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Donald Trump: The Most Un-American President

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President Trump’s subversion of American nationalist ideology has had major implications both nationally and internationally. At the national level, by talking up strongman tactics, derogatorily dismissing his political opponents, and dismissing the media as an enemy of the people, Trump helps shape the character and behaviour of Americans, especially his most ardent supporters, in a way that doesn’t augur well for a democracy like the U.S. By WANJALA S. NASONG’O

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DONALD TRUMP: The Most Un-American President
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Nationalist scholarship has it that every national group across the space of time and place is more or less a successful melting pot where diverse population groups are merged, acculturated, and eventually assimilated. This process occurs at different rates and in different ways, depending on each population group’s place in the political and socio-economic systems. Successful nationalist projects always produce a nationalist myth, portraying the origin, place, and mission of the nation in the global scheme of things.

For instance, the history of race and ethnicity in the United States has been fraught with tension, rivalry, and conflict. The English arrived on the continent, not as immigrants entering a foreign society forced to acquire a new national identity, but as a colonial vanguard keen on recreating a New England in the image of the England they had left behind. From the beginning, they were the predominant ethnic group. They enjoyed a political and cultural hegemony over the life of the American nation-in-the-making.

The non-English populations that followed, namely, the Dutch, the French, the Germans, the Irish, the Italians, the Poles, and the Russians, were regarded as aliens forced to adapt to English rule in terms of both politics and culture. The establishment of English as the American lingua franca was thus a critical first step in the gradual assimilation of the multiple ethno-racial groups of the so-called colonial era in the American nationalist project. These non-English immigrants were a major source of labour originally imported to populate the American landmass, and later to provide cheap labour for industrial development as indentured labourers. As indentured servants, however, they were both scarce and expensive. Moreover, as contract labourers, they could bargain for acceptable terms and entered the ranks of free labour once their contracts expired.

This is the genesis of slavery as the second source of ethnic pluralism in the United States with the forced importation of more than half a million Africans. The system of chattel slavery was more expedient and more profitable for the southern plantation owners. Whereas the indentured servant from Europe expected land at the end of his contract, the African slaves – who were conspicuous by their skin colour and ignorant of the white man’s ways and language and who had been abducted from their homeland and forced into perpetual servitude in a strange land – could be kept permanently in servitude, divorced from the land they worked. Racial differences were utilised to rationalise slavery and to exact resignation and complete mechanical obedience akin to a plough-ox or cart-horse.

The third ethnic pluralism in the United States was originally rooted in conquest. Native Americans were systematically uprooted, decimated, and banished to reservation wastelands. The Mexicans in the southwest were conquered and their land annexed by an expansionist nation under the rationale of “manifest destiny”. The warfare against the American Indians, which included broken treaties, expropriation of their land, rebellion and ultimate defeat, was based on the stereotype of Indians as nomadic hunters and “uncivilized savages”. As one early seventeenth-century document put it: “Savages have no particular propertie in any part or parcell of that country, but only a general residencie there, as wild beasts have in the forests” (sic). Their land was thus taken and they were herded to reservations, where they still remain, crippled with poverty, hunger, disease, and wanton neglect. If the American Indian was the nation’s first minority, the future did not bode well for the many minorities that followed.

In spite of America’s brutal and convoluted history, the American nationalist myth constructs the United States as a deep comradeship of middle class society – as a land of liberty and opportunity; a shining city on a hill; a beacon of hope for the oppressed. America is characterised as a land of the free and home of the brave. Seymour Martin Lipset, a foremost American nationalist scholar, argues that whereas societies like the British, Canadians, French, and Germans are rooted in a history of nationality related to community as a basis of their legitimacy, American society is defined by ideology. Being an American is an ideological commitment rather than a matter of birth.

In spite of America’s brutal and convoluted history, the American nationalist myth constructs the United States as a deep comradeship of middle class society – as a land of liberty and opportunity; a shining city on a hill; a beacon of hope for the oppressed.

American society is organised around an ideology that embraces a set of dogmas about the nature of a good society. The American creed is summed up in four words: anti-statism, egalitarianism or meritocracy, individualism, and populism. Americanism is thus regarded as a highly attenuated, conceptualised, platonic, impersonal attraction toward a system of ideas, a solemn assent to a handful of final notions, including democracy, liberty, and opportunity, to all of which the American is said to adhere rationalistically as a socialist adheres to socialism. The most ardent American nationalist is wont to cry out: “Give me liberty or give me death!” Indeed, the state slogan of New Hampshire, one of the thirteen founding colonies of the union declares: “Live Free or Die!”

Accordingly, virtually every American president, from the most conservative Republican to the most progressive Democrat, has historically embraced this idealised notion of the United States, which has defined their behaviour both at home and abroad. Every American president prior to Donald Trump (at least since the twentieth century) has viewed the global role of the U.S. as the promotion of democracy, human rights, and liberty by persuasion and the power of example where possible, or by coercion and force of arms where necessary. The notion of the U.S. as a land of the free and home of the brave, as a shining city on a hill, a beacon of hope for the oppressed, and a place where “freedom rings” has provided American leaders with the moral authority to demand the same for oppressed peoples around the world.

The emergence of Donald Trump, however, has had the effect of upending and disrupting this state of affairs. Trump’s actions and behaviour both at home, and especially abroad, have negated the very essence of the ideals upon which the American nationalist myth is constructed, with serious implications for the standing of the U.S. both domestically and internationally. Of the four concepts upon which the American creed is constructed, Trump’s onslaught has been focused on three – anti-statism, egalitarianism/meritocracy, and populism.

How has Trump’s behaviour effectively subverted these concepts and what are the implications of this subversion?

The emergence of Donald Trump, however, has had the effect of upending and disrupting this state of affairs. Trump’s actions and behaviour both at home, and especially abroad, have negated the very essence of the ideals upon which the American nationalist myth is constructed, with serious implications for the standing of the U.S. both domestically and internationally.

The first key value representing Americanism is anti-statism. The argument here is that the American Revolution weakened the social values of an organic community and strengthened individualistic and anti-statist ones. The U.S. is deemed to be dominated by pure bourgeois and individualistic values. The U.S. is posited as having been born in the spirit of revolution against a government perceived to be tyrannical. Its anti-tyrannical bias was written into the constitution as the separation of powers, to ensure that no executive would ever again become too powerful. The weakness of the state and the emphasis on constitutionally-mandated division of powers hands lawyers a uniquely powerful role in America and make its people exceptionally litigious.

President Trump’s assault on the notion of separation of powers is manifested in his demand that the Department of Justice, especially its head, the Attorney General, should serve as the president’s personal lawyer and protector rather than as a public defender and protector of the rule of law. When Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from overseeing the Special Counsel investigation into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential elections, Trump went ballistic and eventually sacked him, arguing that he would not have appointed him had he known he was going to recuse himself from the Robert Muller investigation. Indeed, if Trump had his way, he would want all governmental powers concentrated in his office.

Trump has displayed a fondness for authoritarian leaders, such as Russia’s Vladimir Putin, North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, and the Philippines’s Rodrigo Duterte, who he considers as strong leaders who have strong control over their countries. This betrays his craving for similar powers – like the ones he enjoyed as the all-powerful head of the Trump Organization. Unlike his predecessors, President Trump finds himself stymied and frustrated by the constraining effects of the institutional limits on the U.S. presidency.

The second value that defines Americanism is meritocracy or egalitarianism. American egalitarianism is defined as equality of respect and opportunity. Equality of respect places emphasis on egalitarian social relations and the absence of the demand that those in the lower social order give overt deference to those in the upper classes. Equality of opportunity stresses meritocracy and equal opportunity for all to rise economically and socially. The practical impact of this principle has been a reinforcement of social etiquette, empathy, and compassion in inter-personal relations.

President Trump has subverted this principle, dismissing it as an unnecessary baggage of political correctness. This was on display right from the start of his candidacy for president when he went on to derogatorily refer to Mexican immigrants as rapists who bring drugs and social problems to the U.S.

Uncharacteristic of any and all public figures in American politics, Trump has also taken to insulting and bullying his political opponents. Those he does not see eye to eye with bear the brunt of insulting sobriquets. During the 2016 Republican Party Presidential primaries, Marco Rubio became “Little Marco”, Ted Cruz became “Lying Ted”, Jeb Bush earned the nickname “Low Energy Bush”, while Hillary Clinton was branded “Crooked Hillary”.

Trump’s does not just insult his opponents, but even those within his inner circle who get a taste of his wrath when they fall out with him. Former Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, went from being “a world class dealmaker” who would “be a star” at the time of his appointment to “dumb as a rock” and “lazy as hell” upon his sacking. Steve Bannon, Trump’s campaign manager who briefly became the White House Chief Strategist, was once described by the president as “tough and smart” but then became “Sloppy Steve” who had “lost his mind” after he was extensively quoted in a book critical of the president. Omarosa Manigault Newman went from “loyal friend” to “not smart”, “low life” and “whacky Omarosa”. Following his recusal, the president mocked Attorney General Jeff Session by calling him “mentally retarded”, “a dumb southerner”, and “Mr. Magoo” (a cartoon character).

Uncharacteristic of any and all public figures in American politics, Trump has also taken to insulting and bullying his political opponents. Those he does not see eye to eye with bear the brunt of insulting sobriquets. During the 2016 Republican Party Presidential primaries, Marco Rubio became “Little Marco”, Ted Cruz became “Lying Ted”, Jeb Bush earned the nickname “Low Energy Bush”, while Hillary Clinton was branded “Crooked Hillary”.

Populism as an American value is elaborated as the belief that the will of the people should dominate the elites, that the public choice is superior to professionalism. This is institutionally reflected in the early extension of the suffrage to all white males. Subsequently, it was reflected in the passage of the sixteenth amendment providing for the popular election of senators, in the direct election of judges in state and local jurisdictions, in the emergence of the primary system of nominating candidates for public office, in the judicial procedure of trial by a jury of one’s peers, and in the diffusion of the use of a referendum and public opinion surveys.

Central to this is the importance of a free media and freedom of expression. President Trump has sought to subvert this through his morbid dislike for media reports that are critical of him and his policies, declaring any and all news he doesn’t like as “fake news” and going so far as labeling the press “an enemy of the people”. This kind of rhetoric is usually associated with authoritarian leaders rather than with leaders of the so-called free world. Indeed, no other American president, despite their feelings of being unfairly criticised by the media, has ever gone after the media this brazenly.

President Trump’s subversion of American nationalist ideology has had major implications both nationally and internationally. At the national level, by talking up strongman tactics, derogatorily dismissing his political opponents, and dismissing the media as an enemy of the people, Trump helps shape the character and behaviour of Americans, especially his most ardent supporters, in a way that doesn’t augur well for a democracy like the U.S. His behaviour has emboldened white supremacists. The direct results of this include the mailing of pipe bombs to key Democratic Party leaders and a media house in October 2018 and the racist Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia in August 2017. The president’s equivocation in condemning the rally, which turned violent resulting in one fatality, made matters worse. The white supremacists now see in him an ally in the White House. Indeed, White nationalist leader, David Duke, thanked President Trump for his “courage and honesty” in blaming the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, on the alt-left.

President Trump’s subversion of American nationalist ideology has had major implications both nationally and internationally. At the national level, by talking up strongman tactics, derogatorily dismissing his political opponents, and dismissing the media as an enemy of the people, Trump helps shape the character and behaviour of Americans, especially his most ardent supporters, in a way that doesn’t augur well for a democracy like the U.S.

At the international level, Trump’s jettisoning of American exceptionalism has had him commit to withdrawing the U.S. from leadership of the world. He has questioned the existence of NATO and demanded that other members step up their defence spending. He constantly berates his generals about what the U.S. is doing in Afghanistan, in Iraq, in Syria, and even in South Korea and has declared he wants out of these places. In other words, the impact of Trumpism is American retreat from global leadership under the guise of “America First”, and an end to U.S. commitment to spreading democracy, civil and political liberties, and human rights across the globe. Furthermore, Trump’s rhetoric and style have helped embolden authoritarian leaders around the world. They have been afforded the leeway to harass the opposition and the mass media without fear of sanction from the so-called leader of the free world.

In the final analysis, when Barack Obama won the U.S. presidency in 2008, Trump was on the forefront of the birther movement that sought to delegitimise the Obama presidency by insinuating that he was un-American, Kenya-born, a foreigner who had conned his way to the presidency. Paradoxically, by subverting the key elements of American nationalist ideology that has formed the bedrock of American exceptionalism, Trump is proving, so far, to be the most un-American of American presidents.

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Wanjala S. Nasong’o, Ph.D. is Professor of International Studies at Rhodes College, Memphis, Tennessee, USA.

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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