Donald Trump barged into the political arena, and within a relatively short period of time, reconfigured the American political landscape. He won the 2016 election by a razor-thin margin in key electoral states and lost the 2020 election by only a slightly larger razor-thin margin. The election quantified the hypothesis that President Trump’s iconoclastic performance as head of state did little to alter the polarised perceptions dominating American politics.
Capturing the many voters disenchanted with both the Republican and the Democratic parties was the secret sauce powering Trump’s success. But instead of moving towards the middle once in power, Trump’s style of governance reinforced the gap. Both elections appear to have left the nation’s democratic equilibrium poised on a precarious fulcrum.
Security analyst John Robb was the first to analyse Donald Trump’s 2016 run at the presidency as an insurgency. Trump entered the primaries as an outsider and proceeded to dispense with the usual rules and protocols. His initial focus on the nation’s entrenched financial interests was coupled with his lack of clear positions on issues that would potentially divide his growing constituency. The assault on the mainstream media, which formed the second prong of his strategy, insulated him from the stream of criticism directed at his person and candidacy.
Self-funding his campaign further buffered the growing movement from the Republican Party establishment. Trump’s insurrection carried him into the White House, and he proceeded to trash the conventional sensibilities of the two-party system and the political campaign industry process.
Where many of us saw the Obama presidency as the end of a cycle dating back to the civil rights movement, as it turned out, it set in motion a new dialectic.
Blue Church versus Red Religion
At the turn of the millennium, Bill Clinton was at the forefront of academic analysts and policy pundits who used the Davos Economic Forum to promulgate the idea that the world’s financial architecture needed a structural makeover to address the challenges of the new century. Nothing happened. Structural inequality continued to facilitate elite control of the news media and political narratives. The West continued to invest in China, assuming that economic liberalisation will lead to political democratisation. The Forever War festered, draining financial resources that should have been reinvested at home.
The Obama presidency was not an anomaly in regard to these trends, and the Tea Party emerged as a direct response. Funded by the Koch Brothers’ political cartel, the Tea Party mobilised a large body of formerly politically inert citizens, including voters who had not responded to the activism of the religious right that contributed to the electoral success of the two Bush presidents.
Where many of us saw the Obama presidency as the end of a cycle dating back to the civil rights movement, as it turned out, it set in motion a new dialectic.
At its peak, public support for the movement was over 25 per cent of the electorate, with many more sympathetic towards its goals. The Tea Party and its congressional caucus became a party within a party. Although it could not enact its agenda on the national scale, the Tea Party drove many moderate Republicans out of public office. Due to the diversity of internal interests, its settled on a strategy that focused blame on big government, spearheaded by Grover Norquist’s radical anti-tax movement that had served as the driver of Newt Gringrich’s Contract with America during Bill Clinton’s presidency.
The Tea Party platform enjoyed the support of second-tier politicians like Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachmann, Ron Paul and other contenders for the Republican presidential nomination won by Mitt Romney in 2012. Trump gained favour with the movement through his anti-Obama antics, but otherwise was not seen as an active player. Four years later, pro-Tea Party candidates like Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, and Lindsay Graham denigrated Donald Trump when he entered the race, only to change their colours when Trump’s scorched earth campaign reduced them to spectators.
Trump launched his candidacy by excoriating big donors, including political action committees empowered by the Citizens United legislation passed through the Koch brothers’ political machine. He derided his opponents for flocking to secret fundraising retreats hosted by the Koch Brothers’ cartel. The libertarian financiers opposed Trump in the beginning, but this divide was eventually bridged by his selection of Mike Pence for his running mate, a creation of the Koch political machine.
Assumptions about Trump’s poor prospects failed to factor in the larger forces contributing to Americans’ growing uncertainty and fear of the future. The domestic opportunity costs of Bush Junior’s foreign wars were exacerbated by the post-regime change failures of the Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns. The financial profligacy accompanying these interventions, Wall Street’s sub-prime mortgage pyramid scheme, and the state’s acquiescence to the lopsided relationship with China helped prepare the ground for the coming insurgency.
The state’s response to the post-9/11 terrorism threat created the biggest concentrations of financial resources since World War II, including the new Department for Homeland Security. The war chest became a magnet for bipartisan insider interests. Obama’s failure to reckon with the public’s disenchantment added to the accumulating problems accompanying the erosion of working class conditions in the nation’s heartland.
This allowed Trump’s campaign to portray the Democrats as the party of war while elevating Hillary Clinton to a symbol of the military-industrial complex’s self-interest. Under Steve Bannon’s direction, the Trump campaign effectively used propaganda to create an alternative narrative that bypassed the opposition’s criticism, while portraying them as supporters of policies responsible for America’s decline at home and abroad.
Trump’s campaign prioritised media-based tactics over the scripted playbook; in any case, mobilisation took precedence over the game of debating the movement’s political platform. The media blitzkrieg, refreshed with footage from Trump’s rock star performances at his rallies, condensed all of these elements into the Make America Great Again (MAGA) Kool-Aid. Hillary Clinton appeared to be winning most of the battles. But when the fog lifted, the same country that elected Barrack Obama to two terms had elected Donald Trump. No one knew how to best cope with the insurgency once he was in office.
The systems analyst, Jonathan Hall, portrayed the Trump insurgency on the campaign trail as highly effective desert guerrillas bent on turning everything into a desert. He described how the Trump campaign’s guerilla methods succeeded in creating confusion and disorder within the opposition camp. The insurgents were able to make the enemy over and under-react to activity that appeared to be ambiguous or misleading to an enemy aligned with the mainstream narrative.
In his 2017 Situational Assessment, Hall stated that the Trump insurgency was based on a new model of collective intelligence committed to disrupting the system on four fronts: the communications and media infrastructure; the economy of globalisation; the deep state; and the new culture war. He cast the latter as the battleground where the new Red Religion, which has emerged as the new counterculture, enjoys a strong advantage over the Blue Church, which has over the decades subverted many of the values of the American counterculture of the 1960s and 1970s. In the process, the Blue Church evolved into the same military-industrial and congressional political machine President Dwight Eisenhower had termed as the greatest threat to American democracy in 1958.
Trump actually crafted a line of attack similar to that to the original Blue Religion (my term) interpretation of American exceptionalism. It was relatively moderate but more focused compared to the political rhetoric of the Baby Boomers’ uprising. Unlike the moon-shot confidence of mid-century America driving the collective intelligence of the Blue Religion that emerged during that era, the Baby Boomers who responded to Trump’s message were reacting from a very different place.
Even before his election, analyses of the trauma many Americans were experiencing unpacked the deep-seated psychological factors contributing to the belief that the nation was primed for the entrance of a male hero, a champion who could bring order back to a chaotic world. These arguments demonstrate the human proclivity to “identify with the aggressor” during times of heightened uncertainty. This accounts for the movement’s more extreme contradictions, like the fact that the states most dependent on federal largesse provided the most passionate fans of the “drain the swamp” meme.
In his 2017 Situational Assessment, Hall stated that the Trump insurgency was based on a new model of collective intelligence committed to disrupting the system on four fronts: the communications and media infrastructure; the economy of globalisation; the deep state; and the new culture war.
During recent decades, the Ku Klux Klan, the John Birch Society, and other neo-Nazi organisations have transformed themselves from post-Reconstruction defenders of the white race to a rabidly anti-government network. Between 2008 and 2015, the Patriot Movement, a loose network of armed conspiracy theorists, had expanded from 149 groups to 874 in 2015, an increase of nearly 500 per cent.
Trump defied common sense by refusing to distance himself from the emboldened forces on the nation’s lunatic fringe. His dalliance with the KKK’s David Duke during the campaign and his failure to condemn the Charlottesville neo-Nazi marchers confirmed the outsized influence of Barrack Obama in the new head of state’s mind. His implicit acceptance of white supremacists became a show-stopper that worked to negate the import of the substantive policy initiatives he raised for potential Blue Religion converts.
The president’s excessive narcissism further complicated efforts to implement his MAGA mission.
Trump’s White House conundrum
Modern insurgencies are built by crafting a new narrative appealing to homeland religious and cultural values, and by exploiting their asymmetric advantages, like Trump’s use of Twitter to communicate directly with his supporters. They often require the rise of a charismatic leader to set them in motion.
Trump’s connection with his base attracted in turn the support of commentators like Fox TV star Tucker Carlson who, like Trump, originally grew his audience by attacking the corporate elite seen to control Washington. Carlson and other alt-right commentators walked the thin line of attacking the stereotyped Democratic Party enemy while avoiding direct criticism of the president’s failure to take on the economic elite and his controversial flirtations with dictators and traditional enemies abroad.
They seemed to be caught in an alt-right tractor beam that undermined their legitimacy among many in the wider audience when they did underscore important points. This worked well when it came to feeding the base, but it also deprived the Trump policy machine of the trusted feedback normal governments need to stay on course.
This was never going to be a normal government, but unlike the success of his disruptive methods on the campaign trail, Trump was not able to turn his populism into a clear advantage on the policy front. Gifted a growing economy by Barack Obama, the new captain steered the ship of the state straight into the heavy headwinds mainly of his own creation. Foreign policy offered the most promising area for gaining traction, but success proved elusive. Trump’s flirtations with Kim il Jong and Vladimir Putin distracted from his efforts to reconstruct trade relations with China.
The military advisors that Trump appointed during the transition provided the main constraint. One blogger described what happened:
Trump was hauled into a Pentagon basement “tank” and indoctrinated by the glittering four-star generals he admired since he was a kid. The session was part of the ongoing education of a president who arrived at the White House with no experience in the military or government and brought with him advisers deeply skeptical of what they labeled the “globalist” worldview. Trump was sold the establishment policies he originally despised. No alternative view was presented to him.
The author described the operation as “historically, the US military’s first successful counterinsurgency campaign”. The battle with the deep state ended in stalemate. Tearing up treaties proved to be easier than cutting new deals. The insurgency’s failure to overturn Obamacare provided an early marker of its limits.
Navigating the transition from rebellion to governing is the litmus test of successful insurgencies. The Trump regime struggled with this problem, starting with the backtracking when he named his key appointments. His transition team, for example, included the kind of corporate insiders he had assaulted during his campaign, including a Treasury Secretary recruited from Goldman Sachs. The eclectic crew Trump assembled opened up internal rifts in his White House.
Soon the president was fighting his own team. Staff walked the plank, others were keelhauled in public, and after months of ridicule, the Attorney General was dumped unceremoniously. Trump’s quest for unconditional loyalty led him to fall back on family and close friends like Rudy Giuliani, and to use events like the clash in Charlottesville to fire up the base. His first Chief of Staff, General Jim Mattis, was eased out after opposing Steve Bannon, who shortly afterwards was shown the door when he clashed with son-in-law, Jared Kushner. The churn became a consistent pattern.
Trump’s allies in the media remained in insurrection mode in the presence of the growing number of setbacks and self-inflicted blunders. Commentators who excelled in turning obscure stories and isolated incidents into larger narratives sidestepped fact-driven analysis of complex issues, and avoided constructive criticism of the Trump government in general.
Blue Church media critics fought back by retreating into the role of the moral resistance who evaluated many of Trump’s policies as an extension of his unsavoury persona. Congressional Democrats contributed to the quagmire by equating Russian maskirovka with collusion, then launching their doomed-to-fail impeachment gambit. Although the mid-term elections provided the Democrats with a much-needed respite, they were not able to leverage their momentum into a more effective counterinsurgency strategy.
Soon the president was fighting his own team. Staff walked the plank, others were keelhauled in public, and after months of ridicule, the Attorney General was dumped unceremoniously.
The outcome was four years of trench warfare. Both sides slogged it out, making small inroads only to relinquish their gains on one front by overplaying their hand on another. Instead of using his China policy to unite the nation behind his government’s most critical initiative, Trump continued to antagonise potential allies on the other side of the aisle. Progressive activists reciprocated by carelessly using the Defund the Police slogan to brand their push for reforms while cities were burning.
Then the pandemic came. Trench warfare morphed from metaphor into real-life strategy as cities and states locked down to defend against the corona virus. Would the civilian Donald Trump have adopted the same anti-science position the Presidential Trump championed? As it turned out, what could have been seized as the final opportunity to transform his insurgency into a war against a common enemy ended up being the battleground for its last stand in the White House.
Joseph Biden’s narrow victory has set the stage for another four years of the Obama-Trump dialectical status quo. The Republicans lost the White House but made gains in most other areas, including the state legislatures that will be in charge of the next phase of redistricting. As many commentators have pointed out, there is also the matter of the 73 million Americans who voted for Trump.
The new government, including many figures from former President Obama’s administration, is taking shape at a time when widespread allegations of electoral fraud have exposed the desperation of the insurgency’s Trumped-up narratives. If the Democrats post-2016 strategy reflected serious errors of judgment and the lack of a coherent strategy, Trump’s post-electoral Twitter offensive and the legal response backing it has been a comedy of errors, highlighting the kind of double-speak semantics Republican spin doctors have resorted to since the Reagan era.
In one Pennsylvania case where Trump’s team tried to stop ballot counting, the lawyers were forced to admit, contrary to false claims that no Republican observers were present, that a “nonzero number of Republican observers” were allowed to witness the ballot counting. Another federal judge described the campaign’s legal arguments as “inadmissible hearsay within hearsay”. One legal expert cited in the same report observed that “the lawsuits are so groundless that the lawyers are more likely to be sanctioned for pursuing them than to succeed in court”.
Trump’s unpredictable and flawed leadership compromised the insurgency’s capacity to parlay its incumbency into a popular vote majority. The endgame is emblematic of how the insurgency degenerated into an exercise in disruption that has subjected American democracy to its most severe stress test in decades. But the current state of polarity should not obscure the complex dynamics driving American society.
In a 2017 article, I viewed the Trump insurgency as a useful development. No matter what we may think of Trump the person, he has succeeded in modifying the topography of the political landscape while identifying many of the issues that will continue to be contested during the next phase of globalisation. More importantly, the insurgency has brought into the open the socio-economic dynamics, tactics, and political actors driving the Red Religion.
In the meantime, one survey found that Republican mistrust of the electoral system zoomed from 35 per cent to 75 per cent following the election. This spike, despite this election being the most transparent and invigilated election in the nation’s history, shows that what people say is often distinct from what they really think and how they behave.
Ingenuous responses to the polls is another consequence of the insurgency. Although these numbers will likely prove to be transient, they are providing the platform for the next stage of Donald Trump’s political career. This raises two questions: what proportion of the 73 million Trump voters are hard core insurgents committed to the long haul; and how will Biden’s government influence those who are not?
The Trump government used its control of the White House and the Senate to cement the conservative majority in the Supreme Court, but this is balanced by the demographics favouring progressive forces over the coming decades. The COVID-19 pandemic and the government relief packages it triggered are placing the long-standing defund-the-state anti-tax movement in its real world context. States that cut budgets in line with the Norquist agenda are suffering the effects of crippled education systems and public services. One Koch brother died, and his survivor has reportedly expressed misgivings about their machine’s socially polarising politics.
These developments are, however, complicated by Trump’s role as an agent of radicalisation.
From insurgency to jihad?
Traditional insurgencies are all-or-nothing struggles in which only one side can prevail in the end. Modern jihads, in contrast, are a more networked variation on guerilla warfare that tend to increase their asymmetric advantages when they do not occupy the terrain hosting the populations involved in the contest.
For the past year I have been following a large pro-Trump Twitter group curated by several security analysts. Post-election posts have ranged from legal and geopolitical arguments to nutcase Release the Kraken conspiracy theories. Many tweets in support of Trump since the election continue to elicit five-figure approvals, and sometimes more in the case of prominent Republican supporters. But the likes and retweets for posts calling for extreme responses decline to between three and low four figures, and support for those calling for Boogaloo-style violence rarely total more than two digits.
Donald Trump is not going away. But the defection of some of his key allies in the corridors of power and the distancing of some of his most important media influencers will make it difficult to for him to sustain the political euphoria he fed on. Such defections often signal an insurgency’s decline.
The new culture war will grind on, identity politics are likely here to stay, and the Blue Church may be living on borrowed time. The long-overdue removal of civil war statuary, the Confederate flag ban, and the large multiracial protests against police impunity are examples of Blue Religion maneouvers outflanking the Red Religion’s embrace of indefensible positions.
Donald Trump is not going away. But the defection of some of his key allies in the corridors of power and the distancing of some of his most important media influencers will make it difficult to for him to sustain the political euphoria he fed on. Such defections often signal an insurgency’s decline.
These factors favour the Trump insurgency’s shift into jihadi mode. Donald Trump appeared to bristle under the protocols that came with being head of state. A revengeful Trump released from these constraints could prove to be a hard to control free agent. Just as most of the victims of Islamist extremism are Muslim, this augurs poorly for the Republican Party. Trump has already targeted several Republican state governors, and the party elders are concerned that the carnage will compromise Republican prospects in the next mid-term elections.
The prospects for Trump’s second act in the political arena now appear less than sanguine, especially should the Democratic mount an effective counterinsurgency strategy. There is no shortage of ambitious camp followers hoping to assume the former president’s mantle. Then there is the karmic price to be paid for his antics in public office. Anything could happen, but the same tide that floated his boat is now going out.
Without Donald Trump, the next phase of the insurgency is likely to involve reversion to the low-intensity conflict that was there before his rise, or, to use the more conventional term, a return to politics as usual.
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Dadaab: Playing Politics With the Lives of Somali Refugees in Kenya
Somali refugees in Kenya should not be held hostage by political disagreements between Mogadishu and Nairobi but must continue to enjoy Kenya’s protection as provided for under international law.
For several years now, Kenya has been demanding that the UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, close the expansive Dadaab refugee complex in north-eastern Kenya, citing “national security threats”. Kenya has argued, without providing sufficient proof, that Dadaab, currently home to a population of 218,000 registered refugees who are mostly from Somalia, provides a “safe haven” and a recruitment ground for al-Shabaab, the al-Qaeda affiliate in Somalia that constantly carries out attacks inside Kenya. Threats to shut down have escalated each time the group has carried out attacks inside Kenya, such as following the Westgate Mall attack in 2013 and the Garissa University attack in 2015.
However, unlike previous calls, the latest call to close Dadaab that came in March 2021, was not triggered by any major security lapse but, rather, was politically motivated. It came at a time of strained relations between Kenya and Somalia. Kakuma refugee camp in Turkana County in north-western Kenya, is mostly home to South Sudanese refugees but also hosts a significant number of Somali refugees. Kakuma has not been included in previous calls for closure but now finds itself targeted for political expediency—to show that the process of closing the camps is above board and targets all refugees in Kenya and not only those from Somalia.
That the call is politically motivated can be deduced from the agreement reached between the UNHCR and the Kenyan government last April where alternative arrangements are foreseen that will enable refugees from the East African Community (EAC) to stay. This means that the South Sudanese will be able to remain while the Somali must leave.
Accusing refugees of being a security threat and Dadaab the operational base from which the al-Shabaab launches its attacks inside Kenya is not based on any evidence. Or if there is any concrete evidence, the Kenyan government has not provided it.
Some observers accuse Kenyan leaders of scapegoating refugees even though it is the Kenyan government that has failed to come up with an effective and workable national security system. The government has also over the years failed to win over and build trust with its Muslim communities. Its counterterrorism campaign has been abusive, indiscriminately targeting and persecuting the Muslim population. Al-Shabab has used the anti-Muslim sentiment to whip up support inside Kenya.
Moreover, if indeed Dadaab is the problem, it is Kenya as the host nation, and not the UNHCR, that oversees security in the three camps that make up the Dadaab complex. The camps fall fully under the jurisdiction and laws of Kenya and, therefore, if the camps are insecure, it is because the Kenyan security apparatus has failed in its mission to securitise them.
The terrorist threat that Kenya faces is not a refugee problem — it is homegrown. Attacks inside Kenya have been carried out by Kenyan nationals, who make up the largest foreign group among al-Shabaab fighters. The Mpeketoni attacks of 2014 in Lamu County and the Dusit D2 attack of 2019 are a testament to the involvement of Kenyan nationals. In the Mpeketoni massacre, al-Shabaab exploited local politics and grievances to deploy both Somali and Kenyan fighters, the latter being recruited primarily from coastal communities. The terrorist cell that conducted the assault on Dusit D2 comprised Kenyan nationals recruited from across Kenya.
Jubaland and the maritime border dispute
This latest demand by the Kenyan government to close Dadaab by June 2022 is politically motivated. Strained relations between Kenya and Somalia over the years have significantly deteriorated in the past year.
Mogadishu cut diplomatic ties with Nairobi in December 2020, accusing Kenya of interfering in Somalia’s internal affairs. The contention is over Kenya’s unwavering support for the Federal Member State of Jubaland — one of Somalia’s five semi-autonomous states — and its leader Ahmed “Madobe” Mohamed Islam. The Jubaland leadership is at loggerheads with the centre in Mogadishu, in particular over the control of the Gedo region of Somalia.
Kenya has supported Jubaland in this dispute, allegedly hosting Jubaland militias inside its territory in Mandera County that which have been carrying out attacks on federal government of Somalia troop positions in the Gedo town of Beled Hawa on the Kenya-Somalia border. Dozens of people including many civilians have been killed in clashes between Jubaland-backed forces and the federal government troops.
Relations between the two countries have been worsened by the bitter maritime boundary dispute that has played out at the International Court of Justice (ICJ).
The latest call to close Dadaab is believed to have been largely triggered by the case at the Hague-based court, whose judgement was delivered on 12 October. The court ruled largely in favour of Somalia, awarding it most of the disputed territory. In a statement, Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta said, “At the outset, Kenya wishes to indicate that it rejects in totality and does not recognize the findings in the decision.” The dispute stems from a disagreement over the trajectory to be taken in the delimitation of the two countries’ maritime border in the Indian Ocean. Somalia filed the case at the Hague in 2014. However, Kenya has from the beginning preferred and actively pushed for the matter to be settled out of court, either through bilateral negotiations with Somalia or through third-party mediation such as the African Union.
Kenya views Somalia as an ungrateful neighbour given all the support it has received in the many years the country has been in turmoil. Kenya has hosted hundreds of thousands of Somali refugees for three decades, played a leading role in numerous efforts to bring peace in Somalia by hosting peace talks to reconcile Somalis, and the Kenyan military, as part of the African Union Mission in Somalia, AMISOM, has sacrificed a lot and helped liberate towns and cities. Kenya feels all these efforts have not been appreciated by Somalia, which in the spirit of good neighbourliness should have given negotiation more time instead of going to court. In March, on the day of the hearing, when both sides were due to present their arguments, Kenya boycotted the court proceedings at the 11th hour. The court ruled that in determining the case, it would use prior submissions and written evidence provided by Kenya. Thus, the Kenyan government’s latest demand to close Dadaab is seen as retaliation against Somalia for insisting on pursuing the case at the International Court of Justice (ICJ).
Nowhere safe to return to
Closing Dadaab by June 2022 as Kenya has insisted to the UNHCR, is not practical and will not allow the dignified return of refugees. Three decades after the total collapse of the state in Somalia, conditions have not changed much, war is still raging, the country is still in turmoil and many parts of Somalia are still unsafe. Much of the south of the country, where most of the refugees in Dadaab come from, remains chronically insecure and is largely under the control of al-Shabaab. Furthermore, the risk of some of the returning youth being recruited into al-Shabaab is real.
A programme of assisted voluntary repatriation has been underway in Dadaab since 2014, after the governments of Kenya and Somalia signed a tripartite agreement together with the UNHCR in 2013. By June 2021, around 85,000 refugees had returned to Somalia under the programme, mainly to major cities in southern Somalia such as Kismayo, Mogadishu and Baidoa. However, the programme has turned out to be complicated; human rights groups have termed it as far from voluntary, saying that return is fuelled by fear and misinformation.
Many refugees living in Dadaab who were interviewed by Human Rights Watch said that they had agreed to return because they feared Kenya would force them out if they stayed. Most of those who were repatriated returned in 2016 at a time when pressure from the Kenyan government was at its highest, with uncertainty surrounding the future of Dadaab after Kenya disbanded its Department of Refugee Affairs (DRA) and halted the registration of new refugees.
Many of the repatriated ended up in camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs) within Somalia, with access to fewer resources and a more dangerous security situation. Somalia has a large population of 2.9 million IDPs scattered across hundreds of camps in major towns and cities who have been displaced by conflict, violence and natural disasters. The IDPs are not well catered for. They live in precarious conditions, crowded in slums in temporary or sub-standard housing with very limited or no access to basic services such as education, basic healthcare, clean water and sanitation. Thousands of those who were assisted to return through the voluntary repatriation programme have since returned to Dadaab after they found conditions in Somalia unbearable. They have ended up undocumented in Dadaab after losing their refugee status in Kenya.
Many refugees living in Dadaab who were interviewed by Human Rights Watch said that they had agreed to return because they feared Kenya would force them out if they stayed.
Camps cannot be a permanent settlement for refugees. Dadaab was opened 30 years ago as a temporary solution for those fleeing the war in Somalia. Unfortunately, the situation in Somalia is not changing. It is time the Kenyan government, in partnership with members of the international community, finds a sustainable, long-term solution for Somali refugees in Kenya, including considering pathways towards integrating the refugees into Kenyan society. Dadaab could then be shut down and the refugees would be able to lead dignified lives, to work and to enjoy freedom of movement unlike today where their lives are in limbo, living in prison-like conditions inside the camps.
The proposal to allow refugees from the East African Community to remain after the closure of the camps — which will mainly affect the 130,000 South Sudanese refugees in Kakuma — is a good gesture and a major opportunity for refugees to become self-reliant and contribute to the local economy.
Announcing the scheme, Kenya said that refugees from the EAC who are willing to stay on would be issued with work permits for free. Unfortunately, this option was not made available to refugees from Somalia even though close to 60 per cent of the residents of Dadaab are under the age of 18, have lived in Kenya their entire lives and have little connection with a country their parents escaped from three decades ago.
Many in Dadaab are also third generation refugees, the grandchildren of the first wave of refugees. Many have also integrated fully into Kenyan society, intermarried, learnt to speak fluent Swahili and identify more with Kenya than with their country of origin.
The numbers that need to be integrated are not huge. There are around 269,000 Somali refugees in Dadaab and Kakuma. When you subtract the estimated 40,000 Kenyan nationals included in refugee data, the figure comes down to around 230,000 people. This is not a large population that would alter Kenya’s demography in any signific ant way, if indeed this isis the fear in some quarters. If politics were to be left out of the question, integration would be a viable option.
Many in Dadaab are also third generation refugees, the grandchildren of the first wave of refugees.
For decades, Kenya has shown immense generosity by hosting hundreds of thousands of refugees, and it is important that the country continues to show this solidarity. Whatever the circumstances and the diplomatic difficulties with its neighbour Somalia, Kenya should respect its legal obligations under international law to provide protection to those seeking sanctuary inside its borders. Refugees should only return to their country when the conditions are conducive, and Somalia is ready to receive them. To forcibly truck people to the border, as Kenya has threatened in the past, is not a solution. If the process of returning refugees to Somalia is not well thought out, a hasty decision will have devastating consequences for their security and well-being.
The Assassination of President Jovenel Moïse and the Haitian Imbroglio
As CARICOM countries call for more profound changes that would empower the Haitian population, Western powers offer plans for “consensual and inclusive” government that will continue to exclude the majority of the citizens of Haiti from participating in the running of their country.
On Wednesday 7 July 2021, the President of Haiti, Jovenel Moïse, was assassinated in his home. His wife was injured in the attack. That the president’s assassins were able to access his home posing as agents of the Drug Enforcement Agency of the United States (DEA) brought to the fore the intricate relationship between drugs, money laundering and mercenary activities in Haiti. Two days later, the government of Haiti reported that the attack had been carried out by a team of assailants, 26 of whom were Colombian. This information that ex-soldiers from Colombia were involved brought to the spotlight the ways in which Haiti society has been enmeshed in the world of the international mercenary market and instability since the overthrow of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and the Lavalas movement in 2004.
When the French Newspaper Le Monde recently stated that Haiti was one of the four drug hubs of the Caribbean region, the paper neglected to add the reality that as a drug hub, Haiti had become an important base for US imperial activities, including imperial money laundering, intelligence, and criminal networks. No institution in Haiti can escape this web and Haitian society is currently reeling from this ecosystem of exploitation, repression, and manipulation. Under President Donald Trump, the US heightened its opposition to the governments of Venezuela and Cuba. The mercenary market in Florida became interwoven with the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and the financial institutions that profited from crime syndicates that thrive on anti-communist and anti-Cuba ideas.
But even as Haitian society is reeling from intensified destabilization, the so-called Core Group (comprising of the Organization of American States (OAS), the European Union, the United States, France, Spain, Canada, Germany, and Brazil) offers plans for “consensual and inclusive” government that will continue to exclude the majority of the citizens of Haiti from participating in the running of their country. Elsewhere in the Caribbean, CARICOM countries are calling for more profound changes that would empower the population while mobilizing international resources to neutralize the social power of the money launderers and oligarchs in Haitian society.
Haiti since the Duvaliers
For the past thirty-five years, the people of Haiti have yearned for a new mode of politics to transcend the dictatorship of the Duvaliers (Papa Doc and Baby Doc). The Haitian independence struggles at the start of the 19th century had registered one of the most fundamental blows to the institutions of chattel slavery and colonial domination. Since that revolution, France and the US have cooperated to punish Haiti for daring to resist white supremacy. An onerous payment of reparations to France was compounded by US military occupation after 1915.
Under President Woodrow Wilson, the racist ideals of the US imperial interests were reinforced in Haiti in a nineteen-year military occupation that was promoted by American business interests in the country. Genocidal violence from the Dominican Republic in 1937 strengthened the bonds between militarism and extreme violence in the society. Martial law, forced labour, racism and extreme repression were cemented in the society. Duvalierism in the form of the medical doctor François Duvalier mobilized a variant of Negritude in the 50s to cement a regime of thuggery, aligned with the Cold War goals of the United States in the Caribbean. The record of the Duvalier regime was reprehensible in every form, but this kind of government received military and intelligence assistance from the United States in a region where the Cuban revolution offered an alternative. Francois Duvalier died in 1971 and was succeeded by his son, Jean-Claude Duvalier, who continued the tradition of rule by violence (the notorious Tonton Macoute) until this system was overthrown by popular uprisings in 1986.
The Haitian independence struggles at the start of the 19th century had registered one of the most fundamental blows to the institutions of chattel slavery and colonial domination.
On 16 December 1990, Jean-Bertrand Aristide won the presidency by a landslide in what were widely reported to be the first free elections in Haiti’s history. Legislative elections in January 1991 gave Aristide supporters a plurality in Haiti’s parliament. The Lavalas movement of the Aristide leadership was the first major antidote to the historical culture of repression and violence. The United States and France opposed this new opening of popular expression such that military intervention, supported by external forces in North America and the Organization of American States, brought militarists and drug dealers under General Joseph Raoul Cédras to the forefront of the society. The working peoples of Haiti were crushed by an alliance of local militarists, external military peacekeepers and drug dealers. The noted Haitian writer, Edwidge Danticat, has written extensively on the consequences of repeated military interventions, genocide and occupation in the society while the population sought avenues to escape these repressive orders. After the removal of the Aristide government in 2004, it was the expressed plan of the local elites and the external forces that the majority of the Haitian population should be excluded from genuine forms of participatory democracy, including elections.
Repression, imperial NGOs and humanitarian domination
The devastating earthquake of January 2010 further deepened the tragic socio-economic situation in Haiti. An estimated 230,000 Haitians lost their lives, 300,000 were injured, and more than 1.5 million were displaced as a result of collapsed buildings and infrastructure. External military interventions by the United Nations, humanitarian workers and international foundations joined in the corruption to strengthen the anti-democratic forces in Haitian society. The Clinton Foundation of the United States was complicit in imposing the disastrous presidency of Michel Martelly on Haitian society after the earthquake. The book by Jonathan Katz, The Big Truck That Went By: How the World Came to Save Haiti and Left Behind a Disaster, provides a gripping account of the corruption in Haiti. So involved were the Clintons in the rot in Haiti that Politico Magazine dubbed Bill and Hilary, The King and Queen of Haiti.
In 2015, Jovenel Moïse was elected president in a very flawed process, but was only able to take office in 2017. From the moment he entered the presidency, his administration became immersed in the anti-people traditions that had kept the ruling elites together with the more than 10,000 international NGOs that excluded Haitians from participating in the projects for their own recovery. President Moïse carved out political space in Haiti with the support of armed groups who were deployed as death squads with the mission of terrorizing popular spaces and repressing supporters of the Haitian social movement. In a society where the head of state did not have a monopoly over armed gangs, kidnappings, murder (including the killing of schoolchildren) and assassinations got out of control. Under Moïse, Haiti had become an imbroglio where the government and allied gangs organized a series of massacres in poor neighbourhoods known to host anti-government organizing, killing dozens at a time.
Moïse and the extension of repression in Haiti
Moïse remained president with the connivance of diplomats and foundations from Canada, France and the United States. These countries and their leaders ignored the reality that the Haitian elections of 2017 were so deeply flawed and violent that almost 80 per cent of Haitian voters did not, or could not, vote. Moïse, with the support of one section of the Haitian power brokers, avoided having any more elections, and so parliament became inoperative in January 2020, when the terms of most legislators expired. When mayors’ terms expired in July 2020, Moïse personally appointed their replacements. This accumulation of power by the president deepened the divisions within the capitalist classes in Haiti. Long-simmering tensions between the mulatto and black capitalists were exacerbated under Moïse who mobilized his own faction on the fact that he was seeking to empower and enrich the black majority. Thugs and armed gangs were integrated into the drug hub and money laundering architecture that came to dominate Haiti after 2004.
After the Trump administration intensified its opposition to the Venezuelan government, the political and commercial leadership in Haiti became suborned to the international mercenary and drug systems that were being mobilized in conjunction with the military intelligence elements in Florida and Colombia. President Jovenel Moïse’s term, fed by spectacular and intense struggles between factions of the looters, was scheduled to come to a legal end in February 2021. Moïse sought to remain in power, notwithstanding the Haitian constitution, the electoral law, or the will of the Haitian people.
So involved were the Clintons in the rot in Haiti that Politico Magazine dubbed Bill and Hilary, The King and Queen of Haiti.
Since the removal of Aristide and the marginalization of the Lavalas forces from the political arena in Haiti, the US has been more focused on strengthening the linkages between the Haitian drug lords and the money launderers in Colombia, Florida, Dominican Republic, and Venezuelan exiles. It was therefore not surprising that the mercenary industry, with its linkages to financial forces in Florida, has been implicated in the assassination of President Moïse. The Core Group of Canada, France and the US has not once sought to deploy the resources of the international Financial Action Task Force (FATF) to penetrate the interconnections between politicians in Haiti and the international money laundering and mercenary market.
Working for democratic transition in Haiti
The usual handlers of Haitian repression created the Core Group within one month of Moïse’s assassination. Canada, France and the United States had historically been implicated in the mismanaging of Haiti along with the United Nations. Now, the three countries have mobilized the OAS (with its checkered history), Brazil and the European Union to add their weight to a new transition that will continue to exclude the majority of the people of Haiti. It has been clear that under the current system of destabilization and violence, social peace will be necessary before elections can take place in Haiti.
Moïse sought to remain in power, notwithstanding the Haitian constitution, the electoral law, or the will of the Haitian people.
The continuous infighting among the Haitian ruling elements after the assassination was temporarily resolved at the end of July when Ariel Henry was confirmed by the US and France as Prime Minister. Henry had been designated as prime minister by Moïse days before his assassination. The popular groups in Haiti that had opposed Moïse considered the confirmation of Ariel Henry as a slap in the face because they had been demonstrating for the past four years for a more robust change to the political landscape. These organizations mobilized in what they called the Commission, (a gathering of civil society groups and political parties with more than 150 members), and had been holding marathon meetings to publicly work out what kind of transitional government they would want to see. According to the New York Times, rather than a consensus, the Core Group of international actors imposed a “unilateral proposal” on the people of Haiti.
Haiti is a member of CARICOM. The Caribbean community has proposed a longer transition period overseen by CARICOM for the return of Haiti to democracy. With the experience of the UN in Haiti, the Caribbean community has, through its representative on the UN Security Council, proposed the mobilization of the peacekeeping resources and capabilities of the UN to be deployed to CARICOM in order to organize a credible transition to democracy in Haiti. The nature and manner of the assassination of President Moïse has made more urgent the need for genuine reconstruction and support for democratic transition in Haiti.
How Dadaab Has Changed the Fortunes of North-Eastern Kenya
Despite the hostile rhetoric and threats of closure, the presence of refugees in the camps in northern-eastern Kenyan has benefited the host communities.
In the 1960s, Kenya had a progressive refugee policy that allowed refugees to settle anywhere in the country and to access education. This approach created in Kenya a cadre of skilled and professional refugees. However, the policy changed in the 1990s due to an overwhelming influx of refugees and asylum seekers escaping conflict in Somalia, Ethiopia and South Sudan. Kenya switched to an encampment policy for refugees, who were mainly confined to camps.
Although there are refugees living in urban and peri-urban areas elsewhere in the country, for over two decades, northern Kenya has hosted a disproportionate number of the refugees living in Kenya. The region has been home to one of the world’s largest refugee camps, with generations of lineage having an impact on the economic, social, cultural, and ecological situation of the region because of the support provided by the government and by non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in education, health and security services.
Mandera and Marsabit counties, both of which boarder with Ethiopia, Wajir County which borders with both Ethiopia and Somalia and, Garissa County which borders with Somalia, have hosted refugees and migrants displaced from their countries of origin for various reasons. In 2018, the town of Moyale, which is on the Ethiopian boarder in Marsabit County, temporarily hosted over 10,000 Ethiopians escaping military operations in Ethiopia’s Moyale District.
Elwak town in Wajir County occasionally hosts pastoralist communities from Somalia who cross into Kenya seeking pasture for their livestock. While the movement of refugees into Marsabit and Wajir counties has been of a temporary nature, Garissa County has hosted refugees for decades.
Located 70 kilometres from the border with Somalia, the Dadaab refugee complex was established in the 1990s and has three main camps: Dagahaley, Ifo, and Hagadera. Due to an increase in refugee numbers around 2011, the Kambioos refugee camp in Fafi sub-county was established to host new arrivals from Somalia and to ease pressure on the overcrowded Hagadera refugee camp. The Kambioos camp was closed in 2019 as the refugee population fell.
According to the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, and the Refugee Affairs Secretariat (RAS), the Dadaab refugee complex currently hosts over 226, 689 refugees, 98 per cent of whom are from Somalia. In 2015, the refugee population in the Dadaab refugee complex was over 300,000, larger than that of the host community. In 2012, the camp held over 400,000 refugees leading to overstretched and insufficient resources for the growing population.
Under international refugee and human rights law, the government has the sole responsibility of hosting and caring for refugees. However, there is little information regarding the investments made by the Kenyan government in the refugee sector in the north-eastern region over time. Moreover, the government’s investment in the sector is debatable since there was no proper legal framework to guide refugee operations in the early 1990s. It was only in 2006 that the government enacted the Refugee Act that formally set up the Refugee Affairs Secretariat mandated to guide and manage the refugee process in Kenya.
While the Refugee Act of 2006 places the management of refugee affairs in the hands of the national government, devolved county governments play a significant role in refugee operations. With the 2010 constitution, the devolution of social functions such as health and education has extended into refugee-hosting regions and into refugee camps. While devolution in this new and more inclusive system of governance has benefited the previously highly marginalised north-eastern region through a fairer distribution of economic and political resources, there is however little literature on how the refugees benefit directly from the county government resource allocations.
The three north-eastern counties are ranked among the leading recipients of devolved funds: Mandera County alone received US$88 million in the 2015/2016 financial year, the highest allocation of funds after Nairobi and Turkana, leading to developmental improvements.
However, it can be argued that the allocation of funds from the national government to the northern frontier counties by the Kenya Commission on Revenue Allocation—which is always based on the Revenue Allocation table that prioritizes population, poverty index, land area, basic equal share and fiscal responsibility—may not have been taking the refugee population into account. According to the 2019 census, the population of Dadaab sub-county is 185,252, a figure that is well below the actual refugee population. The increase in population in the north-eastern region that is due to an increase in the refugee population calls for an increase in the allocation of devolved funds.
The three north-eastern counties are ranked among the leading recipients of devolved funds.
Dadaab refugee camp has been in the news for the wrong reasons. Security agencies blame the refugees for the increased Al Shabaab activity in Kenya, and even though these claims are disputed, the government has made moves to close down the camp. In 2016, plans to close Dadaab were blocked by the High Court which declared the proposed closure unconstitutional. In 2021, Kenya was at it again when Ministry of Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’I tweeted that he had given the UNHCR 14 days to draw up a plan for the closure of the camp. The UNHCR and the government issued a joint statement agreeing to close the camp in June 2022.
The security rhetoric is not new. There has been a sustained campaign by Kenya to portray Dadaab as a security risk on national, regional and international platforms. During the 554th meeting of the African Union Peace and Security Forum held in November 2015, it was concluded that the humanitarian character of the Dadaab refugee camp had been compromised. The AU statements, which may have been drafted by Kenya, claimed that the attacks on Westgate Mall and Garissa University were planned and launched from within the refugee camps. These security incidents are an indication of the challenges Kenya has been facing in managing security. For example, between 2010 and 2011, there were several IED (Improvised Explosive Devices) incidents targeting police vehicles in and around Dadaab where a dozen officers were injured or killed. In October 2012, two people working for the medical charity Médicins Sans Frontières (MSF) were kidnapped in Dadaab. Local television network NTV has described the camp as “a womb of terror” and “a home for al-Shabaab operations”.
There has been a sustained campaign by Kenya to portray Dadaab as a security risk on national, regional and international platforms.
Security restrictions and violent incidents have created a challenging operational environment for NGOs, leading to the relocation of several non-local NGO staff as well as contributing to a shrinking humanitarian space. Some teachers and health workers from outside the region have refused to return to the area following terrorist attacks by Al-Shabaab, leaving behind large gaps in the health, education, and nutrition sectors.
However, despite the challenging situation, the refugee camps have also brought many benefits, not only to Kenya as a country but also to the county governments and the local host communities.
According to the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) half the refugee population in the IGAD member states are children of school-going age, between 4 and 18 years.
In Garissa, the education sector is one of the areas that has benefited from the hosting of refugees in the county because the host community has access to schools in the refugee camps. Windle Trust, an organisation that offers scholarships to students in secondary schools and in vocational training institutes, has been offering scholarships to both the refugees and the host communities. In July 2021, over 70 students benefited from a project run by International Labour Organisations (ILO) in partnership with Garissa county governments, the East African Institute of Welding (EAIW) and the Kenya Association of Manufacturers (KAM) to give industrial welding skills to refugees and host communities.
However, despite the measures taken by the Kenyan government to enrol refugees in Kenyan schools, there is a notable gap that widens as students go through the different levels of education. Statistics show that of the school-going refugee population, only a third get access to secondary education of which a sixth get to join tertiary institutions. This is well below the government’s Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4 target that seeks to ensure that all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education. This also reflects the situation of the host community’s education uptake. Other investments in the education sector that have targeted the host communities include recruitment and deployment of early childhood education teachers to schools in the host community by UNHCR and other non-governmental organizations (NGOs).
The presence of refugees has led to NGOs setting up and running projects in the camps. According to Garissa County’s Integrated Development Plan, there are over 70 non-governmental organisations present, with the majority operating around the Dadaab refugee complex and within the host communities. The UNHCR estimates that it will require about US$149.6 million to run its operations in Dadaab Camp this year. However, as of May 2021, only US$45.6 million—31 per cent of the total amount required—had been received.
The decrease in humanitarian funding has had an impact on the livelihoods of refugees and host communities in north-eastern Kenya. According to the World Bank, 73 per cent of the population of Garissa County live below the poverty line. In the absence of social safety nets, locals have benefited from the humanitarian operations in and around the camp. The UNHCR reports that about 40,000 Kenyan nationals within a 50km radius of the Dadaab refugee camp ended up enrolling as refugees in order to access food and other basic services in the camps.
In 2014, the UNHCR reported that it had supported the Kenyan community residing in the wider Daadab region in establishing over US$5 million worth of community assets since 2011. The presence of refugees has also increased remittances from the diaspora, and there are over 50 remittance outlets operating in the Dadaab camp, increasing economic opportunities and improving services. Using 2010 as the reference year, researchers have found that the economic benefits of the Dadaab camp to the host community amount to approximately US$14 million annually.
The UNHCR reported that it had supported the Kenyan community residing in the wider Daadab region in establishing over US$5 million of community assets since 2011 since 2011.
To reduce overdependence on aid and humanitarian funding in running refugee operations, the County Government of Garissa developed a Garissa Integrated Socio-Economic Development Plan (GISEDP) in 2019 that provided ways of integrating refugees into the socio-economic life of the community to enhance their self-reliance. The European Union announced a Euro 5 million funding programme to support the socio-economic development plan, thus opening up opportunities for development initiatives including income generating activities such as the flourishing businesses at Hagadera market. The recent announcement of the planned closure of the camp has put these plans at risk.
The host community is increasingly involved in issues that affect both the locals living around the Dadaab refugee complex and the refugees themselves, with the voice of the community gaining prominence in decision-making regarding the county budget and sometimes even regarding NGO operations. NGOs periodically conduct needs assessments in and around the camp to guide the budgeting and planning process for subsequent years and the host community is always consulted.
Interest in governance issues has also increased. For example, between 2010 and 2015 the host community successfully lobbied for increased employment opportunities for locals in the UNHCR operations. With experience in the humanitarian field, some from within the host communities have secured positions as expatriates in international organizations across the globe, adding to increased international remittances to Garissa County.
Research reveals that, compared to other pastoralist areas, health services for host communities have improved because of the presence of aid agencies in Dadaab. Hospitals managed by Médicins Sans Frontières and the International Red Cross in Dagahaley and Hagadera respectively are said to be offering better services than the sub-county hospital in Dadaab town. The two hospitals are Ministry of Health-approved vaccination centres in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.
Despite the massive investments made in the health sector by humanitarian organisations in and around Dadaab, both UNICEF and the World Health Organisation have identified the camp as an entry point for infectious diseases like polio and measles into Kenya. There was a confirmed case of WPV1 (wild poliovirus) in a 4-month-old girl from the Dadaab refugee camp in May 2013. This is a clear indication of the health risks associated with the situation.
Researchers have found that the economic benefits of the Dadaab camp to the host community amount to approximately US$14 million annually.
Other problems associated with the presence of the camps include encroachment of the refugee population on local land, leading to crime and hostility between the two communities. These conflicts are aggravated by the scramble for the little arable land available in this semi-arid region that makes it difficult to grow food and rear farm animals, leading to food shortages.
While it is important to acknowledge that progress has been made in integrating refugees into the north-eastern region, and that some development has taken place in the region, more needs to be done to realise the full potential of the region and its communities. Kenya’s security sector should ensure that proper measures are put in place to enhance security right from the border entry point in order to weed out criminals who take advantage of Kenya’s acceptance of refugees. The country should not expel those who have crossed borders in search of refuge but should tap fully into the benefits that come with hosting refugees.
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