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Dam Scams: Lessons from Uganda, Tanzania and Ghana

11 min read.

MARY SERUMAGA explains why it is important to maintain sovereignty in the management of natural resources and to carry out robust and representative feasibility and environmental impact studies on large dam projects, which tend to be shrouded in secrecy and which are often the vehicles for high-level corruption.

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Dam Scams: Lessons from Uganda, Tanzania and Ghana
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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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Mary Serumaga is a Ugandan essayist, graduated in Law from King's College, London, and attained an Msc in Intelligent Management Systems from the Southbank. Her work in civil service reform in East Africa lead to an interest in the nature of public service in Africa and the political influences under which it is delivered.

Politics

Kenya Chooses Its Next Chief Justice

The search for Kenya’s next Chief Justice that commenced Monday will seek to replace Justice David Maraga, who retired early this year, has captured the attention of the nation.

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Kenya Chooses Its Next Chief Justice
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Since Monday, the 12th of April 2021, interviews to replace retired Chief Justice David Maraga for the post of the most important jurist in Kenya and the president of the Supreme Court have been underway.

The Judiciary is one of the three State organs established under Chapter 10, Article 159 of the Constitution of Kenya. It establishes the Judiciary as an independent custodian of justice in Kenya. Its primary role is to exercise judicial authority given to it, by the people of Kenya.

The institution is mandated to deliver justice in line with the Constitution and other laws. It is expected to resolve disputes in a just manner with a view to protecting the rights and liberties of all, thereby facilitating the attainment of the ideal rule of law.

The man or woman who will take up this mantle will lead the Judiciary at a time when its independence and leadership will be paramount for the nation. He or she will be selected by the Judicial Service Commission in a competitive process.

KWAMCHETSI MAKOKHA profiles the ten candidates shortlisted by the JSC.

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Politics

IMF and SAPs 2.0: The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are Riding into Town

Stabilisation, liberalisation, deregulation, and privatisation: what do these four pillars of structural adjustment augur for Kenya’s beleaguered public health sector?

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IMF and SAPs 2.0: The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are Riding into Town
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The International Monetary Fund’s announcement on the 2nd of April 2020 that it had approved a US$ 2.3 billion loan for Kenya prompted David Ndii to spell it out to young #KOT (Kenyans on Twitter) that “the loan Kenya has taken is called a structural adjustment loan (SAPs). It comes with austerity (tax raises, spending cuts, downsizing) to keep Kenya creditworthy so that we can continue borrowing and servicing debt”, adding that the “IMF is not here for fun. Ask older people.” With this last quip, Ndii was referring to the economic hardship visited on Kenyans under the structural adjustment programmes of the 80s and 90s.

Well, I’m old enough to remember; except that I was not in the country. I had left home, left the country, leaving behind parents who were still working, still putting my siblings through school. Parents with permanent and pensionable jobs, who were still paying the mortgage on their modest “maisonette” in a middle class Nairobi neighbourhood.

In those pre-Internet, pre-WhatsApp days, much use was made of the post office and I have kept the piles of aerogramme letters that used to bring me news of home. In those letters my parents said nothing of the deteriorating economic situation, unwilling to burden me with worries about which I could do nothing, keeping body and soul together being just about all I could manage in that foreign land where I had gone to further my education.

My brother Tony’s letters should have warned me that all was not well back home but he wrote so hilariously about the status conferred on those men who could afford second-hand underwear from America, complete with stars and stripes, that the sub-text went right over my head. I came back home for the first time after five years — having left college and found a first job — to find parents that had visibly aged beyond their years and a home that was palpably less well-off financially than when I had left. I’m a Kicomi girl and something in me rebelled against second-hand clothes, second-hand things. It seemed that in my absence Kenya had regressed to the time before independence, the years of hope and optimism wiped away by the neoliberal designs of the Bretton Woods twins. I remember wanting to flee; I wanted to go back to not knowing, to finding my family exactly as I had left it — seemingly thriving, happy, hopeful.

Now, after eight years of irresponsible government borrowing, it appears that I am to experience the effects of a Structural Adjustment Programme first-hand, and I wonder how things could possibly be worse than they already are.

When speaking to Nancy* a couple of weeks back about the COVID-19 situation at the Nyahururu County Referral Hospital in Laikipia County, she brought up the issue of pregnant women having to share beds in the maternity ward yet — quite apart from the fact that this arrangement is unacceptable whichever way you look at it — patients admitted to the ward are not routinely tested for COVID-19.

Nancy told me that candidates for emergency caesarean sections or surgery for ectopic and intra-abdominal pregnancies must wait their turn at the door to the operating theatre. Construction of a new maternity wing, complete with its own operating theatre, has ground to a halt because, rumour has it, the contractor has not been paid. The 120-bed facility should have been completed in mid-2020 to ease congestion at the Nyahururu hospital whose catchment area for referrals includes large swathes of both Nyandarua and Laikipia counties because of its geographical location.

According to Nancy, vital medicine used to prevent excessive bleeding in newly delivered mothers has not been available at her hospital since January; patients have to buy the medication themselves. This issue was also raised on Twitter by Dr Mercy Korir who, referring to the Nanyuki Teaching and Referral Hospital — the only other major hospital in Laikipia County — said that lack of emergency medication in the maternity ward was putting the lives of mothers at risk. Judging by the responses to that tweet, this dire situation is not peculiar to the Nanyuki hospital; how much worse is it going to get under the imminent SAP?

Kenya was among the first countries to sign on for a SAP in 1980 when commodity prices went through the floor and the 1973 oil crisis hit, bringing to a painful halt a post-independence decade of sustained growth and prosperity. The country was to remain under one form of structural adjustment or another from then on until 1996.

Damaris Parsitau, who has written about the impact of Structural Adjustment Programmes on women’s health in Kenya, already reported in her 2008 study that, “at Nakuru District Hospital in Kenya, for example, expectant mothers are required to buy gloves, surgical blades, disinfectants and syringes in preparation for childbirth”. It would appear that not much has changed since then.

The constitution of the World Health Organisation states that “the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health is one of the fundamental rights of every human being without distinction of race, religion, political belief, economic or social condition” and that “governments have a responsibility for the health of their peoples which can be fulfilled only by the provision of adequate health and social measures.”

The WHO should have added gender as a discrimination criteria. Parsitau notes that “compared to men, women in Kenya have less access to medical care, are more likely to be malnourished, poor, and illiterate, and even work longer and harder. The situation exacerbates women’s reproductive role, which increases their vulnerability to morbidity and mortality.”

With economic decline in the 80s, and the implementation of structural adjustment measures that resulted in cutbacks in funding and the introduction of cost sharing in a sector where from independence the government had borne the cost of providing free healthcare, the effects were inevitably felt most by the poor, the majority of who — in Kenya as in the rest of the world — are women.

A more recent review of studies carried out on the effect of SAPs on child and maternal health published in 2017 finds that “in their current form, structural adjustment programmes are incongruous with achieving SDGs [Sustainable Development Goals] 3.1 and 3.2, which stipulate reductions in neonatal, under-5, and maternal mortality rates. It is telling that even the IMF’s Independent Evaluation Office, in assessing the performance of structural adjustment loans, noted that ‘outcomes such as maternal and infant mortality rates have generally not improved.’”

The review also says that “adjustment programmes commonly promote decentralisation of health systems [which] may produce a more fractious and unequal implementation of services — including those for child and maternal health — nationally. Furthermore, lack of co-ordination in decentralised systems can hinder efforts to combat major disease outbreaks”. Well, we are in the throes of a devastating global pandemic which has brought this observation into sharp relief. According to the Ministry of Health, as of the 6th of April, 325,592 people had been vaccinated against COVID-19. Of those, 33 per cent were in Nairobi County, which accounts for just 9.2 per cent of the country’s total population of 47,564,296 people.

The Constitution of Kenya 2010 provides the legal framework for a rights-based approach to health and is the basis for the rollout of Universal Health Coverage (UHC) that was announced by President Uhuru Kenyatta on 12 December 2018 — with the customary fanfare — as part of the “Big Four Agenda” to be fulfilled before his departure in 2022.

However, a KEMRI-Wellcome Trust policy brief states that UHC is still some distance to achieving 100 per cent population coverage and recommends that “the Kenyan government should increase public financing of the health sector. Specifically, the level of public funding for healthcare in Kenya should double, if the threshold (5% of GDP) … is to be reached” and that “Kenya should reorient its health financing strategy away from a focus on contributory, voluntary health insurance, and instead recognize that increased tax funding is critical.”

These recommendations, it would seem to me, run counter to the conditionalities habitually imposed by the IMF and it is therefore not clear how the government will deliver UHC nation-wide by next year if this latest SAP is accompanied by budgetary cutbacks in the healthcare sector.

With the coronavirus graft scandal and the disappearance of medical supplies donated by Jack Ma still fresh on their minds, Kenyans are not inclined to believe that the IMF billions will indeed go to “support[ing] the next phase of the authorities’ COVID-19 response and their plan to reduce debt vulnerabilities while safeguarding resources to protect vulnerable groups”, as the IMF has claimed.

#KOT have — with outrage, with humour, vociferously — rejected this latest loan, tweeting the IMF in their hundreds and inundating the organisation’s Facebook page with demands that the IMF rescind its decision. An online petition had garnered more than 200,000 signatures within days of the IMF’s announcement. Whether the IMF will review its decision is moot. The prevailing economic climate is such that we are damned if we do take the loan, and damned if we don’t.

Structural adjustment supposedly “encourages countries to become economically self-sufficient by creating an environment that is friendly to innovation, investment and growth”, but the recidivist nature of the programmes suggests that either the Kenyan government is a recalcitrant pupil or SAPs simply don’t work. I would say it is both.

But the Kenyan government has not just been a recalcitrant pupil; it has also been a consistently profligate one. While SAPs do indeed provide for “safeguarding resources to protect vulnerable groups”, political choices are made that sacrifice the welfare of the ordinary Kenyan at the altar of grandiose infrastructure projects, based on the fiction peddled by international financial institutions that infrastructure-led growth can generate enough income to service debt. And when resources are not being wasted on “legacy” projects, they are embezzled on a scale that literally boggles the mind. We can no longer speak of runaway corruption; a new lexicon is required to describe this phenomenon which pervades every facet of our lives and which has rendered the years of sacrifice our parents endured meaningless and put us in debt bondage for many more generations to come. David Ndii long warned us that this moment was coming. It is here.

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Politics

East Africa: A ‘Hotbed of Terror’

African states are involved in the War on Terror more than we think. They’re surrounded by an eco-system of the war industry.

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In late January, reports circulated on social media about a suspected US drone strike in southern Somalia, in the Al-Shabaab controlled Ma’moodow town in Bakool province. Debate quickly ensued on Twitter about whether the newly installed Biden administration was responsible for this strike, which was reported to have occurred at 10 p.m. local time on January 29th, 2021.

Southern Somalia has been the target of an unprecedented escalation of US drone strikes in the last several years, with approximately 900 to 1,000 people killed between 2016 and 2019. According to the nonprofit group Airwars, which monitors and assesses civilian harm from airpower-dominated international military actions, “it was under the Obama administration that a significant US drone and airstrike campaign began,” coupled with the deployment of Special Operations forces inside the country.

Soon after Donald Trump took office in 2017, he signed a directive designating parts of Somalia “areas of active hostilities.” While the US never formally declared war in Somalia, Trump effectively instituted war-zone targeting rules by expanding the discretionary authority of the military to conduct airstrikes and raids. Thus the debate over the January 29 strike largely hinged on the question of whether President Joe Biden was upholding Trump’s “flexible” approach to drone warfare―one that sanctioned more airstrikes in Somalia in the first seven months of 2020 than were carried out during the administrations of George W. Bush and Barack Obama, combined.

In the days following the January 29 strike, the US Military’s Africa Command (AFRICOM) denied responsibility, claiming that the last US military action in Somalia occurred on January 19, the last full day of the Trump presidency. Responding to an inquiry from Airwars, AFRICOM’s public affairs team announced:

We are aware of the reporting. US Africa Command was not involved in the Jan. 29 action referenced below. US Africa Command last strike was conducted on Jan. 19. Our policy of acknowledging all airstrikes by either press release or response to query has not changed.

In early March, The New York Times reported that the Biden administration had in fact imposed temporary limits on the Trump-era directives, thereby constraining drone strikes outside of “conventional battlefield zones.” In practice, this means that the US military and the CIA now require White House permission to pursue terror suspects in places like Somalia and Yemen where the US is not “officially” at war. This does not necessarily reflect a permanent change in policy, but rather a stopgap measure while the Biden administration develops “its own policy and procedures for counterterrorism kill-or-capture operations outside war zones.”

If we take AFRICOM at its word about January 29th, this provokes the question of who was behind that particular strike. Following AFRICOM’s denial of responsibility, analysts at Airwars concluded that the strike was likely carried out by forces from the African Union peacekeeping mission in Somali (AMISOM) or by Ethiopian troops, as it occurred soon after Al-Shabaab fighters had ambushed a contingent of Ethiopian troops in the area. If indeed the military of an African state is responsible for the bombing, what does this mean for our analysis of the security assemblages that sustain the US’s war-making apparatus in Africa?

Thanks to the work of scholars, activists, and investigative journalists, we have a growing understanding of what AFRICOM operations look like in practice. Maps of logistics hubs, forward operating sites, cooperative security locations, and contingency locations―from Mali and Niger to Kenya and Djibouti―capture the infrastructures that facilitate militarism and war on a global scale. Yet what the events of January 29th suggest is that AFRICOM is situated within, and often reliant upon, less scrutinized war-making infrastructures that, like those of the United States, claim to operate in the name of security.

A careful examination of the geographies of the US’s so-called war on terror in East Africa points not to one unified structure in the form of AFRICOM, but to multiple, interconnected geopolitical projects. Inspired by the abolitionist thought of Ruth Wilson Gilmore, who cautions activists against focusing exclusively on any one site of violent exception like the prison, I am interested in the relational geographies that sustain the imperial war-making infrastructure in Africa today. Just as the modern prison is “a central but by no means singularly defining institution of carceral geography,” AFRICOM is a fundamental but by no means singularly defining instrument of war-making in Africa today.

Since the US military’s embarrassing exit from Somalia in 1993, the US has shifted from a boots-on-the ground approach to imperial warfare, instead relying on African militaries, private contractors, clandestine ground operations, and drone strikes. To singularly focus on AFRICOM’s drone warfare is therefore to miss the wider matrix of militarized violence that is at work. As Madiha Tahir reminds us, attack drones are only the most visible element of what she refers to as “distributed empire”—differentially distributed opaque networks of technologies and actors that augment the reach of the war on terror to govern more bodies and spaces. This dispersal of power requires careful consideration of the racialized labor that sustains war-making in Somalia, and of the geographical implications of this labor. The vast array of actors involved in the war against Al-Shabaab has generated political and economic entanglements that extend well beyond the territory of Somalia itself.

Ethiopia was the first African military to intervene in Somalia in December 2006, sending thousands of troops across the border, but it did not do so alone. Ethiopia’s effort was backed by US aerial reconnaissance and satellite surveillance, signaling the entanglement of at least two geopolitical projects. While the US was focused on threats from actors with alleged ties to Al-Qaeda, Ethiopia had its own concerns about irredentism and the potential for its then-rival Eritrea to fund Somali militants that would infiltrate and destabilize Ethiopia. As Ethiopian troops drove Somali militant leaders into exile, more violent factions emerged in their place. In short, the 2006 invasion planted the seeds for the growth of what is now known as Al-Shabaab.

The United Nations soon authorized an African Union peacekeeping operation (AMISOM) to “stabilize” Somalia. What began as a small deployment of 1,650 peacekeepers in 2007 gradually transformed into a number that exceeded 22,000 by 2014. The African Union has emerged as a key subcontractor of migrant military labor in Somalia: troops from Burundi, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Uganda deployed to fight Al-Shabaab are paid significantly higher salaries than they receive back home, and their governments obtain generous military aid packages from the US, UK, and increasingly the European Union in the name of “security.”

But because these are African troops rather than American ones, we hear little of lives lost, or of salaries not paid. The rhetoric of “peacekeeping” makes AMISOM seem something other than what it is in practice—a state-sanctioned, transnational apparatus of violent labor that exploits group-differentiated vulnerability to premature death. (This is also how Gilmore defines racism.)

Meanwhile, Somali analyst Abukar Arman uses the term “predatory capitalism” to describe the hidden economic deals that accompany the so-called stabilization effort, such as “capacity-building” programs for the Somali security apparatus that serve as a cover for oil and gas companies to obtain exploration and drilling rights. Kenya is an important example of a “partner” state that has now become imbricated in this economy of war. Following the Kenya Defense Forces (KDF) invasion of Somalia in October 2011, the African Union’s readiness to incorporate Kenyan troops into AMISOM was a strategic victory for Kenya, as it provided a veneer of legitimacy for maintaining what has amounted to a decade-long military occupation of southern Somalia.

Through carefully constructed discourses of threat that build on colonial-era mappings of alterity in relation to Somalis, the Kenyan political elite have worked to divert attention away from internal troubles and from the economic interests that have shaped its involvement in Somalia. From collusion with Al-Shabaab in the illicit cross-border trade in sugar and charcoal, to pursuing a strategic foothold in offshore oil fields, Kenya is sufficiently ensnared in the business of war that, as Horace Campbell observes, “it is not in the interest of those involved in this business to have peace.”

What began as purportedly targeted interventions spawned increasingly broader projects that expanded across multiple geographies. In the early stages of AMISOM troop deployment, for example, one-third of Mogadishu’s population abandoned the city due to the violence caused by confrontations between the mission and Al-Shabaab forces, with many seeking refuge in Kenya. While the mission’s initial rules of engagement permitted the use of force only when necessary, it gradually assumed an offensive role, engaging in counterinsurgency and counterterror operations.

Rather than weaken Al-Shabaab, the UN Monitoring Group on Somalia observed that offensive military operations exacerbated insecurity. According to the UN, the dislodgment of Al-Shabaab from major urban centers “has prompted its further spread into the broader Horn of Africa region” and resulted in repeated displacements of people from their homes. Meanwhile, targeted operations against individuals with suspected ties to Al-Shabaab are unfolding not only in Somalia itself, but equally in neighboring countries like Kenya, where US-trained Kenyan police employ military tactics of tracking and targeting potential suspects, contributing to what one Kenyan rights group referred to as an “epidemic” of extrajudicial killings and disappearances.

Finally, the fact that some of AMISOM’s troop-contributing states have conducted their own aerial assaults against Al-Shabaab in Somalia demands further attention. A December 2017 United Nations report, for example, alleged that unauthorized Kenyan airstrikes had contributed to at least 40 civilian deaths in a 22-month period between 2015 and 2017. In May 2020, senior military officials in the Somali National Army accused the Kenyan military of indiscriminately bombing pastoralists in the Gedo region, where the KDF reportedly conducted over 50 airstrikes in a two week period. And in January 2021, one week prior to the January 29 strike that Airwars ascribed to Ethiopia, Uganda employed its own fleet of helicopter gunships to launch a simultaneous ground and air assault in southern Somalia, contributing to the deaths—according to the Ugandan military—of 189 people, allegedly all Al-Shabaab fighters.

While each of the governments in question are formally allies of the US, their actions are not reducible to US directives. War making in Somalia relies on contingent and fluid alliances that evolve over time, as each set of actors evaluates and reevaluates their interests. The ability of Ethiopia, Kenya, and Uganda to maintain their own war-making projects requires the active or tacit collaboration of various actors at the national level, including politicians who sanction the purchase of military hardware, political and business elite who glorify militarized masculinities and femininities, media houses that censor the brutalities of war, logistics companies that facilitate the movement of supplies, and the troops themselves, whose morale and faith in their mission must be sustained.

As the Biden administration seeks to restore the image of the United States abroad, it is possible that AFRICOM will gradually assume a backseat role in counterterror operations in Somalia. Officially, at least, US troops have been withdrawn and repositioned in Kenya and Djibouti, while African troops remain on the ground in Somalia. Relying more heavily on its partners in the region would enable the US to offset the public scrutiny and liability that comes with its own direct involvement.

But if our focus is exclusively on the US, then we succumb to its tactics of invisibility and invincibility, and we fail to reckon with the reality that the East African warscape is a terrain shaped by interconnected modes of power. The necessary struggle to abolish AFRICOM requires that we recognize its entanglement in and reliance upon other war-making assemblages, and that we distribute our activism accordingly. Recounting that resistance itself has long been framed as “terrorism,” we would do well to learn from those across the continent who, in various ways over the years, have pushed back, often at a heavy price.

This post is from a partnership between Africa Is a Country and The Elephant. We will be publishing a series of posts from their site once a week.
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