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It Ends How It Started

9 min read.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s ordeal has significantly tarnished the image of Western governance, both in terms of the information that Assange compiled and systematically distributed, and also in the way he is being treated for having done so. His case forces all onlookers to abandon any illusions they may have had about the true nature of Western power.



It Ends How It Started
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This month, a journalist will have spent ten years in some form of imposed confinement.

The length of time may be setting a new record, but in general, this is not a unique situation for journalists, especially those working in the crisis-ridden countries of Africa, Central Asia and the Middle East. He has been a rape suspect, an asylum seeker, a declared fugitive, a target of high-level espionage and media vilification combining political and personal insults. He is now a high-level prisoner, in solitary confinement at the British Belmarsh prison, facing various charges while having been sentenced to fifty weeks for jumping court bail.

This is my best attempt to tell the long, convoluted, confusing and disgraceful story of one Julian Assange: hacker, multi-award winning journalist, media innovator and now prisoner in a process that can only be described as Kafkaesque.

It began in 2010 after a visit to Sweden, when he was accused by first one, and then two women of sexual offences. After one of the complainants dropped her accusation, and the initial state investigator saw no merit in the second accusation, the matter seemed to die out until a new Swedish prosecutor revived one of the cases in 2012, and issued an arrest warrant demanding Assange’s return to Sweden for questioning. Then in London, he was taken into British police custody and released on bail as he mounted a legal challenge to the Swedish request, which failed.

He still refused to return to Sweden, describing the entire saga as being a setup by the United States government, whose interest is to have him arrested so that it could then abduct and deal with him for his role in exposing US state security secrets, an exposure that has been huge. Using his purpose-built internet-based platform WikiLeaks, Assange, who developed an interest in investigation as a computer hacker during his youth in Australia, has sought out and attracted vast amounts of information revealing US human rights violations and war crimes across the globe, as well as diplomatic communications revealing a very cynical and dishonest approach to international affairs between allies and enemies.

This information has certainly left the United State diminished in the eyes of friend and foe alike, and has potentially exposed it to litigation under international law.

Sweden’s legal authorities also went on to establish a most extraordinary track record of flip-flopping over where they wanted Assange arrested and returned or not, whether they could interview him remotely by video link or not, whether he was wanted for further questioning or immediate charging, and if so, on which specific charges of the many they had floated.

That, perhaps more than anything, made Assange sense a trap. And so while still out on bail, he entered the Latin American Republic of Ecuador’s embassy in London in June 2012, where he requested, and was granted, political asylum. He was to remain marooned there for the next seven years, often addressing the media from the embassy’s balcony. Meanwhile, WikiLeaks continued to find and publish career-ending information greatly damaging to the American establishment, with British police officers camped outside te embassy for three years, waiting for an opportunity. On at least one occasion, they threatened to simply physically invade the embassy grounds.

There was no need to. An opportunity presented itself in 2019 when a new, possibly much more US-friendly government that had come to power in Ecuador, began to find fault with the behaviour of their London refugee. The subsequent changes in living conditions, communications, access to his lawyers, and possible permitting of the CIA to spy on him, left their now unwanted guest disoriented and disheveled. Finally, at the invitation of the embassy, Assange was physically dragged out by the British police, looking very different in physical appearance to the man who had sought refuge there nearly a decade earlier.

Assange has drawn the anger of the entire US governing establishment. Beginning with the Obama presidency, there have been calls from on high for everything, from his abduction to his prosecution and even his assassination. He insists, therefore, that criminal charges brought against him must be understood as well-planned persecution, designed to shut down WikiLeaks, and see him locked up indefinitely in some American dungeon.

Now firmly in British custody, he has been subjected to a number of court appearances. While still serving the sentence for jumping bail (an act that brought great financial cost to his sureties), the United States government filed charges of espionage, and applied for his extradition. And then a rape charge was revived, only to be dropped again a few months later.

Assange has drawn the anger of the entire US governing establishment. Beginning with the Obama presidency, there have been calls from on high for everything, from his abduction to his prosecution and even his assassination.

During this time, Assange’s own lawyers have complained about numerous violations of legal procedure, ranging from denial of access to the details of the charges against him, to access to legal counsel, to time to consider new charges before responding to them, and even inhumane detention conditions. These have been routinely and harshly dismissed by the judge, as they were by the one before her, when he was initially arrested. To this can be added the very strange 2013 objection by the British Crown Prosecution Service to the Swedish prosecutors’ then decision to drop the charge and extradition request against Assange for which the British were holding him in the first place.

Among the many things Assange’s resistance has exposed, there has been the specific thing of forcing the Americans to stop hiding behind proxies, and come out in the open and ask for him, and to have to do so in the context of a court hearing, however defective it has been procedurally.

But this has taken its toll.

At the beginning of these new hearings, Nils Melzer, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, tweeted:

“Today, one year ago we visited #Assange in prison. He showed clear signs of prolonged psychological #Torture. First I was shocked that mature democracies could produce such an accident. Then I found out it was no accident. Now I am scared to find out about our democracies…”

What this signifies is a new level of crisis in the image and practice of Western governance, both in terms of the information that Assange compiled and systematically distributed, and also in the way he is being treated for having done so. It forces all onlookers to abandon any illusions they may have had about the true nature of Western power. It lies, it kills the innocent, and lies some more to cover up. It is concerned mainly with wealth, and has no faith in its own governing systems, and little respect for its so-called allies.

Assange has left Western democracy somewhat naked. The entire façade of democracy is seen as exactly that – a façade.

And the fact that it can no longer control these very secrets is only small part of the problem. The information has shown the US to be an empire in a deep crisis of power projection, probably beyond its means to solve.

It is a learning point for many Western minds, as illustrated by the American journalist Jonathan Cook, who wrote, “None of this happened in some Third-World, tin-pot dictatorship…It happened right under our noses, in a major western capital, and in a state that claims to protect the rights of a free press. It happened not in the blink of an eye but in slow motion – day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year.”

Assange has left Western democracy somewhat naked. The entire façade of democracy is seen as exactly that – a façade.

What Cook needs to appreciate is that Western Europe has been the most violent place on Earth for the last two hundred years, both domestically, and as an export to what is now called the Americas. It only stopped the domestic bloodletting over the last seven decades, which was the longest periods of continued peace since before even the Napoleonic wars, if one discounts the post-Soviet conflicts in the Balkans in the 1990s.

Despite his many media awards, Assange was initially laughed at for making this broad point about American power by people choosing to ignore what had happened to his key informant, the military intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning, and later Edward Snowden, the other Intelligence analyst-turned-whistleblower, also in exile from the United States. The greater body of Western liberal media and many others accused the Wikileaks founder of being dramatic, and looking for a way out of his rape accusations.

“When he hurried into Ecuador’s embassy…journalists from every corporate media outlet ridiculed his claim – now, of course, fully vindicated – that he was evading US efforts to extradite him and lock him away for good. The media continued with their mockery even as evidence mounted that a grand jury had been secretly convened to draw up espionage charges against him and that it was located in the eastern district of Virginia, where the major US security and intelligence services are headquartered. Any jury there is dominated by US security personnel and their families. His hope of a fair trial was non-existent,” writes Cook.

Only the most cynical will still insist that nothing is wrong, and that Assange has been right in his alleged paranoia.

But this has exposed the bare bones of how the Western power system works. We should not be shocked, because this has been the colonial and post-colonial experience.

Just last month, a Kenyan news outlet published a ten-year investigation, showing that the US Central Intelligence Agency is managing and financing a death squad in Kenya, whose purpose is to target and kill suspected Islamic militants.

But the story is much deeper.

In her 1984 book, Ireland: The Propaganda War, the journalist Liz Curtis revealed a whole hidden culture of tight censorship and even propaganda by the British media in collusion with the British security establishment, particularly the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). The purpose was to cover up evidence of malfeasance by the British security forces and allies, to muffle the arguments for Irish independence.

This was to later lead to some truly ridiculous antics on the part of the BBC and other British broadcasters. For example, between 1988 and 1994, the broadcasting of voices of politicians associated with the Irish nationalist movement was banned; their voices had to be erased and a voice-over reader had to say their words for them. There were guidelines to ensure that camera angles intended to make Irish nationalists more intimidating and aggressive were used while interviewing them, as well as editorial fights over words, such as terrorist versus gunman versus fighter versus guerilla versus militant.

If anyone cared to look, many UK newspapers, in particular the Guardian, also willfully misreported the post-1986 Uganda story in such a way as to basically collude in the cover-up of the atrocities the then new heavily British government-backed National Resistance Movement government was committing in northern Uganda. On the question of access to justice, this was simply the first fully open case in which Britain’s colonial traditions of “justice” collided with domestic ones.

The there was a period of expansion, probable from the 1850s, rising exponentially through to the onset of the War on Terror (2001 to date), in which the British people became increasingly self-assured about their rights, and their legal standing in relation to the state. But that was one side of the story because at the same time, the British empire was undergoing its final phase of expansion to completely envelop Africa and Asia, even as it recovered from the loss of the Americas.

“British justice” was delivered very differently in these British spaces. A key difference was the practice of juryless courts, in which just a judge would now both chair the proceedings, as well as decide on the innocence or guilt of the accused.

Even where juries had been present, such as in Ireland, they were dispensed with at the height of the conflict there in the 1980s, as was the 48-hour detention rule, immediate access to a lawyer, and the right to remain silent upon arrest.

There is even a little-known but significant 1979 UK Court case in which the judge was dissuaded by the Executive from using the word “war” when considering whether a lady engaged to a Special Forces soldier who had been shot dead by guerillas in Northern Ireland was entitled to his property and benefits. In UK law, a partner not formally married to a soldier killed on active duty could only claim his estate in a period officially declared as war. Had the court used that word, then the British government’s then campaign to characterise the conflict as criminal terrorist activity – through which it had withdrawn Prisoner of War status for captured Irish combatants – would have fallen apart.

The ongoing farce at Britain’s Old Bailey court, in which a clearly partisan judge is basically railroading Assange to become an American captive, is simply the moment in which we clearly see that these two traditions were always just two branches growing from the same tree trunk.

Certainly in Africa, the tradition of colonial justice continues with juryless courts, detention without trial, and severe media censorship. The restrictions that the Western War on Terror imposed domestically found us ready and waiting.

Cook would benefit from understanding that what he has called “Third world tin-pot dictators” are actually a projection of Western power, not something apart from it. They are a vital cog in the global machinery that has enabled Western plunder of African and other resources to continue.

Certainly the American apartheid system (1877-1962) was a systematic denial of justice to African Americans and Native Americans before that.

“British justice” was delivered very differently in these British spaces. A key difference was the practice of juryless courts, in which just a judge would now both chair the proceedings, as well as decide on the innocence or guilt of the accused.

So the real question has been: which is the real face of Western power, prestige and authority? Is it the legacies of the iron fist of some African despot killing journalists, and the Asian oligarch bribing editors into silencing their newsrooms? Or is it the sometimes grudging freedom accorded to Western judges and journalists?

Until these events, those were seen as three separate worlds. With the treatment of Assange by the Western mainstream media, the governments of Sweden and Britain (and even his native Australia who made it officially clear very early on that their citizen’s problems were none of their concern), and the British judges, the distinction is no longer really made.

A lot of the real implications of such abuses in the Third World were masked by the 1946-1989 NATO vs Soviet Union Cold War, which was even used to justify them.

But now the mask has been fully ripped off – in what Assange showed them doing, and what they have done to him because of that. We now have three casualties: Assange, Western systems, and also the Western image of itself previously projected on the world.

Key pillars of the democratic system – an independent justice system, and a free media – are under a new and more intense kind of threat.

This teaches us that all those high values were never the gifts that the powerful bestowed on the ordinary person; they were rights that the ordinary person fought for, and forced the powerful to concede. And those in power, especially in the Western world, have long been looking for an excuse to take them away again.

Assange deserves our gratitude for bringing out this lesson, and our prayers for the hell he is being put through for having done so.

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Kalundi Serumaga is a social and political commentator based in Kampala.


Who Won Kenya’s “Nominations”?

Being nominated rather than selected by party members may undermine grass-roots legitimacy but it is hard not to suspect that some of the losers in the nominations process might feel a little bit relieved at this out-turn.



Who Won Kenya’s “Nominations”?
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Who won Kenya’s “nominations”, the tense and often unpredictable political process through which parties select which candidates they want to represent them in the general election scheduled for 9 August? That may sound like a silly question. Social media is full of photographs of smiling candidate clutching their certificates of nomination—surely we need to look no further for the winners?

But maybe we do. Beyond the individual candidates in the contests for nominations, there are other winners. One may be obvious: it seems the general feeling is that Deputy President William Ruto came out better from the nominations than did his principal rival in the presidential race, former opposition leader Raila Odinga—about which more below. However, for some, coming out on top in the nominations may prove a poisoned chalice. Where nominations are seen to have been illegitimate, candidates are likely to find that losing rivals who stand as independents may be locally popular and may gain sympathy votes, making it harder for party candidates to win the general election. This means that there are often some less obvious winners and losers.

One reason for this is that nominations shape how voters think about the parties and who they want to give their vote to, come the general election. Research that we conducted in 2017, including a nationally representative survey of public opinion on these issues, found that citizens who felt that their party’s nomination process had not been legitimate were less likely to say that they would vote in the general election. In other words, disputed and controversial nomination processes can encourage voters to stay away from the general election, making it harder for leaders to get their vote out. In 2017, this appeared to disadvantage Odinga and his Orange Democratic Movement (ODM), whose nomination process was generally seen to have been more problematic—although whether this is because they were, or rather because this is how they were depicted by the media, is hard to say.

In the context of a tight election in 2022, popular perceptions of how the nominations were managed may therefore be as significant for who “wins” and “loses” as the question of which individuals secured the party ticket.

Why do parties dread nominations?

The major parties dreaded the nominations process—dreaded it so much, in fact, that despite all their bold words early on about democracy and the popular choice (and despite investments in digital technology and polling staff), most of the parties tried pretty hard to avoid primary elections as a way of deciding on their candidates. In some cases that avoidance was complete: the Jubilee party gave direct nominations to all those who will stand in its name. Other parties held some primaries—Ruto’s United Democratic Alliance (UDA) seems to have managed most—but in many cases they turned to other methods.

That is because of a complicated thing about parties and elections in Kenya. It is widely assumed—and a recent opinion poll commissioned by South Consulting confirms this—that when it comes to 9 August most voters will decide how to cast their ballot on the basis of individual candidates and not which party they are standing for. Political parties in Kenya are often ephemeral, and people readily move from one to another. But that does not mean that political parties are irrelevant. They are symbolic markers with emotive associations – sometimes to particular ideas, sometimes to a particular regional base. ODM, for example, has been linked both with a commitment to constitutional reform and with the Luo community, most notably in Nyanza. So the local politician who wants to be a member of a county assembly will be relying mostly on their personal influence and popularity—but they know that if they get a nomination for a party which has that kind of emotive association, it will smoothen their path.

Disputed and controversial nomination processes can encourage voters to stay away from the general election, making it harder for leaders to get their vote out.

This means that multiple candidates vie for each possible nomination slot. In the past, that competition has always been expensive, as rival aspirants wooed voters with gifts. It occasionally turned violent, and often involved cheating. Primary elections in 2013 and 2017 were messy and chaotic, and were not certain to result in the selection of the candidate most likely to win the general election. From the point of view of the presidential candidates, there are real risks to the primary elections their parties or coalitions oversee: the reputational damage due to chaos and the awareness that local support might be lost if a disgruntled aspirant turns against the party.

This helps to explain why in 2022 many parties made use of direct nominations—variously dressed up as the operation of consensus or the result of mysterious “opinion polls” to identify the strongest candidate. What that really meant was an intensive process of promise-making and/or pressure to persuade some candidates to stand down. Where that did not work, and primaries still took place, the promise-making and bullying came afterwards—to stop disappointed aspirants from turning against the party and standing as independents. The consequence of all that top-down management was that the nominations saw much less open violence than in previous years.

So who won, and who lost, at the national level?

Despite all the back-room deal-making, top-down political management was not especially successful in soothing the feelings of those who did not come out holding certificates. That brings us to the big national winners and losers of the process. Odinga—and his ODM party—have come out rather bruised. They have been accused of nepotism, bribery and of ignoring local wishes. This is a particularly dangerous accusation for Odinga, as it plays into popular concerns that, following his “handshake” with President Kenyatta and his adoption as the candidate of the “establishment”, he is a “project” of wealthy and powerful individuals who wish to retain power through the backdoor after Kenyatta stands down having served two-terms in office. In the face of well-publicised claims that Odinga would be a “remote controlled president” doing the bidding of the Kenyatta family and their allies, the impression that the nominations were stage-managed from on high in an undemocratic process was the last thing Azimio needed.

Moreover, perhaps because Odinga seems to have been less active than his rival in personally intervening to mollify aggrieved local politicians, the ODM nominations process seems to have left more of a mess. That was compounded by complications in the Azimio la Umoja/One Kenya Alliance Coalition Party (we’ll call it Azimio from now on, for convenience). Where Azimio “zoned”—that is, agreed on a single candidate from all its constituent parties—disappointed aspirants complained. Where it did not zone, and agreed to let each party nominate its own candidate for governor, MP and so on, then smaller parties in the coalition complained that they would face unfair competition come the general election. That is why the leaders of some of these smaller groups such as Machakos Governor Alfred Mutua made dramatic (or theatrical, depending on your view) announcements of their decision to leave Azimio and support Ruto.

Despite all the back-room deal-making, top-down political management was not especially successful in soothing the feelings of those who did not come out holding certificates.

So Ruto looks like a nomination winner. But his success comes with a big price tag. His interventions to placate disgruntled aspirants involved more than soothing words. A new government will have lots of goodies to distribute to supporters—positions in the civil service and parastatals, diplomatic roles, not to mention business opportunities of many kinds. But the bag of goodies is not bottomless, and it seems likely that a lot of promises have been made. Ruto’s undoubted talents as an organizer and deal-maker have been useful to him through the nominations—but those deals may prove expensive for him, and for Kenya, if he wins the presidential poll.

Money, politics, and the cost of campaigns

Those who “won” by being directly nominated to their desired positions may also come to see this process as something of a double-edged sword. In the short term, many of them will have saved considerable money: depending on exactly when the deal was done, they will have been spared some days of campaign expenses—no need to fuel cars, buy airtime for bloggers, pay for t-shirts and posters, and hand out cash. But that will be a brief respite. The disappointed rivals who have gone independent will make the campaigns harder for them—and likely more expensive. The belief that they were favoured by the party machinery may mean that voter expectations are higher when it comes to handouts and donations on the campaign trail. And the fact they were nominated rather than selected by party members may undermine their grass-roots legitimacy.

Others may experience a similar delayed effect. Among the short-term losers of the nominations will have been some of the “goons” who have played a prominent physical role in previous nominations: their muscular services were largely not required (although there were exceptions). The printers of posters and t-shirts will similarly have seen a disappointing nominations period (although surely they will have received enough early orders to keep them happy, especially where uncertainty over the nomination was very prolonged). The providers of billboard advertising may have seen a little less demand than they had hoped for, although they too seem to have done quite well from selling space to aspirants who—willingly or not—did not make it to the primaries. But where the general election will be fiercely contested, entrepreneurs will likely make up any lost ground as the campaigns get going. In these cases, competition has been postponed, not avoided.

Those in less competitive wards, constituencies or counties—the kind in which one party tends to dominate in the general election—are unlikely to be able to make up for lost time. These “one-party” areas may be in shorter supply in 2022 than in the past, due to the way that the control of specific leaders and alliances over the country’s former provinces has fragmented, but there will still be some races in which it is obvious who will win, and so the campaigns will be less heated.

Those who “won” by being directly nominated to their desired positions may also come to see this process as something of a double-edged sword.

More definite losers are the parties themselves. In some ways, we could say they did well as institutions, because they were spared the embarrassment of violent primaries. But the settling of many nominations without primaries meant not collecting nomination fees from aspirants in some cases, and refunding them in others. That will have cost parties a chunk of money, which they won’t get back. That may not affect the campaigns much—the money for campaigns flows in opaque and complex ways that may not touch the parties themselves. But it will affect the finances of the parties as organizations, which are often more than a little fragile.

Are the losers actually the biggest winners?

Some losers, however, are really big winners. Think about those candidates who would not have won competitive primaries but were strong enough to be able to credibly complain that they had been hard done by due to the decision to select a rival in a direct process. In many cases, these individuals were able to extract considerable concessions in return for the promise not to contest as independents, and so disrupt their coalition’s best laid plans. This means that many of the losers—who may well have been defeated anyway—walked away with the promise of a post-election reward without the expense and bother of having to campaign up until the polls.

It is hard not to suspect that some of them might feel a little bit relieved at this out-turn. In fact, some of them may have been aiming at this all along. For those with limited resources and uncertain prospects at the ballot, the opportunity to stand down in favour of another candidate may have been pretty welcome. Instead of spending the next three months in an exhausting round of funerals, fund-raisers and rallies, constantly worrying about whether they have enough fifty (or larger) shilling notes to hand out and avoiding answering their phones, they can sit back and wait for their parastatal appointment, ambassadorship, or business opportunity.

For those with limited resources and uncertain prospects at the ballot, the opportunity to stand down in favour of another candidate may have been pretty welcome.

For these individuals, the biggest worry now is not their popularity or campaign, but simply the risk that their coalition might not win the presidential election, rendering the promises they have received worthless. Those whose wishes come true will be considerably more fortunate—and financially better off—than their colleagues who made it through the nominations but fall at the final hurdle of the general election.

Separating the winners of the nominations process from the losers may therefore be harder than it seems.

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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.



Asylum Pact: Rwanda Must Do Some Political Housecleaning
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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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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.



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