Connect with us

Politics

PARASITES OR PRODUCTIVE WORKERS? The truth about African migrants in Europe

8 min read.

Perceptions of the nature and impact of migration from African countries to Europe have been voluntarily distorted by the media for political reasons. By CLAUDIO BUTTICÈ

Published

on

PARASITES OR PRODUCTIVE WORKERS? The truth about African migrants in Europe
Download PDFPrint Article

The number of immigrants that move to Europe in search of a better future keeps growing year after year, and those who come from sub-Saharan Africa are no exception. Even if the economic conditions of many countries in this region have somewhat improved, the reasons why people keep emigrating have changed, as have the social groups that decide to move to the Western world.

Europe is facing a seemingly endless wave of refugees coming from the Middle East as well, and many countries apparently aren’t able to deal with the ever-increasing number of people who reach their borders and coasts. New rules are needed to distribute these people more fairly across Europe and prevent criminal organisations from exploiting refugees and forcing them into slavery and human trafficking.

As a consequence, many populist and subtly neo-fascist parties have taken power and used immigration as an abhorrent scare tactic to gain popular support. Immigrants and refugees slowly became scapegoats unjustly blamed for all the problems of European countries. Information was manipulated through the use of fake news and social media, and people were misled into believing a significantly distorted version of the reality.

But what is the truth? What are the true numbers of African immigration to Europe? What are the African people who go to Europe going to face once they get there? Is the life of an African immigrant in Europe so much better than the life he lived in his country of origin?

The numbers

The number of international migrant populations coming from countries in sub-Saharan Africa has grown significantly since 2010, especially toward Europe. Among the ten countries with the fastest international migration growth rate, eight are in sub-Saharan Africa. With the exception of Syria, where one of the biggest global humanitarian crisis had displaced millions of refugees, the number of people who emigrated from sub-Saharan Africa grew by 50% – three times more than the 17% worldwide average. This rate has also been much higher between 2010 and 2017 (31%) than in the past, especially in the 1990s, when the growth was just 1%.

With the exception of Syria, where one of the biggest global humanitarian crisis had displaced millions of refugees, the number of people who emigrated from sub-Saharan Africa grew by 50% – three times more than the 17% worldwide average.

Probably one of the most interesting findings on the evolution of the migration phenomenon is that back in the 1990s, 75% of the emigrants moved to another sub-Saharan country, a proportion that dropped to just 68% in 2017. Today, many more sub-Saharan migrants move to Europe, and the number of those who live in European Union countries, Switzerland and Norway reached 17% in 2017 (4.15 million) from 11% in 1990, alongside another 5.2 million North African immigrants.

Most of the sub-Saharan migrants and asylum applicants who come to Europe are from Nigeria, South Africa, Somalia, Senegal, Ghana, Angola, and Kenya. The reasons why migrating is considered a desirable alternative by many sub-Saharan people tend to vary, but are mostly related to finding a job and escaping economic hardship. Although most sub-Saharan African economies are growing, unemployment rates are still high, and wages are quite low, especially for those who possess higher-level qualifications.

And emigrating is not just appealing, it is now easier than in the past. As reported in the New York Times, “incomes per capita in the countries with the largest diaspora populations range roughly from $7,000 to $20,000. Some big African countries — like Nigeria — have entered that range.” Better economic conditions mean that more people are rich enough to afford the journey across the Mediterranean.

Other reasons include political instability and wars, global warming that pushes many people away from their homes, and the wish to reunite with family and friends who already live abroad. But what actually happens once these migrants reach Europe?

The Mediterranean migration and the Dublin Regulation

Once a migrant reaches the European coast, he may seek asylum according to the rules set by the Dublin Regulation. The Dublin Regulation is a European law established in 1997 between the European countries, Switzerland, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway. Also called the Dublin III Regulation after it was modified twice in 2003 and 2013, this law regulates which member state is responsible for examining applications of asylum seekers seeking international protection.

The Dublin Regulation does not go in details on how the asylum seekers should be treated, how their application is managed, nor the process through which an application is accepted or rejected; it just defines the responsible country, mostly to prevent an applicant from submitting his or her claim in multiple states. Once the responsible state rejects the asylum seeker’s application, that person is expelled from the European Union and may not restart the process in another member state. Usually, the state responsible for examining the application is either the one where the family and relatives of the asylum seeker reside legally or the one where the seeker first entered the European Union.

In Europe’s highly bureaucratised system, with so many different countries, each one with its own unique laws, the Dublin Regulation is extremely dysfunctional. The first, most obvious consequence of this regulation is that most of the burden of dealing with the constant migratory flows lies on the shoulders of just a few countries. Spain, Greece, and Italy are the countries where the vast majority of African migrants arrive, even if most of the refugees wish to travel to a different destination, such as Germany, which alone saw more than 476,000 new asylum applications in 2015.

In Europe’s highly bureaucratised system, with so many different countries, each one with its own unique laws, the Dublin Regulation is extremely dysfunctional. The first, most obvious consequence of this regulation is that most of the burden of dealing with the constant migratory flows lies on the shoulders of just a few countries.

The second issue is that the entire process is excruciatingly slow. A large number of migrants who barely survived their trip across the Mediterranean in flimsy rubber dinghies or small wooden boats must be first visited, identified and searched immediately after they disembark. They spend their first few days detained in tents and metal holding pens in the ports where they wait in long queues to have their bags searched, their bodies examined by medical personnel, and their belongings thoroughly scrutinised to identify potential smuggling operations. Those fortunate enough to pass this first check must then spend months or even years in reception centres where they often live in inhumane conditions as they wait for their claims to be heard. In 2015, more than one million migrants applied for asylum, but only 292,540 (who probably applied years ago) successfully achieved refugee status.

Most of them choose to refuse identification or flee so they can travel directly to the desired destination, usually the one where they expect better living conditions. Sanctions for this type of irregular travel are minimum at best, and even those who get deported to their original countries can just organise another trip.

The effects on European public opinion

The Dublin system put those countries that represent the external borders of the European Union under significant pressure. Greece, Spain, Italy, and Hungary must deal every year with the brunt of the migratory flows even when they can barely offer asylum seekers the support and protection they rightfully deserve. It is not a coincidence that those countries recently have been invested by a new wave of xenophobia that gave birth and power to many populist parties. Despite the fact that restrictive immigration policies have always failed to contain migration flows from Africa, many Europeans perceive the African immigrants as a threat to their personal and economic security.

Perceptions of the impact of migration have been voluntarily distorted by the media for political reasons. The neurosis of social struggle has been inflamed by manipulating public opinion through scaremongering. Many neo-fascist and populist parties wanted to steer people into making emotional rather than reasoned choices, and the results they achieved with these tactics are, indeed, frightening. Harmful stereotypes, discrimination, and xenophobia, have been used as weapons to control the opinions of European citizens, who now believe that the number of immigrants living in their countries is up to three times higher than the reality. Widespread fear of an alleged “Islamisation” of their culture fueled the rage of the least educated, low-income populations, who now vastly overestimate the number of immigrants who are Muslim and depend on welfare like “social parasites”,

It is easy to understand how making immigrants the scapegoats for the difficulties brought about by the global economic crisis helped the “strongman” political leaders gain vast consensus. Hate towards immigrants has been used to convince the Britons into leaving the European Union with Brexit, to allow Matteo Salvini, a pseudo-fascist Italian political leader who deliberately cites Mussolini, to gain immense traction, and to give the populist Viktor Orban’s government a fourth term in Hungary.

The consequences of African immigration on the real economy

By 2050, more than one-third of European citizens will be aged 60 or older, a reality that will cause the labour demand to go unanswered, with over 20 million qualified jobs exceeding supply. With half of the world’s population growth expected to occur in Africa, sub-Saharan African regions are going to provide almost 800 million new workforce participants that the local economy will likely be unable to absorb. It is easy to understand how African migration may represent an excellent resource to provide a fresh workforce to the aging European economy, rather than the opposite.

It is easy to understand how making immigrants the scapegoats for the difficulties brought about by the global economic crisis helped the “strongman” political leaders gain vast consensus. Hate towards immigrants has been used to convince the Britons into leaving the European Union with Brexit, to allow Matteo Salvini, a pseudo-fascist Italian political leader who deliberately cites Mussolini, to gain immense traction, and to give the populist Viktor Orban’s government a fourth term in Hungary.

But the benefits are even more immediate. Between 2004 and 2014, migrants already accounted for 70% of the increase in the workforce in Europe. A study found that in Europe, low immigration rates between 1995 and 2005 were associated with a constant GDP decrease of 0.23% per year instead of rising by 1.79% per year. Only the excessive rigidity of the European labour market and its restrictive employment protection laws exacerbated the negative impact of immigration on native employment. The European Union is in desperate need of an army of unskilled labourers, to the point that in countries such as Italy, Spain, and Greece, the employment rate of immigrants is now higher than that of native workers. These same countries use populist slogans to target migrants who are accused of being “lazy parasites who live off social security”.

Since employment is the single biggest determinant of a population’s net fiscal contribution, migrants have a positive impact on the public purse. They can, in fact, actively contribute more in taxes than they receive in benefits. Immigrant workers do not depress the wages of native workers either. According to multiple studies, immigration has no negative effects on wages in industrialised countries. Rather, in the long term, immigration increases innovation, productivity, skills variability, and even wage distribution.

Africa will mutually benefit from the migratory flows as well. Money remittance is a powerful economic equaliser; the poorer the region from which the African migrant came from, the higher are the remittances sent back to his or her relatives. To put things in perspective, cash remittances to sub-Saharan Africa totaled a whopping $37.8 billion in 2017, and the World Bank has estimated that they will grow to at least $39.6 billion in 2019.

Since employment is the single biggest determinant of a population’s net fiscal contribution, migrants have a positive impact on the public purse. They can, in fact, actively contribute more in taxes than they receive in benefits. Immigrant workers do not depress the wages of native workers either. According to multiple studies, immigration has no negative effects on wages in industrialised countries. Rather, in the long term, immigration increases innovation, productivity, skills variability, and even wage distribution.

Conclusion

Mediterranean migration is seen only through a strictly Eurocentric perspective, and it’s centered only on the perceived negative effects on the security of the destination countries. European policies frequently promote the human rights abuses perpetrated in North African countries against refugees with the excuse of “dealing with the illegal immigration emergency”. On the other hand, the effects of Western neocolonialism on the socio-economic development of the African continent are often disregarded, although the widespread exploitation of many African lands is one of the principal reasons behind the poverty of these regions.

The highly industrialised countries are in constant need of food and biofuels at the lowest prices possible. Thousands of Africans have been uprooted from their farms to make way for foreign investors to grow food on an industrial scale. In Uganda, 1 million hectares of forest have been lost over the last ten years after the English New Forest Company drove almost 22,000 people from their lands. Anything can be bought and sold if a foreign corporation wants it, even entire villages. The same countries that complain about the never-ending flow of desperate migrants and refugees reaching their coasts are those whose companies paid the gun-toting soldiers who evicted these same migrants and refugees from their homes.

In most European countries, local citizens have seen a significant drop in their real salaries in the last ten years. Most populist parties put their propaganda machines to work to blame the rapid increase in unskilled immigrant labourers for the sharp falls in pay, even if evidence shows that there’s no practical connection.

In truth, the injection of a fresh African workforce in Europe could improve the economy of both continents. Nonetheless, by blocking immigration, the Old Continent guarantees the consolidation of African underdevelopment. But what’s even more depressing is that by letting the hate towards immigrants run rampant, Europe is just sabotaging itself by allowing a handful of dangerous and unscrupulous individuals to gain undeserved political power.

Research by BASSAM HABIB

Support The Elephant.

The Elephant is helping to build a truly public platform, while producing consistent, quality investigations, opinions and analysis. The Elephant cannot survive and grow without your participation. Now, more than ever, it is vital for The Elephant to reach as many people as possible.

Your support helps protect The Elephant's independence and it means we can continue keeping the democratic space free, open and robust. Every contribution, however big or small, is so valuable for our collective future.

By

Dr. Claudio Butticè, Pharm.D., has written on topics such as medicine, technology, world poverty and science. Many of his articles have been published in magazines such as Cracked, Techopedia, Digital Journal and Business Insider. Dr. Butticè has also published pharmacology and psychology papers in several clinical journals, and works as a medical consultant and advisor for many companies across the globe.

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.

Published

on

Asylum Pact: Rwanda Must Do Some Political Housecleaning
Download PDFPrint Article

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.

Continue Reading

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.

Published

on

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

“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.

Continue Reading

Politics

The Murang’a Factor in the Upcoming Presidential Elections

The Murang’a people are really yet to decide who they are going to vote for as a president. If they have, they are keeping the secret to themselves. Are the Murang’a people prepping themselves this time to vote for one of their own? Can Jimi Wanjigi re-ignite the Murang’a/Matiba popular passion among the GEMA community and re-influence it to vote in a different direction?

Published

on

The Murang’a Factor in the Upcoming Presidential Elections
Download PDFPrint Article

In the last quarter of 2021, I visited Murang’a County twice: In September, we were in Kandiri in Kigumo constituency. We had gone for a church fundraiser and were hosted by the Anglican Church of Kenya’s (ACK), Kahariro parish, Murang’a South diocese. A month later, I was back, this time to Ihi-gaini deep in Kangema constituency for a burial.

The church function attracted politicians: it had to; they know how to sniff such occasions and if not officially invited, they gate-crash them. Church functions, just like funerals, are perfect platforms for politicians to exhibit their presumed piousness, generosity and their closeness to the respective clergy and the bereaved family.

Well, the other reason they were there, is because they had been invited by the Church leadership. During the electioneering period, the Church is not shy to exploit the politicians’ ambitions: they “blackmail” them for money, because they can mobilise ready audiences for the competing politicians. The politicians on the other hand, are very ready to part with cash. This quid pro quo arrangement is usually an unstated agreement between the Church leadership and the politicians.

The church, which was being fund raised for, being in Kigumo constituency, the area MP Ruth Wangari Mwaniki, promptly showed up. Likewise, the area Member of the County Assembly (MCA) and of course several aspirants for the MP and MCA seats, also showed up.

Church and secular politics often sit cheek by jowl and so, on this day, local politics was the order of the day. I couldn’t have speculated on which side of the political divide Murang’a people were, until the young man Zack Kinuthia Chief Administrative Secretary (CAS) for Sports, Culture and Heritage, took to the rostrum to speak.

A local boy and an Uhuru Kenyatta loyalist, he completely avoided mentioning his name and his “development track record” in central Kenya. Kinuthia has a habit of over-extolling President Uhuru’s virtues whenever and wherever he mounts any platform. By the time he was done speaking, I quickly deduced he was angling to unseat Wangari. I wasn’t wrong; five months later in February 2022, Kinuthia resigned his CAS position to vie for Kigumo on a Party of the National Unity (PNU) ticket.

He spoke briefly, feigned some meeting that was awaiting him elsewhere and left hurriedly, but not before giving his KSh50,000 donation. Apparently, I later learnt that he had been forewarned, ahead of time, that the people were not in a mood to listen to his panegyrics on President Uhuru, Jubilee Party, or anything associated to the two. Kinuthia couldn’t dare run on President Uhuru’s Jubilee Party. His patron-boss’s party is not wanted in Murang’a.

I spent the whole day in Kandiri, talking to people, young and old, men and women and by the time I was leaving, I was certain about one thing; The Murang’a folks didn’t want anything to do with President Uhuru. What I wasn’t sure of is, where their political sympathies lay.

I returned to Murang’a the following month, in the expansive Kangema – it is still huge – even after Mathioya was hived off from the larger Kangema constituency. Funerals provide a good barometer that captures peoples’ political sentiments and even though this burial was not attended by politicians – a few senior government officials were present though; political talk was very much on the peoples’ lips.

What I gathered from the crowd was that President Uhuru had destroyed their livelihood, remember many of the Nairobi city trading, hawking, big downtown real estate and restaurants are run and owned largely by Murang’a people. The famous Nyamakima trading area of downtown Nairobi has been run by Murang’a Kikuyus.

In 2018, their goods were confiscated and declared contrabrand by the government. Many of their businesses went under, this, despite the merchants not only, whole heartedly throwing their support to President Uhuru’s controversial re-election, but contributing handsomely to the presidential kitty. They couldn’t believe what was happening to them: “We voted for him to safeguard our businesses, instead, he destroyed them. So much for supporting him.”

We voted for him to safeguard our businesses, instead, he destroyed them. So much for supporting him

Last week, I attended a Murang’a County caucus group that was meeting somewhere in Gatundu, in Kiambu County. One of the clearest messages that I got from this group is that the GEMA vote in the August 9, 2022, presidential elections is certainly anti-Uhuru Kenyatta and not necessarily pro-William Ruto.

“The Murang’a people are really yet to decide, (if they have, they are keeping the secret to themselves) on who they are going to vote for as a president. And that’s why you see Uhuru is craftily courting us with all manner of promises, seductions and prophetic messages.” Two weeks ago, President Uhuru was in Murang’a attending an African Independent Pentecostal Church of Africa (AIPCA) church function in Kandara constituency.

At the church, the president yet again threatened to “tell you what’s in my heart and what I believe and why so.” These prophecy-laced threats by the President, to the GEMA nation, in which he has been threatening to show them the sign, have become the butt of crude jokes among Kikuyus.

Corollary, President Uhuru once again has plucked Polycarp Igathe away from his corporate perch as Equity Bank’s Chief Commercial Officer back to Nairobi’s tumultuous governor seat politics. The first time the bespectacled Igathe was thrown into the deep end of the Nairobi murky politics was in 2017, as Mike Sonko’s deputy governor. After six months, he threw in the towel, lamenting that Sonko couldn’t let him even breathe.

Uhuru has a tendency of (mis)using Murang’a people

“Igathe is from Wanjerere in Kigumo, Murang’a, but grew up in Ol Kalou, Nyandarua County,” one of the Mzees told me. “He’s not interested in politics; much less know how it’s played. I’ve spent time with him and confided in me as much. Uhuru has a tendency of (mis)using Murang’a people. President Uhuru wants to use Igathe to control Nairobi. The sad thing is that Igathe doesn’t have the guts to tell Uhuru the brutal fact: I’m really not interested in all these shenanigans, leave me alone. The president is hoping, once again, to hopefully placate the Murang’a people, by pretending to front Igathe. I foresee another terrible disaster ultimately befalling both Igathe and Uhuru.”

Be that as it may, what I got away with from this caucus, after an entire day’s deliberations, is that its keeping it presidential choice close to its chest. My attempts to goad some of the men and women present were fruitless.

Murang’a people like reminding everyone that it’s only they, who have yet to produce a president from the GEMA stable, despite being the wealthiest. Kiambu has produced two presidents from the same family, Nyeri one, President Mwai Kibaki, who died on April 22. The closest Murang’a came to giving the country a president was during Ken Matiba’s time in the 1990s. “But Matiba had suffered a debilitating stroke that incapacitated him,” said one of the mzees. “It was tragic, but there was nothing we could do.”

Murang’a people like reminding everyone that it’s only they, who have yet to produce a president from the GEMA stable, despite being the wealthiest

It is interesting to note that Jimi Wanjigi, the Safina party presidential flagbearer is from Murang’a County. His family hails from Wahundura, in Mathioya constituency. Him and Mwangi wa Iria, the Murang’a County governor are the other two Murang’a prominent persons who have tossed themselves into the presidential race. Wa Iria’s bid which was announced at the beginning of 2022, seems to have stagnated, while Jimi’s seems to be gathering storm.

Are the Murang’a people prepping themselves this time to vote for one of their own? Jimi’s campaign team has crafted a two-pronged strategy that it hopes will endear Kenyans to his presidency. One, a generational, paradigm shift, especially among the youth, targeting mostly post-secondary, tertiary college and university students.

“We believe this group of voters who are basically between the ages of 18–27 years and who comprise more than 65 per cent of total registered voters are the key to turning this election,” said one of his presidential campaign team members. “It matters most how you craft the political message to capture their attention.” So, branding his key message as itwika, it is meant to orchestrate a break from past electoral behaviour that is pegged on traditional ethnic voting patterns.

The other plunk of Jimi’s campaign theme is economic emancipation, quite pointedly as it talks directly to the GEMA nation, especially the Murang’a Kikuyus, who are reputed for their business acumen and entrepreneurial skills. “What Kikuyus cherish most,” said the team member “is someone who will create an enabling business environment and leave the Kikuyus to do their thing. You know, Kikuyus live off business, if you interfere with it, that’s the end of your friendship, it doesn’t matter who you are.”

Can Jimi re-ignite the Murang’a/Matiba popular passion among the GEMA community and re-influence it to vote in a different direction? As all the presidential candidates gear-up this week on who they will eventually pick as their running mates, the GEMA community once more shifts the spotlight on itself, as the most sought-after vote basket.

Both Raila Odinga and William Ruto coalitions – Azimio la Umoja-One Kenya and Kenya Kwanza Alliance – must seek to impress and woe Mt Kenya region by appointing a running mate from one of its ranks. If not, the coalitions fear losing the vote-rich area either to each other, or perhaps to a third party. Murang’a County, may as well, become the conundrum, with which the August 9, presidential race may yet to be unravelled and decided.

Continue Reading

Trending