Islam and Political Kenya

on Monday, July 22, 2013

Within Kenya’s political scene, racial and ethnic identities play a crucial role in creating division in the Muslims political engagement. Since the independence of the country, the racial and ethnic antagonism among them has weakened the united Muslim voice whenever any political issues concerning the community is raised. As Kenya was preparing for independence, a section of Muslims (Arab Muslims) living at the coast agitated to secede from the rest of Kenya. This call for secession has led to a negative relationship between the Arab Muslims and other non-Arab Muslim leaders in the country.

One effect of this political development is the lasting impact it had on post-independence Muslim politics. The events set a pattern for mistrust between the Arab Muslims and non-Arab Muslims in Kenya. This absence of unity has influenced the way the political elites in Kenya perceive the Muslim community in general. The Kenyan Politicians have capitalized on the disunity among Muslims to prevent any united political front from the community. Eventually, the Muslims have felt politically marginalized. It is the marginalization which the Kenyan Muslims are presently striving to overcome.

As the British administration was preparing to empower the Kenyan-Christian elites and make them lead the state, the Arab Muslims at the coast and the Kenyan Somali Muslims in NFD were agitating for secession. These sections of Muslim population were suspicious and nervous about the power of the Christian elites which led to the emergence of a strong separatist tendency among them. The Kenyan Somalis were advocating joining Somalia. Their political agenda was both ethnic and religious. Although Somalis perceived their struggle in ethnic terms, religious differences with the majority of Kenyans had an indirect impact on them. This tells the reason for advocating joining the Republic of Somalia because they were regarded to have more in common with the people in Somalia in terms of culture, language and Islamic faith than those in Kenya.

On the other hand, the coastal Arab Muslims were agitating to politically be joined with their fellow Muslims in Zanzibar. Historically, the coastal strip had been the dominion of the Busaidi sultanate, kind of Muslim dominion, and this is why the Arab Muslims from the region wanted to be under the governorship of Zanzibar.

Although the Arabs formed a tiny minority among the indigenous African Muslims, they dominated the politics of Kenya’s coast in the pre-independence era. During the colonial period, Arabs were the principal Muslim political players. Muslims political activity at that time took place within the framework of Arab politics. Despite the fact that there were other Muslim groups in Kenya, the Arabs gained recognition from the British authority when it came to dealing with issues affecting the community. This biased treatment affected the relationship between Arab Muslims and other non-Arab Muslim groups. Most non-Arab Muslim groups viewed the special treatment accorded to Arab Muslims as a form of discrimination.

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