On October 14, 2019, President John Pombe Magufuli officially moved his presidential operations to Dodoma, the capital city in the central region of Tanzania.
Was the move to Dodoma, which is 420 kilometres from Dar es Salaam, on the weekend preceding the 14th of October, a coincidence or a well-calibrated move? October 14th is the day that Mwalimu Julius Kambarage Nyerere, the first president of the Republic of Tanzania, died. In the wider scheme of things, it could as well have been both: President Magufuli, looking to be re-elected in a year’s time, may have made a deft tactical manoeuvre to signal his re-election bid in earnest.
Forty-six years ago, in 1973, Mwalimu Nyerere had picked Dodoma as the future capital city of the republic, citing its centrality and its ample, expansive and flat land as fit credentials for the new capital. Although, Mwalimu did not live to see the transfer of the capital, President Magufuli understands the import of fast-tracking the transfer of the presidential operations to Dodoma: Mwalimu would approve of it and the electorate would interpret the move as being in tandem with Mwalimu’s popular wish in a country currently in the grip of Mwalimu nostalgia. President Magufuli is probably riding on these feelings.
Keen Magufuli watchers have averred that he would very much like to be viewed as a Nyerereist, a man exemplifying the very (socialist) ideals of the post-colonial and independent Tanzania’s founding father. It has not been lost to observers that like Mwalimu, Magufuli considers and carries himself as a teacher: he was a chemistry tutor long before venturing into elective politics. In effect, Magufuli sees himself as the modern Tanzanian Mwalimu, the latter-day Nyerere, who would very much want to be loved in the same vein as Mwalimu.
But this article is not about President Magufuli – it is about Mwalimu Nyerere – who 20 years ago this month, exited the scene and the curtains fell on the 20th century’s arguably Africa’s greatest political leader. October commemorates Nyerere, particularly in Tanzania, and generally in the rest of the African continent. In recent times, there has been a debate in Tanzania, led by the likes of Pius Msekwa, the former Speaker of the National Assembly (1994–2005), whether to commemorate October 14, the day Nyerere died or April 13, 1922, his date of birth. Msekwa posits that April 13 should be made a holiday in Tanzania.
The spirit that calls rain
Mwalimu Julius Kambarage (the spirit that calls rain) Nyerere was born 97 years ago to his father Nyerere Burito (1860-1942) and his beloved mother Mugaya, who was the 18th wife of Burito, the paramount chief of the tiny Zanaki tribe. He was named after a rain spirit – Kambarage – because he was born during a storm. And the name Nyerere commemorated a plague of armyworms that struck the time of his father’s birth in 1862. Largely brought up by his mother, Nyerere converted to Catholicism at the age of 21and for the rest of his life, he would lead a Catholic life in deeds and words.
For a man whose relatives routinely lived past 90 years, Mwalimu “died young” in 1999 at the age of 77. Indeed, according to Nyerere himself, he was “a child” in the eyes of his chiefly clan: “In my clan, when your parents are still alive, you’re a child,” Nyerere remarked when he took a corpus of media personalities to the bedroom of his mother in Butiama, who had lived past 100 years. Nyerere came from a clan with the “gene of longevity”. His brother Wanzagi lived up to 86 years, his maternal uncle died as the age of 96, and his father’s brother (in African lingua, his elder father), died at the age of 95.
Mwalimu Julius Kambarage (the spirit that calls rain) Nyerere was born 97 years ago to his father Nyerere Burito (1860-1942) and his beloved mother Mugaya, who was the 18th wife of Burito, the paramount chief of the tiny Zanaki tribe. He was named after a rain spirit – Kambarage – because he was born during a storm.
Once, while campaigning for Benjamin William Mkapa, the Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) candidate in the first multiparty elections in 1995, Nyerere had boasted that he would still be around in 2005 – in time for the third multiparty elections. But four years later, he was diagnosed with leukaemia at St Thomas Hospital in London, where he remarked to his close family members who had kept vigil at his bed, “I know I won’t live for long because I’m suffering from a terminal disease. I know Tanzanians are going to miss me, I’ll miss them too and I’ll pray for them once I depart for the hereafter world.”
Disillusionment with the party he founded
A founding member of CCM in 1977, a party he chaired till September 1991, Nyerere would later become so disillusioned with CCM apparatchiks that in early 1995, in a fit of anger, he proclaimed: “CCM is not my mother, I can leave it.” Whether the reference to his mother was coincidental or intentional is probably neither here nor there, but by the time he was uttering this statement, his mother was still alive and was exerting a strong influence on her former president son’s life.
Then to show his great disenchantment, he openly rebuked the party leaders, including President Ali Hassan Mwinyi, who he termed as a “weak person who is easily swayed”. In the last booklet that Nyerere penned – Uongozi Wetu Na Hatima ya Tanzania (Our Leadership and the Fate of Tanzania), he referred to Mwinyi as a “weakling”.
Really miffed by the happenings at CCM, Tanzanians saw a side of Nyerere that they had not witnessed. When Augustine Lyatonga Mrema, the then flamboyant Minister of Home Affairs, Labour and Youth Development, quit CCM in a huff to join the nascent opposition, Nyerere publicly defended him and reproached the CCM.
A month before the first multiparty elections in November, 1995, Nyerere proclaimed: “I cannot let the country go to the dogs.” Even when he was no longer at the epicentre of power, he ensured that the pendulum of power swung according to his wishes.
In 1995, the year of the first multiparty elections in Tanzania, Nyerere was applauded for the first time since retiring as president in 1984 for castigating a government that he believed had taken to alienating itself from the people. He launched his onslaught on CCM leaders’ misdemeanours, which he said were contrary to the party’s policies. Nyerere was so popular that had he wanted to have a go at the presidency, again, he would have rode home on a triumphant note.
In that year, Nyerere single-handedly picked his political protégé Benjamin Mkapa, the then Minister for Higher Education, Science and Technology, and campaigned for him across the country as the CCM’s flag bearer. With Nyerere’s backing, Mkapa, who once edited the government-owned newspaper the Daily News and its sister paper Sunday News, overcame the opposition to win the presidency. Nyerere, aware of the infighting within CCM, had deftly picked Mkapa, an intellectual who then had an unblemished record in the civil service and parliament, to assuage the feelings of his contemporaries in the party.
Who were some of his contemporaries? Edward Mrisho Lowassa, the then Minister of Lands and Urban Development and Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete, a former army officer and who would become the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister of Finance.
A month before the first multiparty elections in November, 1995, Nyerere proclaimed: “I cannot let the country go to the dogs.” Even when he was no longer at the epicentre of power, he ensured that the pendulum of power swung according to his wishes.
Lowassa in 1995 was 43 years old and rich. At the CCM national committee meeting in Dodoma, Nyerere asked a few unsavoury questions concerning Lowassa’s wealth. That sealed his fate. As for Kikwete, then 45, his religious affiliations must have worked against him in 1995. He is Muslim. Opposition to Mwinyi, a Muslim, had grown and Tanzanians in 1995 were reluctant to be led by another Muslim.
Nyerere had read the mood of the Tanzanians well: in selecting Mkapa as a compromise candidate in a field of 16 CCM party presidential candidates, he had appeased the party loyalists (wakereketwa), who had been disenchanted that Lowassa had not been picked by the party. More importantly, Nyerere not only picked a Christian, but a Catholic. Still, supporters of Tanzania’s multiparty system will always remember Nyerere as the man who paved the way for pluralistic politics in the country.
Once described by Prof Ali Mazrui, as a “heroic failure”, Nyerere remained the embodiment of Tanzanian politics, looming large over Tanzanians like a colossus. (Nyerere once praised Mazrui as a famous public intellectual and interlocutor. When they met, he is reported to have said, “Nasikia sifa tu” [I can only luxuriate in your fame].)
The theme of “heroism” in Nyerere’s life would recur later in life when the Tanzanian Catholic clergy would seek to venerate him for his “saintly” deeds.
Nyerere was famous by all means, famous in the style of Socrates’ words: Fame is the perfume of heroic deeds. A philosopher-king, Nyerere went further to perfect Socrates’ epigram – fame is the perfume of heroic deeds and spectacular failures. Nyerere failed spectacularly in some of his political experiments.
The Arusha Declaration and its aftermath
In October 1995, one month before the general elections, I met Abdulrahman Mohamed Babu, the Zanzibari Marxist intellectual and former Minister of Economy of Tanzania, at the Gandhi Hall in Mwanza, the lakeshore town on the shores of Lake Victoria in western Tanzania. “Anybody who wants to understand Nyerere must begin first by demystifying him,” said Babu in his introductory remarks.
For the 23 years that he was in power, said Babu, Nyerere shaped and reshaped the destiny of a nation with the single-mindedness of a chief, convinced that Tanzania’s fate lay in “African Socialism” – a concoction of scientific socialism and African communalism. So, in February 1967, Nyerere came up with a blueprint that Babu believed Nyerere wrote himself: Azimio la Arusha (The Arusha Declaration). And for the next two decades, the document’s philosophy formed the basis of Ujamaa (loosely translated as brotherhood). This led to the formation of rural collectives (Ujamaa villages) for agricultural production and the nationalisation of industries. The philosophy underplayed ethnicity and focused on unity. However, this radical experiment turned out to be a monumental failure. Till today, there is a section of Tanzanians who are rankled by those heady days of the disastrous Ujamaa policy.
In August 1984, Nyerere, who in his spare time had translated two of Shakespeare’s plays – Julius Caesar and Merchant of Venice – into Kiswahili, coined a new Kiswahili word: kungátuka, meaning to retire. And with that he left the Msasani State House that faced the Indian Ocean in Dar es Salaam.
Once referred to as a cunning fox by Deng Xiaoping, the Chinese supreme leader, Nyerere later shifted positions on kungátuka and said: “Sikungátuka…nimefanya kutoa guu.” I didn’t retire…I just relocated my foot.
I met Nyerere twice: once in a political meeting in Mwanza where, as master and servant politician, he was doing what he knew best: dazzling the crowd and mesmerising them with his magic wand. The second time was in a gathering of a graduating class, where again the philosopher-king was at ease, bantering away with the graduates and their professors alike. On both occasions, I got the impression that Nyerere was ever the king-maker, the philosopher-king, whose words everybody hung onto.
For the 23 years that he was in power, said Babu, Nyerere shaped and reshaped the destiny of a nation with the single-mindedness of a chief, convinced that Tanzania’s fate lay in “African Socialism” – a concoction of scientific socialism and African communalism.
Feted at home and abroad, Nyerere had the simplicity of the underclass and the power and gait of aristocracy. He exuded exceptional political morality and was celebrated in the West by the liberal left. He became the darling of left-leaning governments in Europe, such as Sweden, which poured donor aid into the country and held Nyerere up as an example of good African leadership. Mwalimu stood like a beacon of rationality, sobriety and princely leadership. In essence, Mwalimu was an institution unto himself. Sometimes referred to as the “peasant-president”, Nyerere had the privileges of a royal prince who found himself among real peasants who could only marvel at his power and grandeur.
As part of the crop of post-colonial African leaders who emerged in the 1950s, Nyerere carried with him huge dreams – oftentimes huger dreams than he could find time to interpret in his lifetime. Sometimes in the process of interpreting those dreams, he got carried away and possessed by them and anybody who did not dream along, or proffered a different interpretation, found himself at a crossroads and at odds with the mighty Mwalimu.
For instance, when cabinet minister Oscar Kambona disagreed with some of the tenets of the Arusha Declaration, he found himself in exile. Babu, after being released from detention by Mwalimu, opted to live in exile as well, in the “cold climes of London”, as he used to refer to the harsh British climate. Even the Sykes brothers, who had been influential in founding the TANU party (which later morphed into CCM), and who had funded it and had even inviting Nyerere to join it in the mid-1950s, opted to stay put and gradually melt into political oblivion.
At a time when the institution of the presidency was synonymous with an individual and state-led development, we must give it to Nyerere for stepping aside (for whatever reason) and allowing his protégé to take over.
The Catholic president
Seven years after his death, the Tanzania Episcopal Conference (TEC), through the cooperation of the Musoma Diocese, opened a cause for Nyerere’s beatification with the approval of the Vatican. The Catholic leadership of Tanzania throughout Nyerere’s reign loved him: the Catholic church was the only institution whose properties were not nationalised with the advent of the Arusha Declaration. The church continued to run its hospitals and schools, and to own its huge tracts of land without the state intervention.
After TEC’s proposition, an Italian, Silvia Cinzia Turrin, wrote an essay on Nyerere: Nyerere, il maestro. Vita e utopie di un padre del lÁfrica, Cristiano e socialista (Nyerere, the teacher. Life and utopia of an African priest, a Christian and socialist.)
The Catholic church in Tanzania, with the tacit approval of the Maryknoll Fathers, and the American missionary group that first went to Tanzania as White Fathers at the beginning of the 20th century, and who ran Musoma diocese, spoke of Nyerere’s heroism within the Catholic church. They argued that Nyerere was fit for canonisation because of his saintly deeds. While Prof Mazrui saw Nyerere as a heroic failure, the Catholic church in Tanzania saw Nyerere as the exemplification of an ideal Catholic.
In the Catholic church, canonisation or sainthood is the church’s official recognition that the person so declared has performed heroic deeds (on earth) and is without doubt with God in heaven. Pastorally, it has an even greater significance; it means that the church has put forward the life of the person in question as an example for all Catholic faithfuls to follow during their pilgrimage towards the final vision of God at death – the beatification. Nyerere’s beatification is currently one of the 44 pending cases from the African continent.
Nyerere’s success as a president who ably balanced his religious creed and political beliefs has been celebrated all over the world. He is seen as a leader who astutely preached religious co-existence, harmony and tolerance. Many may be taken aback and may not remember that the Republic of Tanzania, alongside the islands of Pemba and Zanzibar, in a manner of speaking, is largely a “Muslim” country, even though Catholicism is the biggest Christian denomination.
Was Nyerere, therefore, the Catholic president of a Muslim country? For all the years that Nyerere was the president of Tanzania, he never preached Catholicism to Tanzanians, even though he led a very devout Catholic life both privately and publicly.
The Catholic church in Tanzania, with the tacit approval of the Maryknoll Fathers, and the American missionary group that first went to Tanzania as White Fathers at the beginning of the 20th century, and who ran Musoma diocese, spoke of Nyerere’s heroism within the Catholic church. They argued that Nyerere was fit for canonisation because of his saintly deeds.
Nyerere is normally compared to another African “Catholic president” who reigned largely in a Muslim country – Senegal. Leopold Sedar Senghor, the African-French gentleman, practised his Catholicism in a country whose more than 80 per cent population obey Allah, but never, at any time, did the Senegalese feel that their president was biased towards Catholicism.
One year after Nyerere’s death, I posed the question: Between Nelson Mandela, the Black Pimpernel and Mwalimu Nyerere, who was the fairest? Then, as now, I believe Madiba might as well arguably turn out to be Africa’s best leader-president of all time. So, while Nyerere will forever remain great (partly because of making great mistakes), Mandela will forever be remembered for spending a third of his life in South African prisons and surviving to assume the presidency of a Rainbow Nation.
In November 2000, I was in Dar es Salaam to cover the second multiparty elections. It was the first election that was being held in the absence of the towering Mwalimu. The violence that was meted on the opposition party, the Civic United Front (CUF), CCM’s bitterest rival, was unprecedented. My Tanzanian colleagues and friends would later reminisce that had Nyerere been alive, little of that violence would have been witnessed.
Since Mwalimu’s death, Africa especially, has remained lonely without his presence. It is probable that the continent may not have another Nyerere for a long time. Yet it is now, in this momentous time in the world’s history, that Africa needs a Nyerere.
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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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