Murchison Falls will always be under threat from developers, if the trajectory of Stiegler’s Gorge Dam in Selous Game Reserve in Tanzania is anything to go by. Since it was explored in 1902 by Stiegler, the pressure to build a dam on River Rufiji has been massive and unrelenting. Both Stiegler’s Gorge and Murchison Falls on the Nile are World Heritage Sites, a designation proving insufficient to preserve them. Work on Stiegler’s Dam began in 2019, more than a century after it was first mooted.
Downstream from Stiegler’s Rock are the Rufiji plains, a farming area prone to seasonal flooding. The floods carry and distribute nutrients and are essential to the fertility of the soil and the survival of the algae in the wetlands. Another economic enterprise carried out there is fishing. The 150,000 dwellers of the area depend on the seasonal flooding for their livelihood, something a dam would change.
Twenty-seven environmental impact assessments (EIAs) of the potential effect of inundating the Rufiji Basin in the Selous Game Reserve had been carried out by 1980. Many warned of salination of the basin with adverse effects on downstream agriculture, prawn fishing and the Rufiji Basin’s ecology.
Like the proposed Stiegler’s Gorge project of the 1970s, Uganda’s dams produce power that exceeds consumption capacity. There is an argument for creating capacity – while only 28 per cent of Ugandans are connected to the grid, the Ministry for Energy says demand grows by 10 per cent every year. But this does not explain why alternative sources of power are not considered. The cost of installing capacity to generate power has to be paid out of revenues that would otherwise be used for other services. For example, expenditure on healthcare was $12 per head in 2016, short of the $17 as per the Health Sector Plan and the $28 needed to secure the National Minimum Healthcare Package.
Yet on 8 December 2019 the Secretary to the Treasury explained to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that following the commissioning of Isimba Dam in April 2019, which adds 183MW, the total installed capacity is now 1200MW while peak consumption is only 600MW. An extra 600MW will be added when Karuma Dam is commissioned in early 2020.
Uganda’s dams produce power that exceeds consumption capacity. There is an argument for creating capacity – while only 28 per cent of Ugandans are connected to the grid, the Ministry for Energy says demand grows by 10 per cent every year.
The Rufiji Basin Project, as reviewed by Kjell J. Havnevik in his book Tanzania: The Limits to Development from Above, provides an interesting insight into the politics of the decision-making process in building dams. The review shows that there were many opposing views. To manage the process, Tanzania appointed an implementing authority, the Rufiji Basin Development Authority (RUBADA), which was tasked with coordinating the consultants studying various aspects of the project, the donors funding the study and the parent ministry.
Tanzanian institutions, including the University of Dar es Salaam, were unable for various reasons to have a major input. Once seen by some donors (including a faction of NORAD) as an important source of expertise in identifying and assessing environmental impact issues, they became marginalised after failing to reach agreement among themselves about whose interests the EIAs should serve and how to prioritise them.
The World Bank let it be known that they were not likely to fund a project based on a single development goal i.e. power generation. Other aspects of the Rufiji Basin development then came under review: transformation from flood-fed farming to irrigation; fishing; and ecological needs. Coming as an afterthought, some lacked depth. Even though the net benefits of building the dam to control River Rufiji floods were found to be marginal by Norplan, the Hafslund Report (commissioned to integrate previous reports and incorporate environmental studies) gave the primary justification of the dam as enabling Tanzania to cover the costs of irrigation and flood control projects in the Rufiji Basin.
NORAD eventually came to the conclusion that Dar es Salaam University and their nemeses in other institutions would not be able to deliver and so most of the funds available for the assessment were spent on external consultants with local scholars carrying out minor assignments. Havnevik states that those opposed to the development tended not to be invited to participate. Although Dar es Salaam University professors were allowed to attend discussions between the Ministry of Water, RUBADA, NORAD and Hafslund to discuss the latter’s preliminary report, they were asked to leave when critical matters were on the agenda.
RUBADA itself was not entirely independent; NORAD insisted the assistant to the Secretary General be replaced as he was deemed not to have sufficient political backing and to have developed a negative attitude to the planning of the project.
The multi-purpose development goals for the Rufiji Basin had been ignored, Havnevik tells us, in 1972 when Norconsult prepared a single-purpose preliminary project for the hydropower station. That being so, the technical specifications of the physical dam took precedence over environmental, community and other concerns. The higher above sea level the point of flow regulation, and the lower the unit cost of power generated led Norconsult to recommend that the dam be located at Stiegler’s Gorge. At the time there was no market for the 620MW to be generated at Rufiji and so the project recommended that power-consuming industries be built.
The Murchison Falls project
In the case of Murchison Falls, there is no multi-disciplinary coordinating committee or any known committee representing all stakeholders. The Ugandan government abdicated its responsibility towards the environment, the communities downstream and upstream, as well as the greater population when it announced that the issue would be decided by a feasibility study by potential foreign investors.
The terms of the Norconsult/Bonang Murchison Falls feasibility study have not been made public. If, like Norconsult’s Rufiji Basin study, as described by Havnevik, it is a single-purpose study commissioned to test the technical and financial feasibility of the structure without considering multi-purpose development goals, such as agriculture and fishing, environmental, tourism and heritage matters, it will not have addressed the issues most important to the tens of thousands who have signed petitions since the controversy began.
Another risk is that data required for a feasibility study that includes a comprehensive EIA may simply not be available within the time frame, which is also unknown. Uganda does not lack the expertise to carry out an EIA – Makerere University teaches conservation studies and tourism. Their voice has not been heard in the current controversy. The National Environmental Protection Agency is similarly silent.
The Ugandan government abdicated its responsibility towards the environment, the communities downstream and upstream, as well as the greater population when it announced that the issue would be decided by a feasibility study by potential foreign investors.
The Uganda Wildlife Authority and various travel operator associations are fighting their corner, mainly by awareness raising. Murchison Falls is Uganda’s most visited of the country’s twelve national parks – 32 per cent of visitors see the Falls. Earnings from tourism are 23 per cent of exports (more than doubling between 2008 and 2015, from $540 million in 2008 to $1,366 million (Ushs.3,549.3 billion) in 2014/2015. The direct contribution of tourism to GDP in 2017 was Ushs.2,699.1 billion (2.9 per cent of GDP) while the total contribution, including wider effects from investment, the supply chain and induced income impacts, was Ushs.6,888.5 billion in 2017 (7.3 per cent of GDP), up from Ushs.6, 171.5 billion in 2016 (Budget Framework Paper 2017).
Conservation and environmental issues
The complexity involved in carrying out industrial developments without disturbing the ecosystem requires extraordinary expertise. Dr Eve Abe, a noted ethnologist working in the UK as a wildlife management consultant, had not been consulted or asked to join a coordinating committee by the time of writing. Dr Abe spent years residing in Queen Elizabeth National Park studying elephants where the elephant population had fallen from 4,000 to 150 (see My Elephants and My People by Eve Lawino Abe, 2008). Across the continent the elephant population stood at 415,000 in 2016, having fallen by 111,000 in the previous period. In the 1930s Africa’s elephant population was ten million.
In her ground-breaking doctoral thesis (Cambridge, 1994) Dr Abe identified a parallel between the destruction of the human family unit and its habitat in her native Acoli. The destruction of elephants and their habitats has happened all over Africa, but is particularly acute in northern Uganda.
It was Dr Abe who first posited a causal relationship between this type of destruction and globally increasing instances of human-elephant conflict (HEC). HEC has been a problem in Uganda. Previously it was thought HEC was driven solely by encroachment on feeding and foraging territory. However, in Queen Elizabeth National Park, the population had fallen yet food for the elephants was abundant. (Incidentally, Stiegler was killed in an HEC incident in 1907 during a hydropower feasibility study.)
Dr Abe observed that elephants live in family groups and maintain stable relationships for most of their seventy years. Elephants mourn and bury their dead. Poaching in 1980s Uganda (often mass killings using grenades) and other encroachments destroyed those units and displaced the animals, leading to displacement and dysfunction among individuals.
Dr Abe’s work informed later research into the effects of trauma on elephant culture and elephants, which now includes M.R.I. scans of elephant brains, which was first done in 2008. Those scans have in fact revealed physical changes in the brains of traumatised animals and new conservation interventions take into account animal trauma caused by humans.
There is an additional risk that increased human activity and road-building in preparation for oil exploration in Murchison Falls National Park and the planned hydroelectric dam on the Falls will make the animals vulnerable to poaching. A cache of smuggled ivory seized by the Revenue Authority in January represented an estimated 325 elephants.
A third risk is human-to-animal transmission of parasites, an area that has been studied by the multiple award-winning wildlife veterinarian (Uganda’s first), Dr Gladys Kalema Zikusoka. She is best known for a pioneering translocation of gorillas to save them from poaching. She is also a winner of the prestigious Whitley Prize. Her approach to healthy co-existence is to invest in promoting and maintaining healthy human populations. By marketing the Arabica coffee grown by the surrounding community, she and her organisation, Conservation Through Public Health, help boost the income of the community, enabling them to gain access to healthcare and other services.
Dr Abe observed that elephants live in family groups and maintain stable relationships for most of their seventy years. Elephants mourn and bury their dead. Poaching in 1980s Uganda…and other encroachments destroyed those units and displaced the animals, leading to displacement and dysfunction among individuals.
There is a real danger that independent experts on conservation and fields outside power generation may have been excluded from the Murchison Falls feasibility study. Because the consortium led by Bonang Energy, Norconsult and JSC Institute Hydro project has offered its services for free, the extent to which the Government of Uganda can influence the scope of the terms of reference is debatable. Even if the government were to commission the study, the lead firm lacks the expertise, its experience being in road-building and maintenance and housing construction. The experience of Ernest Moloi, the proprietor of Bonang Energy who also owns Moseme Road Construction (PTY), appears to be limited to minor road construction and maintenance and property development. According to Forbes Africa, it was to seek openings in these two areas that he first came to Uganda.
Uganda is institutionally vulnerable to corruption
The broader governance issues were made clear in 2011 when Norconsult was sanctioned for corruptly obtaining the Dar es Salaam Water and Sanitation (Dawasa) project in Tanzania. The Integrity Vice President of the World Bank, Leonard McCarthy, stated then: “What we are trying to do here is examine the key intersections between corruption risk, organized crime and money laundering on the one hand and the institutional vulnerability in developing countries on the other. This work will be a critical input to the governance and anti-corruption work that the World Bank is focusing on in the post-crisis world.”
Does the current Ugandan administration have the will and the capacity to insulate the decision-making process from corruption and organised crime? Nobody will deny that in 2019 the risk of corruption and money laundering is high in Uganda. An indicator of the level of institutional failure is the fact that investors (both local and foreign) only seem to be assured of success after gaining access to the head of state. In the past few weeks the State House Anti-Corruption Unit has announced a crackdown on brokers who charge fees to arrange meetings with the president. Moloi has had face time with the President Museveni.
Given their past involvement in corruption in weak control environments in Tanzania and NW Province South Africa, there is no basis to expect an impartial report from Messrs Norconsult and Bonang Energy. To invite them to undertake work that threatens the ecosystem of Murchison Falls is indicative of the impunity with which the NRM government now operates.
In a statement calling for the protection of the Falls, the Africa Institute for Energy Governance says: “The company could be a front for corrupt officials who have caused loss of taxpayers’ money, have caused untold suffering to Ugandans and have degraded the environment.” Bonang has pulled down its website and currently has no online presence but earlier sightings revealed that it has no track record in hydropower construction or engineering.
Because the consortium led by Bonang Energy, Norconsult and JSC Institute Hydro project has offered its services for free, the extent to which the Government of Uganda can influence the scope of the terms of reference is debatable.
Moseme Road Construction was cited by North West Provincial Government of South Africa for being improperly awarded a contract and was ordered off the site in 2011. A 2016 gazette notice shows Moseme Properties and one Ernest Moloi were defendants to a suit filed by their creditors, Standard Chartered Bank for non-payment of a loan.
Three employees of Norconsult were prosecuted by Økokrim, the Norwegian National Authority for Investigation and Prosecution of Economic and Environmental Crime on charges of bribery in connection with the $6.7 million Dar es Salaam Water Supply and Sanitation Project (Dawasa). Irregular payments of $146,000 were found to have been made in connection with Dawasa.
Norconsult Tanzania Limited was convicted and pulled out of Tanzania after an audit revealed $332 million in irregular payments – they reversed that decision almost immediately. According to Corpwatch (25 March 2008), the subsidiary was established in Tanzania in 1998 but never registered with the companies registrar, Brela. Still, the World Bank and Norway awarded them six road projects worth over $100 billion. They were all terminated by Tanroads in 2008.
A parallel investigation by Tanzanian authorities found that Norconsult had not filed tax returns nor paid taxes between 2002 and 2007. It was believed these irregularities could only have been made possible by bribery using the equivalent of $68,257 (Swedish Krona 650,000) expenditure not supported by the required documentation (Corpwatch).
While the local MD was asked to step down, the firm stood by three Norwegian employees. They were eventually charged in Sweden along with Norconsult. However, the firm was acquitted and one employee had his conviction overturned by the Supreme Court. Two were convicted and one was jailed. The decision was partly based on technical grounds concerning the length of time it took to prosecute the case and the fact that the World Bank had already imposed sanctions (Implementing the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention Phase 4 Report).
The politics of dam financing
The Murchison Falls Project is likely to be further complicated by options for financing. Most likely the financing will be sourced externally. Borrowing from China could jeopardise Uganda’s ownership of the national park and surrounding areas.
There are other possibilities. In 2017 Ghana exchanged 5 per cent of the country’s bauxite deposits for $10 billion worth of railway, roads and bridge development. The Ayensu, Densu and Birim Rivers have their source in the Atewa Forest Reserve and provide drinking water for five million people. A hundred wildlife species face extinction.
In the past, the viability of hydroelectric dams has been guaranteed by building industries that consume most of the power. Ghana’s Akasombo Dam on the Volta River also required a large, regular primary consumer of the power it was to generate. It was decided an aluminium plant would be built alongside the dam. The Volta River Basin was rich in bauxite, the raw material, as are many African rivers. Aluminium processing is the most power-consuming industrial process (International Rivers).
Ghana had 80 per cent of the funds (earned from the cocoa boom) and needed to borrow the balance as well as to finance the power-consuming industry. Negotiations opened in the White House when President Nkrumah requested President Eisenhower to introduce him to the well-known aluminium entrepreneur Henry Kaiser.
The most important lesson to be drawn from the Akasombo experience is the geopolitical one. The relationship was threatened by Nkrumah’s apparent leaning towards the U.S.S.R. in the UN General Assembly. At one point he was warned by Kaiser that if he sought financial assistance from the Soviet Union for any other projects, the Akasombo deal would be off.
Similar circumstances had bedevilled Egypt’s Aswan Dam. After the relationship between Egypt and the United States soured, President Nasser financed the Aswan Dam with money from the U.S.S.R. Although Nkrumah was an irritant to the American administration and their withdrawal from Akasombo was discussed many times, they eventually funded the project fearing further Russian encroachment on their sphere of influence.
The most important lesson to be drawn from the Akasombo experience is the geopolitical one. The relationship was threatened by Nkrumah’s apparent leaning towards the U.S.S.R. in the UN General Assembly. At one point he was warned by Kaiser that if he sought financial assistance from the Soviet Union for any other projects, the Akasombo deal would be off.
The contract was awarded to Volta Aluminium Company (Valco), a joint venture between the Ghanaian government and Kaiser Aluminium & Chemical Corporation; the latter had a 90 per cent shareholding. Valco was guaranteed 70 per cent of the power generated. According to International Rivers, most of Africa’s aluminium smelters consume most of the hydroelectricity generated and pay the lowest tariffs. It will be interesting to see if similar guarantees of supply at fixed low tariffs are offered to investors in the Murchison Falls Project feasibility report.
Akasombo offers other lessons in the importance of maintaining sovereignty in the management of natural resources and carrying out strong representative feasibility studies. Valco was meant to mine aluminium close to the dam, smelt it in Ghana and export the finished product. It turned out that Valco exported raw bauxite for the first five years. In the 21st century, they resisted attempts to increase the tariffs set in the 1950s and were paying less than Ghanaian domestic consumers.
Valco eventually sold its interest without clearing over $140 million it owed in taxes, claiming tax exemption. Meanwhile, Akasombo has recently suffered from falling water levels, which has forced up the domestic unit cost of the power (which has to be supplemented by fuel-driven generators), an outcome predicted by a minority voice in the 1950s.
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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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