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THE 44TH TRIBE: The Asian Question and the Politics of Exclusion

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THE 44TH TRIBE: The Asian Question and the Politics of Exclusion
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Early last year, some members of Kenya’s Asian community visited a Nairobi branch of the Jubilee Party and demanded that Kenyan Asians – the vast majority of whom are of Indian descent – be officially recognised as a Kenyan tribe. Led by a human rights activist called Farah Mannzoor, the group stated that Kenyan Asians no longer wanted to live in a “political wilderness”, adding that Kenyan Asians were fully behind the Jubilee Party because they believed in its development agenda.

This was followed by another visit to State House by other members of the Kenyan Asian community who pledged their loyalty to the government – a practice that was perfected during President Daniel arap Moi’s regime when members of the Kenyan Asian community (mostly prominent industrialists and businesspeople) regularly visited State House to give “donations” to Moi’s favourite causes, ostensibly in exchange for the state’s protection of their business interests.

Loyalty to the ruling party by a group that has historically been a relatively minor player in post-independence politics – and perhaps the promise of much-needed “undecided” votes in the hotly- contested August 2017 general election – is probably what prompted President Uhuru Kenyatta to officially declare Kenyan Asians as the country’s “44th tribe”.

This announcement led to mixed reactions, not least from members of the Kenyan Asian community itself, many of whom feel that official recognition of this ethnic minority as a Kenyan tribe is nothing but a political gimmick to garner the support of a community whose relatively small population of around 50,000 is numerically insignificant in a country of more than 40 million people – even though this community has significant clout in the country’s economy.

Aleya Kassam, a Kenyan Asian blogger and writer, asked what being officially declared a tribe meant in practical terms. Does it, for instance, mean that Kenyan Asians will now have more rights than they did before? Maybe now, she pondered, Kenyan Asians won’t have to carry their, their parents’ and their grandparents’ birth certificates to prove that they are Kenyan when applying for an ID.

Among the first to enter the fray was Zahid Rajan, a member of the Kenyan Asian Forum, which “identifies with the future of the Kenyan people as a whole rather than the primacy of any particular group”, who argued in an article published in the Star newspaper that the groups seeking official recognition from the government did not represent the entire Asian community in Kenya, and that their emphasis on “tribe” was negative and divisive. “The fundamental tenet of free and fair elections is that every citizen has a right to vote. And that every citizen is free to cast that vote how-so-ever he/she wishes to and in complete confidentiality. To make this into a group exercise is not only unconstitutional and unjust, but it also undermines the whole ethos of ‘elections’,” he stated.

Aleya Kassam, a Kenyan Asian blogger and writer, asked what being officially declared a tribe meant in practical terms. Does it, for instance, mean that Kenyan Asians will now have more rights than they did before? Maybe now, she pondered, Kenyan Asians won’t have to carry their, their parents’ and their grandparents’ birth certificates to prove that they are Kenyan when applying for an ID.

Firoze Manji, a social justice activist, was dismissive of the whole notion of tribe, which he said was a colonial construct adopted by successive governments to generate divisions among people. “The classification of people into ‘tribes’ or ‘races’ is based on similar principles to those that formed the basis of apartheid. It serves to divide and enable control,” he commented.

Can Kenyan Asians be called a tribe?

Assigning the label “tribe” to a diverse community whose ancestors came from different parts of the Indian subcontinent, who do not all speak the same language and who belong to different religions, is also problematic. The Oxford English Dictionary defines tribe as “a social division in a traditional society consisting of families or communities linked by social, economic, religious or blood ties, with a common culture and dialect, typically having a recognised leader”. Going by this definition, Asians in Kenya are not so much a tribe as they are an ethnic group – “a community or population made up of people who share a common cultural background or descent.” However, even this definition falls short – India alone has more than 2,000 ethnic groups whose cultures and origins vary. North Indians of Aryan descent, for example, have languages and cultures that are significantly different from those of their Dravidian neighbours in the south.

Nor is religion a common denominator among this highly diverse group; although the majority of Asians in Kenya are Hindus, there are also a sizeable number of Muslims, Jains, Christians, Sikhs, Zoroastrians and other religious groups among them. What’s more, these religious groups are not homogenous; there are sub-sects and castes within them who each pray at different temples and mosques.

British colonialists’ attitude towards Indians changed dramatically in the years prior to the adoption of the Devonshire Declaration of 1923 that declared the most fertile parts of the Rift Valley and the so-called “White Highlands” as “white man’s country” – an area comprising some 5.2 million acres.

Regionally, the majority of Asians in Kenya have roots in Gujarat in western India and in Punjab in northern India and in the eastern part of Pakistan (which was part of India until independence in 1947 when the Indian subcontinent was split into two separate nations), though there are many others, particularly recent immigrants, who come from other parts of the subcontinent. Gujarat and Punjab were the regions from which the British recruited Indian labour to help with the building of what was then known as the Uganda Railway at the end of the 19th century. The construction of this 657-mile railway from the coastal city of Mombasa to Port Florence (now Kisumu) on the shores of Lake Victoria led to large-scale Indian immigration into the colony. Although the majority of the indentured labourers used to construct the railway went back to India, the ones who stayed behind settled in townships along the railway line where they put us small dukas. After the railway line was completed, Gujarati traders and Punjabi station masters followed, as did a whole cadre of Goan clerks who oiled the British colonial administration.

See also: WHAT IS YOUR TRIBE? The Invention Of Kenya’s Ethnic Communities

However, Indian presence in East Africa predates British colonial rule, thanks to old trade routes in the Indian Ocean that linked the East African coast to India. Indian dhows have been docking at the coastal towns of East Africa for centuries. The Portuguese explorer Vasco de Gama is known to have recruited an Indian pilot from the coastal town of Malindi to navigate his way to India in the late 15th century. There was also a distinct Indian presence on the island of Zanzibar where Indians had settled and established themselves as traders in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Seeds of mistrust

Initially, the British colonialists welcomed the presence of Indians in their Kenyan colony. Indian traders played an important role as middlemen between the colonialists and the indigenous African population. Indian dukas opened up the interior to commerce and the goods sold in these small shops became more accessible to Africans, who were neither welcomed nor encouraged to shop in white-owned enterprises.

However, the British colonialists’ attitude towards Indians changed dramatically in the years prior to the adoption of the Devonshire Declaration of 1923 that declared the most fertile parts of the Rift Valley and the so-called “White Highlands” as “white man’s country” – an area comprising some 5.2 million acres. Lord Delamere, the eccentric landowner who directly benefited from this policy, among others, felt that the growing presence of Indians in the colony might lead to the latter demanding rights to land and other resources. They justified their massive land grab and their race-based land policy by arguing that “owing to the unsanitary habits of Asiatics and Africans, they are not fit persons to take up land as neighbours of the Europeans.” Lord Bertram Cranworth, a settler and author of A Colony in the Making, was even more specific: “If the Indian in the protectorate were represented by the type so dear to tourists, we would welcome him with open arms. It is not because his skin is black that is he unpopular; it is because he is a foul liver, a drunkard and a thief.”

The Devonshire Declaration also purported to protect the “innocent” African natives from the “morally depraved” Indians. The 1919 report of the Economic Commission, whose members included Delamere, stated:

“Physically, the Indian is not a wholesome influence because of an incurable repugnance to sanitation and hygiene. In this respect, the African is more civilised than the Indian being naturally clean in his ways; but he is prone to follow the examples of those around him. In addition, the moral depravity of the Indian is equally damaging to the African, who in his natural state is at least innocent of the worst vices of the East. The Indian is the inciter of crime as well as vice, since it is the opportunity offered by the ever ready Indian receiver which makes thieving easy.”

This policy of “divide-and-rule” served to entrench the colonial administration’s apartheid system of governance and established a race- and tribe-based arrangement, including racially segregated urban areas, that would continue in the post-independence era.

In the 1980s, the Kenyan politician Martin Shikuku often derided Asians for being mere “paper citizens” who were only interested in exploiting the country economically and whose loyalty and allegiance lay elsewhere.

In the 1920s and 1930s, Indian agitation was based mainly around the contents of the Devonshire Declaration, which, paradoxically, recognised African interests to be paramount, but reserved the Kenyan highlands exclusively for European settlement. However, while the Kenyan Indian Congress advocated against racial discrimination and for the right of Indians to own agricultural land, its influence dwindled in the post-Second World War period when African political parties became more prominent.

In the struggle for independence, many Asians contributed to the African cause. Lawyers such as Friiz de Souza and A.R. Kapila, among others, played key roles in defending Mau Mau suspects and the so-called “Kapenguria Six”, including Jomo Kenyatta. Journalists such as Pio Gama Pinto and the trade unionist Makhan Singh were also vocal in articulating African aspirations.

However, after independence, Asians’ political role was severely diminished, partly because the new post-independence government did not encourage this minority to play a big role in politics. Furthermore, the government of Jomo Kenyatta introduced an Africanisation policy that barred Asians from applying for civil service jobs and confined their businesses to urban areas (the latter a throwback to the colonial land policy) ostensibly to level the playing field for African participation in the economy. Thousands of Asians with British passports left for the United Kingdom after Kenyatta’s government issued them with “quit notices” and denied them trade licences and work permits.

Those Asians who were left behind, many of whom opted for Kenyan citizenship, began to feel under siege. Their fear that they might also be targeted for expulsion was reinforced in August 1972 when President Idi Amin expelled more than 70,000 Asians from Uganda and when an aborted coup attempt in Kenya exactly ten years later resulted in the looting and destruction of Asian-owned shops by rowdy mobs in Nairobi’s central business district.

Due to the way the colonial state was constructed, some groups enjoyed more rights and privileges than others, a practice that continued even after independence. The state decides who is an “insider” and who is an “outsider”, and which spaces they should occupy. This has led to the politics of exclusion based on tribe or geographical boundaries

Kenyan Asians also became targets of scapegoating. In the 1980s, the Kenyan politician Martin Shikuku often derided Asians for being mere “paper citizens” who were only interested in exploiting the country economically and whose loyalty and allegiance lay elsewhere. These statements were echoed by other prominent politicians, such as the opposition leader Kenneth Matiba, who in 1996 controversially asked Kenyan Asians to “peacefully pack up and go”, accusing Kenyan Asians of racism and of dominating the economy. Since then this ethnic minority has largely kept a low political profile, though in recent years many of its members have joined mainstream political parties and even vied for electoral seats, some quite successfully.

The politics of exclusion

Kenyan Asians have thus had an uneasy relationship with the Kenyan state and are often treated as second class citizens, whose patriotism is always tested and whose citizenship is viewed as a privilege rather than a right. Due to the way the colonial state was constructed, some groups enjoyed more rights and privileges than others, a practice that continued even after independence. The state decides who is an “insider” and who is an “outsider”, and which spaces they should occupy. This has led to the politics of exclusion based on tribe or geographical boundaries – a fact recognised by Kenya’s Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission, whose recommendations have yet to be implemented by the government.

Kenyan Asians, Somalis, Nubians and others down the “citizenship ladder” are, therefore, often viewed as “second class citizens” which makes them more vulnerable to state persecution. Unsure of their rights, these second class citizens are then forced to use personal patronage networks to gain access to their rights – for example, through giving “donations” to the head of state or by bribing officials to obtain a passport.

In this context, many feel that it is only right that people who have no other place to call home should be recognised as an integral part of this country. Daily Nation columnist Jaindi Kisero, for instance, welcomed the government’s decision to assign a tribe to Asians who hold Kenyan citizenship because “unlike most of us who did not decide where to be born, the Kenyan Asians are from descendants of people who became Kenyan citizens by choice”.

It is also an act of immense political maturity for a state to recognise that non-indigenous people living within its borders have claims over citizenship. Many countries in the Arab world, for instance, do not accord such rights to those they deem to be “foreigners”. The government’s recognition of Asians as a Kenyan “tribe” is akin to Nelson Mandela’s declaration of South Africa as a “Rainbow Nation” of black, brown, white and mixed-race people. Mandela rejected the unjust politics of racial exclusion, which he knew would ultimately have a negative impact on national cohesion and on the South African economy.

What makes me uneasy about the designation of Kenyan Asians as one of Kenya’s 44 tribes is that it reinforces the idea that one must belong to a tribe to be recognised as a bona fide Kenyan citizen. The message it sends to Kenyans is that tribe is an important – if not the most important – part of their identity.

What makes me uneasy about the designation of Kenyan Asians as one of Kenya’s 44 tribes is that it reinforces the idea that one must belong to a tribe to be recognised as a bona fide Kenyan citizen. The message it sends to Kenyans is that tribe is an important – if not the most important – part of their identity.

The reality is that it is not official recognition that counts, but the size of one’s tribe that matters; not only must one belong to a tribe, but one must belong to the largest tribes if one is to benefit from goodies, such as political appointments, public service jobs and government tenders. Recent data from the National Cohesion and Integration Commission shows that three-quarters of all public service jobs in Kenya are held by members of the five largest tribes – the Kikuyu, the Kalenjin, the Luhya, the Luo and the Kamba. Furthermore, the largest tribe – the Kikuyu – has not only dominated top public service jobs, it has also hogged political leadership. Three out of Kenya’s four presidents, including the incumbent, have come from this tribe.

In the tribal numbers game, therefore, Kenyan Asians will always lose. Having a tribe assigned to them may make it easier for this community to obtain a Kenyan passport or ID, but it will not help change politics in a country where tribal identity has been used to oppress and marginalise ethnic minorities.

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

Politics

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.

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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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Politics

Asylum Pact: Rwanda Must Do Some Political Housecleaning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Politics

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

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

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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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