Muslim political dissent in coastal East Africa: complexities, ambiguities, entanglements

Benjamin Kirby, Erik Meinema, Hans Olsson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


This article stages a comparative analysis of Muslim politics in coastal Kenya and Tanzania between 2010 and 2023. We explore parallels, discontinuities, and entanglements between different expressions of–and responses to–Muslim political dissent. Our insights are drawn from ethnographic fieldwork conducted in Dar es Salaam, Malindi, and Zanzibar City. We begin by investigating a sharp rise of militant jihadi activity across the region, examining responses by Kenyan, Tanzanian, and U.S. governments, as well as the perceptions of ordinary Muslim citizens. We then explore currents of Muslim civic activism, highlighting the different claims, sentiments, and memories that these movements invoke. Merging these discussions, we analyse episodes of civil unrest and violence that are associated with Muslim dissenters, but which are shrouded with uncertainty. We examine the shifting interpretive frames that Muslim residents apply to these events. We demonstrate how these uncertainties and framing practices, alongside state security strategies, impact the capacity for Muslims at large to engage in political dissent. Using our analysis, we argue that forms of Muslim political expression in coastal East Africa, though comparable and sometimes entangled, must be interpreted with close attention to the distinct experiences, demographic configurations, and political landscapes that characterise different (sub-)national contexts.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)640-661
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of Eastern African Studies
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2023


  • Islam
  • Kenya
  • Muslim activism
  • Tanzania
  • Zanzibar
  • jihadi militancy
  • religious politics


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