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The Malindi Mafia: ‘the Italian Job Was Good While It Lasted’



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The call came at precisely 3.00pm. My interlocutor could have easily ignored the vibrating mobile phone that was swivelling on the table, but on second thoughts, he chose to pick up the Nokia feature phone. On seeing the caller’s address, my friend’s body stiffened, his baritone voice became controlled, even deeper and for the next 10 minutes or so, he cooed into the phone.

When he put the phone down, he sounded relieved and shortly afterwards, our discussion came to an abrupt end. Recollecting that incident six years later, I could have sworn that that call nearly jolted my friend from his chair. He was an assistant commissioner of police of senior superintendent rank. He had finally agreed to grant me an interview after I had chased him for months, over a special report I was doing on police reforms.

The call had been from Malindi, 570 km southeast of Nairobi city. In the words of the ACP, ‘The call was from my old Italian friend — we got to know each other when I was the officer commanding police division (OCPD) in Malindi. He was wondering why I’d gone quiet on him. They never leave you alone even after you’ve been transferred.’

I later learned that while in Malindi, the ACP had also served in Mombasa as an officer commanding station (OCS) — he had provided security services to the ‘Italian Mafia’ (his own words), who engaged in all manner of nefarious activities, including running illegal casinos and discotheques, running prostitution rings, turning their rented ocean front villas into little inns for German and Italians tourists and very often, providing security to parcels that needed to be dashed between Mombasa and Malindi, either way.

Beginning in the late 1970s, when holidaying Italians first discovered Malindi — then a back-of-beyond, sand-swept, laidback town with unspoiled beaches, their compatriots, good and bad have since been trooping to the idyllic town

‘I didn’t ask about the parcels,’ the ACP said to me, ‘but I knew what they were: I couldn’t stop it, because I didn’t start it. In any case, the Italian job was good while it lasted, but it is dangerous, really dangerous.’

Beginning in the late 1970s, when holidaying Italians first discovered Malindi — then a back-of-beyond, sand-swept, laidback town with unspoiled beaches, their compatriots, good and bad have since been trooping to the idyllic town. Today referred to as ‘Little Italy,’ Malindi is home to 4,000 Italians. Every year, 30,000 Italians make a pilgrimage to Malindi. About 2,500 businesses in the town, which has a population of 150,000, are owned or run by Italians. The businesses are spread from bakeries to real estate, restaurants to supermarkets. Over time, Malindi has evolved into a multicultural town whose second language is Italian.

Frederico Varese, author of Mafia on the Move: How Organised Crime Conquers New Territories, writes that East Africa is emerging as a criminal hub. He insinuates that Malindi has become a centre of money laundering for Italian Mafia looking to hide their loot. ‘Traditionally, there is a lot of Italian tourism there in Malindi,’ says Varese. ‘[Criminal networks] need to invest in profitable businesses, many times abroad. They do it in communities that they know… where they have friends and shady financial advisors.’

One of the more famous Italians who came calling is Flavio Briatore, the Italian Formula One icon. Although not a Mafioso himself, he was nevertheless convicted in the 1980s of gambling-related offences. In 2008, he had to resign ignominiously from his F1 team because of a race-fixing scam. He built his Billionaires Club next to Malindi National Park, of course not without a hue and cry from the locals, who detested his encroaching on the park.

In a report sub-titled, Malindi: Mixing Sun, Drugs, Corruption and a Marginalised Islamic Majority on the Kenyan Coast, dated June 24, 2005, William Mark Bellamy, the then US ambassador to Kenya, detailed how the Kenyan Coastal ports of Mombasa and Malindi were being used as drug transit bases.

Bellamy, whose tour of duty was from 2003-2006, reported that ‘drug traffickers are attracted to the Kenya Coast because of a porous transit point between Latin American producers and the international markets.’ The ‘porous transit point’ was aided by ‘clueless and corrupt police officers,’ wrote the ambassador. Add ‘political and/or police protection,’ and Malindi, a town he described as ‘schizophrenic,’ was slowly gaining notoriety as a narco-centre.

At Mombasa, the cargo was unloaded, sorted then repackaged, some to be reshipped further to Turkey and The Netherlands and the rest retained at the port to be transported by inland container into the hinterland of Kenya and beyond

‘Large scale narcotics trafficking is occurring in, or at least through Malindi,’ said Bellamy. In December 2004, wrote Bellamy, an Italian, Angelo Ricci, 73, and his wife were arrested after 700-plus kilos of narcotics were uncovered in a speedboat at a house they rented out to tenants who were later charged alongside the couple. Another ‘300 kilos seized while being repackaged in a Nairobi shipping container depot, make up the single largest cocaine seizure in African history.’

The previous year, 2004, the UN Office on Drugs and Crimes had said the Kenya Coast was increasingly used as a transit hub for narcotics on the global circuit. The cocaine and heroin drug lords from Colombia and Venezuela in South America loaded their cargo onto transit ships en route the Indian Ocean that would pass through the Strait of Gibraltar, through the Suez Canal via the Red Sea, down to the port city of Mombasa.

At Mombasa, the cargo was unloaded, sorted then repackaged, some to be reshipped further to Turkey and The Netherlands and the rest retained at the port to be transported by inland container into the hinterland of Kenya and beyond.

The gateway to East Africa

The port of Mombasa is the gateway to East Africa, whose hinterland stretches as far as the Great Lakes region of Burundi, Rwanda and the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. It is the busiest port in this part of the world, with the deepest harbour — Kilindini — capable of accommodating even the largest of the bulk carriers. Since 2012, the port has been handling an average of 22 million tonnes annually. How much of this cargo could be tainted?

Philip Tuimur, the Coast Regional Police Co-ordinator, has been in the news lately. Tuimur, who survived the chop from the National Police Service vetting panel in August 2016, has been talking tough and stamping his authority on the area. My police boss friend in 2010 had told me it is not easy to be in charge of security in the Coast region: ‘You do not mess around with the Italian Mafia — they are dangerous and anyway, most of them are criminals on the run, having committed crimes elsewhere. Believe me when I tell you they are capable of anything.’

Tuimur, after arresting three Italians and a Kenyan, among other suspected drug traffickers, told journalists: ‘This will send a strong message that the Coastal region and Kenya at large can no longer be a safe haven for criminals.’ Despite a Mombasa court restraining their extradition, the government nonetheless handed the trio to the Italian authorities in Malindi on Sunday, April 2, 2017. Italy is the only foreign country that has a consulate in the Coastal towns of Mombasa and Malindi.

Mario Mele, Alberto Fulvio and Stefano Poli had been on the Interpol watch list for a long time. All the three were fugitives on the run, cooling their heels in the easygoing. safe hideout of Malindi: Mele 56, who was arrested at his Pata Pata Beach Club, is wanted in Italy to face charges for tax evasion and fraudulent bankruptcy amounting to 17 million Euros. Fulvio, on Interpol’s most wanted list since 1997, first came to Kenya in 1993. Running away from an eight-year jail term in Torini, Fulvio had by 2009 bought his way into becoming a Kenya citizen.

Poli, who is 70 years old, landed in Malindi only in 2016 to escape a 10-year and nine month sentence handed down by an Milan court for fiscal fraud and fraudulent bankruptcy. But it is the flamboyant Sardinian Mario who dazzled journalists with his wisecracks and nonchalant attitude of I-couldn’t-care-less-if-they-are-looking-for-me-in-Italy.

‘You do not mess around with the Italian Mafia — they are dangerous and anyway, most of them are criminals on the run, having committed crimes elsewhere. They are capable of anything.’

Mario flew to Malindi four years ago in 2012. He was running away from a criminal charge of deliberately bankrupting his own companies to avoid paying taxes in Italy. ‘Do you honestly know anyone who has never evaded taxes?’ asked Mario of a group of international investigative journalists who had flown to Pata Pata to interview him. When journalists, in 2015, enquired from him about the summonses from magistrate Andrea Schirra, Mario had the gall to answer: ‘My lawyer is taking care of things at home. I can’t just go back to stand a trial and do nothing. What will I live off while I’m there waiting, huh?’ He boldly then declared — ‘I have no intention of going back.’

Making all the profits disappear

Mario’s companies, RISEA and EDO, suddenly went bankrupt in 2011. ‘We believe they were all bankrupted intentionally; in this way it was easier to make all the profits disappear,’ said police officer Alberto Cambedda to La Nuova Sardegna newspaper in 2012. Still, when the police dug deeper, they realised Mario was not only scheming to evade tax, but had deep running connections with the Cosa Nostra — the most powerful umbrella mafia organisation in Sicily.

The Cosa Nostra is made up of local Sicilian Mafia groups and its mainstay is bootlegging, drug trafficking, money laundering and running prostitution rings. A due diligence by the police found Mario and his business partner companies had links with a Sicilian Mafia group, D’Agosta. The notorious organisation was started by Francesco D’Agosta.

‘I have met D’Agosta once, maybe twice,’ Mario said to the journalists in response to their questions about his apparent links to the Sicilian Mafia. ‘I barely knew him.’ Until he was apprehended, Mario would strut the streets of Malindi and would be found at his favourite street corner bantering away with his clients and visiting Italians.

The extradition of Mario and his assumed three other accomplices brings to mind another saga of an Italian couple a dozen years ago, caught in an intricate web of drug trafficking in Malindi. Angelo Ricci and his wife Estella Duminga Furuli were arrested in December 2004 in Malindi over what was then believed to have been the biggest cocaine haul ever apprehended on the coastline of the Indian Ocean. The 1.1 tonnes of cocaine nabbed at Mombasa port then had a street value estimated to be $80 million.

The 2004 debacle of the cocaine shipment to Mombasa begins in Amsterdam, The Netherlands on December 8, 2004, when the Dutch Police tip off their counterparts in Nairobi about the cocaine haul that has just landed at the Mombasa port in a confidential note. The note says a cartel operating between Venezuela, Kenya and The Netherlands is repackaging tonnes of cocaine to be reshipped to Amsterdam.

Until he was apprehended, Mario would strut the streets of Malindi and would be found at his favourite street corner bantering away with his clients and visiting Italians

Although the Dutch authorities alerted the Kenya Police on December 8, it took a whole six days for the latter to move on Malindi on December 14. They raided Rocchi House — a villa off the Indian Ocean. Ricci, then believed to be roughly 70-73 years old and Furuli, 43 years old, had rented Rocchi to six Dutch citizens and one Kenyan, George Kiragu. The villa belonged to Pompeo Rocchi, an Italian.

The police who stormed the villa found a speedboat docked at the villa frontage with 800kg of pure cocaine. As the Coastal police were raiding the Rocchi House, CID officers were simultaneously raiding a container depot at Old Embakasi, where an additional 400kg of pure cocaine from the same shipment was nabbed. The Dutch Police must have done their homework thoroughly.

Why had the police taken nearly a week to act on the Dutch tip-off? According to the leading Italian daily newspaper Corriere Della Sera, it is because the Kenya Police were ostensibly giving the Malindi cocaine co-conspirators time to flee Malindi and the country. As it is, the Dutch nationals — Arian Gorter, Baptiste Hermanj, Johan Neleen, Marinus Hendrick van Wezel, Robertus Johannes and Stehman Hendrik, calmly and quietly packed their belongings in Malindi and flew to Nairobi, where they checked in for a night at a five-star hotel in Nairobi before safely flying out the next day.

Corriere Della Sera had been sucked into the story of the cocaine seizure at Malindi because of the Italian national Ricci, who hailed from Foggia. By the time the paper began its own investigations, the Riccis had been languishing in a Nairobi jail for 14 months. The arrest of the Italian couple and the five Kenyans aside, Corriere Della Sera believed that the cocaine haul saga went as far as the highest echelons of the then Mwai Kibaki government.

Powerful circles covering up the cocaine traffic

In the paper’s view, the detention of Ricci and his wife was a smokescreen. Interviewing Philip Murgor, who was the deputy public prosecutor (DPP) at the time of the Riccis’ arrest, the paper quoted him as saying: ‘If the (two Italians) are convicted, it will only be so that those who are really guilty do not come to light.’ Murgor, who was sacked in May 2005, added: ‘They fired me because I wanted to identify who was really responsible for the cocaine traffic and because I was investigating the powerful circles that are covering it up.’

The Malindi cocaine saga would also claim a life. Erastus Chemorei, a police officer, was murdered on February 19, 2005. Chemorei had been charged with safekeeping of the drug storerooms. It is possible he stumbled on evidence he was not supposed to

On October 12, 2005, Murgor fired off a letter to the then Secretary to the Cabinet Francis K. Muthaura that expressly stated: ‘For the record, I consider the flawed investigations and the prosecutions of the two cocaine cases while I was DPP amounted to a cover-up designed to leave the drugs cartel operating between South America, Kenya and The Netherlands, intact.’

The saga would also claim a life. Erastus Chemorei, a police officer, was murdered on February 19, 2005. Chemorei had been charged with safekeeping of the drug storerooms. It is possible he was a victim of knowing too much and stumbling on evidence he was not supposed to.

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Mr Kahura is a senior writer for The Elephant.


Who Won Kenya’s “Nominations”?

Being nominated rather than selected by party members may undermine grass-roots legitimacy but it is hard not to suspect that some of the losers in the nominations process might feel a little bit relieved at this out-turn.



Who Won Kenya’s “Nominations”?
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Who won Kenya’s “nominations”, the tense and often unpredictable political process through which parties select which candidates they want to represent them in the general election scheduled for 9 August? That may sound like a silly question. Social media is full of photographs of smiling candidate clutching their certificates of nomination—surely we need to look no further for the winners?

But maybe we do. Beyond the individual candidates in the contests for nominations, there are other winners. One may be obvious: it seems the general feeling is that Deputy President William Ruto came out better from the nominations than did his principal rival in the presidential race, former opposition leader Raila Odinga—about which more below. However, for some, coming out on top in the nominations may prove a poisoned chalice. Where nominations are seen to have been illegitimate, candidates are likely to find that losing rivals who stand as independents may be locally popular and may gain sympathy votes, making it harder for party candidates to win the general election. This means that there are often some less obvious winners and losers.

One reason for this is that nominations shape how voters think about the parties and who they want to give their vote to, come the general election. Research that we conducted in 2017, including a nationally representative survey of public opinion on these issues, found that citizens who felt that their party’s nomination process had not been legitimate were less likely to say that they would vote in the general election. In other words, disputed and controversial nomination processes can encourage voters to stay away from the general election, making it harder for leaders to get their vote out. In 2017, this appeared to disadvantage Odinga and his Orange Democratic Movement (ODM), whose nomination process was generally seen to have been more problematic—although whether this is because they were, or rather because this is how they were depicted by the media, is hard to say.

In the context of a tight election in 2022, popular perceptions of how the nominations were managed may therefore be as significant for who “wins” and “loses” as the question of which individuals secured the party ticket.

Why do parties dread nominations?

The major parties dreaded the nominations process—dreaded it so much, in fact, that despite all their bold words early on about democracy and the popular choice (and despite investments in digital technology and polling staff), most of the parties tried pretty hard to avoid primary elections as a way of deciding on their candidates. In some cases that avoidance was complete: the Jubilee party gave direct nominations to all those who will stand in its name. Other parties held some primaries—Ruto’s United Democratic Alliance (UDA) seems to have managed most—but in many cases they turned to other methods.

That is because of a complicated thing about parties and elections in Kenya. It is widely assumed—and a recent opinion poll commissioned by South Consulting confirms this—that when it comes to 9 August most voters will decide how to cast their ballot on the basis of individual candidates and not which party they are standing for. Political parties in Kenya are often ephemeral, and people readily move from one to another. But that does not mean that political parties are irrelevant. They are symbolic markers with emotive associations – sometimes to particular ideas, sometimes to a particular regional base. ODM, for example, has been linked both with a commitment to constitutional reform and with the Luo community, most notably in Nyanza. So the local politician who wants to be a member of a county assembly will be relying mostly on their personal influence and popularity—but they know that if they get a nomination for a party which has that kind of emotive association, it will smoothen their path.

Disputed and controversial nomination processes can encourage voters to stay away from the general election, making it harder for leaders to get their vote out.

This means that multiple candidates vie for each possible nomination slot. In the past, that competition has always been expensive, as rival aspirants wooed voters with gifts. It occasionally turned violent, and often involved cheating. Primary elections in 2013 and 2017 were messy and chaotic, and were not certain to result in the selection of the candidate most likely to win the general election. From the point of view of the presidential candidates, there are real risks to the primary elections their parties or coalitions oversee: the reputational damage due to chaos and the awareness that local support might be lost if a disgruntled aspirant turns against the party.

This helps to explain why in 2022 many parties made use of direct nominations—variously dressed up as the operation of consensus or the result of mysterious “opinion polls” to identify the strongest candidate. What that really meant was an intensive process of promise-making and/or pressure to persuade some candidates to stand down. Where that did not work, and primaries still took place, the promise-making and bullying came afterwards—to stop disappointed aspirants from turning against the party and standing as independents. The consequence of all that top-down management was that the nominations saw much less open violence than in previous years.

So who won, and who lost, at the national level?

Despite all the back-room deal-making, top-down political management was not especially successful in soothing the feelings of those who did not come out holding certificates. That brings us to the big national winners and losers of the process. Odinga—and his ODM party—have come out rather bruised. They have been accused of nepotism, bribery and of ignoring local wishes. This is a particularly dangerous accusation for Odinga, as it plays into popular concerns that, following his “handshake” with President Kenyatta and his adoption as the candidate of the “establishment”, he is a “project” of wealthy and powerful individuals who wish to retain power through the backdoor after Kenyatta stands down having served two-terms in office. In the face of well-publicised claims that Odinga would be a “remote controlled president” doing the bidding of the Kenyatta family and their allies, the impression that the nominations were stage-managed from on high in an undemocratic process was the last thing Azimio needed.

Moreover, perhaps because Odinga seems to have been less active than his rival in personally intervening to mollify aggrieved local politicians, the ODM nominations process seems to have left more of a mess. That was compounded by complications in the Azimio la Umoja/One Kenya Alliance Coalition Party (we’ll call it Azimio from now on, for convenience). Where Azimio “zoned”—that is, agreed on a single candidate from all its constituent parties—disappointed aspirants complained. Where it did not zone, and agreed to let each party nominate its own candidate for governor, MP and so on, then smaller parties in the coalition complained that they would face unfair competition come the general election. That is why the leaders of some of these smaller groups such as Machakos Governor Alfred Mutua made dramatic (or theatrical, depending on your view) announcements of their decision to leave Azimio and support Ruto.

Despite all the back-room deal-making, top-down political management was not especially successful in soothing the feelings of those who did not come out holding certificates.

So Ruto looks like a nomination winner. But his success comes with a big price tag. His interventions to placate disgruntled aspirants involved more than soothing words. A new government will have lots of goodies to distribute to supporters—positions in the civil service and parastatals, diplomatic roles, not to mention business opportunities of many kinds. But the bag of goodies is not bottomless, and it seems likely that a lot of promises have been made. Ruto’s undoubted talents as an organizer and deal-maker have been useful to him through the nominations—but those deals may prove expensive for him, and for Kenya, if he wins the presidential poll.

Money, politics, and the cost of campaigns

Those who “won” by being directly nominated to their desired positions may also come to see this process as something of a double-edged sword. In the short term, many of them will have saved considerable money: depending on exactly when the deal was done, they will have been spared some days of campaign expenses—no need to fuel cars, buy airtime for bloggers, pay for t-shirts and posters, and hand out cash. But that will be a brief respite. The disappointed rivals who have gone independent will make the campaigns harder for them—and likely more expensive. The belief that they were favoured by the party machinery may mean that voter expectations are higher when it comes to handouts and donations on the campaign trail. And the fact they were nominated rather than selected by party members may undermine their grass-roots legitimacy.

Others may experience a similar delayed effect. Among the short-term losers of the nominations will have been some of the “goons” who have played a prominent physical role in previous nominations: their muscular services were largely not required (although there were exceptions). The printers of posters and t-shirts will similarly have seen a disappointing nominations period (although surely they will have received enough early orders to keep them happy, especially where uncertainty over the nomination was very prolonged). The providers of billboard advertising may have seen a little less demand than they had hoped for, although they too seem to have done quite well from selling space to aspirants who—willingly or not—did not make it to the primaries. But where the general election will be fiercely contested, entrepreneurs will likely make up any lost ground as the campaigns get going. In these cases, competition has been postponed, not avoided.

Those in less competitive wards, constituencies or counties—the kind in which one party tends to dominate in the general election—are unlikely to be able to make up for lost time. These “one-party” areas may be in shorter supply in 2022 than in the past, due to the way that the control of specific leaders and alliances over the country’s former provinces has fragmented, but there will still be some races in which it is obvious who will win, and so the campaigns will be less heated.

Those who “won” by being directly nominated to their desired positions may also come to see this process as something of a double-edged sword.

More definite losers are the parties themselves. In some ways, we could say they did well as institutions, because they were spared the embarrassment of violent primaries. But the settling of many nominations without primaries meant not collecting nomination fees from aspirants in some cases, and refunding them in others. That will have cost parties a chunk of money, which they won’t get back. That may not affect the campaigns much—the money for campaigns flows in opaque and complex ways that may not touch the parties themselves. But it will affect the finances of the parties as organizations, which are often more than a little fragile.

Are the losers actually the biggest winners?

Some losers, however, are really big winners. Think about those candidates who would not have won competitive primaries but were strong enough to be able to credibly complain that they had been hard done by due to the decision to select a rival in a direct process. In many cases, these individuals were able to extract considerable concessions in return for the promise not to contest as independents, and so disrupt their coalition’s best laid plans. This means that many of the losers—who may well have been defeated anyway—walked away with the promise of a post-election reward without the expense and bother of having to campaign up until the polls.

It is hard not to suspect that some of them might feel a little bit relieved at this out-turn. In fact, some of them may have been aiming at this all along. For those with limited resources and uncertain prospects at the ballot, the opportunity to stand down in favour of another candidate may have been pretty welcome. Instead of spending the next three months in an exhausting round of funerals, fund-raisers and rallies, constantly worrying about whether they have enough fifty (or larger) shilling notes to hand out and avoiding answering their phones, they can sit back and wait for their parastatal appointment, ambassadorship, or business opportunity.

For those with limited resources and uncertain prospects at the ballot, the opportunity to stand down in favour of another candidate may have been pretty welcome.

For these individuals, the biggest worry now is not their popularity or campaign, but simply the risk that their coalition might not win the presidential election, rendering the promises they have received worthless. Those whose wishes come true will be considerably more fortunate—and financially better off—than their colleagues who made it through the nominations but fall at the final hurdle of the general election.

Separating the winners of the nominations process from the losers may therefore be harder than it seems.

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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.



Asylum Pact: Rwanda Must Do Some Political Housecleaning
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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.



Beyond Borders: Why We Need a Truly Internationalist Climate Justice Movement
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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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