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Uganda Mailo Land Reforms: Disentangling Landlord From Tenant

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Debate in Uganda has recently been dominated by the question of reform of the mailo land tenure system. Will reform put an end to the rampant land evictions?

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Uganda Mailo Land Reforms: Disentangling Landlord From Tenant
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In Uganda, evictions of the poor from land by the dominant economic class have been common in the last two decades. They have mainly been classified under the broader rubric of land grabbing.  Land evictions are a microcosm of Uganda’s political economy and offshoots of lapses in land governance and the unending land reform processes.

Eviction scenes are usually characterised by the following: a group of  people (most often hired goons) destroying crops; a grader destroying structures or debris from already destroyed structures; victims trying to salvage their belongings from the debris (usually basic household items such as overused mattresses, plastic plates, cups, and clothing); stick-wielding victims voicing their frustration in front of media microphones/cameras, affirming their claim to the land and calling on a powerful agency or a politician to intervene (at times these calls to intervene are directed at the government using the popular Luganda phrase, “tusaba gavumenti etuyambe” (we are begging for the government’s intervention/help); women crying profusely, pacing around the scene, asking rhetorical questions (usually concerning their dire helplessness as widows/sole providers for their families and  wondering how they will pay off that loan or feed the children now that the food is destroyed); and people in uniform wielding guns and court papers purportedly authorising the eviction.

This description of evictions is a metaphorical representation of the actors, powers, agendas, and interests at play in land contestations. It is usually the face of other invisible forces deeply rooted in the letter of the law, power play, and asserted by a court of law through interpretation or misinterpretation. The scene can be appropriately captioned “noise verses uniforms, guns and court papers”. The poor can only amplify their voices of dissent by wielding sticks, while the instruments of state authority (uniforms, guns and court papers) remain in the hands of their tormentors.

The scene also presents a number of dichotomies: a class struggle between the underclass/poor and the dominant economic class, between the powerful and the subordinated/oppressed, citizens and subjects. The constitutional notion of citizenship bestows upon all Ugandans the right to state protection. Land conflicts have however presented a dynamic where the rich and powerful are more of citizens than others, for they can use the law and state institutions to assert their “entitlement” against the underclass/poor. Those who lose their land in this context become “subjects” whose claims are dismissed as merely an annoyance rather than “rights” worth defending. The “subjects” can only cry out for help as a privilege rather than a right. This is evidence that the most recent land law reforms of 1995, 1998 and 2010 have not yet benefited the majority of victims of land evictions. Their social-economic existence is destabilised. To them, the law is a powerful tool in the hands of the economically and politically dominant group.

The Constitution of Uganda recognises four tenure systems: mailo, freehold, customary and leasehold. Evictions have taken place on land held under all four tenure systems across the country. Not every eviction is unlawful, but unlawful evictions abound in Uganda’s history, and have intensified in recent times. They cause land conflicts, destabilise society, retard land-based production and curtail free marketability of land. Debates on land reform are frequent and the country is currently debating another range of reforms on the mailo system of land tenure.

There is need to understand the dialectic views about the need for reforms in this area, and I offer some discussion here. I take a teleological approach, avoiding the polemic debates on how we got here and focussing instead on what we could learn from and do about the sticking issues in the land reform processes in Uganda. I also explore the pro-commercialisation and other efforts aimed at land restitution in other countries, as well as the politics of the “entangled” interests on mailo land in Uganda, and how this shapes the efforts and politics of disentanglement. Land law has been used as a tool in the politics of entanglement and disentanglement. I argue that the law is not the magic bullet; it rarely addresses the underlying intersectional quandaries of a social, economic and political nature that normally converge in the spaces of the poor/underprivileged. Law should be coupled with other legitimate efforts aimed at disentangling the convergence of the issues referred to above and understanding the roles played by the various actors in land conflicts and their resolution. 

Land reforms elsewhere

Land reforms elsewhere are characterised by scenes where (just like in Uganda) voices  of protest confront forces wielding state authority sanctioned through law reforms, the poor pitted against the economically empowered in the struggle over land. A number of African countries have undertaken land reforms in the recent past, achieving—according to official supporting discourses—a constellation of gains ranging from correcting historical flaws, improving tenure security, promoting the capital value of land, and protecting indigenous communities, among others. South Africa and Zimbabwe stand out in the Southern Africa region. South African reforms have included a broader agenda to annihilate the dangers associated with the land dispossessions perpetrated against the black population during the apartheid era. Debates about racial inequalities, and restitution and/or compensation have been current in addition to communal land tenure policy initiatives aimed at vesting land in tribal authorities and streamlining its use and access within that traditional body politic. Expropriation without compensation is another hot debate in the South African context.

Land law has been used as a tool in the politics of entanglement and disentanglement.

In Zimbabwe, a number of land reforms took place in turbulent fashion in the early 2000s (of course there were efforts at land reform in the 1980s). Like in South Africa, reforms involved reversion of land from white to black farmers (put simply). The views about these reforms have been divergent with some believing that they have helped the small-scale farmer to gain ground in the agricultural market economy, while others see the initiatives as disastrous and unsustainable in economic and human rights terms (if all, both black and white, are considered citizens).

Next door in Kenya, the most recent reforms were heralded by the inauguration of the 2010 Constitution followed by the new land law of 2012 and the Community Land Act of 2016, among others. As elsewhere, the reforms were justified on a number of bases including inequitable distribution of land, historical injustices, landlessness among the poor, increasing trends of land grabbing, and the need to streamline communal land use. In her recent book, The Struggle for Land and Justice in Kenya, Ambreena Manji argues that one of the problems with reform in Kenya is the parochial view of “land reform” as reform of land law that leads to focus being placed on reforms within the land management and administration institutions that are pivotal to the exercise of bureaucratic power.

This approach diverts attention from the broader questions of access, land justice for the poor and unequal distribution. Manji further believes, “We must attend to insurgent knowledge and ideas of change.” In essence, any reform programme should aim at deeper and broader change beyond legal reforms in order to address the plight of the subaltern poor caught up in contestations over land. Such an approach questions the dominant but rather rhetorical narratives of the state as the protector of rights and people, to address situations where symbols of state power (uniforms, guns and court papers) are ironically applied to entrench a skewed power position to intimidate and dispossess victims in land conflicts/evictions.

The Uganda case 

Public debate in Uganda has recently been dominated by discussions on the reform of the mailo land tenure system, with views varying from those that believe it needs to be reformed (and may be abolished) to those that believe that the mailo system does not need to be reviewed. Uganda has gone through a series of land reforms over the course of the country’s history, with each reform influenced by the political, social and economic factors prevailing at the time. In 1975, President Idi Amin abolished all perpetual land ownership tenure systems and vested all land in the state, which granted periodic leases to land users. The post-1995 land law reforms re-vested land back in the citizens to hold by virtue of the revived tenure systems (mailo, freehold, customary, in addition to leasehold). Unlike in the past, the post-1995 period saw heightened contestations over land and witnessed classic evictions.

The 1900 Agreement is often seen as the precursor of mega-reforms in the mailo system of land holding. The Land Law of 1908 introduced reforms to address the lack of clarity identified in the findings of the Carter Committee of 1907. Among the issues raised was whether the 1900 agreement introduced a new system which changed the reciprocal obligations that existed between landlords and tenants (embedded in custom and tradition) prior to its signing. The 1908 law defined and drew the boundaries of the mailo system introduced under the 1900 agreement. Mailo land could be transferred to anyone in the Protectorate (outside the clan system of Buganda) and it was no longer land exclusively governed based on Ganda customary law. In 1928, the Busulu and Envujjo law attempted to reorganize the landlord-tenant relationship by, among others, stipulating the rent payable and other terms of use. This was following tenants’ complaints of exploitation by landlords who were charging exorbitant rents. In 1975, mailo interests were by law commuted to leaseholds when land was nationalised, a position that was reformed through the Constitution of Uganda in 1995 and operationalised through the Land Act of 1998.

Any reform programme should aim at deeper and broader change beyond legal reforms in order to address the plight of the subaltern poor.

Reforms are not new. The question is why haven’t they delivered on their agenda to address the so-called “land question”?  Can reforms focusing on the mailo land tenure (mainly in central Uganda) address all the problematic land issues at a national level or those associated with  other tenure systems such as  the vast customary tenure predominant in the north? Are we asking the right questions to guide reform processes? Are we addressing the right problems? Does the operating environment allow for clear and focused reforms? Can focus on “law reform” (to refer to Manji’s conceptualisation) without addressing the underlying social-political issues resolve the multifaceted nature of challenges encountered in the mailo system?

All these questions have one answer. Land is a part of the political repertoire and therefore efforts to bring about land reforms involve managing politics, society, and the economy, yet the balance is not easy to strike. Although cumbersome for some, the unresolved land issues are exploitable “stock”’ for others.  Beneficiaries of the “stock” would therefore not opt for approaches that resolve the problem once and for all, since that would not be just a trifling inconvenience but a big loss.

The “miles” of “entangled” land

Any attempt at reforming the mailo system requires a broader approach using multiple lenses to disentangle the various legal and social-political issues that characterise its structure and practice. Broadly, the mailo system is entangled in class, religion, culture, politics, etc. Specifically, it is first entangled in history, conjuring historical rationales and claims that are also embedded in culture/traditions whose contemporary relevance may come into question. Who was who and who is who in terms of control of the centres of power. Does the new generation embrace the shifts (if at all) in the power centres? Second, the mailo system is entangled in the argument about the fairness of land distribution under the 1900 agreement and its contemporary relevance in debates about the classes of “victims” and “beneficiaries” in the mailo land tenure system.

Third, mailo system is entangled in the geopolitical imperative to promote registration and free marketability of land as a part of the broader goal of promoting a neoliberal model of development. In Uganda – The Dynamics of Neoliberal Transformation, the country is described as an exemplar of African countries that have fully embraced neoliberal restructuring that has resulted in significant economic growth, but also in inequality, concentration of wealth, corruption, and privileging production paradigms (as opposed to others of social value). Neoliberalism has also influenced land reforms by commodifying land and placing it in the markets, by increasing the relationship between land and commerce, and by changing the exchange value of land.

Fourth, mailo land is also entangled in the national political agenda on land reform, officially presented as a pro-poor logic; reform the land laws to strengthen protection of land occupants against land title holders. Fifth is the cultural issue where talk of mailo land evokes debate about the monarchy of Buganda and its power over land (mainly the official mailo land), considered trust land held by the King in trust for the people of Buganda. Crucially, land in Buganda is currently occupied by people/social groups from all over the country, including the powerful, and “foreign investors”.

Land is a part of the political repertoire and therefore efforts to bring about land reforms involve managing politics, society, and the economy.

Understanding these entanglements is invaluable in debates on mailo land reforms. One should take a microscopic view of them all in order to decipher them; use them as a guide to identify the actors to engage with; transcend blemished determinist economic views in the rationalisation of the purpose of reforms; promote debate and constructive engagement; avoid ideational and discursive hegemonic approaches shaped by subjectivities in perspective.

With the above, the law may indeed not be the silver bullet. It contains positive initiatives that would go a long way to solving the problem, but at the same time, it has contributed to the stalemate thereby further entangling the mailo tenure system. The reforms have largely not delivered emancipation for the oppressed, or corrected the power imbalances and the resulting injustices.

Beyond the law 

The Constitution and the Land Act aim to “streamline” the “relationship” between the landlord and the tenant. This presupposes continuation of the dual/conflicting rights on the same piece of land for title holders and tenants/occupants, with some changes in the reciprocal rights and obligations for both, and amicable social co-existence. The land by implication remains entangled in the dual claims of the landlord and the tenant, albeit in a regulated manner. There are a number of initiatives in the Land Act aimed at regulating the landlord/tenant relationship, a few of which are highlighted here.

First, the tenant is guaranteed security of occupancy and protected against eviction on condition that s/he pays rent to the landlord. The rent is “nominal”/“non-commercial”, fixed through government bureaucracies with the resulting “coercive security of occupancy” for the tenants. The landlords are obliged to receive the rent (even against their will) and refrain from evicting the tenants.

This has elements of imposing “edifice” since market forces are locked out in the determination of rent and the social good of the tenant is considered to be of paramount importance. It is believed that such approaches of regulating rent entrench the social aspects of the landlord/tenant relationship in recognition of the historical dimension of the mailo system of land holding. The tenants can occupy the land as long as they pay the nominal rent to the landlords, which sustains the existence of dual rights on the same piece of land.

Second, the tenant can apply for certificate as evidence of his/her occupancy with the consent of the landlord. This is then registered as an encumbrance on the landlord’s title. It is ironical to expect that the landlord will accept to further entangle the land, and limit its application in the market.

Third, the landlord and tenant can jointly hold the land or equally agree to share it such that each can exclusively hold and occupy a portion. The skewed power patterns between landlord and tenant most times hinder the possibility of an amicable and fair agreement/outcome.

Fourth, under the Land Act, the tenant may request the landlord for a mailo title, freehold (resulting in subdivision of land and grant of exclusive ownership to the tenant on agreed terms), or a lease. Considering the fact that the majority of tenants are financially constrained, yet land is of high value and in high demand on the open market, it is unlikely that such negotiations would yield in the interest of the tenant. Offering the land on the competitive market is normally a more viable option. In some instances, the lack of assistance from a third party to participate in the negotiations exposes the tenant to exploitation by the landlord. In essence, unless the Land Fund provided for in the law is capitalised and applied to facilitate land acquisitions by tenants on mailo land, land will remain unaffordable to many.

The reforms have largely not delivered emancipation for the oppressed, or corrected the power imbalances and the resulting injustices.

Fifth, the law allows either landlord or tenant to sell their interest to the other or in case of a sale on the market, to consider the other as the one with priority to purchase. A 2016 study that I conducted for the Public interest Law Clinic of Makerere University finds that realities on the ground render many of the initiatives above mere perceptions of protection that fall short of the lived experience of people in a landlord/tenant relationship on private mailo land.

A 2010 amendment to the Land Law allows the landlord to sell the encumbered land to a new person who steps into the landlord/tenant relationship with the tenant(s), yet the tenant who sells in violation of the law (offering first to the landlord) commits a criminal offence punishable by law. This change (in favour of the landlord) perpetuates the entangled situation of the mailo system, which at times leads to evictions by new landlords.

The big question remains: how can the layers of entanglement be disentangled?  To eradicate the dual and overlapping rights (of landlords and tenants) on the same land, the best two options are, first, mutual agreements to share land such that both landlord and tenant get (exclusive) registered title and, second, grant of leaseholds by landlords to tenants. The law makes provision for government support to acquire registered interest in land through the land fund. The law is to some extent confirming Manji’s argument, since it has not yet delivered on its promise. A lot more needs to be done in order to achieve the promises set out.

The dangers associated with the unintended consequences of going too far back in history outweigh the benefits.

Addressing the issues using the already existing initiatives is advantageous in many ways, and the assumption is that they are a product of consensus. This is more a from–now–onwards approach to the problem, conveniently avoiding peeling the discursive frames rooted in history to establish right and wrong. Remedying historical wrongs can be important, but some scholars (such as Jenna Thompson in Taking responsibility for the past: Reparations and Historical Injustice commenting about the choice between restitution and compensation) have argued that at times the dangers associated with the unintended consequences of going too far back in history outweigh the benefits.

For Uganda, the dual and overlapping rights to mailo land—with landlords holding registered title and tenants claiming occupancy rights—is a product of historical events heralded by the 1900 agreement. This situation perpetuates land conflicts and evictions. To resolve it, it will be necessary to ensure the active involvement/agreement of all those who are affected (landlords and tenants, and other actors). Also needed is government support to ensure that such agreements do not overly burden the weaker party (the tenant with occupancy). This will be facilitated by the gathering of information on the amount of land that is currently under the mailo system, how many landlords and tenants there are, how many are absentee, the location of the land, how much mailo land is without tenants, etc. This will fill the information gap and facilitate the reform process. Reform processes should provide a platform to discuss the problematic land issues in the whole country beyond the central region, by all citizens beyond the Kabakaship and the presidency.

In the meantime, rampant evictions are an indicator of the law’s and the system’s failure to address the sticky issues regarding mailo land. Yet land remains an arena for the entrenchment of class differentiation, portrayal of power and fear of the pro-commercialisation reforms that may lead to loss of land. The fact that mailo land is entangled has not stopped the rich and investors from evicting the poor. The entangled nature of the tenure is a “mess” that is exploited by the evicting class with impunity. Disentangling the tenure through provision of clear interests/proprietary rights (leases or mailo titles) could equip the disenfranchised tenants with the tools to assert their rights. If not, the metaphorical scene described here will remain the hallmark of land relations in Uganda. 

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Rose Nakayi is a senior lecturer at the School of Law, Makerere University, Uganda.

Politics

The Campaign that Remembered Nothing and Forgot Nothing

Once a master of coalition building, Raila Odinga killed his own party and brand, handed over his backyard to William Ruto, threw in his lot with Uhuru Kenyatta, ended up being branded a “state project”, and lost.

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The Original sin

A seasoned Nairobi politician, Timothy Wanyonyi had cut a niche for himself in the Nairobi governor’s race that was filled with a dozen candidates who had up to that point not quite captured the imagination of Nairobians. Some candidates were facing questions over their academic qualifications while others were without a well-defined public profile. In that field Wanyonyi, an experienced Nairobi politician, stood out. On 19th April, the Westlands MP’s campaign team was canvasing for him in Kawangware. They had sent pictures and videos to news teams seeking coverage. But that evening their candidate would receive a phone call to attend a meeting at State House Nairobi that would put an end to his campaign. Before Tim made his way to State House, insiders around President Uhuru Kenyatta told reporters that Wanyonyi was out of the Nairobi governor’s race.

Wanyonyi’s rallying call “Si Mimi, ni Sisi”—a spin on US Senator Bernie Sanders’ “Not me. Us” 2020 presidential campaign slogan—distinguished him as a candidate who understood the anxieties of Nairobians. “They were looking for someone who would see the city as a home first, before seeing it as a business centre,” one of his political consultants told me. But the Azimio coalition to which Wanyonyi’s ODM party belonged was very broad, with several centres of power that didn’t take into account—or maybe didn’t care about— Nairobi’s political landscape. Wanyonyi’s candidacy was hastily sacrificed at the altar of the coalition’s politics. Former President Uhuru Kenyatta, the coalition’s chairman, had prevailed on Raila Odinga, its presidential candidate, to essentially leave Nairobi to Kenyatta’s Jubilee Party in exchange for ODM picking the presidential candidate.

That was the only consideration on the table.

However, it was a miscalculation by the coalition. Azimio failed to appreciate the complex matrix that is a presidential election in Kenya. While the top ticket affects the races downstream, it can be argued that the reverse is also true. It is ironic that Raila Odinga, a power broker and a master of coalition building who was running for presidency for the fifth time, was choosing to ignore these principles. His own ascension in politics had been based on building a machine—ODM—that he used carefully during every election cycle. Yet in this election he was killing his own party and brand. The Azimio La Umoja coalition party was built as a party of parties that would be the vehicle Raila would use to contest the presidency. However, the constituent parties were free to sponsor parliamentary candidates. It sounded like a good idea on paper but it created friction as the parties found themselves in competition everywhere. To keep Azimio from fracturing both itself and its votes, the idea of “zoning”—having weaker candidates step down for stronger ones, essentially carving out exclusive zones for parties—gained traction, and would itself lead to major fall-outs, even after it was adopted as official Azimio policy in June.

However, beyond the zoning controversy, Wanyonyi’s candidacy served as a marker for a key block of Odinga voters—the Luhya—assuring them of their place within the Azimio coalition. Luhya voters have been Odinga’s insurance policy during his last three presidential runs. With Nyanza and the four western Kenya counties of Kakamega, Bungoma, Vihiga and Busia in his back pocket, he would be free to pick up other regions. Odinga claimed 71 per cent of the Luhya bloc in 2017 but this time, western voters were feeling jittery about the new political arrangements.

There is also another consideration. The Luhya voting bloc in Nairobi is also significant, and Odinga had carried the capital in his previous three presidential runs. The Nairobi electoral map is largely organized around five big groups: the Kikuyu, Luo, Luhya, Kamba, and Kisii. For the ODM party, having a combination of a Luo-Luhya voting bloc in Nairobi has enabled Odinga to take the city and to be a force to reckon with.

However, it appeared that all these factors were of no importance in 2022. So, Tim Wanyonyi was forced out of the race. He protested. Or attempted to. Western Kenya voters were furious, but who cared?

Miscalculation

The morning after the State House meeting, a group calling themselves Luhya professionals had strong words for both Odinga and Azimio.

“We refuse to be used as a ladder for other political expediencies whenever there is an election,” Philip Kisia, who was the chairman of this loose “professional group” said during a press conference that paraded the faces of political players from the Luhya community. The community had “irreducible minimum” and would not allow itself to “to be used again this time.” Other speakers at that press conference—including ODM Secretary General Edwin Sifuna—laid claim to what they called the place of the Luhya community in Nairobi. The political relationship between Luhyas and Luos has not been without tensions; in the aftermath of the opposition’s unravelling in the 90s, Michael Kijana Wamalwa and Raila Odinga fought for supremacy within the Ford Kenya party. Wamalwa believed the throne left by Jaramogi Oginga Odinga was his for the taking. However, Odinga’s son, Raila, mounted a challenge for the control of the party, eventually leaving Ford Kenya to build his own party, the National Development Party (NDP). The Luhya-Luo relationship was broken. Luhya sentiment was that, having been faithful to Odinga’s father, it was time for Wamalwa to lead the opposition.

These old political wounds have flared up during every election cycle, and Raila Odinga has worked for decades to reassure the voting bloc and bury the hatchet. This time, however, he was different. He didn’t seem to care about those fragile egos. After the press conference, a strategist in Odinga’s camp wondered aloud, “Who will they [Luhyas] vote for?”

The next 21 days were to be pivotal for Kenya’s presidential election. Azimio moved on and introduced Polycarp Igathe as their candidate for Nairobi. A former deputy governor in Nairobi who had quit just months after taking office, Igathe is well known for his C-suite jobs and intimate links to the Kenyan political elite. His selection, though, played perfectly into the rival Kenya Kwanza coalition’s “hustlers vs dynasties” narrative which sought to frame the 2022 elections as a contest between the political families that have dominated Kenya’s politics and economy since independence. The sons of a former vice president and president respectively, Odinga and Uhuru were branded as dynasties while the then deputy president claimed for himself the title of “hustler”.

These old political wounds have flared up during every election cycle, and Raila Odinga has worked for decades to reassure the voting bloc and bury the hatchet.

But, William Ruto’s side also saw something else in that moment—an opportunity to get a chunk of the important Luhya vote. Ruto first entered into a coalition with Musalia Mudavadi, selling their alliance as a “partnership of equals”, and then followed that up with the offer of a Luhya gubernatorial candidate to Nairobians in the name of Senator Johnson Koskei Sakaja.

Meanwhile, Wanyonyi’s half-brother, the current Speaker of the National Assembly, Moses Wetangula, was a principle in Ruto’s camp. Up to this point, Wetangula had struggled to find a coherent message to sell Ruto’s candidacy to the Luhya nation. But, with his brother being shafted by Azimio, Wetangula saw a political opening; he quickly called a press conference and complained bitterly about the “unfair Odinga” whom he said the Luhya community would not support for “denying their son a ticket to run for the seat of the governor of Nairobi”. His press conference went almost unnoticed and it is not even clear if Azimio took notice of the political significance of Wetangula’s protestations.

Azimio had offered their opponents an inroad into western Kenya politics and Ruto wasted little time trying turn a key Odinga voting bloc. With Sakaja confirmed as the Kenya Kwanza candidate for the Nairobi governor’s race, Wetangula and Kenya Kwanza made Western Kenya a centrepiece of their path to presidency. Tim Wanyonyi was presented as a martyr. The Ford Kenya leader took to all the radio stations, taking calls or sending emissaries, to declare Odinga’s betrayal. In the days and weeks that followed, William Ruto would make a dozen more visits to Luhyaland than his rival, assuring the voters that there would be a central place reserved for them in his administration. In contrast, on a visit to western Kenya, Raila Odinga expressed anger that an opinion poll had shown him trailing Ruto in Bungoma. “He is at nearly 60 per cent and I am at 40 per cent. Shame on you people! Shame on you people! Shame on you!” he told the crowd. He would eventually lose Bungoma and Trans Nzoia to William Ruto.

To be sure, Odinga won western Kenya with 55 per cent of the vote, but William Ruto had 45 per cent, enough to light his path to the presidency. He would repeat the same feat in Nairobi and coast regions, traditionally Odinga strongholds where he would have expected to bag upwards of 60 per cent of the vote. Azimio modelling had put these regions in Raila’s column but Kenya Kwanza took advantage of the mistake-prone Odinga. And wherever Odinga blundered, Ruto mopped up. As Speaker, Wetangula is today the third most powerful man in in the country. Yet just four years ago, he was an Odinga ally who had been stripped off his duties as a minority leader in the Senate by Odinga’s ODM party. At the time he warned that the divorce “would be messy, it would be noisy, it would be unhelpful, it would not be easy, it would have casualties”. It was the first of many political blunders that Odinga would make.

Unforced errors

Looking back, Odinga’s 2022 run for the presidency had all the hallmarks of a campaign that didn’t know what it didn’t know; it was filled with assumptions, and sometimes made the wrong judgment calls. By handing over his backyard to Ruto and choosing to ally with President Uhuru Kenyatta, Raila ended up being branded a “state project”.

In 2005, Odinga had used the momentum generated by his successful campaign in a referendum against Mwai Kibaki’s attempt to foist on the country a bastardized version of the constitution negotiated in Bomas to launch early campaigns for his 2007 presidential run. However, this time, as the courts hamstrung his attempt to launch the BBI referendum, Ruto was already off to the races, having begun his presidential campaign three years early.

“He is at nearly 60 per cent and I am at 40 per cent. Shame on you people! Shame on you people! Shame on you!”

With the rejection of constitutional changes, which were found to be deeply unpopular among many Kenyans, Odinga was finally in a strange place, a politician now out of touch, defending an unpopular government, a stranger to his own political base. The failure of BBI as a political tool was really the consequence of Odinga’s and Kenyatta’s inability to understand the ever-changing Kenyan political landscape. Numerous times they just seemed to not know how to deal with the dynamism of William Ruto. He would shape-shift, change the national conversation, and nothing they threw at him seemed to stick, including, corruption allegations. For a politician who created the branding of opponents as his tool, Odinga had finally been branded and it stuck.

Bow out

In the final day of the campaigns, both camps chose Nairobi to make their final submissions. Azimio chose Kasarani stadium. It was, as expected, full of colour, with a Tanzanian celebrity musician, Diamond Platnumz, brought in to boot. Supporters were treated to rushed speeches by politicians who had somewhere else to be. Azimio concluded its final submission early and the speeches by Odinga and his running mate, Martha Karua, weren’t exactly a rallying call. It was as if they were happy to be put out of their pain as they quickly stepped off the stage and left the stadium. In contrast, Ruto’s final submission was filled with speeches of fury by politicians angered by “state capture” and the “failing economy”. Speaker after speaker roused the audience with their defiant messages. They ended the meeting an hour before the end of IEBC campaign deadline. A video soon appeared online of William Ruto sprinting across the Wilson airport runway to catch a chopper and make it to one final rally in central Kenya before the IEBC’s 6 p.m. campaign deadline.

Pictures of the deputy president on top of a car at dusk in markets in Kiambu were the last images of his campaign to be shared on social media. Ruto won because he wanted the presidency more than Odinga and was willing to work twice as hard as both Odinga and Kenyatta.

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Politics

Lagos From Its Margins: Everyday Experiences in a Migrant Haven

From its beginnings as a fishing village, Lagos has grown into a large metropolis that attracts migrants seeking opportunity or Internally Displaced Persons fleeing violence.

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Lagos, City of Migrants

From its origins as a fishing village in the 1600s, Lagos has urbanised stealthily into a vast metropolis, wielding extensive economic, political and cultural influence on Nigeria and beyond. Migration in search of opportunities has been the major factor responsible for the demographic and spatial growth of the city as Lagos has grown from 60,221 in 1872 to over 23 million people today. The expansion of the city also comes with tensions around indigene-settler dynamics, especially in accessing land, political influence and urban resources. There are also categories of migrants whose status determines if they can lay hold of the “urban advantage” that relocating to a large city offers.

A major impetus to the evolution of modern Lagos is the migration of diverse groups of people from Nigeria’s hinterland and beyond. By the 1800s, waves of migrants (freed slaves) from Brazil and Freetown had made their way to Lagos, while many from Nigeria’s hinterland including the Ekiti, Nupes, Egbas and Ijebus began to settle in ethnic enclaves across the city. In the 1900s, migrant enclaves were based on socio-economic and/or ethnicity status. Hausas (including returnees from the Burma war) settled in Obalende and Agege, while the Ijaw and Itsekiri settled in waterfront communities around Ajegunle and Ijora. International migrant communities include the Togolese, Beninoise and Ghanaian, as well as large communities of Lebanese and Indian migrants. The names and socio-cultural mix in most Lagos communities derive from these historical migrant trajectories.

Permanent temporalities

A study on coordinated migrations found that, as a destination city, Lagos grew 18.6 per cent between 2000 and 2012, with about 96 per cent of the migrants coming from within Nigeria. While migration to Lagos has traditionally been in search of economic opportunities, new classes of migrants have emerged over the last few decades. These are itinerant migrants and internally displaced persons.

Itinerant migrants are those from other areas of Nigeria and West Africa who travel to work in Lagos while keeping their families back home. Mobility cycles can be weekly, monthly or seasonal. Such migrants have no address in Lagos as they often sleep at their work premises or in mosques, saving all their earned income for remittance. They include construction artisans from Benin and Togo who come to Lagos only when they have jobs, farmers from Nigeria’s northern states who come to Lagos to work as casual labourers in between farming seasons (see box), as well as junior staff in government and corporate offices whose income is simply too small to cover the high cost of living in Lagos.

While people from Nigeria’s hinterland continue to arrive in the city in droves, the wave of West African in-migration has ebbed significantly. This is mostly because of the economic challenges Nigeria is currently facing that have crashed the Naira-to-CFA exchange rates. As a result, young men from Togo, Ghana and Benin are finding cities like Dakar and Banjul more attractive than Lagos.

Photo. Taibat Lawanson

Photo. Taibat Lawanson

Aliu* aka Mr Bushman, from Sokoto, Age 28

Aliu came to Lagos in 2009 on the back of a cattle truck. His first job was in the market carrying goods for market patrons. He slept in the neighbourhood mosque with other young boys. Over the years, he has done a number of odd jobs including construction work. In 2014, he started to work as a commercial motorcyclist (okada) and later got the opportunity to learn how to repair them. He calls himself an engineer and for the past four years has earned his income exclusively from riding and repairing okada. Even though he can afford to rent a room, he currently lives in a shared shack with seven other migrants.

He makes between N5000 and N8000 weekly and sends most of it to his family through a local transport operator who goes to Sokoto weekly. His wife and three children are in the village, but he would rather send them money than bring them to Lagos. According to him, “The life in Lagos is too hard for women”.

Since he came to Lagos thirteen years ago, Aliu has never spent more than four months away from Sokoto at a time. He stays in Sokoto during the rainy season to farm rice, maize and guinea corn, and has travelled back home to vote every time since he came to Lagos.

 

The second category of migrants are those who have been displaced from their homesteads in Northern Nigeria by conflict, either Boko Haram insurgency or invasions by Fulani herdsmen. The crises have resulted in the violent destruction of many communities, with hundreds of thousands killed and many more forced to flee. With many who initially settled in camps for Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) dissatisfied with camp conditions, the burden of protracted displacement is now spurring a new wave of IDP migration to urban areas. Even though empirical data on the exact number of displaced persons migrating out of camps to cities is difficult to ascertain, it is obvious that this category of migrants are negotiating their access to the city and its resources in circumstances quite different from those of other categories of migrants.

IDPs as the emerging migrant class in Lagos 

According to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, two of every three internally displaced persons globally are now living in cities. Evidence from Nigeria suggests that many IDPs are migrating to urban areas in search of relative safety and resettlement opportunities, with Lagos estimated to host the highest number of independent IDP migrants in the country. In moving to Lagos, IDPs are shaping the city in a number of ways including appropriating public spaces and accelerating the formation of new settlements.

There are three government-supported IDP camps in the city, with anecdotal evidence pointing to about eighteen informal IDP shack communities across the city’s peri-urban axis. This correlates with studies from other cities that highlight how this category of habitations (as initial shelter solutions for self-settled IDPs) accelerate the formation of new urban informal settlements and spatial agglomerations of poverty and vulnerability.

While people from Nigeria’s hinterland continue to arrive in the city in droves, the wave of West African in-migration has ebbed significantly.

IDPs in Lagos move around a lot. Adamu, who currently lives in Owode Mango—a shack community near the Lagos Free Trade zone—and has been a victim of forced eviction four times said, “As they [government or land owners] get ready to demolish this place and render us homeless again, we will move to another area and live there until they catch up with us.”

In the last ten years, there has been an increase in the number of homeless people on the streets of Lagos—either living under bridges, in public parks or incomplete buildings. Many of them are IDPs who are new migrants, and unable to access the support necessary to ease their entry into the city’s established slums or government IDP camps. Marcus, who came from Adamawa State in 2017 and has been living under the Obalende Bridge for five years, said, “I am still managing, living under the bridge. I won’t do this forever, my life will not end like this under a bridge. I hope to one day return to my home and continue my life”.

Blending in or not: Urban integration strategies 

Urban integration can be a real challenge for IDP migrants. Whereas voluntary migrants are often perceived to be legal entrants to the city and so can lay claim to urban resources, the same cannot be said about IDPs. Despite being citizens, and despite Nigeria being a federation, IDPs do not have the same rights as other citizens in many Nigerian cities and constantly face stigmatisation and harassment, which reinforces their penchant for enclaving.

The lack of appropriate documentation and skillsets also denies migrants full entry into the socio-economic system. For example, Rebekah said: “I had my WAEC [Senior Secondary school leaving certificate] results and when Boko Haram burnt our village, our family lost everything including my certificates. But how can I continue my education when I have not been able to get it? I have to do handwork [informal labour] now”. IDP children make up a significant proportion of out-of-school children in Lagos as many are unable to get registered in school simply because of a lack of address.

Most IDPs survive by deploying social capital—especially ethnic and religious ties. IDP ethnic groupings are quite organized; most belong to an ethnic-affiliated group and consider this as particularly beneficial to their resettlement and sense of identity in Lagos. Adamu from Chibok said, “When I come to Lagos in 2017, I come straight to Eleko. My brother [kinsman] help me with house, and he buy food for my family. As I no get work, he teach me okada work wey he dey do.”

The crises have resulted in the violent destruction of many communities, with hundreds of thousands killed and many more forced to flee.

Interestingly, migration to the city can also be good for women as many who were hitherto unemployed due to cultural barriers are now able to work. Mary who fled Benue with her family due to farmer-herder clashes explained, “When we were at home [in Benue], I was assisting my husband with farming, but here in Lagos, I have my own small shop where I sell food. Now I have my own money and my own work.”

Need for targeted interventions for vulnerable Lagosians

“Survival of the fittest” is an everyday maxim in the city of Lagos. For migrants, this is especially true as they are not entitled to any form of structured support from the government. Self-settlement is therefore daunting, especially in light of systemic limiting factors.

Migrants are attracted to big cities based on perceived economic opportunities, and with limited integration, their survival strategies are inevitably changing the spatial configurations of Lagos. While the city government is actively promoting urban renewal, IDP enclaving is creating new slums. Therefore, addressing the contextualised needs of urban migrant groups is a sine qua non for inclusive and sustainable urban development.

“I am still managing, living under the bridge. I won’t do this forever, my life will not end like this under a bridge. I hope to one day return to my home and continue my life”.

There is an established protocol for supporting international refugees. However, the same cannot be said for IDPs who are Nigerian citizens. They do not enjoy structured support outside of camps, and we have seen that camps are not an effective long-term solution to displacement. There is a high rate of IDP mobility to cities like Lagos, which establishes the fact that cities are an integral part of the future of humanitarian crisis. Their current survival strategies are not necessarily harnessing the urban advantage, especially due to lack of official recognition and documentation. It is therefore imperative that humanitarian frameworks take into account the role of cities and also the peculiarities of IDP migrations to them.

Lagos remains a choice destination city and there is therefore need to pay more attention to understanding the patterns, processes and implications of migration into the city. The paucity of migration-related empirical data no doubt inhibits effective planning for economic and social development. Availability of disaggregated migration data will assist the state to develop targeted interventions for the various categories of vulnerable Lagosians.  Furthermore, targeted support for migrant groups must leverage existing social networks, especially the organised ethnic and religious groups that migrants lean on for entry into the city and for urban integration.

*All names used in this article are pseudonyms

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It’s a Nurses’ Market Out There, and Kenyans Are Going For It

Nurses are central to primary healthcare and unless Kenya makes investments in a well-trained, well supported and well-paid nursing workforce, nurses will continue to leave and the country is unlikely to achieve its Sustainable Development Goals in the area of health and wellbeing for all.

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It’s a Nurses’ Market Out There, and Kenyans Are Going For It
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Nancy* is planning to leave Kenya. She wants to go to the United States where the nursing pastures are supposedly greener. I first met Nancy when the country was in the throes of the COVID-19 pandemic that tested Kenya’s healthcare system to breaking point. She was one of a cohort of recently graduated nurses that were hastily recruited by the Ministry of Health and thrown in at the deep end of the pandemic. Nancy earns KSh41,000 net with no other benefits whatsoever, unlike her permanent and pensionable colleagues.

When the then Labour and Social Protection Cabinet Secretary Simon Chelugui announced in early September 2021 that the government would be sending 20,000 nurses to the United Kingdom to help address the nursing shortage in that country, Nancy saw her chance. But her hopes were dashed when she failed to raise the KSh90,000 she needed to prepare and sit for the English language and nursing exams that are mandatory for foreign-trained nurses. Nancy would also have needed to pay the Nursing Council of Kenya KSh12,000 for the verification of her documents, pay the Kenya Medical Training College she attended KSh1,000 in order to get her exam transcripts, and apply for a passport, the minimum cost of which is KSh4,550 excluding the administrative fee. Nancy says that, contrary to then Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe’s disputed claims that a majority of applicants to the programme had failed the English language test, most nurses simply could not afford the cost of applying.

Of the targeted 20,000 nurses, the first 19 left Kenya for the UK in June 2022. But even that paltry figure represents a significant loss for Kenya, a country where the ratio of practicing nurses to the population is 11.66 per 10,000. The WHO considers countries with less than 40 nurses and midwives for every 10,000 people to not have enough healthcare professionals. Nearly 60 per cent of all healthcare professionals (medical physicians, nursing staff, midwives, dentists, and pharmacists) in the world are nurses, making them by far the most prevalent professional category within the health workforce. Nurses offer a wide range of crucial public health and care services at all levels of healthcare facilities as well as within the community, frequently serving as the first and perhaps the only healthcare provider that people see.

Kenya had 59,901 nurses/midwives in 2018, rising to 63,580 in 2020. Yet in 2021, Kenya was proposing to send almost a third of them to the UK to “address a shortfall of 62,000 in that country”.

The growing shortage of nurses in the UK has been blamed on the government’s decision to abolish bursaries and maintenance grants for nursing students in 2016, leading to a significant drop in the number of those applying to train as nurses. Consequently, the annual number of graduate nurses plummeted, reaching the current low of 31 nurses per 100,000 people, below the European average of 36.6 and half as many as in countries like Romania (96), Albania (82) and Finland (82). Facing pressure to recruit 50,000 nurses amid collapsing services and closures of Accident & Emergency, maternity and chemotherapy units across the country, the UK government decided to once again cast its net overseas. Established in 1948, the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) has relied on foreign healthcare workers ever since staff from the Commonwealth were first brought in to nurse back to health a nation fresh out of the Second World War.

The UK government’s press release announcing the signing of the Bilateral Agreement with Kenya states that the two countries have committed  “to explore working together to build capacity in Kenya’s health workforce through managed exchange and training” and goes as far as to claim that “with around only 900 Kenyan staff currently in the NHS, the country has an ambition to be the ‘Philippines of Africa’ — with Filipino staff one of the highest represented overseas countries in the health service — due to the positive economic impact that well-managed migration can have on low to middle income countries.”

It is a dubious ambition, if indeed it has been expressed. The people of the Philippines do not appear to be benefiting from the supposed increase in capacity that the exchange and training is expected to bring. While 40,000 of their nurses worked in the UK’s National Health Service last year, back home, according to Filipino Senator Sonny Angara, “around 7 of 10 Filipinos die without ever seeing a health professional and the nurse to patient ratio in our hospitals remains high at 1:50 up to 1:802”.

Since 2003 when the UK and the government of the Philippines signed a Memorandum of Understanding on the recruitment of Filipino healthcare professionals, an export-led industry has grown around the training of nurses in the Philippines that has attracted the increased involvement of the private sector. More nursing institutions — that have in reality become migrant institutions — are training nurses specifically for the overseas market, with the result that skills are matched to Western diseases and illnesses, leaving the country critically short of healthcare personnel. Already, in 1999, Filipino doctors had started retraining as nurses and leaving the country in search of better pay.

It is difficult, then, to see how the Philippines is an example to emulate. Unless, of course, beneath the veneer of “partnership and collaboration in health”, lies the objective of exporting Kenyan nurses with increased diaspora remittances in mind – Kenyans in the UK sent KSh28.75 billion in the first nine months of 2022, or nearly half what the government has budgeted for the provision of universal health care to all Kenyans. If that is the case, how that care is to be provided without nurses is a complete mystery.

Already in 1999, Filipino doctors had started retraining as nurses and leaving the country in search of better pay.

For the UK, on the other hand, importing nurses trained in Kenya is a very profitable deal. Whereas the UK government “typically spends at least £26,000, and sometimes far more, on a single nurse training post”, it costs only £10,000 to £12,000 to recruit a nurse from overseas, an externalization of costs that commodifies nurses, treating them like goods to be bought and sold.

However, in agreeing to the terms of the trade in Kenyan nurses, the two governments are merely formalizing the reality that a shortage of nurses in high-income countries has been driving the migration of nurses from low-income countries for over two decades now. Along with Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa and Zimbabwe, Kenya is one of the top 20 countries of origin of foreign-born or foreign-trained nurses working in the countries of the OECD, of which the UK is a member state.

Faced with this reality, and in an attempt to regulate the migration of healthcare workers, the World Health Assembly adopted the WHO Global Code of Practice on the Recruitment of Health Personnel in May 2010. The code, the adherence to which is voluntary, “provides ethical principles applicable to the international recruitment of health personnel in a manner that strengthens the health systems of developing countries, countries with economies in transition and small island states.”

Article 5 of the code encourages recruiting countries to collaborate with the sending countries in the development and training of healthcare workers and discourages recruitment from developing countries facing acute shortages. Given the non-binding nature of the code, however, and “the severe global shortage of nurses”, resource-poor countries, which carry the greatest disease burden globally, will continue to lose nurses to affluent countries. Wealthy nations will inevitably continue luring from even the poorest countries nurses in search of better terms of employment and better opportunities for themselves and their families; Haiti is on the list of the top 20 countries supplying the OECD region.

“Member States should discourage active recruitment of health personnel from developing countries facing critical shortages of health workers.”

Indeed, an empirical evaluation of the code four years after its adoption found that the recruitment of health workers has not undergone any substantial policy or regulatory changes as a direct result of its introduction. Countries had no incentive to apply the code and given that it was non-binding, conflicting domestic healthcare concerns were given the priority.

The UK’s Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has developed its own code of practice under which the country is no longer recruiting nurses from countries that the WHO recognizes as facing health workforce challenges. Kenya was placed on the UK code’s amber list on 11 November 2021, and active recruitment of health workers to the UK was stopped “with immediate effect” unless employers had already made conditional offers to nurses from Kenya on or before that date. Presumably, the Kenyan nurses who left for the UK in June 2022 fall into this category.

In explaining its decision, the DHSC states that “while Kenya is not on the WHO Health Workforce Support & Safeguards List, it remains a country with significant health workforce challenges. Adding Kenya to the amber list in the Code will protect Kenya from unmanaged international recruitment which could exacerbate existing health and social care workforce shortages.”

The WHO clarifies that nothing in its Code of Practice should be interpreted as curtailing the freedom of health workers to move to countries that are willing to allow them in and offer them employment. So, even as the UK suspends the recruitment of Kenyan nurses, they will continue to find opportunities abroad as long as Western countries continue to face nurse shortages. Kenyan nurses will go to the US where 203,000 nurses will be needed each year up to 2026, and to Australia where the supply of nursing school graduates is in decline, and to Canada where the shortage is expected to reach 117,600 by 2030, and to the Republic of Ireland which is now totally dependent on nurses recruited from overseas and where working conditions have been described as “horrendous”.

“Adding Kenya to the amber list in the Code will protect Kenya from unmanaged international recruitment which could exacerbate existing health and social care workforce shortages.”

Like hundreds of other Kenyan-trained nurses then, Nancy will take her skills overseas. She has found a recruitment agency through which to apply for a position abroad and is saving money towards the cost. She is not seeking to move to the UK, however; Nancy has been doing her research and has concluded that the United States is a much better destination given the more competitive salaries compared to the UK where nurses have voted to go strike over pay and working conditions. When she finally gets to the US, Nancy will join Diana*, a member of the over 90,000-strong Kenyan diaspora, more than one in four of whom are in the nursing profession.

Now in her early 50s, Diana had worked for one of the largest and oldest private hospitals in Nairobi for more than 20 years before moving to the US in 2017. She had on a whim presented her training certificates to a visiting recruitment agency that had set up shop in one of Nairobi’s high-end hotels and had been shortlisted. There followed a lengthy verification process for which the recruiting agency paid all the costs, requiring Diana to only sign a contract binding her to her future US employer for a period of two years once she had passed the vetting process.

Speaking from her home in Virginia last week, Diana told me that working as a nurse in the US “is not a bed of roses”, that although the position is well paying, it comes with a lot of stress. “The nurse-to-patient ratio is too high and the job is all about ticking boxes and finishing tasks, with no time for the patients,” she says, adding that in such an environment fatal mistakes are easily made. Like the sword of Damocles, the threat of losing her nursing licence hangs over Diana’s head every day that she takes up her position at the nursing station.

“The nurse-to-patient ratio is too high and the job is all about ticking boxes and finishing tasks, with no time for the patients.”

Starting out as an Enrolled Nurse in rural Kenya, Diana had over the years improved her skills, graduating as a Registered Nurse before acquiring a Batchelor of Science in Nursing from a top private university in Kenya, the tuition for which was partially covered by her employer.

Once in the US, however, her 20 years of experience counted for nothing and she was employed on the same footing as a new graduate nurse, as is the case for all overseas nurses moving to the US to work. Diana says that, on balance, she would have been better off had she remained at her old job in Kenya where the care is better, the opportunities for professional growth are greater and the work environment well controlled. But like many who have gone before her, Diana is not likely to be returning to Kenya any time soon.

*Names have been changed.

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