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The rise of fascism and the corporatisation of political power

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“What would you have done?” This is the question that the main character Hanna Schmitz (convincingly played by the British actress Kate Winslet) in the film The Reader asks the judge who is presiding over a case where she is charged with Nazi war crimes. It is a critical moment in the film as it explains the blind faith that Adolf Hitler and his Nazi brigade commanded, and the conscious or subconscious naiveté displayed by those who convinced themselves that they were merely following orders when carrying out the mass murder of Jews.

What this film, an adaptation of Bernhard Schlink’s eponymous 1995 novel, subtly underscores is the moral vacuum that existed in this dark period in Germany’s history, when misguided notions of nationalism turned ordinary women like Hanna into heartless beasts devoid of emotion or rational thought. This moral vacuum, this inability to see things ethically or rationally, has resurfaced around the globe, from Donald Trump’s xenophobic America to Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist India, and even to Kenya, where tribalism has made people blind to crimes being committed by those in power.

The Indian writer Pankaj Mishra describes this global trend as “the age of anger” because anger, rather than compassion or empathy, has become the dominant emotion determining how people vote and how policies are formulated. Working class white people in the United States are lashing out against immigrants and those they perceive to be taking their jobs. Upper caste Hindus, who have been steadily losing their clout in secularist India, are lashing out against Muslims and Dalits (low caste Hindus), who they view as a threat to their authority. The Kikuyu, the largest ethnic group in Kenya, which was deprived of political leadership under the 24-year reign of Daniel arap Moi, are lashing out against anyone who threatens their political dominance, which is currently embodied by their “anointed” leader Uhuru Kenyatta.

The “deep state” and corporate power

The difference between 1930s and 1940s Germany and today’s world is that there was no threat of Islamic terrorism then and neoliberalism, or what Mishra refers to as “a kind of amoral individualism”, had not yet become the dominant religion. These new threats have been accompanied by the corporatisation of political power, which has led to the growth of what is known as the “deep state” where big corporations, not governments, determine public policy for their own benefit rather than the benefit of the majority of citizens. (Although it is worth noting that former colonies in Africa and Asia experienced something similar in the late 19th century when commercial interests coincided with political interests, as when the British East India Company was coopted into Britain’s empire-building project.)

The truth is that political leaders no longer represent the people – they represent corporate interests.

In this corporatised world, governments are told to get out of the way of free markets. Deregulation and privatisation are viewed as the key to efficiency – even if they leave out large sections of society who cannot afford private health care and education and other services, and even when deregulation threatens the economy, as happened during the financial crisis of 2008, when unregulated financial institutions almost brought the US economy to its knees. Those left on the margins are deemed lazy or noisy troublemakers, and therefore, unworthy of public attention or public services.

The truth is that political leaders no longer represent the people – they represent corporate interests. This is why the CEOs of successful companies get front row seats at policymaking forums, while small-scale traders and hawkers are delegitimised through punitive laws. Corporate interests, in turn, fuel the political machinery, through the funding of political campaigns and sometimes by nominating their own representatives to leadership positions. Once they attain political power, they begin dismantling all those institutions they consider to be standing in the way of their profits. This has led to the death of trade unions, democratic institutions and civil society engagement in public affairs.

In this cut-throat world of wheeler-dealers, wealth and power are concentrated in a few, who re-write society’s rules to their own advantage. Issues such as environmental protection and social justice have become peripheral. Democratic institutions are being weakened and the media and intellectuals are being vilified. Fascism – the feverish exaltation of ethnicity, race, nation or religion above the rights of the individual – has become the new normal.

Chris Hedges, a pastor and one of America’s leading intellectuals, says that this tiny cabal of powerful people “embody the moral rot unleashed by unfettered capitalism”. In this “twilight phase of capitalism”, as he puts it, wealth is no longer created the old-fashioned way by producing goods or providing services; it is created by manipulating the prices of stocks and imposing a crippling debt on the public.

This “casino capitalism” has now merged with the gambling industry in places like Kenya, which has seen the rapid growth of mobile phone-based gambling in recent years. A considerable amount of prime time television in Kenya today is devoted to announcing the results of lotteries, and rags-to-riches gamblers are often given front-page treatment in the newspapers.

In this cut-throat world of wheeler-dealers, wealth and power are concentrated in a few, who re-write society’s rules to their own advantage. Issues such as environmental protection and social justice have become peripheral. Democratic institutions are being weakened and the media and intellectuals are being vilified. Fascism – the feverish exaltation of ethnicity, race, nation or religion above the rights of the individual – has become the new normal.

This get-rich-quick mentality has also permeated the public sector where so-called “tenderpreneurs” are known to have made/stolen millions of shillings in procurement deals with the government. Procurement officers in government ministries and the individuals (many with fake companies) who are awarded fraudulent or irregularly acquired government contracts are the new emerging billionaire class in Kenya. There was a time when stories of millions of shillings being stolen by government officials shocked the Kenyan public; today, evidence of billions of shillings being lost to corruption barely elicits a yawn. What we are witnessing in Kenya is the capture of public institutions by corrupt ethnic-based cartels who enjoy state protection. And rather than reprimanding those who steal, Kenyans vote them into power, as happened in the August election, when a former cabinet secretary from whose ministry millions of shillings were stolen was elected as governor.

Like the Nazi prison guard Hanna Schmitz, Kenyans have become blind to wrongdoing, and follow their tribal leaders without asking too many uncomfortable questions. The sins of the individual have merged with the sins of the tribe – and neither the individual nor the tribe wants to take responsibility for crimes committed. This is why, when asked why he had failed to stem corruption in the country, President Uhuru Kenyatta, echoing Hanna’s words, said, “What do you expect me to do?” By not taking responsibility for the rot around him, and by absolving himself of culpability, what the president was suggesting to Kenyans was that he is not really in charge.

Dissent as treason

In order to mask their real intentions, political leaders and their corporate masters need to create bogeymen or convenient scapegoats who can be blamed for all of society’s ills; this allows them to literally get away with murder. Under Trump, Mexicans, African-Americans, Muslims and other minorities have been reduced to “barbarians at the gate” who threaten to topple all that is good and great about America. America’s “war on terror” does not just target terrorist groups in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan or Somalia, but anyone who holds views that are contrary to those of the president and his administration.

Yet, as Hedges points out, those seeking to destroy democracy and to curtail people’s freedom are not the array of “dehumanised enemies” cooked up by the government’s war machine but the “financiers, bankers, politicians, public intellectuals and pundits, lawyers, journalists and businesspeople cultivated in the elite universities and business schools who sold us the utopian dream of neoliberalism”.

In India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has turned a blind eye to the recent lynching of Muslims by Hindu mobs; his “Hindutva” philosophy that casts India as a purely Hindu nation has emboldened Hindu bigots and subdued secularist voices. Beef is now officially banned in several Indian states, not because cows are sacred to Hindus, but because the banning of beef marks beef-eating Muslims as “outsiders”.

In Kenya, the “tyranny of numbers” – a phrase popularised by the Uhuru apologist Mutahi Ngunyi to explain why the Kikuyus will always dominate leadership in the country – is used to instil fear and command obedience among minority ethnic groups. Dissent is often portrayed as an act of treason and civil society activists have been dubbed “the evil society”. This tyranny – the use of numerical strength to oppress the majority – is now being deployed to silence and intimidate the judiciary.

There was a time when stories of millions of shillings being stolen by government officials shocked the Kenyan public; today, evidence of billions of shillings being lost to corruption barely elicits a yawn. What we are witnessing in Kenya is the capture of public institutions by corrupt ethnic-based cartels who enjoy state protection.

Yet, as Hedges points out, those seeking to destroy democracy and to curtail people’s freedom are not the array of “dehumanised enemies” cooked up by the government’s war machine but the “financiers, bankers, politicians, public intellectuals and pundits, lawyers, journalists and businesspeople cultivated in the elite universities and business schools who sold us the utopian dream of neoliberalism”.

Forced amnesia

After the horrors of the Second World War, Germany made a conscious effort to not forget the Holocaust, and to ensure that this dark period in its history would not be erased from the memory of future generations. School curricula were revised to help children understand the genesis of Nazism and the rise of Hitler and memorials were built to physically mark the sites of the most monstrous atrocities.

The very opposite is happening in other parts of the world. In order to carry out their agenda, the corporates and the politicians that sing their tune – the “deep state” – are trying to erase people’s memories so that the status quo appears normal or legitimate. So, in their efforts to “make America great (white) again”, white supremacists make non-white people in the United States feel like parasitic invaders or criminals, obscuring the fact that had it not been for the abominable transatlantic slave trade and the free labour provided by African slaves, America would not have become a wealthy nation and there would be fewer blacks living there today. By failing to accept this reality, white supremacists absolve themselves and their ancestors of all responsibility for slavery and for the near-extermination of the indigenous Native American population.

In India, Modi’s Bharataya Janata Party has embarked on propagating a revisionist history of India that fails to recognise that the subcontinent has never been a purely Hindu entity; it has been an amalgam of different religions for centuries, and Hinduism itself has undergone various transformations since its birth some four thousand years ago.

Kenyans have been forced into amnesia through various policies, including the removal of history as a mandatory subject at the primary school level, and the propagation of the narrative that it was the Kikuyu-dominated Mau Mau movement that liberated the country from British colonialism. Yet, despite the Mau Mau being recognised for its role in the struggle for independence, few people are aware of the fact that upon becoming president, Jomo Kenyatta did not lift the ban on this movement, which remained a proscribed organisation until 2003, when President Mwai Kibaki finally lifted the ban. Nor are Kenyan school children told about the various other movements and organised groups, such as the Nandi Resistance and the Kenyan Indian Congress, that actively resisted British rule.

In order to carry out their agenda, the corporates and the politicians that sing their tune – the “deep state” – are trying to erase people’s memories so that the status quo appears normal or legitimate. So, in their efforts to “make America great (white) again”, white supremacists make non-white people in the United States feel like unwanted invaders or parasitic criminals, obscuring the fact that had it not been for the abominable transatlantic slave trade and the free labour provided by African slaves, America would not have become a wealthy nation and there would be fewer blacks living there today.

To make matters worse, these big lies are being disseminated by an omnipresent, repetitive and corporatised media. As the Australian journalist John Pilger stated in an essay titled “The Rise of Fascism”, these lies then become a justification for inflicting atrocities on people and even for invading countries. For instance, when the mainstream Western media was reporting that US, British and French planes, under the auspices of NATO, had bombed Libya to protect the human rights of Libyan rebels, it failed to report that under Muammar Gaddafi Libyans enjoyed among the highest standards of living in Africa. Similarly, when the United States and Britain decided to invade Iraq in 2003, they did so on the pretext that Saddam Hussein possessed “weapons of mass destruction” and had links to Al Qaeda, yet both allegations turned out to be false.

Ironically, after the fall of Gaddafi, Libya became a major conduit for human traffickers sending illegal migrants to the very European countries that viewed him as a threat to democracy. And the mainstream Western media, instead of linking his ouster and the mayhem that followed to the migrant crisis facing Europe today, has painted the crisis as an African or Middle Eastern problem that has nothing to do with European and American interventionist policies that have fostered lawlessness in places like Libya, Iraq and other countries whose leaders the West did not like.

Resist and revolt

Hedges believes that revolt is necessary to reverse this descent into dystopia. Revolt is not just a political necessity, but also a moral imperative. In a recent talk he gave at the “Inaugurate Resistance” rally in Washington DC, Hedges urged his fellow resisters to develop a critical mass that will force the centres of power to respond because, “the moment we defy power, we are victorious”.

“I do not know if we can build a better society,” he added. “I don’t even know if we will survive as a species. But I do know that these corporate forces have us by the throat.”

Why did we not see this coming? Perhaps because we erroneously believed that the democracy that was unleashed around the world after the Berlin Wall fell was about people power, not about corporate interests. Yet, two decades ago, David C. Korten, in his book When Corporations Rule the World, warned us about a future where big corporations would undermine democracy and take over the running of countries. But we did not listen because it seemed too improbable then.

Revolt is not just a political necessity, but also a moral imperative. In a recent talk he gave at the “Inaugurate Resistance” rally in Washington DC, Hedges urged his fellow resisters to develop a critical mass that will force the centres of power to respond because, “the moment we defy power, we are victorious”.

What can be done to halt the rise of fascist and corporatised states in places like the United States, India and Kenya? First, we must forge alliances with like-minded people and organisations. Many citizen groups are already uniting to resist corporate hegemony, the Occupy Wall Street movement being one such example. Such social movements must be nurtured and strengthened if we are to prevent our descent into a morass of moral and spiritual bankruptcy. We must build what economists refer to as “social capital” – networks of people and institutions along the lines of the Greenpeace brigades that can provide moral support and guidance in the face of corporatised tyranny. We could also boycott the products manufactured by big corporations and “go local”. For instance, we could buy fruits and vegetables at our local farmers’ markets or cooperatives and establish local associations that are linked to the larger global resistance movement.

If we do not resist this tyranny individually and through sustained mass action, the wolves will soon be at our doors, threatening to tear down our houses and rendering us permanently homeless.

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Rasna Warah is a Kenyan writer and journalist. In a previous incarnation, she was an editor at the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat). She has published two books on Somalia – War Crimes (2014) and Mogadishu Then and Now (2012) – and is the author UNsilenced (2016), and Triple Heritage (1998).

Politics

Lagos From Its Margins: Everyday Experiences in a Migrant Haven

From its beginnings as a fishing village, Lagos has grown into a large metropolis that attracts migrants seeking opportunity or Internally Displaced Persons fleeing violence.

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Lagos, City of Migrants

From its origins as a fishing village in the 1600s, Lagos has urbanised stealthily into a vast metropolis, wielding extensive economic, political and cultural influence on Nigeria and beyond. Migration in search of opportunities has been the major factor responsible for the demographic and spatial growth of the city as Lagos has grown from 60,221 in 1872 to over 23 million people today. The expansion of the city also comes with tensions around indigene-settler dynamics, especially in accessing land, political influence and urban resources. There are also categories of migrants whose status determines if they can lay hold of the “urban advantage” that relocating to a large city offers.

A major impetus to the evolution of modern Lagos is the migration of diverse groups of people from Nigeria’s hinterland and beyond. By the 1800s, waves of migrants (freed slaves) from Brazil and Freetown had made their way to Lagos, while many from Nigeria’s hinterland including the Ekiti, Nupes, Egbas and Ijebus began to settle in ethnic enclaves across the city. In the 1900s, migrant enclaves were based on socio-economic and/or ethnicity status. Hausas (including returnees from the Burma war) settled in Obalende and Agege, while the Ijaw and Itsekiri settled in waterfront communities around Ajegunle and Ijora. International migrant communities include the Togolese, Beninoise and Ghanaian, as well as large communities of Lebanese and Indian migrants. The names and socio-cultural mix in most Lagos communities derive from these historical migrant trajectories.

Permanent temporalities

A study on coordinated migrations found that, as a destination city, Lagos grew 18.6 per cent between 2000 and 2012, with about 96 per cent of the migrants coming from within Nigeria. While migration to Lagos has traditionally been in search of economic opportunities, new classes of migrants have emerged over the last few decades. These are itinerant migrants and internally displaced persons.

Itinerant migrants are those from other areas of Nigeria and West Africa who travel to work in Lagos while keeping their families back home. Mobility cycles can be weekly, monthly or seasonal. Such migrants have no address in Lagos as they often sleep at their work premises or in mosques, saving all their earned income for remittance. They include construction artisans from Benin and Togo who come to Lagos only when they have jobs, farmers from Nigeria’s northern states who come to Lagos to work as casual labourers in between farming seasons (see box), as well as junior staff in government and corporate offices whose income is simply too small to cover the high cost of living in Lagos.

While people from Nigeria’s hinterland continue to arrive in the city in droves, the wave of West African in-migration has ebbed significantly. This is mostly because of the economic challenges Nigeria is currently facing that have crashed the Naira-to-CFA exchange rates. As a result, young men from Togo, Ghana and Benin are finding cities like Dakar and Banjul more attractive than Lagos.

Photo. Taibat Lawanson

Photo. Taibat Lawanson

Aliu* aka Mr Bushman, from Sokoto, Age 28

Aliu came to Lagos in 2009 on the back of a cattle truck. His first job was in the market carrying goods for market patrons. He slept in the neighbourhood mosque with other young boys. Over the years, he has done a number of odd jobs including construction work. In 2014, he started to work as a commercial motorcyclist (okada) and later got the opportunity to learn how to repair them. He calls himself an engineer and for the past four years has earned his income exclusively from riding and repairing okada. Even though he can afford to rent a room, he currently lives in a shared shack with seven other migrants.

He makes between N5000 and N8000 weekly and sends most of it to his family through a local transport operator who goes to Sokoto weekly. His wife and three children are in the village, but he would rather send them money than bring them to Lagos. According to him, “The life in Lagos is too hard for women”.

Since he came to Lagos thirteen years ago, Aliu has never spent more than four months away from Sokoto at a time. He stays in Sokoto during the rainy season to farm rice, maize and guinea corn, and has travelled back home to vote every time since he came to Lagos.

 

The second category of migrants are those who have been displaced from their homesteads in Northern Nigeria by conflict, either Boko Haram insurgency or invasions by Fulani herdsmen. The crises have resulted in the violent destruction of many communities, with hundreds of thousands killed and many more forced to flee. With many who initially settled in camps for Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) dissatisfied with camp conditions, the burden of protracted displacement is now spurring a new wave of IDP migration to urban areas. Even though empirical data on the exact number of displaced persons migrating out of camps to cities is difficult to ascertain, it is obvious that this category of migrants are negotiating their access to the city and its resources in circumstances quite different from those of other categories of migrants.

IDPs as the emerging migrant class in Lagos 

According to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, two of every three internally displaced persons globally are now living in cities. Evidence from Nigeria suggests that many IDPs are migrating to urban areas in search of relative safety and resettlement opportunities, with Lagos estimated to host the highest number of independent IDP migrants in the country. In moving to Lagos, IDPs are shaping the city in a number of ways including appropriating public spaces and accelerating the formation of new settlements.

There are three government-supported IDP camps in the city, with anecdotal evidence pointing to about eighteen informal IDP shack communities across the city’s peri-urban axis. This correlates with studies from other cities that highlight how this category of habitations (as initial shelter solutions for self-settled IDPs) accelerate the formation of new urban informal settlements and spatial agglomerations of poverty and vulnerability.

While people from Nigeria’s hinterland continue to arrive in the city in droves, the wave of West African in-migration has ebbed significantly.

IDPs in Lagos move around a lot. Adamu, who currently lives in Owode Mango—a shack community near the Lagos Free Trade zone—and has been a victim of forced eviction four times said, “As they [government or land owners] get ready to demolish this place and render us homeless again, we will move to another area and live there until they catch up with us.”

In the last ten years, there has been an increase in the number of homeless people on the streets of Lagos—either living under bridges, in public parks or incomplete buildings. Many of them are IDPs who are new migrants, and unable to access the support necessary to ease their entry into the city’s established slums or government IDP camps. Marcus, who came from Adamawa State in 2017 and has been living under the Obalende Bridge for five years, said, “I am still managing, living under the bridge. I won’t do this forever, my life will not end like this under a bridge. I hope to one day return to my home and continue my life”.

Blending in or not: Urban integration strategies 

Urban integration can be a real challenge for IDP migrants. Whereas voluntary migrants are often perceived to be legal entrants to the city and so can lay claim to urban resources, the same cannot be said about IDPs. Despite being citizens, and despite Nigeria being a federation, IDPs do not have the same rights as other citizens in many Nigerian cities and constantly face stigmatisation and harassment, which reinforces their penchant for enclaving.

The lack of appropriate documentation and skillsets also denies migrants full entry into the socio-economic system. For example, Rebekah said: “I had my WAEC [Senior Secondary school leaving certificate] results and when Boko Haram burnt our village, our family lost everything including my certificates. But how can I continue my education when I have not been able to get it? I have to do handwork [informal labour] now”. IDP children make up a significant proportion of out-of-school children in Lagos as many are unable to get registered in school simply because of a lack of address.

Most IDPs survive by deploying social capital—especially ethnic and religious ties. IDP ethnic groupings are quite organized; most belong to an ethnic-affiliated group and consider this as particularly beneficial to their resettlement and sense of identity in Lagos. Adamu from Chibok said, “When I come to Lagos in 2017, I come straight to Eleko. My brother [kinsman] help me with house, and he buy food for my family. As I no get work, he teach me okada work wey he dey do.”

The crises have resulted in the violent destruction of many communities, with hundreds of thousands killed and many more forced to flee.

Interestingly, migration to the city can also be good for women as many who were hitherto unemployed due to cultural barriers are now able to work. Mary who fled Benue with her family due to farmer-herder clashes explained, “When we were at home [in Benue], I was assisting my husband with farming, but here in Lagos, I have my own small shop where I sell food. Now I have my own money and my own work.”

Need for targeted interventions for vulnerable Lagosians

“Survival of the fittest” is an everyday maxim in the city of Lagos. For migrants, this is especially true as they are not entitled to any form of structured support from the government. Self-settlement is therefore daunting, especially in light of systemic limiting factors.

Migrants are attracted to big cities based on perceived economic opportunities, and with limited integration, their survival strategies are inevitably changing the spatial configurations of Lagos. While the city government is actively promoting urban renewal, IDP enclaving is creating new slums. Therefore, addressing the contextualised needs of urban migrant groups is a sine qua non for inclusive and sustainable urban development.

“I am still managing, living under the bridge. I won’t do this forever, my life will not end like this under a bridge. I hope to one day return to my home and continue my life”.

There is an established protocol for supporting international refugees. However, the same cannot be said for IDPs who are Nigerian citizens. They do not enjoy structured support outside of camps, and we have seen that camps are not an effective long-term solution to displacement. There is a high rate of IDP mobility to cities like Lagos, which establishes the fact that cities are an integral part of the future of humanitarian crisis. Their current survival strategies are not necessarily harnessing the urban advantage, especially due to lack of official recognition and documentation. It is therefore imperative that humanitarian frameworks take into account the role of cities and also the peculiarities of IDP migrations to them.

Lagos remains a choice destination city and there is therefore need to pay more attention to understanding the patterns, processes and implications of migration into the city. The paucity of migration-related empirical data no doubt inhibits effective planning for economic and social development. Availability of disaggregated migration data will assist the state to develop targeted interventions for the various categories of vulnerable Lagosians.  Furthermore, targeted support for migrant groups must leverage existing social networks, especially the organised ethnic and religious groups that migrants lean on for entry into the city and for urban integration.

*All names used in this article are pseudonyms

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Politics

It’s a Nurses’ Market Out There, and Kenyans Are Going For It

Nurses are central to primary healthcare and unless Kenya makes investments in a well-trained, well supported and well-paid nursing workforce, nurses will continue to leave and the country is unlikely to achieve its Sustainable Development Goals in the area of health and wellbeing for all.

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It’s a Nurses’ Market Out There, and Kenyans Are Going For It
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Nancy* is planning to leave Kenya. She wants to go to the United States where the nursing pastures are supposedly greener. I first met Nancy when the country was in the throes of the COVID-19 pandemic that tested Kenya’s healthcare system to breaking point. She was one of a cohort of recently graduated nurses that were hastily recruited by the Ministry of Health and thrown in at the deep end of the pandemic. Nancy earns KSh41,000 net with no other benefits whatsoever, unlike her permanent and pensionable colleagues.

When the then Labour and Social Protection Cabinet Secretary Simon Chelugui announced in early September 2021 that the government would be sending 20,000 nurses to the United Kingdom to help address the nursing shortage in that country, Nancy saw her chance. But her hopes were dashed when she failed to raise the KSh90,000 she needed to prepare and sit for the English language and nursing exams that are mandatory for foreign-trained nurses. Nancy would also have needed to pay the Nursing Council of Kenya KSh12,000 for the verification of her documents, pay the Kenya Medical Training College she attended KSh1,000 in order to get her exam transcripts, and apply for a passport, the minimum cost of which is KSh4,550 excluding the administrative fee. Nancy says that, contrary to then Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe’s disputed claims that a majority of applicants to the programme had failed the English language test, most nurses simply could not afford the cost of applying.

Of the targeted 20,000 nurses, the first 19 left Kenya for the UK in June 2022. But even that paltry figure represents a significant loss for Kenya, a country where the ratio of practicing nurses to the population is 11.66 per 10,000. The WHO considers countries with less than 40 nurses and midwives for every 10,000 people to not have enough healthcare professionals. Nearly 60 per cent of all healthcare professionals (medical physicians, nursing staff, midwives, dentists, and pharmacists) in the world are nurses, making them by far the most prevalent professional category within the health workforce. Nurses offer a wide range of crucial public health and care services at all levels of healthcare facilities as well as within the community, frequently serving as the first and perhaps the only healthcare provider that people see.

Kenya had 59,901 nurses/midwives in 2018, rising to 63,580 in 2020. Yet in 2021, Kenya was proposing to send almost a third of them to the UK to “address a shortfall of 62,000 in that country”.

The growing shortage of nurses in the UK has been blamed on the government’s decision to abolish bursaries and maintenance grants for nursing students in 2016, leading to a significant drop in the number of those applying to train as nurses. Consequently, the annual number of graduate nurses plummeted, reaching the current low of 31 nurses per 100,000 people, below the European average of 36.6 and half as many as in countries like Romania (96), Albania (82) and Finland (82). Facing pressure to recruit 50,000 nurses amid collapsing services and closures of Accident & Emergency, maternity and chemotherapy units across the country, the UK government decided to once again cast its net overseas. Established in 1948, the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) has relied on foreign healthcare workers ever since staff from the Commonwealth were first brought in to nurse back to health a nation fresh out of the Second World War.

The UK government’s press release announcing the signing of the Bilateral Agreement with Kenya states that the two countries have committed  “to explore working together to build capacity in Kenya’s health workforce through managed exchange and training” and goes as far as to claim that “with around only 900 Kenyan staff currently in the NHS, the country has an ambition to be the ‘Philippines of Africa’ — with Filipino staff one of the highest represented overseas countries in the health service — due to the positive economic impact that well-managed migration can have on low to middle income countries.”

It is a dubious ambition, if indeed it has been expressed. The people of the Philippines do not appear to be benefiting from the supposed increase in capacity that the exchange and training is expected to bring. While 40,000 of their nurses worked in the UK’s National Health Service last year, back home, according to Filipino Senator Sonny Angara, “around 7 of 10 Filipinos die without ever seeing a health professional and the nurse to patient ratio in our hospitals remains high at 1:50 up to 1:802”.

Since 2003 when the UK and the government of the Philippines signed a Memorandum of Understanding on the recruitment of Filipino healthcare professionals, an export-led industry has grown around the training of nurses in the Philippines that has attracted the increased involvement of the private sector. More nursing institutions — that have in reality become migrant institutions — are training nurses specifically for the overseas market, with the result that skills are matched to Western diseases and illnesses, leaving the country critically short of healthcare personnel. Already, in 1999, Filipino doctors had started retraining as nurses and leaving the country in search of better pay.

It is difficult, then, to see how the Philippines is an example to emulate. Unless, of course, beneath the veneer of “partnership and collaboration in health”, lies the objective of exporting Kenyan nurses with increased diaspora remittances in mind – Kenyans in the UK sent KSh28.75 billion in the first nine months of 2022, or nearly half what the government has budgeted for the provision of universal health care to all Kenyans. If that is the case, how that care is to be provided without nurses is a complete mystery.

Already in 1999, Filipino doctors had started retraining as nurses and leaving the country in search of better pay.

For the UK, on the other hand, importing nurses trained in Kenya is a very profitable deal. Whereas the UK government “typically spends at least £26,000, and sometimes far more, on a single nurse training post”, it costs only £10,000 to £12,000 to recruit a nurse from overseas, an externalization of costs that commodifies nurses, treating them like goods to be bought and sold.

However, in agreeing to the terms of the trade in Kenyan nurses, the two governments are merely formalizing the reality that a shortage of nurses in high-income countries has been driving the migration of nurses from low-income countries for over two decades now. Along with Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa and Zimbabwe, Kenya is one of the top 20 countries of origin of foreign-born or foreign-trained nurses working in the countries of the OECD, of which the UK is a member state.

Faced with this reality, and in an attempt to regulate the migration of healthcare workers, the World Health Assembly adopted the WHO Global Code of Practice on the Recruitment of Health Personnel in May 2010. The code, the adherence to which is voluntary, “provides ethical principles applicable to the international recruitment of health personnel in a manner that strengthens the health systems of developing countries, countries with economies in transition and small island states.”

Article 5 of the code encourages recruiting countries to collaborate with the sending countries in the development and training of healthcare workers and discourages recruitment from developing countries facing acute shortages. Given the non-binding nature of the code, however, and “the severe global shortage of nurses”, resource-poor countries, which carry the greatest disease burden globally, will continue to lose nurses to affluent countries. Wealthy nations will inevitably continue luring from even the poorest countries nurses in search of better terms of employment and better opportunities for themselves and their families; Haiti is on the list of the top 20 countries supplying the OECD region.

“Member States should discourage active recruitment of health personnel from developing countries facing critical shortages of health workers.”

Indeed, an empirical evaluation of the code four years after its adoption found that the recruitment of health workers has not undergone any substantial policy or regulatory changes as a direct result of its introduction. Countries had no incentive to apply the code and given that it was non-binding, conflicting domestic healthcare concerns were given the priority.

The UK’s Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has developed its own code of practice under which the country is no longer recruiting nurses from countries that the WHO recognizes as facing health workforce challenges. Kenya was placed on the UK code’s amber list on 11 November 2021, and active recruitment of health workers to the UK was stopped “with immediate effect” unless employers had already made conditional offers to nurses from Kenya on or before that date. Presumably, the Kenyan nurses who left for the UK in June 2022 fall into this category.

In explaining its decision, the DHSC states that “while Kenya is not on the WHO Health Workforce Support & Safeguards List, it remains a country with significant health workforce challenges. Adding Kenya to the amber list in the Code will protect Kenya from unmanaged international recruitment which could exacerbate existing health and social care workforce shortages.”

The WHO clarifies that nothing in its Code of Practice should be interpreted as curtailing the freedom of health workers to move to countries that are willing to allow them in and offer them employment. So, even as the UK suspends the recruitment of Kenyan nurses, they will continue to find opportunities abroad as long as Western countries continue to face nurse shortages. Kenyan nurses will go to the US where 203,000 nurses will be needed each year up to 2026, and to Australia where the supply of nursing school graduates is in decline, and to Canada where the shortage is expected to reach 117,600 by 2030, and to the Republic of Ireland which is now totally dependent on nurses recruited from overseas and where working conditions have been described as “horrendous”.

“Adding Kenya to the amber list in the Code will protect Kenya from unmanaged international recruitment which could exacerbate existing health and social care workforce shortages.”

Like hundreds of other Kenyan-trained nurses then, Nancy will take her skills overseas. She has found a recruitment agency through which to apply for a position abroad and is saving money towards the cost. She is not seeking to move to the UK, however; Nancy has been doing her research and has concluded that the United States is a much better destination given the more competitive salaries compared to the UK where nurses have voted to go strike over pay and working conditions. When she finally gets to the US, Nancy will join Diana*, a member of the over 90,000-strong Kenyan diaspora, more than one in four of whom are in the nursing profession.

Now in her early 50s, Diana had worked for one of the largest and oldest private hospitals in Nairobi for more than 20 years before moving to the US in 2017. She had on a whim presented her training certificates to a visiting recruitment agency that had set up shop in one of Nairobi’s high-end hotels and had been shortlisted. There followed a lengthy verification process for which the recruiting agency paid all the costs, requiring Diana to only sign a contract binding her to her future US employer for a period of two years once she had passed the vetting process.

Speaking from her home in Virginia last week, Diana told me that working as a nurse in the US “is not a bed of roses”, that although the position is well paying, it comes with a lot of stress. “The nurse-to-patient ratio is too high and the job is all about ticking boxes and finishing tasks, with no time for the patients,” she says, adding that in such an environment fatal mistakes are easily made. Like the sword of Damocles, the threat of losing her nursing licence hangs over Diana’s head every day that she takes up her position at the nursing station.

“The nurse-to-patient ratio is too high and the job is all about ticking boxes and finishing tasks, with no time for the patients.”

Starting out as an Enrolled Nurse in rural Kenya, Diana had over the years improved her skills, graduating as a Registered Nurse before acquiring a Batchelor of Science in Nursing from a top private university in Kenya, the tuition for which was partially covered by her employer.

Once in the US, however, her 20 years of experience counted for nothing and she was employed on the same footing as a new graduate nurse, as is the case for all overseas nurses moving to the US to work. Diana says that, on balance, she would have been better off had she remained at her old job in Kenya where the care is better, the opportunities for professional growth are greater and the work environment well controlled. But like many who have gone before her, Diana is not likely to be returning to Kenya any time soon.

*Names have been changed.

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Politics

Why Azimio’s Presidential Petition Stood No Chance

In so far as the court had nullified the 2017 elections, the evidential threshold required for any subsequent electoral nullification was going to be substantially high for any petitioner.

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Why Azimio’s Presidential Petition Stood No Chance
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Even before the 9 August general election, it was expected that the loser of the Kenyan presidential contest would petition the Supreme Court to arbitrate over the outcome. Predictably, the losing party, Azimio La Umoja-One Kenya Coalition, petitioned the court to have William Ruto’s win nullified on various procedural and technical grounds. Azimio’s case was predicated on, among others, three key allegations. First, that William Ruto failed to garner the requisite 50 per cent plus one vote. Second, that the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) chairman Wafula Chebukati had announced the outcome without tallying and verifying results from seven constituencies. Finally, that the commission could not account for 250,000 votes that were cast electronically.

As we know, Azimio lost the case as the judges dismissed all the nine petitions that the party had filed, unanimously finding that William Ruto had won fairly.

Adjudicating electoral fallouts

Since its inception in 2010, the Supreme Court has played a decisive role in adjudicating fallouts linked to contentious presidential politics in Kenya, with the court deliberating on the outcome of three out of the four presidential elections held after its inauguration. Prior to this, the losing party had no credible institutional mechanism of redress and electoral disputes were generally resolved through mass political action (as in 2007) or consistent questioning of the legitimacy of the winner (as in 1992 and 1997).

The Supreme Court’s presence has, therefore, been crucial in providing losers with an institutionalised mechanism to channel dissent, with the court operating as a “safety valve” to diffuse political tensions linked to presidential elections. It is, hence, impossible to conceive of the relatively peaceful elections held in 2013, 2017 and 2022 without the Supreme Court whose mere presence has been key in discouraging some of the more deadly forms of political rivalry previously witnessed in Kenya.

Relentless petitioning

While the Azimio leadership were right to petition the court in the recent election, first because this successfully diffused the political tensions among their supporters, and second because the court was expected to provide directions on IEBC conduct in future elections, it was clear that Raila Odinga’s relentless petitioning of the court in the previous two elections, and the nullification of the 2017 elections, was in essence going to be a barrier to a successful petition in 2022.

In so far as the court had nullified the 2017 elections, the evidential threshold required for any subsequent electoral nullification was going to be substantially high for any petitioner. The relentless petitioning of the court and the nullification of the 2017 elections had in essence raised the bar for the burden of proof, which lay with the petitioner(s) and, therefore, reduced the probability of a successful petition.

The Supreme Court’s presence has been crucial in providing losers with an institutionalised mechanism to channel dissent.

The reason for this is both legal and political. Legal in the sense that the IEBC is expected to conduct the elections under the law, which, among other issues, requires that the electoral process be credible and the results verifiable before any certification is made, otherwise the election is nullified, as was the case in 2017. It is political because the power to select the president is constitutionally, hence politically, delegated to the Kenyan people through the ballot, unless electoral fraud infringes on this, again as was the case in 2017.

The court in its deliberation must, therefore, balance the legal-political trade-off in its verdict in search of a plausible equilibrium. For instance, while the majority of Azimio supporters had anticipated a successful petition based on the public walkout and dissent by the four IEBC commissioners, it seems that the decision to uphold the results displayed the court’s deference to political interpretation of the law by issuing a ruling that did not undermine the Kenyan voters’ right to elect their president.

While the settlement of legal-political disputes by a Supreme/Constitutional court is a common feature across democracies, and continuously being embedded in emerging democracies like Kenya, it does seem that in this election, the political motivations for upholding the vote outweighed the legal motivations for nullifying it. In essence, the court demonstrated its institutional independence by ruling against the Kenyatta-backed Azimio candidate due to insufficient evidence.

Supreme Court power grab 

A counterfactual outcome where the evidential threshold for the nullification of presidential results is low would foster a Supreme Court power grab, in lieu with the 2017 nullification, by marginalising the sovereign will of Kenyans to elect their president.

In many ways, nullification of the results would also have incentivised further adversarial political behaviour where every electoral outcome is contested in the Supreme Court even when the outcome is relatively clean, as in the case of the 2022 elections.

It is this reason (among others) that we think underlined the Supreme Court justices’ dismissal of Azimio’s recent petition. The justices ultimately dismissed the evidence presented by the petitioners as “hot air, outright forgeries, red herring, wild goose chase and unproven hypotheses”, setting a clear bar for the standard of evidence they expect in order to deliberate over such an important case in the future.

In essence, the court demonstrated its institutional independence by ruling against the Kenyatta-backed Azimio candidate due to insufficient evidence.

Since the earth-shaking nullification of the 2017 elections, the Supreme Court transcended an epoch, more political than legal by “invading” the sovereign space for Kenyans to elect their president, thereof setting a precedence that any future successful petition to contest a presidential election requires watertight evidence.

In a sense, Azimio were victims of Odinga’s judicial zealotry and especially the successful 2017 petition. In so far as the evidence submitted to the Supreme Court by Azimio in 2022 was at the same level or even lower than the 2017 base, their case at the Supreme Court was very likely to be dismissed and even ridiculed as the justices recently did.

The precedent set by the 2022 ruling will, actually, yield two positive political outcomes. First, it will in the future weed out unnecessary spam petitions that lack evidence and rather increase needless political tensions in the country. Second, it has signalled to future petitioners, that serious deliberations will only be given to petitions backed by rock-solid evidence.

Missed opportunity

From the recent ruling, it is evident that the judgement fell far below the precedent set in 2017. The 2017 Supreme Court ruling that the IEBC should make the servers containing Form 34A publicly available, was crucial in improving the credibility of the 2022 elections, by democratising the tallying process. At a minimum, the expectation was that the justices would provide a directive on the recent public fallout among the IEBC commissioners with regard to future national tallying and announcement of presidential results.

By dismissing the fallout as a mere corporate governance issue, the justices failed to understand the political ramifications of the “boardroom rupture”. What are we to do in the future if the IEBC Chair rejects the results and the other commissioners validate the results as credible?

Additionally, by ridiculing the petitioners as wild goose chasers and dismissing the evidence as “hot air”, the justices failed to maintain the amiable judicial tone necessary to decompress and assuage the bitter grievances among losers in Kenya high-octane political environment.

In a sense, Azimio were victims of Mr Odinga’s judicial zealotry and especially the 2017 successful petition.

The Supreme Court ought to resist the temptations of trivializing electoral petitions, as this has the potential of triggering democratic backsliding, where electoral losers might opt for extra-constitutional means of addressing their grievances as happened in December 2007. It is not in the petitioners’ place to ascertain whether their evidence is “hot air” or not, but for the court to do so, and in an amiable judicial tone that offers reconciliation in a febrile political environment.

The precedent set by the 2017 ruling that clarified the ambiguities related to the IEBC’s use of technology to conduct elections, set an incremental pathway towards making subsequent elections credible and fair, and increased public trust in the key electoral institutions in Kenya.

The justices, therefore, need to understand that their deliberations hold weight in the public eye and in the eyes of political leaders. Therefore, outlining recommendations to improve the IEBC’s conduct in future elections is a bare minimum expectation among Kenyans. In this case, while they provided some recommendations, they failed to comprehensively address the concerns around the walk-out by the four IEBC commissioners.

At the minimum, chastising the IEBC conduct was necessary to consolidate the electoral gains made thus far but also recalibrate institutional imperfections linked to how elections are to be conducted and, especially, contestations around the role of the commissioners in the national tallying of results in the future.

This article is part of our project on information and voter behaviour in the 2022 Kenyan elections. The project is funded by the Centre for Governance and Society, Department of Political Economy, King’s College London.

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