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February 20, 2019

Clerics' Killings Fuel Religious Conflict

The security situation in Mombasa following the killing of Muslim cleric Ibrahim 'Rogo' Omar, followed by the rather mysterious killing of two Christian clerics, is very worrying. It therefore requires serious efforts from civil society and government to understand the underlying issues affecting public security in the Coast region and come up with effective and convincing solutions.

The assassination of the Muslim cleric and two of his accomplices happened as the country was still struggling to come to terms with the Westgate attack that put our security agencies on the spot.

There are proposals before the National Assembly seeking to amend the National Police Service Act, 2011. If adopted, they proposals would greatly restrict citizens’ participation, undermine the Constitution of Kenya 2010, reinstate power imbalances that existed before, and deconstruct safeguards installed to increase accountability for the Police Service.

Further, the proposals debase the dignity of human beings by elevating the protection of property over human life. The ability to take life would be left entirely to the discretion of street officers to protect 'property'. Can the recent killings and disappearances be linked to this thinking?

Back to security question at the Coast: Just the other day, an opinion poll by Ipsos Synovate indicated that well over 60 per cent of natives of the counties of Mombasa, Kilifi, Kwale and Taita Taveta support the Mombasa Republican Council and what it stands for. MRC is a revolutionary organisation which, citing historical marginalisation, is agitating for the secession of the Coast.

According to the government, MRC is a proscribed organisation notwithstanding a court ruling ordering the state to remove it from the list of banned groups. Alarm bells should ring when most residents support the activities and stance of a 'proscribed' organisation.

There is a theory that should be tested as a way of resolving the simmering sectarian tensions in Mombasa. Under this theory, there is a strong feeling of anger among Muslims there that 'Rogo' Omar, like his predecessor the late Aboud Rogo, was killed by undercover government security agents.

Those who sympathise with the two slain Rogos and blame government for the killings argue that, given that the two were known to be under the constant surveillance for their alleged involvement in terrorist activities, there is no way someone else could ambush, execute them in the same style and just disappear into thin air.

In this regard, since the two Rogos died under a hail of bullets while under the surveillance of anti-terrorism security agents, it means that the same agents undertook the executions or contracted someone else to execute the duo. Based on this kind of reasoning, many Muslims in Mombasa are not convinced that the government cannot find the people who killed the Rogos.

There is a possibility that the subsequent killing of two Christian clerics is connected to the killing of the Rogos, and which can be explained by two other theories. The first theory holds that the Christian clerics were killed by sympathisers of the Rogos to avenge their killing.

But why would the sympathisers target innocent Christian clerics when they believe that government security agents were responsible for the deaths of the Rogos? The answer is simple – to lure the government into the trap of moving with speed to apprehend the killers of the Christian clerics and in return give Muslims the reason to demand that similar efforts are invested in finding and apprehending those who killed the Rogos.

The second theory holds that the slain Christian clerics could have been used as sacrificial lambs. Since the government has been unable or unwilling to find and apprehend those who killed the Muslim clerics, an equal number of Christian clerics had to die under mysterious circumstances in order to debunk the notion that only Muslims clerics are being targeted—thus taking the pressure off the government over its failure to apprehend those who killed the Rogos.

Whichever theory is persuasive, the Kenyan society and the government, in particular, must accept that the mysterious killing of clerics in Mombasa points to an underlying inter-religious conflict that could blow out of proportion any time soon.

And the situation could be compounded by the escalation of extremist religious ideology that has taken root among many communities in the Coast region.

In this respect, there is need for the government to re-look at its security strategies, especially those concerned with fighting terrorism, lest some people find the excuse to incite an inter-religious conflict in Kenya. The Muslim community is the most vulnerable to such incitement.

One of the ways the government can ensure that it fights terrorism without fomenting inter-religious conflicts is to stick to the rule of law. The Prevention of Terrorism Act was enacted last year with the full support of the Muslim community, which has always been sceptical about the whole idea of a war against terrorism.

The government security agencies should, therefore, use this law objectively so that we do away with any perceptions to the effect that the Rogos could have been victims of extra-judicial killings under the guise of fighting terrorism.

The writer is the Deputy Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims.

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