Following the elections of 2007, there was a significant increase in public expressions of secessionist feeling on the Kenya coast. During 2010 and 2011, one manifestation of this was the emergence of the Mombasa Republic Council (MRC), which demands independence for the coastal region. The language of secessionism is historical, and revisits the vivid political debates of the late 1950s and early 1960s, when politics in coastal Kenya revolved successively around two constitutional issues. The first was the possibility that the Ten-Mile Strip, nominally the sovereign territory of the Sultan of Zanzibar, might not become a part of independent Kenya; the second was the ‘regionalist’ constitution of 1963–4. This article explores the way that people now retell the history of earlier debates, and argues that these retellings suggest both the power and the plasticity of claims to historical knowledge, and that they reveal a profound fault line within ‘secessionist’ opinion, which separates those who claim political primacy on the basis of autochthony from those who locate their claim to independence in the language of colonial-era treaties. Such divisions are important, because they shape the way that secessionist arguments are framed, and the potential for secessionist politics to undermine the unity of the Kenyan state.
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