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ASHES IN OUR MOUTHS: The Aftermath of Kenya’s Electoral Coup



ASHES IN OUR MOUTHS: The Aftermath of Kenya’s Elecoral Coup
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The epic legal battles which have defined Kenya’s presidential contest this year ended, not with the loud bang of the Chief Justice David Maraga’s gavel, but with a whimper and muted celebrations. In the end, it seems, even the resolute Justice David Maraga-led Supreme Court succumbed to political intimidations and Jubilee secured a hard-wrung, bloodstained but Pyrrhic victory.

But for the executioners of Kenya’s electoral coup, the legitimacy deficit occasioned by a low voter turnout, dubious legal victories and political violence, counts for little. The end justifies the means.

However, how Jubilee secured this victory -and the resistance it had engendered- provides insights into what we might expect to define political struggles in Kenya’s competitive authoritarian regime, in the coming season of street battles.

It should worry all and sundry, who care for Kenya’s liberal democratic aspirations. It is the harbinger of a political struggle characterized by civic activism and state sanctioned political violence, by the police and allied militias, as well as by resistance from the National Super Alliance/National Resistance Movement, but without any trusted arbiters of deep seated political grievances.

Jubilee secured the ultimate legal stamp of approval through a legal but morally dubious political processes, made possible by the Executive’s sleight of hand that outwitted both the Chief Justice and other litigants, buttressed by the government-instigated credible threat of apocalyptic genocidal political violence in the slums of Nairobi, and some instances of resistance by undisciplined and easily infiltrated protests by the opposition.

The epic legal battles which have defined Kenya’s presidential contest this year ended, not with the loud bang of the Chief Justice David Maraga’s gavel, but with a whimper and muted celebrations.

The destructions of nascent democratic institutions, which Jubilee’s twin tactics, legal and extra-legal, have left in their wake, may well mean that in Kenya’s struggle for change, where civic action (lawfare) led by the urban middle class competes with, and sometimes complements, street fights between the urban poor and police, the latter encounters may dominate the struggle in the coming months. A look at how these have played out points to several worrying trends. Lawfare first.


If the execution of the August 8 electoral coup had claimed the independent electoral commission, the police service, the police oversight authority, and Kenya’s “main-street” media, then its backlash against the Supreme Court following the September 1 setback may have claimed the nascent independence of the judiciary, its transparent methods of determining disputes, and its polite but firm approach to litigants. And more.

In a first in Kenya’s electoral history, the Cabinet Secretary in charge of security declared the day before the October 26 repeat presidential poll a public holiday. The decision rendered most courts inoperative, except the High Court and the Supreme Court, which had express permission from the Chief Justice to hear all the pending and urgent election-related cases, before them.

But something happened. First, the Supreme Court failed to muster the necessary quorum, at least five out of seven judges, to listen to a case filed by democracy activists seeking to stop the poll. Justice Maraga was hard pressed to explain the absence of some of the judges.

Despite his efforts, it is still hard to understand why only he and Justice Isaac Lenaola had reported to work on that day. The absence of the indisposed Justice Ibrahim and Philomena Mwilu, the Deputy Chief Justice, whose driver had been shot and wounded the previous day, may indeed be excused but where were Justices Njoki Ndungu, J.B. Ojwang’ and Smokin Wanjala?

Jubilee’s bloodstained victory has come at a great cost to the nascent institutions of Kenya’s democracy: judicial reforms, police reforms, and electoral reforms. It now boasts the legal imprimatur of Kenya’s apex court

Then, three judges at the Court of Appeal held a late night sitting which delivered a significant judgment, in curious circumstances and without listening to both parties to the case, which overturned an earlier ruling by the High Court that had declared the appointment of election officials unconstitutional. It was eerily reminiscent of the travesties of justice during the late- night Mwakenya trials of the 1980s.

The Court of Appeal did not have express permission from the Chief Justice to meet on this day as it was not one of the courts mentioned his October 24 memo which allowed sittings on the public holiday. But it received and determined a petition, late at night, filed by one of the litigants, while during the day, other litigants could neither find a register nor a duty judge.

What’s more, in marked departure from the Court of Appeal’s judicial tradition, this late-night Court, without listening to both parties to the case, rescinded an earlier High Court decision that ruled that the IEBC had irregularly appointed the returning officers who were to preside over the re-run. Why did the grant of ex-parte orders under such circumstance? Why did the Court of Appeal President, Justice Kihara Kariuki, empanel only this court for only one of the many litigants on this day?

Glossed over by Kenya’s ‘main-street media,’ this act and the subsequent ruling by Justices Erastus Githinji, Martha Koome and Fatuma Sichale, point to a judiciary with two centers of power- one de jure, under the authority of the Chief Justice, and another de facto one, but answerable to Justice Karikui or a power higher than the Chief Justice’s, located somewhere else.

Justice Kihara’s action bodes ill for the rule of law. Courts should be predictable and accessible to all. Late-night courts must be the anti-thesis of justice which must not only be done, but also be seen to be done, sometimes literally under the glare of television cameras, and especially when political stakes are high.

In November, the Supreme Court returned. If the six-judge bench of September 1 was firm, patient and polite, this time, they were irascible, a little impetuous and imperious. If last time the court was a lot more engaged, taking both an adversarial and inquisitorial approach to determine the first petition, this time round the court seemed detached. It took a purely adversarial approach, allowing the litigants to slug it out, more in its 2013 mode.

Unlike the confident, but split bench that delivered the historic September 1 ruling, the judges returned to work united but subdued.

This time, the Court was quorate with all but one of the seven judges present. They reported for duty without fail for seven consecutive days. But true to the black and crimson red robes and white bibs, the traditional colors of Kenya’s judiciary, they were conservative to the core.

The court seemed disinterested in several aspects of the two petitions. It threw out most of the petitioners’ prayers which suggests two possibilities: the petitions were either irredeemably defective, or that the court recoiled at the prospect of another bruising battle with the executive.

If it is the first, then there is little cause for alarm. No doubt, the Court’s full judgment, when released, will shed light on why, in their eyes, the two petitions had “no merit.”

The second possibility, however, also deserves attention. Was the court acting out of an instinct for self-preservation? Was it trying to avoid the kind of assault that the Jubilee government, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission, the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission, as well as its own Justice Njoki Ndungu, had launched following the invalidation of the August election?

The judiciary had come under unrelenting assault after the September judgment. The executive had attacked the Court and its partners mostly on the strength of Justice Ndungu’s claims that the majority judges did not scrutinize the relevant electoral reforms, something supposedly corroborated by Ezra Chiloba, the IEBC’s chief executive officer. It targeted the Registrar of the Supreme Court, and the International Development Law Organization, which it accused of inappropriately influencing subversive jurisprudence, threatening the separation of powers between it and the judiciary.

In the second set of presidential petitions, the Supreme Court judges steered clear of the whole kit and caboodle of the IEBC’s paraphernalia: the servers, the Kenya Integrated Electoral Management System (KIEMS), the numerical and alphabetically designated forms: 34A, 34B, 34C, and 32C.

This was a big victory for the IEBC. The compromised electoral management body would no doubt welcome a process that neither made reference to servers and KIEMS kits, nor pressed hard to produce a voter register, without placing unreasonable financial barriers on the path of petitioners. These were black boxes of this year’s general election, keeping the all-important record of how many Kenyans voted and whom they voted for.

The path to Kenya’s Supreme Court denouement has been long and convoluted, sometimes defying easy comprehension, and has arguably left Kenya with a weaker, much less confident Judiciary.

When finally delivered the ruling, Chief Justice Maraga was brief. There was no grand opening statement, no more soaring ecclesiastical aspirations or temporally lofty nationalist ambitions as in September. Faith and courage seemed to have deserted the now united six-judge bench. The court, it seems, had been “fixed” to its rightful Third World size.

And, in Pontius Pilate like response to the Kenyans competing cries, “Give us Uhuruto or Democracy,” they seem to have unanimously delivered all Kenyans into the hands of Uhuruto’s well-planned conservative backlash against the 2010 constitution.

They gave Jubilee government a Tano Tena, five more years, without the hearty high-fives and thunderous applause that greeted the September’s landmark decision. Rather, the good news was received with a tad luke-warm celebration within the wood-paneled courtroom, even among the battery of lawyers who had fought to hard to secure it. Clearly, the court didn’t quite surprise the winning team.

The path to Kenya’s Supreme Court denouement has been long and convoluted, sometimes defying easy comprehension, and has arguably left Kenya with a weaker, much less confident Judiciary.

These events point to sinister happenings within the Judiciary and, possibly, an on-going internecine power struggle, captured in the condescending and hectoring tone of the Supreme Court minority’s dissenting judgment in the first petition, and the rogue conduct of the Court of Appeal of dispensing selective late-night justice.

They do not augur well for the administration of justice. Not only is the ruling party contesting the Chief Justice’s authority, but also his own colleagues are. Can the Supreme Court’s newfound unity following the unanimous second verdict heal this rift and restore Justice Maraga’s administrative authority over the entire judiciary?

The erosion of the legitimacy of the court, especially of the Chief Justice’s authority and transparent procedures of determining political disputes, will increasingly only leave one avenue open for those who oppose Jubilee government, but are outnumbered in all the formal political arenas of Kenya’s democracy including parliament: the streets. However, this is a rough terrain, especially for the easily baited and undisciplined NASA street protestors, as recent events demonstrate.

Street protests

Kenya’s street struggle for democracy has in part always been a gladiatorial contest between the police (including the paramilitary General Service Unit) and the urban poor. Since 2007, the securocrats opposed to Kenya’s democratization process have built a formidable and lethal police capacity against organized protest.

How the state has policed the street protest has also changed, borrowing a great deal from Apartheid South Africa: through masculine and menacing deployment of troops and specialized vehicles, mostly aimed at containing the protests within the slums, and turning broad party political disputes into a narrow ethnic and intra-slum violence. But this year’s pattern of state orchestrated violence suggests something more insidious.

The State has kept the protests far away from the business districts of cities like Nairobi and Kisumu, and from the high-income neighborhoods adjoining the hundreds of urban slums. This provocative posture by the police has easily lured the NASA protestors to respond in kind, but with slings, and acts of arson, which is clearly no match for the deadly arsenal of the police. The protestors’ casualties and location attest to this asymmetrical warfare. Nairobi’s Kibra, Mathare, Kawangware, Lucky Summer and Baba Dogo, as well as Kisumu’s Kondele, Obunga and Nyalenda “Carwash”, have borne the brunt of the political violence this year.

However, in pattern reminiscent of the Apartheid police’s repression of urban protests in South Africa, Julia Steers notes that police violence in the slums this August was aimed at decapitating the urban-poor’s political community’s leadership by turning some residents of the urban slums into snitches, who identify “ protest organizers and known opposition supporters” who are then marked for murder. These tactics tear apart the social fabric of the urban poor, brew mistrust, and valorize intra-urban poor violence.

Similarly, in a replay of the 1969 anti-KPU strategy of repressing protests, the Jubilee government has particularly trained its guns on the protestors in the counties of Kisumu, Homa-Bay, Migori and Siaya, with deadly outcomes. By targeting the beachhead of NASA’s core support base, this kind of violence courts a collective ethnic Luo backlash against the real or imagined supporters of the Jubilee party in living in these areas.

It also seeks to draw out a loud Luo response, which can be manipulated to reduce the broad-based NASA resistance against the Jubilee government into “a Luo only affair” for which several ready “cultural” and binary explanations abound. Such the “ dynastic feuds between the Jaramogi Odinga and Jomo Kenyatta families” or “the Luo-Kikuyu historical rivalries,” which mask the question of electoral justice at the heart of the current political conflicts.

In 2007, Mwai Kibaki’s regime executed political violence against the real or imagined opposition supporters, from above through the police, and GSU, as well as from below through the Kikuyu militia known as the Mungiki. In this, the police, and the Mungiki, largely acted separately. Conversely, ODM, the opposition, executed political violence through spontaneous protests and various organized militia groups in the urban slums of Nairobi, in particular and in the Rift Valley.

When finally delivered the ruling, Chief Justice Maraga was brief. There was no grand opening statement, no more soaring ecclesiastical aspirations or temporally lofty nationalist ambitions as in September. Faith and courage seemed to have deserted the now united six-judge bench. The court, it seems, had been “fixed” to its rightful Third World size.

This year, though, the police and a militia group widely thought to be the Mungiki were acting jointly against the real or imagined opposition supporters. Many news reports suggest that the Mungiki were camouflaged in military fatigues or police uniforms. Numerous accounts of dread-locked police wearing jeans, gunfire from unmarked cars, of police armed with both machetes and guns as well as protesters in opposition strongholds with gun wounds, slit-throats or deep machete wounds, suggest a blurring of boundaries between the police and the urban slum militias.

If police violence against protestors was previously justified in the name of protecting private property, the recent footage of policemen, including those in senior ranks, hurling rocks at or lobbing tear-gas canisters or shooting into vehicles carrying the NASA politicians, suggests that the police now act as agent-provocateurs.

At any rate, how Jubilee has unleashed state violence and how the police have largely stood by as “unknown gunmen” shoot and kill hapless slam dwellers, tells a story of a regime that desperately wants to retain state power at any cost.

Politically expedient, these acts by the incumbent were calculated to achieve several outcomes: increase the cost of individual’s participation in protests, drive Kenya to the edge of apocalyptic genocidal violence and thus force the judges to rule in a particular way.

These acts suggests that Kenya’s dreams of ever bringing the armed forces under democratic control, through institutions such the Independent Police Oversight Authority (IPOA), and getting rid of political militias, especially during the elections, are slowly evaporating. Ominously, Kenya is increasingly criminalizing the police and militarizing the criminals.

The blurring of the difference between the police and the militia, or the police as the militia of the ruling regime, delegitimizes the Police. It might lead to an increase in the formation of gangs by the urban communities on the receiving end of the violence of the police-militia violence and an arms race within the slums.

Jubilee’s bloodstained victory has come at a great cost to the nascent institutions of Kenya’s democracy: judicial reforms, police reforms, and electoral reforms. It now boasts the legal imprimatur of Kenya’s apex court.

It is a victory that has not only left many Kenya without a credible arbiter of political conflicts, precisely at the moment when political conflicts are escalating and divisions hardening, but also weakened both the Judiciary and criminalized the police. The police is steadily becoming the ruling party’s militia-writ large, with oversight institutions such as IPOA standing by as mere spectators in the agora of a deadly gladiatorial combat between the police and the urban poor. Kenya’s judiciary is shaken, precisely at the moment when Kenyans need a strong judiciary as the bulwark against Jubilee’s majoritarianism, its dictatorial ambitions, and a trigger-happy police force. While NASA’s protest movement has shown some creativity, it hasn’t truly demonstrated a disciplined non-violent or civic street protests, perhaps the only viable option out of the coming gladiatorial encounters.

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Akoko Akech is a graduate student at the Makerere Institute of Social Research, presently living in Kisumu.


Who Won Kenya’s “Nominations”?

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



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

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

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

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

Why do parties dread nominations?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Money, politics, and the cost of campaigns

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

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

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

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

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

Are the losers actually the biggest winners?

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

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

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

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

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

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Asylum Pact: Rwanda Must Do Some Political Housecleaning

Rwandans are welcoming, but the government’s priority must be to solve the internal political problems which produce refugees.



Asylum Pact: Rwanda Must Do Some Political Housecleaning
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The governments of the United Kingdom and Rwanda have signed an agreement to move asylum seekers from the UK to Rwanda for processing. This partnership has been heavily criticized and has been referred to as unethical and inhumane. It has also been opposed by the United Nations Refugee Agency on the grounds that it is contrary to the spirit of the Refugee Convention.

Here in Rwanda, we heard the news of the partnership on the day it was signed. The subject has never been debated in the Rwandan parliament and neither had it been canvassed in the local media prior to the announcement.

According to the government’s official press release, the partnership reflects Rwanda’s commitment to protect vulnerable people around the world. It is argued that by relocating migrants to Rwanda, their dignity and rights will be respected and they will be provided with a range of opportunities, including for personal development and employment, in a country that has consistently been ranked among the safest in the world.

A considerable number of Rwandans have been refugees and therefore understand the struggle that comes with being an asylum seeker and what it means to receive help from host countries to rebuild lives. Therefore, most Rwandans are sensitive to the plight of those forced to leave their home countries and would be more than willing to make them feel welcome. However, the decision to relocate the migrants to Rwanda raises a number of questions.

The government argues that relocating migrants to Rwanda will address the inequalities in opportunity that push economic migrants to leave their homes. It is not clear how this will work considering that Rwanda is already the most unequal country in the East African region. And while it is indeed seen as among the safest countries in the world, it was however ranked among the bottom five globally in the recently released 2022 World Happiness Index. How would migrants, who may have suffered psychological trauma fare in such an environment, and in a country that is still rebuilding itself?

A considerable number of Rwandans have been refugees and therefore understand the struggle that comes with being an asylum seeker and what it means to receive help from host countries to rebuild lives.

What opportunities can Rwanda provide to the migrants? Between 2018—the year the index was first published—and 2020, Rwanda’s ranking on the Human Capital Index (HCI) has been consistently low. Published by the World Bank, HCI measures which countries are best at mobilising the economic and professional potential of their citizens. Rwanda’s score is lower than the average for sub-Saharan Africa and it is partly due to this that the government had found it difficult to attract private investment that would create significant levels of employment prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Unemployment, particularly among the youth, has since worsened.

Despite the accolades Rwanda has received internationally for its development record, Rwanda’s economy has never been driven by a dynamic private or trade sector; it has been driven by aid. The country’s debt reached 73 per cent of GDP in 2021 while its economy has not developed the key areas needed to achieve and secure genuine social and economic transformation for its entire population. In addition to human capital development, these include social capital development, especially mutual trust among citizens considering the country’s unfortunate historical past, establishing good relations with neighbouring states, respect for human rights, and guaranteeing the accountability of public officials.

Rwanda aspires to become an upper middle-income country by 2035 and a high-income country by 2050. In 2000, the country launched a development plan that aimed to transform it into a middle-income country by 2020 on the back on a knowledge economy. That development plan, which has received financial support from various development partners including the UK which contributed over £1 billion, did not deliver the anticipated outcomes. Today the country remains stuck in the category of low-income states. Its structural constraints as a small land-locked country with few natural resources are often cited as an obstacle to development. However, this is exacerbated by current governance in Rwanda, which limits the political space, lacks separation of powers, impedes freedom of expression and represses government critics, making it even harder for Rwanda to reach the desired developmental goals.

Rwanda’s structural constraints as a small land-locked country with no natural resources are often viewed as an obstacle to achieving the anticipated development.

As a result of the foregoing, Rwanda has been producing its own share of refugees, who have sought political and economic asylum in other countries. The UK alone took in 250 Rwandese last year. There are others around the world, the majority of whom have found refuge in different countries in Africa, including countries neighbouring Rwanda. The presence of these refugees has been a source of tension in the region with Kigali accusing neighbouring states of supporting those who want to overthrow the government by force. Some Rwandans have indeed taken up armed struggle, a situation that, if not resolved, threatens long-term security in Rwanda and the Great Lakes region. In fact, the UK government’s advice on travel to Rwanda has consistently warned of the unstable security situation near the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Burundi.

While Rwanda’s intention to help address the global imbalance of opportunity that fuels illegal immigration is laudable, I would recommend that charity start at home. As host of the 26th Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting scheduled for June 2022, and Commonwealth Chair-in-Office for the next two years, the government should seize the opportunity to implement the core values and principles of the Commonwealth, particularly the promotion of democracy, the rule of law, freedom of expression, political and civil rights, and a vibrant civil society. This would enable Rwanda to address its internal social, economic and political challenges, creating a conducive environment for long-term economic development, and durable peace that will not only stop Rwanda from producing refugees but will also render the country ready and capable of economically and socially integrating refugees from less fortunate countries in the future.

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

The elite’s ‘solution’ to the climate crisis is to turn the displaced into exploitable migrant labour. We need a truly internationalist alternative.



Beyond Borders: Why We Need a Truly Internationalist Climate Justice Movement
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“We are not drowning, we are fighting” has become the rallying call for the Pacific Climate Warriors. From UN climate meetings to blockades of Australian coal ports, these young Indigenous defenders from twenty Pacific Island states are raising the alarm of global warming for low-lying atoll nations. Rejecting the narrative of victimisation – “you don’t need my pain or tears to know that we’re in a crisis,” as Samoan Brianna Fruean puts it – they are challenging the fossil fuel industry and colonial giants such as Australia, responsible for the world’s highest per-capita carbon emissions.

Around the world, climate disasters displace around 25.3 million people annually – one person every one to two seconds. In 2016, new displacements caused by climate disasters outnumbered new displacements as a result of persecution by a ratio of three to one. By 2050, an estimated 143 million people will be displaced in just three regions: Africa, South Asia, and Latin America. Some projections for global climate displacement are as high as one billion people.

Mapping who is most vulnerable to displacement reveals the fault lines between rich and poor, between the global North and South, and between whiteness and its Black, Indigenous and racialised others.

Globalised asymmetries of power create migration but constrict mobility. Displaced people – the least responsible for global warming – face militarised borders. While climate change is itself ignored by the political elite, climate migration is presented as a border security issue and the latest excuse for wealthy states to fortify their borders. In 2019, the Australian Defence Forces announced military patrols around Australia’s waters to intercept climate refugees.

The burgeoning terrain of “climate security” prioritises militarised borders, dovetailing perfectly into eco-apartheid. “Borders are the environment’s greatest ally; it is through them that we will save the planet,” declares the party of French far-Right politician Marine Le Pen. A US Pentagon-commissioned report on the security implications of climate change encapsulates the hostility to climate refugees: “Borders will be strengthened around the country to hold back unwanted starving immigrants from the Caribbean islands (an especially severe problem), Mexico, and South America.” The US has now launched Operation Vigilant Sentry off the Florida coast and created Homeland Security Task Force Southeast to enforce marine interdiction and deportation in the aftermath of disasters in the Caribbean.

Labour migration as climate mitigation

you broke the ocean in
half to be here.
only to meet nothing that wants you
– Nayyirah Waheed

Parallel to increasing border controls, temporary labour migration is increasingly touted as a climate adaptation strategy. As part of the ‘Nansen Initiative’, a multilateral, state-led project to address climate-induced displacement, the Australian government has put forward its temporary seasonal worker program as a key solution to building climate resilience in the Pacific region. The Australian statement to the Nansen Initiative Intergovernmental Global Consultation was, in fact, delivered not by the environment minister but by the Department of Immigration and Border Protection.

Beginning in April 2022, the new Pacific Australia Labour Mobility scheme will make it easier for Australian businesses to temporarily insource low-wage workers (what the scheme calls “low-skilled” and “unskilled” workers) from small Pacific island countries including Nauru, Papua New Guinea, Kiribati, Samoa, Tonga, and Tuvalu. Not coincidentally, many of these countries’ ecologies and economies have already been ravaged by Australian colonialism for over one hundred years.

It is not an anomaly that Australia is turning displaced climate refugees into a funnel of temporary labour migration. With growing ungovernable and irregular migration, including climate migration, temporary labour migration programs have become the worldwide template for “well-managed migration.” Elites present labour migration as a double win because high-income countries fill their labour shortage needs without providing job security or citizenship, while low-income countries alleviate structural impoverishment through migrants’ remittances.

Dangerous, low-wage jobs like farm, domestic, and service work that cannot be outsourced are now almost entirely insourced in this way. Insourcing and outsourcing represent two sides of the same neoliberal coin: deliberately deflated labour and political power. Not to be confused with free mobility, temporary labour migration represents an extreme neoliberal approach to the quartet of foreign, climate, immigration, and labour policy, all structured to expand networks of capital accumulation through the creation and disciplining of surplus populations.

The International Labour Organization recognises that temporary migrant workers face forced labour, low wages, poor working conditions, virtual absence of social protection, denial of freedom association and union rights, discrimination and xenophobia, as well as social exclusion. Under these state-sanctioned programs of indentureship, workers are legally tied to an employer and deportable. Temporary migrant workers are kept compliant through the threats of both termination and deportation, revealing the crucial connection between immigration status and precarious labour.

Through temporary labour migration programs, workers’ labour power is first captured by the border and this pliable labour is then exploited by the employer. Denying migrant workers permanent immigration status ensures a steady supply of cheapened labour. Borders are not intended to exclude all people, but to create conditions of ‘deportability’, which increases social and labour precarity. These workers are labelled as ‘foreign’ workers, furthering racist xenophobia against them, including by other workers. While migrant workers are temporary, temporary migration is becoming the permanent neoliberal, state-led model of migration.

Reparations include No Borders

“It’s immoral for the rich to talk about their future children and grandchildren when the children of the Global South are dying now.” – Asad Rehman

Discussions about building fairer and more sustainable political-economic systems have coalesced around a Green New Deal. Most public policy proposals for a Green New Deal in the US, Canada, UK and the EU articulate the need to simultaneously tackle economic inequality, social injustice, and the climate crisis by transforming our extractive and exploitative system towards a low-carbon, feminist, worker and community-controlled care-based society. While a Green New Deal necessarily understands the climate crisis and the crisis of capitalism as interconnected — and not a dichotomy of ‘the environment versus the economy’ — one of its main shortcomings is its bordered scope. As Harpreet Kaur Paul and Dalia Gebrial write: “the Green New Deal has largely been trapped in national imaginations.”

Any Green New Deal that is not internationalist runs the risk of perpetuating climate apartheid and imperialist domination in our warming world. Rich countries must redress the global and asymmetrical dimensions of climate debtunfair trade and financial agreements, military subjugation, vaccine apartheidlabour exploitation, and border securitisation.

It is impossible to think about borders outside the modern nation-state and its entanglements with empire, capitalism, race, caste, gender, sexuality, and ability. Borders are not even fixed lines demarcating territory. Bordering regimes are increasingly layered with drone surveillance, interception of migrant boats, and security controls far beyond states’ territorial limits. From Australia offshoring migrant detention around Oceania to Fortress Europe outsourcing surveillance and interdiction to the Sahel and Middle East, shifting cartographies demarcate our colonial present.

Perhaps most offensively, when colonial countries panic about ‘border crises’ they position themselves as victims. But the genocide, displacement, and movement of millions of people were unequally structured by colonialism for three centuries, with European settlers in the Americas and Oceania, the transatlantic slave trade from Africa, and imported indentured labourers from Asia. Empire, enslavement, and indentureship are the bedrock of global apartheid today, determining who can live where and under what conditions. Borders are structured to uphold this apartheid.

The freedom to stay and the freedom to move, which is to say no borders, is decolonial reparations and redistribution long due.

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