On the second anniversary of the “handshake” – the political détente and agreement between President Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga that birthed the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) – a cautious hope and fear lurks in the hearts of Kisumu County residents, who are increasingly coming to believe that BBI is a technocratic process of political mobilisation that will lead to constitutional reforms. Mixed feelings, which suggest that Raila Odinga’s political stronghold is ill at ease with itself.
In the eyes of many residents of the counties of Homa Bay, Kisumu, Migori and Siaya, BBI is shaping an embarrassing theatrical show, starring inarticulate and clownish Orange Democratic Movement’s (ODM) governors. BBI does not resonate with Raila Odinga’s core political constituency, whose desire is for a competent, incorruptible, accountable and transparent leadership.
Last week, to gauge the mood of the typical Kisumu resident, we took a reality check around town and chanced on a roadside “Bunge la Mwananchi” discussion taking place off Kisumu’s Oginga Odinga Street. A boda boda (motor cycle) rider with a slight physical built, who was taking a break from his trade, was weighing in on the current debate on the BBI process, and the Deputy President William Ruto’s latest tribulations. But his thoughts were haunted by unspoken heartbreaks, heartaches and the memories of past broken elite pacts. “Jo moko wacho ni jogi biro luoko oke go Oneya.” Some people are saying Raila Odinga, (Oneya’s nephew), will be short-changed, he observed. “Onge. Wangni, oke go Oneya ema luoko jii.” No, Raila won’t be short-changed this time round…he’s the one short-changing the others, said the rider cheekily, as he assured a passive Friday evening audience. Ruto ne ni e State House, sani een kanye? Ruto was ensconced in the State House, he added, expressing a widely felt feeling of schadenfreude, the perverse feeling of pleasure in the suffering of others, which many in this particular Bunge felt every time Ruto’s tribulations were mentioned.
The cautiously optimistic residents of Kisumu County are grateful that the handshake silenced the guns in the slums, the battlegrounds in political contests, which widened Kenya’s political divisions after the 2017 presidential elections.
“The Luos are treating the BBI and the possible outcomes with cautious optimism given the nature of the politics of betrayal and subterfuge,” said a senior and long-term political commentator and strategist who hails from Homa Bay County and who requested anonymity. “The political betrayal of the Luo people goes back to the 1960s. For Jomo Kenyatta to turn his back on his most trusted comrade and political confidante in 1966 was a painful gesture that struck at the very heart of the Luo people.” The political strategist said the Luo people never quite recovered from that betrayal and treacherous behaviour of Kenyatta [I]. “As if that wasn’t enough, the Kiambu Mafia orchestrated the assassination of one of the Luo’s most illustrious political sons, Thomas Joseph Mboya, in July 1969.”
The death of Mboya (popularly known as TJ), a trusted cabinet minister in Jomo Kenyatta’s government, proved to all the Luo people that a pact with the Kikuyu political barons was a risky, treacherous and thankless affair that could cost one’s life, said the student of Luo politics. “With the onset of plural politics in 1992, Jaramogi, now in the sunset of his chequered political life, sought once again to team up with a Kikuyu political baron – Ken Matiba – and what happened? Persuaded that he could capture the presidency from the dictator Daniel Toroitich arap Moi, Matiba, riding on a crest of a pampered popular political wave, walked out of a pact that was to see the aging Jaramogi lead a united front against the intractable Moi.”
The cautiously optimistic residents of Kisumu County are grateful that the handshake silenced the guns in the slums, the battlegrounds in political contests, which widened Kenya’s political divisions after the 2017 presidential elections.
But truth be told, Jaramogi was not only betrayed by Kikuyu political mandarins: After Jomo Kenyatta died in August 1978, his loyal Vice President took over the State House reigns. As Daniel arap Moi sought to patch up all the existing discordant political divisions, he too brought Jaramogi on board in 1980 and made him the chairman of the Cotton Lint Board of Kenya. But no sooner had he appointed him the chairman, he shooed him out again.
“Jaramogi’s false rapprochement with Moi showed that political handshakes are perpetually a gamble and could go either way”, said the strategist. “Raila’s first political rapprochement was with Moi in 1998, after Moi had defeated the divided and fledgling opposition, whose vote put together was popular, but easy to manipulate and rig. When Moi lived up to his reputation as a classic backstabber, Raila quickly jumped ship and that’s how he saved his political career, as he sunk the KANU ship with his destroyer – the National Development Party (NDP) tractor.”
But that was only a temporarily reprieve: “When Raila made a pact with Mwai Kibaki in 2002, little did he know that he would, yet again, be betrayed by a cabal of Kikuyu elites, who having helped them capture power from Moi’s project and protégé, Uhuru Kenyatta, and firmly ensconced in State House, told him to go jump in Lake Victoria.”
With these betrayals fresh in the Luo people’s psyche, the BBI endgame and Uhuru’s roadmap is unclear to them, said the political commentator. “There are so many actors and loose ends that the people are not sure that when Uhuru gets into the lame duck phase of his presidency, whether he will still be firmly in control. Who will be steering the Jubilee ship?”
“When Raila made a pact with Mwai Kibaki in 2002, little did he know that he would, yet again, be betrayed by a cabal of Kikuyu elites, who having helped them capture power from Moi’s project and protégé, Uhuru Kenyatta, and firmly ensconced in State House, told him to go jump in Lake Victoria.”
The strategist said the experience of Kibaki losing grip of his transition is a vital lesson that could not be ignored. It is believed that Kibaki preferred Musalia Mudavadi to succeed him, but the Kikuyu power barons would hear none of that. “The question the Luo people are asking themselves is this? Will Uhuru also lose grip of his transition? Has Uhuru secretly made other covenants with other politico honchos to rival BBI? Could there be other political debts that needs to repaid? Has Uhuru made a covenant with Gideon Moi, for example? As all these questions play mind games with the Luo people, the 60-million question they are asking themselves, albeit quietly is: Is Raila waiting to be used and dumped?”
At a taxi shed in Kondele, we met a bored cab driver. (That is how bad business was on a Saturday afternoon, said one of the drivers, who told us we wouldn’t even have found anyone lounging at the shed had business been booming like in yesteryears). The cab driver was clearly unhappy with the BBI’s power-sharing agreement proposition, in which Raila Odinga becomes a titular head of state. He warily observed: “Ka obiro, ok wa tamre goyo kura. En Rais ma onge’ power? Wan ang’o ma omiyo emiyo wa leftovers? En mana nying’ kende e ma wadwaro? Ndalo Kibaki ne omiwa leftovers. If we get to the election, we’ll vote. Is it a ceremonial president? Why do we always get leftovers? Are we looking for a name only? Even [Mwai] Kibaki gave us leftovers.
At the boda boda shed in Nyalenda’s Kilo Junction, a rider we talked to decried the high cost of political violence, pointing out the losses Kimwa Hotels incurred in the post-election violence of 2007/2008. Before the post-election violence, Kimwa Hotels, owned by a GEMA restaurateur, were some of the most popular eating joints in the city. Quipped the rider: “Tangu Uhuru na Raila waungane, kuna amani. Miaka miwili, ni amani. Hata Kibra election ilikua tulivu. Ninani alirusha mawe? Kiongozi, sio mwananchi.” Since Uhuru and Raila shook hands, there has been peace. These two years, we’ve had peace, even the Kibra by-election was peaceful. Was there anyone who threw stones? The leader is not an ordinary man. “Lakini tangu tupate uhuru, ni makibila mawili tu ndio wamekua na Rais. Itakua furaha yetu tusikie Mijikenda, au Mkisii ni President. Natuko wengi.” Yet, since independence presidential politics have been dominated by two ethnic communities only. It would be our joy if a Mijikenda or a Kisii is president. We’re many ethnic tribes.
But the high cost of living, the economic downturn, and the fin-tech debt trap dampened the optimism of both the taxi drivers and the boda boda riders. “Tunaishi kwa madeni za Apps. Unakuwa blocked kila mahali,” We are living at the mercy of the social media loan apps, said one of the boda boda riders ruefully. In Kondele, the taxi men chorused: “Wan e CRB te. Edonjo kata ka en gi gowi mar sling 50, wouk en chulo sling 3000. Ka aeto e dhi Huduma Centre, National Bank of Kenya, to pay. Ka gi nyalo, gigolnwa gop Apps.” We’ve all been blacklisted by the Credit Reference Bureau for defaulting on loan repayments. It’s easy to get into the list, but very hard to get out. You get in, even if you have a Sh50 debt, but to you have to pay a fee Sh3,000 to get out, go to Huduma Centre, and National Bank.”
“Ok wa pinge, ok wasire, waduaro mana freedom.” But no one hires the cars, we are not supporting him or opposing him [Raila], what we want is freedom,” said a Kondele roundabout taxi man, who bemoaned the economic downturn, which has robbed him of business opportunities. “I thought it was Building Bridges Initiative for all, but why are others being ejected out of the BBI meetings?” he wondered aloud. “Before the handshake, there was economic boycott…boycott of Brookside (Milk) and Safaricom. But now no mandate, no consulting the people, we hear that Kenya is bigger than me…but what about the mama who lost a child to the bullet and the shops that were looted? These people are pursuing their own interests. As citizens, we celebrate peace, but the economy is bad…BBI is a waste of money. If Uhuru is incompetent, he should resign,” said the anguished taxi man.
“Wan wandiko ne polis pesa, NTSA pesa, KRA pesa”. We don’t know if this is the Canaan Raila keeps talking about – we must remit money to the police officers, the NTSA, KRA,” lamented the cab driver. Like many of his fellow drivers, the taxi man is caught in the trap of unforgiving formal and informal tax regimes, for which he toils every day. “Jokondele ok dwar dhi Canaan, kata ka osegolo Nyang’ e aora. Oduokwa kamane wantiere. Wan waol ma ka unyalo manyonwa Queen Elizabeth wabed Kingdom, to manynwa uru” We the people of Kondele don’t want to go to Canaan, even if there no more crocodiles in the river. We are tired. If you can, get us Queen Elizabeth, we become a kingdom.
The cab drivers and the boda boda riders felt that yet another Raila Odinga-generated political tidal wave could easily flood them with arrogant, callous, and unresponsive leadership. The perceived hostility of the Kisumu County government towards small-trader enterprises only compounded this widely expressed feeling. Kiosks and roadside eateries around the city’s highway, the CBD and on railway land have been destroyed by various agencies in the recent city clean up, destroying many people’s livelihoods, and their dense social networks, which increasingly have been playing even a bigger role in urban lives, especially among those that have been caught up in the fin-tech web and have been listed by CRB. Some of the street lights at Kilo Junction, like those at Nyalenda roundabout, no longer function, leaving hoodlums and muggers to have a field day.
“Professor riek kendo osomo ndi, to oonge rieko mar rito piny,” Professor is very brilliant and well read, but he lacks wisdom, noted two boda boda riders separately on different occasions. Many residents of Kisumu County are angry with Governor Anyang’ Nyongo’s leadership. “Peter pass by, [Kisumu County], Peter Ma’ndege,”, or Vasco da Gama are some of the new nicknames for him doing the rounds in various social media platforms.
It seems Governor Nyong’o of Kisumu County’s Prosperity House is not the same person as the Professor Nyong’o of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), who once championed “basic needs as basic rights”. Today, many Kisumu residents detest and resent Governor Nyong’o, he of the blue economy, the BBI, and the Afrocities conference rhetoric. In the eyes of many Kisumu residents, Governor Nyong’o seems to be more at home at international conferences than he is in Kisumu County’s town hall meetings. And more at home in the company of experts than mama mbogas. He is seen as an arrogant, unaccountable and callous leader who has abdicated his responsibilities, and under whose watch Kisumu’s healthcare system is going to seed.
Kisumu County’s ailing healthcare system
The Kisumu County health system is ailing. “We don’t have a functional temporal thermometer at the Kisumu County Hospital emergency wing of the Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Teaching and Referral Hospital,” said a Kisumu doctor, just a day before Kenya reported its first confirmed COVID-19 case. Yet, all the newspapers only reported the row between the governor’s office and the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) over the governor’s $190,000 luxury car. “The thermo-gun at Kisumu County Referral Hospital is defective – it picks the room’s, not the patient’s, temperature,” observed a clinical officer as Kenya was preparing for a COVID-19 lockdown.
Kisumu’s County’s public healthcare system can barely provide a decent basic service, let alone contain a pandemic of any kind, according to the medical workers. It is beset by several woes: lack of vital equipment, laboratory reagents, reliable supply of oxygen, and blood for transfusion, poor management, over-worked and demotivated health workers, bedbugs and mosquito-infested wards.
Morale is also low among health workers. By March 15, 2020, they had not yet received their February salary, and had previously been paid their January salary only in the third week of February, lamented Kisumu public hospital doctors.
The county government has not only delayed salary payments, it has also failed to remit statutory deductions it makes from its employees’ gross salaries, such as Pay As You Earn (P.A.Y.E), insurance premiums, National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF), and loan check-offs from to the relevant institutions. The medics had to go on strike for the county government to remit these deductions.
“At least Governor Jack Ranguma paid our salaries on time, gave us an audience whenever we had issues, and upgraded a few health facilities,” observed a doctor at Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Hospital. “Nyongo’ is asphyxiating the Kisumu County healthcare system. He has a history of mistreating health workers. As the Minister for Health he insulted doctors and nurses. Is it any wonder he has a condescending attitude toward doctors?” posed the doctor.
Kisumu’s County’s public healthcare system can barely provide a decent basic service, let alone contain a pandemic of any kind, according to the medical workers.
According to the health workers, the only language Governor Nyong’o understands is that of a strike action or parades (go slows). Labour strikes have become chronic. Last week, Justice Nduma Nderi of the Kisumu-based Labour and Employment Court issued yet another court order against the County Government of Kisumu, seeking to compel it to honour a Collective Bargain Agreement (CBA) on long overdue health workers’ promotion and remuneration. The result of the testy labour relations between the medics and the county government is that many interns from medical schools are now avoiding Kisumu County, lest the frequent strikes delay their graduation. According to one doctor, “Patients are today poorly clerked and managed,” due to a high work load. “From 8.00 a.m. to 2.00 p.m., we attend to up to between 180 and 200 patients, contrary to the recommended 30 to 40 patients. We are so overworked, you don’t even look forward to work,” bemoaned a clinical officer. Those recently employed on a one-year contract basis haven’t eased the work load.
“Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Teaching and Referral Hospital’s main laboratory is understaffed, it doesn’t work at night. You can’t carry out any specialised test at night,” observed a doctor. “In other words, you can’t carry out tests such as full blood, kidney, urea and liver function tests, at JOORTH at night.”
The regional blood transfusion bank has nearly run dry following the withdrawal of donors from funding its activities. Oxygen supply is intermittent at best. Given the triple disease burden of malaria, sickle cell anaemia, and HIV-AIDS, diseases which need blood and blood products, the counties of Siaya, Kisumu, Homa Bay and Migori, should have led the smooth transition from a donor dependent blood bank to a national and county government managed regional blood bank. But both the national and county government didn’t. “What’s available in the blood bank is barely sufficient for the medical, children’s, and maternity ward.”
Obama Children’s Hospital was supposed to be a hospital within a hospital, having its own laboratory, kitchen and pharmacy, but its laboratory has only one laboratory technician, and it doesn’t work at night. The pharmacy is also closed at night. Some Kisumu residents are now seeking public healthcare in the neighbouring counties of Vihiga, Kakamega, and even Siaya’s new born unit, especially when the doctors are on strike.
Kisumu residents resent their governor for championing the lopsided Cuba-Kenya agreement on healthcare, which pays Cuban doctors high salaries and perks, at the expense of the Kenyan doctors. He failed to listen to Prof Ali Mazrui’s admonition: “There is a crying need in Kenya for a collective healthcare self-reliance. The presence of Cuban doctors to do Kenya’s dirty work, for example, is a humiliating confession of medicare impotence. Why were the Cuban doctors necessary?”
Obsession with national politics
Until the various elected leaders in Raila Odinga’s strongholds assuage the fears of the cautiously hopeful supporters of BBI, BBI politics will only excite the top echelons of the political leadership. Those who see no good coming out of the BBI process, and those who fear that the BBI’s political tidal wave will flood the citizens with more unaccountable, corrupt or incompetent leaders, will remain pessimistic and unenthusiastic about the BBI’s proposed constitutional reforms. They believe that Kisumu County’s healthcare sector woes, under the leadership of Governor Anyang’ Nyong’o, is only symptomatic of what’s wrong with the BBI politics: Raila Odinga’s obsession with national politics at the expense of the ODM-governed counties’ politics.
Those who see no good coming out of the BBI process, and those who fear that the BBI’s political tidal wave will flood the citizens with more unaccountable, corrupt or incompetent leaders, will remain pessimistic and unenthusiastic about the BBI’s proposed constitutional reforms.
“Luos will be in BBI as long as Raila is there,” summed up the political strategist. “If he left tomorrow, they would all leave. Luos are interested in Baba, not in parties or BBI. If it’s the route to the presidency, so be it, they will follow him and the BBI.”
The strategist told us that the late Joshua Orwa Ojode, the former Ndhiwa MP and Assistant Minister for Internal Security, used to say this of the Luo and Raila: “Raila en tam tam raia”. Raila is the [Luo] people’s sweetener. “Seven years after Ojode died in a helicopter crash, seven minutes after he was airborne with his boss at the ministry, George Saitoti, in June 2012, his statement remains as true to today as when he made it in 2003,” said the strategist.
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Kenya Chooses Its Next Chief Justice
The search for Kenya’s next Chief Justice that commenced Monday will seek to replace Justice David Maraga, who retired early this year, has captured the attention of the nation.
Since Monday, the 12th of April 2021, interviews to replace retired Chief Justice David Maraga for the post of the most important jurist in Kenya and the president of the Supreme Court have been underway.
The Judiciary is one of the three State organs established under Chapter 10, Article 159 of the Constitution of Kenya. It establishes the Judiciary as an independent custodian of justice in Kenya. Its primary role is to exercise judicial authority given to it, by the people of Kenya.
The institution is mandated to deliver justice in line with the Constitution and other laws. It is expected to resolve disputes in a just manner with a view to protecting the rights and liberties of all, thereby facilitating the attainment of the ideal rule of law.
The man or woman who will take up this mantle will lead the Judiciary at a time when its independence and leadership will be paramount for the nation. He/she will be selected by the Judicial Service Commission in a competitive process.
KWAMCHETSI MAKOKHA profiles the ten candidates shortlisted by the JSC.
IMF and SAPs 2.0: The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are Riding into Town
Stabilisation, liberalisation, deregulation, and privatisation: what do these four pillars of structural adjustment augur for Kenya’s beleaguered public health sector?
The International Monetary Fund’s announcement on the 2nd of April 2020 that it had approved a US$ 2.3 billion loan for Kenya prompted David Ndii to spell it out to young #KOT (Kenyans on Twitter) that “the loan Kenya has taken is called a structural adjustment loan (SAPs). It comes with austerity (tax raises, spending cuts, downsizing) to keep Kenya creditworthy so that we can continue borrowing and servicing debt”, adding that the “IMF is not here for fun. Ask older people.” With this last quip, Ndii was referring to the economic hardship visited on Kenyans under the structural adjustment programmes of the 80s and 90s.
Well, I’m old enough to remember; except that I was not in the country. I had left home, left the country, leaving behind parents who were still working, still putting my siblings through school. Parents with permanent and pensionable jobs, who were still paying the mortgage on their modest “maisonette” in a middle class Nairobi neighbourhood.
In those pre-Internet, pre-WhatsApp days, much use was made of the post office and I have kept the piles of aerogramme letters that used to bring me news of home. In those letters my parents said nothing of the deteriorating economic situation, unwilling to burden me with worries about which I could do nothing, keeping body and soul together being just about all I could manage in that foreign land where I had gone to further my education.
My brother Tony’s letters should have warned me that all was not well back home but he wrote so hilariously about the status conferred on those men who could afford second-hand underwear from America, complete with stars and stripes, that the sub-text went right over my head. I came back home for the first time after five years — having left college and found a first job — to find parents that had visibly aged beyond their years and a home that was palpably less well-off financially than when I had left. I’m a Kicomi girl and something in me rebelled against second-hand clothes, second-hand things. It seemed that in my absence Kenya had regressed to the time before independence, the years of hope and optimism wiped away by the neoliberal designs of the Bretton Woods twins. I remember wanting to flee; I wanted to go back to not knowing, to finding my family exactly as I had left it — seemingly thriving, happy, hopeful.
Now, after eight years of irresponsible government borrowing, it appears that I am to experience the effects of a Structural Adjustment Programme first-hand, and I wonder how things could possibly be worse than they already are.
When speaking to Nancy* a couple of weeks back about the COVID-19 situation at the Nyahururu County Referral Hospital in Laikipia County, she brought up the issue of pregnant women having to share beds in the maternity ward yet — quite apart from the fact that this arrangement is unacceptable whichever way you look at it — patients admitted to the ward are not routinely tested for COVID-19.
Nancy told me that candidates for emergency caesarean sections or surgery for ectopic and intra-abdominal pregnancies must wait their turn at the door to the operating theatre. Construction of a new maternity wing, complete with its own operating theatre, has ground to a halt because, rumour has it, the contractor has not been paid. The 120-bed facility should have been completed in mid-2020 to ease congestion at the Nyahururu hospital whose catchment area for referrals includes large swathes of both Nyandarua and Laikipia counties because of its geographical location.
According to Nancy, vital medicine used to prevent excessive bleeding in newly delivered mothers has not been available at her hospital since January; patients have to buy the medication themselves. This issue was also raised on Twitter by Dr Mercy Korir who, referring to the Nanyuki Teaching and Referral Hospital — the only other major hospital in Laikipia County — said that lack of emergency medication in the maternity ward was putting the lives of mothers at risk. Judging by the responses to that tweet, this dire situation is not peculiar to the Nanyuki hospital; how much worse is it going to get under the imminent SAP?
Kenya was among the first countries to sign on for a SAP in 1980 when commodity prices went through the floor and the 1973 oil crisis hit, bringing to a painful halt a post-independence decade of sustained growth and prosperity. The country was to remain under one form of structural adjustment or another from then on until 1996.
Damaris Parsitau, who has written about the impact of Structural Adjustment Programmes on women’s health in Kenya, already reported in her 2008 study that, “at Nakuru District Hospital in Kenya, for example, expectant mothers are required to buy gloves, surgical blades, disinfectants and syringes in preparation for childbirth”. It would appear that not much has changed since then.
The constitution of the World Health Organisation states that “the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health is one of the fundamental rights of every human being without distinction of race, religion, political belief, economic or social condition” and that “governments have a responsibility for the health of their peoples which can be fulfilled only by the provision of adequate health and social measures.”
The WHO should have added gender as a discrimination criteria. Parsitau notes that “compared to men, women in Kenya have less access to medical care, are more likely to be malnourished, poor, and illiterate, and even work longer and harder. The situation exacerbates women’s reproductive role, which increases their vulnerability to morbidity and mortality.”
With economic decline in the 80s, and the implementation of structural adjustment measures that resulted in cutbacks in funding and the introduction of cost sharing in a sector where from independence the government had borne the cost of providing free healthcare, the effects were inevitably felt most by the poor, the majority of who — in Kenya as in the rest of the world — are women.
A more recent review of studies carried out on the effect of SAPs on child and maternal health published in 2017 finds that “in their current form, structural adjustment programmes are incongruous with achieving SDGs [Sustainable Development Goals] 3.1 and 3.2, which stipulate reductions in neonatal, under-5, and maternal mortality rates. It is telling that even the IMF’s Independent Evaluation Office, in assessing the performance of structural adjustment loans, noted that ‘outcomes such as maternal and infant mortality rates have generally not improved.’”
The review also says that “adjustment programmes commonly promote decentralisation of health systems [which] may produce a more fractious and unequal implementation of services — including those for child and maternal health — nationally. Furthermore, lack of co-ordination in decentralised systems can hinder efforts to combat major disease outbreaks”. Well, we are in the throes of a devastating global pandemic which has brought this observation into sharp relief. According to the Ministry of Health, as of the 6th of April, 325,592 people had been vaccinated against COVID-19. Of those, 33 per cent were in Nairobi County, which accounts for just 9.2 per cent of the country’s total population of 47,564,296 people.
The Constitution of Kenya 2010 provides the legal framework for a rights-based approach to health and is the basis for the rollout of Universal Health Coverage (UHC) that was announced by President Uhuru Kenyatta on 12 December 2018 — with the customary fanfare — as part of the “Big Four Agenda” to be fulfilled before his departure in 2022.
However, a KEMRI-Wellcome Trust policy brief states that UHC is still some distance to achieving 100 per cent population coverage and recommends that “the Kenyan government should increase public financing of the health sector. Specifically, the level of public funding for healthcare in Kenya should double, if the threshold (5% of GDP) … is to be reached” and that “Kenya should reorient its health financing strategy away from a focus on contributory, voluntary health insurance, and instead recognize that increased tax funding is critical.”
These recommendations, it would seem to me, run counter to the conditionalities habitually imposed by the IMF and it is therefore not clear how the government will deliver UHC nation-wide by next year if this latest SAP is accompanied by budgetary cutbacks in the healthcare sector.
With the coronavirus graft scandal and the disappearance of medical supplies donated by Jack Ma still fresh on their minds, Kenyans are not inclined to believe that the IMF billions will indeed go to “support[ing] the next phase of the authorities’ COVID-19 response and their plan to reduce debt vulnerabilities while safeguarding resources to protect vulnerable groups”, as the IMF has claimed.
#KOT have — with outrage, with humour, vociferously — rejected this latest loan, tweeting the IMF in their hundreds and inundating the organisation’s Facebook page with demands that the IMF rescind its decision. An online petition had garnered more than 200,000 signatures within days of the IMF’s announcement. Whether the IMF will review its decision is moot. The prevailing economic climate is such that we are damned if we do take the loan, and damned if we don’t.
Structural adjustment supposedly “encourages countries to become economically self-sufficient by creating an environment that is friendly to innovation, investment and growth”, but the recidivist nature of the programmes suggests that either the Kenyan government is a recalcitrant pupil or SAPs simply don’t work. I would say it is both.
But the Kenyan government has not just been a recalcitrant pupil; it has also been a consistently profligate one. While SAPs do indeed provide for “safeguarding resources to protect vulnerable groups”, political choices are made that sacrifice the welfare of the ordinary Kenyan at the altar of grandiose infrastructure projects, based on the fiction peddled by international financial institutions that infrastructure-led growth can generate enough income to service debt. And when resources are not being wasted on “legacy” projects, they are embezzled on a scale that literally boggles the mind. We can no longer speak of runaway corruption; a new lexicon is required to describe this phenomenon which pervades every facet of our lives and which has rendered the years of sacrifice our parents endured meaningless and put us in debt bondage for many more generations to come. David Ndii long warned us that this moment was coming. It is here.
East Africa: A ‘Hotbed of Terror’
African states are involved in the War on Terror more than we think. They’re surrounded by an eco-system of the war industry.
In late January, reports circulated on social media about a suspected US drone strike in southern Somalia, in the Al-Shabaab controlled Ma’moodow town in Bakool province. Debate quickly ensued on Twitter about whether the newly installed Biden administration was responsible for this strike, which was reported to have occurred at 10 p.m. local time on January 29th, 2021.
Southern Somalia has been the target of an unprecedented escalation of US drone strikes in the last several years, with approximately 900 to 1,000 people killed between 2016 and 2019. According to the nonprofit group Airwars, which monitors and assesses civilian harm from airpower-dominated international military actions, “it was under the Obama administration that a significant US drone and airstrike campaign began,” coupled with the deployment of Special Operations forces inside the country.
Soon after Donald Trump took office in 2017, he signed a directive designating parts of Somalia “areas of active hostilities.” While the US never formally declared war in Somalia, Trump effectively instituted war-zone targeting rules by expanding the discretionary authority of the military to conduct airstrikes and raids. Thus the debate over the January 29 strike largely hinged on the question of whether President Joe Biden was upholding Trump’s “flexible” approach to drone warfare―one that sanctioned more airstrikes in Somalia in the first seven months of 2020 than were carried out during the administrations of George W. Bush and Barack Obama, combined.
In the days following the January 29 strike, the US Military’s Africa Command (AFRICOM) denied responsibility, claiming that the last US military action in Somalia occurred on January 19, the last full day of the Trump presidency. Responding to an inquiry from Airwars, AFRICOM’s public affairs team announced:
We are aware of the reporting. US Africa Command was not involved in the Jan. 29 action referenced below. US Africa Command last strike was conducted on Jan. 19. Our policy of acknowledging all airstrikes by either press release or response to query has not changed.
In early March, The New York Times reported that the Biden administration had in fact imposed temporary limits on the Trump-era directives, thereby constraining drone strikes outside of “conventional battlefield zones.” In practice, this means that the US military and the CIA now require White House permission to pursue terror suspects in places like Somalia and Yemen where the US is not “officially” at war. This does not necessarily reflect a permanent change in policy, but rather a stopgap measure while the Biden administration develops “its own policy and procedures for counterterrorism kill-or-capture operations outside war zones.”
If we take AFRICOM at its word about January 29th, this provokes the question of who was behind that particular strike. Following AFRICOM’s denial of responsibility, analysts at Airwars concluded that the strike was likely carried out by forces from the African Union peacekeeping mission in Somali (AMISOM) or by Ethiopian troops, as it occurred soon after Al-Shabaab fighters had ambushed a contingent of Ethiopian troops in the area. If indeed the military of an African state is responsible for the bombing, what does this mean for our analysis of the security assemblages that sustain the US’s war-making apparatus in Africa?
Thanks to the work of scholars, activists, and investigative journalists, we have a growing understanding of what AFRICOM operations look like in practice. Maps of logistics hubs, forward operating sites, cooperative security locations, and contingency locations―from Mali and Niger to Kenya and Djibouti―capture the infrastructures that facilitate militarism and war on a global scale. Yet what the events of January 29th suggest is that AFRICOM is situated within, and often reliant upon, less scrutinized war-making infrastructures that, like those of the United States, claim to operate in the name of security.
A careful examination of the geographies of the US’s so-called war on terror in East Africa points not to one unified structure in the form of AFRICOM, but to multiple, interconnected geopolitical projects. Inspired by the abolitionist thought of Ruth Wilson Gilmore, who cautions activists against focusing exclusively on any one site of violent exception like the prison, I am interested in the relational geographies that sustain the imperial war-making infrastructure in Africa today. Just as the modern prison is “a central but by no means singularly defining institution of carceral geography,” AFRICOM is a fundamental but by no means singularly defining instrument of war-making in Africa today.
Since the US military’s embarrassing exit from Somalia in 1993, the US has shifted from a boots-on-the ground approach to imperial warfare, instead relying on African militaries, private contractors, clandestine ground operations, and drone strikes. To singularly focus on AFRICOM’s drone warfare is therefore to miss the wider matrix of militarized violence that is at work. As Madiha Tahir reminds us, attack drones are only the most visible element of what she refers to as “distributed empire”—differentially distributed opaque networks of technologies and actors that augment the reach of the war on terror to govern more bodies and spaces. This dispersal of power requires careful consideration of the racialized labor that sustains war-making in Somalia, and of the geographical implications of this labor. The vast array of actors involved in the war against Al-Shabaab has generated political and economic entanglements that extend well beyond the territory of Somalia itself.
Ethiopia was the first African military to intervene in Somalia in December 2006, sending thousands of troops across the border, but it did not do so alone. Ethiopia’s effort was backed by US aerial reconnaissance and satellite surveillance, signaling the entanglement of at least two geopolitical projects. While the US was focused on threats from actors with alleged ties to Al-Qaeda, Ethiopia had its own concerns about irredentism and the potential for its then-rival Eritrea to fund Somali militants that would infiltrate and destabilize Ethiopia. As Ethiopian troops drove Somali militant leaders into exile, more violent factions emerged in their place. In short, the 2006 invasion planted the seeds for the growth of what is now known as Al-Shabaab.
The United Nations soon authorized an African Union peacekeeping operation (AMISOM) to “stabilize” Somalia. What began as a small deployment of 1,650 peacekeepers in 2007 gradually transformed into a number that exceeded 22,000 by 2014. The African Union has emerged as a key subcontractor of migrant military labor in Somalia: troops from Burundi, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Uganda deployed to fight Al-Shabaab are paid significantly higher salaries than they receive back home, and their governments obtain generous military aid packages from the US, UK, and increasingly the European Union in the name of “security.”
But because these are African troops rather than American ones, we hear little of lives lost, or of salaries not paid. The rhetoric of “peacekeeping” makes AMISOM seem something other than what it is in practice—a state-sanctioned, transnational apparatus of violent labor that exploits group-differentiated vulnerability to premature death. (This is also how Gilmore defines racism.)
Meanwhile, Somali analyst Abukar Arman uses the term “predatory capitalism” to describe the hidden economic deals that accompany the so-called stabilization effort, such as “capacity-building” programs for the Somali security apparatus that serve as a cover for oil and gas companies to obtain exploration and drilling rights. Kenya is an important example of a “partner” state that has now become imbricated in this economy of war. Following the Kenya Defense Forces (KDF) invasion of Somalia in October 2011, the African Union’s readiness to incorporate Kenyan troops into AMISOM was a strategic victory for Kenya, as it provided a veneer of legitimacy for maintaining what has amounted to a decade-long military occupation of southern Somalia.
Through carefully constructed discourses of threat that build on colonial-era mappings of alterity in relation to Somalis, the Kenyan political elite have worked to divert attention away from internal troubles and from the economic interests that have shaped its involvement in Somalia. From collusion with Al-Shabaab in the illicit cross-border trade in sugar and charcoal, to pursuing a strategic foothold in offshore oil fields, Kenya is sufficiently ensnared in the business of war that, as Horace Campbell observes, “it is not in the interest of those involved in this business to have peace.”
What began as purportedly targeted interventions spawned increasingly broader projects that expanded across multiple geographies. In the early stages of AMISOM troop deployment, for example, one-third of Mogadishu’s population abandoned the city due to the violence caused by confrontations between the mission and Al-Shabaab forces, with many seeking refuge in Kenya. While the mission’s initial rules of engagement permitted the use of force only when necessary, it gradually assumed an offensive role, engaging in counterinsurgency and counterterror operations.
Rather than weaken Al-Shabaab, the UN Monitoring Group on Somalia observed that offensive military operations exacerbated insecurity. According to the UN, the dislodgment of Al-Shabaab from major urban centers “has prompted its further spread into the broader Horn of Africa region” and resulted in repeated displacements of people from their homes. Meanwhile, targeted operations against individuals with suspected ties to Al-Shabaab are unfolding not only in Somalia itself, but equally in neighboring countries like Kenya, where US-trained Kenyan police employ military tactics of tracking and targeting potential suspects, contributing to what one Kenyan rights group referred to as an “epidemic” of extrajudicial killings and disappearances.
Finally, the fact that some of AMISOM’s troop-contributing states have conducted their own aerial assaults against Al-Shabaab in Somalia demands further attention. A December 2017 United Nations report, for example, alleged that unauthorized Kenyan airstrikes had contributed to at least 40 civilian deaths in a 22-month period between 2015 and 2017. In May 2020, senior military officials in the Somali National Army accused the Kenyan military of indiscriminately bombing pastoralists in the Gedo region, where the KDF reportedly conducted over 50 airstrikes in a two week period. And in January 2021, one week prior to the January 29 strike that Airwars ascribed to Ethiopia, Uganda employed its own fleet of helicopter gunships to launch a simultaneous ground and air assault in southern Somalia, contributing to the deaths—according to the Ugandan military—of 189 people, allegedly all Al-Shabaab fighters.
While each of the governments in question are formally allies of the US, their actions are not reducible to US directives. War making in Somalia relies on contingent and fluid alliances that evolve over time, as each set of actors evaluates and reevaluates their interests. The ability of Ethiopia, Kenya, and Uganda to maintain their own war-making projects requires the active or tacit collaboration of various actors at the national level, including politicians who sanction the purchase of military hardware, political and business elite who glorify militarized masculinities and femininities, media houses that censor the brutalities of war, logistics companies that facilitate the movement of supplies, and the troops themselves, whose morale and faith in their mission must be sustained.
As the Biden administration seeks to restore the image of the United States abroad, it is possible that AFRICOM will gradually assume a backseat role in counterterror operations in Somalia. Officially, at least, US troops have been withdrawn and repositioned in Kenya and Djibouti, while African troops remain on the ground in Somalia. Relying more heavily on its partners in the region would enable the US to offset the public scrutiny and liability that comes with its own direct involvement.
But if our focus is exclusively on the US, then we succumb to its tactics of invisibility and invincibility, and we fail to reckon with the reality that the East African warscape is a terrain shaped by interconnected modes of power. The necessary struggle to abolish AFRICOM requires that we recognize its entanglement in and reliance upon other war-making assemblages, and that we distribute our activism accordingly. Recounting that resistance itself has long been framed as “terrorism,” we would do well to learn from those across the continent who, in various ways over the years, have pushed back, often at a heavy price.
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