MAJORITY, MOST DISADVANTAGED

Coastal unity should start with Mijikenda

When Ngala died in 1972, the foundation stone of regional unity he had strived to build, collapsed.

In Summary

• Unity among coastal communities has remained elusive, though other regions strive for inclusion in national decision-making. Unity does't come from a vacuum.

•  As Kenyatta said in  the 1961 analogy, coastal unity shall not be realised simultaneously: It must start from somewhere.

KIlifi county Governor Amason Kingi during the Chenda Chenda festival that brought together all the Mijikenda tribes at Karisa Maitha Ground.
KIlifi county Governor Amason Kingi during the Chenda Chenda festival that brought together all the Mijikenda tribes at Karisa Maitha Ground.
Image: ALPHONCE GARI

On Tuesday, July 11, 1961, a delegation from the Baluhya Pollical Union led by Musa Amalemba, visited Jomo Kenyatta at Maralal, just before his release from detention.

One of the issues Kenyatta addressed was national unity.

“I believe in the unity of all Africans,” Kenyatta said, “but tall buildings do not come from nowhere, they have to be built by laying one stone on top of the other.”

In hindsight, Kenyatta’s remarks would be interpreted to mean that he could not all at once unite Kenyans without first uniting his own people, the Kikuyu.  

“There is nothing wrong in bringing one’s house in order before one can tell others to do so,” he said.

In laying the foundation stones for national unity, Independence leaders in the Kenyan regions followed Kenyatta’s advice. They encouraged their folks to unite and speak with one voice as a people.

At the Coast, Ronald Ngala was the most prominent leader. He worked to unite first, his own people of the Giriama, before he did the same for the rest of the Mijikenda communities across the region. The regional unity Ngala strived to build had a purpose: To protect the resources of the Coast.

Historian Daniel Branch recalls that the era of nationalism encouraged the Mijikenda to assert their indigeneity entitled them to determine Coast’s political and economic future. Hyder Kindy, another historian, observes that the Mijikenda were struggling to assert their identity as an indigenous people of Kenya, who should be accorded first priority at the Coast.

When Ngala died in 1972, the foundation stone of regional unity he had strived to build, collapsed. A leadership vacuum persisted until 2002, when Karisa Maitha emerged to pursue Ngala’s dream of a Mijikenda and Coast's regional political come to into fruition. He died in 2005, opening another regional leadership vacuum,  which has remained to this day.

Unity among coastal communities has remained elusive, while other regions strive for inclusion in national decision-making. As Kenyatta said in  the 1961 analogy, coastal unity shall not be realised simultaneously: It must start from somewhere. That somewhere must be the Mijikenda, the more populous Giriama in particular.

Many advantages outweigh Mijikenda political disunity. They are closely related, they share linguistic and cultural heritage, they suffered Coast. In sum, the Mijikenda is collectively the most disadvantaged ethnic group in the Coast, even if they are the majority.

According to the 2019 national census, there are just under 2.5 million people, the eighth ethnic group in Kenya. If politics is about numbers, the unity of the Coast should start with the Mijikenda. This unity should have a diffusion effect on the rest of the region.

Other ethnic groups — the Taita and Taveta, the Pokomo, the Bajuni, the Arabs, Arab/Africans (the Swahili), and other less populous communities across the Coast — would be persuaded to follow suit. Ngala used to say in Giriama dialect,  “Anji ni hiha ra fiho”— unity is strength.

This is the kind of political unity of purpose the Coast should strive to achieve if it has to earn its rightful place in the management of national affairs. This political unity, however, does not emerge from a vacuum.

A homegrown party and a selfless leader devoted to the service of coastal politico-economic and social interests is what the Coast needs. Such leader should be above corruption, suspicion, jealousy, selfishness and personal vendettas.