Nairobi, Kenya – Three months before the end of the last millennium, Africa’s arguably greatest leader-president breathed his last in a big city hospital, far away from the peasants who held him in awe and whom he loved to banter with so much.
On October 14, 1999, Africa woke to the sad news of the demise of Julius Kambarage Nyerere. He was 77, a tender age considering that his beloved mother died at the ripe old age of 100-plus years. His elder brother Wanzagi had died at the age of 86 and his maternal uncle died at the age of 96 years.
The founder-president of the Republic of Tanzania died at St Thomas Hospital in central London. He had been diagnosed with a rare terminal illness — lymphatic leukaemia — a disease that is primarily caused by persistent multiplication of the white blood cells in the blood.
The course of the disease is very slow, but towards the end, is one of extreme discomfort. It is probable Nyerere suffered great pain as he lay in his bed. To date, the ailment has no cure.
Even the magnanimously forgiving first president of South Africa, Nelson Mandela, would not have kept silent in the face of the swamp of corruption his party, the ANC, which prides itself as a liberation movement, now finds itself deeply mired
Given his stature as a revered retired president that when he died, Nyerere –who is fondly remembered as Mwalimu, the Teacher, a name he carried with “aristocratic dignity”– evoked difficult and mixed reactions from friend and foe. Those who loved Nyerere praised him unconditionally, those who disdained him were less than effusive in their eulogies and assessments of his life and career. “Nyerere was the soul of Tanzania,” a Tanzanian journalist once told me, “in life and in death.”
But one thing is unanimously agreed upon even among his harshest critics and most ardent admirers: He was an ordinary man who was not a kleptomaniac.
Kleptomania seems to have become the byword for current African presidents. South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma is reeling from exhaustively documented exposure of corruption by him and his cronies, so much so that the ruling ANC party veterans recently told him to his face: “You have brought shame to our organisation and to our country for (your) own indiscretions and blatant actions of corruption and collusion with forces who do not care about our people and our country.”
Suffice it to say, even the magnanimously forgiving first president of South Africa, Nelson Mandela, would not have kept silent in the face of the swamp of corruption his party, the ANC, which prides itself as a liberation movement, now finds itself deeply mired in.
CORRUPTION: A RUNAWAY SUCCESS
In South Africa, much like our own country Kenya, state corruption has paradoxically been a runaway success, to the consternation the citizenry. A couple of weeks ago, President Uhuru Kenyatta gathered a motley group of senior state aficionados at State House to tackle the destructive institutional corruption that threatens to tear apart his Jubilee coalition government. Fulminating about state corruption, Uhuru cast himself as a helpless victim, a man more sinned against than sinning, blamed everyone but himself and his office. Never in the political history of post-independent Kenya has corruption posed so real a threat to the very existence of the nation-state, 50-plus years after gaining Independence from the British colonialists.
The great function of history is to help us understand the present. More than ever before, what historical lessons can we draw from Mwalimu Julius Kambarage Nyerere’s 23 years at the helm of Tanzania’s political leadership and 15 years as a ‘president-at-large’?
Indeed, the spectre of Nyerere still haunts a continent in dire need of a political role model. Nyerere’s sometimes contradictory political life offers a glimpse of man who deftly avoided being sucked into the vortex of corruption into which political establishments across the continent were already being drawn.
What made Nyerere famous? What was it about him that set him apart from other African presidents of his time? Above everything else, what was his contribution to the development of leadership in Africa?
Try as we might, almost two decades since his demise, Africa is yet to get a political leader who can match the moral probity and rectitude of Nyerere (barring, of course, the Black Pimpernel Nelson Mandela).
The spectre of Nyerere still haunts a continent in dire need of a political role model. Nyerere’s sometimes contradictory political life offers a glimpse of man who deftly avoided being sucked into the vortex of corruption into which political establishments across the continent were already being drawn
Nyerere encapsulated a moral leadership and political morality that eschewed all forms of corruption: Institutional corruption, moral corruption, state corruption, private corruption, public corruption. Throughout his presidency and post-presidency, Nyerere argued against all forms of corruption, saying corruption erodes a society’s social mores and unravels the ties that hold a nation together.
As early as 1967, the year he formulated the controversial Arusha Declaration, Nyerere was quoted by the then ruling party TANU newspaper Uhuru as saying: “In the running of the nation, the people should not look at their leaders as saints and prophets.” Already wary of the sway the political elite held over the citizens, he cautioned them against sycophancy, warning that it would derail the development of the young country.
Thomas Molony, the Edinburgh academic and author of Nyerere: The Early Years, published by James Curreyin 2014, recounts the heady days when the young and idealistic Nyerere was consumed with the enterprise of nation-building. An austere Nyerere had set himself the task of moulding and steering Tanganyika (later to be united with the Spice Islands of Pemba and Zanzibar into the united Republic of Tanzania) into a country of self-respecting and conscientious people.
Writes Molony: “Nyerere would speak to intellectuals in their language, but more significantly, he could articulate the frustrations of the Africans in their own language that they understood. He once told the British Labour Party and the British Left that Africans were natural socialists.”
At Edinburgh University in the late 1940s, Nyerere distinguished himself as a great thinker and baffled his white tutors and fellow students with his formidable intellect.As an MA student, he voraciously consumed Jean Jacques Rousseau, John Stuart Mill, T.H Green’s Principles of Political Organisation, among other moral and political philosophical writings. It was also at Edinburgh that Nyerere came into contact with the Fabian Society, under whose influence he later developed his Ujamaa philosophy, based on Fabian socialism.
120 COMMUNITIES STILL KNIT TOGETHER AS A NATION
Back at home and after becoming the first Tanganyika president, Nyerere was quick to remind the great powers (the USA, former colonial powers Germany and the British and the former USSR) that while they were busy racing to get to the moon, the African was trying to get to the village. Thanks to his great charisma and unceasing efforts, Tanzania’s 120 ethnic communities are till today still knit together as one people on a continent riven with ethnic hatred that has routinely led to internecine warfare.
Thanks to Nyerere’s great charisma and unceasing efforts, Tanzania’s 120 ethnic communities are till today still knit together as one people on a continent riven with ethnic hatred that has routinely led to internecine warfare.
A devout Catholic, Nyerere once proclaimed he carried two bibles, wherever he went: The Christian Bible and the ‘UjamaaBible’ — the Arusha Declaration document (Azimio la Arusha) that nationalised everything from bakeries to banks save for Catholic Church institutions. It is to his everlasting credit too that during his presidency, religious tensions were unheard of.
In a nostalgic moment, Nyerere in 1994 recounted how even after the country had officially done away with the Azimio la Arusha manifesto in 1990, he still kept his Ujamaa Bible. ‘I can tell you with all sincerity that I have re-read it again and again and I have not found anything wrong with it,’ said a sombre Nyerere.
Like his contemporary Leopold Sedar Senghor, the founder-president of Senegal who was also a Catholic, Nyerere to oversaw the emergence of an independent country whose population was slightly more Islamic than Christian. And so Tanzania, like Senegal, has not been threatened by the religious schisms that are wreaking havoc in many African states.
Once, addressing an episcopal conference of Tanzanian Catholic bishops, Nyerere admonished them when he said: “Hakuna dini Tanzania, Hakuna. (There is no Tanzanian religion, none.)” Then, he travelled to Zanzibar and repeated the same to the imams. He kept reminding religious leaders that they had the onerous task of respecting each other’s faiths and keeping peace among their followers. “Nyerere is a Catholic, but he cannot force his religion on others,” he reminded the bishops and imams alike.
A decade after he had left office in 1984, Nyerere was so upset by the creeping corruption under his successor president Ali Hassan Mwinyi that in 1995 he thundered in despair: ‘Ikulu inanuka rushwa. (State House is reeking of corruption.)’ Apparently taking a pot-shot at Mwinyi, he said in exasperation: ‘Ikulu nimahala patakatifu…siyo mahala pa biashara. (State House is a sacrosanct precinct…not a place of commerce.)’
Nyerere went further to remark, in public: ‘State House has been turned into a bazaar where Indian businessmen broker deals.’
Trevor Grundy, a British journalist who worked in Dar es Salaam in the early years of the Nyerere administration, reminisces about an ascetic and strict Nyerere who was yet decent and humble. A father of five sons and two daughters, it was inconceivable to hear ofNyerere’s children being involved in state malpractices.Nyerere himself once stated how he had read the riot act to his children and family and friends, warning them that state affairs and filial relations were two distinct and separate dominions.
A great man who attracted many ‘haters’ (Ian Smith, leader of Rhodesia before it become modern Zimbabwe, once described him as an ‘evil genius’), Nyerere, like any other mortal being, was not without his foibles. The veteran East African journalist Ahmed Rajab opined after the death of Nyerere, ‘He was a great leader who made great mistakes.’
Those mistakes included the monumental failure of the much touted Ujamaa policy. Still, it was a fiasco that the late Prof Ali Mazruiaffectionatelydescribed as an ‘heroic failure.’
Still, Nyerere had the humility to at least concede failure and before abdicating power, he offered an apology and regretted the impoverishment and suffering that the policy had caused his people.
I met Nyerere the philosopher-king twice in Tanzania. On both occasions, I observed at first hand as the master and ‘servant politician’ did what he knew best: Enchanting the wananchiwith his magic wand. Ever the sharp-witted conversationalist, I also saw him hold his own among university lecturers, laughing easily and heartily and mingling easily with the literati.
WHO IS THE GREATEST PRESIDENT OF THEM ALL?
Today, many people are wont to compare Nelson Mandela and Julius Nyerere — and rightly so. Between them they ask: Who was the greater hero? There is no doubt in my mind that Mandela is the best leader-president Africa has ever produced (and will produce perhaps in the next 100 years). Nyerere, on the other hand, is the greatest thinker-president (partly because of making great mistakes) that Africa produced in the last millennium.
Mandela will forever be remembered for spending a third of his life in Boer jails and surviving to assume the presidency of the Rainbow Nation. He will also be politically canonised by an adoring global community, for respecting power and quitting it for good once his first five-year term ended.
Nyerere will go down in history as a great man, who like Mandela was incorruptible, yet whose noble ideas oftentimes were frustrated by forces beyond his control. The Catholics may want to canonise him, but unless they have not re-read his premonition of 1967 in which he talked of creating saints out of ordinary mortals, the Catholics are warned that this is not the best way to honour the pithy short man from Butiama.
As the people of Africa grapple with tin pot dictators and insatiable presidents who plunder state coffers with the help of their children, family members and robber baron friends, let us remind them that Nyerere, for all his shortcomings, did not steal from his people
Three years ago in Nairobi, I engaged Fr Carole Houle, one of Nyerere’s confessors, about the whole debate on canonisation of Nyerere. He laughed and dismissed my views. Once the superior general of the New York-based Maryknoll Fathers in East Africa, Fr Houle spent 20 years in Musoma, where his congregation oversaw the Musoma diocese, one of whose more famous parishes was Butiama, the rural home of Nyerere.
As a pan Africanist, Nyerere like Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, Leopold Sedar Senghor of Senegal, Kenneth Kaunda and Jamal Abdel Nasser was ahead of his times. He dreamed of East Africa as a federation and hoped that the three countries of Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda would form one country, because as he correctly observed, the three countries were colonial constructs.
Ever the busy scholar, Nyerere had completed translating Plato’s Republic into the Kiswahili language and even edited it on his sick bed (sadly,the manuscript is yet to be published.) It was the same Nyerere who, in his spare time as president, translated two of Shakespeare’s plays: Julius Caesar and Merchants of Venice into Kiswahili.
As the people of Africa grapple with tin pot dictators and insatiable presidents who plunder state coffers with the help of their children, family members and robber baron friends, let us remind them that Nyerere, for all his shortcomings, did not steal from his people.
On a continent suffering from a dearth of politics of integrity, Nyerere continues to shine on us as a beacon of rationality and princely leadership.
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Asylum Pact: Rwanda Must Do Some Political Housecleaning
Rwandans are welcoming, but the government’s priority must be to solve the internal political problems which produce refugees.
The governments of the United Kingdom and Rwanda have signed an agreement to move asylum seekers from the UK to Rwanda for processing. This partnership has been heavily criticized and has been referred to as unethical and inhumane. It has also been opposed by the United Nations Refugee Agency on the grounds that it is contrary to the spirit of the Refugee Convention.
Here in Rwanda, we heard the news of the partnership on the day it was signed. The subject has never been debated in the Rwandan parliament and neither had it been canvassed in the local media prior to the announcement.
According to the government’s official press release, the partnership reflects Rwanda’s commitment to protect vulnerable people around the world. It is argued that by relocating migrants to Rwanda, their dignity and rights will be respected and they will be provided with a range of opportunities, including for personal development and employment, in a country that has consistently been ranked among the safest in the world.
A considerable number of Rwandans have been refugees and therefore understand the struggle that comes with being an asylum seeker and what it means to receive help from host countries to rebuild lives. Therefore, most Rwandans are sensitive to the plight of those forced to leave their home countries and would be more than willing to make them feel welcome. However, the decision to relocate the migrants to Rwanda raises a number of questions.
The government argues that relocating migrants to Rwanda will address the inequalities in opportunity that push economic migrants to leave their homes. It is not clear how this will work considering that Rwanda is already the most unequal country in the East African region. And while it is indeed seen as among the safest countries in the world, it was however ranked among the bottom five globally in the recently released 2022 World Happiness Index. How would migrants, who may have suffered psychological trauma fare in such an environment, and in a country that is still rebuilding itself?
A considerable number of Rwandans have been refugees and therefore understand the struggle that comes with being an asylum seeker and what it means to receive help from host countries to rebuild lives.
What opportunities can Rwanda provide to the migrants? Between 2018—the year the index was first published—and 2020, Rwanda’s ranking on the Human Capital Index (HCI) has been consistently low. Published by the World Bank, HCI measures which countries are best at mobilising the economic and professional potential of their citizens. Rwanda’s score is lower than the average for sub-Saharan Africa and it is partly due to this that the government had found it difficult to attract private investment that would create significant levels of employment prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Unemployment, particularly among the youth, has since worsened.
Despite the accolades Rwanda has received internationally for its development record, Rwanda’s economy has never been driven by a dynamic private or trade sector; it has been driven by aid. The country’s debt reached 73 per cent of GDP in 2021 while its economy has not developed the key areas needed to achieve and secure genuine social and economic transformation for its entire population. In addition to human capital development, these include social capital development, especially mutual trust among citizens considering the country’s unfortunate historical past, establishing good relations with neighbouring states, respect for human rights, and guaranteeing the accountability of public officials.
Rwanda aspires to become an upper middle-income country by 2035 and a high-income country by 2050. In 2000, the country launched a development plan that aimed to transform it into a middle-income country by 2020 on the back on a knowledge economy. That development plan, which has received financial support from various development partners including the UK which contributed over £1 billion, did not deliver the anticipated outcomes. Today the country remains stuck in the category of low-income states. Its structural constraints as a small land-locked country with few natural resources are often cited as an obstacle to development. However, this is exacerbated by current governance in Rwanda, which limits the political space, lacks separation of powers, impedes freedom of expression and represses government critics, making it even harder for Rwanda to reach the desired developmental goals.
Rwanda’s structural constraints as a small land-locked country with no natural resources are often viewed as an obstacle to achieving the anticipated development.
As a result of the foregoing, Rwanda has been producing its own share of refugees, who have sought political and economic asylum in other countries. The UK alone took in 250 Rwandese last year. There are others around the world, the majority of whom have found refuge in different countries in Africa, including countries neighbouring Rwanda. The presence of these refugees has been a source of tension in the region with Kigali accusing neighbouring states of supporting those who want to overthrow the government by force. Some Rwandans have indeed taken up armed struggle, a situation that, if not resolved, threatens long-term security in Rwanda and the Great Lakes region. In fact, the UK government’s advice on travel to Rwanda has consistently warned of the unstable security situation near the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Burundi.
While Rwanda’s intention to help address the global imbalance of opportunity that fuels illegal immigration is laudable, I would recommend that charity start at home. As host of the 26th Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting scheduled for June 2022, and Commonwealth Chair-in-Office for the next two years, the government should seize the opportunity to implement the core values and principles of the Commonwealth, particularly the promotion of democracy, the rule of law, freedom of expression, political and civil rights, and a vibrant civil society. This would enable Rwanda to address its internal social, economic and political challenges, creating a conducive environment for long-term economic development, and durable peace that will not only stop Rwanda from producing refugees but will also render the country ready and capable of economically and socially integrating refugees from less fortunate countries in the future.
Beyond Borders: Why We Need a Truly Internationalist Climate Justice Movement
The elite’s ‘solution’ to the climate crisis is to turn the displaced into exploitable migrant labour. We need a truly internationalist alternative.
“We are not drowning, we are fighting” has become the rallying call for the Pacific Climate Warriors. From UN climate meetings to blockades of Australian coal ports, these young Indigenous defenders from twenty Pacific Island states are raising the alarm of global warming for low-lying atoll nations. Rejecting the narrative of victimisation – “you don’t need my pain or tears to know that we’re in a crisis,” as Samoan Brianna Fruean puts it – they are challenging the fossil fuel industry and colonial giants such as Australia, responsible for the world’s highest per-capita carbon emissions.
Around the world, climate disasters displace around 25.3 million people annually – one person every one to two seconds. In 2016, new displacements caused by climate disasters outnumbered new displacements as a result of persecution by a ratio of three to one. By 2050, an estimated 143 million people will be displaced in just three regions: Africa, South Asia, and Latin America. Some projections for global climate displacement are as high as one billion people.
Mapping who is most vulnerable to displacement reveals the fault lines between rich and poor, between the global North and South, and between whiteness and its Black, Indigenous and racialised others.
Globalised asymmetries of power create migration but constrict mobility. Displaced people – the least responsible for global warming – face militarised borders. While climate change is itself ignored by the political elite, climate migration is presented as a border security issue and the latest excuse for wealthy states to fortify their borders. In 2019, the Australian Defence Forces announced military patrols around Australia’s waters to intercept climate refugees.
The burgeoning terrain of “climate security” prioritises militarised borders, dovetailing perfectly into eco-apartheid. “Borders are the environment’s greatest ally; it is through them that we will save the planet,” declares the party of French far-Right politician Marine Le Pen. A US Pentagon-commissioned report on the security implications of climate change encapsulates the hostility to climate refugees: “Borders will be strengthened around the country to hold back unwanted starving immigrants from the Caribbean islands (an especially severe problem), Mexico, and South America.” The US has now launched Operation Vigilant Sentry off the Florida coast and created Homeland Security Task Force Southeast to enforce marine interdiction and deportation in the aftermath of disasters in the Caribbean.
Labour migration as climate mitigation
you broke the ocean in
half to be here.
only to meet nothing that wants you
– Nayyirah Waheed
Parallel to increasing border controls, temporary labour migration is increasingly touted as a climate adaptation strategy. As part of the ‘Nansen Initiative’, a multilateral, state-led project to address climate-induced displacement, the Australian government has put forward its temporary seasonal worker program as a key solution to building climate resilience in the Pacific region. The Australian statement to the Nansen Initiative Intergovernmental Global Consultation was, in fact, delivered not by the environment minister but by the Department of Immigration and Border Protection.
Beginning in April 2022, the new Pacific Australia Labour Mobility scheme will make it easier for Australian businesses to temporarily insource low-wage workers (what the scheme calls “low-skilled” and “unskilled” workers) from small Pacific island countries including Nauru, Papua New Guinea, Kiribati, Samoa, Tonga, and Tuvalu. Not coincidentally, many of these countries’ ecologies and economies have already been ravaged by Australian colonialism for over one hundred years.
It is not an anomaly that Australia is turning displaced climate refugees into a funnel of temporary labour migration. With growing ungovernable and irregular migration, including climate migration, temporary labour migration programs have become the worldwide template for “well-managed migration.” Elites present labour migration as a double win because high-income countries fill their labour shortage needs without providing job security or citizenship, while low-income countries alleviate structural impoverishment through migrants’ remittances.
Dangerous, low-wage jobs like farm, domestic, and service work that cannot be outsourced are now almost entirely insourced in this way. Insourcing and outsourcing represent two sides of the same neoliberal coin: deliberately deflated labour and political power. Not to be confused with free mobility, temporary labour migration represents an extreme neoliberal approach to the quartet of foreign, climate, immigration, and labour policy, all structured to expand networks of capital accumulation through the creation and disciplining of surplus populations.
The International Labour Organization recognises that temporary migrant workers face forced labour, low wages, poor working conditions, virtual absence of social protection, denial of freedom association and union rights, discrimination and xenophobia, as well as social exclusion. Under these state-sanctioned programs of indentureship, workers are legally tied to an employer and deportable. Temporary migrant workers are kept compliant through the threats of both termination and deportation, revealing the crucial connection between immigration status and precarious labour.
Through temporary labour migration programs, workers’ labour power is first captured by the border and this pliable labour is then exploited by the employer. Denying migrant workers permanent immigration status ensures a steady supply of cheapened labour. Borders are not intended to exclude all people, but to create conditions of ‘deportability’, which increases social and labour precarity. These workers are labelled as ‘foreign’ workers, furthering racist xenophobia against them, including by other workers. While migrant workers are temporary, temporary migration is becoming the permanent neoliberal, state-led model of migration.
Reparations include No Borders
“It’s immoral for the rich to talk about their future children and grandchildren when the children of the Global South are dying now.” – Asad Rehman
Discussions about building fairer and more sustainable political-economic systems have coalesced around a Green New Deal. Most public policy proposals for a Green New Deal in the US, Canada, UK and the EU articulate the need to simultaneously tackle economic inequality, social injustice, and the climate crisis by transforming our extractive and exploitative system towards a low-carbon, feminist, worker and community-controlled care-based society. While a Green New Deal necessarily understands the climate crisis and the crisis of capitalism as interconnected — and not a dichotomy of ‘the environment versus the economy’ — one of its main shortcomings is its bordered scope. As Harpreet Kaur Paul and Dalia Gebrial write: “the Green New Deal has largely been trapped in national imaginations.”
Any Green New Deal that is not internationalist runs the risk of perpetuating climate apartheid and imperialist domination in our warming world. Rich countries must redress the global and asymmetrical dimensions of climate debt, unfair trade and financial agreements, military subjugation, vaccine apartheid, labour exploitation, and border securitisation.
It is impossible to think about borders outside the modern nation-state and its entanglements with empire, capitalism, race, caste, gender, sexuality, and ability. Borders are not even fixed lines demarcating territory. Bordering regimes are increasingly layered with drone surveillance, interception of migrant boats, and security controls far beyond states’ territorial limits. From Australia offshoring migrant detention around Oceania to Fortress Europe outsourcing surveillance and interdiction to the Sahel and Middle East, shifting cartographies demarcate our colonial present.
Perhaps most offensively, when colonial countries panic about ‘border crises’ they position themselves as victims. But the genocide, displacement, and movement of millions of people were unequally structured by colonialism for three centuries, with European settlers in the Americas and Oceania, the transatlantic slave trade from Africa, and imported indentured labourers from Asia. Empire, enslavement, and indentureship are the bedrock of global apartheid today, determining who can live where and under what conditions. Borders are structured to uphold this apartheid.
The freedom to stay and the freedom to move, which is to say no borders, is decolonial reparations and redistribution long due.
The Murang’a Factor in the Upcoming Presidential Elections
The Murang’a people are really yet to decide who they are going to vote for as a president. If they have, they are keeping the secret to themselves. Are the Murang’a people prepping themselves this time to vote for one of their own? Can Jimi Wanjigi re-ignite the Murang’a/Matiba popular passion among the GEMA community and re-influence it to vote in a different direction?
In the last quarter of 2021, I visited Murang’a County twice: In September, we were in Kandiri in Kigumo constituency. We had gone for a church fundraiser and were hosted by the Anglican Church of Kenya’s (ACK), Kahariro parish, Murang’a South diocese. A month later, I was back, this time to Ihi-gaini deep in Kangema constituency for a burial.
The church function attracted politicians: it had to; they know how to sniff such occasions and if not officially invited, they gate-crash them. Church functions, just like funerals, are perfect platforms for politicians to exhibit their presumed piousness, generosity and their closeness to the respective clergy and the bereaved family.
Well, the other reason they were there, is because they had been invited by the Church leadership. During the electioneering period, the Church is not shy to exploit the politicians’ ambitions: they “blackmail” them for money, because they can mobilise ready audiences for the competing politicians. The politicians on the other hand, are very ready to part with cash. This quid pro quo arrangement is usually an unstated agreement between the Church leadership and the politicians.
The church, which was being fund raised for, being in Kigumo constituency, the area MP Ruth Wangari Mwaniki, promptly showed up. Likewise, the area Member of the County Assembly (MCA) and of course several aspirants for the MP and MCA seats, also showed up.
Church and secular politics often sit cheek by jowl and so, on this day, local politics was the order of the day. I couldn’t have speculated on which side of the political divide Murang’a people were, until the young man Zack Kinuthia Chief Administrative Secretary (CAS) for Sports, Culture and Heritage, took to the rostrum to speak.
A local boy and an Uhuru Kenyatta loyalist, he completely avoided mentioning his name and his “development track record” in central Kenya. Kinuthia has a habit of over-extolling President Uhuru’s virtues whenever and wherever he mounts any platform. By the time he was done speaking, I quickly deduced he was angling to unseat Wangari. I wasn’t wrong; five months later in February 2022, Kinuthia resigned his CAS position to vie for Kigumo on a Party of the National Unity (PNU) ticket.
He spoke briefly, feigned some meeting that was awaiting him elsewhere and left hurriedly, but not before giving his KSh50,000 donation. Apparently, I later learnt that he had been forewarned, ahead of time, that the people were not in a mood to listen to his panegyrics on President Uhuru, Jubilee Party, or anything associated to the two. Kinuthia couldn’t dare run on President Uhuru’s Jubilee Party. His patron-boss’s party is not wanted in Murang’a.
I spent the whole day in Kandiri, talking to people, young and old, men and women and by the time I was leaving, I was certain about one thing; The Murang’a folks didn’t want anything to do with President Uhuru. What I wasn’t sure of is, where their political sympathies lay.
I returned to Murang’a the following month, in the expansive Kangema – it is still huge – even after Mathioya was hived off from the larger Kangema constituency. Funerals provide a good barometer that captures peoples’ political sentiments and even though this burial was not attended by politicians – a few senior government officials were present though; political talk was very much on the peoples’ lips.
What I gathered from the crowd was that President Uhuru had destroyed their livelihood, remember many of the Nairobi city trading, hawking, big downtown real estate and restaurants are run and owned largely by Murang’a people. The famous Nyamakima trading area of downtown Nairobi has been run by Murang’a Kikuyus.
In 2018, their goods were confiscated and declared contrabrand by the government. Many of their businesses went under, this, despite the merchants not only, whole heartedly throwing their support to President Uhuru’s controversial re-election, but contributing handsomely to the presidential kitty. They couldn’t believe what was happening to them: “We voted for him to safeguard our businesses, instead, he destroyed them. So much for supporting him.”
We voted for him to safeguard our businesses, instead, he destroyed them. So much for supporting him
Last week, I attended a Murang’a County caucus group that was meeting somewhere in Gatundu, in Kiambu County. One of the clearest messages that I got from this group is that the GEMA vote in the August 9, 2022, presidential elections is certainly anti-Uhuru Kenyatta and not necessarily pro-William Ruto.
“The Murang’a people are really yet to decide, (if they have, they are keeping the secret to themselves) on who they are going to vote for as a president. And that’s why you see Uhuru is craftily courting us with all manner of promises, seductions and prophetic messages.” Two weeks ago, President Uhuru was in Murang’a attending an African Independent Pentecostal Church of Africa (AIPCA) church function in Kandara constituency.
At the church, the president yet again threatened to “tell you what’s in my heart and what I believe and why so.” These prophecy-laced threats by the President, to the GEMA nation, in which he has been threatening to show them the sign, have become the butt of crude jokes among Kikuyus.
Corollary, President Uhuru once again has plucked Polycarp Igathe away from his corporate perch as Equity Bank’s Chief Commercial Officer back to Nairobi’s tumultuous governor seat politics. The first time the bespectacled Igathe was thrown into the deep end of the Nairobi murky politics was in 2017, as Mike Sonko’s deputy governor. After six months, he threw in the towel, lamenting that Sonko couldn’t let him even breathe.
Uhuru has a tendency of (mis)using Murang’a people
“Igathe is from Wanjerere in Kigumo, Murang’a, but grew up in Ol Kalou, Nyandarua County,” one of the Mzees told me. “He’s not interested in politics; much less know how it’s played. I’ve spent time with him and confided in me as much. Uhuru has a tendency of (mis)using Murang’a people. President Uhuru wants to use Igathe to control Nairobi. The sad thing is that Igathe doesn’t have the guts to tell Uhuru the brutal fact: I’m really not interested in all these shenanigans, leave me alone. The president is hoping, once again, to hopefully placate the Murang’a people, by pretending to front Igathe. I foresee another terrible disaster ultimately befalling both Igathe and Uhuru.”
Be that as it may, what I got away with from this caucus, after an entire day’s deliberations, is that its keeping it presidential choice close to its chest. My attempts to goad some of the men and women present were fruitless.
Murang’a people like reminding everyone that it’s only they, who have yet to produce a president from the GEMA stable, despite being the wealthiest. Kiambu has produced two presidents from the same family, Nyeri one, President Mwai Kibaki, who died on April 22. The closest Murang’a came to giving the country a president was during Ken Matiba’s time in the 1990s. “But Matiba had suffered a debilitating stroke that incapacitated him,” said one of the mzees. “It was tragic, but there was nothing we could do.”
Murang’a people like reminding everyone that it’s only they, who have yet to produce a president from the GEMA stable, despite being the wealthiest
It is interesting to note that Jimi Wanjigi, the Safina party presidential flagbearer is from Murang’a County. His family hails from Wahundura, in Mathioya constituency. Him and Mwangi wa Iria, the Murang’a County governor are the other two Murang’a prominent persons who have tossed themselves into the presidential race. Wa Iria’s bid which was announced at the beginning of 2022, seems to have stagnated, while Jimi’s seems to be gathering storm.
Are the Murang’a people prepping themselves this time to vote for one of their own? Jimi’s campaign team has crafted a two-pronged strategy that it hopes will endear Kenyans to his presidency. One, a generational, paradigm shift, especially among the youth, targeting mostly post-secondary, tertiary college and university students.
“We believe this group of voters who are basically between the ages of 18–27 years and who comprise more than 65 per cent of total registered voters are the key to turning this election,” said one of his presidential campaign team members. “It matters most how you craft the political message to capture their attention.” So, branding his key message as itwika, it is meant to orchestrate a break from past electoral behaviour that is pegged on traditional ethnic voting patterns.
The other plunk of Jimi’s campaign theme is economic emancipation, quite pointedly as it talks directly to the GEMA nation, especially the Murang’a Kikuyus, who are reputed for their business acumen and entrepreneurial skills. “What Kikuyus cherish most,” said the team member “is someone who will create an enabling business environment and leave the Kikuyus to do their thing. You know, Kikuyus live off business, if you interfere with it, that’s the end of your friendship, it doesn’t matter who you are.”
Can Jimi re-ignite the Murang’a/Matiba popular passion among the GEMA community and re-influence it to vote in a different direction? As all the presidential candidates gear-up this week on who they will eventually pick as their running mates, the GEMA community once more shifts the spotlight on itself, as the most sought-after vote basket.
Both Raila Odinga and William Ruto coalitions – Azimio la Umoja-One Kenya and Kenya Kwanza Alliance – must seek to impress and woe Mt Kenya region by appointing a running mate from one of its ranks. If not, the coalitions fear losing the vote-rich area either to each other, or perhaps to a third party. Murang’a County, may as well, become the conundrum, with which the August 9, presidential race may yet to be unravelled and decided.
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