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BBI II: The Making of an Imperial Presidency

13 min read.

Raila Odinga had categorically stated that no changes would be made to the BBI II document other than punctuation marks but provisions for an imperial presidency have been furtively sneaked in.

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BBI II: The Making of an Imperial Presidency
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The day after “Super Tuesday” — 23 February 2021 — when the BBI constitutional amendment bill achieved the minimum 24 counties needed to call for a referendum, I was at the famous Gikomba Market by 7 a.m. and as usual, the day’s business had already started well before the break of dawn. But a lot has changed at the market in recent times: the coronavirus pandemic has gravely affected the flow of business, the economic downturn that started in 2018 has hurt many traders and the midnight fires have returned.

“Those fires are set by arsonists,” said one of traders that I had gone to see. “They are meant to drive us out from this area, but we’ve been resilient because we’ve refused to give up the land and business.” The last fire that completely gutted the traders’ goods was on 25 June 2020. Two days later, just after the traders had finished rebuilding their semi-permanent structures that are constructed with timber and iron sheets, they were “welcomed very early morning by rumbling bulldozers and the National Youth Service (NYS) brigade that supervised the destruction of the newly-built structures,” said the traders.

“The director-general of Nairobi Metropolitan Services (NMS) Mohamed Badi (nicknamed Saddam Hussein) had ordered the demolition. It was clearly evident our endurance was getting on the nerves of powerful forces in the government. For the longest time, we’d always suspected that a powerful politician has been eyeing the piece of land that the main market sits on. Now he was determined to drive us out of this area,” said the traders. An L-shaped high stonewall fence had since been erected to curve out the coveted piece of land.

I had gone to Gikomba to find out from the traders what they thought of the second BBI report — now that it had been passed by the Members of County Assemblies — and its various recommendations and findings. Some of the traders had actually taken the trouble to read sections of the PDF version that had been circulated around. “Look at what happened to us in the midst of COVID-19. Some of the people who have been planning to grab the market are the same people selling us a poisoned chalice. Who do they take us to be? Tell us, how do you claim to be building bridges by destroying people’s livelihoods?” exclaimed the traders.

In November 2020, a fierce fire gutted half of the remaining Ngara open-air market in downtown Nairobi. “I got a call past midnight on the morning of a Monday and was told the market was fire,” said Kihara, 22-year veteran of the market. “By the time I arrived at the market in the dead of the night, the fire had burnt all my goods.” The traders had to start all over again. In 2017, 17 acres of the market were forcefully fenced off with a high perimeter stone wall, displacing hundreds of traders. “That land was grabbed by a relative of the most powerful political family in this country,” alleged Kihara, “and you dare talk to me about BBI.”

The Gikomba and Ngara traders said BBI was about one thing only: “Uhuru’s plan to hold onto presidential power. For him to do that, he had to rope in Raila Odinga and lie to him that this time round he would make him king. Our businesses, which are our sole livelihoods, have been destroyed several times, Uhuru has mortgaged the country and his government is made up of thieves. Instead of him dealing with the urgent matter, that of resuscitating the economy, he’s been plotting how to stay on.”

“The MCAs may have passed the bill and we know why they passed it – I mean, what was expected of them after the car grant deal?” asked Gilbert Kanyi, a 71-year-old trader and one of the pioneers of Ngara Market. “We’ll be waiting for them. Is 2022 an eternity? The MCAs have just kissed their political ambitions bye bye. In central Kenya, where I come from, we’ll not be re-electing them. Let them enjoy their goodies while they can.”

Soon after the central Kenya MCAs passed the bill, an MCA from Nyeri stopped at Sagana town to catch a drink. No sooner had he sat down than patrons who recognised him accosted him. They took all their bills and dumped them on his table and walked away: “You recently received a bonus, pay those bills!”.It was a harbinger of what the MCAs, at least in central Kenya, will be facing in the coming 16 months. They are marked men; they will hardly be able to move around without being constantly taunted by the electorate.

“We didn’t vote for the bill because we liked it. It is because we were arm-twisted and blackmailed and even threatened with being hauled to court,” a central Kenya MCA told me. “You know many of the county tenders are given to MCAs; corruption, scandals and cutting corners are never far from an MCA. We had to toe the line.” The MCA said governors supervised the voting procedure. Apart from the promise of a car grant, it is alleged that each MCA received a “sitting allowance” of KSh200,000.

The traders said if the referendum is held, they will troop to the booths early to defeat it. The mitumba (second-hand clothes) businessmen said that Kikuyus were not talking much. “They are quiet because they’re decided on what to do: reject BBI. How many votes do the MCAs have? Will they also bribe all of us to vote for it?”

In the lead up to the 2017 presidential elections, both Gikomba and Ngara were the bastions of Jubilee Party support, and more so its candidate Uhuru Kenyatta. Scarcely three years after President Uhuru made his supporters go to the polls twice in 80 days (August 8 and October 262020), the mere mention of President Uhuru in a conversation among the traders oftentimes leads to heated debates and near fist fights. “We’ve said in this market [Gikomba] we don’t want Uhuru’s name mentioned. It leaves a bad taste in our mouths,” said one of the traders. At Ngara Market, the traders had ostracised one of their own for irritating them with his continued support for President Uhuru.

Apart from the promise of a car grant, it is alleged that each MCA received a “sitting allowance” of KSh200,000.

“It took us a long time to realise that the Kenyatta family has always been interested in their self-promotion and self-perpetuation. We the rest of the Kikuyus have been cogs in a wheel, to propel the family to economic and political power. This time round we’re saying loudly that we are tired of the Kenyatta family,” said Kihara. “In all the years that I’ve been at Ngara Market, this road next to the [Nairobi] River had never been repaired, you wouldn’t even have known a road existed, it had completely chipped away, but the other day it got a face-lift. Why? Because the family has bought two properties, which it has been developing and which Uhuru comes to supervise, often at night”.

Kenyatta fatigue

Kikuyus are currently experiencing Kenyatta fatigue. They are craving for a clean break from the domineering family, said a 70-year-old businessman from Murang’a County. “For 50 years, the Kenyattas have lorded it over the Kikuyus, but the Kikuyus could be waking up to the realisation that they don’t have to be their serfs forever. The apparent selfishness of the family, economic hardship, wanton theft in the government, a political handshake that had nothing to do with their welfare, had finally dawned on the Kikuyus that they are pawns in a chessboard.”

The BBI is a ploy by the Kenyatta family to continue maintaining a stranglehold on national politics through deceit and subterfuge, said the old man John Njoroge. “My father was detained at Manyani detention camp by the British for six years because he was fighting to see a free Kenya of the future for his progeny and not for that progeny to be latter-day slaves of the Kenyatta monarchy. How the Kikuyu people wiggle out of the Kenyatta family iron grip will not be easy, but an opening has been created, they must now seize the moment.”

“It took us a long time to realise that the Kenyatta family has always been interested in their self-promotion and self-perpetuation.”

“The President has been saying that the handshake is about peace and unity, that it is important to unite Kenyans who every cycle of five years fight over election results,” said Njoroge. “Really? Why, since 2007, is there always a propensity for violence after elections? Is it not because of electoral theft? And how do you deal with the theft? By creating an imperial presidency? Right? Tell me, how does increasing the powers of the presidency solve the theft of votes? Maintain peace? Of course, by appeasing the tribal lords…”

The BBI plan is nothing more than a power rearrangement by the status quo. Its grander scheme is to ensure presidential power does not slip from the political dynamos that have ruled the country since 1963.  The document is about the expansion of the presidential executive powers,” said an insider who is a BBI constituency coordinator for Kiambu County and cannot be named because he is not authorised to comment on matters BBI. “I may not for sure know who the imperial presidency is for, but I can tell you for sure who it is not for – Raila Odinga.”

The garden path 

“Raila Odinga is being led on. I mean, stop and think about it – do you really believe the Kikuyu political barons would dream of doing such a thing? Creating a powerful position for their eternal political nemesis? Power is not something to be handed over to someone like a gift. The son of Jaramogi is about to learn – if he hasn’t learned already – that he has yet again been led down the garden path.”

President Uhuru’s apparent thirst for greater political power and how to play power games was cultivated and inculcated through his association with President Daniel arap Moi, his political godfather. “It is Moi who put in Uhuru’s head the notion that he would be too young to abandon power,” alleged the insider. But for Moi, he had a greater scheme for Uhuru, even as he was socialising him with power play.

“Moi had always wanted Gideon to be at the core of the matrix of governance in Kenya and the person to help his favourite son is Uhuru Kenyatta.” Part of the BBI’s unspoken mission is to sneak Gideon into that matrix of power, said the coordinator. “Although Gideon was his favourite last born son, Moi pampered the boy too much, he doesn’t know how to do anything for himself – especially where his father thought mattered most: politics.”

The insider shared with me the content of a tête-à-tête he once had with President Mwai Kibaki: “Kibaki one time summoned me to his private office at Finance House in the city centre. After the usual pleasantries, he delved into the heart of the matter – ‘listen so-and-so, you never ever cede power under whatever circumstances. Is that clear to you?” After Kibaki assumed the presidency in January 2003 through a coalition of parties, among them the National Alliance of Kenya (NAK) and the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), murmurs began to be heard of a Memorandum of Understanding that had not been honoured.

Not long after, said the insider, Njenga Karume also summoned him. “’My dear friend, power is never given away, do you get it?’ Remember Mzee Njenga was Kibaki’s bosom buddy, but in the general elections of December 2002, Njenga had miscalculated and backed the ‘wrong horse’ –. Uhuru Kenyatta who lost to Kibaki. A remiss Mzee Njenga quickly collected himself, reworked his networks with Kibaki and went to pledge his loyalty to a recuperating Kibaki at Nairobi Hospital.”

For who is intended the creation of an imperial presidency more powerful than the presidency enshrined in the 2010 Constitution? Why was it furtively sneaked into the document if its intentions are noble? If we can answer that question we may begin to unravel the mystery of the real BBI agenda, said the insider.

The BBI is a ploy by the Kenyatta family to continue maintaining a stranglehold on national politics through deceit and subterfuge.

“The Kikuyu populace maybe cross with President Uhuru now, but at the appropriate time, he knows which buttons to switch and they will be turned on for his bidding. God forbid if Uhuru presented himself once again as a presidential candidate after a referendum that changes the constitution, with the imperial presidency clause intact. Who do you think the Kikuyus would vote for? The recent dissonant choruses from one Raphael Tuju and some evangelical pastors about Uhuru staying on after 2022 did not come out of the blue.”

In November 2020, Tuju, who is the secretary-general of the ruling Jubilee Party, made an off-the-cuff remark about the party extending President Uhuru’s term beyond the expiry of the mandated two-term limit which ends 2022. “I want to state there’s consensus especially from those of us holding senior positions in the party that it still needs Uhuru’s passion to bring this country together,” said Tuju.

“The BBI  I [first report] which was presented to the public on November 27, 2019 at Bomas of Kenya had a weakened ceremonial presidency with an executive prime ministerial position. The switching of the executive powers between the newly proposed president and prime minister positions and their deputies in BBI II [second report] is geared to serve a certain purpose for a certain person. The BBI II document is about one thing: how to retain executive powers by the powers that be. The rest of the issues purportedly discussed in the report are decorations; they are sugar and spices to give the document a palatable taste,” said the Kiambu County coordinator. “They don’t matter and anybody looking for any meaning from them is looking for a mirage.”

Nested games

Major (Rtd) John Seii, a BBI team member, opened a can of worms soon after the release of the report to the public, when he claimed that some of them had been duped into signing the document without re-reading it. It is unfortunate that some of the members of the team took for granted other members’ gullibility to pass the now contested document, to paraphrase the words of the former army man.

The second BBI report was allegedly written in a boardroom by President Uhuru’s innermost loyalists, said the constituency coordinator. “There was nothing like a second time validation; these are the people who changed the section on executive powers. Who are these Kenyans whose views were that we increase the powers of the president? I’d really like to see the notes detailing these facts, but of course, there are no notes.” The authorship of that report apparently divided the team, albeit away from the prying public, with some members hinting that it might be just a matter of time before the beans are spilled.

The BBI team members were called on 16 October 2020 and asked to travel to Nairobi for the signing of the final document. “There’s no roadmap for growing or revamping the battered economy,” said one of the members to me. “It is all about recapturing state power. Kenyans will soon discover that for themselves and it will be a huge anti-climax. They will not support the document. If the proponents of the BBI document were serious, they would be addressing the political-economy ills of the country. The clamour to push for the signatures’ campaign in the wake of the dangerous and devasting coronavirus was both immoral and insensitive; the locusts never went away, Kenyans’ dwindling economic fortunes have seen some of them unable to afford food. Today many of them cannot afford healthcare.”

For who is intended the creation of an imperial presidency more powerful than the presidency enshrined in the 2010 Constitution?

“If you read that document – from the front to the end, then backward to the front, it leads you to one thing – presidential powers. If you remove the section on national executive powers from the report, it ceases to be BBI,” said the team member. “These three things: a deteriorating economy, food insecurity and lack of affordable healthcare have crippled Kenyans’ capacity to participate in the national affairs of the state. Since 1963 till now, the political class has been typically interested in self-aggrandisement and self-perpetuation. The people have always been on their own. They have never been so alone, especially with this BBI.”

“The real architects of the BBI are involved in nested games. All that effort and money thrown around the report is about one thing – containment. Containment of one man: Raila Odinga,” alleged my BBI source. “President Uhuru and his team realised that for him to preside over a fractured country, nearly torn asunder by ethnic animosity, he needed to tame Raila. ‘Keep your friends close, keep your enemies even closer’, is a Mafioso dictum, but one that also applies well in realpolitik.”

Raila’s isolation 

President Uhuru reckoned that as long as Raila was allowed to play his politics outside of the state unchecked, he would not finish his second term in peace. “The whole idea was isolate Raila from his National Super Alliance (NASA) fraternity brothers, shower him with perks and presumed power and then bargain with him directly and personally. Today Raila is ostensibly all alone: he has fallen out with Kalonzo Musyoka, Moses Wetangula and Musalia Mudavadi. His western Luhya support base is cracking, he no longer commands the loyalty he did barely three years ago. The same with the coast region.”

On the eve of the collection of the one million referendum signatures, President Uhuru held a conversation with his deputy William Ruto and the ceremony to start off the collection of the signatures at Kenyatta International Convention Centre (KICC) was called off. For the Orange Democratic Party (ODM) brigade that was keen to kick off the exercise, this was not good: it signalled a false start.

Ruto’s loyalists in the divided ruling Jubilee Party, who view BBI as a calculated machination poised against the deputy president who will endeavour to capture state power come 2022, interpreted the temporary truce between their man and President Uhuru as a victory of some sort. So much so that, Ruto himself called off his troops and asked them to go easy on their opposition to BBI because he was working on a consensus with the president.

A couple of days later when the two BBI principals, President Uhuru and Raila, were ready to launch the signature campaign, the Constitution of Kenya (Amendment) Bill had been somewhat altered. For instance, the ombudsman would now be appointed by the office of the Chief Justice as opposed to being appointed by the President. The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) members would not be appointed by the political parties as earlier suggested. The establishment of the national police council and independent policing oversight had been scrapped and the creation of 70 additional constituencies was included, among other changes.

What was the reason for the abrupt changes to the amendment bill which seem to have caught Raila by surprise? Is it the Kenya Conference of Catholics Bishops (KCCB), who in their “pastoral letter” to Kenyans castigated the BBI II document? Said the bishops: “To give the President the power to appoint the Prime Minister and the two deputies risks consolidating more power around the president thereby creating an imperial presidency. This amendment could be creating the same problem it set out to solve.”

All that effort and money thrown around the report is about one thing – containment of Raila Odinga.

On the politicised IEBC, the KCCB pointed out that, “the proposal to have political parties appoint members of the IEBC is a dangerous one since it will politicise IEBC compromising its independence. This proposal will turn IEBC into a political outfit with partisan interests. The question will arise on how fair the elections will be.”

The tone of the bishops’ letter was one of dismay and disappointment with the second BBIreport. Listen to them: “In the wake of the persisting effects of the COVID-19 pandemic that has hit families across the country, is this the time to subject Kenyans to heightened political activity to undertake fundamental constitutional reforms? Can the country afford to spend its very limited resources in a referendum when there is a struggle in the education and health sectors to provide for urgently needed support due to the effects of COVID-19 pandemic?”

Is it because of the Kenya Muslim ulama, who through their spokesperson said: “It is shocking that in just 10 years the political leadership of this country has forgotten that we struggled for 20 years to put the 2010 constitution in place. And all of a sudden, they [President Uhuru and Raila] have assigned themselves the powers they don’t have even within the constitution, that two individuals can come up shake hands and believe they carry 40 million peoples’ opinion . . .  we’ve to be candid enough to say the truth, and what’s the truth? Neither Raila nor Uhuru for that matter can make decisions for 48 [sic] million Kenyans.”

Or is it as a result of the conversation that the President had with his deputy William Ruto? Is the amended bill a result of the consensus arrived at by the duo? It seems Ruto was so enchanted with the conversation that his sudden turnabout on the document must have taken his troops by surprise when he hinted that after all, it was not worthwhile to oppose the document. One of Ruto’s confidantes told me that for all the DP’s opposition to the President, he has always been careful not to be seen to oppose the president publicly if he can avoid it.  “This is not the time for a bareknuckle fight. Our time is coming. For now, we must be patient and play the game.”

Raila had categorically stated that no changes would be accommodated in the BBI II document other than punctuation marks. Of course, the changes in the document went beyond the said punctuation marks.

Whatever the outcome of the BBI document’s true agenda, 16 months to the 2022 general elections, Kenyans will witness political brinkmanship at its worst even as the BBI II document is shaped and re-shaped to fit the needs of its heavily invested architects as they play out their nested games.

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Mr Kahura is a senior writer for The Elephant.

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.

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Kenya Chooses Its Next Chief Justice
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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/she will be selected by the Judicial Service Commission in a competitive process.

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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?

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

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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.

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East Africa: A ‘Hotbed of Terror’
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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.
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