu.

[29] Taifa Leo, 12 May 1994; Daily Nation, 24 March 1994.

[30] Daily Nation, 3 June 1994.

[31] Weekly Review, 12 January 1996, pp. 17 – 18.

[32] On the view that Kanu leaders established the UMA, see the Christian journal JPR, 30 November 1993, p. 6. The Muslim journalist Mohamed Warasmah expressed the same opinion in an interview on 13 January 1993. See also “Tension Reigns in Mombasa,” Weekly Review, 4 June 1993, pp. 13 – 14; Weekly Review, 17 September 1993.

[33] On the organization and its aims, a large announcement was published signed by its founders, The Standard (25 May 1993). See also Mustafa Idd, “Coast Muslims Face Big Split,” Kenya Times, 14 July 1993.

[34] Weekly Review, 17 September 1993.

[35] Kenya Times, 8 July 1993.

[36] The Standard, 25 May 1993, reports on the disagreements over the appointment of imams to mosques, Kindi (Life and Politics) deals at length with the background to the controversies between Arabs and black African Muslims.

[37] Sunday Standard, 30 May 1993; Weekly Review, 4 June 1993, pp. 13 – 14.

[38] Weekly Review, 17 September 1993, pp. 3-9.

[39] On the simultaneous riots in Mombasa, Lamu and Malindi, see Weekly Review, 17, 24 September 1993.

[40] Weekly Review, 17 September 1993.

[41] Kenya Times, 8 July 1993.

[42] Weekly Review, 17 September 1993.

[43] The Standard, 11 July 1993.

[44] Donal O’Brien, “Coping with the Christians,” in Holger Bernt Hansen and Michael Twaddle, eds., Religion and Politics in East Africa (London: 1995), p. 214.

[45] Kenya Times, 22 June 1994.

[46] The Standard, 18 July 1995.

[47] Weekly Review, 4 June 1993, pp. 13-14.

[48] Daily Nation, 17 May 1993.

[49] Ibid., 5 March 1994.

[50] Ibid., 25 May 1994; Sunday Times, 29 May 1994.

[51] The Standard, 26 May 1994.

[52] Sunday Times, 24 April 1994.

[53] For a detailed summation of the complaints against Shaikh Balala, see the article by one of the IPK leaders, Khalef A. Khalifa, “Principles of Democratic Leadership,” Weekly Review, 17 September 1993, pp. 10 – 12. 

[54] Kenya Times, 8 July 1993.

[55] Ibid., 5-6 September 1994.

[56] Daily Nation, 5 September 1994.

[57] Kenya Times, 23 December 1994.

[58] East African Standard, 1, 24 July 1995; Daily Nation, 18 August 1995.

[59] East African Standard, 1, 7 July 1995.

[60] Kenya Times, 5 September 1995.

[61] Daily Nation, 13 December 1995; Kenya Times, 14 December 1995. In the natter of Shaikh Balala’s citizenship, the Yemeni embassy in Nairobi came to his assistance by declaring, in June 1997, that Balala was not a citizen of Yemen. The ambassador explained that, although Khalid Balala’s father was a Yemenite, Balala himself had never received Yemenite citizenship and had never even visited Yemen (Weekly Review), 13 June 1997, p. 11.

[62] Weekly Review, 13 June 1997, p. 11.

[63] Reuters, 16 July 1997.

[64] Africa Research Bulletin (ARB), December 1997, p. 12920.

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: