Muhuri chair Khelef Khalifa has refused to take credit for his role in protecting Mama Ngina Drive in Mombasa from grabbers, saying the fight made him labelled a mad man.
Khalifa said his role, more than two decades ago, was necessary. “We will always fight for public interest,” he told the Star in a phone interview yesterday.
President Uhuru Kenyatta on Monday broke the ground for the regeneration of the park into a world class recreational facility to attract tourists. Khalifa said the ceremony is a win against land grabbers.
Mombasa governor Hassan Joho acknowledged the efforts of Khalifa saying the park would not be there without the activist’s efforts. Joho said the grabbers, who “had state backing”,
forced then Mombasa mayor Najib Balala, now Tourism CS, to resign.
“Khalifa and Muhuri continued with the struggle to ensure public land is put back to public use,” Joho said.
Khalifa said he was labelled a mad man for opposing President Daniel Moi who wanted the park subdivided. He recalled his ordeal under Special Branch police officers who he said threatened to throw him into the water at the Nyali Bridge.
“That is the time Moi put a lot of pressure on the Municipal Council of Mombasa to allocate the land to two churches,” Khalifa said. He said Mombasa councillors refused to approve the allocation of the land forcing Moi to summon then Mayor Ahmed Mwidani to State House, Mombasa.
“After the State House meeting, Mwidani convened an extraordinary council meeting where the councillors approved the transaction.”
He said the two churches were issued with building permits. He moved to court through lawyer Lumatete Muchai. “We had nothing against the churches but there was imminent danger that the park would go forever,” Khalifa said.
He said he received immense support from activists including those in Nairobi, but they declined to accompany him to court. “Fortunately, there was a firm judge. I remember Philip Waki telling the bishops; ‘you grab public land and you come to court wanting us to give you a stamp of approval’? That will never happen,” Khalifa said.
He said only ‘mad men’ could take on Moi at the time. He said fear has encouraged ills in the country, especially at the Coast. “When I moved to court to contest the election of President Uhuru Kenyatta, nearly everybody in the streets told me I would be killed.