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Going Back to His Roots: Karim Asad Ahmad Khan Returns to the Hague

9 min read.

Khan becoming the third ICC Prosecutor is Khan returning to his roots. But in an institution with a perceived anti-Africa bias, will he bring about the kind of changes expected of him over the next nine years?



Going Back to His Roots: Karim Asad Ahmad Khan Returns to the Hague
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What was it like when Karim Asad Ahmad Khan and Anton Steynberg met after Khan became the third prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) on Wednesday, June 16?

Was it a brief hello-how-are-you-good-to-see-you-again meeting because Steynberg is leading the prosecution of one of the cases Khan committed to recuse himself from in writing? Was it tense? Or were they cool as cucumbers?

Khan, a British lawyer of 28 years’ experience, and Steynberg have history. They were on opposing sides during the trial of Kenya’s Deputy President William Samoei Ruto and former journalist Joshua arap Sang at the ICC.

Khan represented Ruto. Steynberg, was the lead prosecutor. A South African lawyer of 31 years’ experience, Steynberg “sparred” with Khan over 147 days of hearings in a trial that ran from September 2013 to April 2016.

Both Khan and Steynberg experienced the pressures that come with any high profile trial, including sustained media scrutiny and constant public commentary about what was happening in the courtroom. That in itself can make the adversarial relationship between a prosecutor and a defence lawyer more difficult.

Making that adversarial relationship even more fraught was Steynberg watching as the case he was arguing deteriorated before his eyes. An online campaign to “out” witnesses who were testifying under protection measures began as soon as the first prosecution witness testified.

As many as 16 witnesses recanted their statements during the course of the trial and many of them refused to testify in court after recanting. The prosecution asked the court to compel nine of them to testify. The court granted the subpoenas. After all that, Steynberg still had to ask to be allowed to treat some of the witnesses who were compelled to testify as hostile because they continued to disown their earlier statements to prosecution investigators under oath.

In the middle of all this, Meshack Yebei, who at one time the prosecution had considered calling as a witness, was found dead in Kenya. At the time, Khan said Yebei had later become a defence witness. He also alleged that at one point the prosecution threatened to abduct Yebei.

The judges stopped the trial after the prosecution closed its case. In a 2-1 majority decision issued on 5 April 2016, they said a key reason for terminating the case was that the evidence had so deteriorated that they would not be able to make a judgment on the innocence or guilt of Ruto and Sang.

The judges said this happened because witnesses had been intimidated and bribed, but they were careful to say that neither Ruto nor Sang were implicated in any scheme to intimidate or bribe witnesses. However, the judges did say that Ruto and Sang were the beneficiaries of such schemes. They released Ruto and Sang from the conditions they had set for them. They, however, did not acquit them.

Five years later, Steynberg is leading the prosecution case in which Kenyan lawyer Paul Gicheru is alleged to have been the manager of a bribery scheme involving six witnesses in the collapsed case against Ruto and Sang. The prosecution has also been explicit in the Document Containing the Charges (DCC) against Gicheru that Ruto was the alleged intended beneficiary of this scheme. The prosecution is also explicit about the association between Gicheru and Ruto. Both these allegations go further than what the prosecution had previously said on the matter.

The prosecution made these allegations in submissions before Pre-Trial Chamber A. Gicheru’s lawyer and the prosecution have made their submissions on the charges against Gicheru and the pre-trial judge is expected to issue a decision by 16 July on whether Gicheru should stand trial.

Khan is now Steynberg’s boss, so how did their first meeting go?

Khan’s conflict of interest

Ruto is not the only person Khan has represented before the ICC. He represented Francis Kirimi Muthaura, the former Head of Public Service in Kenya, in a separate Kenya case before the ICC. When the case against Muthaura was terminated, Khan then became Ruto’s lead lawyer.

Before the Kenya cases, Khan represented a former Darfuri rebel leader, Abdullah Banda. In July 2018, he ceased being Banda’s lawyer when he began work leading a United Nations investigation into atrocities committed by the Islamic State in Iraq. His official title was Special Adviser and Head of the United Nations Investigative Team to Promote Accountability for Da’esh/ISIL crimes (UNITAD). Banda’s case is ongoing. Khan has also represented Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, a son of former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. He also ceased representing Gaddafi when he took up his UNITAD assignment. Saif al-Islam Gaddafi is in Libya and has an outstanding ICC arrest warrant.

Khan’s role as a defence lawyer in many cases before the ICC is one of the reasons why he committed in writing to his predecessor, Fatou Bensouda, that he would recuse himself from any case where a perception of conflict of interest may arise. The Rome Statute, the ICC’s founding law, also requires this of him as prosecutor.

But Khan’s written commitment to Bensouda will not cover all possible conflicts of interest. For example, it had been the practice of Luis Moreno Ocampo and Bensouda to sign all prosecution filings made to the court. This practice is based in part on the fact that as the ICC’s chief prosecutor they have been the lead prosecution lawyer in all cases before the ICC even if they assign day-to-day work to other prosecutors. How will Khan deal with this practice? Will Deputy Prosecutor James Stewart sign off on future filings where Khan may have a conflict of interest?

Khan’s written commitment to Bensouda will not cover all possible conflicts of interest.

The committee that interviewed Khan and 13 candidates for prosecutor flagged this issue of Khan’s conflict of interest in their appraisal of him.

“Given his previous engagements as defense counsel in a number of on-going cases before the ICC, the probability of the need for multiple recusals is considerable,” said the committee in its appraisal that was made public on 25November 2020.

The appraisal reads in full:

Mr. Khan is a charismatic and articulate communicator who is well aware of his achievements. He demonstrated a good command of international criminal law practice and of the global context in which the ICC operates, as well as a clear vision of necessary changes in the OTP (Office of the Prosecutor). Since his appointment to UNITAD in 2018 he has gained experience in managing a large team, although he did not demonstrate familiarity with ICC budgetary processes. He demonstrated a clear commitment to a harassment-free workplace, drawing on concrete experience. Given his previous engagements as defense counsel in a number of on-going cases before the ICC, the probability of the need for multiple recusals is considerable. The Committee took note of an apparently coordinated write-in campaign by civil society organizations on Mr. Khan’s behalf, promoting his candidacy despite the confidential nature of the process.

The Kenyan connection

Khan was not the committee’s first choice as nominee for prosecutor. He did not even make it on their shortlist of four nominees for the post. Khan would not have become the third prosecutor of the ICC without Kenya’s help. Whether Khan was Kenya’s candidate is a matter of speculation. What is clear is that if Kenya had not written to reject the nominees shortlisted for the post of prosecutor, Khan would not be prosecutor now.

The four shortlisted nominees were Morris Anyah, Fergal Gaynor, Susan Okalany and Richard Roy. Each of them has between 24 and 31 years’ experience as lawyers. Okalany’s and Roy’s experience is primarily as prosecutors in their respective countries. Okalany is Ugandan and Roy is Canadian. Anyah, who is Nigerian-American, was the lawyer for the victims during the pre-trial phase of the case against President Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta at the ICC. Anyah’s most prominent client has been former Liberian president, Charles Taylor, whom he represented before the Special Court for Sierra Leone. Gaynor, who is Irish, was the lawyer for victims during the abortive trial phase of the case against Kenyatta.

What is clear is that if Kenya had not written to reject the nominees shortlisted for the post of prosecutor, Khan would not be prosecutor now.

In a 13 July 2020 letter widely reported in the Kenyan media, Kenya’s ambassador to the Netherlands, Lawrence Lenayapa, questioned whether Anyah, Gaynor, Okalany and Roy were suitable to be the ICC prosecutor. He also said the shortlist was skewed in favour of Gaynor becoming the prosecutor.

Lenayapa argued in his letter that because the outgoing prosecutor, Bensouda, was an African it was unlikely that an African could be elected as prosecutor thus eliminating Anyah and Okalany from the running. He also argued that since the current deputy prosecutor is a Canadian, it was unlikely that Roy could be elected prosecutor.

The ambassador also raised the conflict of interest issue. “It would be imprudent for State Parties to settle for a candidate who would have to recuse himself from some of the most challenging cases pending before the Court,” Lenayapa was quoted as saying in his letter. “This would undoubtedly weaken the stature of the Office of the Prosecutor,” Lenayapa is further quoted as saying.

This letter was written about two weeks after the shortlist of nominees was made public on June 30 2020. In the letter Lenayapa said Kenya as an ICC member, or State Party, rejected the shortlist. This triggered more than five months of discussions among ICC members about how to move the process forward. One reason for the months-long discussions is that the Rome Statute requires ICC members to give priority to seeking consensus on a candidate for prosecutor before resorting to a vote on the matter.

In November 2020, it was agreed that the applicants who were on the longlist of 14 candidates interviewed by the selection committee be asked whether they still wanted to be considered for the post of prosecutor. A number said no. Those who said they still wanted to be considered for the position were then given their appraisals. Other applicants dropped out at this point. Eventually, only five of the people who were on the longlist agreed for their names to be put forward for the position. One of them was Khan.

It was after this that ICC members went to the next stage of formally electing a prosecutor. When they failed to reach consensus on a candidate, the ICC members put the matter to a vote. Khan won the election on February 12 this year after two rounds of voting.

Previous elections for prosecutor have involved horse-trading and the successful candidates have later been accused of underperforming. As Bensouda’s term came to an end, ICC members decided to do things differently. They decided not to begin the process of choosing a prosecutor months to their annual meeting as had been the case in the past because that is what is provided for in the Rome Statute. They instead chose to begin the search for a new prosecutor more than a year ahead of time. They also chose to delegate the work of sifting through the applications to a committee of diplomats aided by a panel of experts made up of lawyers and legal scholars.

It is this committee of diplomats that received a total of 114 applications for the position of prosecutor. Together with the panel of experts, the committee whittled down those applications to a longlist of 14 candidates. The committee then interviewed the 14 individuals and shortlisted Anyah, Gaynor, Okalany and Roy.

The committee only revealed the names of those shortlisted, making public their motivation letters, CVs and a summary of the committee’s assessment of them. The committee did not reveal who else was on the list of 14 candidates it had interviewed until it was asked to do so in November 2020.

The ICC in transition

Khan becoming the third ICC Prosecutor is Khan returning to his roots. He began his legal career as a prosecutor. Between 1992 and 2000 he worked for Britain’s Crown Prosecution Service and then in the prosecutor’s office at the International Criminal Tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia (ICTR/ICTY).

He will be taking office at a time when not just the ICC’s Office of the Prosecutor but the entire institution is in transition. This is following a review of the ICC’s past 10 years by a panel of experts. Their recommendations are expected to be implemented in the coming years.

In addition, Khan will be presiding over what may be a changing case profile at the OTP. Currently under investigation at the OTP are crimes in Georgia, Myanmar/Bangladesh and Palestine. The Appeals Chamber authorised the OTP to investigate crimes in Afghanistan but the Afghan government has filed a request for a deferral, which is yet to be adjudicated. The OTP has also filed a request to be authorised to investigate crimes in the Philippines.

If these cases progress to pre-trial hearings and then trial, they would move the debate about the work of the ICC away from accusations that the court has an anti-Africa bias; the trials currently before the ICC all involve Africans.

He will be taking office at a time when not just the ICC’s Office of the Prosecutor but the entire institution is in transition.

Khan will now carry this baggage of perceptions that the ICC has an anti-Africa bias. But Khan’s time will not only be occupied dealing with perceptions about the ICC and the OTP, its most prominent arm. He will be responsible for implementing the recommendations relating to the OTP that the panel of experts made in their 10-year review of the ICC. Overall, the experts were stinging in their criticisms of the OTP.

The politest criticism of the OTP’s leadership in the past 10 years was that it was aloof. The experts said junior staff only saw the prosecutor during the OTP’s annual town hall meeting. The OTP’s work environment as described by the experts in their report can be summarised as toxic: micro-managing department heads, and bullying and harassment are common.

The experts said that they found that prosecutors and investigators have coordinated their work better in recent years than during the tenure of the first ICC prosecutor, Luis Moreno Ocampo. But the experts found that investigators were still based in The Hague and only carried out investigations on the ground during weeks-long visits. The experts also found that the OTP’s analysts were underutilised.

These are snippets of the experts’ report. But they offer an idea of the kind of changes Khan will be expected to make over the next nine years, which is the duration of his term as ICC Prosecutor.

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Tom Maliti is a journalist based in Nairobi, Kenya. He covered different trials and proceedings at the ICC for the International Justice Monitor for close to 10 years until March 2021.


Who Won Kenya’s “Nominations”?

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



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

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

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

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

Why do parties dread nominations?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Money, politics, and the cost of campaigns

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

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

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

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

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

Are the losers actually the biggest winners?

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

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

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

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

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

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Asylum Pact: Rwanda Must Do Some Political Housecleaning

Rwandans are welcoming, but the government’s priority must be to solve the internal political problems which produce refugees.



Asylum Pact: Rwanda Must Do Some Political Housecleaning
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The governments of the United Kingdom and Rwanda have signed an agreement to move asylum seekers from the UK to Rwanda for processing. This partnership has been heavily criticized and has been referred to as unethical and inhumane. It has also been opposed by the United Nations Refugee Agency on the grounds that it is contrary to the spirit of the Refugee Convention.

Here in Rwanda, we heard the news of the partnership on the day it was signed. The subject has never been debated in the Rwandan parliament and neither had it been canvassed in the local media prior to the announcement.

According to the government’s official press release, the partnership reflects Rwanda’s commitment to protect vulnerable people around the world. It is argued that by relocating migrants to Rwanda, their dignity and rights will be respected and they will be provided with a range of opportunities, including for personal development and employment, in a country that has consistently been ranked among the safest in the world.

A considerable number of Rwandans have been refugees and therefore understand the struggle that comes with being an asylum seeker and what it means to receive help from host countries to rebuild lives. Therefore, most Rwandans are sensitive to the plight of those forced to leave their home countries and would be more than willing to make them feel welcome. However, the decision to relocate the migrants to Rwanda raises a number of questions.

The government argues that relocating migrants to Rwanda will address the inequalities in opportunity that push economic migrants to leave their homes. It is not clear how this will work considering that Rwanda is already the most unequal country in the East African region. And while it is indeed seen as among the safest countries in the world, it was however ranked among the bottom five globally in the recently released 2022 World Happiness Index. How would migrants, who may have suffered psychological trauma fare in such an environment, and in a country that is still rebuilding itself?

A considerable number of Rwandans have been refugees and therefore understand the struggle that comes with being an asylum seeker and what it means to receive help from host countries to rebuild lives.

What opportunities can Rwanda provide to the migrants? Between 2018—the year the index was first published—and 2020, Rwanda’s ranking on the Human Capital Index (HCI) has been consistently low. Published by the World Bank, HCI measures which countries are best at mobilising the economic and professional potential of their citizens. Rwanda’s score is lower than the average for sub-Saharan Africa and it is partly due to this that the government had found it difficult to attract private investment that would create significant levels of employment prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Unemployment, particularly among the youth, has since worsened.

Despite the accolades Rwanda has received internationally for its development record, Rwanda’s economy has never been driven by a dynamic private or trade sector; it has been driven by aid. The country’s debt reached 73 per cent of GDP in 2021 while its economy has not developed the key areas needed to achieve and secure genuine social and economic transformation for its entire population. In addition to human capital development, these include social capital development, especially mutual trust among citizens considering the country’s unfortunate historical past, establishing good relations with neighbouring states, respect for human rights, and guaranteeing the accountability of public officials.

Rwanda aspires to become an upper middle-income country by 2035 and a high-income country by 2050. In 2000, the country launched a development plan that aimed to transform it into a middle-income country by 2020 on the back on a knowledge economy. That development plan, which has received financial support from various development partners including the UK which contributed over £1 billion, did not deliver the anticipated outcomes. Today the country remains stuck in the category of low-income states. Its structural constraints as a small land-locked country with few natural resources are often cited as an obstacle to development. However, this is exacerbated by current governance in Rwanda, which limits the political space, lacks separation of powers, impedes freedom of expression and represses government critics, making it even harder for Rwanda to reach the desired developmental goals.

Rwanda’s structural constraints as a small land-locked country with no natural resources are often viewed as an obstacle to achieving the anticipated development.

As a result of the foregoing, Rwanda has been producing its own share of refugees, who have sought political and economic asylum in other countries. The UK alone took in 250 Rwandese last year. There are others around the world, the majority of whom have found refuge in different countries in Africa, including countries neighbouring Rwanda. The presence of these refugees has been a source of tension in the region with Kigali accusing neighbouring states of supporting those who want to overthrow the government by force. Some Rwandans have indeed taken up armed struggle, a situation that, if not resolved, threatens long-term security in Rwanda and the Great Lakes region. In fact, the UK government’s advice on travel to Rwanda has consistently warned of the unstable security situation near the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Burundi.

While Rwanda’s intention to help address the global imbalance of opportunity that fuels illegal immigration is laudable, I would recommend that charity start at home. As host of the 26th Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting scheduled for June 2022, and Commonwealth Chair-in-Office for the next two years, the government should seize the opportunity to implement the core values and principles of the Commonwealth, particularly the promotion of democracy, the rule of law, freedom of expression, political and civil rights, and a vibrant civil society. This would enable Rwanda to address its internal social, economic and political challenges, creating a conducive environment for long-term economic development, and durable peace that will not only stop Rwanda from producing refugees but will also render the country ready and capable of economically and socially integrating refugees from less fortunate countries in the future.

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

The elite’s ‘solution’ to the climate crisis is to turn the displaced into exploitable migrant labour. We need a truly internationalist alternative.



Beyond Borders: Why We Need a Truly Internationalist Climate Justice Movement
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“We are not drowning, we are fighting” has become the rallying call for the Pacific Climate Warriors. From UN climate meetings to blockades of Australian coal ports, these young Indigenous defenders from twenty Pacific Island states are raising the alarm of global warming for low-lying atoll nations. Rejecting the narrative of victimisation – “you don’t need my pain or tears to know that we’re in a crisis,” as Samoan Brianna Fruean puts it – they are challenging the fossil fuel industry and colonial giants such as Australia, responsible for the world’s highest per-capita carbon emissions.

Around the world, climate disasters displace around 25.3 million people annually – one person every one to two seconds. In 2016, new displacements caused by climate disasters outnumbered new displacements as a result of persecution by a ratio of three to one. By 2050, an estimated 143 million people will be displaced in just three regions: Africa, South Asia, and Latin America. Some projections for global climate displacement are as high as one billion people.

Mapping who is most vulnerable to displacement reveals the fault lines between rich and poor, between the global North and South, and between whiteness and its Black, Indigenous and racialised others.

Globalised asymmetries of power create migration but constrict mobility. Displaced people – the least responsible for global warming – face militarised borders. While climate change is itself ignored by the political elite, climate migration is presented as a border security issue and the latest excuse for wealthy states to fortify their borders. In 2019, the Australian Defence Forces announced military patrols around Australia’s waters to intercept climate refugees.

The burgeoning terrain of “climate security” prioritises militarised borders, dovetailing perfectly into eco-apartheid. “Borders are the environment’s greatest ally; it is through them that we will save the planet,” declares the party of French far-Right politician Marine Le Pen. A US Pentagon-commissioned report on the security implications of climate change encapsulates the hostility to climate refugees: “Borders will be strengthened around the country to hold back unwanted starving immigrants from the Caribbean islands (an especially severe problem), Mexico, and South America.” The US has now launched Operation Vigilant Sentry off the Florida coast and created Homeland Security Task Force Southeast to enforce marine interdiction and deportation in the aftermath of disasters in the Caribbean.

Labour migration as climate mitigation

you broke the ocean in
half to be here.
only to meet nothing that wants you
– Nayyirah Waheed

Parallel to increasing border controls, temporary labour migration is increasingly touted as a climate adaptation strategy. As part of the ‘Nansen Initiative’, a multilateral, state-led project to address climate-induced displacement, the Australian government has put forward its temporary seasonal worker program as a key solution to building climate resilience in the Pacific region. The Australian statement to the Nansen Initiative Intergovernmental Global Consultation was, in fact, delivered not by the environment minister but by the Department of Immigration and Border Protection.

Beginning in April 2022, the new Pacific Australia Labour Mobility scheme will make it easier for Australian businesses to temporarily insource low-wage workers (what the scheme calls “low-skilled” and “unskilled” workers) from small Pacific island countries including Nauru, Papua New Guinea, Kiribati, Samoa, Tonga, and Tuvalu. Not coincidentally, many of these countries’ ecologies and economies have already been ravaged by Australian colonialism for over one hundred years.

It is not an anomaly that Australia is turning displaced climate refugees into a funnel of temporary labour migration. With growing ungovernable and irregular migration, including climate migration, temporary labour migration programs have become the worldwide template for “well-managed migration.” Elites present labour migration as a double win because high-income countries fill their labour shortage needs without providing job security or citizenship, while low-income countries alleviate structural impoverishment through migrants’ remittances.

Dangerous, low-wage jobs like farm, domestic, and service work that cannot be outsourced are now almost entirely insourced in this way. Insourcing and outsourcing represent two sides of the same neoliberal coin: deliberately deflated labour and political power. Not to be confused with free mobility, temporary labour migration represents an extreme neoliberal approach to the quartet of foreign, climate, immigration, and labour policy, all structured to expand networks of capital accumulation through the creation and disciplining of surplus populations.

The International Labour Organization recognises that temporary migrant workers face forced labour, low wages, poor working conditions, virtual absence of social protection, denial of freedom association and union rights, discrimination and xenophobia, as well as social exclusion. Under these state-sanctioned programs of indentureship, workers are legally tied to an employer and deportable. Temporary migrant workers are kept compliant through the threats of both termination and deportation, revealing the crucial connection between immigration status and precarious labour.

Through temporary labour migration programs, workers’ labour power is first captured by the border and this pliable labour is then exploited by the employer. Denying migrant workers permanent immigration status ensures a steady supply of cheapened labour. Borders are not intended to exclude all people, but to create conditions of ‘deportability’, which increases social and labour precarity. These workers are labelled as ‘foreign’ workers, furthering racist xenophobia against them, including by other workers. While migrant workers are temporary, temporary migration is becoming the permanent neoliberal, state-led model of migration.

Reparations include No Borders

“It’s immoral for the rich to talk about their future children and grandchildren when the children of the Global South are dying now.” – Asad Rehman

Discussions about building fairer and more sustainable political-economic systems have coalesced around a Green New Deal. Most public policy proposals for a Green New Deal in the US, Canada, UK and the EU articulate the need to simultaneously tackle economic inequality, social injustice, and the climate crisis by transforming our extractive and exploitative system towards a low-carbon, feminist, worker and community-controlled care-based society. While a Green New Deal necessarily understands the climate crisis and the crisis of capitalism as interconnected — and not a dichotomy of ‘the environment versus the economy’ — one of its main shortcomings is its bordered scope. As Harpreet Kaur Paul and Dalia Gebrial write: “the Green New Deal has largely been trapped in national imaginations.”

Any Green New Deal that is not internationalist runs the risk of perpetuating climate apartheid and imperialist domination in our warming world. Rich countries must redress the global and asymmetrical dimensions of climate debtunfair trade and financial agreements, military subjugation, vaccine apartheidlabour exploitation, and border securitisation.

It is impossible to think about borders outside the modern nation-state and its entanglements with empire, capitalism, race, caste, gender, sexuality, and ability. Borders are not even fixed lines demarcating territory. Bordering regimes are increasingly layered with drone surveillance, interception of migrant boats, and security controls far beyond states’ territorial limits. From Australia offshoring migrant detention around Oceania to Fortress Europe outsourcing surveillance and interdiction to the Sahel and Middle East, shifting cartographies demarcate our colonial present.

Perhaps most offensively, when colonial countries panic about ‘border crises’ they position themselves as victims. But the genocide, displacement, and movement of millions of people were unequally structured by colonialism for three centuries, with European settlers in the Americas and Oceania, the transatlantic slave trade from Africa, and imported indentured labourers from Asia. Empire, enslavement, and indentureship are the bedrock of global apartheid today, determining who can live where and under what conditions. Borders are structured to uphold this apartheid.

The freedom to stay and the freedom to move, which is to say no borders, is decolonial reparations and redistribution long due.

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