WHAT'S IN A NAME?

Don't call park Mama Ngina, says Okoa Mombasa

Proposes more Mombasa-type name like Mekatilili or Mzimli instead

In Summary

• Okoa Mombasa Coalition says the name, Mama Ngina Waterfront Park, does not tell the story of the park, the place or the residents.

•  Instead, Okoa Mombasa says to name it Mama Ngina is "a gross deletion and obfuscation of an important aspect of the history of the people of Mombasa".    

The amphitheatRE at the Mama Ngina Waterfront Park.
BEST NAME? The amphitheatRE at the Mama Ngina Waterfront Park.
Image: JOHN CHESOLI

What is in a name? A lot.

Names are often windows to the past that tell a lot about a person, place or event.

Place names, in particular, are an important part of the intangible cultural heritage of a people.

 

That is why Okoa Mombasa Coalition says the name Mama Ngina Waterfront Park does not tell the story of the park, the place or the people. It's even considered offensive, they said.

Instead, Okoa Mombasa says, it is a ‘gross deletion and obfuscation’ of an important aspect of the history of the people of Mombasa.                                           

The coalition wants the name of the revamped Mama Ngina Waterfront Park changed to Mekatilili (a Coast woman who fought the British) Waterfront Park or the Mzimli (an area name) Waterfront Park.

Mama Ngina was former First Lady of Kenya, the wife of Founding President Jomo Kenyatta 

In a petition to the Mombasa county assembly on Tuesday, the coalition said the name ‘Mama Ngina’ erases the entire history of the place and instead attempts to inscribe a historical memory alien to the place and local inhabitants.

The park has had different names since 1677 CE, when the Portuguese called it Ras Mzimli, when the location was populated by three Swahili subgroups including the Wakilindini, Wachangamwe and Watangana, hence the name Thelatha Tatu or Taifa Tatu.

Between 1912 and 1936, the British colonialists renamed the park Azania Drive.

 

When Kenya gained Independence in 1963, founding President Jomo Kenyatta renamed the park Mama Ngina Drive in honour of his wife, Mama Ngina.

Fifty-six years later, in 2019, Mama Ngina’s son Uhuru Kenyatta, who is now President, renamed the park Mama Ngina Waterfront Park.

“It is against this backdrop that Okoa Mombasa Coalition is petitioning the Mombasa County Government Assembly to conduct a forum with structured public participation with a view to changing the name of the park,” said the coalition in a statement.

In naming the park after Mekatilili, Mombasa would not only honour one of Kenya’s first freedom fighters but also ... would be exercising local participation for local resources.
Okoa Mombasa Coalition

It said the name should signal a reclamation of the historical and the cultural heritage of the people of Mombasa in particular and the Coast in general.

The coalition said Mzimli would reconnect the park to its historical past while Mekatilili would link the park not with its pre-colonial history but with its desired future as a liberated zone.

Muslims for Human Rights chairman Khelef Khalifa is credited with being instrumental in saving the park from being sold off to powerful individuals by the Moi Regime 20 years ago.

Mekatilili wa Menza was a Coastal woman who led the Giriama community to rebel against the British colonial administration and policies in 1913-1914.

This made the colonial rulers capture the heroine, which led to a major uprising among her followers. This became the first crucial step in the quest for freedom from the colonial rule.

“In naming the park after Mekatilili, Mombasa would not only be honouring one of Kenya’s first freedom fighters but also, and in line with Okoa Mombasa Coalition’s mission, Mombasa would be exercising local participation for local resources,” the coalition said.

Okoa Mombasa says the name Mama Ngina does not depict any significance in the history of Mombasa or the Coast.

“Mama Ngina played no part in the saving of the park from land grabbers,” Okoa Mombasa said.

(Edited by V. Graham)

The amphitheater at the Mama Ngina Waterfront Park.
CHANGE The amphitheater at the Mama Ngina Waterfront Park.
Image: JOHN CHESOLI