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UGANDA: Citizens, civil society give up the fight

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Kampala, Uganda – On November 11, 2016, the Anti-Corruption Division of the High Court in Uganda convicted three former top officials in the Ministry of Public Service who had been found guilty of engaging in syndicate corruption leading to the loss of Ush 88 billion ($25.5million) from government coffers. The scam involved payment of money to ghost pensioners through Cairo Bank in Kampala. This conviction bodes well for President Yoweri Museveni’s current slogan ‘Kisajahakunamchezo’ translated as ‘Tenure of no jokes.’

The conviction has cemented the position of the Anti-Corruption Court in Uganda as the division of court with the highest conviction rate of well over 90% since its establishment in 2008. The court is double-edged – it handles cases of corruption from the public and private sectors.

The rare lucky suspects that managed to survive this court did so only with the intervention of top officials in government, and they have either been ministers or relatives of the First Family. Examples of these can be found around scandals like the Global Fund against Malaria, HIV and Tuberculois or the Katosi Road project.

You would imagine that a specialised anti-corruption court that boats of such a sky-high conviction rate would send a message to officials in public and private offices about how perilous it is to engage in corruption.But no, public officials continue to plan and execute corruption. The vice remains as pervasive as ever.

Recent discoveries indicate that months after she had been appointed, ‘Superwoman’ Allen Kagina wrongly paid a Chinese road construction company Ush21.9 billion ($6.3 million). The company had no formal agreement and engagement with UNRA

The view of anti-corruption activists in Uganda is thatthe system nets and convicts ‘small fish’while the bigger fish swim unfettered. A case in point is the scam in the Office of the Prime Minister over five years ago where syndicated corruption led to loss of more than Ush 60 billion ($17.3 million) meant for the Peace, Recovery and Development Programme (PRDP) for the war-torn northern region and Karamoja sub-region. More than half of that money was donor contributions.

It was a syndicated master act involving the Office of the Prime Minister, the Ministry of Finance and the Bank of Uganda. Donors were incensed andretorted by cancelling aid to Uganda. The damage to the economy and image of the country was colossal. The nation expected to see top echelons in these ministries and agencies taking political responsibility by resigning or the appointing authority wielding the axe.

In the end, it was the same old story. The president absolved the prime minister and permanent secretary of any wrong doing. Only one man, the principal accountant, was convicted while the other architects of the scam were protected.

In April 2015, the famed anti-corruption fighter, Allen Kagina, who had overseen a massive turnaround against the corruption that had ravaged the national tax body, the Uganda Revenue Authority, was appointed to head the Uganda National Roads Authority (UNRA). Kagina arrived as ‘Superwoman’atUNRA, an agency where corruption was a byword. Ms.Kagina had served as Commissioner General for over 10 years.

Ironically, recent discoveries indicate that months after she had been appointed, the ‘Superwoman’ wrongly paid a Chinese road construction company Ush21.9 billion ($6.3million). The company had no formal agreement and engagement with UNRA.The Parliamentary Committee on Commissions on Statutory Authority and State Enterprises in October 2016found out that UNRA paid China Railway No.3 Uganda for the construction of the Nansana- Busunju Road even though the real company doing the job is China Railway No.3 China, with which they signed a contract.

CORRUPTION: THE LIFEBLOOD OF THE SYSTEM

Waking up to a flashing news headlines about a new corruption scandal in government has to many Ugandans become the norm rather than the exception. Transparency International’s Global Corruption Perception Indices and other international yardsticks for measuring corruption have continued to rank Uganda in the league of the most corrupt countries in the world.

Uganda boasts of a comprehensive legal and policy framework to fight corruption. The problem is enforcement.The current regime,whichhas been in place for over 30 years, is thriving througha well-orchestrated patronage system. Corruption is apparently the lifeblood that keeps the system running.

The country has evolved a highly commercialised political culture where money talks, and sometimes shouts. When it shouts the truth it is silenced, sometimes definitely, and the patronage system soldiers on from one year or term to the next.

Election campaigns have been so expensive that credible people have been discouraged from offering themselves for elective positions. In the recent 2015-2016campaigns, the incumbent president outspent his competitors taken together by over 90%.

Financing of parties and election campaigns has ushered in another trend of corruption, manifested in unauthorised use of state resources for partisan political purposes; quid-pro-quo or acceptance of money in return for an unauthorised favour or the promise of a favour after being elected; and vote buying.

A report on campaign spending on the 2016 presidential and parliamentary elections released by Alliance for Finance Monitoring (ACFIM) in May 2016 alludes to the fact that the incumbent president financed his own campaigns. The source of this money remains undeclared. Suspicions are rife that the power of incumbency may have been exploited to encroach on national funds. Over half of the Members of Parliament that stood on the ticket of the ruling NRM party were bankrolled by the president himself. He is also the chief financier of the party.

Parliament has been reduced from an organ of the people’s sovereignty to a rubberstamp of the regime in power. The ruling party boasts of a sweeping majority of about 75% of the MPs in the house. Policy decisions are not decided in parliament but in caucus meetings of the party in power.

People who have been appointed to manage state institutions including those that fight corruption, pay more allegiance to the appointing authority and are proud to refer to themselves as ‘cadres of the Movement’ – the National Resistance Movement, the party in power. It is not uncommon to hear people appointed to government institutions say ‘Mzee has awarded me.’ Criticism of the poor performance of the people appointed to these institutions is interpreted as criticism of the regime in power.

These trends show that Uganda is heading towards a patrimonial state;some argue that we are already there. A patrimonial state is a form of governance in which all power flows directly from the leader.

THE BUDGET AS A TOOL OF THE RULING PARTY

The national budget has been turned into a political tool for the ruling party. Resources from the national budget are used to reward supporters of the political system. Politicians are running businesses and businesses are running to politicians for survival. To survive in business in Uganda today, one must have political support. When politicians run businesses, the likelihood that state resources will be diverted to bail out those businesses is higher.

But the more explicit challenge is that businesses run by politicians have mastered the art of circumventing the tax systems. Firms that fall in that category are not only being run with funds obtained corruptlybut also under-declare their imports, incomes and profits to evade tax.

Uganda’s economy is consequently in trouble. Business owners tell us that since 2015, daily sales have gone down by almost 30%. Some are unable to meet their monthly loan premiums to the banks. Companies are struggling, some closing and othersabout to. Crane Bank, which two years ago was one of the top four banks in the country, was recently going under until government intervened. Perhaps this is one of the effects of overspending during the election campaigns of 2016.

And now there is an elephant in the room! The national Constitution has a provision that bars a person aged 75 years and abovefrom contesting the presidential elections. The current president is 72 years old and will thus not be able eligible to contest for re-election in 2021. If past experience is anything to go by, it is unlikely that this provision will be respected. Like night follows day, parliament will amend the Constitution to remove the age limits on the presidency. President Musevenihimself says he is not interested in amending the Constitution but word from the corridors of power indicates the contrary.

In a survey of MPs in the 10th Parliament conducted by the Alliance for Finance Monitoring in September and October 2016, the majority of MPs (74%) – including those on NRM ticket–  said theywould oppose any motion to remove the age-limit provision in the Constitution. However, sources sayopportunistic MPs are hoping to profit from this finding. They are setting the price of lifting age limits at Ush200 million ($58,000) for each MP.

These are the salient features of corruption in Uganda, a country where individuals are stronger than institutions. Citizens have sold themselves to politicians through vote buying, rendering themselves incapable of holding elected leaders accountable. The youth have pockets of vibrancy but lack leadership and many of their leaders have been co-opted into the ruling party system.

THE VANISHING ROLE OF CIVIL SOCIETY IN FIGHTING CORRUPTION

President Yoweri Museveni has once again restated his resolve to stamp out corruption, revamping the rhetoric he has dished out over the past three decades. The only difference this time around is that he has gone ahead to code name this five-year term in office as KisanjaHakunaMchezo. It remains to be seen if the so-called big fish will finally answer for the high-level corruption scandals they have been engaged in.

The Inspectorate of Government (IG) – the institution mandated to fight corruption –  has designed a web-based database system (IG ODS) that will enable leaders to declare their income, assets and liabilities online. The Leadership Code Act 2002 enjoins high ranking political and technical officials to make these declarations.The IG expects all officials concerned to use this online system to make declarations by March 2017 or face consequences such as losing their current positions. This ‘innovation’ is funded by DfID’s SUGAR project (Strengthening Uganda’s Anti-Corruption Response).

Declarations made under the Leadership Code Act 2002 are neither displayed for public scrutiny nor verified by the Inspectorate of Government. The IG lacks the wherewithal to verify all the declarations. In my view, this is obviously a non-starter.

The Office of the Auditor General (OAG) continues to conduct value for money audits. Reports are submitted to parliament and the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee summons the suspects.

The Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Assets Authority (PPDA) conducts regular procurement audits, yet corruption in public procurement continues to be the most common form of grand corruption in Uganda.

The role of civil society in fighting corruption has been minimal lately, with scattered voices here and there. Organisations that used to be vocal seem to have been re-programmed with the software of fear/self-censorship. Citizens at large seem to have given up. Religious institutions are not offering hope either. Many of them have been co-opted into the patronage network through a series of vehicle and cash donations. The media is largely owned by politicians and businessmen who are feeding off the patronage system.

In a nutshell, the country seems to have suddenly entered what I call ‘survival mode.’Curbing corruption in Uganda is still a losing battle.

Minimum Spending by Presidential Candidates during Uganda Election Campaigns 2015-2016

Minimum Spending by Presidential Candidates

Minimum Spending by Presidential Candidates during Uganda Election Campaigns 2015-2016

Source: Alliance for Campaign Finance Monitoring (ACFIM), Final Report 2016: Extended Study on Campaign Financing for Presidential and Member of Parliament Races in Uganda, pp 60-61.

Uganda-minimum-spending

Overall Minimum Expenses by Presidential Candidates November 2015 – February 2016

Source: Alliance for Campaign Finance Monitoring (ACFIM), Final Report 2016: Extended Study on Campaign Financing for Presidential and Member of Parliament Races in Uganda, pp 60-61.

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Mr Muguzi is a freelance journalist based in Kampala.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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“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 debtunfair trade and financial agreements, military subjugation, vaccine apartheidlabour 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.

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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?

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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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