The coast region seems to be moving fast from its traditional friendly and 'cold spot' to a major conflict hotspot even as 2013 elections draw nigh.
From the ever lingering threat of election related violence due to the stand taken by the Mombasa Republican Council; to the latest Tana delta wave of attacks that have left over 50 people dead, Kenyans are beginning to wonder what more to expect from the coast region.
The obvious target in such discussions has been MRC and its clarion calls of Pwani si Kenya. But a closer examination of the issues point to the fact that there are deep-seated issues that indeed makes some people in the coast feel lesser Kenyans. The massacre of people; not once but twice in a week without the government putting in place proper mechanism to deal with such issues seems to legitimize the otherwise illegitimate claims of MRC that the coast region is not (not in) Kenya.
It is the same feelings all other marginalized places in Kenya including the northern parts and some western parts feel. Bumula MP Bifwoli Wakoli seemed ironical when he vocalized such feelings (of marginalization) sometime back by chanting; "Bumula tuko Kenya ama Uganda? MRC has transformed this into an ideology, a belief and a struggle for the liberation of the coast region from Kenya all because they feel marginalized and suppressed.
So what really ails coast region
A meeting convened by PeaceNet Kenya for the coastal youth identified the following as predisposing factors to peace ahead of the forthcoming elections. Lack of access to land and land use, youth unemployment, lack of access to education, political sabotage and manipulation, poor leadership, ignorance, drug and substance abuse and a whole lot of historical injustices.
The net result of this state of affairs is that the coast region has not realized social and economic development commensurate with its great potential. Indeed, the coast region has not kept in step for instance with other regions of Kenya like central and some parts in the mainland; which were worse than the coast at independence in the 60s.
So it would appear that the above factors have conspired to stunt growth of coast region in achieving comparative economic growth.
Agitations of MRC are hinged on such grievances and historical injustices and in the forthcoming elections, the relative peace that has been the hallmark of coast region is now at risk.
Instead of spurring economic growth, durable peace at the coast has masked profound socio-political and economic rot that cancelled out efforts to produce accelerated economic growth for the country.
As a consequence, massive poverty persists in the region coupled with a sense of marginalization and injustice.
This is primarily what is causing the disenchantment with the state of affairs as they exist today and the government is the obvious target for blame. This sort of situation is no longer tenable and it underlies the push for change.
In addition, it is this combination of persistent bad governance, perceived structural and historical injustices and socio-economic and political marginalization that are now conspiring to push the coast region to the brink of collapse in the forthcoming elections.
The sense of peace experienced at the coast in the past is not sustainable now for it lacks an enabling framework, and so in the context of a poisoned and fragile social and political climate, the dividers will continue to threaten social and political stability in the future.
What needs to be done?
We need to acknowledge the fact that we are in a new constitutional dispensation and all Kenyans must permit the new constitutional framework to address the deep seated socio-economic and political grievances.
It is my submission that socio-political stability and economic growth of the country is pegged on whether or not we implement the current constitution in its letter and spirit. Not embracing the new constitution will seriously hamper reform efforts now being undertaken in the country, for the new constitutional framework is the driver of reform agenda and the pillar of development so critical for the country to realize its potential.
The new constitutional dispensation promises to strengthen institutions of governance for greater efficiency and effectiveness, promote accountability and responsible conduct, and strengthen national cohesion and integration so as to promote sustainable peace which is critical for sustained socio-economic and political development.
All Kenyans should restore confidence in governance structures and institutions to promote equity and popular participation in development programs and expand democratic space. This cannot happen unless the electorate exercise their right to vote and thus participate in bringing about democratic changes much needed not just at the coast but the entire republic.
The new constitution has expanded enriched and entrenched principles of good governance in the hands of principled people. That is why we appeal to all coastal to participate in the forthcoming elections and vote in people of integrity who will in turn bring about the much required change at the coast region including employment, land adjudication, and equitable sharing of the national resources.
Therefore, so as to achieve stability not just for the coast region but the entire Kenya, it behooves all coastal people to register as voters and present themselves to cast their vote during the forthcoming elections. When elections come early next year, we must vote with our conscience; not our feelings if peace is to prevail.
MRC leaders on the other hand must not hold the coastal region hostage. Saying Pwani si Kenya and asking coast people not to vote is denying present and future generations of wapwani the opportunity to enjoy a reformist constitutional dispensations they voted for in 2010.
Other than stalling the reform process, let us take advantage of the new constitutional provisions including youth representatives, women representatives and other elective posts that the new constitution provides under devolved government to push through our agenda.
The writer is knowledge management officer, PeaceNet Kenya