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Echoes of the Cold War in America’s Perpetual War on Terror

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As an American citizen, writes ANDREW FRANKLIN our perpetual war on terror as conducted in this region, is undermining all of our efforts to assist emerging democracies to develop systems of good governance, justice, rule of law and respect for human rights that are conducive for significant and sustainable American commercial engagement as envisioned before Cold War exigencies derailed our soft power activities. America is inadvertently facilitating the sort of environment in which China’s long-term initiatives can be successfully implemented and within which China prospers in Africa.

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America’s Forever War On Terror is undermining democracy, good governance and economic development throughout the Greater Horn of Africa as well as elsewhere in East Africa. The Trump Administration’s new “Prosper Africa” strategy is not expected to alter this bleak assessment as US security objectives in the region remain unchanged and the newest opponent, China, broadly supports campaigns to fight terrorism.

America’s Forever War On Terror is undermining democracy, good governance and economic development throughout the Greater Horn of Africa as well as elsewhere in East Africa

In fact China’s well-known refusal to interfere in the internal political and social affairs of African states seems to have made it the preferred business partner of the political classes in Kenya and Uganda. Similarly, since 2008, America and its Western allies have increasingly emphasised peace and stability within the region with initiatives promoting democracy, human rights and good governance receiving much less sustained support. Countering China’s growing economic hegemony will inevitably cause the US to de facto accept corrupt practices and authoritarian governance, especially in those nations considered vital to prosecuting its War Global War On Terror.

The United States has made fighting terrorism the new litmus test for nations seeking good relations. The overarching priority to defend the homeland ultimately colors everything America does regardless of what America says. Since 9/11 “Jihadist Terrorism” has been elevated globally to the same threat level previously accorded to Communism prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. The establishment of Africom, a separate Pentagon entity specifically tasked with promoting US security interests in “Black” Africa, has seen the growth of a network of American military facilities across the continent. Troop numbers are estimated to be in excess of 7000 permanent personnel with 4,000 deployed to the Horn of Africa.

Although too soon to tell, it is likely that Trump’s shock directives to withdraw all forces from Syria and 7,000 soldiers from Afghanistan will soon be applied to American boots on the ground in and around Africa with uncertain consequences to his new Africa policy and the myriad anti-terror operations being conducted with European and African armed forces across the Sahel.

Over the second half of the 20th Century, US relations with the African continent were informed by the contest between capitalism and communism. Characterised as the Cold War, for more than four decades following the end of the second World War, heavily armed alliances faced off under the nuclear umbrella of mutually assured destruction courtesy of the US and Soviet Russia. This bipolar world was well established by the 1960s when Britain, France, Belgium and Italy granted political independence to their colonies, leaving Portugal – a NATO member- and white ruled Southern Rhodesia engaged in low-level counter insurgencies with indigenous liberation movements. These were often Marxist in orientation and intermittently supported by the newly independent members of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) as well as by Communist China and Cuba. South Africa, independent under white rule since 1910, and its de facto colony of Southwest Africa(now Namibia) became increasingly isolated politically as Apartheid was systematically implemented and entrenched.

China’s well-known refusal to interfere in the internal political and social affairs of African states seems to have made it the preferred business partner of the political classes in Kenya and Uganda.

Africa’s Cold War experience had few redeeming features; existing patterns of economic underdevelopment, social dependency, authoritarianism, impunity, endemic corruption and disrespect for human rights and international legal norms, can be directly attributed to post-independence great power competition. Neither the US nor the Soviet Union had any colonial history or legacies on the continent to either make amends for or to protect. From their perspective, African states after 1960 were pawns in a great game whose center of gravity was elsewhere. Unlike the former colonizers, neither had long-term plans for economic exploitation. Modern roads, rail lines, airports and the like were afterthoughts, designed to gain influence with national elites reflected in UN General Assembly votes and access to militarily vital ports and airfields. As a result, neither bothered with grand strategies to guide operations on the continent, each leaving it to relatively small groups of security-oriented bureaucrats and careerists.

Communist China also carried influence in Africa by supporting revolutionary movements battling white minority regimes in Southern Africa, including building the Tanzania-Zambia Railroad linking the Copperbelt to Dar es Salaam to lessen the dependence of Frontline States on Pretoria. The railway had little economic impact although it garnered much political support for Mainland China in its campaign to supplant Taiwan on the UN Security Council and as rifts grew between Beijing and Moscow.

Though done to support somewhat reactionary national objectives (e.g. to counter the spread of communism across Africa), US activities still reflected a sincere belief that Africans could be rapidly won over to the “American Way of Life” that included free enterprise, competition, labor union organization, participatory democracy and adherence to the rule of law. To that end, America generally employed soft power to win friends and influence national elites; relatively large amounts of money were spent by USAID on programs focusing on agriculture, policing, health, democracy, rural development, enterprise development, civil service management and administration. US-based multinational corporations like General Motors, Firestone, Kodak, Bank of America and IBM, many of which historically operated in southern Africa, were encouraged to expand their presence across the newly independent nations, often in direct competition with colonial-era trading establishments. All manner of cultural exchanges took place and reading rooms and libraries were opened as thousands of Africans were welcomed to study at American institutions of higher learning.

During the first decade after independence, formal military ties were limited to traditional partners Ethiopia and Liberia although access to Mombasa was negotiated for US Navy shipping. Washington generally left military affairs in their respective former colonies to the British, French and Belgians–who all kept significant commercial and financial stakes in their former possessions and maintained varying degrees of political and military relationships – and cooperated with Pretoria in the defense of the strategic trade routes around the Cape of Good Hope between the South Atlantic and Indian Ocean. America studiously avoided mentioning increasing Soviet Bloc involvement in liberation wars to overthrow Portuguese colonial regimes in Angola, Mozambique and Guinea-Bissau and seemed willing to overlook Moscow’s support via Zambia for armed groups gearing up to fight the white minority regime in Rhodesia as well as for desultory ANC activities to promote armed struggle in South Africa.

The Soviet Union, its Warsaw Pact partners and Cuba were generally unable to compete with American soft power-with the notable exception being university scholarships and cultural exchanges heavy on Marxist Leninist ideology. They however exercised hard power whenever opportunities presented themselves. Soviet bloc military equipment and technical advisors were liberally provided to southern African liberation movements, leftwing rebels in the Congo, Tanzania, and Uganda and critically to Somalia after Gen Siad Barre overthrew its civilian government in 1969.

Somalia tragically illustrates the legacy of how a local elite manipulated Cold Warriors to achieve local objectives albeit not always successfully. Hard power from the Soviet bloc was deployed to Somalia on a scale not previously seen in Africa: the Somali National Army was reorganized on Soviet lines and comprehensively reequipped with tanks and armored vehicles and motorized artillery complete with Red Army advisers at all levels of command; the Air Force was gifted modern aircraft. The Stasi, East Germany’s secret police, took over internal security and Cuban experts arrived to provide development assistance, paramilitary training and political indoctrination as well as to handle military assistance that began flowing to Marxist-oriented Eritrean liberation movements. Communism had arrived at the Heart of the Horn of Africa to threaten the interests of the United States and its local allies; nothing has ever really been the same since.

From an American perspective, Africa in the 1970s was fraught with challenges. Portugal withdrew from its colonies leaving behind Marxist governments that permitted their territories to be used by Soviet/Cuban/Chinese supported revolutionaries launching wars of liberation against Zaire’s longstanding western ally Mobutu Sese Seko, South African-occupied Namibia and the white minority regime in Rhodesia. The closure of the Suez Canal in 1973 and the 1979 overthrow of the Shah of Iran meant that the Cape of Good Hope became irreplaceable for the transit of the west’s oil supplies, making stability in South Africa more of a priority than the ending of apartheid. Pretoria cast the victory of Soviet hard power in Somalia and elsewhere in Africa against United States’ seeming to retreat from Asia and the Middle East, to influence conservative opinion in the US, UK and other western states to go slow on implementing anti-apartheid sanctions, acquiesce in the continued occupation of Namibia, maintain significant financial and military links and cooperate on areas of mutual interest, including suppressing communist terrorism at home and abroad.

By 1980 the US began to adopt a more muscular military-oriented approach in its dealings with the political classes in many African states. When America’s long-time friend, Emperor Haile Selassie, was overthrown by Marxist military officers, the Soviet Union switched its support from Somalia to the much more populous Ethiopia and the US magically befriended Siad Barre, “Scientific Socialism”, secret police and all! American military assistance and support flowed to Eritreans fighting the Marxists in Addis Ababa, Mobutu in Zaire as well as to any state actively committed to defeating the global threat of Soviet communism; Soviet hard power was displayed in Angola by the deployment of thousands of Cuban troops to prop up the MPLA regime. Kenya was viewed as a reliable ally of the West mainly because of its stability and relatively developed capitalist economy; little concern was raised as political repression increased, corruption escalated and government functions atrophied and deteriorated. Kenya’s strategic location within a nasty neighborhood and its continued security cooperation with the US and UK allowed its government to influence conservative politicians and business interests to discourage sustained criticism of its domestic politics or backsliding on human rights and economic development. Nevertheless as the Cold War began to wind down in Europe beginning in 1987 and all Soviet troops completed their withdrawal from Afghanistan in February 1989 American policies in much of Africa began to “soften” with emphasis shifting to matters of good governance, economic liberalization, media freedom, democracy and human rights.

Looking back from the vantage point of 2019 it is fair to describe the years 1989/1990 as the time when the US began putting principle before pragmatism; without the perceived existential threat of Communism, Washington was free to push Pretoria to grant independence to Namibia, to stop destabilizing Marxist governments in neighboring states and to open negotiations with the ANC to end apartheid and bring real democracy to South Africa. Within the Greater Horn of Africa, Washington reduced security assistance to the Siad Barre regime in Somalia and began normalizing relations with the Marxists in Addis Ababa, eventually facilitating regime change with self-determination for Eritrea.

The appointment in 1989 of conservative journalist, Smith Hempstone, as US Ambassador in Nairobi put an end, albeit not completely, to the Moi Government’s increasingly repressive and kleptocratic free ride in the final decade of the Cold War. Hempstone had solid Cold War credentials, having served as a Marine Corps officer in Korea, after which he pursued his journalism career in late 1950s early 1960s in East and Central Africa, reporting extensively on trouble spots from Katanga to Zanzibar. He was a lifelong Republican who believed in free enterprise, democracy and American exceptionalism: he eschewed diplomatic niceties and disdained State Department protocols and bureaucracy which he saw as little more than self -serving careerism. His obduracy and willingness to speak truth to power at State House curbed many of the excesses of KANU, midwifed the reintroduction of multiparty politics and increased freedom of expression in Kenya and across East Africa.

The collapse of the Soviet Union also put an end to the many variants of Marxist economics and African Socialism notionally practised by governments throughout Africa. Exchange controls, import licenses, price controls, state monopolies and confiscatory taxation policies were seriously examined and significantly liberalized especially in Kenya during the 1990s; Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) was viewed as a means of sustainably growing national economies with substantial job creation being an intended outcome. Make no mistake: US businesses were expected to benefit from the opening up of the Kenyan market including displacing long established British and other European commercial interests; China was not even considered as a player since Beijing had only abandoned Communism in 1988 and its economy was still mired in overly centralized state controls. The prevailing view of export-led trade as the engine of overall economic development ala the Asian Tigers culminated in the introduction by Washington of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) in 2000. Under AGOA qualifying African countries can export into the US duty-free some 6,400 products ranging from textiles to cars and agricultural consumables of all sorts; the program emphasizes value addition and development of value chains thereby creating jobs as well as enhancing the sort of infrastructure needed to produce goods to be shipped to 360 million Americans.

Looking back from the vantage point of 2019 it is fair to describe the years 1989/1990 as the time when the US began putting principle before pragmatism

After Smith Hempstone’s departure in 1993, Kenya and other states in the region continued to attract American aid and investment focused mainly on health, welfare, commerce and human rights. Kenya retained its perceived position as an “island of peace” and order in an increasingly disorderly region: genocide in Rwanda, famine and civil war in South Sudan, warlordism and famine in Somalia all made the country the prime location for humanitarian relief activities on a massive scale. Election related ethnic clashes in 1992/3 and 1997 were dismissed by western agencies as unfortunate byproducts of the new democratic dispensation. American diplomats avoided confrontation with Nairobi’s ruling elite and became noticeably weary of opposition disunity and fractiousness. The first General Election after 9/11 was lauded as a notable victory for democracy as an unusually unified Opposition peacefully removed the former ruling party KANU from power at the end of 2002. The new leaders led by President Mwai Kibaki said all the right things and seemed to be pursuing much needed reforms at least until the wheels started coming off in early 2004 and the new regime fell apart in 2005, amidst power wrangling over the details of a much needed new constitution and the emergence of corruption on a grand scale. By this point in time America’s Global War On Terror had taken center stage in the foreign policy and security establishments not only in Washington but also London, Paris, Berlin and the capitals of other “Western/European” allied nations. Good governance took a back seat to fighting terror. Doing business in Kenya, Uganda and elsewhere around Africa became noticeably more difficult and the global financial crisis of 2008 effectively put an end to the expansion of American business activities. Meanwhile, less than two decades after renouncing Communism in favor of policies encouraging individual accumulation of wealth, China was aggressively pursuing commercial opportunities throughout Africa.

The Global War On Terror had institutionalized a hands off approach to domestic affairs as diplomats asserted respect for sovereignty even as elections were mismanaged, corruption skyrocketed, security forces’ abuses and inefficiency increased and economies tanked. China soon became the major source of funds for infrastructure development and China continues to run huge trade surpluses with Kenya and other countries in the Horn of Africa.

The last two US ambassadors to Kenya illustrate the centrality of the GWOT in US relations with the continent. Outgoing US Ambassador to Kenya, Robert Godec, is a survivor of the 1998 US Embassy bombing and has spent the last twenty years in various State Department assignments concentrating on fighting jihadist terror, especially that of Al Qaeda. His predecessor, Major General Scott Gration USAF (Ret) was at the Pentagon on 9/11 and also developed close personal and professional ties with Kenyan civilian and military figures while growing up in East Africa and on active duty assignments during the last decade of the Cold War.

However, the United States has effectively abandoned any ideas of large scale military interventions on the order of either Afghanistan or Iraq; even the relatively short-lived Operation Restore Hope in 1992 which saw upwards of 20,000 Soldiers and Marines committed to stabilizing Somalia is not in the cards. Nation building as American policy in the Third World has long been out of favour. The United States and its western allies prefer training local proxies to battle against Al Qaeda and ISIS affiliates in Africa, as is the case in Somalia where they arm and support the AU Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) to battle Al Shabaab. The same pattern has been duplicated in Niger, Burkina Faso and Mali; terrorists are killed by drones and manned airstrikes: American troops engage in raids to disrupt terrorist operations notionally while indigenous forces are being prepared to take on the Islamist insurgents.

Much as was the case during the Cold War, national elites have sought to exploit superpower preoccupations. Regime opponents are often branded extremists or terrorists, and domestic conditions that breed disaffection and extremism are seldom, if ever, mentioned. It is no secret that governments across the region have become increasingly intolerant of political dissent and have reduced media freedom even when issues of national security are not involved; the constitutions of Uganda and Burundi, for example, have been amended to remove presidential age and term limits. Yet, criticism by the US and other western nations has been muted since there are no ready sources of replacements were either or both regimes to withdraw their troops from AMISOM.

The rationale of the US led Global War On Terror is to safeguard the American homeland and to prevent a repeat of 9/11 on American soil; apparently our strategy has been deemed effective since neither Al Qaeda nor its even more extreme offshoot and competitor IS has not been able to successfully attack the US. However, is there any sufficient evidence that American antiterrorist activities and its strategy to combat Islamic extremism in the Greater Horn of Africa have contributed in any way to US security?

As an American citizen, who has been immersed in security matters for more than 45 years, I believe our perpetual war on terror as conducted in this region, where I have lived since 1981 is simply undermining all of our efforts to assist emerging democracies to develop systems of good governance, justice, rule of law and respect for human rights that are conducive for significant and sustainable American commercial engagement as envisioned before Cold War exigencies derailed our soft power activities. We are inadvertently facilitating the sort of environment in which China’s long-term initiatives can be successfully implemented and within which China prospers in Africa.

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Andrew Franklin is a former US marine, writer and security consultant based in Nairobi.

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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“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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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?

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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.

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