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OCTOBER 26th ELECTION: Can the sovereign will of the people prevail in an environment of state terror and intimidation?



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“Elections are the surest way through which the people express their sovereignty. Our Constitution is founded upon the immutable principle of the sovereign will of the people. Therefore, whether it be about numbers, whether it be about laws, whether it be about processes, an election must at the end of the day, be a true reflection of the will of the people, as decreed by the Constitution, through its hallowed principles of transparency, credibility, verifiability, accountability, accuracy and efficiency.” – Supreme Court of the Republic of Kenya, 20th September 2017

The concept of sovereignty derives from the historical political relations between rulers, often in the form of states/governments and citizens. The concept of sovereignty became the central idea of modern political science. The word sovereignty is derived from the Latin word superanus, which connotes supremacy. Sovereignty is in essence about the power to make laws and the ability to rule effectively.

Initially, sovereignty was construed as the supreme power of the state over citizens and subjects, unrestrained by law.[1] Following the doctrine of the Social Contract introduced to the realm of political philosophy by Thomas Hobbes, John Locke and others, the theory evolved to mean that in order to avoid the brutal nature of rule by man, citizens and subjects must delegate their power to a legitimate higher authority, referred to as the ‘Leviathan’ by Thomas Hobbes, to exercise that power on their behalf for the benefit of all.

The sovereign is, therefore, the legitimate supreme body that exercises the monopoly of power on behalf of and for the benefit of all its subjects. As such, sovereign power should be exercised in a responsible manner that considers the well-being of all citizens. This naturally presupposes limits to the excesses of state power through the rule of law, equity and justice. For the sovereign authority to retain its legitimacy, as granted to it by citizens, it must exercise this authority with equanimity.

The first Article of the Constitution of Kenya states that sovereign power belongs to the people of Kenya and demands that such sovereignty be exercised by the constitution. It further states that people may exercise their sovereign power either directly or through their democratically elected representatives. Sovereign power is then donated by the people of Kenya to state organs and institutions, such as Parliament, the Executive, the Judiciary, and County Governments and Assemblies, among others.

Contemporary political scholars depart from the absolutist view of sovereignty, which is unconditional and unrestrained by law, as expressed by Jean Bodin, to a holistic approach that views sovereignty as having to be legitimate and derive its authority from the acquiescence of citizens through political processes like elections, policies and public opinion.[2] Hence, the legal sovereign has to act according to the will of the electorate, which is a body of citizens who have the right to vote. Political sovereignty, therefore, implies suffrage, with each individual having one vote, and control of the legislature by the representatives of the people.

The first Article of the Constitution of Kenya states that sovereign power belongs to the people of Kenya and demands that such sovereignty be exercised by the constitution. It further states that people may exercise their sovereign power either directly or through their democratically elected representatives. Sovereign power is then donated by the people of Kenya to state organs and institutions, such as Parliament, the Executive, the Judiciary, and County Governments and Assemblies, among others. Consequently:

“The basis for Sovereignty of the People lies in honouring the precept that when people surrender to the state their right to exclusively govern themselves, in exchange for proper representation in that respect, the government becomes the citizenry’s agent for such purposes. For instance, this right called universal suffrage (one’s right to vote) is exercised by the Kenyan people every five years as per their constitutional entitlement protected by law. The government’s power as a result is not absolute; but more accurately, it is to be executed, as a matter of fact, in such manner as would lead to the necessary accountability of government to the people since it is they that established the state as well as its constituent organs in the first place.”[3]

Kenya’s political and electoral history

Given that sovereignty is exercised through universal suffrage, it follows that the right to suffrage must be respected and elections need to be legitimate. Kenya’s political history is replete with instances of electoral malpractices that served to bastardise regimes that were propagated by electoral processes that were grossly skewed in favour of incumbency. Illegitimate electoral processes were the hallmark of the one-party state under President Daniel arap Moi’s KANU[4] dictatorship.

Despite the fact that future elections in 1992 and 1997 were held by secret ballot, the legacy of Mlolongo entrenched a political culture of electoral fraud and malpractices, including voter bribery and intimidation, alteration of votes in transit and state-sponsored violence in areas that were perceived as hostile to the executive.

The most notorious desecration of electoral democracy during this era was the queue-voting system of 1988 known as ‘Mlolongo’. The decision to conduct primaries by having voters queue behind the image of their favoured candidates set the stage for massive rigging. Voting malpractices had been witnessed in other elections but this decision made it possible to cheat on a scale never witnessed before, given the opportunity it presented for open voter bribery and intimidation to queue behind state-sponsored or regime-friendly candidates.[5]

Despite the fact that future elections in 1992 and 1997 were held by secret ballot, the legacy of Mlolongo entrenched a political culture of electoral fraud and malpractices, including voter bribery and intimidation, alteration of votes in transit and state-sponsored violence in areas that were perceived as hostile to the executive. The violence was often designed to displace ‘hostile’ communities in order to curb voter turnout. Given the broad-based nature of the National Rainbow Coalition that ushered in the regime of President Mwai Kibaki in an anti-KANU/Moi wave that produced a landslide victory for the then opposition, the country was spared large scale electoral fraud and malpractices in 2002.

The 2002 General Election was held in the context of the expiry of Moi’s two-term limit following pre-1992 constitutional amendments that introduced multiparty democracy through the repeal of Section 2 (A) of the independence Constitution, which in turn had been amended in 1982 to render Kenya a de jure one-party state. The political reforms of that era introduced a two-term limit, meaning Moi could only serve a maximum of two terms post-1992. Moi, however, vigorously campaigned for his protégé Uhuru Kenyatta, who faced a united opposition that rallied behind Mwai Kibaki.

In 2007, the ghost of electoral fraud and malpractices returned to haunt the country. Pitting the incumbent Mwai Kibaki, now under the Party of National Unity (PNU), against Raila Odinga of the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM), the election results, which appeared to reverse an unassailable lead by Raila Odinga, led the country to widespread violence pitting supporters of the two factions against one another and police killing of civilians. The use of private militia to inflict violence was among other factors that led to the functionaries of the two parties and the Commissioner of Police being charged with crimes against humanity before the International Criminal Court (ICC).

The Independent Electoral Review Commission (IREC), chaired by the South African Judge Johann Kriegler, conducted an in-depth investigation into the 2007 Election, and concluded that:

“There was generalised abuse of polling, characterised by widespread bribery, vote buying, intimidation and ballot-stuffing. This was followed by grossly defective data collation, transmission and tallying, and ultimately the electoral process failed for lack of adequate planning, staff selection/training, public relations and dispute resolution. The integrity of the process and the credibility of the results were so gravely impaired by these manifold irregularities and defects that it is irrelevant whether or not there was actual rigging at the national tally centre. The results are irretrievably polluted.”[6]

The Kreigler Commission report informed reforms to the Elections Act and the provisions of the Constitution of Kenya 2010 relating to elections. The Commission of Inquiry into Post- Election Violence (CIPEV), together with the Kriegler Commission, agreed that the flawed electoral process contributed significantly to the 2007-2008 post-election violence. The legal and policy framework governing future elections was an effort to boost credibility and legitimacy of elections in Kenya and to prevent the recurrence of violence. Given Kenya’s chequered political history with regard to elections, specific reforms were made following the recommendations of the Kriegler Commission and other processes to cure particular mischiefs, including the alteration of votes in transit. As such, electronic transmission of results was introduced, with accompanying forms signed and verified by competing political party agents in order to curb electoral irregularities and illegalities.

In this regard, the language of the Constitution of Kenya 2010 and the various amendments to the Elections Act is elaborate, with the words credibility, accountability, verifiability and others qualifying the standards required of elections in Kenya with specific regard to vote tallying, transmission and declaration.

The phraseology of Article 23 of the Constitution of Kenya is a deliberate endeavour to cure the mischiefs identified by the Kriegler Report. It demands that whatever voting method that is used, the system is simple, accurate, verifiable, secure, accountable and transparent.

The phraseology of Article 23 of the Constitution of Kenya is a deliberate endeavour to cure the mischiefs identified by the Kriegler Report. It demands that whatever voting method that is used, the system is simple, accurate, verifiable, secure, accountable and transparent. The framers of the constitution inserted these words to govern elections in Kenya, given the country’s peculiar context and political history with regard to the legitimacy of elections, which are in turn the way in which the people of Kenya exercise their sovereignty. Electoral legitimacy therefore becomes a prerequisite for the genuine exercise of sovereignty. In order for the People of Kenya to exercise their sovereign will through elections, they must be carried out in a manner that is free, fair, credible, transparent, secure, accountable and verifiable. They must be carried out in accordance with the provisions on elections in the Elections Act and the Constitution of Kenya 2010.

Sovereign legitimacy

Political and legal scholars have deliberated upon the doctrine of legitimacy as a prerequisite to the exercise of sovereignty. The following passage from Hugo Grotius’ On the Law of War and Peace expresses the modern perspective of legitimacy in the context of political authority and sovereignty:

“But as there are several Ways of Living, some better than others, and every one may choose which he pleases of all those Sorts; so a People may choose what Form of Government they please: Neither is the Right which the Sovereign has over his Subjects to be measured by this or that Form, of which diverse Men have different Opinions, but by the Extent of the Will of those who conferred it upon him”.[7]

John Locke’s version of social contract theory elevated consent to the main source of the legitimacy of political authority. Legitimacy as a prerequisite to the exercise of sovereignty is captured in the doctrine of popular sovereignty:

“Popular sovereignty, or the sovereignty of the people’s rule, is the principle that the authority of a state and its government is created and sustained by the consent of its people, through their elected representatives (Rule by the People), who are the source of all political power. It is closely associated with social contract philosophers such as Thomas Hobbes, John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Popular sovereignty expresses a concept and does not necessarily reflect or describe a political reality. The people have the final say in government decisions.”[8]

Benjamin Franklin expressed the concept when he wrote: “In free governments, the rulers are the servants and the people their superiors and sovereigns[9]. Popular sovereignty, in its modern sense, is an idea that dates to the social contracts school (mid-17th to mid-18th centuries), represented by Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679), John Locke (1632–1704), and Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778), author of The Social Contract, a prominent political work that clearly highlighted the ideals of “general will” and further matured the idea of popular sovereignty. The central tenet is that legitimacy of rule or of law is based on the consent of the governed. Popular sovereignty implies the exercise of power with the consent of the governed. It is a basic tenet of most republics and some monarchies.[10]

Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau were the most influential thinkers of this school, all postulating that individuals choose to enter into a social contract with one another, thus voluntarily giving up some of their natural freedom in return for protection from dangers derived from the freedom of others. Whether men were seen as naturally more prone to violence and rapine (Hobbes) or to cooperation and kindness (Rousseau), the idea that a legitimate social order emerges only when the liberties and duties are equal among citizens binds the social contract thinkers to the concept of popular sovereignty.[11]

Legitimacy and legality of elections in Kenya

Within the ambit of political theory, one can locate ideas of sovereignty having to be legitimate and based on the rule of law in order to compel citizens to obey the sovereign to which they have donated their individual power for the benefit of all. If sovereign power is exercised with disregard for the rule of law, its legitimacy may cease. As such, the sovereign power derives its authority from those governed and exercises its power legitimately, in accordance with the rule of law and not arbitrarily. In the Kenyan context, where the framers of the constitution saw it fit for sovereignty to reside in the People of Kenya, they alluded to a form of popular sovereignty that requires legitimacy, rule of law, public participation and constitutionalism as a central components of state authority.

Form 34 (A) was deliberately provided for in the law to arrest the mischief of votes disappearing in transit through the verification process of agents. Further, there is a context in which the two Houses of Parliament jointly prepared a technological roadmap for conduct of elections and inserted a clear and simple technological process in Section 39(1) (C) of the Elections Act, with the sole aim of ensuring a verifiable transmission and declaration of results system. In the presence of these illegalities and irregularities, it is difficult to establish whether the sovereign will of the People of Kenya was exercised through the ballot on August 8th 2017.

Without the tenets of constitutionalism, rule of law and public participation, the exercise of sovereignty would be illegitimate. Given the current political environment in which the Supreme Court of the Republic of Kenya nullified the August 8th presidential election citing substantial irregularities of such a magnitude as to impugn the integrity of the electoral process and, given that the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), as recently stated by its Chairman Wafula Chebukati, has not made any changes that would render a fresh election credible, will the sovereign will of the people be legitimately exercised through a fresh election on October 26th or any date thereafter without the changes and reforms sought in compliance with the Supreme Court decision?

The Supreme Court impugned the August 8th presidential elections on the basis that they were fraught with so many illegalities and irregularities that so negatively impacted the integrity of the elections that no reasonable tribunal could uphold the election. The most critical and persistent non-compliance with the law was that the IEBC-announced results on the basis of Forms 34B before receiving all Forms 34A.

It was also alleged that the results announced in Forms 34B were different from those displayed on the 1st respondents’ public web portal, contrary to section 39 (1) & (C ) of the Elections Act. The results were not transmitted in the prescribed form, given that results began to stream into the national tallying centre without the mandatory forms 34 (A). Form 34 (A) is the primary document that captures all results from polling station or streams. It is signed by both the presiding officer and agents at the polling station for purposes of verifiability. In the context of Kenya’s electoral history, where votes were often altered in transit, the primacy of this document is critical and not merely a mode of transmission.

Form 34 (A) was deliberately provided for in the law to arrest the mischief of votes disappearing in transit through the verification process of agents. Further, there is a context in which the two Houses of Parliament jointly prepared a technological roadmap for conduct of elections and inserted a clear and simple technological process in Section 39(1) (C) of the Elections Act, with the sole aim of ensuring a verifiable transmission and declaration of results system. In the presence of these illegalities and irregularities, it is difficult to establish whether the sovereign will of the People of Kenya was exercised through the ballot on August 8th 2017.

This is exacerbated by the fact that the Supreme Court drew an adverse inference on the part of the IEBC for failing to provide access to logs and servers to the petitioner (Raila Odinga), concluding that this was a golden opportunity for the IEBC to disprove the allegations of Mr. Odinga with regard to infiltration of the servers and alteration of forms and votes. The Court made an adverse inference on the IEBC, stating that for it to spurn such an opportunity to disprove the petitioners claim of hacking and alteration, IEBC officials themselves interfered with the data or simply refused to accept that it had bungled the whole transmission system and were unable to verify the data.

The Chairman of the IEBC, in a statement on 18th October 2017, less than 10 days before the proposed 26th October election, admitted that under the current conditions, ‘it is difficult to guarantee free, fair and credible elections’. He added that: ‘without critical changes in the Secretariat staff, free, fair and credible elections will surely be compromised[12] while referring to a deeply divided IEBC.

A day before this statement by Mr. Chebukati, a Commissioner of the IEBC, Roselyne Akombe, fled the country citing fears for her life, stating that the IEBC was under political siege and that: “the commission in its current state can surely not guarantee a credible election[13]. According to former Commissioner Akombe:

“We need the Commission to be courageous and speak out, that this election as planned cannot meet the basic expectations of a CREDIBLE election. Not when the staff are getting last minute instructions on changes in technology and electronic transmission of results. Not when in parts of the country, the training of presiding officers is being rushed for fear of attacks from protestors. Not when Commissioners and staff are intimidated by political actors and protestors and fear for their lives. Not when senior Secretariat staff and Commissioners are serving partisan political interests. Not when the Commission is saddled with endless legal cases in the courts, and losing most of them. Not when legal advice is skewed to fit partisan political interests. The Commission in its current state can surely not guarantee a credible election on 26 October 2017. I do not want to be party to such a mockery to electoral integrity.”[14]

These revelations from both the Chairman of the IEBC and a senior Commissioner cast doubt on the Commission’s ability to carry out a legitimate election on October 26th or any other date before making necessary changes to correct the reasons for nullification identified by the Supreme Court on 1st September 2017. Any election without these changes and under the prevailing political circumstances would not meet the test of credibility, transparency, accuracy and verifiability. Such an election would not legitimately reflect the sovereign will of the People of Kenya.

Environment of fear and intimidation

Following the annulment of the August 8th presidential election by the Supreme Court, state security agencies clamped down heavily on citizens demanding credible elections through peaceful protests. In Nairobi, the police brutalised citizens in Mathare, Kibera, Baba Dogo, Dandora, Korogocho, Karoabangi and Kawangware. In Kisumu, the use of live bullets against civilians has been documented following protests against the declaration of Uhuru Kenyatta as the duly elected President by the IEBC on August 9th, a declaration that was later nullified by the Supreme Court. According to Kisumu County Governor Anyang’ Nyong’o: “171 cases of police brutality were reported, six of them rape; seven deaths were confirmed while several people were reported missing.”[15]

The prevailing climate of civil protest and excessive retaliation by state security agencies, including use of live bullets, does not provide an enabling environment for elections free of violence and intimidation. Public participation, freedom of assembly, association and the right to picket and to demonstrate are enshrined in the constitution. An environment in which fundamental political rights are suppressed in the conduct of an electoral process, which is supposed to express the sovereign will of the people, renders that process illegitimate.

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch published a report on 16th October 2017 titled Kill Those Criminals: Security Forces’ Violations in Kenya’s August 2017 Elections documenting excessive use of force by the police, and in some cases other security agents, against protesters and residents in some of Nairobi’s opposition strongholds after the elections. According to the report:

“At least 23 people appear to have been shot dead by police, three beaten to death, and three died of asphyxiation from tear gas and pepper spray, two trampled to death, and two of physical and psychological trauma. Residents and human rights activists told researchers of another 17 cases of deaths resulting from police actions in informal settlements in Nairobi. Witnesses and human rights activists told researchers of at least four bodies that they said they saw being removed by police in Kibera,; the identities of the victims and where they are currently located are unknown. Dozens of others suffered gunshot wounds and severe injuries due to police beatings.”[16]


Police used excessive force against protesters, firing teargas in residential areas or inside houses, shooting in the air but also directly into the crowd and carrying out violent and abusive house to house operations, beating and shooting residents.”[17]

This environment of police brutality and intimidation by state security agencies persists and looms large over the proposed date for the fresh election, October 26th 2017. There is heavy and menacing police presence in opposition strongholds seemingly deployed to supress peaceful protestors on, before and after October 26th. Given the trend witnessed in the aftermath of August 8th election, repeated police brutality is likely to follow on, before and after October 26th. The Inspector General of Police issued a statement on 20th October 2017, warning of stern consequences for protestors in the course of the fresh election date. This comes in the wake of the arrests and detention of County Assembly Members in Mombasa and Kisumu for their alleged role in mobilising protestors ahead of October 26th.

Is this environment of fear, brutality and intimidation conducive to the conducting of a free, fair, transparent and credible election? Can the People of Kenya exercise their sovereign will through elections in such an environment? The framers of the Constitution envisaged that citizens should be able to take part in free and fair elections without fear of violence and intimidation. Indeed, violence and intimidation are key elements in Kenya’s electoral jurisprudence as grounds for invalidation of parliamentary and civic elections. In George Gitiba Njenga v Mutunga Mutungi & another [2017] eKLR, the Political Parties Dispute Tribunal restated the requirement for free and fair elections in the context of absence of violence and intimidation as one of the general principles undergirding Kenya’s electoral processes:

“For an election exercise to be said to have been free and fair, according to Article 81 of the Constitution of Kenya, 2010, the following conditions must be met. They include allowing voting through secret balloting, freedom from violence, intimidation and improper influence or corruption, elections being conducted transparently by an independent body and administered in an impartial, neutral, efficient, accurate and accountable manner.”[18]

The prevailing climate of civil protest and excessive retaliation by state security agencies, including use of live bullets, does not provide an enabling environment for elections free of violence and intimidation. Public participation, freedom of assembly, association and the right to picket and to demonstrate are enshrined in the constitution. An environment in which fundamental political rights are suppressed in the conduct of an electoral process, which is supposed to express the sovereign will of the people, renders that process illegitimate.


It is the author’s view that the sovereign will of the people cannot be legitimately expressed in an environment of state terror against civilians. Further, the imposition of an electoral process without the acquiescence of a broad cross-section of the electorate, including the candidate in whose favour the Supreme Court ruled in nullifying the August 8th 2017 election, negates the doctrine of popular sovereignty as it imposes coercive power without consent.

Without this participation, consent to the date and significant remedies for the illegalities and irregularities of the electoral process of August 8th and the proposed election to be carried out on October 26th provide no remedy for the lack of electoral accountability which the Supreme Court sought to enforce in its full decision read on 20th September 2017. Any election in the prevailing political environment, including where the Chairperson of the constitutionally-mandated electoral body, together with a Commissioner, have publicly expressed their reservations about the October 26th poll, cannot be credible and would not legitimately convey the sovereign will of the People of Kenya.

By James Gondi LL.M
The author is a rule of law analyst. His research areas include human rights law, international humanitarian law and transitional justice.


[1] Dunning, A ‘Jean Bodin on Sovereignty’ Political Science Quarterly Vol 11 No 1 1986

[2] Patil, Jaiwantaro Mahesh ‘ Sovereignty’ Nayanvar Chavan Law College, Nanded (Mahashatra), India

[3] Ojwang J.B “Constitutional Reform In Kenya: Basic Constitutional Issues and Concepts” 2001 quoted in Kaindo & Maina “Sovereignty of the People and Parliamentary Supremacy” 2014

[4] Kenya Africa National Union, independence political party.

[5] Mugo, Waweru “How the ‘Mlolongo’ System Doomed Polls” The Standard Newspaper 20th November 2013

[6] Report of the Independent Review Commission on the General Elections held in Kenya on 27th December 2007, Page X of the Executive Summary available at:

[7] Grotius, Hugo On the Law of War and Peace in Political Legitimacy Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy April 2017

[8] Duke, George Strong Popular Sovereignty and Constitutional Legitimacy European Journal of Political Theory 2017

[9] Popular Sovereignty and the Consent of the Governed Published by the Bill of Rights Institute, Documents of Freedom- History, Government and Economics through Primary Sources

[10] Ibid


[11] Ibid

[12] Wafula Chebukati: I Can’t Guarantee Credible Poll on October 26 Daily Nation 18th October 2017 available at

[13] Resignation Statement of IEBC Commissioner Dr Roselyne Akombe published in Business Today available at

[14] Ibid

[15] Standard Newspaper ‘Kisumu, the Lakeside City Bears Scars of Constant Police Brutality

Read more at: 10th September 2017

[16] “Kill Those Criminals” Security Forces Violations in Kenya’s August 2017 Elections. Amnesty International Report at Page 14, 16 October 2017, Index number: AFR 32/7249/201 Available at

[17] Ibid

[18] Republic of Kenya Political Parties Dispute Tribunal Complaint Number 234 of 2017

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The Repression of Palestine Solidarity in Kenya

Kenya is one of Israel’s closest allies in Africa. But the Ruto-led government isn’t alone in silencing pro-Palestinian speech.



The Repression of Palestine Solidarity in Kenya
Photo: Image courtesy of Kenyans4Palestine © 2023.
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Israel has been committing genocide against the people of Occupied Palestine for 75 years and this has intensified over the last 30 days with the merciless carpet bombing of Gaza, along with raids and state-sanctioned settler violence in the West Bank. In the last month of this intensified genocide, the Kenyan government has pledged its solidarity to Israel, even as the African Union released a statement in support of Palestinian liberation. While peaceful marches have been successfully held in Kisumu and Mombasa, in Nairobi, Palestine solidarity organizers were forced to cancel a peaceful march that was to be held at the US Embassy on October 22. Police threatened that if they saw groups of more than two people outside the Embassy, they would arrest them. The march was moved to a private compound, Cheche Bookshop, where police still illegally arrested three people, one for draping the Palestinian flag around his shoulders. Signs held by children were snatched by these same officers.

When Boniface Mwangi took to Twitter denouncing the arrest, the response by Kenyans spoke of the success of years of propaganda by Israel through Kenyan churches. To the Kenyan populous, Palestine and Palestinians are synonymous with terrorism and Israel’s occupation of Palestine is its right. However, this Islamophobia and xenophobia from Kenyans did not spring from the eternal waters of nowhere. They are part of the larger US/Israel sponsored and greedy politician-backed campaign to ensure Kenyans do not start connecting the dots on Israel’s occupation of Palestine with the extra-judicial killings by Kenyan police, the current occupation of indigenous people’s land by the British, the cost-of-living crisis and the IMF debts citizens are paying to fund politician’s lavish lifestyles.

Kenya’s repression of Palestine organizing reflects Kenya’s long-standing allyship with Israel. The Kenyan Government has been one of Israel’s A-star pupils of repression and is considered to be Israel’s “gateway” to Africa. Kenya has received military funding and training from Israel since the 60s, and our illegal military occupation of Somalia has been funded and fueled by Israel along with Britain and the US. Repression, like violence, is not one dimensional; repression does not just destabilize and scatter organizers, it aims to break the spirit and replace it instead with apathy, or worse, a deep-seated belief in the rightness of oppression. In Israel’s architecture of oppression through repression, the Apartheid state has created agents of repression across many facets of Kenyan life, enacting propaganda, violence, race, and religion as tools of repression of Palestine solidarity organizing.

When I meet with Naomi Barasa, the Chair of the Kenya Palestine Solidarity Movement, she begins by placing Kenya’s repression of Palestine solidarity organizing in the context of Kenya as a capitalist state. “Imperialism is surrounded and buffered by capitalistic interest,” she states, then lists on her fingers the economic connections Israel has created with Kenya in the name of “technical cooperation.” These are in agriculture, security, business, and health; the list is alarming. It reminds me of my first memory of Israel (after the nonsense of the promised land that is)—about how Israel was a leader in agricultural and irrigation technologies. A dessert that flowed with milk and honey.

Here we see how propaganda represses, even before the idea of descent is born: Kenyans born in the 1990s grew up with an image of a benign, prosperous, and generous Christian Israel that just so happened to be unfortunate enough to be surrounded by Muslim states. Israel’s PR machine has spent 60 years convincing Kenyan Christians of the legitimacy of the nation-state of Israel, drawing false equivalences between Christianity and Zionism. This Janus-faced ideology was expounded upon by Israel’s ambassador to Kenya, Michel Lotem, when he said “Religiously, Kenyans are attached to Israel … Israel is the holy land and they feel close to Israel.” The cog dizzy of it all is that Kenyan Christians, fresh from colonialism, are now Africa’s foremost supporters of colonialism and Apartheid in Israel. Never mind the irony that in 1902, Kenya was the first territory the British floated as a potential site for the resettlement of Jewish people fleeing the pogroms in Europe. This fact has retreated from public memory and public knowledge. Today, churches in Kenya facilitate pilgrimages to the holy land and wield Islamophobia as a weapon against any Christian who questions the inhumanity of Israel’s 75-year Occupation and ongoing genocide.

Another instrument of repression of pro-Palestine organizing in Kenya is the pressure put on Western government-funded event spaces to decline hosting pro-Palestine events. Zahid Rajan, a cultural practitioner and organizer, tells me of his experiences trying to find spaces to host events dedicated to educating Kenyans on the Palestinian liberation struggle. He recalls the first event he organized at Alliance Français, Nairobi in 2011. Alliance Français is one of Nairobi’s cultural hubs and regularly hosts art and cultural events at the space. When Zahid first approached Alliance to host a film festival for Palestinian films, they told him that they could not host this event as they already had (to this day) an Israeli film week. Eventually, they agreed to host the event with many restrictions on what could be discussed and showcased. Unsurprisingly they refused to host the event again. The Goethe Institute, another cultural hub in Kenya that offers its large hall for free for cultural events, has refused to host the Palestinian film festival or any other pro-Palestine event. Both Alliance and Goethe are funded by their parent countries, France and Germany respectively (which both have pro-Israel governments). There are other spaces and businesses that Zahid has reached out to host pro-Palestine education events that have, in the end, backtracked on their agreement to do so. Here, we see the evolution of state-sponsored repression to the private sphere—a public-private partnership on repression, if you will.

Kenya’s members of parliament took to heckling and mocking as a tool of repression when MP Farah Maalim wore an “Arafat” to Parliament on October 25. The Speaker asked him to take it off stating that it depicted “the colors of a particular country.” When Maalim stood to speak he asked: “Tell me which republic,” and an MP in the background could be heard shouting “Hamas” and heckling Maalim, such that he was unable to speak on the current genocide in Gaza. This event, seen in the context of Ambassador Michael Lotem’s charm offensive at the county and constituency level, is chilling. His most recent documented visit was to the MP of Kiharu, Ndindi Nyoro, on November 2. The Israeli propaganda machine has understood the importance of County Governors and MPs in consolidating power in Kenya.

Yet, in the face of this repression, we have seen what Naomi Barasa describes as “many pockets of ad hoc solidarity,” as well as organized solidarity with the Palestinian cause. We have seen Muslim communities gather for many years to march for Palestine, we have seen student movements such as the Nairobi University Student Caucus release statements for Palestine, and we have seen social justice centers such as Mathare Social Justice Centre host education and screening events on Palestinian liberation. Even as state repression of Palestine solidarity organizing has intensified in line with the deepening of state relations with Apartheid Israel, more Kenyans are beginning to connect the dots and see the reality that, as Mandela told us all those years ago, “our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of Palestinians.

This post is from a partnership between Africa Is a Country and The Elephant. We will be publishing a series of posts from their site every week.

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Only Connect: Human Beings Must Connect to Survive

We must fight to remain human, to make connections across borders, race, religion, class, gender, and all the false divisions that exist in our world. We must show solidarity with one another, and believe we can construct another kind of world.



UK-Rwanda Asylum Pact: Colonial Era Deportations are Back in Vogue
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24 November 2021. We wake to the news that 27 migrants have drowned in the English Channel.

“Stop the boats!” cry the Tories. It’s the hill British Prime Minister Sunak has chosen to die on. But there is no political will to stop the wider crisis of global migration, driven by conflict, poverty, persecution, repressive regimes, famine, climate change, and the rest. Moreover, there is zero understanding that the West is behind many of the reasons why people flee their homes in the first place. Take Afghanistan, a useless Allied war that went nowhere. It left the Taliban more powerful than ever. Afghans who worked for the British army, betrayed when our forces pulled out. Now they make up the majority of cross-Channel migrants.

Not for them the welcome we gave Ukrainians. Wrong skin colour, maybe? Wrong religion? Surely not.

Some right-wingers rejoice at news of these deaths. “Drown ’em all!” they cry on social media. “Bomb the dinghies!” There are invariably photos of cute cats and dogs in their profiles. Have you noticed how much racists and fascists love pets? Lots of ex-servicemen among them, who fail to see the link between the failed wars they fought, and the migration crisis these spawned. The normalisation of a false reality is plain to see. Politicians and the media tell folk that black is white, often in meaningless three-word slogans, and the masses believe it. Migrants, especially those who arrive in small boats, are routinely labelled criminals, murderers, rapists, invaders, Muslims intent on imposing Islam on the UK, and “young men of fighting age”, which implies that they are a standing army.

If you bother to look beyond the stereotypes, the reality is very different.

One couple’s story

Riding those same waves, a year or so later, are two Iranian Kurds. A young couple. Let’s call them Majid and Sayran. They have sadly decided not to have children, in 12 years of marriage, because they believe Iran is no place to bring up children. Activists who oppose the regime, they were forced to flee after receiving direct threats. They ran an environmental NGO, and held Kurdish cultural events that are banned in Iran.

The husband, Majid, a writer, first fled to Iraq in 2021. He and his wife were parted for 18 months. She eventually joined him in a Kurdish area of Iraq. They were forced to flee again, when the Iranian regime bombed the homes and offices of political dissidents in Iraq, killing and wounding many of their friends. They decided their only hope was to head for Britain via Turkey, Italy and France. They paid people smugglers around USD30,000 in total. They eventually ended up in a hotel in my home town. Their story continues below.

Feeling powerless

Meanwhile, there I am sitting at home in the UK, getting more and more enraged about my government’s attitude and policies on immigration. I feel powerless. I think about refugees living in an asylum hotel in my town. I’m told many of them are Muslim, now trying to celebrate Ramadan. I picture them breaking their fasts on hotel food, which relies heavily on chips and other cheap junk. I meet some of them in the queue at the town’s so-called community fridge, where I used to volunteer. I chat a little to Majid, who can speak some English. I try to find out why they are there. The “fridge” gives out food donated by supermarkets to anyone in need. The food would otherwise be thrown away because it’s about to reach its sell-by date. The refugees go there, they tell me, to get fresh stuff because the hotel food is so awful. I can sense the growing resentment from locals in the queue, who want to put “Britain first”.

Thinking, thinking. Then I berate myself. I should take action, however small. Get down to the supermarket, buy food for, say, six families. I can’t feed everyone, but let’s start somewhere. Food that people from the Middle East (the majority of the hotel residents) will like. Hummus, flatbreads, dates, olives, nuts, rice. Divide it into six bags. I don’t know how I will be received (I feel rather nervous), but let’s give it a go.

I can sense the growing resentment from locals in the queue, who want to put “Britain first”.

The hotel manager is cagey. (I am later banned. He and his female head of security are rude and hostile, but that’s still to come.) For now, he lets me in to distribute the food. Luckily, I spot Majid, just the person I’m looking for. I recognise him from the “fridge” queue. He can translate for the others, who quickly gather in the lobby. The food is snatched within minutes, people are delighted with it. (It turns out Majid and his wife are atheists. But they get some food too.)

I didn’t do this for the thanks. But I’m glad I made that first move. Taking it further, I invite them both round for a meal. I spend hours making Persian rice, it’s a big hit. My new friends fall on the spread like ravening wolves. One thing leads to another. We start to meet regularly. It helps that they have some English, which greatly improves as the weeks pass and they go to classes. They are thrilled by everyday things – walks in the country, pizza, a local fair, being taken to see the film Oppenheimer. (“We were amazed to see so many British people go to the movies!”) They tell me they are delighted simply to make contact, to see how ordinary people live, to be invited into my, and my friends’ homes. I tell them I have plenty to learn from them, too. We get a bit tearful. I say hi to Sayran’s mum on the phone in Iran. We also laugh a lot. Majid has a black sense of humour.

At first, I don’t ask about their experience of crossing the Channel. All I know is that the entire journey, from Iran to Britain, was deeply traumatic. Until now, months later, when I ask Majid to describe what happened.

Majid picks up the story of their journey in Turkey: “The most bitter memories of my life were witnessing my wife’s tiredness, fear and anxiety as we walked for nine hours to reach Istanbul. I saw my wife cry from exhaustion and fear many times, and I myself cried inside. In a foreign country without a passport, our only hope was luck, and our only way was to accept hardship because we had no way back. The most bitter thing in this or any refugee journey is that no one gives any help or support to his fellow traveller.  The smallest issue turns into a big tension.”

To reach the sea, where they would take a boat to Italy, they walked through dense pine forests. “There were about 30 of us in this group and none of us knew each other. We passed through the forest with extreme anxiety and fear of being arrested by the ruthless Turkish police. We were all afraid that some babies who were tied tightly on their father’s shoulders would cry and the police would find us. But as soon as we stepped into the forest, all the children became silent due to their instinct and sense of danger.  They didn’t make a single sound all the way. We were in the forest for about 12 hours, and reached the beach by 8 a.m. Here we were joined by several other groups of refugees; by now we were more than 100 people.”

The week-long journey to Italy in a 12-meter “pleasure” boat carrying 55 people was terrifying. “As the boat moved towards the deep parts of the sea, fear and anxiety took over everyone. The fear of the endless sea, and worse, the fear of being caught by Turkish patrols, weighed heavily on everyone’s mind. The boat moved at the highest speed at night, and this speed added to the intensity of the waves hitting the hull of the boat.  Waves, waves, waves have always been a part of the pulse of travellers.  As the big waves moved the boat up and down, the sound of screams and shouts would merge with the Arabic words of prayers of old, religious passengers. I can say that there is no scene in hell more horrific than this journey.  It was near sunset when several passengers shouted: ‘Land! Land!’”

On the way to France, they somehow lost their backpacks. All their possessions gone. Moving fast forward, they found themselves in yet another forest, this time close to the French coast.

“For the first time, I felt that the whole idea I had about Europe and especially the French was a lie. Nowhere in the underdeveloped and insecure countries of the Middle East would a couple be driven to the wrong address at night, in the cold, without proper clothing.  But what can be done when you illegally enter a country whose language you do not know? It was almost 2 o’clock in the morning. The sound of the wind and the trees reminded us of horror scenes in the movies. It was hard to believe that we were so helpless in a European country on that dark, cold and rainy night.” He collected grass and tree leaves to make a “warm and soft nest.  I felt like we were two migratory birds that had just arrived in this forest.” Eventually they found what they were looking for – a refugee camp. The next step was to try and cross the Channel.

“I can say that there is no scene in hell more horrific than this journey.”

“We reached the beach. The sky was overcast and it was almost sunset. A strange fear and deadly apprehension gripped all the poor refugees in that space between the sky, the earth and the sea.” A smugglers’ car brought a dinghy and dumped it on the beach before quickly driving away. It was no better than a rubber tube. The refugees filled it with air, and attached a small engine. “They stuck 55 people in that tube.” The dinghy went round in circles and ended up on another part of the French coast. Many people decided to disembark at this point, leaving 18 passengers.

“Women and children were wailing and crying. The children looked at the sea dumbfounded.  Men argued with each other and sometimes arguments turned into fights.  The boat was not balanced. I was writhing in pain from headaches, while my wife’s face was yellow and pale because of the torment.”

At last a ship approached, shining bright floodlights at the dinghy. It belonged to the British coast guard.  “When they threw the life rope towards our plastic boat, we were relieved that we were saved from death.”

Hotel life

My friends tell me about conditions at the hotel. Grim. Food that is often inedible, especially for vegetarians like them. They send me photos of soya chunks and chips. Residents are banned from cooking in their rooms, or even having a fridge. Majid and Sayran have sneaked in a rice steamer and something to fry eggs on. (They have to hide them when the cleaners come round.)  Kids have no toys and nowhere to play except in the narrow corridors. Everyone is depressed and bored, waiting for months, sometimes years, to hear the result of their asylum claims.

Majid takes up the story: “Due to the lack of toys and entertainment, the boys gather around the security guards and help them in doing many small tasks. The image of refugee children going to school on cold and rainy mornings is the most painful image of refugees in this developed country.  In schools, language problems make refugee children isolated and depressed in the first few years.  What can be the situation of a pregnant woman, or a woman whose baby has just been born, with an unemployed husband, and poor nutrition, in a very small room in this hotel? Imagine yourself.  Many elderly people here suffer from illnesses such as rheumatism, knee swelling, and high blood sugar.  But many times when they ask for a change in the food situation or request to transfer somewhere else, they are ridiculed by the hotel staff.  One day, a widow who had no food left for her and was given frozen food, went to the hotel management office with her daughter to protest. But one of the security guards took the food container from this woman’s hand and threw it on the office floor in front of her child.  Now that little girl is afraid and hates all the security.”

“When they threw the life rope towards our plastic boat, we were relieved that we were saved from death.”

Yet racists rant about migrants living it up in five-star hotels costing the taxpayer £8 million a day. They don’t think or care about how we got here: the Tories let the asylum backlog soar, by failing to process asylum claims in a timely fashion. Some of us cynically wonder if this was deliberate. The number of people awaiting an initial decision is now 165,411. This compares to 27,048 asylum applications, including dependents, between January and September 2015, before the UK left the European Union.

I’ve done what I can. Lobbied the Home office to improve the food and conditions. I eventually got a reply, both from them and the catering contractor. Wrote to my MP, local councillors, inter-agency bodies that monitor conditions in hotels, migrant organisations, the press. We have had some success. There is a lot more to do.

I ask my friends if the threat of being deported to Rwanda (a key plank of the UK’s asylum policy) might have deterred them from coming. Or if anything would have stopped them. Majid replies: “Not at all! Because everywhere in this world is better than Iran for life. Especially for me, I have a deep problem with the Intelligence Organization of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. They threatened me with death over the phone.”

Making sense of the world

World news has become unbearable to read, watch or listen to. Once a news junkie, I increasingly find myself switching off. I’m equally appalled by the widespread apathy, even among friends who were once politically engaged. Then there is all the dog whistling our government does, in language that echoes that of the far right. Ministers and MPs have shamelessly whipped up suspicion, hatred, and fear of the Other. “Cruella” Braverman was one of the worst offenders, but at least she is no longer Home Secretary. Her “dream” of deporting refugees to Rwanda (her words) has become a nightmare for Sunak. Both are of East African Asian heritage.

Ministers and MPs have shamelessly whipped up suspicion, hatred, and fear of the Other.

This may sound trite, but we must struggle to remain human, and make connections where we can – across borders, race, religion, class, gender, all the false divisions that exist in our world. We have to keep lobbying those in power, and going on protest marches. We must show solidarity with one another. We have to believe we can construct another kind of world, pole pole, from the bottom up. A kinder world would help, for starters. It can begin in very small ways.

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Solidarity Means More Than Words

Although the South African government is one of the most vocal supporters of the Palestinian cause, its actions tell a different story.



Photo via the African National Congress on X.
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On October 15 South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, decked in a black and white keffiyeh, pledged his solidarity with the people of Palestine. He was surrounded by colleagues in the same attire holding Palestine flags. This was a week after Israel began its bombardment of the Gaza strip. The situation in Gaza is an even worse nightmare than usual, with the death toll from Israeli strikes now exceeding  11,000 civilians, half of whom are children. Much of the open-air prison housing more than two million people has been reduced to rubble. South Africa’s already critical rhetoric on Israel has become significantly harsher, but the question being asked is, when will this translate into action?

Since the end of apartheid, South Africa has stood unfailingly with Palestine, beginning with the close friendship and camaraderie between former president Nelson Mandela and Yasser Arafat, the president of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) at the time of Mandela’s release from prison in 1990. South Africa was one of the first countries to refer to Israel as an apartheid state, a progressive stance at the state level, even in Africa.

Yet the current government’s bravery, even in diplomacy, is questionable. The pro-Palestine public and civil society are demanding answers to basic questions, such as why Israeli citizens can travel to South Africa visa-free, while Palestinians cannot. And although South Africa recalled its ambassador to Israel in 2018, downgrading the embassy to a liaison office, it has yet to take the step to expel the Israeli ambassador to South Africa.

But things are shifting. Israel has acted with such violence that South Africa’s language has grown stronger to the point that the Cabinet called Israel’s bombardment of Gaza not just a genocide but a “holocaust on the Palestinians.” After a month of civil society and public pressure on the government to expel Eliav Belotsercovsky, Israel’s Ambassador to South Africa, Ramaphosa recalled South African diplomats in Tel Aviv for “consultations,” and Naledi Pandor, the Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, has called for the International Criminal Court (ICC) to arrest and try Netanyahu and his Cabinet for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. Notwithstanding these diplomatic maneuvers, the expulsion of Belotserkovsky is still in discussion at the parliamentary level, and in practice, the relationship between Israel and South Africa is in contradiction. South Africa is Israel’s biggest trade partner on the African continent. In 2021, South Africa exported $225 million worth of goods to Israel, mostly in the form of capital goods (tangible assets or resources used in the production of consumer goods), machinery and electrical products, and chemicals; it paid $60 million for imports, mostly intermediate goods (goods used to finalize partially finished consumer goods), and food products by far, making a total in trade of $285 million. This is one-third of Israel’s total trade with sub-Saharan Africa of $760 million.

In 2012, the government announced that products made in the West Bank need to be labeled as originating in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, as opposed to a “Product of Israel,” which led to an outcry from Zionist groups and the South African Jewish Board of Deputies, calling the move discriminatory and divisive. But several Checkers and Spar branches still stock items labeled “Product of Israel,” with no repercussions.

Zionist entities have for decades been openly committing crimes under South African law. South African nationals have traveled to Israel to fight in the Israeli Defence Force (IDF), and some are there currently. This is illegal under the Regulation of Foreign Military Assistance Act which is very clear about citizens fighting under other flags. A South African citizen may not provide military assistance to a foreign army unless they have made an application to the Minister of Defence and received their approval. When the issue was raised at a recent parliamentary hearing, Minister in the Presidency, Khumbudzo Ntshavheni, admitted that the State Security Agency is aware of this phenomenon, and would provide the identities of these soldiers to the National Prosecuting Authority, as they are a threat to the State. Yet the fact that South Africans have been fighting in the Israeli army is no secret. Recently, a video emerged of a soldier leading other soldiers in South Africa’s national anthem. Another question being asked yet again is, why has it taken this long for any prosecutions to take place or even be suggested?

In July a group of Israeli water experts and state officials visited South Africa to pitch their technology to the South African government, a trip organized by the Jewish National Fund of South Africa and the South African Zionist Federation. The Jewish National Fund is notorious for planting forests on former Palestinian villages demolished by the Israeli army. Israel and South Africa are also connected in the agriculture sphere and South Africa is not alone in this. Israel had been using agriculture and military training to carve an increasingly wider economic path to make its way through Africa, and in 2021 Israel nearly obtained observer status at the African Union, a proposal suspended by South Africa and Algeria’s protests.

The Paramount Group, an arms manufacturer with offices and factories in Cape Town and Johannesburg, is strongly connected to the Israeli army, providing armored vehicles to Haifa-based Elbit Systems, who in turn supplies Israel with 85% of its land-based and drone equipment. The founder, Ivor Ichikowitz, is an outspoken Zionist whose family foundation has been known to raise funds to support the IDF and Paramount’s Vice President for Europe, Shane Cohen, was a Lieutenant Colonel in the Israeli Army. Ichikowitz has been allied with prominent South African politicians for many years. In 2009 the Mail and Guardian reported that Ichikowitz had flown Jacob Zuma to Lebanon and Kazakhstan for free on his personal jet. He was also, bizarrely, a broker in a peace mission by African heads of state, including Ramaphosa, to Ukraine in June this year. By allowing for these sales to Elbit, South Africa is violating its own commitment to the United Nations Arms Trade Treaty of 2014, which, as a signatory, has agreed to cease the provision of weaponry when there is a reasonable expectation that such arms might be employed in severe breaches of international human rights or humanitarian law.

The South African government has been quietly allowing its own laws to be flouted by Israeli and Zionist interests. But pressure is mounting on the government’s need to convert its narrative into action. Minister Pandor has called for an immediate imposition of an arms embargo on Israel. Does this mean the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) will prohibit Paramount sales to Elbit? The country’s National Prosecuting Authority has been instructed to prosecute South Africans serving in the IDF. Will this actually happen? Will the DTI stop stores from selling products incorrectly labeled and will South Africa cut trade ties with Israel and impose Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS)?

Momentum has grown, and people are raging against the machine. The South African government is in the spotlight. It will be forced to show where its red lines are drawn and where its allegiance really lies. The people are watching.

This post is from a partnership between Africa Is a Country and The Elephant. We will be publishing a series of posts from their site every week.

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