Politicians Flirting With Serious Danger Over Coast's MRC
There is something very disturbing about the way our politicians—more so presidential candidates—are going about the thorny issue of dealing with the controversial coastal group Mombasa Republican Council (MRC). Whereas MRC has some grievances that resonate with many ordinary Kenyans not just in Coast but many other parts of the country, there is still one fundamental position taken by the group that makes it abhorrent. This is the group’s refrain “Pwani si Kenya (Coast is not part of Kenya)”.
The secessionist posturing poses a serious threat to the nation state of Kenya. It is a threat to national security and an issue that should never have been politicised. But just what is national security? Different scholars and experts have given different definitions to the concept of national security. Harvard Professor Charles Maier defines national security as “a nation’s capacity to control domestic and foreign conditions necessary for the country to enjoy its self-determination, autonomy and well-being”.
Others say national security is the ability “to preserve a nation’s physical integrity, territory and governance from internal and external disruption.” What emerges from the two definitions of national security is that anyone—whether individual or a group— who advocates separatist politics is pushing an agenda that threatens Kenya’s physical “integrity, self-determination and well being” of her citizens. Be that as it may, today there are those activists who have acquired the erroneous notion that national security was abrogated (or abolished) together with the old constitution and as such when the new constitution came in place, national security ceased to exist. Nothing could be further from the truth.
In fact, on the contrary, with our society becoming more and more open, the more challenges the country finds itself facing in the realm of national security. New and hitherto unanticipated threats have emerged as old barriers have crumbled under the righteous weight of democracy and freedom. Excited and incited by the newfound freedoms, individuals and groups start pushing agendas, schemes and programmes they would not have dared dream about under the previous draconian system.
On the other hand, politicians eager to attract votes will take populist positions regardless of whether doing so goes against the country’s larger national interests. Already, we are seeing a great deal of this among key presidential candidates. Earlier this year, Prime Minister Raila Odinga took a very nationalist position over the MRC claims 'Pwani si Kenya'.
Raila told the group, and rightly so, that the government could only negotiate with them and address their grievances once they renounced the 'Pwani Si Kenya' posturing. At the time, Raila’s argument was simple: the Government cannot negotiate with ‘aliens’ who held the view their region was not part of Kenya. President Kibaki himself at one time articulated this argument very clearly when he said Kenya was one indivisible entity. And for a moment Prime Minister Raila Odinga appeared to be walking along the same path.
But a few weeks later, the PM did an acrobatic flip-flop. And judging from his comments on MRC last week, Raila’s latest position now is that it is kosher to negotiate with ‘aliens’ even if those who want to tear your country apart. For a politician of his status, the Prime Minister knows or should have known the dangers of flirting with separatist groups.
For a politician of his immense political experience, Raila knows or ought to have known that there are certain paths you don’t take no matter how alluring the promise of votes. It is possible that Raila was spurred into making an about-turn on MRC by the challenges that came with the exit of Musalia Mudavadi from ODM. But for a seasoned politician of Raila’s calibre, momentary challenges do not call for such knee-jerk and short termism reactions. These are the moments that define principled leaders.
Principled and visionary leadership demands that the leader often bite the bullet, say and do what is right, not just what is popular. This is called putting national interest ahead short-term personal interests. Other presidential candidates Musalia Mudavadi and William Ruto are also on record advocating for unconditional negotiations with MRC.
When you listen to the arguments advanced by all these presidential candidates in favour of government entering into negotiations with MRC, what comes out loud and clear is that they are doing so to curry favour with Coast voters. For the short-term gain of votes, these politicians are willing to flirt with danger in a manner that could open the pandora’s box to inexorable problems for this country.
Politicising national security is flirting with danger; akin to throwing electric sparks in a room filled with petroleum fumes. Under such circumstances, a fragile nation state such as ours can easily find itself being on the fast track to self-destruction. That is not a good place to be. No amount of votes is worth the destruction of a country!