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.
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.”
“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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For J.M’s Ten Million Beggars, the Hustler vs Dynasty Narrative is a Red Herring
Hon. William Ruto’s hustler vs dynasty narrative is a shrewd way of redefining Kenyan identity politics in order to avoid playing the tribal card in his quest for the presidency.
Stifling the “hustler” vs “dynasty” debate will not save us from the imminent implosion resulting from Kenya’s obscene inequalities. While the debate is a welcome distraction from our frequent divisive tribal politics, leaders in government and society are frightened that it might lead to class wars. Our sustained subtle, yet brazen, war against the poor has made class conflict inevitable. If only we had listened to Hon. J. M. Kariuki, the assassinated former Member of Parliament for Nyandarua (1969-1975), and provided the poor with the means to develop themselves, perhaps the prospect of revolt would now be remote.
Could this be the angry ghost of J.M. Kariuki coming back to haunt us? Listen to his voice still crying from the grave, as did his supporters at a rally in 1974: “We do not want a Kenya of ten millionaires and ten million beggars. Our people who died in the forests died with a handful of soil in their right hands, believing they had fallen in a noble struggle to regain our land . . . But we are being carried away by selfishness and greed. Unless something is done now, the land question will be answered by bloodshed” (quoted by Prof. Simiyu Wandibba in his book J.M. Kariuki). Fired by this speech, his followers set ablaze 700 acres of wheat on Mzee Jomo Kenyatta’s farm in Rongai and slaughtered cattle with malice. Thus did J.M. invite his death.
What Hon. William Ruto propounds in his hustler vs dynasty debate is a shrewd way of redefining Kenyan identity politics. Ruto is re-directing the political narrative from the “us” vs “them” of tribalism, to one characterised by the poor and desperate (hustlers) who have seen subsequent governments betray their hopes for a better life, pitted against “them”, Ruto’s rivals, the offspring of politicians born to unfair and unearned privilege.
Wycliffe Muga, the Star newspaper columnist, has eloquently described them as the “sons of a hereditary political elite who absorbed all the benefits that came with independence, leaving ‘the rest of us’ destitute and having no choice but to beg for the crumbs under their table.” By opting for an alternative approach, Ruto hopes to avoid playing the tribal card to attain the presidency. For, besides his own, he would need the support of at least one other of the five big tribes who often reserve support for their own sons unless there is a brokered alliance. But even then, the underlying logic of Kenyan politics remains that of identity politics, which creates a binary narrative of “us” against “them”.
Meanwhile, Ruto has not only radicalised the poor, but he has also hastened the country’s hour of reckoning — judgement for the years of neglect of the poor — and this may ignite the tinder sooner we imagine.
In their article in The Elephant, Dauti Kahura and Akoko Akech observe that, “Ruto might have belatedly discovered the great socio-economic divide between the walala-hoi and the walala-hai in Kenya”. Ruto has galvanised the poor and their plight around the banner of the “hustler nation”, a nation aspiring to erase the tribal or geographical lines that have kept Kenyans apart. As a result the poor are restless as they compare their state with the ease of the lives of the affluent. But Ruto is not organising to awaken class-consciousness among the exploited. ‘As Thandika Mkandawire, citing Karl Marx, observed, “The existence of class may portend class struggles, but it does not automatically trigger them. It is not enough that classes exist in themselves, they must also be for themselves”’, Kahura and Akech further reiterate.
The problem kicks in immediately he points to the “dynasty”. In juxtaposing the hustlers and dynasty, the poor find a target of hate, an object of their wrath. This situation can easily slide into violence, the violence emerging only when the “us” see themselves as all good and the “them” as all evil.
I worry this controversy has led us to that radicalisation stage where the poor see themselves as the good children of light fighting evil forces of darkness. In our case, the so-called hustler nation believe they are against the deep-state which doesn’t care about them but wants to give to the dynasty that which is due to them. They believe that this collusion between deep-state and dynasty is preventing them from reaching prosperity and so they blame their situation on those who they perceive to be the cause of their wretchedness. Interestingly, the colonial state always feared the day when the masses would rise up and topple it. Unfortunately, Ruto is using the crisis of the underclass created by the colonial state and perpetuated by the political class for political expediency and for his own self-advancement.
By declaring himself the saviour of the hustlers from the dynasties, Ruto — who is devoid of any pro-democracy and pro-suffering citizens political credentials — is perceived to be antagonising the Kenyatta family’s political and financial interests. He has with precision stoked the anger of the poor against particular political elites he calls dynasties and the Odingas, the Kenyattas, the Mois and their associates have become the hustler nation’s enemy. So, one understands why President Uhuru Kenyatta considers Ruto’s dynasty vs hustler debate “a divisive and a major threat to the country’s security”, which he fears may degenerate into class warfare.
Hon. Paul Koinange, Chairman of the Parliamentary Administration and Security Committee errs in his call to criminalise the hustler vs dynasty narrative. If this is hate speech, as Koinange wants it classified, then neglect of the poor by their government is a worse form of hate speech. The application of policies favouring tender-preneurs at the expense of the majority poor, landless and unemployed will incite Kenyans against each other faster than the hustler vs dynasty narrative. The failure to provide public services for the poor and the spiralling wealth of the political class must be confronted.
We have been speeding down this slippery slope for years. According to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) data released in December 2020, only 2.92 million Kenyans work in the formal sector, of which 1.34 million or 45.9 per cent earn less than Sh30,000. If we accept that the informal sector employs another 15 million Kenyans, an overwhelming majority (71 per cent) would be in micro-scale enterprises or in small-scale enterprises (which make up 26 per cent). This implies that 97 per cent of our enterprises are micro or small, and these are easily wound up. The situation is exasperated by the opulence at the top. The UK-based New World Wealth survey (2014) conducted over 5 years paints a grim picture of wealth distribution in Kenya. Of the country’s 43.1 million people then, 46 per cent lived below the poverty line, surviving on less than Sh172 ($2) a day.
The report shows that nearly two-thirds of Kenya’s Sh4.3 trillion ($50 billion) economy is controlled by a tiny clique of 8,300 super-wealthy individuals, highlighting the huge inequality between the rich and the poor. Without a clear understanding of these disparities, it is difficult to evaluate the currents that are conducive to the widening of this gap not to mention those that would bridge it. Hon. Koinange should be addressing these inequalities that the masses are awakening to rather than combatting the hustler narrative. Our government must be intentional in levelling the playing field, or live in perpetual fear like the British colonials who feared mass revolt across imaginary ethnic lines.
In Kenya, past injustices have yielded gross inequalities. In Reading on inequality in Kenya: Sectoral Dynamics and Perceptions, Okello and Gitau illustrate how state power is still being used to perpetuate differences in the sharing of political and economic welfare. Okello further observes that: “In a country where for a long time economic and political power was/has been heavily partisan, where the state appropriated for itself the role of being the agency for development, and where politics is highly ethnicised, the hypothesis of unequal treatment has been so easy to build.”
This, and not the euphoria of the hustler nation, is the pressure cooker that is about to explode. The horizontal manifestation of inequality stemming from the failure of state institutions and policies that have continued to allow inequalities to fester is what should be of concern to the state. How can the government not see the risk such extreme economic disparities within the population pose for the nation’s stability?
We Didn’t Make It for You: Vaccine Nationalism and the West’s Claim to the COVID-19 Jab
Wealthy nations are actively hoarding pre-orders of the multiple vaccines, and the pharmaceutical giants from which they sprang are largely avoiding sharing their advancements with the developing world.
The sun dipped over the Nile in Jinja on New Year’s Eve. Shots were thrown back, toasts were raised, beer glasses clinking against each other. The night almost seemed like the usual run-of-the-mill end-of-year celebration, with the noticeably big exception that people kept their distance and the gates were locked to keep out roving members of the army looking to catch any reveler dumb enough to wander out mask-free past curfew and slam them with a myriad of charges until bribes were produced.
Now 2021 seems to be little more than the continuation of the cavalcade of horrors that kicked off the new decade. And once again the cynicism is proving justified. For the last couple of months, in various social settings, over various libations, statements of optimism had sprung forth regarding COVID-19 vaccine developments. These were invariably met with knowing laughter from someone at the table, an individual almost certainly all out of damns to give and sick of starry-eyed statements of global equity in these desperate and turbulent times.
And now, as if from some unexpected remnant of colonial history, it trickles out (not as a leading headline amongst the upstanding Western press) that the wealthy nations of the world are actively hoarding pre-orders of the multiple vaccines, and the pharmaceutical giants from which they sprang are largely avoiding sharing their advancements with the developing world.
It is not just the typical candidates that are guilty of this. By typical candidates I am pointing the finger at the United States, Britain, China, and France. But also at countries like Canada, which has pre-ordered enough vaccines to inject its population an estimated five times over. Are they also trying to stop the pandemic from affecting two generations of their ancestors and the local polar bear population? In fact, by mid-December last year, only 700 million doses had been secured for the entire “underdeveloped” world. That number is laughably low. Politics is being played well above people’s heads once again. Nothing has been learned, and mega-corporations are in lockstep with the very same austerity-measure-loving members of the Western political elite.
In essence, this means that pencil-pushing cheapskates in the big conference rooms of places with organizational titles like NATO, the UN and the EU are fully content to once again screw the developing world over if it doesn’t add a couple of hundred million euros to western coffers. Bailouts and massive pushes for research were fine for the good, upstanding, and largely white citizenry within their own borders. International cooperation to ensure worldwide immunity? Well, that might be a problem for those who pull the purse strings.
The only surprise with such behaviour is that there is any surprise at all within the global South. Is this not a continuing theme spread across years, regimes, decades, centuries? 2020 certainly didn’t shape up to be a boring year, dreadful though it was. It was almost enjoyable (albeit in a deeply perverse way) to watch the bullshit come flying from the mouths of nearly everyone in charge, including the deep tones of patriarchal condescension from powerful nations directed disdainfully at sub-Saharan African countries, even as their own fell into disrepair and chaos.
And isn’t it interesting that the entire global market and economic conditions truly were a series of well-constructed lies this entire time? Let me expand. In saying that the global state of affairs was a lie, it is a finger pointed squarely at the West. With a special round of kudos to the United States.
This lie has been easy to spot in media narratives, as they make little mention of smaller, less powerful nations rolling out their vaccine plans or how such goals will be attained. No. Instead, if the narrative remains that the powerful countries have defeated the virus, then it has been defeated. The rest of the issue can be quickly swept under the carpet. Out of sight, out of mind. What will the next phase look like? Will immigration restrictions on citizens of African countries get even more stringent? Will the song now be: “Well you have not been immunised against the pandemic, so surely how can you be allowed around our citizens who have?”
A darker-minded conspiracy theorist than I would almost view such a series of actions as intentional moves to quicken the crippling of “developing” nations from attaining that aspiration. Of course, citizens of such developing nations are still having their rights stripped back, curfews violently enforced, and media freedoms curtailed seemingly daily. Meanwhile, there are rumours that Kenya’s and Uganda’s rich and powerful are having their vaccines flown in on private planes. These claims are, of course, entirely unsubstantiated.
In the age of COVID-19, such governments have the perfect excuse to call on their darker nature and have their nations more fully in their grip, the economy be damned. In fact, this seems the likely option as during the daylight hours, most aspects of daily life seem to grind on utterly unimpeded. There is little logic to the current 9 p.m. curfew especially since bars, movie theaters and indoor restaurants are all allowed to keep their doors open and are largely operating as normal. With the pandemic however, one must be incredibly careful not to overstep the mark, unless they wish to face fines, jail, or more sinister off-the-record consequences.
Now, as the West and other wealthy countries stumble around in the dark in their own vaccination campaigns, one must ask, when exactly does this end for the unlucky “other” countries of the world? Are all others simply doomed to an endless half-decade of dodging curfews, watching the development wave recede and roll back and feeling the iron hand of whichever government figure decides to come down on them for breaking a newly rolled out “rule”?
Such arguments may sound like the ramblings of a conspiracy theorist but make no mistake, this is a serious issue that needs addressing. A year into the pandemic, and many world governments have not exactly done much to shield their citizens from the vast hardships that come along with lockdowns, closures, and social distancing. It seems reasonable to bet that they will not figure it out any time soon. In some instances, it seems that the efforts can be viewed as a sort of willful ignorance. To be sure, the global healthcare system will drastically change for the better in the fallout from COVID-19, but the rate at which access to future advancements will trickle down to the developing world is unclear. It seems as though many actors chosen the more protectionist and nativist camps, abandoning the spirit of “global unity” that the NGO world likes to make bumper stickers about.
With vaccination campaigns seemingly starting in earnest (and some countries such as Israel already having vaccinated 12 per cent of the population as of 3 January 2021) one could be forgiven for rolling their eyes. This seems a familiar narrative: the vaccines are being distributed to some countries while leaving others well out of the scheme. Sure, the pandemic affects all the people of the world equally, but now that there is a solution within grasp, some people are proving to be much more equal than others. Most African nations now find themselves in the unenviable position of waiting around for the West to quit dawdling and get their act together.
The US for one seems to be stumbling from one rollout hurdle to the next, a hodgepodge of state governments interacting with federal, bad, and incompetent actors. The US vaccination effort had set a target of 20 million people having received their first injection by the end of 2020. The reality? Between three and six million, at most just thirty per cent of the number targeted. It isn’t too unreasonable to predict that the US will spend the whole of 2021 trying to grab the reins and steer the COVID-19 response back into a series of workable solutions. Even while putting the US campaign to shame, several other nations’ efforts aren’t exactly stellar either. The UK, home to arguably the world’s best healthcare system, reported issues with distribution in the latter part of 2020. All these factors slow down the efforts to get the vaccine distributed globally – if that was ever part of the plan to begin with.
In the future, it will become clear that there is some blame to be laid at the feet of East African governments as well, given their dubious relationships with foreign nations and their murky tendering procedures. In the years to come, when the many trials and errors regarding vaccine distribution in sub-Saharan Africa come to light, I’m willing to put money down that at least one country will fall drastically behind in the vaccination effort, having thrown its lot in with a questionable tender worth several hundred billion shillings, only for it to emerge that all that money went to the Sinovac vaccine made by China that only has a 50.4 per cent efficacy rate.
It is yet to be seen how exactly African state actors (and their respective publics) will react to this period of global chaos, whether they will start to move away from the neo-colonial overreach of Western governments considering their bungling of the pandemic or if the old guard will remain and carry on down this new decade. As I have mentioned in previous pieces for this publication, the pandemic has illuminated something to the youth within the United States; that all the systems that they were told to comply with were built on lies. A similar sentiment seems to be taking root within several developing countries; that the current guard isn’t really in charge of anything and that the systems need to be overhauled and made more equitable if they are to last. The vaccine buy-up by the West is just a symptom of a larger disease.
Death By Compromise: Will the Biden Administration Do What People Actually Want Or Play Politics?
If the Biden presidency is making excuses and is handicapped before even it has begun, especially during this time, then maybe it is the modern Democratic Party that is truly in jeopardy.
The more things change, the more they remain the same.
Trump’s inherent flaw is that he failed to tap into his own political potential. Yes, he is an uncouth racist who harbours American isolationist instincts and is hell-bent on division. It would be a mistake, however, to ignore the fact that his greatest attraction was due to the economy. In essence, the real situation of many working people in the US had grown so difficult that out of desperation they threw in their lot with a two-bit huckster who claimed that he could make all their empty-wallet woes disappear into the ether of history. Now upper middle class liberals in places like Seattle, Washington, Madison, Wisconsin and the suburbs of New York City are scratching their heads and wondering just how, how could so many millions still vote for this abomination after all that has happened during his time in the White House?
There has been an outright refusal by many on the left to acknowledge that the Trump base are anything but hidden racists, now magically freed to unmask themselves by some sort of Orange Pied Piper. Now as the Trump camp closes shop and flies away from the White House in shame, Biden is beginning his presidential term under deeply bizarre circumstances. The election victory, the transition and the first few weeks of the Democratic administration were met with some jubilation, but overall the response to Biden’s victory was rather tepid, especially when compared to the response that greeted Obama.
So why the underlying feeling of trepidation? It could have something to do with the well-deserved hand-wringing coming from the left wing of the party, seemingly left out in the cold for the last several months (at least since they were largely locked out of the Democratic National Convention last August). They had been promised a seat at the table, but that chair appears to have been lost in the move. What does this mean exactly?
Well, the Biden team and cabinet is being packed with the same type of lobbyists, centrists, supporters of the Iraq war and even billionaire Democrats disenchanted with the Obama administration who helped to turn the tide against Hillary Clinton during the 2016 race. One Washington insider quipped that the cabinet picks for the Biden administration looked like a guest list for a bourgeois dinner party in the upper crust Washington DC neighbourhood of Georgetown. It includes some of the same minds that helped to walk back the Obama White House from a more progressive agenda. Already Democrats are walking back the very promises that brought them to power — such as promising US$2000 cheques and now floating “hopefully US$1400, because the US$600 sent in early January and the new round of US$1400 would equal US$2000”. This goes against Occam’s razor principle, where the simplest solution is usually the right one. In this instance, the smart thing to do would be to send the full amount immediately, because a desperate public doesn’t give a damn about technocratic reasoning and austerity measures. In America’s skewed political structure, the prospect of the Democrats staying in long-term control of the US government is tenuous at best.
For example, in a year absolutely stuffed to the brim with progressive sentiments and activism across the US, why did the Democrat-controlled House actually lose seats (narrowing their majority)? As projections were touted across the media for months on end, and innumerable polls read the tea leaves to project an utterly massive Democratic win in the US Senate, the forecasts proved utterly wrong. In the end, the Democrats took the Senate by flipping Georgia’s two seats in January, but back in November several infamous Republicans, projected as vulnerable, held onto their seats by wide margins of victory.
Now Biden is already falling into the trap of being too bipartisan — a concept that doesn’t yield results and doesn’t truly affect anyone’s day-to-day lives. Republicans sure as hell don’t do bipartisan. In fact, Mitch McConnell, the controversial Senate minority leader from the state of Kentucky, had given himself the awkward moniker of the Grim Reaper during the Obama years, focusing solely on killing off any legislation that the Democratic Party brought forward, resulting in stagnation, political fallout and economic destitution for millions — and all that was before the scourge of COVID-19 revealed America’s system to be a mere façade of a true empire.
If this is the way forward, then the US is truly in dire straits and Biden may easily face another Trump-esque arch-conservative again in four years, or perhaps even Trump himself; he seems intent on positioning himself as a media figure, holding continuous rallies, never admitting that he truly lost, and then riding down another escalator some time in June of 2022. If the Biden presidency is making excuses and is handicapped before even beginning, especially during this time, then maybe it is the modern Democratic Party that is truly in jeopardy.
To put it bluntly, there are absolutely massive problems facing the US right now, ones that could well put an end to its status as a global leader and reputation as a democracy. This winter has thrown tens of thousands into starvation, cast millions into poverty and consolidated power further in the tentacled grasp of a corporate elite. COVID-19 killed over 100,000 Americans during the month of January 2021 alone. Now the status quo has returned to Washington DC, but the Democratic elite are acting as though that is a good thing, not seeing that the writing on the wall has been there since the financial crisis of 2008, a groundswell of populism that will soon be hard to ignore.
Rather than doing away with archaic filibuster and trying to confer statehood on DC and Puerto Rico and instead immediately passing a massive economic stimulus package, the Democrats are dithering and posturing with austerity-tinged deals and half measures that accord Republicans some sort of input. There could be very serious repercussions for the left wing and the right wing in two years if political action is not taken to get both the economic crisis and the pandemic under control within the next few months.
Looking ahead, however, it seems as though once again the youth will be blamed for whatever future is to come in the political landscape. It will be claimed that they will not have voted in large enough numbers (despite the rates being similar for nearly every single election amongst voters under 30 since the 1950s). They’ll be called lazy, entitled, ignorant, and the argument will be made for incremental change by an assortment of millionaire octogenarian figures within the Democratic leadership.
The progressive wing has already been blamed by the more conservative elements of the party for it not being a wide enough victory, with Congresswoman Abigail Spanberger of Virginia (who used to work for the CIA and represents some of the richest people in America) stating in a taped conference call in the days after the November general election that if progressive ideals (or the specter of socialism) are put on the ballot, then Democratic candidates will get “fucking torn apart in the 2022 election”. This despite the fact that it was the more centrist candidates who faced tougher competition in their election bids, and the further to the left a candidate was, the better they performed overall.
So why would a multitude of people vote in the next midterm elections in 2022 or the next presidential election in 2024? The phrase “getting turned on” inherently means that some effort has been made, something has turned you on to that idea or cause to propel you to join or vote for it. Such are the problems that the current party is grappling with. It is bogged down in partisan signaling and identity-based politics, while not actually advancing any progressive agenda, blaming the youth and the far left that could save them from their underperformance in the United States congressional races, and refusing to negotiate meaningful stimulus packages to revive a US economy that has been in the COVID-19-drenched economic doldrums since 2020.
The Democrats have pigeonholed themselves as a middling, tedious political entity, one that turns people off in droves and panders to the wealthier coastal suburbanites. The numbers don’t lie; while they had projected that adding Kamala Harris to the vice presidential slot would bolster their bloc amongst minorities, this didn’t play out, and Latinos, Blacks and Asian Americans voted for Biden at a lower rate than they did for Clinton in 2016. The question goes unanswered: could voters be more concerned about their economic standing during a pandemic-induced depression than about the racial makeup of the candidate on the ticket? Such thoughts can easily get one removed from the good graces of the current Democratic establishment, even as the possibility of rallying their base seems to diminish by the day.
For starters, anyone vaguely on the left already despises Donald J. Trump, and felt that way even before the last 11 disastrous months. The Democratic Party didn’t need to convince anyone here, but the Biden team spent most of the primaries solely attacking Trump for being the useless self-obsessed goon that he is. They then proceeded to not hammer him nearly hard enough when the disaster truly arrived, instead leaning back into the tropes of tired-eyed neo-conservatives from the George W. Bush era (some of the same talking heads who pushed messaging for the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars) and continuously beaming over advertisements coming from anti-Trump Republicans like the “Lincoln Project”. More centrist media outlets like MSNBC fawned over these “high-minded idealists” and simultaneously ridiculed left-wing figures for questioning if this would truly be a progressive administration.
This is an avoidable issue, but as the leadership within Congress (House Majority leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority leader Chuck Schumer) can’t be moved from their messaging, this slow-moving car is heading for a cliff. Biden can either push the pedal down to the floor and drive off to an untimely death or pull the emergency brake and change course.
Democrats could have run on the progressive economic policies that they tip-toed around during this last horrifying year. They could have at least pretended to embrace a sweeping set of policies unseen since the Great Depression of the 1930s. If they had, there is a very real possibility that their lead in the House would have increased and they would have at least been able to flip the Senate. They didn’t. Instead they bowed to outside interests and fucked around politically, even leaving stimulus on the table. Now, the same crowd that pushed for bombing Libya under Obama is back into the fold, all within the same umbrella of a “well needed return to normalcy”. Normal sucks in America.
The real middle class has been dying for a long time, but it seems the Biden administration can’t actually wrap their heads around this fact. Instead, it seems as though they’ll be content to simply reverse some of Trump’s uglier policies and call it a winning formula. In fact, that’s exactly what Biden did on day one of his administration instead of passing executive orders regarding COVID-19.
So, if the Democratic Party continues on the trajectory they are on, who exactly do they intend to turn on? If anything, millions have been utterly turned off by the state of politics in the United States, and if an individual doesn’t stand to actually benefit, what is the benefit of supporting a political party? Back to normal shouldn’t have been the banner of the Democratic party in 2020; it should have been like the title of a horror movie to be run away from as quickly as can be messaged by PR officials in the corridors of the United States capitol.
Tragedies earn their names by reflecting the failures that weren’t overcome although they could have been. In years to come, the fear shouldn’t be Trump himself per se — he was much too incapable to be an outright authoritarian, and too big a coward to really make such moves anyway. It should be the fear of those for whom Trump was the unwieldy flagbearer.
The worry should really be: who will come after Trump? With all of the so-called “rising stars” on the right wing in the US right now, someone will crawl out of the primordial ooze to usurp an aging Donald Trump. Could such a figure manage to turn on a large enough swath of Millennial and Generation Z voters distraught at the economic conditions brought on by previous generations, and in less than four years from now sweep to a landslide victory over Joe Biden/Kamala Harris/another middling Democrat who doesn’t inspire?
What if the next one is some kind of ultra-conservative Evangelical someone with all of the idealism of a Vice President Mike Pence and none of the soul-sucking lack of charisma? What kind of irreversible damage could such a figure actually do? Not all totalitarians are useless, some are altogether efficient.
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