In Summary
  • Both Mr Hailey and Mr Sivan were photographed walking briskly at the public beach, holding their jackets over the shoulders.
  • Kenya has tackled two secession bids and Britain has been at the centre of both.

Early last week, the British High Commissioner to Kenya, Nic Hailey, flew to Mombasa for talks with two secessionist governors Ali Hassan Joho of Mombasa and Amason Kingi of Kilifi.

That the secession talk has drawn the interest of Western powers was not lost on observers.

The five hour meeting drew in the European Union ambassador Stefano Dejak, Danish’s Mette Knudsen, and the French ambassador Antoine Sivan.


Later in the day, both Mr Hailey and Mr Sivan were photographed walking briskly at the public beach, holding their jackets over the shoulders.

They were accompanied by Mr Kingi and Mr Joho.

Together, the diplomats had a terse message: “Kenya must remain united”, but both Mr Kingi and Mr Joho said they would not back down.

Still last week, the influential British newspaper, The Times, reported that “Russia is suspected of spreading disinformation in Kenya by suggesting that the UK has been interfering in the African country’s elections” and that this was “prompting anxiety in the Foreign Office.”

The Times, quoting a senior Whitehall source, said that these “Kremlin dirty tricks” were the source of anti-British propaganda in Kenya – an issue that could turn the country into a playground of Kremlin-Whitehall tussles.


During the Cold War, such propaganda used by the Soviet Union to disgrace Western institutions was known as dezinformatsiya – and seems to have been revived thanks to fake news, provocative tweets and bald-faced lies.

But it is the secession talk that is perhaps sparking anxiety in diplomatic circles; the reason why Western diplomats decided to have direct talks with the governors.

Self-determination and secession efforts are usually long drawn, bloody and divisive, and Tourism Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala has said as much.

Kenya has tackled two secession bids and Britain has been at the centre of both. The first was the opposition to the inclusion of the 10-mile coastal strip into Independent Kenya and the second was the attempt by Somali population in former Northern Frontier District (NFD) to join the greater Somalia in 1963.

For starters, the coastal strip was once part of the Sultanate of Zanzibar and was administered as a British protectorate while the interior was a colony. This is the reason Kenya, until independence, was known as Colony and Protectorate of Kenya because it combined both.


The Arabs at the coast at the dawn of independence were agitating to join Zanzibar or create their own Mwambao and Jomo Kenyatta managed to lead his Kanu team in declaring that no part of Kenya would secede and he got the support of Sir James Robertson, the UK diplomat who was looking at the matter.

More than 50 years later, Mr Joho and Mr Kingi have started agitation towards secession, following in the footsteps of the Mwambao agitators and, of late, the lacklustre Mombasa Republican Council (MRC).

The worry is not so much that the targeted region will make Kenya’s hinterland landlocked.

While British commercial interests in the region are huge, and always inform the diplomatic relations with their former colonies, the most worrying is that a secessionist move, if it goes wrong, could turn a huge swathe of land into a tinderbox similar to other Indian Ocean flashpoints of Somalia, Yemen, Iran and Pakistan which have become solid networks of global terrorism, piracy and drug smuggling.


It is this bigger picture that is perhaps sending shockwaves to the diplomatic community – rather than the simplistic self-determination as propagated by Mr Joho and Mr Kingi, who graduated with a law degree in 1998 from the University of Nairobi.

Mr Kingi says that both him and Mr Joho “will stand firm and push for secession for us to achieve our ambitions of self-rule.”

The secession talk had been triggered early in the year by a National Super Alliance adviser Dr David Ndii who had written an article on a possible political divorce in a widely circulated article – Kenya is a cruel marriage, let’s talk divorce.

Another diplomatic fear is that the secession talk could awaken the ghosts of 1960s in the former Northern Frontier District (NFD) inhabited from 1900 by Somali herders looking for water and pasture.

At the onset of independence, the Colonial Governor Malcolm MacDonald was convinced that the region would have to go to Somalia, but the political circumstances dictated that he handles the matter cautiously lest it rocked Kenya’s move towards independence.


Again, both Tom Mboya and Jomo Kenyatta were opposed to it and this is what triggered the long drawn Shifta War and unending instability in the North Eastern region.

The instability was worsened by the delivery of Soviet arms to Mogadishu which allowed the Somalia government to offload the old Italian and British arms to the guerilla movement and which led to serious clashes between the Shifta and the Kenya security. By then, Kenya army was made of 2,500 soldiers.

The coast of Kenya is a powderkeg of Islamic radicalism and any instability could throw another rim of the Indian Ocean into trouble and that is why Western diplomats have sought to air their views early.

Again, the entry of Britain, EU, the Denmark and France into the secession debate – and their opposition to it – follows the pattern of Western nations in addressing the African geopolitics.

Throughout the post-independent period, the Western powers have always respected the sanctity of colonial borders in Africa and the governors will have an arduous task pushing their separatist move minus support from Western powers.

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