Connect with us

Politics

Is the Kenyan Constitution on its Deathbed?

11 min read.

The undermining of the 2010 constitution by the Executive and an emasculated opposition that has failed to defend constitutionalism threaten to unravel thirty years of constitution-building in Kenya. Will the Kenyan constitution die as a result of this? The quick answer to this question depends almost entirely on who the country chooses to be president in 2022 and on who will be the two speakers of Parliament.

Published

on

Is the Kenyan Constitution on its Deathbed?
Download PDFPrint Article

2010 – 2020: Ten years of constitutional resilience

Most of the commentary about the first ten years of the Constitution of Kenya 2010 have largely revealed a constitution under siege. The assault on the constitution has intensified in the last eight years during Uhuru Kenyatta’s presidency. This is not surprising since it is an open secret that Uhuru has little regard for the constitution, for the rule of law and for constitutionalism.

Worse, in the last few years, formal organised opposition – a significant guard rail of the constitution – crumbled. With the rapport between Uhuru and Raila Odinga through the so-called handshake, the opposition, a significant buffer that previously gave Uhuru’s government a bit of pause on assaulting the constitution, was eliminated. It is therefore not surprising that Uhuru and Raila are making a concerted effort to amend the constitution largely to suit their personal and political interests.

There is no doubt that the constitution has performed sub-optimally in the last ten years, especially because of the antagonism from state officers and agencies. Still, it is remarkable that it has survived the first ten years of its birth, despite the consistent and sustained assault on it by Uhuru’s regime.

But how much longer can the constitution endure the intentional, well-orchestrated and nefarious scheme to kill it? Will the constitution last long enough to see the passing of another decade? Even if it does, what state of ruin will it be in? Are there obvious things that will accelerate its death or strengthen its resilience?

Why constitutions die

Professors Zachary Elkins, Tom Ginsburg and James Melton, who have conducted empirical studies on the endurance of constitutions, identify the key factors that help predict how long a constitution will last. However presented, the factors boil down to two things: the design of the constitution and the environment under which the constitution operates.

There are different ways to expand on each of these factors, but first a critical statistic on the average age a constitution. In their analysis of national constitutions enacted since 1789, Elkins, Ginsburg, and Melton found that national constitutions only lasted an average of seventeen years. Yes, 17. This is a depressing fact, especially when one looks at how much effort and time goes into bringing about a new constitution. For example, the 2010 Kenyan constitution was the result of more than thirty years of active and persistent citizen and civil society agitation. And this is not appreciating that even the initial constitutional tensions immediately after independence were the first signs of the need to bring about a home-grown and more responsive people-centred constitution.

Operating environment and design of the 2010 constitution

No doubt, the ruling class has poisoned the environment in which the 2010 constitution has operated since its promulgation. It started with President Mwai Kibaki who tried to subvert it by usurping the powers of constitutional agencies through the illegal nominations of the Chief Justice and the Director of Public Prosecutions. The courts had to step in to restrain him. Many times, he violated the transitional provisions of the constitution by failing to follow the procedures that required him to consult with the Prime Minister before making significant decisions affecting the state. Worse, and despite working under a constitution that stipulated national values of leadership to include inclusion, Kibaki continued to perpetuate nepotism and tribalism in the manner in which he chose high-level public officers.

But while Kibaki was bad at priming the environment under which the constitution operated, his successor, Uhuru, has been worse. Although Kibaki regularly flouted the constitution, he was often quick to walk back whenever he was called out on his transgressions – in a sense confirming that the constitution was the ultimate decider. Unfortunately, this has not been the case with Uhuru, who obstinately disregards the constitution, consistently ignores court orders and actively encourages other public officers to do the same. Worse, he has perfected many of the vices that the constitution intended to eliminate – centralisation of power; rule by law; unmeritorious and unprocedural appointments; corruption; fanning nepotism and tribalism; undermining decentralisation, name it. His has deliberately and fully contaminated the environment under which the 2010 constitution has operated for the last eight years.

But while Kibaki was bad at priming the environment under which the constitution operated, his successor, Uhuru, has been worse. Although Kibaki regularly flouted the constitution, he was often quick to walk back whenever he was called out on his transgressions – in a sense confirming that the constitution was the ultimate decider.

Perhaps what has helped sustain the constitution is its design. No doubt, the 2010 Constitution was designed with the full awareness that the political elite will attempt to undermine it. A few illustrative design issues will make the point much better. These include the provisions on defending the constitution, including empowering any citizen to go to court and to petition other institutions, such as Parliament, to enforce it; and strong separation of power provisions, including setting up an independent Judiciary which can invalidate anything that is done by anyone outside the law. Other provisions include the creation of independent offices and commissions that are intended to be the front line enforcers of the constitution. Finally, and perhaps the most critical design aspect on the endurance of the constitution, is its provisions on amendments, which are complex, onerous and mostly impossible without critical national consensus.

Saving the constitution from premature death

If one was to obsess about the seventeen years statistic on the average life span of constitutions, it would suggest that the 2010 constitution is already past its mid age, with a great likelihood it will die before its 20th anniversary. However, the short life of national constitutions begs a much more important and forward-looking question – what could help save the 2010 constitution from possible early death?

I identify three things that need to be put into place if we are to save the constitution from premature death, and especially if we wish to see the constitution survive the next decade unscathed. Even if the constitution is amended, how can we ensure that the amendments will benefit Kenyans and not the political elites? Three things need to happen: (i) rebuilding confidence in the constitution; (ii) finding critical formal actors that believe in and can defend the constitution; and (iii) an implementation that delivers tangible constitutional goods to citizens.

Rebuilding confidence in the constitution

Perhaps the greatest threat to the constitution is the waning sense of confidence in it. There are fears that the constitution is taking too long to find stability. But we should have foreseen and prepared for this.

Kenya’s political life has been built on a scaffolding of simplistic narratives of messianic moments. It started with the struggle for independence, with a narrative that the coming of independence would obliterate Kenyans’ political and economic misery. Then there was the expectation that a change of guard from Jomo Kenyatta to Daniel arap Moi would be a turnaround opportunity for the country – and for a moment, Moi seemed to have fed that hope, especially by releasing political prisoners and developing a high-sounding but essentially hollow “Nyayo philosophy” of peace, love and unity. All this soon buckled under the weight of the lie for which the simplistic and feel-good “philosophy” was constructed.

The next messianic moment was in 1991 with the deletion of Section 2A from the 1969 Constitution which prohibited multipartyism. However, with the opposition politicians endlessly feuding, that messianic moment was also quickly lost.

Then in 2002 the country seemed to pin all its hopes for rejuvenation in the seemingly nationalistic alliance led by Mwai Kibaki. But Kibaki quickly killed the budding sense of nationalism as soon as he took over as president by denigrating the role that Raila Odinga and other key political actors were to play in the government. This disillusionment would – in less than five years – bring a people, who had been regarded as the most optimistic in the world in 2003, on the verge of civil war because of ethnicised political contestations.

But even the devastating events of the post-election violence of 2007/2008 were not sufficient to dissuade Kenyans from believing that there was still a chance for a magic wand moment. So, when the 2010 constitution was promulgated, many believed that this was the tool that would, with speed, transform Kenya politically and economically. The 2010 constitution was the ultimate political-legal messiah.

In many ways, placing overbearing hopes on the new constitution was not overly irrational. When fully implemented, this constitution has the potential to transform Kenya into an egalitarian society that places human dignity and social transformation for all at the centre. Devolution, even with all its infirmities in design and implementation, offers snippets of evidence of this. But because of the constitution’s social transformation potential, the political and economic elites, who thrive on an environment of lawlessness, have invested their last penny to undermine it.

But even the devastating events of the post-election violence of 2007/2008 were not sufficient to dissuade Kenyans from believing that there was still a chance for a magic wand moment. So, when the 2010 constitution was promulgated, many believed that this was the tool that would, with speed, transform Kenya politically and economically.

Worse, those hell-bent on immobilising the constitution have done so by conjuring up and feeding a narrative that it is an idealistic and unrealistic charter. Because they wield power, they have used their vantage points to counter most of the salutary aspects of the constitution. Uhuru Kenyatta’s consistent and contemptuous refusal to follow basic requirements of the constitution in executing the duties of his office, including his endless defiance of court orders, stands out as the most apt example here.

Yet all this is calculated to create cynicism among Kenyans about the potency of the constitution. Hoping that the cynicism will erode whatever goodwill Kenyans have towards the constitution, the elites believe that they can fully manipulate or eliminate the constiution entirely and replace it with laws that easily facilitate and legitimise their personal interests, as did Jomo Kenyatta and Moi.

Still, this constitution is unique because of the participatory manner through which it was developed and the fact that it is a consensus document for the people and not – as was with all past constitutions – a pact between the political and economic elites. The people’s goodwill towards it still seems inordinately firm.

Regardless, to give the constitution more authority, it is important to eliminate the growing sense of cynicism towards it and regenerate confidence amongst Kenyans about its the potential as a social transformation charter. A significant part of that regeneration must come from recruiting new critical formal actors who believe in and are committed to the implementation of the 2010 constitution.

Recruiting formal supporters of the constitution

The 2010 Constitution of Kenya survived the last ten years largely because of the Judiciary, some Chapter 15 Commissions and independent offices (especially the now defunct Commission for the Implementation of the Constitution), the Office of the Auditor General, the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights, and the first Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC). It has also survived because of a few vigilant citizens – leading among them being Okiya Omtatah Okoiti. Equally, there have been numerous civil society organisations that have sustained citizens’ mobilisation for the support of the constitution and relentlessly pushed for its implementation.

Ironically, two of the primary state organs created by the constitution – that is the Executive and Parliament – have posed the greatest threat to the constitution. Worse, Uhuru has been on a nefarious campaign to weaken even the key formal institutions that have been pro-constitution – especially the Judiciary and Chapter 15 commissions and independent offices. Presently, he has found a way to fully capture Chapter 15 institutions through a warped process of hiring commissioners and heads of independent offices to capture those institutions, thus isolating the Judiciary as the only state agency that is largely committed to constitutionalism.

But it is too much (and quite unfair) to expect the Judiciary to be the only state agency that shoulders the burden of trying to keep the constitution alive. Kenyans must find ways to generate sustained support for the constitution from other state officers and agencies.

If the constitution has a chance of surviving the next ten years, it must have additional state agencies who unequivocally believe and support it. The starting point must be the Executive. There is no doubt that if the next president (post-2022) is not a strong defender of constitutionalism, the 2010 constitution will likely irretrievably wither. Even if the document survives, we will not only have the situation that Prof. Okoth Ogendo aptly described as “constitution without constitutionalism”, we will be left with just a shell – a constitution without any pulse.

Why is the president so critical? Although the 2010 constitution dispersed power as much as possible, it still gave the resident a significant responsibility. Article 131 states that the president is the symbol of national unity. This requires him or her to be the first at respecting, upholding and safeguarding the constitution and the rule of law, as well as promoting and enhancing the unity of the nation. Hence, while there are many checks on the powers of the president, in practice he still wields significant legal, political and symbolic influence on all aspects of governance. If the next president leads at disrespecting or showing utter contempt for the constitution – as has been the case with Uhuru – the chances that the constitution will survive will be negligible.

Following the promulgation of the constitution in 2010, Parliament showed mixed results on its conviction on constitutionalism. But for all its faults, the 10th Parliament did a lot to help set up the infrastructure that the constitution needed for its implementation. This included laws and approval of persons to critical offices – including the Chief Justice and Chapter 15 commissioners who strongly believed in the rule of law. The then Speaker of Parliament, Kenneth Marende, also helped greatly to give Parliament some institutional integrity.

Regrettably, that cannot be said of the two current speakers of Parliament or the parliamentarians of the 12th Parliament. In fact, in 12th Parliament we have seen an institution that is so keen to supplicate at the feet of the president that it has fully eroded the enormous institutional power the constitution gives it and has fully compromised on its role as a check on the Executive.

Hence, for the constitution, what will be worse than a president who does not believe in constitutionalism will be the continuation of the unholy alliance between Parliament and the Executive. Yet, if Parliament was to fully appreciate its power of fostering the entrenchment of constitutionalism and its primary role of being the critical check on the Executive, the 2010 constitution would not only have a chance at survival, but would also likely deliver the tangible transformation it intends.

In a nutshell, it is unlikely that the Judiciary alone will be able to save the constitution in the next decade. In fact, it is unlikely that left as the lone ranger that fights for the constitution, the Judiciary itself will survive or manage to maintain any modicum of professionalism and independence. All this is to say that 2022 is a critical year for the 2010 constitution. A great deal of its survival largely depends on the persons who becomes president and who are the speakers in Parliament.

Implementation of the constitution must yield tangible goods

This takes me back to constitutional cynicism. Having executive and parliamentary leadership that believes in the 2010 constitution and constitutionalism will be key – but citizens’ patience of trying to relate a constitution to their economic and social welfare is running thin. This is not because people have no ability to do so since, even with all its infirmities, they have been able to see how the patchwork implementation of devolution has brought about tangible transformation.

This is sad for at least a couple of reasons. First, the national government has been undermining devolution either directly or indirectly by undermining county leadership, by failing to devolve sufficient funds or by undermining county functions through function-hogging or recentralisation.

In a nutshell, it is unlikely that the Judiciary alone will be able to save the constitution in the next decade. In fact, it is unlikely that left as the lone ranger that fights for the constitution, the Judiciary itself will survive or manage to maintain any modicum of professionalism and independence.

Second, the leadership has also undermined the most critical pillar of the 2010 constitution, which is on social and economic transformation. There are few constitutions in the world that have detailed what the state must do in order to bring about equitable social transformation as does Kenya’s constitution. Yet, the government has refused or failed to follow through on the roadmap provided by the constitution, opting instead on ad hoc, politically inspired, unsustainable and mostly badly thought-out and short-lived programmes designed to benefit only a few.

The operating environment that will save the constitution

And it is back to where we started – constitutional design and the operating environment as the two overarching factors that dictate the survival of a constitution. For the last ten years, the constitution has operated under a toxic environment – with most of the toxicity coming from the Executive. Parliament (especially the 11th and 12th) surrendered most of its authority to the Executive and hence failed miserably at defending the constitution. The complete capture of all the independent offices and commissions by the Executive has mostly left the Judiciary as the sole state institution struggling, albeit now in a wobbly way, to defend the constitution.

Constitutional design contributed greatly to the survival of the 2010 constitution in the last ten years. But design alone will not save it for the next ten years. Whether it dies or not will now largely depend on whether our next heads of the Executive and Legislature are believers of constitutionalism and whether they are keen to provide the constitution with the enabling environment that the people intended for it to thrive.

Support The Elephant.

The Elephant is helping to build a truly public platform, while producing consistent, quality investigations, opinions and analysis. The Elephant cannot survive and grow without your participation. Now, more than ever, it is vital for The Elephant to reach as many people as possible.

Your support helps protect The Elephant's independence and it means we can continue keeping the democratic space free, open and robust. Every contribution, however big or small, is so valuable for our collective future.

By

Waikwa is a constitutional lawyer and co-founder of Katiba Institute.

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.

Published

on

Asylum Pact: Rwanda Must Do Some Political Housecleaning
Download PDFPrint Article

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.

Continue Reading

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.

Published

on

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

“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.

Continue Reading

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?

Published

on

The Murang’a Factor in the Upcoming Presidential Elections
Download PDFPrint Article

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.

Continue Reading

Trending