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SHOCK THERAPY: The Rise of Russian Oligarchs (and why Kenya could end up like the former Soviet Union)

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A combination of mass privatisation of key state assets and austerity measures are known to destroy the social tunnels needed to usher people into a middle-class existence. By DARIUS OKOLLA

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SHOCK THERAPY: The Rise of Russian Oligarchs (and why Kenya could end up like the former Soviet Union)
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When the Aramaic philosopher Jesus Christ declared that the poor will always be with us, I doubt that his Hebrew listeners had a word for austerity. But today Jeffrey Sachs and his friends at the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and all the other organisations that make up the Washington Consensus do, and they are committed to implementing it through Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs).

On March 7 this year, Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Henry Rotich, announced that the government was broke. He withdrew that statement a day later after a meeting with IMF officials. Rotich, who was running a broke government that could no longer service its debt, was inevitably forced to sign off to stringent terms, key among them freezing all megaprojects and introducing an amendment to the Division of Revenue Act 2017 that will reduce the amount of cash made available to county governments.

Still addicted to debt pegged on key infrastructure projects, Rotich would hit the road again for a round of begging bowl diplomacy, heading straight to the IMF and World Bank offices. This time, well aware of the potential backlash at home, he assented to IMF demands to levy 16% VAT on fuel that would kick in in September, while rejecting other undisclosed terms for the Sh150 billion forex insurance programme. One wonders why we’d go seeking a forex boost just after the Central Bank of Kenya had announced that it had nearly six months’ worth of foreign exchange reserves – enough to cushion shilling trading till February next year.

Before all this was set rolling, a small clause in the Statute Law Miscellaneous Amendment Bill 2018 removed the provision by which privatisation of state assets and parastatals would need National Assembly approval, leaving the privatisation function purely in the hands of the parastatal bureaucrats higher up. Twenty-three key state assets, including a critical port, may be up for sale to the highest bidder. These kinds of moves (mass retrenchment, increased taxes and massive privatisation) all have the hallmarks of the dreaded SAPs.

Sachs and SAPs

SAPs are the ultimate devil’s piss: heavily criticised policy recommendations by the Washington Consensus to debt-laden states that are meant to help the latter raise revenue and repay loans. SAPs’ raft of policy recommendations to fix national debt include liberalisation of the economy, minimising the role of the state, massive privatisation, currency devaluation, lax market regulation and elimination of subsidies.

However, to understand SAPs, one needs to take a look at its father, Jeffrey Sachs, the economics celebrity who graduated from Harvard with a PhD at the age of 26 and became a global icon on international finance and inflation by age 28.

SAPs are the ultimate devil’s piss: heavily criticised policy recommendations by the Washington Consensus to debt-laden states that are meant to help the latter raise revenue and repay loans. SAPs’ raft of policy recommendations to fix national debt include  liberalisation of the economy, minimising the role of the state, massive privatisation, currency devaluation, lax market regulation and elimination of subsidies.

Sachs hit stratospheric fame when he walked into the economic blizzard that was then Bolivia, whose peso had been wrecked by a 24,000% inflation, in the 1980s. Within seven weeks, he’d reined in the hyperinflation, with the resultant fame turning him into an economic Jesus Christ.

DEBT AND TAXES: Kenya is living large on borrowed money

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However, that would pretty much be the end of his miracle-working as his recommendations in Poland – his next stop – would prove tenuous and tough on the citizens, wiping out personal savings and spiking both commodity prices and unemployment. Since then, SAPs have failed so miserably across Latin America, Africa and South East Asia that the IMF and the World Bank abandoned them in the mid-1990s – at least in theory – with Mexico being the last victim.

The net effect across a dozen or so countries was the thinning of the middle class, the ripping apart of communities and the unleashing of economic chaos that is yet to be fully fixed. In fact, China and India – two of the top 10 fastest growing nations of the 1990s and 2000s – had flatly rejected SAPs.

SAPs and poverty

A generally accepted fact now, which would have been debatable three decades ago, is that SAPs cause poverty and suffering and sometimes create chaos that descends into violence in the countries where they are implemented. For example, Mexico saw the rise of the Zapatista Army of the National Liberation that protested SAP-style policies in 1994. Since the mid-1980s, when SAPs were first introduced, several other countries nearly went up in flames. Following is a list of a few.

January 1985, JAMAICA – Jamaicans hit the streets in protest after the government’s decision to raise fuel prices as part of SAPs linked to a 1982 World Bank loan that was later renegotiated in November 1984.

January-February 1987, ZAMBIA – Riots hit the northern copper mining districts in response to a rise in food prices linked to a SAP announced in December 1986. The programme was eventually suspended.

October-November 1987, SUDAN – Crazy currency devaluation and price hikes resulting from IMF/World Bank demands lead to a 15,000-strong crowd demonstration in Khartoum.

April 1988, NIGERIA – Students in 33 universities hit the streets to protest against a fuel price increase demanded by an IMF-inspired SAP.

1989, BENIN – University of Cotonou students strike to protest suspension of student grants, paralysing the institution for 6 straight months. The government intended to stop paying them altogether in 1989 as part of SAP reforms.

April 1989, JORDAN – Riots over increase in food prices affects southern Jordan shortly after IMF-linked SAPs.

June-August 1999, ECUADOR – A broad coalition of local groups, political parties and civil society organisations, led by indigenous peasants, demand an end to austerity measures imposed by the IMF.

December 1993, RUSSIA – A coalition of parties and interest groups opposed to the neoliberal reform (SAP) measures of the Yeltsin government wins majority parliamentary seats as a result of a backlash against these measures.

Calamitous SAP recommendations have included privatisation of water systems in Tanzania, elimination of food subsidies in post-invasion Iraq, forced student fees in Ghana, lobbying for labour flexibility in Sri Lanka and denying Ecuadorians a much-needed $100-million loan facility on flimsy grounds. The legacy of coercive, painful and often disastrous recommendations in exchange for loan facilities is what’s earned SAPs the telling moniker “shock therapy”.

Gorbachev and Glasnost

Partly due to its size and complexity, the former Soviet Union still remains the ultimate specimen for the grandiose social engineering delusions that informed the mindset of SAPs’ ambassadors around the globe. In the mid-1980s Mikhail Gorbachev set out to create a mixed socialist economy – an imitation of China’s “socialism with market characteristics” that was set up by Deng Xiaoping a decade earlier.

Calamitous SAP recommendations have included privatisation of water systems in Tanzania, elimination of food subsidies in post-invasion Iraq, forced student fees in Ghana, lobbying for labour flexibility in Sri Lanka and denying Ecuadorians a much-needed $100- million loan facility on flimsy grounds. The legacy of coercive, painful and often disastrous recommendations in exchange for loan facilities is what’s earned SAPs the telling moniker “shock therapy”.

At that point, the Soviet Union was reeling from falling oil prices beginning in 1986 and an external debt crisis. Through a raft of policy decisions, Gorbachev effectively transferred the control of many Soviet enterprises from the government to the nomenklatura (employees and management in the provinces) and entrenched those moves into the constitution through the Law on State Enterprise. He followed that up with the Law of Cooperatives that created socialist cooperatives that ran as private entities and later on allowed farmers to farm and trade as individuals – a break from the collective farming model of yesteryears. Once the SAPs reforms were unleashed, there was no going back. In September 1990, the Soviet parliament granted Gorbachev emergency privatisation powers similar to Kenya’s Miscellaneous Amendment Bill 2018.

Jeffrey Sachs would show up in Moscow from late December 1991 till his resignation in January 1994. Sachs, who was by then working hand-in-hand with the economic radical faction of Gorbachev’s regime, would describe the situation in 1991 thus:

Russia and the other republics bear the deep economic cancer of seven decades of communism: over-extended heavy industry; bloated, bureaucratic enterprises; a starved service sector; and the absence of market institutions, in law, finance, and administration.  Now, on top of systemic disease, the republics face a financial crisis…Inflation has become hyperinflation.  The foreign-exchange coffers are empty.  The old administrative structures have collapsed…A deeper need for industrial retrenchment and restructuring will last for years, even decades, as the former Soviet Union scale back its old heavy industry…”

Yeltsin and the rise of Russian oligarchs

Gorbachev would soon pave the way for Boris Yeltsin’s presidency. In December 1991, in the months leading up to the dissolution of the USSR, Yeltsin put together an economic reform team led by Yegor Gaidar and Anatoly Chubais. By the time of the August Coup a few months later, SAPs, including drastic reforms to social safety nets, were steaming full-speed ahead. On January 2, 1992 Yeltsin, through his economic adviser Gaidar, was forced to declare an end to price controls amidst worsening food shortages tied to the mishandled reforms.

Between 1992 and 1994, market liberalisation, legal reforms, a push for Western aid and privatisation took on a much wider scale. These were engineered by the State Committee for State Property Management of the Russian Federation (SCSPMRF) under Chubais, a firm hand in the entire affair. The Committee adopted a new vehicle for turning over state assets into private hands (known as the voucher privatisation programme) as a means of quickly offloading the fast-crumbling state enterprises, a move that laid the groundwork for the rise of the Russian mafia and the wealthy and corrupt nomenklatura. In that three-year period, more than 15,000 Russian government firms were transferred to private hands even though they would, ironically, continue receiving government financial support for years.

The reforms to the decaying Soviet economy couldn’t stem the regime’s fiscal deficit, and as the 1996 election neared, the cash-strapped Yeltsin regime implemented the loan-for-shares scheme. The scheme, a brainchild of the elite banker Vladimir Potanin, involved leasing state enterprises through auctions for money lent by commercial banks to the government. The rigged system marred by factionalism, nepotism and shady deals raised a whole new pool of oligarchs.

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The problems facing the Soviet economy cannot be entirely blamed on Boris Yeltsin though. By the time the Soviet Union started crumbling in 1991, Jeffrey Sachs’s recommendations were running into headwinds and some of the assumptions, including securing large-scale Western assistance, were being downplayed by IMF’s point man, John Odling Smee. Sachs’s call for fiscal and monetary reforms failed to take into account the complexity of the Soviet bureaucracy and his call for reforms in social services failed to anticipate the rapid collapse of the healthcare sector. In the end, four classes of elites were created: the Communist Party patriarchs; the sleazy oligarchs trading in the smuggled goods; the nomenklatura (administrative) barons in the provinces as more enterprises got localised; and the younger relatives of these elites and a few educated and well-connected citizens.

The reforms to the decaying Soviet economy couldn’t stem the regime’s fiscal deficit, and as the 1996 election neared, the cash-strapped Yeltsin regime implemented the loan-for-shares scheme. The scheme, a brainchild of the elite banker Vladimir Potanin, involved leasing state enterprises through auctions for money lent by commercial banks to the government. The rigged system marred by factionalism, nepotism and shady deals raised a whole new pool of oligarchs.

Yeltsin ruled Russia through his close allies known as the Semibankirschina (or seven bankers), a team of powerful, visible and influential oligarchs who controlled roughly 71% of all Russian finances by the year 2000. The seven bankers – Vladimir Vinogradov Boris Berezovsky, Mikhail Fridman, Pyotr Aven, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Vladimir Potanin, and Vitaly Malkin Alexander Smolensky, and Vladimir Gusinsky – shaped Yeltsin’s regime.

Anatoly Chubais (aided by the Russian-American Prof. Andrei Shleifer) is known as the father of the neoliberal SAP reforms, having been the patriarch in charge during the era of Soviet reform efforts. Chubais and Gaidar led a process that was similar to former President Moi’s “Dream Team” in the 1990s. What started out as a simple process of reforming the rapidly decaying Soviet economy descended into kleptocratic and opaque processes driven by mafia bosses, rising well-connected kids, Soviet political patriarchs, relatives of senior administrators and Western apparatchiks.

Enter Putin

Enter the oligarch purge by Vladimir Putin. Just like Yeltsin, Putin had his gang of seven, dubbed Ozero, with whom he had built dachas on Lake Ladoga’s shoreline. In 1996, while Yeltsin met with his oligarchs, Putin took his Ozero gang (all natives of St. Petersburg) on a road trip to the Karelian Isthmus, a wealthy coastal suburb from where they reminisced the changing political fortunes of the country.

Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin was a consummate spy. He joined the Soviet government under Yuri Andopov in 1975, who during his tenure as the head of KGB, devised the plan to inject the espionage juggernaut with fresh blood. Putin has always had the uncanny fate of playing the outsider in just about anything he gets into. He was an outsider among the business elite in Ozero, a geographical outsider among the Moscow elites, an outsider even in the KGB where he was posted to Dresden, Germany’s third largest city, as opposed to Moscow, which was the heart of communist idiosyncrasies. He was even an outsider to Michael Gorbachev’s reformist programmes (Perestroika, Glasnost and uskoreniye), having received his letter to relocate to Dresden in mid-1985 just as Gorbachev was ascending to power in Moscow.

Putin showed up in the Soviet Union in early 1990 having watched communism convulse in Eastern Europe and having first-hand experience of how “the Soviet was silent at home”, a reference to the moment he called for back-up during an attack at the local communist offices in Dresden and received none. When he was back in the Soviet Union, he headed back to St Petersburg (then known as Leningrad) where he becomes the deputy mayor. It was only at the end of his tenure in 1996 that he was brought to Moscow to keep an eye and prepare dossiers on rogue oligarchs. Three years later, he becomes the Prime Minister after the sudden resignation of Boris Yeltsin.

Putin’s “outsiderism” shielded him from building personal ties with the oligarchs, a position that gave him a dispassionate capacity to rein them in with the dossier he, by a twist of fate, had prepared. Unlike the insiders who’d experienced all the glories and pains of Soviet culture and life, Putin, based in Dresden, saw in the Soviet Union’s fall a humiliating indictment of his predecessor’s incompetence and the myopia of the Moscow elite.

Of the gang of seven under Yeltsin, only four would survive under Putin and, surprisingly, Putin would build his own team of oligarchs, including members of the Ozero, the most famous among them being Usmanov, Abramovich, Alekpetrov, Yeltsin-era Potanin, and Vitaly Malkin. (The US Treasury lists at least 96 oligarchs in Russia.)

Putin’s “outsiderism” shielded him from building personal ties with the oligarchs, a position that gave him a dispassionate capacity to rein them in with the dossier he, by a twist of fate, had prepared. Unlike the insiders who’d experienced all the glories and pains of Soviet culture and life, Putin, based in Dresden, saw in the Soviet Union’s fall a humiliating indictment of his predecessor’s incompetence and the myopia of the Moscow elite.

Kenya and its oligarchs

Nothing generates oligarchs better than corruption and privatisation, and Kenya, just like the Soviet Union in the 1990s, is no stranger to this phenomenon. In August this year, Kenyan detectives announced that they were pursuing officials at the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA), the Kenya Ports Authority (KPA), the Inland Container Depot (ICD) and the Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS) over a 100-billion-shillings tax evasion scam. Such multi-billion scams signal state capture by oligarchs, which tends to open up the economy to counterfeit and contraband goods imported through collusion with state officials.

 

The riskier dynamic in the privatisation process and the mega-corruption scandals reminiscent of the Soviet-era fire-sale and smuggling, is that they only benefit a few highly liquid and well-connected native elite, marauding White Capital, corrupt government officials and wealthy families. Keep in mind that Kenya has been ranked eighth globally and sixth in Africa among countries with the largest number of people living in extreme poverty, based on the World Poverty Clock report. The report indicates that 29 per cent (14.7 million) of Kenya’s 49,684,300 people are extremely poor as they consume less than $1.90 (Sh195) per day or Sh5,920 monthly.

A combination of mass privatisation of key state assets and austerity measures are known to destroy the social tunnels needed to usher people into a middle-class existence; they effectively create a country with unassailable oligarchs and a massive underclass.

All this isn’t new though; as a colonial state, Kenya is already defined by a plantation economy, primitive elites, layered overlapping traumas, high poverty levels, and broken systems. It is likely to get worse.

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Darius Okolla is a researcher based in Nairobi.

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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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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