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Mombasa County Assembly on March 4, 2020, cancelled a public hearing that would have defeated internal colonialism and restore the historical and cultural heritage of Kenya’s Coast. 

Clerk Salim Juma, without legal justification, stopped the public from orally deciding which of the previous names associated with the so-called “Mama Ngina” Waterfront park, Mombasa, should be restored. Some of the park’s past names are Ras Mzimle, Tuaca, Tatu Taifa, and Azania Drive. But the public can suggest new names.

On February 27, 2020, the assembly’s Tourism, Trade, and Investment Committee, through Juma, asked the public to participate in the hearing at Tononoka Social Hall. In an advert, Juma set March 5, 2020, as the deadline for submissions of written memoranda.

A petition from Okoa Mombasa that asked for structured public participation, to delete “Mama Ngina” from the park’s name, activated the committee’s action. MUHURI is a member of the Coalition.

Juma stopped public participation through an advert on the same day the hearing was to take place, citing “unforeseen circumstances”. He did not elaborate. However, Members of County Assembly (MCA) claim the committee could not have held the hearing while the Assembly was in session.

But Assembly calendar is not done in ad hoc. Why did the committee announce public hearing, yet the Assembly was sitting? There are two logical conclusions: the committee was planning to go against its own rules or was staging a Public Relations stunt, knowing it will eventually cancel the hearing.

The government is uncomfortable with the subject, no doubt. There are reports it had three options to delay or frustrate the hearing, including deploying police to disperse locals, whose crime would have been rejecting “Mama Ngina”. This would have attracted media attention and bad publicity. This plan was shelved. Another strategy was planting people to insist on the status quo. Their final plan, which succeeded, was to force the Assembly to cancel the hearing.

Juma’s latest announcement maintained the March 5, 2020, deadline. By setting the time limit too close, and only asking for written memoranda, Juma technically blocked those who wished to make oral submissions. His action negatively impacts and undermines the quality of citizen participation. Written submissions will not certify the requirement of the constitution and will make the process less accountable and transparent. Anyone can challenge it in court.

Internal colonialism

Deleting “Mama Ngina” is restorative justice. It sends a significant message that locals are opposed to the imposition of an alien culture, rulership from the National Government, and want to decide on issues affecting them.

'Mama Ngina' Waterfront park.

‘Mama Ngina’ Waterfront park. Photo © 2020 Ernest Cornel.

Calling the park “Mama Ngina”, the Okoa Mombasa avers, is a gross deletion and obfuscation of an important aspect of the history of the people of Mombasa.

The first President, Jomo Kenyatta, named the park after his wife. And 56 years later, his son, the current President, Uhuru Kenyatta, still honoured his mother when in 2019, he opened the park, which had been refurbished by taxpayers to a tune of Sh460 million.

Uhuru’s imposition of her mother’s name continued the emblematic state of internal colonialism that his administration has been consolidating at the Coast. Okoa Mombasa intends to overturn this by offering opportunities for locals to restore a name containing information about the park and the circumstances at the period it came into being.

BBI interference

Okoa Mombasa submitted its petition to the county assembly on November 8, 2019 – and over 60 days later, contrary to the House Standing Order, the MCAs were yet to debate the matter. The Coalition members said the delay, and the suspicious cancellation of the hearing has to do with current political alignment in the country.

“This sounds like an order from the above. It sounds like the directive of the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI),” Father Gabriel Dolan, a member of the Coalition and Haki Yetu Organization, says.

BBI was born out of the March 9, 2018, “handshake” between Uhuru and Opposition head, Raila Odinga. The two faced off in the 2017 presidential election. Raila lost according to results from the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC).

Raila’s coalition, the National Super Alliance (NASA), protested Uhuru’s victory at the Supreme Court and won. The Apex Court ordered a repeat election, which NASA boycotted. Uhuru won the controversial rerun.

Written submissions will not certify the requirement of the constitution and will make the process less accountable and transparent. Anyone can challenge it in court.

Raila, on January 30, 2018, declared himself the “people’s president” after a mock swearing-in at Uhuru Park, Nairobi. The event escalated the tension in the country. But behind the curtains, Raila would later reveal, talks were on between him and Uhuru to end the impasse, which birthed BBI.

The handshake forced Raila’s political soldiers, including Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho, to stop their attacks towards Uhuru and his regime. Joho was president’s fiercest critic at the Coast during the electioneering period. On numerous occasions, the duo clashed publicly, with Uhuru saying Joho was courting trouble by following him around as though he was his wife.

The President warned of flogging Joho – an apparent reference to the state’s hardhandedness, which manifested in the closure of the governor’s family business over alleged tax evasion (the firms were later opened). Detectives also probed Joho’s academic qualifications.

The handshake, media reports say, provided Joho’s family an opportunity to establish multi-billion businesses near the Inland Container Depot in Nairobi and Naivasha. And Dolan’s statement means Joho, who enjoys overwhelming support in the Assembly, doesn’t want to upset Uhuru – and would go at great length to block any action that will humiliate and demean the President, including removal of her mother’s name from one of the most iconic parks at the Coast.

“Until otherwise, we want the Governor, Joho, to tell us why [the public hearing] was cancelled at short notice, who made this decision and why, and when is the next date arranged for a public hearing,” Dolan, also MUHURI Board member says.

There is a sense the Assembly and the Executive have a predetermined outcome, and any written memoranda will serve to validate it. The House is not ready to have an honest discussion – and it will not be surprising if MCAs say memoranda validated retention of “Mama Ngina”.

Predetermined outcome

Dolan says the Assembly is protecting the Executive’s interest, “yet overwhelming numbers of locals want to do away with Mama Ngina”.

He says written submissions to change the park’s name, as requested by the Assembly’s clerk, can be fake and changed.

The only way to know a public view, Dola says, is to have a public meeting where everything can be recorded and known.

“The county government is afraid of what the public will say around this issue,” Dolan says.

'Mama Ngina' Waterfront park.

‘Mama Ngina’ Waterfront park. Photo © 2020 Ernest Cornel.

Dolan notes Assembly’s action is a denial of democracy on a matter of great importance to the public.

MUHURI chairman Khelef Khalifa recalls Mama Ngina did nothing when two churches and politicians allied to the late President Daniel Arap Moi were grabbing the park in the 90s.

He says the government is afraid locals will delete foreign names occupying Mombasa streets, including Fidel Odinga Road, which Joho in 2017 politically named after Raila’s deceased son. 

Khelef also cites the embezzlement of public funds in the two advertisements done by the Assembly and wants responsible officers, surcharged. 

“We lost Sh300,000,” he says.

There is a sense the Assembly and the Executive have a predetermined outcome, and any written memoranda will serve to validate it. The House is not ready to have an honest discussion – and it will not be surprising if MCAs say memoranda validated retention of “Mama Ngina”.

Okoa Mombasa is planning another public participation to restore the park’s name. It is determined to prove to the government that it cannot erase an important part of the intangible cultural heritage of a people, without being challenged.