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Who Hogged the Land? The Farmers Choice vs Uplands Saga

11 min read.

The story of how the defunct Uplands Bacon factory lost its land to Farmers Choice is a sad case of how the Moi government was either unable or unwilling to protect lucrative subsectors of the economy. Now, despite an NLC order, Farmers Choice has refused to hand back the land to pig farmers in Kiambu County.

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Who Hogged the Land? The Farmers Choice vs. Uplands Saga
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A meat processing company associated with one of the top media investors in Kenya has continued to sit on hundreds of acres of land previously owned by a defunct pork processing firm in Lari sub-county in Kiambu despite been ordered to surrender it to the Kiambu County government by the National Land Commission.

The National Lands Commission (NLC) ordered Farmers Choice Ltd to surrender the land and the factory built on it on March 1st, after a determined group of Lari residents took up the matter with the NLC through the Kiambu County government. The group managed to have the county government place a claim to the Commission in late 2018 for the return of 240 acres of the land previously owned by the defunct Uplands Bacon Factory Ltd.

It was then that the NLC placed the trusteeship of the land to the Kiambu County government. NLC’s decision is contained in a Kenya Gazette Notice No. 1/03/2019 and states, among other things, that the land “is not available for any allocation now or in the future.”

After being approached by the group of six residents behind the claim, the Kiambu County government wrote to NLC on September 26, 2018, demanding a return of the land. Later, NLC made a public announcement asking all claimants to make their claims known in a meeting it held in Thika Town Hall. However, Farmers Choice did not send its representatives to the meeting, which enabled NLC to hand the land to the county government. But since then, the company has continued to sit on the land and to operate a pig rearing and feed processing concern under the name Rosemark Ltd.

However, Farmers Choice says that it owns the land. In a telephone interview with The Elephant, Iain Gibson, the Deputy Managing Director, said the company has a title for the land. “We have a legal claim to the land,” he said. Unconfirmed reports say that the company claims to have a 90-year lease, which was raised to 140 years, which is unheard of in Kenya.

After being approached by the group of six residents behind the claim, the Kiambu County government wrote to NLC on September 26, 2018, demanding a return of the land. Later, NLC made a public announcement asking all claimants to make their claims known in a meeting it held in Thika Town Hall.

But this is disputed by Muhoho Francis, a University of Nairobi don and one of the six people who started the process of reclaiming the land. “We have documentary evidence to prove that Farmers Choice does not legally own the land,” he said.

Muhoho’s group, which first met to put in place the land recovery plan on September 3, 2018, made a formal search of the property at the Lands Registry in the Ministry of Lands. According to the search documents, Farmers Choice is not registered as the owner of the land. The documents show that the land was initially allocated to East African Estates Ltd of London in 1906, with the allocation been formalised on May 29, 1958 through a 999-year lease (which was automatically reduced to 99 years following the inauguration of the Constitution in 2010) and with an annual rent of Sh200.

Besides the search documents, a number of ex-officials of the defunct company – who constitute the group of six – provided other documents and vital information on how the land was illegally given out to a wheeler-dealer during the reign of former President Daniel Moi; how the farmers’ company was deliberately killed by the Moi government, and how Farmers Choice Ltd took it over.

The documents show that Lari’s potential for pig rearing was identified more than 100 years ago. Later, the East African Meat Products, the holding company of Uplands Bacon Factory, started operating on the land. The company was allocated the biggest proportion of the land. A small portion of the land was allocated to the East African Power and Lighting Company and for water easement.

A downward spiral

Founded in 1980, Farmers Choice is the top processor and marketer of fresh and processed pork products in Kenya. The company, whose main processing plant is in Kahawa West, Nairobi, produces pork and beef sausages, bacon, ham, as well as pet food. It was acquired by Lornho in March 1989 and changed hands again in 2000 in a move that saw it diversify its products and expand its market to Uganda, Tanzania, Zanzibar, Ethiopia, Muscat, Ghana, Nigeria, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates.

The company appears to have operated in relative calm during the reign of Daniel Arap Moi. This was the time when a lot of concerns, including banks and construction companies belonging to tycoons in Central Kenya, started going under. At the same time, key sub-sectors, such as tea, coffee, milk and tea, also suffered a similar fate at the hands of main operatives in the Moi government, some of whom ganged up with international wheeler-dealers and conmen.

Uplands Bacon was not spared this fate. The Elephant has learned from ex-officials of the defunct company that Uplands Bacon started going on a downwards spiral when Moi appointed a former Intelligence Deputy Director, Stephen Mureithi, to manage it. But Mureithi, who was spectacularly unsuited to run a meat processor, left after six months.

Since then, matters for a company that exported pig and other products to many countries in Africa, Europe and the Middle East went from bad to worse until it collapsed in 1985. Its death became imminent following unfettered looting and deliberate crippling by successive operatives appointed either to rescue it or as receiver managers.

Before it collapsed, Moi was to visit Britain in the early 1980s when Roland Walter (known as “Tiny“) Rowland, the late British multi-millionaire wheeler-dealer and former owner of Lornho Plc, sought to meet him. It appears that Rowland, who then owned a number of money-minting concerns in Kenya, including the Block Hotels, The Standard newspaper, Lornho House in Nairobi’s CBD and East African Tanning Extract Ltd, wanted some reassurance from Moi. But Moi was not interested in the meeting. However, Rowland came to know that a Mr Morris, the Managing Director of the then Eldoret-based East African Tanning Extract Ltd., was a friend of Mark Too, a key operative in the Moi regime. So, he asked Mr Morris to seek out Too so that the latter could secure the appointment, which was later granted.

The Elephant has learned from ex-officials of the defunct company that Uplands Bacon started going on a downwards spiral when Moi appointed a former Intelligence Deputy Director, Stephen Mureithi, to manage it. But Mureithi, who was spectacularly unsuited to run a meat processor, left after six months.

Around that time, the Moi government wanted to construct an international airport in Eldoret. The government identified Rowland’s land and asked him to surrender 3,000 acres for which he was to be compensated with Sh310 million. But the government paid Rowland only Sh200 million and rather than pay the balance, it handed to him not only Uplands Bacon’s land but also the pig processing factory. At the same time, only 2,000 acres were surrendered to the government for the construction of the airport and the Moi University; the rest of the land ended up with one of the Moi government’s top operatives. This was how Rowland was allowed to take over a company co-owned by the government and the Lari people who had bought shares.

Debenture loan

The defunct company had borrowed money from the Standard Chartered Bank Ltd as a debenture in 1963, which was to mature in 21 years. Somehow, it was unable to pay back the loan, which made the government come to its rescue by paying Sh42 million. Documents seen by The Elephant show that around the time, the company’s majority shares were held by Pig Producers and Marketers Association of Kenya, an outfit that brought together thousands of pig farmers, while the Pig Industry Board, a parastatal, and the Agriculture Ministry also held shares. This meant that the Association had a right to be involved in any decision pertaining to the handover of the company to another party. But according to former employees, this did not happen.

It was clear then that the Moi government would have none of that when it handed over the company to the late Rowland who started Farmers Choice Ltd in 1989. Rowland used the newly-acquired company to produce bacon and other pig products using the formula owned by the Uplands Bacon Factory Ltd without due regard to intellectual property rights. Indeed, the group behind the revival of the company wants Farmers Choice to declare how it ended up assuming the ownership of the formula.

In a strange twist of fate, Rowland was forced to either wind up some of his companies or sell them others. The controversial man, who took over the London and Rhodesian Mining and Land Company (or Lonhro) in 1961 and once swam in massive wealth, died in 1998.

Was Waititu coerced?

The Elephant’s repeated attempts to have Ferdinand Waititu, the Kiambu Governor, to comment on the matter yielded no fruit, even after leaving messages on his phone. This has disconcerted the group of six. “Since the NLC made the order, the county government is yet to take the offer and has been taking us round the circles,” said Muhoho. He added that his group petitioned the county government on March 19, asking it for plans to revive the factory, how it intended to acquire and install relevant equipment and how it plans to restore pig farming and marketing in the county. He says the group has also met Waititu to seek his intervention, but to no avail. “Initially, the governor appeared keen to take up the offer and had even planned a public rally to announce plans to revive the factory. But he now appears reluctant to do so,” said Muhoho.

The Elephant was unable to confirm whether the now impeached governor – whose management of the county’s finances has been under a spotlight – was coerced to drop the bid to take over the land or whether his reluctance has anything to do with the fact that the land in question is already occupied by Rosemark Ltd, a subsidiary of Farmers Choice Company Ltd. Today, Rosemark operates a pig rearing outfit on the land and has taken over the pig feed factory that used to belong to Uplands Bacon Factory Ltd. It has also fenced off the land, apart from eight acres that belong to Gathaiti Primary and Gathaiti secondary schools. On a map seen by a local daily newspaper, the two schools occupy 8 acres although they were initially allocated 12 acres.

Constitution allowed restitution

Since it acquired the defunct factory, the going had been smooth for Farmers Choice until Kenya inaugurated a new constitution in 2010 that gave people who have suffered various forms of injustices in the past to seek restitution from the NLC. For purposes of carrying out the mandate, NLC set up the Historical Land Injustices Committee that was approached by the Kiambu County government on behalf of the pig farmers in Lari sub-county.

He says the group has also met Waititu to seek his intervention, but to no avail. “Initially, the governor appeared keen to take up the offer and had even planned a public rally to announce plans to revive the factory. But he now appears reluctant to do so,” said Muhoho.

“After the County Government made the application, NLC advertised in a local daily on September 26 last year asking any claimant of the land to present their claims to the Committee,” explained Muhoho.

The land in question was registered as two parcels: LR No. 7593/1 of 68.25 hectares and LR No. 7593/7 constituting 32.37 hectares (i.e. about 251 acres). “Although Farmers Choice told us that it had a title to the land, it did not send representatives during the Committee hearing.”

No evidence of ownership 

Documents seen by The Elephant show that the company went under receivership following a loan extended as a debenture by Stanchart in 1963 and which was to mature in 21 years. After the company was unable to pay the loan, the bank appointed Eliud Githiri to run it. However, in 1985 the company was taken over by the Pig Industry Board and the Ministry of Agriculture after the government paid the loan.

As this took place, a Mr Harley was appointed to represent Block Hotels Ltd, which co-owned it together with Pig Suppliers Association of Kenya (or pig farmers) and the Pig Industry Board. Mr Harley later resigned and the factory reverted to the farmers’ association. But this was short-lived; the government took it back after it started having cash flow problems following massive looting by its operatives. It was then handed over to Tiny Rowland after pig farmers abandoned production.

Muhoho’s group wrote to the Registrar of Companies on October 3, 2018 seeking to know the owners of the defunct company, names of past and current directors, its debt levels and whether Farmers Choice had any ownership documents. The letter was responded to the same day by Cyrus Njenga, a Senior Counsel in the Attorney General’s office, who said that the land, and especially LR No. 7593, “was sold by the official receiver as the liquidator of the company to the government.” Nowhere does the letter say that the land was ever owned by Farmers Choice.

But Muhoho views this as an anomaly because by the time the company went under, the government held the land and was not paid any money when it handed the company and the land to Tiny Rowland. “How could the government have sold the land to itself? In any case, the official search document does not show that the land ever changed hands since the defunct company got the lease in 1958.”

Industrial park

“As a community, we want to manage the land ourselves and revive the defunct Uplands Bacon Factory,” said Muhoho, who added that since the colonial period, the entire area was identified as being ideal for mass pig production and processing. He says his team plans to come up with a proposal for an industrial park and pass it on to the county government for inclusion in the County Integrated Development Plant (CIDP).

Besides the pig processing plant, the visionary group proposes setting up an animal feeds factory, bread and maize milling plant, shoe factory, juice and mineral water packaging, as well as a vegetable processing outfit that would tap into the large amounts of vegetables produced in Lari and neighbouring areas.

During the interviews with other group members who declined to be named, it became clear that the biggest hurdle to the realisation of its dream is the continued occupation of the land by Farmers Choice and the unwillingness of the Kiambu Government to take over the land. But they are also hopeful that the company will eventually abide by the decision made by the NLC.

Systematic crippling of the economy by governments

The saga surrounding this land, as well as the very death of the Uplands Bacon Factory, is indicative of how powerful and rich people systematically loot and cripple outfits that once benefitted ordinary people in order to either take them over or hand them over to foreign entities. It also shows how some rich people in the country do all within their means to keep millions of Kenyans in desperation and mass poverty.

Further, the story paints a picture of a government that is either unable or unwilling to protect lucrative subsectors of the economy that might otherwise benefit millions of ordinary citizens. It is a sad narrative of how not to run an economy. “Today pig farmers in Lari sub-county and elsewhere in Kiambu have no reliable market for their animals and have been forced to do with the stringent conditions and standards imposed by Farmers Choice,” said Muhoho.

It should be noted that the attempt to have the land revert to pig farmers was not made by leaders in the Lari sub-county or in the larger Kiambu County. It was done by ordinary people, which indicates that locals have lost faith in President Uhuru Kenyatta’ government to cater for their interests. It is also a lingering narrative of how the Gikuyu community is taken for granted by its leadership.

In the recent past, Kenyans have witnessed unprecedented political drama after some leaders from Central Kenya made public their displeasure with Uhuru’s government, which is perceived as being unwilling to revive key subsectors or projects that once enabled the residents to make money in the region. For instance, the government is accused of rolling out a half-hearted attempt to revive the coffee subsector –which has been in the intensive care unit for over the last few decades, with production dropping from 130,000 tonnes in 1988/89 to slightly over 38,000 tonnes (a 66% decline) by last year.

The saga surrounding this land, as well as the very death of the Uplands Bacon Factory, is indicative of how powerful and rich people systematically loot and cripple outfits that once benefitted ordinary people in order to either take them over or hand them over to foreign entities.

In addition, the government has shown no interest in reviving the pyrethrum industry that once generated real cash for thousands of families in the region. Further, no effort has been made to bring back industries, such as the East African Bag & Cordage Factory in Juja area, Panafrican Vegetables Products Ltd in Naivasha, Thika Taitex Mills in Thika and National Pencil Company that once produced pencils and matchboxes in Nyandarua County. This is despite the fact that the region’s residents voted overwhelmingly to place Jubilee and President Uhuru Kenyatta in government in 2013 and 2017/2018.

Looked at differently, the order by the NLC that the land be given back to the pig farmers through the county government brings to public limelight the fact that determined Kenyans who suffered historical injustices can successively make a claim to have the injustices resolved. Many Kenyans appear not to be aware that the Historical Land Injustices Committee has been accepting claims from individuals, families, clans and communities who lost land during the colonial period and since Kenya became independent in 1963. The Committee has been sitting over the last five years and has made some progress, albeit limited, in restoring historical and ancestral claims to lands lost by Kenyans. This comes at a time when the 99-year leases given mainly to British settlers and companies are coming to an end, creating a legal milieu for people who lost their parcels of land to get them back.

Meanwhile, top politicians and the British government, through its High Commission in Nairobi, have been putting up a behind-the-scenes spirited effort to have the current holders of the lands retain ownership.

Away from this, the saga surrounding the land is a glaring indication of how members of the Gikuyu community are taken for granted by the community’s leadership despite being falsely led to believe that they collectively sit at the pinnacle of power in the country – a mental condition popularly known as uthamakistan in social media parlance.

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Gatu wa Mbaria is the co-author of The Big Conservation Lie.

Politics

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.

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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.

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Politics

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.

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“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 debtunfair trade and financial agreements, military subjugation, vaccine apartheidlabour exploitation, and border securitisation.

It is impossible to think about borders outside the modern nation-state and its entanglements with empire, capitalism, race, caste, gender, sexuality, and ability. Borders are not even fixed lines demarcating territory. Bordering regimes are increasingly layered with drone surveillance, interception of migrant boats, and security controls far beyond states’ territorial limits. From Australia offshoring migrant detention around Oceania to Fortress Europe outsourcing surveillance and interdiction to the Sahel and Middle East, shifting cartographies demarcate our colonial present.

Perhaps most offensively, when colonial countries panic about ‘border crises’ they position themselves as victims. But the genocide, displacement, and movement of millions of people were unequally structured by colonialism for three centuries, with European settlers in the Americas and Oceania, the transatlantic slave trade from Africa, and imported indentured labourers from Asia. Empire, enslavement, and indentureship are the bedrock of global apartheid today, determining who can live where and under what conditions. Borders are structured to uphold this apartheid.

The freedom to stay and the freedom to move, which is to say no borders, is decolonial reparations and redistribution long due.

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Politics

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?

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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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