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A President, His Generals and a Buccaneer: Vincent Miclet’s Angolan (Mis)Adventures

12 min read.

In Le Monde, Vincent Miclet alleged he was the victim of a cabal of corrupt Angolan generals. He painted himself as the king of imports in Angola, in partnership with the then Minister of State and Presidential Security Chief, General Manuel Hélder Vieira Dias Júnior “Kopelipa”.

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A President, His Generals and a Buccaneer: Vincent Miclet’s Angolan (Mis)Adventures
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When Le Monde profiled the African-born businessman Vincent Miclet in November 2018, it called him the “Gatsby” of Francophone Africa. The inference was clear: opulence and decadence combined in a single name.

Gatsby was the fatally-flawed character in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel, The Great Gatsby, whose fabulous wealth was obtained through mysterious – and possibly illegal – means and whose machinations led to his downfall. Vincent Miclet was presented as somewhat exotic: a slick, fifty-something millionaire playboy, born and educated at Baccalaureate level in Africa, his business acumen, in his own words, “self-taught”. In a self-serving interview with Le Monde, Miclet hoped to portray himself as a business genius cheated by Angola’s corrupt generals. (However, the businessman did not respond the questionnaire sent to him for this article.)

Buddies and bribes

According to Liberation, Miclet owes his business success to a combination of showy connections and bribery (in French: “Bling Bling et Bakchichs). It was thanks to his French-African connections that Miclet expanded his business interests across Africa, launching him to number 180 on France’s rich list. And, as Miclet himself told Le Monde, “In Africa, you can’t do business without paying commission (baksheesh).” And he proudly admitted that his personal commission on deals was 30 per cent.

For 20 years Vincent Miclet had operated under the radar. However, a relationship with a French reality TV celebrity in 2013 propelled him onto France’s gossip pages. They gleefully documented this divorcé’s life of luxurious excess during his four years with glamorous Ayem Nour, with whom he fathered a son. Pictures of the couple showed a man in his early fifties with plump unlined features, streaky blonde highlights, and a receding hairline.

After the split from Ayem Nour (which he publicly and unchivalrously blamed on his interfering mother-in-law, Farida), he sold their vast villa in the Dordogne for nearly 30 million euros. The sumptuous Moroccan palace he calls home is reputed to rival that of the King of Morocco. It’s where he played host to the notorious Alexandre Benalla, the former bodyguard of French Prime Minister Emmanuel Macron, who was fired after he violently attacked the May 1st protesters.

How did the son of non-profit workers become so rich and well-connected? Born in modest circumstances to French non-profit volunteers in Chad, Miclet portrays himself as a self-made business genius – but many suspect that his good fortune can be attributed to modern-day buccaneering.

According to Le Libre Penseur, Miclet’s French-African network was built on connections to the Masons and Corsican MafiosiLibération reported that Miclet hired Benalla as a bodyguard for the mother of his child and then engineered a new career for him via another friend, the veteran French-African business fixer Philippe Hababou Solomon. Miclet is also reported to have been the link between Benalla and Marc Francelet, another interesting Frenchman whose criminal record seems to have presented no obstacle to his security connections.

How did the son of non-profit workers become so rich and well-connected? Born in modest circumstances to French non-profit volunteers in Chad, Miclet portrays himself as a self-made business genius – but many suspect that his good fortune can be attributed to modern-day buccaneering.

After his school days in Africa, Miclet set up his first company, Cash Distribution (a cargo transport company) in 1984. He was 19. Within five years he had entered the food supply business, expanding from dried fish to oil, tomatoes and rice – allegedly becoming the number one importer of rice to Congo.

His entry into Angola is said to have come about thanks to the Féliciaggi family connections (the Féliciaggis had connections to Congo, the Corsican mafia and the disgraced former French Interior Minister Charles Pasqua).

According to Liberation, “It was the Corsican connection that led Miclet directly to Angola, where a general close to the president opened the doors to juicy business deals supplying contracts.”

By 1995, he was already reported as partnering with China to supply food and uniforms to the Angolan Armed Forces before diversifying into international logistics and construction. He also went into a joint venture with the French company Necotrans to establish and operate a port terminal in the Angolan capital, Luanda, which, he boasted, was the largest refrigeration plant in Africa.

So what went wrong? Why was he forced to make a hasty exit from Angola amid complaints of undelivered goods and missing millions?

Victim or villain?

In Le Monde, Vincent Miclet alleged he was the victim of a cabal of corrupt Angolan generals. He painted himself as the king of imports in Angola, in partnership with then Minister of State and Presidential Security Chief, General Manuel Hélder Vieira Dias Júnior “Kopelipa”.

In 2011, President Dos Santos received intelligence that Tajideen was suspected of funding a terrorist organisation. He summoned the Presidency’s Civilian and Military Chiefs of Staff (Carlos Feijó and General Kopelipa, respectively) to draw up a plan to buy out Kassim Tajideen and expel him from Angola.

He wasn’t lying; his pre-eminence in the import sector came about because the Angolan élite needed a straw man when they ousted the previous “king of imports”, the Lebanese businessman, Kassim Tajideen. Tajideen (currently serving a prison term in the USA) was the majority owner of the Arosfran Group of companies, (amongst them Afribelg, Golfrate and Muteba), which together imported $50 million-dollars-worth of foodstuffs per month, that is $600 million a year.

In 2011, President Dos Santos received intelligence that Tajideen was suspected of funding a terrorist organisation. He summoned the Presidency’s Civilian and Military Chiefs of Staff (Carlos Feijó and General Kopelipa, respectively) to draw up a plan to buy out Kassim Tajideen and expel him from Angola.

Feijó and Kopelipa came up with a scheme to create a new company that they named Nova Distribuidora Alimentar e Diversos, Lda (NDAD), which aimed to buy out the entire assets of the Arosfran Group in Angola (including 170 warehouses) for $150 million. Another of President Dos Santos’s close associates, General Leopoldino Fragoso do Nascimento “Dino”, obtained a personal loan of $150 million to this end from the Angolan Investment Bank (Banco Angolano de Investimento, BAI).

Several highly-placed sources told Maka Angola that Feijó and Kopelipa co-opted Vincent Miclet and his secretary, Adélia Bandeira El-Bichuti, into lending their names to the company to mask the involvement of politically-exposed persons. Miclet omits this detail from his account. He says he negotiated directly with Kassim Tajideen’s lawyer, Rui Ferreira, for the buy-out.

Yet by 2011 Ferreira had left his legal practice upon being appointed President of the Constitutional Court (today he is Supreme Court President). Questioned by Maka Angola, Judge Ferreira justified his role, denying a conflict of interest (which would have been contrary to Angolan law): It’s true that I was across the sale of the Arosfran Group to NDAD in 2011 and that I had a semi-supervisory role in the process,” he stated. “As is well known, I was a lawyer in private practice for 23 years, between 1985 and 2008. And during that time, I was the legal consignor for a number of the companies in the Arosfran Group, including Golfrate and Afribelg, which belonged to Kassim Tajideen. Back then it was the largest organisation in the field of food distribution in Angola, in particular for essentials.”

However, upon his appointment to the Constitutional Court, Rui Ferreira ceased to represent his previous clients. When the Angolan President decided Kassim Tajideen had to be forced out of Angola, his Chiefs of Staff consulted Judge Ferreira, as he recalls: “They [Carlos Feijó and General Kopelipa] approached me to request my assistance on a matter of national interest. Because of the trust and respect I’d established with Tajideen over the many years of our previous professional relationship, they sought my help to persuade him to agree to an exit deal.They argued that this was a delicate matter of exceptional national interest in that a quick agreement needed to be reached, without dispute, so as not to affect essential food supplies.”

Judge Ferreira’s former client, Kassim Tajideen, was suspicious that the Angolan government was trying to oust him without payment and the President’s envoys needed Ferreira to serve as an unofficial go-between, simply to reassure Tajideen that he would be fully compensated. In these circumstances, said Rui Ferreira, “I agreed. Because it was a request from my country’s government which considered that I was uniquely placed to help them resolve this process, which was in the national interest.” He emphasised that there was no remuneration or other benefit to him and justified his role as an act of patriotism and good citizenship.

“I did what I did. It was nothing more than an unpaid ‘good offices mission’ required of me by my country’s government in the national interest,” he explained. “Both parties accepted that this was a ‘good offices mission’ and welcomed it. I did not act (in an official capacity as lawyer) for either party, but simply as a facilitator of the agreement.”

Miclet and NDAD

The contract for the sale of all the Arosfran Group’s assets was signed on 7 June 2011 by Kassim Tajideen and Vincent Miclet, the latter signing in his capacity as a “partner and manager of NDAD”. Out of the $150 million bank loan obtained by General Dino, two-thirds ($100 million) was paid directly to Kassim Tahjideen in September 2011 to compensate him for his expulsion from Angola. (He is banned from returning to Angola for a period of 20 years.)

As for the other part of the BAI loan ($50 million), well, it simply vanished.

Rui Ferreira admits that he was kept in the dark on the finer points of the deal: “Only some months later, after the fact, and without my being officially informed, did I hear on the grapevine who the real owners of NDAD were.” He names no names but sources have told Maka Angola that the real owners were Generals Kopelipa and Dino.

For his part Kopelipa’s erstwhile civilian colleague at the Office of the President categorically denies any involvement in NDAD. “The fact someone worked or held a senior position in the Office of the Presidency doesn’t mean they automatically enjoy illicit advantages of any kind,” said Carlos Feijó. (That was his only government role, from 2010 to 2012, after which he returned to the private sector and academic life. He’s currently a tenured Professor of Law at Agostinho Neto University.)

Feijó confirmed to Maka Angola that the expulsion of Tajideen and the compulsory purchase of the Arosfran Group were the result of a United Nations subpoena received by the Foreign Ministry of Angola regarding Tajideen’s links to Hezbollah. “I immediately advised [the President] that we must comply without hesitation. My understanding, from the constitutional and legal point of view, was that the Angolan State could not directly intervene and confiscate [the business] as we have no law providing for confiscation of assets unless there has been a guilty verdict in a court of law.”

“At the same time”, said Feijó, “we had to be cognisant of the fact that the Arosfran Group was the main operator in the import and sale of the vast majority of foodstuffs, in particular what we refer to as the ‘essential basket of goods’, and that any action taken against Arosfran could have a grave impact on the inflation rate which we were at pains to control.”

For these reasons, it was believed that the best solution would be to find a private Angolan-owned company to acquire the real estate and assets of the commercial companies in the Arosfran Group.

According to Carlos Feijó, “As General Dino led Kero [a supermarket chain] and had knowledge and experience of the market, he was charged with finding a financial solution, which involved taking out a loan from the BAI.” “Dino arranged the BAI financing. I was not part of what followed. The rest is a private matter which had nothing to do with me.”

Why Vincent Miclet? Because General Kopelipa already knew him from his role as a conduit for Chinese supplies to the Angolan military. Feijó says it was because they already had a business relationship that Miclet was chosen to act as the head of the Arosfran Group.

“All I know is that, from a business point of view, there was a decision to set up an Angolan commercial company and use that for the subsequent acquisition of the Arosfran Group”, explained Feijó. “There was a legitimate contract of sale and purchase of the Arosfran Group’s real estate and assets,” he added.

Why Vincent Miclet? Because General Kopelipa already knew him from his role as a conduit for Chinese supplies to the Angolan military. Feijó says it was because they already had a business relationship that Miclet was chosen to act as the head of the Arosfran Group.

To the best of his recollection, Vincent Miclet and his secretary, Adélia Bichuti, drew up the inventory and valuation of the Arosfram Group based on consultations with Rui Ferreira who had worked with the Group: “To clarify, I mean Rui Ferreira’s private law firm, because I must emphasise that I have no knowledge of whether he was still a partner in that law firm.”

However, once other lawyers took over to draw up the agreement documentation, he says neither he nor General Kopelipa and Dino played any further part in the negotiations. “I must emphasise that I did not see either of the Generals (Kopelipa and Dino) involved in the negotiations. I would say that General Dino’s role was only to arrange the financing.”

Once there was agreement for the sale of the Arosfran Group, the Interior Minister drew up the order to expel Kassim Tajideen from Angola and ban his return. Tajideen was subsequently found guilty of money laundering and funding Hezbollah and was ordered to pay a $50 million fine. He is currently serving a five-year prison sentence in the United States of America.

Some months later, President Dos Santos replaced Carlos Feijó and by 2013 the latter had returned to his private legal practice and took no further part in public life. His subsequent role was in his capacity as head of a private law firm after he was contacted to “try to resolve a situation in which NDAD was in technical bankruptcy, without the wherewithal to pay off the contracted loan”. From 2013, Feijó’s legal firm supplied a lawyer on monthly retainer to NDAD.

Documents received by Maka Angola show that NDAD was bankrupt and incapable of honouring its commitments. At this juncture, General Dino then reappeared to organise the restructuring of the formal shareholder composition of NDAD, with legal assistance from the office of Carlos Feijó.

The remaining $50 million of the debt to Kassim Tajideen was paid off towards the end of 2013, largely thanks to a second loan of $45 million obtained from Banco Privado Atlântico (the BPA, since renamed Millenium Atlântico), also arranged by General Dino.

In Feijó’s view, the relationship with Miclet had broken down due to the poor financial situation. He said there was a loss of confidence (in Vincent Miclet) and an erosion of trust between the various parties involved in the creation of NDAD and the takeover of the Arosfran Group. The reason given was Vincent Miclet’s “erratic management” of NDAD and the lack of clarity regarding conflicting interests between NDAD and Miclet’s company Angodis, which also supplied the Angolan Armed Forces.

“The issues between Vincent Miclet, Kopelipa and Dino resulted in General Dino submitting a criminal complaint to the DNIAP [Direcção Nacional de Investigação e Acção Penal – the National Directorate for Criminal Investigation and Action]. I didn’t see it necessarily as a criminal situation but rather a civil matter which could be resolved through the courts,” said Feijó.

Adieu, Vincent

On February 25, 2015, measures were put in place to rescind the 80 per cent stock quota allocated in the name of Vincent Miclet and the 20 per cent quota in the name of Adélia El-Bichuti and re-allocate them instead to Paulo César Rocha Rasgado (80 per cent) and Samora Borges Sebastião Albino (20 per cent) both of whom were frontmen for General Dino. The process made no reference to any compensation or payment to the outgoing “partners”. After all, they were not the real owners.

However, Vincent Miclet then demanded a pay-off of $56.6 million as “recompense for the acquisition of merchandise by three of his companies” – Pointpark Limited (registered in Dubai), Taycast Investiment Limited (also registered in Dubai) and Angodis – Angola Distribuição, Lda.

The already murky situation was further complicated by grave doubts about the legality of the transactions between them. The contract to supply the Defence Ministry was not with Angodis but his other firm Pointpark; however, Angodis received payments on Pointpark’s behalf.

There is documentary evidence that nefarious schemes were afoot. For example, on 30 May 2015 Angodis wrote to General Kopelipa and the then Defence Minister, Cândido Van-Dúnem, to effect the return of $64 million “received in error”. Maka Angola has not been able to verify whether the sum was, in fact, returned.

It seems fair to say that the arrangement between Miclet’s companies and the Angolan Defence Ministry were not entirely above board. One of the best documented examples of theft by Miclet’s companies was that they devised a strategy to hold back a proportion of the supplies delivered to the Angolan Armed Forces.

In his written reply to Angodis, dated July 18, Lieutenant-General Francisco Firmino Jacinto (Director of the National Directorate for Administration and Finance at the Defence Ministry) begins by explaining the [erroneous] transfers as having been a “budgetary manoeuvre…to avoid their having to withdraw this amount from the Finance Ministry”.

It seems fair to say that the arrangement between Miclet’s companies and the Angolan Defence Ministry were not entirely above board. One of the best documented examples of theft by Miclet’s companies was that they devised a strategy to hold back a proportion of the supplies delivered to the Angolan Armed Forces. Paperwork prepared by senior officials working for Angodis, Pointpark and NDAD show that between 2011 and 2013 Miclet’s companies kept back $20 million of food that was already paid for.

Everyone wanted a piece of the pie

Vincent Miclet committed his version of events to paper in a report for the then President José Eduardo dos Santos, a copy of which was obtained by Maka Angola. In it, he says negotiations [to acquire the Arosfran Group] began in April 2011 and were chaired by “Mr Rui Ferreira, in the presence of the interested parties”.

He went on to state: “On April 7, 2011, Mr Rui Ferreira drew up and signed a contract for the sale and purchase of the fixed and liquid assets of the commercial branch of the Arosfran Group.” He said that initially the Group had demanded $327.3 million but eventually settled for $144.5 million.

Further: “On April 5, 2011, on ‘orders from above’ [generally understood as coming from the Angolan President], the BAI bank granted a loan for the purpose of payment for the contractually agreed price for the parcel of assets as signed by the parties, with the transfer taking effect on July 20, 2011 of US $100 million to the Alicomerce company.”

Miclet said that thereafter he used his own funds to restructure the company and pay for imports. But his summary of events gives the game away when he refers to an intervention by the President’s sister, Marta dos Santos, being interpreted as “treachery” by the “partners” (Generals Kopelipa and Dino). The fact is that they were the real owners of NDAD, not Miclet. He simply lent his name to the enterprise and ‘managed’ the company on their behalf until it was more or less bankrupt and they lost faith in him.

Why was NDAD was in such financial distress? Perhaps because the key figures were bleeding the company dry. Although NDAD reported profits of $1.5 million in its first year of operation, former employees agreed that there was no transparent accounting system in place. Indeed, NDAD’s accounts were handled by Adélia Bandeira, an accountant with Miclet’s firm, Angodis. A former NDAD executive told us: “We [NDAD staffers] had no means of knowing the day-to-day financial situation of the firm.”

With NDAD nominally under new “management”, things came to a head in August of 2013 when Miclet flew his private jet to Luanda for the transfer or powers to Paulo Rasgado and Samora Albino. His jet was prevented from leaving. A furious Miclet blamed General Dino.

As his price for stepping away from NDAD, Miclet is said to have demanded compensation of $82.5 million, which he claimed was the value he had injected into the restructuring of the business and its import activities. After an audit by Deloitte, his erstwhile “partners” offered him a sweetener of $26 million, which Miclet rejected.

In spite of his ouster, Miclet tried to regroup, in particular via his new oil and gas venture, Petroplus Overseas. But according to African Intelligence (IOL 814) his firm has “lost the lion’s share of its portfolio” in Gabon as well as its permits in Mali. Having taken so much of the pie over the past couple of decades, it appears Vincent may have bitten off more than he could chew.

*D. Quaresma Santos contributed to the English version of this report.

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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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Asylum Pact: Rwanda Must Do Some Political Housecleaning
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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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The Murang’a Factor in the Upcoming Presidential Elections
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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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