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Race and Revival: A Posture of Protest for a New Pentecostal Movement

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The early Pentecostals rejected war, militarism, patriotic indoctrination, wage slavery and racism, believing that the love of Jesus had to supersede the love for nation-state, money, social class and whiteness. We must revive the passions of early Pentecostal leaders and examine Pentecostalism in fresh ways.

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Race and Revival: A Posture of Protest for a New Pentecostal Movement
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On the night of April 9, 1906, a small congregation led by William J. Seymour, a black preacher, was meeting at a home on Bonnie Brae Street in Los Angeles, California. The group was three days into a ten-day fast, praying and waiting on God. Suddenly, “as though hit by a bolt of lightning, they were knocked from their chairs to the floor” and they began to speak in tongues and shout out loud praising God.

In the next few days, news of the event spread throughout the neighbourhood, and Seymour began to look for an alternative venue to accommodate his growing congregation. At one point, the front porch of the house collapsed under the weight of the swelling crowd. They found a place at 312 Azusa Street, a ramshackle building that had most recently served as a stable for horses with rooms upstairs for rent.

It was in this building on Azusa Street that the modern Pentecostal movement can trace its origins. People from all over the United States and beyond came to experience the “outpouring of the Holy Spirit”, and from the outset the Azusa Street movement was remarkable for attracting a diverse group of followers – black, white, Asian, people of all ages, income and class backgrounds.

Consider that this was happening in 1906 in “Jim Crow” America, just a decade after the Plessy v. Ferguson Supreme Court decision that entrenched racial segregation as law in the US. The racial intermingling was a scandal, to some extent even more than the “Weird Babel of Tongues”, as a front-page headline from the Los Angeles Times described it. The paper continued: “Colored people and a sprinkling of whites compose the congregation, and night is made hideous in the neighborhood by the howlings of the worshippers, who spend hours swaying forth and back in a nerve racking (sic) attitude of prayer and supplication.”

Seymour’s mentor, Charles Parham (who was white), broke with his erstwhile disciple and was sharp in his criticism: “Men and women, white and black, knelt together or fell across one another; a white woman, perhaps of wealth and culture, could be seen thrown back in the arms of a big ‘buck n-gger,’ and held tightly thus as she shivered and shook in freak imitation of Pentecost. Horrible, awful shame!”

A few years earlier, Seymour had attended Parham’s bible school, which at the time violated Texas Jim Crow laws – Seymour had to take a seat just outside the classroom door. Later Parham and Seymour preached on street corners together, but Parham only allowed Seymour to preach to black people.

Seymour himself endorsed speaking in tongues as a sign of the Holy Spirit, but with time came to believe that although tongues-speech was the initial evidence, it was not the absolute evidence. He saw that some white people could speak in tongues and continue to treat people of colour as inferior to them. For Seymour, Holy Spirit tongues-speech had to be accompanied with a breaking down of racial barriers and a reordering of society – it had to be, as Ashon Crawley writes, a posture of protest: “It would have to be a practice that is not merely a style, but also a political practice.”

This stance was not unique to Seymour. Contrary to what today’s Pentecostalism may suggest, early Pentecostals – especially those who stayed close to Seymour’s position – rejected war, militarism, patriotic indoctrination, wage slavery and racism, believing that the love of Jesus had to supersede the love for nation-state, money, social class and yes, whiteness. The outbreak of World War I in 1914 (which came just eight years after the revival on Azusa Street) would put their convictions to the test. They opposed the war and refused to be drafted into the US military, arguing against it as conscientious objectors.

They were vilified for this, and called “traitors, slackers, cranks and weak-minded people for extending Jesus’ love beyond racial, ethnic and national boundaries”, as the seminal work, Early Pentecostals on Nonviolence and Social Justice, an edited collection of writings by those early leaders including Seymour himself, outlines.

Pentecostalism is mainstream now, so if you are thinking of a group that is radically committed to social justice and the breaking down of racial hierarchies and capitalistic exploitation, Pentecostals wouldn’t be the first folks who come to mind. But that obscuring of Pentecostalism’s early, radical history has made us all the poorer for it, and has resulted in reaching for prayer, speaking in tongues and public piety as the default, go-to reaction in the face of crisis. To be sure, early Pentecostals did pray, shout, jump, speak in unknown tongues and get slain in the Spirit. But they did more – their Spirit baptism had real-world, political consequences.

Seymour’s breaking ranks with his mentor Parham in some contexts is attributed to a difference in doctrine – Parham believed that tongues were real, translatable human languages, whose purpose was to empower missionaries to travel around the world converting non-believers to Christianity. Seymour believed that this could be the purpose of tongues, but that tongues could also be a “divine language”, perhaps the language of angels that could not be understood by human ears.

Pentecostalism is mainstream now, so if you are thinking of a group that is radically committed to social justice and the breaking down of racial hierarchies and capitalistic exploitation, Pentecostals wouldn’t be the first folks who come to mind.

Is it any wonder then that as a white man Parham’s understanding of tongues was embedded in a missionary-driven, evangelistic and imperial project, but Seymour – who as a black man could not even sit inside the very Bible school classroom teaching the concept of tongues – was convinced that the Holy Spirit had to bring a broader, more elevated freedom-speech that had the power to tear down the immediate racial restrictions in his own life?

In our context here in Africa, spirit-empowered movements were not necessarily a direct outgrowth of the Azusa Street revival. Some were, such as the Assemblies of God, Apostolic Church and Church of God in Christ, established by American Pentecostal denominations. But others either arose independently, and became known as African-initiated/ independent churches, or emerged out of Western mission churches as a revivalist streak within mainline denominations – Anglican, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Mennonite and so on. In later years another category emerged, that is the neo-Pentecostals, which became most associated with Pentecostalism as most of us know it today – the urban-centred, upbeat prosperity gospel churches.

“Good people” in positions of power

My own experience with Pentecostal and evangelical churches while growing up in middle-class Nairobi was one of not necessarily avoiding direct engagement with the political, but instead implicitly ascribing one of two theories of political change, if not both simultaneously.

The first theory assumed that concerns regarding social justice would resolve themselves spontaneously if the general population received the redemptive message of Christ and became Born-Again and Spirit-filled. It was a matter of simple arithmetic – individual salvation would eventually translate into societal transformation, one soul at a time.

This strategy may appear, at first glance, to be disengagement with the public sphere and with politics. However, as Damaris Parsitau’s research has demonstrated, African Pentecostals do not regard prayer, fasting and evangelism to be apolitical. Not at all. In fact, they are intensely political, a strategy that spiritually “takes the nation for Christ” through crusades, tent revivals, healing and deliverance services, conferences and symposia, fellowships, ladies’ meetings, men’s meetings, prayer fellowships and night vigils, and expects that this will eventually have real-world, political consequences.

The first theory assumed that concerns regarding social justice would resolve themselves spontaneously if the general population received the redemptive message of Christ and became Born-Again and Spirit-filled. It was a matter of simple arithmetic – individual salvation would eventually translate into societal transformation, one soul at a time.

The second theory of change is more targeted, and in some ways, more elitist. It is the idea that Christians can “infiltrate” and influence structures of power for good. In practice this means working to ascend to positions of influence in order to harness that power towards a “godly” agenda. This second strategy has become more refined in the neoliberal era, one that is ostensibly meritocratic, a “marketplace of ideas” where the best ideas and the most qualified people would rise to the top.

The mission was to ensure that these people, apart from being technically qualified for the job, would also be Born-Again, Bible-knowing, Spirit-filled and so “ambassadors” for Christ. It would also mean pastors and other religious leaders ascending to unofficial but incredibly influential positions as advisors to presidents and politicians, for example through organising “National Prayer Breakfasts” in Africa and elsewhere, which are usually attended top government officials.

Ebenezer Obadare’s Pentecostal Republic outlines how this latter strategy has played out to great effect in Nigeria since the country’s return to civilian rule in 1999. Obadare’s book makes a categorical assertion – that the Nigerian democratic process over the past two decades is ultimately inexplicable without the emergent power of Pentecostalism, “whether as manifested in the rising political influence of Pentecostal pastors, or in a commensurate popular tendency to view socio-political problems in spiritual terms”.

The problem with both of these political strategies, when we really think about it, is that both work with the general assumption that the fundamental political structures of society are either inconsequential to public welfare, or if they are, they are in the main, sound and just. They assume that all we need to fix racism, capitalistic exploitation, social decay, violence and neo-colonialism is first, a change of heart, and second, “good people” ascending to positions of power and influence. The system is mostly sound, the idea goes – all that is needed to fix it is “leadership”. However, these notions do nothing to radically challenge the status quo; rather they reify and stabilise it.

Slave patrols and modern-day policing

However, in the past few weeks, especially in the wake of George Floyd’s murder in the US, we have seen the limits of those arguments. Take the problem of police violence, for example. It is not a result of “a few bad apples”. Abuse, harassment, misconduct and brutality are not rare or aberrations; they are structural and part of everyday policing.

Policing in the African colony was always and inherently designed to protect the property of the elite – at first, European property and people, and later, the property of their African comprador successors. The African poor were viewed as a problem to be contained. The enforcement of minor offences designed to restrict African movement and corral them into working for European farms and industries took up most of the colony police’s time and resources. Even to this day, the first question that a Kenyan police officer is likely to ask you upon contact is for your ID card – a hangover from colonial vagrancy laws that still exist, which render the African as an “illegal” presence in the colony unless the African’s existence is justified – that is, if his/her labour benefits the colonial state.

The second theory of change is more targeted, and in some ways, more elitist. It is the idea that Christians can “infiltrate” and influence structures of power for good. In practice this means working to ascend to positions of influence in order to harness that power towards a “godly” agenda.

In the US, policing in the South started as slave patrols, first to capture runaway slaves and return them to their masters, and second to provide a form of organised terror that would deter enslaved people from revolting. Later, the police’s major job was to enforce the black codes of the Jim Crow South to control the lives and movements of black people. In the early 20th century in cities in the North, municipal police were primarily involved in suppressing and breaking up the labour strikes of the day.

In such a context, where impunity, classism and racism is the structure, the scaffolding and the raison d’être of the police force, how can one honestly say that you can “influence” it for good? Even the Jesus in the gospels did not move to Rome to “influence” Caesar; his life and ministry were instead in Judea, among peasants and fishermen.

Furthermore, oppressive regimes are sustained not by brute force alone, but also by a coterie of enablers who mistakenly believe that they can “change the system from the inside” but really only end up legitimising the regime. Using the context of Zimbabwe and the ruling party Zanu-PF, Alex T. Magaisa, in this article, expertly peels the layers off this fantasy that is frequently held sincerely by well-meaning and competent people, but which only ends up normalising the abnormal, and so becomes invaluable in giving a sheen of legitimacy to a thoroughly oppressive regime.

Magaisa’s searing analysis can apply to any illegitimate or repressive system in any country. “They may start from the periphery wearing the label of ‘technocrats’ but soon enough, they will find themselves deep in the cesspool, wearing scarfs and chanting ridiculous slogans…,” he writes. Cocktail parties and prayer breakfast meetings are not just about hobnobbing with the high and mighty; they also give the impression that everything is normal, which is something oppressive regimes desperately need. But as we say on social media, it always ends in premium tears.

In Obadare’s analysis, although Pentecostalism has indeed influenced the struggle for state power in Nigeria, it has had little effect on the state itself, “whether in terms of its governing philosophy or animating spirit”. In fact, Pentecostalism in Nigeria is a force focused on appropriating state power, and even demobilising civil society. Parsitau echoes this view. Her research highlights that in the Kenyan context, Pentecostal and Charismatic theology abstracts social evil into spiritual terms – attributing problems such as inequality, poverty and crime as the work of the devil, demons and other malevolent spiritual agents.

New sight, new tongues and a new wind

In my view, using simplified language like this is not necessarily a bad thing. Structural evil is sometimes so insidious and its effects so thorough that if you don’t have access to terms like “neoliberalism”, “the prison-industrial complex” or “exploitative capitalism”, the only way you can sincerely describe the devastation around you is to ascribe it to the devil.

It is actually demonic that the world’s richest 1 per cent have more than twice as much wealth as 6.9 billion people, or that the 22 richest men in the world have more wealth than all the women in Africa. How else can you describe our violent world where anti-blackness is global, where black lives are disposable, where women’s lives are the most precarious? How can you reckon with a planet that seems to be hurtling towards self-destruction? How can one exist in a world like that and remain sane?

In such a context, where impunity, classism and racism is the structure, the scaffolding and the raison d’être of the police force, how can one honestly say that you can “influence” it for good? Even the Jesus in the gospels did not move to Rome to “influence” Caesar; his life and ministry were instead in Judea, among peasants and fishermen.

Facing the truth – that fellow humans are, in fact, responsible for this state of affairs – is sometimes too much to contemplate. It would drive one to commit retributive mass murder, or resort to suicide. James Baldwin puts it thus: “To be a Negro in this country [the USA] and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.” (We could say the same about being black anywhere in the world.)

Escapist though it may be, attributing such evil to the devil is, in some ways, a way of preserving one’s sense of humanity. Since I am human, surely those who commit such evil must be animated by a malevolent force, otherwise, how could we both be human?

But because Pentecost Sunday was recently held on 31 May, I want to argue, like Rev William J. Barber does, for a new Pentecost – and for revisiting the passions of early Pentecostal leaders and examine Pentecostalism in fresh ways. The account of the day of Pentecost in the New Testament, Acts 2, outlines a dramatic moment when Jesus’s followers spoke in new and unknown tongues, and were given new sight and power as a wind shook the building they were in. My dear friend Curtis Reed once told me that many Christians are exhausted by trying to identify and resist domination and intimidation because it is frequently housed in Christian language (like Deputy President William Ruto saying he’s “investing in heaven” when dishing out large sums of money to churches).

If we are to find that again in this moment, we need new sight (to clearly see the structures of domination) new tongues (language to describe what we are seeing) and a new wind (if whiteness is invisible and powerful like air, then Pentecost in 2020 would mean new energy and drive to confront these entrenched systems, just as we’ve seen a wind of consciousness drive a whole generation to the streets in Minneapolis, Atlanta, New York, London, and further still).

In my view, using simplified language like this is not necessarily a bad thing. Structural evil is sometimes so insidious and its effects so thorough that if you don’t have access to terms like “neoliberalism”, “the prison-industrial complex” or “exploitative capitalism”, the only way you can sincerely describe the devastation around you is to ascribe it to the devil.

The first thing the believers did after receiving the Spirit at the end of Acts 2 was to sell their possessions and share according to each one’s need, going against the logic and normative framework of Empire. (Empire is about extraction, accumulation, excess and wastage, as the early Jesus followers must have experienced intimately as oppressed subjects of the Roman Empire.)

We must remember that the modern Pentecostal movement was led by a black preacher who saw that any claim of Holy Spirit baptism must have anti-racist and anti-imperialist real-world political consequences. This must lead us to move against patriotic indoctrination, militarism, and capitalistic excess. The love of Jesus and the power of the Spirit cannot be an abstraction, and cannot be limited to individual rehabilitation, but must extend into a practice of justice and equity for all people. It must be, as Seymour discovered, a posture of protest.

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Christine Mungai is a writer, journalist, and 2018 Nieman Fellow at Harvard University. She is based in Nairobi, Kenya, and has written on a wide range of subjects. Her work has been published in The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, Al Jazeera English, The New Internationalist, and more. Currently, Christine is the curator of Baraza Media Lab in Nairobi, a co-creation space for public interest storytelling.

Politics

Asylum Pact: Rwanda Must Do Some Political Housecleaning

Rwandans are welcoming, but the government’s priority must be to solve the internal political problems which produce refugees.

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The governments of the United Kingdom and Rwanda have signed an agreement to move asylum seekers from the UK to Rwanda for processing. This partnership has been heavily criticized and has been referred to as unethical and inhumane. It has also been opposed by the United Nations Refugee Agency on the grounds that it is contrary to the spirit of the Refugee Convention.

Here in Rwanda, we heard the news of the partnership on the day it was signed. The subject has never been debated in the Rwandan parliament and neither had it been canvassed in the local media prior to the announcement.

According to the government’s official press release, the partnership reflects Rwanda’s commitment to protect vulnerable people around the world. It is argued that by relocating migrants to Rwanda, their dignity and rights will be respected and they will be provided with a range of opportunities, including for personal development and employment, in a country that has consistently been ranked among the safest in the world.

A considerable number of Rwandans have been refugees and therefore understand the struggle that comes with being an asylum seeker and what it means to receive help from host countries to rebuild lives. Therefore, most Rwandans are sensitive to the plight of those forced to leave their home countries and would be more than willing to make them feel welcome. However, the decision to relocate the migrants to Rwanda raises a number of questions.

The government argues that relocating migrants to Rwanda will address the inequalities in opportunity that push economic migrants to leave their homes. It is not clear how this will work considering that Rwanda is already the most unequal country in the East African region. And while it is indeed seen as among the safest countries in the world, it was however ranked among the bottom five globally in the recently released 2022 World Happiness Index. How would migrants, who may have suffered psychological trauma fare in such an environment, and in a country that is still rebuilding itself?

A considerable number of Rwandans have been refugees and therefore understand the struggle that comes with being an asylum seeker and what it means to receive help from host countries to rebuild lives.

What opportunities can Rwanda provide to the migrants? Between 2018—the year the index was first published—and 2020, Rwanda’s ranking on the Human Capital Index (HCI) has been consistently low. Published by the World Bank, HCI measures which countries are best at mobilising the economic and professional potential of their citizens. Rwanda’s score is lower than the average for sub-Saharan Africa and it is partly due to this that the government had found it difficult to attract private investment that would create significant levels of employment prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Unemployment, particularly among the youth, has since worsened.

Despite the accolades Rwanda has received internationally for its development record, Rwanda’s economy has never been driven by a dynamic private or trade sector; it has been driven by aid. The country’s debt reached 73 per cent of GDP in 2021 while its economy has not developed the key areas needed to achieve and secure genuine social and economic transformation for its entire population. In addition to human capital development, these include social capital development, especially mutual trust among citizens considering the country’s unfortunate historical past, establishing good relations with neighbouring states, respect for human rights, and guaranteeing the accountability of public officials.

Rwanda aspires to become an upper middle-income country by 2035 and a high-income country by 2050. In 2000, the country launched a development plan that aimed to transform it into a middle-income country by 2020 on the back on a knowledge economy. That development plan, which has received financial support from various development partners including the UK which contributed over £1 billion, did not deliver the anticipated outcomes. Today the country remains stuck in the category of low-income states. Its structural constraints as a small land-locked country with few natural resources are often cited as an obstacle to development. However, this is exacerbated by current governance in Rwanda, which limits the political space, lacks separation of powers, impedes freedom of expression and represses government critics, making it even harder for Rwanda to reach the desired developmental goals.

Rwanda’s structural constraints as a small land-locked country with no natural resources are often viewed as an obstacle to achieving the anticipated development.

As a result of the foregoing, Rwanda has been producing its own share of refugees, who have sought political and economic asylum in other countries. The UK alone took in 250 Rwandese last year. There are others around the world, the majority of whom have found refuge in different countries in Africa, including countries neighbouring Rwanda. The presence of these refugees has been a source of tension in the region with Kigali accusing neighbouring states of supporting those who want to overthrow the government by force. Some Rwandans have indeed taken up armed struggle, a situation that, if not resolved, threatens long-term security in Rwanda and the Great Lakes region. In fact, the UK government’s advice on travel to Rwanda has consistently warned of the unstable security situation near the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Burundi.

While Rwanda’s intention to help address the global imbalance of opportunity that fuels illegal immigration is laudable, I would recommend that charity start at home. As host of the 26th Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting scheduled for June 2022, and Commonwealth Chair-in-Office for the next two years, the government should seize the opportunity to implement the core values and principles of the Commonwealth, particularly the promotion of democracy, the rule of law, freedom of expression, political and civil rights, and a vibrant civil society. This would enable Rwanda to address its internal social, economic and political challenges, creating a conducive environment for long-term economic development, and durable peace that will not only stop Rwanda from producing refugees but will also render the country ready and capable of economically and socially integrating refugees from less fortunate countries in the future.

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Politics

Beyond Borders: Why We Need a Truly Internationalist Climate Justice Movement

The elite’s ‘solution’ to the climate crisis is to turn the displaced into exploitable migrant labour. We need a truly internationalist alternative.

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“We are not drowning, we are fighting” has become the rallying call for the Pacific Climate Warriors. From UN climate meetings to blockades of Australian coal ports, these young Indigenous defenders from twenty Pacific Island states are raising the alarm of global warming for low-lying atoll nations. Rejecting the narrative of victimisation – “you don’t need my pain or tears to know that we’re in a crisis,” as Samoan Brianna Fruean puts it – they are challenging the fossil fuel industry and colonial giants such as Australia, responsible for the world’s highest per-capita carbon emissions.

Around the world, climate disasters displace around 25.3 million people annually – one person every one to two seconds. In 2016, new displacements caused by climate disasters outnumbered new displacements as a result of persecution by a ratio of three to one. By 2050, an estimated 143 million people will be displaced in just three regions: Africa, South Asia, and Latin America. Some projections for global climate displacement are as high as one billion people.

Mapping who is most vulnerable to displacement reveals the fault lines between rich and poor, between the global North and South, and between whiteness and its Black, Indigenous and racialised others.

Globalised asymmetries of power create migration but constrict mobility. Displaced people – the least responsible for global warming – face militarised borders. While climate change is itself ignored by the political elite, climate migration is presented as a border security issue and the latest excuse for wealthy states to fortify their borders. In 2019, the Australian Defence Forces announced military patrols around Australia’s waters to intercept climate refugees.

The burgeoning terrain of “climate security” prioritises militarised borders, dovetailing perfectly into eco-apartheid. “Borders are the environment’s greatest ally; it is through them that we will save the planet,” declares the party of French far-Right politician Marine Le Pen. A US Pentagon-commissioned report on the security implications of climate change encapsulates the hostility to climate refugees: “Borders will be strengthened around the country to hold back unwanted starving immigrants from the Caribbean islands (an especially severe problem), Mexico, and South America.” The US has now launched Operation Vigilant Sentry off the Florida coast and created Homeland Security Task Force Southeast to enforce marine interdiction and deportation in the aftermath of disasters in the Caribbean.

Labour migration as climate mitigation

you broke the ocean in
half to be here.
only to meet nothing that wants you
– Nayyirah Waheed

Parallel to increasing border controls, temporary labour migration is increasingly touted as a climate adaptation strategy. As part of the ‘Nansen Initiative’, a multilateral, state-led project to address climate-induced displacement, the Australian government has put forward its temporary seasonal worker program as a key solution to building climate resilience in the Pacific region. The Australian statement to the Nansen Initiative Intergovernmental Global Consultation was, in fact, delivered not by the environment minister but by the Department of Immigration and Border Protection.

Beginning in April 2022, the new Pacific Australia Labour Mobility scheme will make it easier for Australian businesses to temporarily insource low-wage workers (what the scheme calls “low-skilled” and “unskilled” workers) from small Pacific island countries including Nauru, Papua New Guinea, Kiribati, Samoa, Tonga, and Tuvalu. Not coincidentally, many of these countries’ ecologies and economies have already been ravaged by Australian colonialism for over one hundred years.

It is not an anomaly that Australia is turning displaced climate refugees into a funnel of temporary labour migration. With growing ungovernable and irregular migration, including climate migration, temporary labour migration programs have become the worldwide template for “well-managed migration.” Elites present labour migration as a double win because high-income countries fill their labour shortage needs without providing job security or citizenship, while low-income countries alleviate structural impoverishment through migrants’ remittances.

Dangerous, low-wage jobs like farm, domestic, and service work that cannot be outsourced are now almost entirely insourced in this way. Insourcing and outsourcing represent two sides of the same neoliberal coin: deliberately deflated labour and political power. Not to be confused with free mobility, temporary labour migration represents an extreme neoliberal approach to the quartet of foreign, climate, immigration, and labour policy, all structured to expand networks of capital accumulation through the creation and disciplining of surplus populations.

The International Labour Organization recognises that temporary migrant workers face forced labour, low wages, poor working conditions, virtual absence of social protection, denial of freedom association and union rights, discrimination and xenophobia, as well as social exclusion. Under these state-sanctioned programs of indentureship, workers are legally tied to an employer and deportable. Temporary migrant workers are kept compliant through the threats of both termination and deportation, revealing the crucial connection between immigration status and precarious labour.

Through temporary labour migration programs, workers’ labour power is first captured by the border and this pliable labour is then exploited by the employer. Denying migrant workers permanent immigration status ensures a steady supply of cheapened labour. Borders are not intended to exclude all people, but to create conditions of ‘deportability’, which increases social and labour precarity. These workers are labelled as ‘foreign’ workers, furthering racist xenophobia against them, including by other workers. While migrant workers are temporary, temporary migration is becoming the permanent neoliberal, state-led model of migration.

Reparations include No Borders

“It’s immoral for the rich to talk about their future children and grandchildren when the children of the Global South are dying now.” – Asad Rehman

Discussions about building fairer and more sustainable political-economic systems have coalesced around a Green New Deal. Most public policy proposals for a Green New Deal in the US, Canada, UK and the EU articulate the need to simultaneously tackle economic inequality, social injustice, and the climate crisis by transforming our extractive and exploitative system towards a low-carbon, feminist, worker and community-controlled care-based society. While a Green New Deal necessarily understands the climate crisis and the crisis of capitalism as interconnected — and not a dichotomy of ‘the environment versus the economy’ — one of its main shortcomings is its bordered scope. As Harpreet Kaur Paul and Dalia Gebrial write: “the Green New Deal has largely been trapped in national imaginations.”

Any Green New Deal that is not internationalist runs the risk of perpetuating climate apartheid and imperialist domination in our warming world. Rich countries must redress the global and asymmetrical dimensions of climate debtunfair trade and financial agreements, military subjugation, vaccine apartheidlabour exploitation, and border securitisation.

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

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

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

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Politics

The Murang’a Factor in the Upcoming Presidential Elections

The Murang’a people are really yet to decide who they are going to vote for as a president. If they have, they are keeping the secret to themselves. Are the Murang’a people prepping themselves this time to vote for one of their own? Can Jimi Wanjigi re-ignite the Murang’a/Matiba popular passion among the GEMA community and re-influence it to vote in a different direction?

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In the last quarter of 2021, I visited Murang’a County twice: In September, we were in Kandiri in Kigumo constituency. We had gone for a church fundraiser and were hosted by the Anglican Church of Kenya’s (ACK), Kahariro parish, Murang’a South diocese. A month later, I was back, this time to Ihi-gaini deep in Kangema constituency for a burial.

The church function attracted politicians: it had to; they know how to sniff such occasions and if not officially invited, they gate-crash them. Church functions, just like funerals, are perfect platforms for politicians to exhibit their presumed piousness, generosity and their closeness to the respective clergy and the bereaved family.

Well, the other reason they were there, is because they had been invited by the Church leadership. During the electioneering period, the Church is not shy to exploit the politicians’ ambitions: they “blackmail” them for money, because they can mobilise ready audiences for the competing politicians. The politicians on the other hand, are very ready to part with cash. This quid pro quo arrangement is usually an unstated agreement between the Church leadership and the politicians.

The church, which was being fund raised for, being in Kigumo constituency, the area MP Ruth Wangari Mwaniki, promptly showed up. Likewise, the area Member of the County Assembly (MCA) and of course several aspirants for the MP and MCA seats, also showed up.

Church and secular politics often sit cheek by jowl and so, on this day, local politics was the order of the day. I couldn’t have speculated on which side of the political divide Murang’a people were, until the young man Zack Kinuthia Chief Administrative Secretary (CAS) for Sports, Culture and Heritage, took to the rostrum to speak.

A local boy and an Uhuru Kenyatta loyalist, he completely avoided mentioning his name and his “development track record” in central Kenya. Kinuthia has a habit of over-extolling President Uhuru’s virtues whenever and wherever he mounts any platform. By the time he was done speaking, I quickly deduced he was angling to unseat Wangari. I wasn’t wrong; five months later in February 2022, Kinuthia resigned his CAS position to vie for Kigumo on a Party of the National Unity (PNU) ticket.

He spoke briefly, feigned some meeting that was awaiting him elsewhere and left hurriedly, but not before giving his KSh50,000 donation. Apparently, I later learnt that he had been forewarned, ahead of time, that the people were not in a mood to listen to his panegyrics on President Uhuru, Jubilee Party, or anything associated to the two. Kinuthia couldn’t dare run on President Uhuru’s Jubilee Party. His patron-boss’s party is not wanted in Murang’a.

I spent the whole day in Kandiri, talking to people, young and old, men and women and by the time I was leaving, I was certain about one thing; The Murang’a folks didn’t want anything to do with President Uhuru. What I wasn’t sure of is, where their political sympathies lay.

I returned to Murang’a the following month, in the expansive Kangema – it is still huge – even after Mathioya was hived off from the larger Kangema constituency. Funerals provide a good barometer that captures peoples’ political sentiments and even though this burial was not attended by politicians – a few senior government officials were present though; political talk was very much on the peoples’ lips.

What I gathered from the crowd was that President Uhuru had destroyed their livelihood, remember many of the Nairobi city trading, hawking, big downtown real estate and restaurants are run and owned largely by Murang’a people. The famous Nyamakima trading area of downtown Nairobi has been run by Murang’a Kikuyus.

In 2018, their goods were confiscated and declared contrabrand by the government. Many of their businesses went under, this, despite the merchants not only, whole heartedly throwing their support to President Uhuru’s controversial re-election, but contributing handsomely to the presidential kitty. They couldn’t believe what was happening to them: “We voted for him to safeguard our businesses, instead, he destroyed them. So much for supporting him.”

We voted for him to safeguard our businesses, instead, he destroyed them. So much for supporting him

Last week, I attended a Murang’a County caucus group that was meeting somewhere in Gatundu, in Kiambu County. One of the clearest messages that I got from this group is that the GEMA vote in the August 9, 2022, presidential elections is certainly anti-Uhuru Kenyatta and not necessarily pro-William Ruto.

“The Murang’a people are really yet to decide, (if they have, they are keeping the secret to themselves) on who they are going to vote for as a president. And that’s why you see Uhuru is craftily courting us with all manner of promises, seductions and prophetic messages.” Two weeks ago, President Uhuru was in Murang’a attending an African Independent Pentecostal Church of Africa (AIPCA) church function in Kandara constituency.

At the church, the president yet again threatened to “tell you what’s in my heart and what I believe and why so.” These prophecy-laced threats by the President, to the GEMA nation, in which he has been threatening to show them the sign, have become the butt of crude jokes among Kikuyus.

Corollary, President Uhuru once again has plucked Polycarp Igathe away from his corporate perch as Equity Bank’s Chief Commercial Officer back to Nairobi’s tumultuous governor seat politics. The first time the bespectacled Igathe was thrown into the deep end of the Nairobi murky politics was in 2017, as Mike Sonko’s deputy governor. After six months, he threw in the towel, lamenting that Sonko couldn’t let him even breathe.

Uhuru has a tendency of (mis)using Murang’a people

“Igathe is from Wanjerere in Kigumo, Murang’a, but grew up in Ol Kalou, Nyandarua County,” one of the Mzees told me. “He’s not interested in politics; much less know how it’s played. I’ve spent time with him and confided in me as much. Uhuru has a tendency of (mis)using Murang’a people. President Uhuru wants to use Igathe to control Nairobi. The sad thing is that Igathe doesn’t have the guts to tell Uhuru the brutal fact: I’m really not interested in all these shenanigans, leave me alone. The president is hoping, once again, to hopefully placate the Murang’a people, by pretending to front Igathe. I foresee another terrible disaster ultimately befalling both Igathe and Uhuru.”

Be that as it may, what I got away with from this caucus, after an entire day’s deliberations, is that its keeping it presidential choice close to its chest. My attempts to goad some of the men and women present were fruitless.

Murang’a people like reminding everyone that it’s only they, who have yet to produce a president from the GEMA stable, despite being the wealthiest. Kiambu has produced two presidents from the same family, Nyeri one, President Mwai Kibaki, who died on April 22. The closest Murang’a came to giving the country a president was during Ken Matiba’s time in the 1990s. “But Matiba had suffered a debilitating stroke that incapacitated him,” said one of the mzees. “It was tragic, but there was nothing we could do.”

Murang’a people like reminding everyone that it’s only they, who have yet to produce a president from the GEMA stable, despite being the wealthiest

It is interesting to note that Jimi Wanjigi, the Safina party presidential flagbearer is from Murang’a County. His family hails from Wahundura, in Mathioya constituency. Him and Mwangi wa Iria, the Murang’a County governor are the other two Murang’a prominent persons who have tossed themselves into the presidential race. Wa Iria’s bid which was announced at the beginning of 2022, seems to have stagnated, while Jimi’s seems to be gathering storm.

Are the Murang’a people prepping themselves this time to vote for one of their own? Jimi’s campaign team has crafted a two-pronged strategy that it hopes will endear Kenyans to his presidency. One, a generational, paradigm shift, especially among the youth, targeting mostly post-secondary, tertiary college and university students.

“We believe this group of voters who are basically between the ages of 18–27 years and who comprise more than 65 per cent of total registered voters are the key to turning this election,” said one of his presidential campaign team members. “It matters most how you craft the political message to capture their attention.” So, branding his key message as itwika, it is meant to orchestrate a break from past electoral behaviour that is pegged on traditional ethnic voting patterns.

The other plunk of Jimi’s campaign theme is economic emancipation, quite pointedly as it talks directly to the GEMA nation, especially the Murang’a Kikuyus, who are reputed for their business acumen and entrepreneurial skills. “What Kikuyus cherish most,” said the team member “is someone who will create an enabling business environment and leave the Kikuyus to do their thing. You know, Kikuyus live off business, if you interfere with it, that’s the end of your friendship, it doesn’t matter who you are.”

Can Jimi re-ignite the Murang’a/Matiba popular passion among the GEMA community and re-influence it to vote in a different direction? As all the presidential candidates gear-up this week on who they will eventually pick as their running mates, the GEMA community once more shifts the spotlight on itself, as the most sought-after vote basket.

Both Raila Odinga and William Ruto coalitions – Azimio la Umoja-One Kenya and Kenya Kwanza Alliance – must seek to impress and woe Mt Kenya region by appointing a running mate from one of its ranks. If not, the coalitions fear losing the vote-rich area either to each other, or perhaps to a third party. Murang’a County, may as well, become the conundrum, with which the August 9, presidential race may yet to be unravelled and decided.

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