Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Unrest in Mombasa

Last night an Islamic Cleric was killed in broad daylight while driving with his wife and kids a few miles north of Mombasa in Nyali. The news has been flowing in at a steady pace and staff room conversations have revolved around the events since about 3:30 pm yesterday. The news/rumors/conjecture I have heard, in no particular order, are as follows. The Cleric was a man named Aboud Rogo Mohammed and he had been placed on both UN and US blacklists due to his strong connections to Al-Shabab, the militant Islamist group based in Somalia. In the months leading up to my time here there were a number of grenade attacks in nightclubs and bars that the international media attributed to Al-Shabab, but the local news feels differently and places the responsibility in the hands of the Mombasa Republican Council, a group that is motivated my the desire for an independent Mombasa and Coast Province. Regardless, Mohammed had been accused of planning other attacks in Mombasa that had yet to be carried out. He was also a known recruiter for the organization in Kenya.
            Mohammed was apparently shot up to eighteen times and, at least according to rumor in my homeroom this morning, his wife was rushed to the hospital, having sustained direct hits herself, and died this morning. Yesterday afternoon and evening, the northern part of Mombasa Island was completely shut off by rioters and the bridge out of the city was closed for a while. Tires were burned, as were Matatus. One person was killed during the riots. Some of the rioters apparently vandalized up to four churches using rocks from the street to break windows and doors. We had to hold our day students back from leaving school as we didn’t want the buses on the streets at such a volatile time.

A fellow Teaching Fellow and I went across the street to the local supermarket to do some standard shopping and nothing really seemed amiss, we are on the southern-most point of the island though, about as far away from the violence as we could be. Right next to our school is a major ferry, the only connection from the southern part of the island to the South Coast. It is normally jam packed with Matatus and Tuk-Tuks (three wheeled motor-vehicles that I, for some reason, strongly associate with Thailand). The biggest sign that something was wrong was that the streets were largely empty of the vehicles and instead hordes of people were on foot. Matatus are generally easy targets when riots begin and if pictures are any indication, they tend to burn well too. Any intelligent matutu driver gets off the road when he can when riots are afoot. Besides the lack of vehicles, everything seemed largely the same.
            As for who killed the Cleric, a number of theories are floating around. Many people are blaming the police as this was a high profile contentious figure that had potentially bad intentions for the general population of Kenya and Mombasa. But a teacher here (who has had his fair share of run ins with the police for refusing to pay arbitrary fine), defended the police (in a way) saying that when the police execute someone they do it with two shots to the head or heart, and not in broad daylight with such aggressive tactics. He seems to think that it was an internal job by Al-Shabab intended to incite violence in Kenya and heighten tension between the Muslim and Christian populations of the city. Spokesmen from Mohammed’s organization, The Muslim Youth Center (MYC) have already threatened retaliation on “the non-believers.”
            With all that being said, everyone at the academy is safe and sound and there is no reason to believe that will change in anyway at any time. The city on the whole is a very safe place and incident like this happen, tensions are high for a day or two and then it all goes back to normal. Life continues to be good, and continually interesting, on the coast of Kenya.

Here are some links for your perusing pleasure:

-Mzungu currently safe and sound and wrapped up in the intrigue of current events happening in real time in my new city of Mombasa

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