Connect with us

Politics

Death by Pesticide

6 min read.

The government looks on as farmers and consumers are exposed to lethal pesticides that are banned in Europe but continue to be sold on the Kenyan market by European companies.

Published

on

Death by Pesticide
Download PDFPrint Article

Arrive in any remote village or town in Kenya and chances are high that the first thing you will spot is an agrovet shop stocked with all manner of pesticides. These chemical compounds are commonly used in agriculture and animal husbandry to kill pests, including insects and rodents, and to remove fungi and weeds and control disease vectors.

Synthetic pesticides are a child of the Second World War. In her book The Silent Spring, Rachel Carson notes that in the course of developing chemical weapons, some of the chemicals created in laboratories were found to be lethal for insects. The discovery was not entirely by chance as insects were widely used to test chemical agents intended for chemical warfare.

The association of synthetic pesticides with the Second World War has not deterred their usage across the globe. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that globally, about 4.12 million tonnes of pesticides were used in agriculture in 2018. In Kenya, where they are presumed to have been introduced during the colonial era, the demand for these pesticides (fungicides, herbicides, fumigants and insecticides) skyrocketed from 6,400 tonnes in 2015 to 15,600 tonnes in 2018.

This demand can be attributed to Kenya’s agricultural sector being heavily dependent on conventional methods of food production. This is often characterised by the heavy application of chemical pesticides and fertilisers in an effort to increase yields. For instance, in the larger tea and coffee plantations in Kenya, herbicides are seen as an effective method of weed control. A study by Chepkirui, Gatebe and Mburu reveals that small-scale tea growers in Bomet County preferred to use glyphosate to control weeds in the tea farms, with Roundup (distributed by Monsanto, now Bayer) being the most preferred at 53.7% compared to other formulations of glyphosate (Glycel, Touchdown, Wound-Out).

Glyphosate, a pesticide in the category of organophosphates, was first introduced in 1974 by Monsanto (now Bayer) and has been under great scrutiny for its ability to cause cancer. In March 2015, glyphosate was classified as probably carcinogenic to humans by the International Agency for Research on Cancer based on a positive association between exposure to glyphosate and cancer. One such case was Dewayne Johnson’s, a groundsman in the United States, where Monsanto was found liable for causing his cancer through exposure to Roundup.

Organophosphate pesticides (malathion, glyphosate, fenitrothion and chlorpyrifos) have been shown to be highly toxic to non-target species including humans, although they are still widely used in households and in agriculture. These chemical compounds were initially developed as human nerve gas agents in the 1930s and 1940s and later repurposed as insecticides.

Their insecticidal properties were discovered by a German scientist, Gerhard Schrader, in the late 1930s and soon afterwards the German government saw the value of these chemicals as new and devastating weapons in chemical warfare and the work on their development was declared a state secret. Some such as sarin and tabun were developed into deadly human nerve gases while others of a close chemical structure were used as insecticides after the Second World War.

Malathion is a neurotoxic organophosphate pesticide that has been classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer as a probable carcinogen. Yet it is still sold in Kenya and is contained in 14 products according to information on the Pest Control Products Board (PCPB) website. Fenitrothion, another organophosphate pesticide that is known to be an endocrine disruptor (alters the hormonal system) and that is not approved for use in the European Union, was used by the Kenyan government to control the locust infestation that occurred in early 2020.

These and other organophosphates are responsible for thousands of cases of poisoning in Kenya. In 2016, R.K.A Sang and J. Kimani reported that 35 out of 716 individuals aged between 15 and 40 years attending Kericho Referral Hospital in March and April of that year suffered from organophosphate poisoning. These harmful effects are not only associated with organophosphates but also with other pesticides. For instance, a study to examine the impact of pesticides on the health of residents and horticultural workers in the Lake Naivasha Region found that horticultural workers who underwent a clinical examination exhibited more cardiovascular, respiratory and neurological disorders compared to other workers.

These pesticides not only impact our bodies but also the soil, food and water resources. Organochlorine pesticides (DDT, aldrin and endosulfan) were found in the soils in the Nyando River Catchment in 2015 despite being banned from use in Kenya in 1986, 2004 and 2011, respectively. Kenyan exports of horticultural produce have been rejected severally by the European Union for surpassing the maximum residue levels allowed. Sukuma wiki (kales) and tomatoes from Kirinyaga and Muran’ga counties were recently found to contain high levels of harmful pesticides.

Pesticides should therefore be a concern to us and their use and disposal should be more strictly regulated as they have the capability to enter and alter the most vital processes of the body in deadly and sinister ways. In Kenya, the PCPB, a statutory organ of the government, is responsible for the regulation, importation, exportation, manufacturing, distribution, transportation, sale, disposal and safe use of pest control products. It was formed under the Pest Control Products Act, Cap 346 of the Laws of Kenya. Since its enactment in 1982, this law governs the registration of many conventional chemical pesticides and biopesticides.

Currently, there are 19 active ingredients not listed in the European database and 77 have been withdrawn from the European market or are heavily restricted in their use due to potential chronic health effects, environmental persistence, and high toxicity towards fish or bees.

The Pest Control Products (Registration) (Amendment) Regulations, 2015 (Form A4 sections 3.7a, 3.8 and 3.9) require an applicant to show proof of registration of any new pesticides in the country of manufacture and in other countries. Also required is information on whether the new pesticide is registered in the country of formulation. It is therefore uncertain on what basis these pesticides were registered for use in Kenya.

Moreover, for any pesticide to be sold, used or withdrawn from the EU, it must be authorised in the EU country concerned as per Regulation (EC) No 1107/2009. This legislation regulates the introduction of pesticides in the EU market and lays out the rules and procedures for their authorisation.

Following the renewal of approval of an active substance, all pesticides containing that active substance must undergo a renewal assessment to make sure that products comply with the updated assessment of the active substance and with the new scientific and technical knowledge.

It is clear that some pesticide manufacturers do not register or re-register products they know would not be authorised in their home country within the EU but, for profit-making purposes, continue to produce and export those products to other countries such as Kenya. Manifestly, the PCPB does not carry out due diligence before approving such pesticides for use in Kenya despite its mandate to ensure that pesticides sold in the country have been assessed for safety to humans and the environment.

Pesticide registration standards in Kenya are often benchmarked against the European Union systems since the European Union follows a comprehensive regime and best practices in food systems as well as strictly applying the precautionary principle. Yet the fact is that the European Union is the second-highest exporter of pesticides to Kenya after China, and the products registered in Kenya, which have been withdrawn from the European market, are sold by European companies (77 products).

Despite there being 36 different European companies in the sector, more than half of the products (57%) are registered by BASF, Bayer Ag and Syngenta. Coincidentally, BASF and Bayer were part of the chemical companies that formed I.G Farben, a German chemical conglomerate, in December 1925. In the 1920s and 1930s, I.G Farben screened Zyklon B (a toxic gas made from hydrogen cyanide and originally developed as a pesticide) for Adolf Hitler’s programme to exterminate the Jews and used nerve gases on victims of the Holocaust in concentration camps. I.G Farben also specialised in the production of sarin and tabun, both of which are classified as organophosphates and were used as nerve gases in the Nazi concentration camps.

Kenyan farmers and consumers are highly exposed to lethal pesticides whose impact goes beyond altering the hormonal system of plants and insects and degrading the environment to also damage the immune and nervous systems of the human body. Given the financial muscle of the manufacturers, the use of these harmful pesticides remains unchallenged by the government agencies supposed to protect Kenyans.

It is on these grounds that civil society organisations such as Route to Food, Kenya Organic Agriculture Network (KOAN) and Greenpeace Africa are seeking support from members of the public through a petition to place a ban on these harmful pesticides and encourage the use of biopesticides and plant extracts in food production.

Biopesticides and plant extracts such as Neem, chilli and garlic are effective in the control of pests and diseases with no negative health and environmental impacts. Ecological and organic farmers have been using these ecological and traditional methods to combat pests such as the fall armyworm and they have proven to be efficient. These methods have also been shown to increase soil fertility without the use of harmful chemicals, improve farm biodiversity, encourage the use locally available resources (indigenous seeds) and help put producers rather than corporations in control of the food chain.

It is therefore time to advocate for these safe agricultural practices that guarantee us safe food, clean water and healthy soils. Our collective voice is critical in ensuring that our human right to safe food and to a clean and healthy environment, enshrined in our constitution, is upheld.

Support The Elephant.

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

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

Avatar
By

Claire Nasike is a Food Campaigner with Greenpeace Africa. Mercy Chesang is a volunteer with Greenpeace Africa.

Politics

Kenya Chooses Its Next Chief Justice

The search for Kenya’s next Chief Justice that commenced Monday will seek to replace Justice David Maraga, who retired early this year, has captured the attention of the nation.

Published

on

Kenya Chooses Its Next Chief Justice
Download PDFPrint Article

Since Monday, the 12th of April 2021, interviews to replace retired Chief Justice David Maraga for the post of the most important jurist in Kenya and the president of the Supreme Court have been underway.

The Judiciary is one of the three State organs established under Chapter 10, Article 159 of the Constitution of Kenya. It establishes the Judiciary as an independent custodian of justice in Kenya. Its primary role is to exercise judicial authority given to it, by the people of Kenya.

The institution is mandated to deliver justice in line with the Constitution and other laws. It is expected to resolve disputes in a just manner with a view to protecting the rights and liberties of all, thereby facilitating the attainment of the ideal rule of law.

The man or woman who will take up this mantle will lead the Judiciary at a time when its independence and leadership will be paramount for the nation. He or she will be selected by the Judicial Service Commission in a competitive process.

KWAMCHETSI MAKOKHA profiles the ten candidates shortlisted by the JSC.

Patricia Kameri-Mbote: Trailblazing Lawyer Guns for CJ Post

Patricia Kameri-Mbote: Trailblazing Lawyer Guns for CJ Post

William Ouko: Judge Is a Model of Efficiency but Some Fear He’s Not a ‘Good Luo’

William Ouko: Judge Is a Model of Efficiency but Some Fear He’s Not a ‘Good Luo’

Philip Kipchirchir Murgor: It is the CJ’s Job or Nothing For the Man Who Knows Where the Skeletons are Buried

Philip Kipchirchir Murgor: It is the CJ’s Job or Nothing For the Man Who Knows Where the Skeletons are Buried

David Marete: Judge Proceeds from the Personal to the Judicial

David Marete: Judge Proceeds from the Personal to the Judicial

Juma Chitembwe: ‘Worst judgment’ Judge Seeks a Seat in the Apex Court

Juma Chitembwe: ‘Worst judgment’ Judge Seeks a Seat in the Apex Court

Justice Martha Koome Faces Her Critics Head-On

Justice Martha Koome Faces Her Critics Head-On

Matthews Nduma Nderi: Judge With a Heart for Oppressed Workers Seeks CJ Job, Spot on the Apex Court

Matthews Nduma Nderi: Judge With a Heart for Oppressed Workers Seeks CJ Job, Spot on the Apex Court

Fredrick Ngatia: Uhuru’s Lawyer Who Added a ‘Province’ to Kenya Now Wants CJ Job

Fredrick Ngatia: Uhuru’s Lawyer Who Added a ‘Province’ to Kenya Now Wants CJ Job

Moni Wekesa: Double Doctor Offers Potpourri of Law and Sports Medicine

Moni Wekesa: Double Doctor Offers Potpourri of Law and Sports Medicine

The Elephant

Alice Yano: A Lawyer With Deep Connections to Politics

Share

Continue Reading

Politics

IMF and SAPs 2.0: The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are Riding into Town

Stabilisation, liberalisation, deregulation, and privatisation: what do these four pillars of structural adjustment augur for Kenya’s beleaguered public health sector?

Published

on

IMF and SAPs 2.0: The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are Riding into Town
Download PDFPrint Article

The International Monetary Fund’s announcement on the 2nd of April 2020 that it had approved a US$ 2.3 billion loan for Kenya prompted David Ndii to spell it out to young #KOT (Kenyans on Twitter) that “the loan Kenya has taken is called a structural adjustment loan (SAPs). It comes with austerity (tax raises, spending cuts, downsizing) to keep Kenya creditworthy so that we can continue borrowing and servicing debt”, adding that the “IMF is not here for fun. Ask older people.” With this last quip, Ndii was referring to the economic hardship visited on Kenyans under the structural adjustment programmes of the 80s and 90s.

Well, I’m old enough to remember; except that I was not in the country. I had left home, left the country, leaving behind parents who were still working, still putting my siblings through school. Parents with permanent and pensionable jobs, who were still paying the mortgage on their modest “maisonette” in a middle class Nairobi neighbourhood.

In those pre-Internet, pre-WhatsApp days, much use was made of the post office and I have kept the piles of aerogramme letters that used to bring me news of home. In those letters my parents said nothing of the deteriorating economic situation, unwilling to burden me with worries about which I could do nothing, keeping body and soul together being just about all I could manage in that foreign land where I had gone to further my education.

My brother Tony’s letters should have warned me that all was not well back home but he wrote so hilariously about the status conferred on those men who could afford second-hand underwear from America, complete with stars and stripes, that the sub-text went right over my head. I came back home for the first time after five years — having left college and found a first job — to find parents that had visibly aged beyond their years and a home that was palpably less well-off financially than when I had left. I’m a Kicomi girl and something in me rebelled against second-hand clothes, second-hand things. It seemed that in my absence Kenya had regressed to the time before independence, the years of hope and optimism wiped away by the neoliberal designs of the Bretton Woods twins. I remember wanting to flee; I wanted to go back to not knowing, to finding my family exactly as I had left it — seemingly thriving, happy, hopeful.

Now, after eight years of irresponsible government borrowing, it appears that I am to experience the effects of a Structural Adjustment Programme first-hand, and I wonder how things could possibly be worse than they already are.

When speaking to Nancy* a couple of weeks back about the COVID-19 situation at the Nyahururu County Referral Hospital in Laikipia County, she brought up the issue of pregnant women having to share beds in the maternity ward yet — quite apart from the fact that this arrangement is unacceptable whichever way you look at it — patients admitted to the ward are not routinely tested for COVID-19.

Nancy told me that candidates for emergency caesarean sections or surgery for ectopic and intra-abdominal pregnancies must wait their turn at the door to the operating theatre. Construction of a new maternity wing, complete with its own operating theatre, has ground to a halt because, rumour has it, the contractor has not been paid. The 120-bed facility should have been completed in mid-2020 to ease congestion at the Nyahururu hospital whose catchment area for referrals includes large swathes of both Nyandarua and Laikipia counties because of its geographical location.

According to Nancy, vital medicine used to prevent excessive bleeding in newly delivered mothers has not been available at her hospital since January; patients have to buy the medication themselves. This issue was also raised on Twitter by Dr Mercy Korir who, referring to the Nanyuki Teaching and Referral Hospital — the only other major hospital in Laikipia County — said that lack of emergency medication in the maternity ward was putting the lives of mothers at risk. Judging by the responses to that tweet, this dire situation is not peculiar to the Nanyuki hospital; how much worse is it going to get under the imminent SAP?

Kenya was among the first countries to sign on for a SAP in 1980 when commodity prices went through the floor and the 1973 oil crisis hit, bringing to a painful halt a post-independence decade of sustained growth and prosperity. The country was to remain under one form of structural adjustment or another from then on until 1996.

Damaris Parsitau, who has written about the impact of Structural Adjustment Programmes on women’s health in Kenya, already reported in her 2008 study that, “at Nakuru District Hospital in Kenya, for example, expectant mothers are required to buy gloves, surgical blades, disinfectants and syringes in preparation for childbirth”. It would appear that not much has changed since then.

The constitution of the World Health Organisation states that “the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health is one of the fundamental rights of every human being without distinction of race, religion, political belief, economic or social condition” and that “governments have a responsibility for the health of their peoples which can be fulfilled only by the provision of adequate health and social measures.”

The WHO should have added gender as a discrimination criteria. Parsitau notes that “compared to men, women in Kenya have less access to medical care, are more likely to be malnourished, poor, and illiterate, and even work longer and harder. The situation exacerbates women’s reproductive role, which increases their vulnerability to morbidity and mortality.”

With economic decline in the 80s, and the implementation of structural adjustment measures that resulted in cutbacks in funding and the introduction of cost sharing in a sector where from independence the government had borne the cost of providing free healthcare, the effects were inevitably felt most by the poor, the majority of who — in Kenya as in the rest of the world — are women.

A more recent review of studies carried out on the effect of SAPs on child and maternal health published in 2017 finds that “in their current form, structural adjustment programmes are incongruous with achieving SDGs [Sustainable Development Goals] 3.1 and 3.2, which stipulate reductions in neonatal, under-5, and maternal mortality rates. It is telling that even the IMF’s Independent Evaluation Office, in assessing the performance of structural adjustment loans, noted that ‘outcomes such as maternal and infant mortality rates have generally not improved.’”

The review also says that “adjustment programmes commonly promote decentralisation of health systems [which] may produce a more fractious and unequal implementation of services — including those for child and maternal health — nationally. Furthermore, lack of co-ordination in decentralised systems can hinder efforts to combat major disease outbreaks”. Well, we are in the throes of a devastating global pandemic which has brought this observation into sharp relief. According to the Ministry of Health, as of the 6th of April, 325,592 people had been vaccinated against COVID-19. Of those, 33 per cent were in Nairobi County, which accounts for just 9.2 per cent of the country’s total population of 47,564,296 people.

The Constitution of Kenya 2010 provides the legal framework for a rights-based approach to health and is the basis for the rollout of Universal Health Coverage (UHC) that was announced by President Uhuru Kenyatta on 12 December 2018 — with the customary fanfare — as part of the “Big Four Agenda” to be fulfilled before his departure in 2022.

However, a KEMRI-Wellcome Trust policy brief states that UHC is still some distance to achieving 100 per cent population coverage and recommends that “the Kenyan government should increase public financing of the health sector. Specifically, the level of public funding for healthcare in Kenya should double, if the threshold (5% of GDP) … is to be reached” and that “Kenya should reorient its health financing strategy away from a focus on contributory, voluntary health insurance, and instead recognize that increased tax funding is critical.”

These recommendations, it would seem to me, run counter to the conditionalities habitually imposed by the IMF and it is therefore not clear how the government will deliver UHC nation-wide by next year if this latest SAP is accompanied by budgetary cutbacks in the healthcare sector.

With the coronavirus graft scandal and the disappearance of medical supplies donated by Jack Ma still fresh on their minds, Kenyans are not inclined to believe that the IMF billions will indeed go to “support[ing] the next phase of the authorities’ COVID-19 response and their plan to reduce debt vulnerabilities while safeguarding resources to protect vulnerable groups”, as the IMF has claimed.

#KOT have — with outrage, with humour, vociferously — rejected this latest loan, tweeting the IMF in their hundreds and inundating the organisation’s Facebook page with demands that the IMF rescind its decision. An online petition had garnered more than 200,000 signatures within days of the IMF’s announcement. Whether the IMF will review its decision is moot. The prevailing economic climate is such that we are damned if we do take the loan, and damned if we don’t.

Structural adjustment supposedly “encourages countries to become economically self-sufficient by creating an environment that is friendly to innovation, investment and growth”, but the recidivist nature of the programmes suggests that either the Kenyan government is a recalcitrant pupil or SAPs simply don’t work. I would say it is both.

But the Kenyan government has not just been a recalcitrant pupil; it has also been a consistently profligate one. While SAPs do indeed provide for “safeguarding resources to protect vulnerable groups”, political choices are made that sacrifice the welfare of the ordinary Kenyan at the altar of grandiose infrastructure projects, based on the fiction peddled by international financial institutions that infrastructure-led growth can generate enough income to service debt. And when resources are not being wasted on “legacy” projects, they are embezzled on a scale that literally boggles the mind. We can no longer speak of runaway corruption; a new lexicon is required to describe this phenomenon which pervades every facet of our lives and which has rendered the years of sacrifice our parents endured meaningless and put us in debt bondage for many more generations to come. David Ndii long warned us that this moment was coming. It is here.

Continue Reading

Politics

East Africa: A ‘Hotbed of Terror’

African states are involved in the War on Terror more than we think. They’re surrounded by an eco-system of the war industry.

Published

on

East Africa: A ‘Hotbed of Terror’
Download PDFPrint Article

In late January, reports circulated on social media about a suspected US drone strike in southern Somalia, in the Al-Shabaab controlled Ma’moodow town in Bakool province. Debate quickly ensued on Twitter about whether the newly installed Biden administration was responsible for this strike, which was reported to have occurred at 10 p.m. local time on January 29th, 2021.

Southern Somalia has been the target of an unprecedented escalation of US drone strikes in the last several years, with approximately 900 to 1,000 people killed between 2016 and 2019. According to the nonprofit group Airwars, which monitors and assesses civilian harm from airpower-dominated international military actions, “it was under the Obama administration that a significant US drone and airstrike campaign began,” coupled with the deployment of Special Operations forces inside the country.

Soon after Donald Trump took office in 2017, he signed a directive designating parts of Somalia “areas of active hostilities.” While the US never formally declared war in Somalia, Trump effectively instituted war-zone targeting rules by expanding the discretionary authority of the military to conduct airstrikes and raids. Thus the debate over the January 29 strike largely hinged on the question of whether President Joe Biden was upholding Trump’s “flexible” approach to drone warfare―one that sanctioned more airstrikes in Somalia in the first seven months of 2020 than were carried out during the administrations of George W. Bush and Barack Obama, combined.

In the days following the January 29 strike, the US Military’s Africa Command (AFRICOM) denied responsibility, claiming that the last US military action in Somalia occurred on January 19, the last full day of the Trump presidency. Responding to an inquiry from Airwars, AFRICOM’s public affairs team announced:

We are aware of the reporting. US Africa Command was not involved in the Jan. 29 action referenced below. US Africa Command last strike was conducted on Jan. 19. Our policy of acknowledging all airstrikes by either press release or response to query has not changed.

In early March, The New York Times reported that the Biden administration had in fact imposed temporary limits on the Trump-era directives, thereby constraining drone strikes outside of “conventional battlefield zones.” In practice, this means that the US military and the CIA now require White House permission to pursue terror suspects in places like Somalia and Yemen where the US is not “officially” at war. This does not necessarily reflect a permanent change in policy, but rather a stopgap measure while the Biden administration develops “its own policy and procedures for counterterrorism kill-or-capture operations outside war zones.”

If we take AFRICOM at its word about January 29th, this provokes the question of who was behind that particular strike. Following AFRICOM’s denial of responsibility, analysts at Airwars concluded that the strike was likely carried out by forces from the African Union peacekeeping mission in Somali (AMISOM) or by Ethiopian troops, as it occurred soon after Al-Shabaab fighters had ambushed a contingent of Ethiopian troops in the area. If indeed the military of an African state is responsible for the bombing, what does this mean for our analysis of the security assemblages that sustain the US’s war-making apparatus in Africa?

Thanks to the work of scholars, activists, and investigative journalists, we have a growing understanding of what AFRICOM operations look like in practice. Maps of logistics hubs, forward operating sites, cooperative security locations, and contingency locations―from Mali and Niger to Kenya and Djibouti―capture the infrastructures that facilitate militarism and war on a global scale. Yet what the events of January 29th suggest is that AFRICOM is situated within, and often reliant upon, less scrutinized war-making infrastructures that, like those of the United States, claim to operate in the name of security.

A careful examination of the geographies of the US’s so-called war on terror in East Africa points not to one unified structure in the form of AFRICOM, but to multiple, interconnected geopolitical projects. Inspired by the abolitionist thought of Ruth Wilson Gilmore, who cautions activists against focusing exclusively on any one site of violent exception like the prison, I am interested in the relational geographies that sustain the imperial war-making infrastructure in Africa today. Just as the modern prison is “a central but by no means singularly defining institution of carceral geography,” AFRICOM is a fundamental but by no means singularly defining instrument of war-making in Africa today.

Since the US military’s embarrassing exit from Somalia in 1993, the US has shifted from a boots-on-the ground approach to imperial warfare, instead relying on African militaries, private contractors, clandestine ground operations, and drone strikes. To singularly focus on AFRICOM’s drone warfare is therefore to miss the wider matrix of militarized violence that is at work. As Madiha Tahir reminds us, attack drones are only the most visible element of what she refers to as “distributed empire”—differentially distributed opaque networks of technologies and actors that augment the reach of the war on terror to govern more bodies and spaces. This dispersal of power requires careful consideration of the racialized labor that sustains war-making in Somalia, and of the geographical implications of this labor. The vast array of actors involved in the war against Al-Shabaab has generated political and economic entanglements that extend well beyond the territory of Somalia itself.

Ethiopia was the first African military to intervene in Somalia in December 2006, sending thousands of troops across the border, but it did not do so alone. Ethiopia’s effort was backed by US aerial reconnaissance and satellite surveillance, signaling the entanglement of at least two geopolitical projects. While the US was focused on threats from actors with alleged ties to Al-Qaeda, Ethiopia had its own concerns about irredentism and the potential for its then-rival Eritrea to fund Somali militants that would infiltrate and destabilize Ethiopia. As Ethiopian troops drove Somali militant leaders into exile, more violent factions emerged in their place. In short, the 2006 invasion planted the seeds for the growth of what is now known as Al-Shabaab.

The United Nations soon authorized an African Union peacekeeping operation (AMISOM) to “stabilize” Somalia. What began as a small deployment of 1,650 peacekeepers in 2007 gradually transformed into a number that exceeded 22,000 by 2014. The African Union has emerged as a key subcontractor of migrant military labor in Somalia: troops from Burundi, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Uganda deployed to fight Al-Shabaab are paid significantly higher salaries than they receive back home, and their governments obtain generous military aid packages from the US, UK, and increasingly the European Union in the name of “security.”

But because these are African troops rather than American ones, we hear little of lives lost, or of salaries not paid. The rhetoric of “peacekeeping” makes AMISOM seem something other than what it is in practice—a state-sanctioned, transnational apparatus of violent labor that exploits group-differentiated vulnerability to premature death. (This is also how Gilmore defines racism.)

Meanwhile, Somali analyst Abukar Arman uses the term “predatory capitalism” to describe the hidden economic deals that accompany the so-called stabilization effort, such as “capacity-building” programs for the Somali security apparatus that serve as a cover for oil and gas companies to obtain exploration and drilling rights. Kenya is an important example of a “partner” state that has now become imbricated in this economy of war. Following the Kenya Defense Forces (KDF) invasion of Somalia in October 2011, the African Union’s readiness to incorporate Kenyan troops into AMISOM was a strategic victory for Kenya, as it provided a veneer of legitimacy for maintaining what has amounted to a decade-long military occupation of southern Somalia.

Through carefully constructed discourses of threat that build on colonial-era mappings of alterity in relation to Somalis, the Kenyan political elite have worked to divert attention away from internal troubles and from the economic interests that have shaped its involvement in Somalia. From collusion with Al-Shabaab in the illicit cross-border trade in sugar and charcoal, to pursuing a strategic foothold in offshore oil fields, Kenya is sufficiently ensnared in the business of war that, as Horace Campbell observes, “it is not in the interest of those involved in this business to have peace.”

What began as purportedly targeted interventions spawned increasingly broader projects that expanded across multiple geographies. In the early stages of AMISOM troop deployment, for example, one-third of Mogadishu’s population abandoned the city due to the violence caused by confrontations between the mission and Al-Shabaab forces, with many seeking refuge in Kenya. While the mission’s initial rules of engagement permitted the use of force only when necessary, it gradually assumed an offensive role, engaging in counterinsurgency and counterterror operations.

Rather than weaken Al-Shabaab, the UN Monitoring Group on Somalia observed that offensive military operations exacerbated insecurity. According to the UN, the dislodgment of Al-Shabaab from major urban centers “has prompted its further spread into the broader Horn of Africa region” and resulted in repeated displacements of people from their homes. Meanwhile, targeted operations against individuals with suspected ties to Al-Shabaab are unfolding not only in Somalia itself, but equally in neighboring countries like Kenya, where US-trained Kenyan police employ military tactics of tracking and targeting potential suspects, contributing to what one Kenyan rights group referred to as an “epidemic” of extrajudicial killings and disappearances.

Finally, the fact that some of AMISOM’s troop-contributing states have conducted their own aerial assaults against Al-Shabaab in Somalia demands further attention. A December 2017 United Nations report, for example, alleged that unauthorized Kenyan airstrikes had contributed to at least 40 civilian deaths in a 22-month period between 2015 and 2017. In May 2020, senior military officials in the Somali National Army accused the Kenyan military of indiscriminately bombing pastoralists in the Gedo region, where the KDF reportedly conducted over 50 airstrikes in a two week period. And in January 2021, one week prior to the January 29 strike that Airwars ascribed to Ethiopia, Uganda employed its own fleet of helicopter gunships to launch a simultaneous ground and air assault in southern Somalia, contributing to the deaths—according to the Ugandan military—of 189 people, allegedly all Al-Shabaab fighters.

While each of the governments in question are formally allies of the US, their actions are not reducible to US directives. War making in Somalia relies on contingent and fluid alliances that evolve over time, as each set of actors evaluates and reevaluates their interests. The ability of Ethiopia, Kenya, and Uganda to maintain their own war-making projects requires the active or tacit collaboration of various actors at the national level, including politicians who sanction the purchase of military hardware, political and business elite who glorify militarized masculinities and femininities, media houses that censor the brutalities of war, logistics companies that facilitate the movement of supplies, and the troops themselves, whose morale and faith in their mission must be sustained.

As the Biden administration seeks to restore the image of the United States abroad, it is possible that AFRICOM will gradually assume a backseat role in counterterror operations in Somalia. Officially, at least, US troops have been withdrawn and repositioned in Kenya and Djibouti, while African troops remain on the ground in Somalia. Relying more heavily on its partners in the region would enable the US to offset the public scrutiny and liability that comes with its own direct involvement.

But if our focus is exclusively on the US, then we succumb to its tactics of invisibility and invincibility, and we fail to reckon with the reality that the East African warscape is a terrain shaped by interconnected modes of power. The necessary struggle to abolish AFRICOM requires that we recognize its entanglement in and reliance upon other war-making assemblages, and that we distribute our activism accordingly. Recounting that resistance itself has long been framed as “terrorism,” we would do well to learn from those across the continent who, in various ways over the years, have pushed back, often at a heavy price.

This post is from a partnership between Africa Is a Country and The Elephant. We will be publishing a series of posts from their site once a week.
Continue Reading

Trending