Often depicted as a rich world disease, cancer is becoming a concerning public health problem in sub-Saharan Africa. More than two-thirds of the people who died from cancer in the past few years lived in low- and middle-income countries. Many risk factors, such as high infection rates of HIV/AIDS, hepatitis B virus (HBV), and human papillomavirus (HPV) or increased tobacco and alcohol consumption are increasing the rates of cancer in many regions.
Cancer death disparities among rich and poor countries are quite significant, and action must be taken immediately to provide accessible and affordable healthcare to those in need. Although many of those deaths can be prevented at relatively low cost, cancer doesn’t seem to be a priority for donors.
Cancer is the second leading cause of death across the world, with 8.8 million deaths every year – nearly one death in every 6. Upto 70 per cent of these deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries, and the numbers keep growing every year. In Africa, the most common cancer types are cancers of the cervix, breast, liver, and prostate, together with Kaposi’s sarcoma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Why is cancer becoming a Third World phenomenon? When did the shift in cancer cases to the Global South take place? And why are risk factors more prevalent in low- and middle-income countries as opposed to rich countries?
The current burden of cancer in Africa
Cancer is the name given to a collection of diseases characterised by the rapid multiplication of a group of malignant cells that start spreading into surrounding tissues. It is a multifactorial disease that is caused by the transformation of normal cells into tumours. The disease is caused by the interaction between an individual’s genetics and the exposure to external agents, such as radiation, chemical carcinogens (tobacco, asbestos, arsenic), and certain viruses, parasites, and bacteria. Bad lifestyle habits, such as an unhealthy diet, may also increase the risk of developing this disease. The risk of cancer is much higher in adults than in children. As an individual gets older, the immune system isn’t able to protect the organism against the uncontrolled growth of malignant cells, and cellular repair mechanisms become less effective. At least one death in three from cancer is caused by one of the five principal behavioural risks: high body mass index, lack of physical activity, low fruit and vegetable intake, tobacco use, and alcohol use.
Cancer is the second leading cause of death across the world, with 8.8 million deaths every year – nearly one death in every 6. Up to 70 per cent of these deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries, and the numbers keep growing every year. In Africa, the most common cancer types are cancers of the cervix, breast, liver, and prostate, together with Kaposi’s sarcoma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Each one of these cancers has at least one specific risk factor that is strongly linked with poverty, endemic diseases, or lack of proper preventive strategies that characterise many regions of the Global South.
Tobacco alone is the leading risk factor for cancer and is responsible for almost one-fourth of cancer deaths. Harmful use of alcohol and tobacco use are running rampant in many African countries. The burden of tobacco-related deaths in Africa has increased by 70 per cent, from 150,000 reported deaths in 1990 to over 215,000 in 2016. And these numbers may very well be the tip of the iceberg, given how comprehensive data on cancer incidence and mortality in Africa is extremely scarce, if available at all.
Since specialised facilities to treat cancer are often not available, and the data to drive cancer policies is sorely lacking, when patients are diagnosed with cancer in Africa it is usually already too late. Many patients only receive a diagnosis when they’re very close to dying.
Infections due to hepatitis B and C viruses and HPV are also a key risk factor for liver and cervical cancer, and many African health systems lack the resources for mass vaccination programmes needed to stop these diseases from spreading. In low- and middle-income countries, these infections are responsible for nearly 25 per cent of cancer cases. Common epidemic diseases, such as HIV/AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis, are also known risk factors for other cancers, such as Kaposi’s Sarcoma and lung cancer.
Why is cancer a death sentence in Africa?
A diagnosis of cancer is always terrible news, but it can be a much more devastating experience in a country like South Sudan than, say, in Japan, Canada, or Germany. The highly industrialised nations already found that the best way to deal with cancer is not to treat it (although this is still possible), but to prevent it. Or, at least, to diagnose it as early as possible, when it is still possible to stop it from spreading through the body with lethal consequences. In sub-Saharan Africa, where early detection and prevention are not widely available, the risk of getting cancer and the risk of dying from it is nearly the same.
Since specialised facilities to treat cancer are often not available, and the data to drive cancer policies is sorely lacking, when patients are diagnosed with cancer in Africa it is usually already too late. Many patients only receive a diagnosis when they’re very close to dying. Treatment services are available in less than one-third of the cases in low-income countries, compared to 90 per cent in high-income ones. In more than 20 per cent of African countries, access to cancer treatment is not available at all. And even when treatment is available, lack of medical literacy regarding cancer may mean that the treatment received is not the right one. The number of specialised oncologists in Africa is abysmally low, and many doctors are simply not knowledgeable about cancer to provide appropriate care. For example, a past study of breast cancer patients in Nigeria showed how several women kept being treated with antibiotics or other ineffective medications for months or years before receiving a proper diagnosis.
National cancer registries are rarely found, and even when they exist, they must rely on obsolescent technologies, sparse and unreliable data, and underdeveloped facilities. This news is particularly depressing since early detection may easily prevent between 30 per cent and 50 per cent of cancers. Just to name an example, HPV alone is known to be the cause for 70 per cent of all cervical cancers, the most common malignancy in the African region. In North America, a series of massive vaccination campaigns against HPV have reduced this risk at least five-fold. And even when vaccines are not available, routine cervical cancer screening and early treatment can detect this disease while it can still be treated, effectively preventing up to 80 per cent of cervical cancers.
An epidemic coming from the Western world?
It has often been said that cancer is a disease of the industrialised world, and has thus been associated with the Western world more than with the poorest African regions. Following the traditional Western paternalistic narrative, in Africa people die of starvation much before they can reach the age where cancer usually starts manifesting. In a curious and horrible turn of events though, this assumption may hold more truth than we may think. The Western industrialised nations brought cancer to Africa, starting with the wanton exploitation of its land to strip it of its natural resources regardless of the catastrophic environmental consequences.
Environmental factors are important contributors to the burden of cancer, especially in some regions. For example, petroleum spills and over-extensive environmental exploitation of the Niger Delta region caused vast contamination of ground, soil, air, and water. The local population has been exposed for decades to high levels of many dangerous carcinogens, ranging from dioxins to benzene and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). Benzene alone was found at levels that are 900 times above World Health Organization (WHO) recommendations. To protect themselves from the acid rains that ravage this region, people must seek shelter under asbestos roofing, which is another known carcinogen that may cause lung cancer. And when the crops and the livestock are contaminated by oil spills, increased risk of cancer of the digestive tract is nothing but an obvious consequence.
Mozambique and cancer: A history of strife
Cancer is a disease, and like any other disease, it becomes much more problematic in all regions affected by poverty and lack of infrastructure. Decades of civil war and struggle left many African countries with no healthcare system or wrecked and devastated the (few) existing facilities. Droughts, insufficient sanitation, and poverty exacerbate the damage already precipitated by civil and military strife, with many health professionals preferring to leave their countries to go to Europe and the U.S. in search of better wages.
For example, during the 1970s, the primary healthcare system in Mozambique was well developed, and the local facilities treated a large number of patients every day. The government had invested substantial resources in vast vaccination programmes that were able to provide coverage to more than 90 per cent of the population, reducing the risk of many types of cancer. Until the civil war exploded. When the anti-communist group RENAMO supported by the CIA and conservative U.S. forces started attacking FRELIMO, they decided that the best way to hit their foes was to destroy the country’s infrastructure. Schools, roads, hospitals, and health clinics were destroyed, and as Mozambique descended into civil war, the government had to make severe budget cuts to the public health expenditure. Corruption started running rampant, and in a country plagued by poverty, paying the bribes required by many doctors and nurses was often impossible.
Many African countries are now taking steps to address the rising cases of cancer in their countries. In 2016, Kenya’s National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF) made a commendable choice. Radiation therapy, surgery and four courses of chemotherapy per year are now included among the services provided for free for the 18 per cent of Kenyans covered by the fund.
Today, no radiation therapy centres are available in Mozambique, leaving all patients who suffer from the most common cancer types in this country (cervix, breast, and prostate) without adequate treatment. Without proper infrastructure, natural disaster emergencies, such as cyclones and flooding, also cause the spread of malaria, which rapidly becomes endemic in many areas. The overall health conditions of the population is atrocious, with HIV/AIDS and malaria prevalent among both adults and children. In Mozambique, the rise of cancer is nothing but a consequence of war as HIV constitutes a risk for Kaposi’s Sarcoma, while malaria is a risk factor for Burkitt’s lymphoma among children.
It is time to draw a line
Many African countries are now taking steps to address the rising cases of cancer in their countries. In 2016, Kenya’s National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF) made a commendable choice. Radiation therapy, surgery and four courses of chemotherapy per year are now included among the services provided for free for the 18 per cent of Kenyans covered by the fund. Before this plan was launched, the prices for cancer treatment in the country used to be way out of reach for a majority of Kenyans.
However, much more needs to be done, from strengthening the drug supply chain systems in public facilities to prevent stock-outs to dealing with the chronic absence of specialists in a country where there are only 22 oncologists for a population of 46 million. Today, it is very hard for all Kenyans to access those services, and additional costs make long-term cancer treatment hardly affordable for most families. But the Kenyan experience is a prime example of how much can be done even in countries with limited resources.
In November 2017, the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) and the African Cancer Coalition (ACC) released new cancer care guidelines that take potential economic constraints into account, as well as focusing on the most commonly diagnosed cancers in each region in sub-Saharan Africa. Countries such a Nigeria established a partnership with the University of Birmingham to teach pathologists how to detect and diagnose cancer over Skype. Evidence-based cancer care can provide more affordable and ethical solutions to treat cancer without compromising health outcomes, such as providing fewer but larger doses of radiation to reduce the costs.
Today, modern medicine teaches us that cancer is a deadly disease that is often resistant to most treatments and that the most effective approach is one that combines education and prevention. Prevention should be at the core of any system that wants to have a chance to win the war against cancer, especially when resources are limited. A focus on primary care and prevention over curative care saves more lives, is less expensive, and is less stressful for people who simply avoid cancer rather than facing it.
Cancer screening programmes, new cancer treatment guidelines, and vaccination campaigns saved countless lives, but it’s still hard to win this fight when so many African countries do not understand that they must allocate their resources to train more specialised healthcare workers and establish more advanced facilities. Any modern nation has the duty to invest its budget on its human capital, the most valuable resource, and rely on local resources instead of seeking help from abroad.
Countries such as Kenya, Rwanda, and Nigeria are trying to make cancer services accessible to their populations, and by doing so, they teach us a fundamental lesson – that fighting cancer isn’t just a battle that is fought inside hospitals; it is a war that is fought at the political table, first and foremost. Only with adequate investments and proper healthcare infrastructure can African countries stand a chance against this deadly disease.
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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.
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.
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.
“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 debt, unfair trade and financial agreements, military subjugation, vaccine apartheid, labour 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.
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?
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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