“Get out, let her loose in Jesus name,” Pastor James Maina Ng’ang’a of Neno Evangelism yelled repeatedly in one of his many violent “deliverance orgies” that have sadly become a common feature of the many Pentecostal and Charismatic churches’ services in Kenya and beyond. In fact, deliverance ministries have not only proliferated in Africa in the last four decades, they have now also been commercialised and turned into big business in some of the evangelical churches.
As deliverance theologies become increasingly popular, they are also increasingly becoming violent. People are raising concerns about the disastrous and violent consequences of such theologies. Deliverance beliefs, teachings and practices are based on the assumptions that both mental and physical illnesses are the result of demon possession and, as such, ought to be treated through a violent expulsion of the demon.
In the recent past, for example, scores of disturbing YouTube videos have been widely shared on social media platforms where the notorious Pastor Ng’ang’a, acting as the leading “exorcist” in the country, frequently carries out bizarre deliverance services in his church. In nearly all of his church services, Ng’ang’a conducts deliverance services that are often streamed on national TV and social media. In these streams, he violently slaps and pins people, mostly women, to the ground. In a few instances, he has been seen behaving obscenely towards the women, like fondling their breasts or objectifying their bodies. In the act of casting out the demons, Ng’ang’a slaps and assaults his “victims” to rid them of the demonic attacks in a performance that is stage-managed and well-choreographed. In one episode, he violently slaps and knocks down an old diabetic man with kidney failure to the ground ostensibly to slap out the demon of diabetes.
In one particularly disturbing video that went viral, Ng’ang’a literary beats up and slaps a young man violently and several times, knocking him off the ground. In normal circumstances, this type of assault would have called for police action. This video attracted both local and international outrage, prompting the US celebrity rapper Snoop Doggy Dog to tweet, “When you are late on the offering money, the Rev needs his money.”
That YouTube video attracted hundreds of thousands of viewers before it was deleted. Odiously, it led to a debate on the pros and cons of deliverance theology. Meanwhile, Ng’ang’a response to the rap musician was to suggest that Snoop Dog “sniffs a lot of stuff”.
As the video caught the attention of both local and international audiences, and generated opprobrium, neither Ng’ang’a nor his congregations thought it was a big deal at all. Instead, his followers continue to cheer and watch in amazement as the supposedly “demon-possessed people” roll on the ground until the “demons” are forced to flee and the possessed calm down. The deliverance practice is characterised by the violent throwing of people to the ground, ostensibly to immobilise the possessed so that the exorcism can ably take place as the “exorcist” Ng’ang’a coaxes out dark forces. This act points to the immense (spiritual) powers of the exorcist and the bestowed power he commands over his hapless and helpless victims.
Violent deliverance practices are commonplace in Ng’ang’a’s ministry. That has been so, and has been a defining feature of Neno Evangelical Centre since its inception in the early 1990s. This, no doubt, is a ploy to attract huge crowds to his church.
The focus of deliverance ministries is to shift the agency from the “victims” in a way that keeps them constantly dependant on the pastors to make important decisions on their behalf. This manufactured power is the stuff of legends and in the case of many Pentecostal pastors, such as Ng’ang’a, is always well-crafted for manipulation purposes. Ng’ang’a has presumably convinced his followers that he engages the supposed demons in conversation, commanding them to depart forthwith from the person.
According to the “exorcist-in-chief” himself, many of the demons that enter his followers are meant for him and supposedly have been sent to destroy Pastor Ng’ang’a, the man of God himself. Why? Ostensibly because demonic forces don’t like him because he is the arch-enemy of the kingdom of darkness and a “general” of God’s Kingdom. Neither the pastor, nor the congregation or even the so-called demon-possessed persons, see anything wrong in these violent deliverance orgies.
A core part of Ng’ang’a’s sermons include weekly deliverance sessions that are often aired on national TV on Sundays. Their main focus is demon exorcism of believers, who are paraded in front of the church and who often appear to be “possessed”. According to Ng’ang’a, his deliverance sermons are rooted in the book of Mark 6:13 that says: They drove demons out and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them. Never mind that there is no anointing of the sick with oil. Jesus Christ simply commanded the demons.
From the nebulous Ng’ang’a, what we see is an intense, loud, malodorous, violent melodrama, in which, as if he himself is demon-possessed, yelling into the microphone “fire, fire, fire” as he “assaults” the demon-possessed flock.
Health, wealth and the prosperity gospel
The deliverance theologies must be understood within the larger context of the health and wealth prosperity gospel prevalent in all of Africa, as well as the collapse of healthcare systems. There was an explosion of hundreds of deliverance churches and ministries in Africa in the 1980s and 1990s that were first popularised by the proponents of the health and wealth gospel from North America but which were later localised. Both the health and wealth gospel represent a rather controversial strand of global Christianity that is now popular in many parts of Africa, especially in Nigeria, Ghana, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Malawi, among many others.
While both Christian men and women seek deliverance, many of the possessed are often women, which in itself is unsurprising, given the fact that the majority of Pentecostal and charismatic church followers are women. It is also a fact that women of varied educational, demographic and socio-economic backgrounds seek deliverance services. In November 2018, in a video widely circulated, Apostle Ng’ang’a is purportedly shown casting out demons from the famous Tanzanian gospel singer Rose Muhando at his Nairobi church. In that video, demons in Muhando’s body and mind are allegedly “heard” bragging that they were the cause of her misfortunes and that they had placed an ominous object on her that intended to completely kill her musical career.
The deliverance theologies must be understood within the larger context of the health and wealth prosperity gospel prevalent in all of Africa, as well as the collapse of the healthcare systems.
After the violent deliverance orgy, in which she is seen spinning out of control and reeling on the floor screaming before she is pinned down by Ng’ang’a, Muhando “thanked God” for coming to her rescue and delivering her from the powerful demons that have tormented her for a long time. She claimed that all her wealth, fame and talents had gone, leaving her extremely poor and vulnerable, thanks to the destructive demons. Before this deliverance orgy, friends and colleagues in the gospel music industry had raised the alarm that all was not well for the popular gospel songbird, pointing out that she had been broke, depressed, sickly and in need of medical and spiritual help.
In yet another video, Rose Muhando is seen being “delivered from the clutches of the demon” by Nairobi’s flashiest self-proclaimed prophetess, Lucy Natasha of the Prophetic Latter Glory Ministries International, an indication that one deliverance session is probably not enough, or that one pastor is not as powerful as another, or, as a patient would do in the medical world, followers are simply seeking a second opinion.
This “Muhando experience” lends credence to the fact that deliverance ministries are always in competition to attract followers to their healing services, hence creating stiff competition between various churches. This competition has necessitated the creation of niche ministries where a particular pastor or pastoress will emphasise certain special powers to woo members. So, some will teach deliverance, others will teach money and prosperity, while others focus on sexual purity and end-time theologies.
In the case of Ng’ang’a, he teaches an extreme form of deliverance, as well as the health and wealth gospel. To keep his followers glued to his ministry, he has to practise deliverance as a way of displaying his “spiritual prowess”. Ng’ang’a has always distinguished himself as an exorcist par excellence since he established his Neno ministry and may have been influenced by the 1980s proponents of the deliverance theologies, such as the Nigerian Emanuel Eni and others.
Many people were baffled to see Rose Muhando spinning out of control and rolling on the floor in the most undignified manner as Apostle Ng’ang’a purportedly, stubbornly, drove out the demons in her. Christians and non-Christians posed many questions, not just about the meaning of deliverance, but also about the easy resort of African Christians to “prayers for deliverance”, even for non-spiritual everyday mundane things that do not require spiritual interventions.
“Spirit husbands” and sexual anxieties
Why do people subject themselves to the indignity of such violent acts that include falling, reeling, spinning uncontrollably, foaming in the mouth and sprawling wildly on the ground to receive deliverance? Why do Christians see the devil and demons in everyday, mundane day-to-day matters that could easily be resolved through non-spiritual means? Why is demonic exorcism conducted in a violent manner? Why are more women than men prone to demonic attacks? Why are women’s bodies portrayed as the locales for demons and evil spirits and witches? How come women seem not to have no value for their dignity and bodily integrity? Are not women and their bodies also children of God, made in the image and likeness of God? Does not the idea that women’s bodies are locales for demonic spirit and temples of the devil and satanic practices negate God’s love for women and deny them God’s grace and love? Why are women’s bodies the homes of bad spirits, sins, impurity, death and everything that is bad? Do Kenyan women have no regard for their bodies as beautiful and clean and pure and instruments that bring life to the world? Why do women view themselves as temples of demons and not the Holy Spirit? Are there not other available means that Christians could use to seek deliverance? What kind of desperation drives people to open themselves to this kind of indignity, violence and abuse by charlatans like Ng’ang’a? How should Christians offer solutions to people in need of answers to their existential problems? Why do women allow the self-declared “men and women of God” pastors to have power over their lives, bodies and minds?
These questions always run through my mind every time I see these violent practices. While Pentecostal churches generally stress that the world is a place of spiritual warfare between God and evil forces, for many women frequenting such churches, this strange but now accepted and normalised spiritual practice is increasingly becoming violent and borders on the absurd.
Many women have also sadly come to uncritically accept that everything that is wrong in their lives – whether it is absentee husbands and fading spouses, marital anxieties or infertility, business failure or stagnation, financial insecurity, stress, sickness, job insecurity and poverty, wayward children, fear of witchcraft, among many other social and moral panics – is as a result of demonic possession.
Several interviews with born-again Christian women revealed that many have internalised the belief that their bodies and spirits are spaces where demons reside and are the cause of the many spiritual issues they grapple with. A number of women I spoke to suggested that many women believe they are possessed by demonic spirits, including “spirit husbands”. Two women told me that they believed that demons and evil spirits would visit them at night and have sex with them. These women talked of the torment, the shame and the helplessness they feel when these “spirit husbands” or “night husbands” come to claim their conjugal rights. The told me that they frequently have sex with demons whose physical presence cannot be seen, and do not have human form. When I asked them to describe these experiences, they painted pictures of handsome but mean men, who appear like in the movies to just rape them and then vanish.
I corroborated these claims in an episode in which Ng’ang’awas apparently conducting deliverance sessions for women who allegedly have sex with demons at night. This scary and unimaginable phenomenon has also been documented by social scientists in other parts of Africa.
Some theologians have suggested that some of these disturbing experiences could potentially personify women’s “sexual anxieties and fantasies”, as well as exemplifying their sexual ambiguities. They could also be hallucinations. But they could also be suggestive of extreme emotional, psychological and mental health struggles that these women are grappling with. Yet narratives of these women leave no doubt that they seriously and honestly believe that they actually have sex with demons at night and are helpless about their situation. Some women seem to truly believe that they are possessed by the spirit also known as “night husbands” and “spirit husbands” forces.
To that extent, women who have accepted this fact turn to spiritual exorcism and deliverance orgies perpetuated by the likes of Ng’ang’a and his ilk. While deliverance theology is an indication of people and specifically women’s anxieties around sex, relationships, marriage, children, security, money, fear of witchcraft and other social tensions, such as bodily integrity, rejection by spouses, marital infidelity, depression and mental health issues, spirit spouses are an indication of the entanglement of reproductive issues, such as sexuality, marriage, procreation, in-laws and spousal violence.
Rose Muhando, for instance, it has been suggested, had long been grappling with bad business, financial challenges, drugs, relationship issues, fears of witchcraft and mental health issues before she sought deliverance from Ng’ang’a. When women speak about their lack of sexual pleasure, sexual violence, complex relationships, irresponsible fathers, infertility, tensions with in-laws, spirit husbands and others, they are essentially and indirectly speaking about social anxieties and their personal security. This is not difficult to see given that Kenyan society is faced with huge challenges, including violence against women, which has become a defining feature of life. This explains why even seemingly upward mobile women such as Rose Muhando are also experiencing tensions around their lives.
SAPs and African cosmologies
Scholars and researchers have theorised that desperation stress, family break-ups, financial constraints, poverty, and unemployment, are some of the drivers of the deliverance industry. This is important given that the emergence of Pentecostal churches is directly linked to the impact of the 1980s Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs) in Africa. Other factors that have contributed to the spread and popularity of deliverance ministries and beliefs include trauma, despair, and health-related anxieties brought about by the collapsed healthcare facilities in African countries. But deliverance theologies also find explanation in African cosmologies where sickness or disease is often thought to have been caused by witchcraft or the “evil eye” or other unseen forces.
Nevertheless, the whole phenomenon of deliverance theologies can be understood as an attempt to make meaning to the social and health challenges that people grapple with, a sort of theology of survival. However, charlatans like Ng’ang’a have seized this to make a name and money and to plant himself as a leading exorcist.
When women speak about their lack of sexual pleasure, sexual violence, complex relationships, irresponsible fathers, infertility, tensions with in-laws, spirit husbands and others, they are essentially and indirectly speaking about social anxieties and their personal security.
In his recent article, Prof Makau Mutua argues that African people are fatalistic because they have endured so much trauma brought about by three important historical epochs: slavery, colonialism, and the Cold War. He says that these three evils deeply traumatised Africans and spurred despair and deep spirituality. As such Africans often resort to religion and spirituality to explain away their trauma and despair. In this sense, he posits that religion could be used as a clutch to lean on or a comforting intervention to minimise pain and to “live one day at a time”, a common phrase used by Christians when they think about an insecure future. The promise of a better tomorrow in the hereafter can allow one to endure a brutish existence on earth in anticipation of a better tomorrow. Therefore, religion can be an opiate that eases and dulls the pain of everyday existence characterised by poverty, sickness, and many vagaries brought about by a predatory state.
The easy resort to prayer and the spiritualisation of everything stifles pragmatic interventions, such as, seeking medical attention, including socio-psychological support and care. But it also raises questions about churches that are increasingly becoming spaces of violence instead of spiritual and earthly liberation.
Should churches not develop and expand educational programmes that assist the identification of natural causes for different phenomena so as to deter people from believing in witchcraft and demons? Deliverance beliefs and practices are based on the assumption that both mental and physical illnesses result from possession of the sufferer by demons and that the sufferer should, therefore, be treated through expulsion of these demons. Deliverance theologies enslave people to the delusional belief that it is only through the casting out of demons that they can be healed. Hence, deliverance ministries shift blame for sin, addiction and other human struggles to the demonic world and not to the government that fails to provide sufficient healthcare to its citizens. Similarly, deliverance theologies prevent people from demanding better from their governments; the charlatans of the deliverance industry take the government’s place. The not only take agency from the individual to the pastor, but create and foster paranoia.
Yet deliverance theologies also raise critical questions about abuse, bondage, peoples’ vulnerabilities, exploitation, freedom, liberation, moral and ethical issues, personal responsibility and violence. They also raise questions about power dynamics and deliverance as a business tool for the Pentecostal clergy.
Scholars and researchers have theorised that desperation stress, family break-ups, financial constraints, poverty and, unemployment, are some of the drivers of the deliverance industry. This is important given that the emergence of Pentecostal churches is directly linked to the impact of the 1980s Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs) in Africa.
More importantly, they raise questions about regulation of churches, as well as church taxation. Churches in Kenya are exempt from taxation because there is the assumption that they do social and public good. My research on Pentecostal and charismatic churches tells me that fewer Pentecostal churches venture outside of strictly spiritual issues to preach a social gospel grounded in social justice and human dignity. What we have are religious outfits led by the proponents of the deliverance and wealth ministries that are focused on creating opulent lives for the men and women of God and their immediate families, and propping up a cadre of an opulent clergy, who then become a law unto themselves.
Yet, the blame also rests squarely on the Government of Kenya that has left its citizens to the mercies of spiritual charlatans who impoverish and manipulate vulnerable Christians in the guise of proving spiritual blessings and healing to the oftentimes dazed folk. The government has failed its people, the majority of whom are Christians, because it cannot offer them sustained public healthcare, a core mandate of a responsible state. It has failed because it has shirked from its responsibilities of regulating these spiritual charlatans.
But even as we think of church regulation, there should be, at the very least, minimal requirements set for the operation of such churches, both new and established, including having pastors properly trained in a recognised theological institution.
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Who Won Kenya’s “Nominations”?
Being nominated rather than selected by party members may undermine grass-roots legitimacy but it is hard not to suspect that some of the losers in the nominations process might feel a little bit relieved at this out-turn.
Who won Kenya’s “nominations”, the tense and often unpredictable political process through which parties select which candidates they want to represent them in the general election scheduled for 9 August? That may sound like a silly question. Social media is full of photographs of smiling candidate clutching their certificates of nomination—surely we need to look no further for the winners?
But maybe we do. Beyond the individual candidates in the contests for nominations, there are other winners. One may be obvious: it seems the general feeling is that Deputy President William Ruto came out better from the nominations than did his principal rival in the presidential race, former opposition leader Raila Odinga—about which more below. However, for some, coming out on top in the nominations may prove a poisoned chalice. Where nominations are seen to have been illegitimate, candidates are likely to find that losing rivals who stand as independents may be locally popular and may gain sympathy votes, making it harder for party candidates to win the general election. This means that there are often some less obvious winners and losers.
One reason for this is that nominations shape how voters think about the parties and who they want to give their vote to, come the general election. Research that we conducted in 2017, including a nationally representative survey of public opinion on these issues, found that citizens who felt that their party’s nomination process had not been legitimate were less likely to say that they would vote in the general election. In other words, disputed and controversial nomination processes can encourage voters to stay away from the general election, making it harder for leaders to get their vote out. In 2017, this appeared to disadvantage Odinga and his Orange Democratic Movement (ODM), whose nomination process was generally seen to have been more problematic—although whether this is because they were, or rather because this is how they were depicted by the media, is hard to say.
In the context of a tight election in 2022, popular perceptions of how the nominations were managed may therefore be as significant for who “wins” and “loses” as the question of which individuals secured the party ticket.
Why do parties dread nominations?
The major parties dreaded the nominations process—dreaded it so much, in fact, that despite all their bold words early on about democracy and the popular choice (and despite investments in digital technology and polling staff), most of the parties tried pretty hard to avoid primary elections as a way of deciding on their candidates. In some cases that avoidance was complete: the Jubilee party gave direct nominations to all those who will stand in its name. Other parties held some primaries—Ruto’s United Democratic Alliance (UDA) seems to have managed most—but in many cases they turned to other methods.
That is because of a complicated thing about parties and elections in Kenya. It is widely assumed—and a recent opinion poll commissioned by South Consulting confirms this—that when it comes to 9 August most voters will decide how to cast their ballot on the basis of individual candidates and not which party they are standing for. Political parties in Kenya are often ephemeral, and people readily move from one to another. But that does not mean that political parties are irrelevant. They are symbolic markers with emotive associations – sometimes to particular ideas, sometimes to a particular regional base. ODM, for example, has been linked both with a commitment to constitutional reform and with the Luo community, most notably in Nyanza. So the local politician who wants to be a member of a county assembly will be relying mostly on their personal influence and popularity—but they know that if they get a nomination for a party which has that kind of emotive association, it will smoothen their path.
Disputed and controversial nomination processes can encourage voters to stay away from the general election, making it harder for leaders to get their vote out.
This means that multiple candidates vie for each possible nomination slot. In the past, that competition has always been expensive, as rival aspirants wooed voters with gifts. It occasionally turned violent, and often involved cheating. Primary elections in 2013 and 2017 were messy and chaotic, and were not certain to result in the selection of the candidate most likely to win the general election. From the point of view of the presidential candidates, there are real risks to the primary elections their parties or coalitions oversee: the reputational damage due to chaos and the awareness that local support might be lost if a disgruntled aspirant turns against the party.
This helps to explain why in 2022 many parties made use of direct nominations—variously dressed up as the operation of consensus or the result of mysterious “opinion polls” to identify the strongest candidate. What that really meant was an intensive process of promise-making and/or pressure to persuade some candidates to stand down. Where that did not work, and primaries still took place, the promise-making and bullying came afterwards—to stop disappointed aspirants from turning against the party and standing as independents. The consequence of all that top-down management was that the nominations saw much less open violence than in previous years.
So who won, and who lost, at the national level?
Despite all the back-room deal-making, top-down political management was not especially successful in soothing the feelings of those who did not come out holding certificates. That brings us to the big national winners and losers of the process. Odinga—and his ODM party—have come out rather bruised. They have been accused of nepotism, bribery and of ignoring local wishes. This is a particularly dangerous accusation for Odinga, as it plays into popular concerns that, following his “handshake” with President Kenyatta and his adoption as the candidate of the “establishment”, he is a “project” of wealthy and powerful individuals who wish to retain power through the backdoor after Kenyatta stands down having served two-terms in office. In the face of well-publicised claims that Odinga would be a “remote controlled president” doing the bidding of the Kenyatta family and their allies, the impression that the nominations were stage-managed from on high in an undemocratic process was the last thing Azimio needed.
Moreover, perhaps because Odinga seems to have been less active than his rival in personally intervening to mollify aggrieved local politicians, the ODM nominations process seems to have left more of a mess. That was compounded by complications in the Azimio la Umoja/One Kenya Alliance Coalition Party (we’ll call it Azimio from now on, for convenience). Where Azimio “zoned”—that is, agreed on a single candidate from all its constituent parties—disappointed aspirants complained. Where it did not zone, and agreed to let each party nominate its own candidate for governor, MP and so on, then smaller parties in the coalition complained that they would face unfair competition come the general election. That is why the leaders of some of these smaller groups such as Machakos Governor Alfred Mutua made dramatic (or theatrical, depending on your view) announcements of their decision to leave Azimio and support Ruto.
Despite all the back-room deal-making, top-down political management was not especially successful in soothing the feelings of those who did not come out holding certificates.
So Ruto looks like a nomination winner. But his success comes with a big price tag. His interventions to placate disgruntled aspirants involved more than soothing words. A new government will have lots of goodies to distribute to supporters—positions in the civil service and parastatals, diplomatic roles, not to mention business opportunities of many kinds. But the bag of goodies is not bottomless, and it seems likely that a lot of promises have been made. Ruto’s undoubted talents as an organizer and deal-maker have been useful to him through the nominations—but those deals may prove expensive for him, and for Kenya, if he wins the presidential poll.
Money, politics, and the cost of campaigns
Those who “won” by being directly nominated to their desired positions may also come to see this process as something of a double-edged sword. In the short term, many of them will have saved considerable money: depending on exactly when the deal was done, they will have been spared some days of campaign expenses—no need to fuel cars, buy airtime for bloggers, pay for t-shirts and posters, and hand out cash. But that will be a brief respite. The disappointed rivals who have gone independent will make the campaigns harder for them—and likely more expensive. The belief that they were favoured by the party machinery may mean that voter expectations are higher when it comes to handouts and donations on the campaign trail. And the fact they were nominated rather than selected by party members may undermine their grass-roots legitimacy.
Others may experience a similar delayed effect. Among the short-term losers of the nominations will have been some of the “goons” who have played a prominent physical role in previous nominations: their muscular services were largely not required (although there were exceptions). The printers of posters and t-shirts will similarly have seen a disappointing nominations period (although surely they will have received enough early orders to keep them happy, especially where uncertainty over the nomination was very prolonged). The providers of billboard advertising may have seen a little less demand than they had hoped for, although they too seem to have done quite well from selling space to aspirants who—willingly or not—did not make it to the primaries. But where the general election will be fiercely contested, entrepreneurs will likely make up any lost ground as the campaigns get going. In these cases, competition has been postponed, not avoided.
Those in less competitive wards, constituencies or counties—the kind in which one party tends to dominate in the general election—are unlikely to be able to make up for lost time. These “one-party” areas may be in shorter supply in 2022 than in the past, due to the way that the control of specific leaders and alliances over the country’s former provinces has fragmented, but there will still be some races in which it is obvious who will win, and so the campaigns will be less heated.
Those who “won” by being directly nominated to their desired positions may also come to see this process as something of a double-edged sword.
More definite losers are the parties themselves. In some ways, we could say they did well as institutions, because they were spared the embarrassment of violent primaries. But the settling of many nominations without primaries meant not collecting nomination fees from aspirants in some cases, and refunding them in others. That will have cost parties a chunk of money, which they won’t get back. That may not affect the campaigns much—the money for campaigns flows in opaque and complex ways that may not touch the parties themselves. But it will affect the finances of the parties as organizations, which are often more than a little fragile.
Are the losers actually the biggest winners?
Some losers, however, are really big winners. Think about those candidates who would not have won competitive primaries but were strong enough to be able to credibly complain that they had been hard done by due to the decision to select a rival in a direct process. In many cases, these individuals were able to extract considerable concessions in return for the promise not to contest as independents, and so disrupt their coalition’s best laid plans. This means that many of the losers—who may well have been defeated anyway—walked away with the promise of a post-election reward without the expense and bother of having to campaign up until the polls.
It is hard not to suspect that some of them might feel a little bit relieved at this out-turn. In fact, some of them may have been aiming at this all along. For those with limited resources and uncertain prospects at the ballot, the opportunity to stand down in favour of another candidate may have been pretty welcome. Instead of spending the next three months in an exhausting round of funerals, fund-raisers and rallies, constantly worrying about whether they have enough fifty (or larger) shilling notes to hand out and avoiding answering their phones, they can sit back and wait for their parastatal appointment, ambassadorship, or business opportunity.
For those with limited resources and uncertain prospects at the ballot, the opportunity to stand down in favour of another candidate may have been pretty welcome.
For these individuals, the biggest worry now is not their popularity or campaign, but simply the risk that their coalition might not win the presidential election, rendering the promises they have received worthless. Those whose wishes come true will be considerably more fortunate—and financially better off—than their colleagues who made it through the nominations but fall at the final hurdle of the general election.
Separating the winners of the nominations process from the losers may therefore be harder than it seems.
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.
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