South Africa is leading a number of African countries in opposing Israel’s admission as an observer in the African Union. At a bilateral meeting on 8 October 2021, South Africa’s International Relations and Cooperation Minister, Naledi Pandor, and Palestinian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Riad Malki, agreed that Israel’s observer status at the African Union should be rescinded.
“There can be no justification for AU chairperson granting observer status to Israel. The decision was totally inexplicable and we will continue to argue that the decision should be rescinded,’’ Pandor said in the capital Pretoria. South Africa is backed by Namibia, Botswana, Tunisia, Eritrea, Senegal, Tanzania, Niger, the Comoro Islands, Gabon, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Liberia, Algeria and Seychelles.
In an interview with CNN on 27 September 2021, Minister Pandor said all countries associated with the AU must reflect the co-values and principles of its charter. “They must be anti-colonial, they should not be occupiers of anyone’s land, they should not be oppressive in denial of human rights and democratic practice. All these principles in the charter are not reflected in Israel’s relations with the people of Palestine,” Pandor said.
Israel’s occupation of parts of Palestinian territory has been at the centre of a protracted conflict. On 2 August 2021, Israel’s Supreme Court ruled that Palestinians may continue living in their houses in Sheikh Jarrah, a disputed area of East Jerusalem, as “protected tenants” but they must pay an annual fee of NIS1,500 (about KSh51,500) to the Nahalat Shimon Company per home. This would mean that they accept the property effectively belongs to Nahalat Shimon, a Jewish settlement company, according to the Indian Express.
While the ruling was seen as a compromise to forestall evictions from the Palestinian neighbourhood in East Jerusalem, the Palestinians have not welcomed it. They argue that the court judgment ignores their own claims to the property.
The ownership of Jerusalem has been at the core of the conflict for decades and the families that were under threat of eviction — which triggered the 11-day bombardment in May 2021 — have been living in Sheikh Jarrah since 1950, after they were forced to flee territories affected by the declaration of the establishment of the state of Israel. The would-be settlers cite an Israeli law that allows Jews to reclaim ownership of property lost before 1948.
So, what happened?
The State of Israel was proclaimed by David Ben-Gurion, the head of the Jewish Agency, on 14 May 1948. On the same day, US President Harry Truman, a close ally of Israel, recognized the new nation. This marked the start of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
How did this happen?
Formation of the Jewish state
In 135CE, the Roman Empire evicted Jews from Jerusalem and renamed it Judea, later changed to Palestine to dissociate the Jews from the land. As a result, Jews were scattered across Europe and persecuted wherever they went as they were considered the killers of Jesus Christ. The persecution continued well into the 19th Century when they came together under Zionism to protect themselves and their identity.
Encyclopaedia Britannica defines Zionism as a Jewish nationalist movement that had as its goal the creation and support of a Jewish national state in Palestine, the ancient homeland of the Jews. It has evolved to become a religious, political and ideological movement.
Zionism sought to stop the persecution of Jews and to push for their return to Palestine. “By 1903, at least 30,000 Jews had already re-established themselves inside Palestine. By 1914, 40,000 more Jews had returned and then the First World War started, the Ottoman Empire collapsed,” Palki Sharma of Wion News narrates.
The British took control of Palestine and as more Jews returned, tensions between them and the Arabs escalated, often resulting in violence, with each side playing victim. The British issued the Balfour Declaration in 1917 (which they would renounce in 1947), a statement that announced their support for the establishment of a “national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine.
The declaration came in the form of a letter from Britain’s then foreign secretary, Arthur Balfour, addressed to Lionel Walter Rothschild of the British Jewish community. The rise of Nazi Germany in the early 1930s worsened the situation, however, and left more than six million Jews dead in the Holocaust. Many sought refuge in neighbouring countries and in the US but were unwelcome. For instance, in June 1939, a ship carrying some 900 Jews to America was sent back to Europe because of “lack of necessary immigration documents”.
As the Jewish population in Palestine grew, around 1944, the West backed the establishment of a Jewish state. There had been earlier attempts, among them Ararat City in the US in 1820, the British Uganda Programme in 1903, the Jewish Autonomous Oblast in the former Soviet Union in 1928, the Madagascar Plan of 1940, the British Guiana plan in 1940 and the Ethiopia and Australia plans, all unsuccessful.
President Truman played a key role in the establishment of the State of Israel and this could explain the close relations between the US and Israel to date. Soon after taking office in April 1945, Truman appointed experts to study the Palestinian issue. According to the US Office of the Historian, in May 1946, Truman approved a recommendation to admit 100,000 displaced persons into Palestine and in October declared support for the creation of a Jewish state.
Partition of Palestine
The UN Special Commission on Palestine was established on 15 May 1947 following the UK’s request that the General Assembly make “recommendations under article 10 of the Charter, concerning the future government of Palestine”. This is after it renounced the Balfour Declaration of 1917.
Throughout 1947, UNSCOP examined the Palestinian question and recommended its partition into a Jewish and an Arab state. On 29 November 1947 the UN adopted Resolution 181 (also known as the Partition Resolution) that would divide Britain’s former Palestinian colony into Jewish and Arab states in May 1948, when the British mandate was scheduled to end.
President Truman played a key role in the establishment of the State of Israel and this could explain the close relations the US has with Israel to date.
The religious sites surrounding Jerusalem would remain a corpus separatum under international control administered by the UN. This meant that they had a special legal and political status without enjoying a sovereign, independent status.
Although the US backed Resolution 181, the Department of State recommended the creation of a UN trusteeship with limits on Jewish immigration and the division of Palestine into separate Jewish and Arab provinces but not states.
Truman ultimately decided to recognize the State of Israel despite the recommendation of the Department of State, which was based on fears of an increasing Soviet role in the Arab world, the potential for restriction of supplies to the US by Arab oil-producing nations, and the possibility of war in Palestine as Arab states threatened to attack almost as soon as the UN passed the partition resolution. The neighbouring Arab states declared they would prevent the creation of the Jewish state by all means and with that, a wave of violent attacks against Jews began.
When Israel declared independence on 14 May 1948, five Arab armies — Egypt, Transjordan (Jordan), Syria, Lebanon and Iraq — invaded Israel the same night, seeking to destroy it. Saudi Arabia and Yemen sent additional contingents. They maintained that the only solution to the problem of Palestine was the establishment of a unitary Palestinian state.
This became the Arab-Israeli War or the War of Independence for Israelis. At the end of the war in 1949, Egypt had control of the Gaza Strip and Jordan had annexed the West Bank.
More than 700,000 Palestinians were displaced from what is now Israel during what they call the Nakba, while at least 260,000 Jews in the Arab world were pushed into the new state. Israel lost about 6,000 people, 1 per cent of the population.
In December 1948, the UN General Assembly passed Resolution 194, establishing a UN Conciliation Commission to facilitate peace between Israel and the Arab states. It resolved that,
Refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property which, under principles of international law or equity, should be made good by the Governments or authorities responsible
Many of the articles of the resolution were not fulfilled as they were either opposed by Israel, rejected by the Arab states, or were overshadowed by war as the 1948 conflict continued.
The second Arab-Israeli war broke out on 29 October 1956 when Israel, Great Britain and France launched a joint attack against Egypt in an attempt to depose its leader, Gamal Abdel Nasser and regain control of the Suez Canal.
Why was Israel involved?
Since the establishment of the state of Israel, cargo shipments to and from Israel had been subject to Egyptian authorisation, search and seizure while passing through the Suez Canal. On 1 September 1951, UNSC Resolution 95 urged Egypt “To terminate the restrictions on the passage of international commercial ships and goods through the Suez Canal, wherever bound, and to cease all interference with such shipping.” This didn’t stop.
In 1954, President Nasser began sponsoring raids into Israel by Palestinian militias who often targeted civilians. Israel responded in kind. It was Nasser’s intention to gain recognition among the anti-Zionists as a way of establishing his leadership over the Arab world.
UNSCOP examined the Palestinian question and recommended its partition into a Jewish and an Arab state.
Then came the third Arab war or the Six-Day War of 1967 that involved Israel and Jordan, Syria, and Egypt. The conflict started over the Straits of Tiran, the sea passages between the Sinai and Arabian peninsulas that separate the Gulf of Aqaba from the Red Sea.
Israel had withdrawn from the second war on condition that the passages would remain open. However, in May 1967, a month before war broke out, Nasser announced that passage would be closed to Israeli vessels. Israel launched a series of airstrikes against Egyptian airfields on 5 June, initially claiming it was responding to Egyptian attacks but later admitting the airstrikes were “pre-emptive”.
Who started the war remains a matter of debate and controversy but Israel won, seizing the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula from Egypt, the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, from Jordan and the Golan Heights from Syria. This marked the beginning of Israeli occupation of these regions and between 280,000 to 325,000 Palestinians fled or were expelled from the West Bank. On 22 November 1967, “in an effort to secure a just and lasting peace”, the Security Council adopted Resolution 242 calling for Israel to withdraw from “territories occupied in the recent conflict,” the basis of all subsequent peace initiatives.
Israel accepted the resolution, with its UN Permanent Representative saying on 1 May 1968, “My government has indicated its acceptance of the Security Council resolution for the promotion of agreement on the establishment of a just and lasting peace. I am also authorized to reaffirm that we are willing to seek agreement with each Arab State on all matters included in that resolution.” But the occupation continues to date.
The resolution was the basis for negotiations that led to Israel’s peace treaties with Egypt (1979), Jordan (1994) and the 1993 and 1995 agreements with the Palestinians. Up until 1988, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), which represented Palestinians at the UN, continued to reject the resolution “because it lacked explicit references to Palestinians”.
Then came the Security Council Resolution 338 (1973), which called for a ceasefire in the Middle East during the 1973 Arab-Israeli War or the Yom Kippur War involving Israel, Egypt and Syria. Egypt’s objective was to seize control of the east bank of the Suez Canal and consequently negotiate the return of the rest of the Sinai.
The resolution called for a total ceasefire, the implementation of Resolution 242 in all of its parts immediately and concurrently with the ceasefire, and the start of negotiations with the aim of establishing a just and durable peace in the Middle East.
In 1974, the Arab League meeting in Tunisia declared the Palestine Liberation Organization as the legitimate representation of Palestinians based on Resolution 181. This was followed by the Camp David peace process or the Camp David Accords, signed between Egypt (President Anwar Sadat) and Israel (Prime Minister Menachem Begin) on 17 September 1978.
The Accords had three parts: (1) a process for Palestinian self-government in the West Bank and Gaza, (2) a framework for the conclusion of a peace treaty between Egypt and Israel, and (3) a similar framework for peace treaties between Israel and its other neighbours.
Prime Minister Begin and the Israeli Knesset (Parliament) agreed that a transitional self-governing Palestinian Authority be elected to replace the Israeli political and military forces in the Occupied Territories.
The second of these frameworks — Framework for the Conclusion of a Peace Treaty between Egypt and Israel — led directly to the 1979 Egypt–Israel peace treaty. The agreement, officially titled the “Framework for Peace in the Middle East”, won Sadat and Begin the Nobel Peace Prize in 1978.
More than 700,000 Palestinians were displaced from what is now Israel during what they call the Nakba.
However, the PLO rejected the Accords, as did its Arab friends. Egypt was ejected from the Arab League. The PLO objected to the lack of sovereignty and to the right of Israel to maintain Jewish neighbourhoods in East Jerusalem. The UN backed Palestine, saying the deal was a bilateral agreement between Israel and Egypt, without the participation of the PLO.
On 15 November 1998, the PLO declared the independence of Palestine with Yasser Arafat as the first President of the State of Palestine.
The next major development were the Oslo Accords signed by Israel and the PLO in 1993. They included provisions with regard to the West Bank and Gaza that were similar to those in the Camp David Accords. They also included a transitional period, an elected self-governing Palestinian Authority, withdrawal of the Israeli military government and redeployment of Israeli troops, the establishment of a local police force, and a plan to move ahead with negotiations on the final status of the Occupied Territories.
But they too collapsed.
Writing in The Atlantic, Einat Wilf, a former Israeli politician who served as a member of the Knesset for Independence and the Labor Party, observes that throughout the interim years of the Oslo Accords, Israeli settlement was allowed to continue unimpeded, with the number of settlers increasing from 110,000 on the eve of the Accords in 1993, to 185,000 in 2000 during the negotiations over a final status, to 430,000 today. “That increase seriously undermined the notion that Israel was sincere about making way for a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza,” she notes.
Einat, who worked with Yossi Beilin and Shimon Peres, and co-authored The War for Return with Adi Schwarz, adds that, meanwhile, Palestinian leaders continued to pursue what they referred to as the “Right of Return”, their demand that ever-growing numbers of Palestinians be allowed to settle within the territory of pre-1967 Israel, which would make Jews a minority in an Arab state.
There were nearly 3 million Palestinians registered with UNRWA as refugees in 1993, a number that increased to 3.8 million in 2000, and which stands at 5.3 million today. Palestinian leaders never dared face their people to tell them that as part of a final peace agreement, just as Jews would be expected to vacate their settlements east of the pre-1967 lines, Arab Palestinians would be expected to renounce their claim to settle west of those lines.
What doomed the Oslo Accords, she says, is also what made them possible in the first place: constructive ambiguity.
Einat recommends the two-state solution as the only option that recognizes the national rights of both peoples and provides a measure of justice to each. However, the approach needs to be different: “To get there, the parties need to approach the negotiations not as a marriage, but as a divorce”. “Serious peacemakers need to let go of vague and nebulous concepts such as ‘trust’ and ‘confidence building’, and behave more like harsh divorce attorneys who spell out every detail. In place of destructive ambiguity, we need constructive specificity.”
The UN backed Palestine, saying the deal was a bilateral agreement between Israel and Egypt, without the participation of the PLO.
Since then, there have been other attempts to broker a deal, among them the July 2000 Camp David Summit between US President Bill Clinton, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Yasser Arafat, president of the Palestinian National Authority,
The Summit collapsed after two weeks because of disagreements over territory, Jerusalem and the Temple Mount, refugees and Palestinian right of return, as well as security arrangements and settlements.
Palestine insisted on the implementation of Resolution 242, which calls for full Israeli withdrawal from the territories it captured in the Six-Day War, as part of a final peace settlement, maintaining, “There cannot be a compromise on a compromise”. This referred to the 78 per cent of the territory occupied by Israel and the 22 per cent that Palestine had been left with.
Who started the war remains a matter of debate and controversy but Israel won.
Israel had captured the Golan Heights, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula. With the exception of the Sinai, which Egypt regained as part of the 1979 Camp David Accords, Israel still holds all these territories and has indicated that it will not relinquish Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, thus contravening Resolution 242. Essentially, Palestine was pushing for a return to the 1967 borders, which Israel rejected saying that would endanger its security.
A major contention revolved around the final status of Jerusalem, which determined the fate of the talks. Another collapse. Palestinians demanded complete control over East Jerusalem and the holy sites of the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock. On the other hand, Israel proposed that the Palestinians be granted “custodianship” of the Temple Mount and not sovereignty. Palestine insisted that Israel had no right to maintain Jewish neighbourhoods in East Jerusalem.
It is, therefore, not surprising that the 11-day bombardment of Gaza by Israel in May and the rocket-firing were triggered by tensions around the Temple Mount or the Al-Aqsa Mosque. It boils down to the Israeli occupation of Gaza and the West Bank where, according to a Human Rights Watch report, Israeli authorities methodically privilege Israeli Jews and discriminate against Palestinians.
In a past interview with this writer, the Ambassador of Palestine to Kenya, Hazem Shabat, accused Israel of provoking East Jerusalem. “Israel is evicting people from Sheikh Jarrah, East Jerusalem, who had been living in their houses for over a century on the basis that there is suspicion that these plots or areas once belonged to a Jewish organization in 1870, which is preceding the existence of Israel by almost half a century,” Shabat said in May.
Shabat noted that the evictions failed to recognize that the people who were living there were driven out of their homes in other cities of what is now Israel, where they left houses and stretches of land they had owned before they took refuge in Jerusalem.
At the time, Oded Joseph, Israel’s ambassador to Kenya, admitted to an ownership row over the properties and said the matter was in court.
When provoked, Hamas, a militant group that controls Gaza, has often resorted to violence. The conviction that the conflict can only be solved violently, Ambassador Shabat says, is because after 30 years of negotiating with Israel, the situation has “deteriorated beyond redemption, beyond salvation”. “How come I have been negotiating for 30 years, accepting all international parameters? We had the Mitchell plan, we had the Tentative plan, we had the Roadmap, we had to have the international quartet overseeing the peace process. All which I have collaborated with, and fulfilled commitments but still the result is zero,” says Shabat, adding, “And when the peace process started, there were 200,000 settlers in the West Bank and Jerusalem. Today, as we speak, there are more than 700,000.”
“So basically, the signal that is given is that these negotiations or the political cause will not yield any results. And by doing so we’re just prolonging the misery of the Palestinian people as Israel only understands the language of power. And this is how we should speak to Israel,” Shabat says.
For honest negotiations, he says, the international community has the duty to force Israel into compliance with international law just as it does with any other country that breaks it.
This includes UN resolutions, including Resolution 242 that calls for the withdrawal of Israeli forces from the Occupied Territories and respect for territorial integrity.
What doomed the Oslo Accords is also what made them possible in the first place: constructive ambiguity.
Despite the blame game between the two envoys, which is essentially a reflection of the positions of their respective governments, they do have a common position — that the solution lies in honest negotiations.
Ambassador Oded says the solution is to go back to the negotiating table and reach a deal that allows Palestine and Israel to live side by side in dignity. But he argues this has not been possible because “the Palestine Authority has no control of the talks as Hamas has taken over”.
In all this, there is the significant influence of the various external forces in the Arab world and in the West who are remote-controlling the positions held. Given the various interests, and the fears and the mistrust between Israel and Palestine, a solution seems out of reach.
In May 2014, for instance, Martin Indyk, US Special Envoy for Israeli-Palestinian Negotiations, blamed the construction of Jewish settlements for the breakdown of peace-making with the Palestinians. Indyk said neither side had “the stomach to make the necessary compromises”, but singled out settlement-building on occupied territory as a particular obstacle. Israel fired back, accusing Indyk of hypocrisy, saying he had known construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem would continue during the discussions.
Palestinians continue to be on the receiving end.
In a report titled A Threshold Crossed: Israel Authorities and the Crimes of Apartheid and Persecution released in April, Human Rights Watch accused Israel of apartheid in the Occupied Territories. A summary of the reports reads in part,
Several widely held assumptions, including that the occupation is temporary, that the “peace process” will soon bring an end to Israeli abuses, that Palestinians have meaningful control over their lives in the West Bank and Gaza, and that Israel is an egalitarian democracy inside its borders, have obscured the reality of Israel’s entrenched discriminatory rule over Palestinians.
Human Rights Watch said that laws, policies, and statements by leading Israeli officials make plain that the objective of maintaining Jewish Israeli control over demographics, political power, and land has long guided government policy.
In pursuit of this goal, authorities have dispossessed, confined, forcibly separated, and subjugated Palestinians by virtue of their identity to varying degrees of intensity. In certain areas, as described in this report, these deprivations are so severe that they amount to the crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution.
This was not the first time such claims were being made.
In March 2017, the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia published a report accusing Israel of imposing an “apartheid regime” of racial discrimination on the Palestinian people. It was the first time a UN agency had publicly made the accusation, said ESCWA Executive Secretary Rima Khalaf, a Jordan national.
Israel likened the report to Der Stürmer, an anti-Semitic Nazi propaganda publication. This remains Israel’s position. Ambassador Oded described the report as bad propaganda that should not be bought.
In a 2005 study, The Future of Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, the US Institute of Peace blamed the Israeli political system, saying it has become a serious obstacle to a solution. “Any likely governing coalition in the coming years will probably be unable to sustain more than a partial peace process before collapsing under the weight of internal coalition contradictions,” it said.
As predicted, things didn’t get any better under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s regime, going by the 2014 and 2021 bombardments, and according to experts, the new government will not be any different.
Palestine was pushing for a return to the 1967 borders, which Israel rejected saying that would endanger its security.
Writing for The Conversation, Ian Parmeter, Research Scholar at the Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies of the Australian National University, says the new government has “strange bedfellows”.
The eight parties in the coalition range from the right-wing nationalist Yamina party to social-democratic Labor and left-wing Meretz. And for the first time in Israeli history, the coalition includes an Arab-Israeli party, Ra’am, whose four Knesset (parliament) seats enable the coalition to reach a majority. Another oddity of the new government is that Yamina leader Naftali Bennett will have the first two-year turn of a rotating four-year prime ministership with Ya’ir Lapid, leader of centrist party Yesh Atid,” he writes.
The coalition’s fragile make-up will almost certainly eschew initiatives to advance negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority for a two-state solution as Bennett is in some ways more right-wing than Netanyahu.
Natan Sachs, Director of the Brookings Institution Center for Middle East Policy, corroborates this in a Twitter thread, ”Bennett is very (very) right-wing on the Palestinian issue. Much more so than Bibi . . . Bennett is ideologically opposed to a two-state solution.”
The continued occupation, the blame games, the domestic politics, the religious positions and the global politics paint a very grim picture of an unending conflict.
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‘Teach and Go Home’: Kenya’s Teachers Service Commission and the Terrors of Bureaucracy
The TSC has no mandate, and no qualification, to be peeping into classrooms and making pedagogical decisions. The litany of bureaucracy that it imposes on teachers must be abolished.
On the afternoon of Friday, 12 November, Martha Omollo, a teacher in Nairobi County, was called to her school and served with a letter from the Teachers Service Commission, the government employer of teachers in public schools. The letter, which was dated that day, informed her that she had been transferred to a school in Trans Nzoia County, 400 kilometres away, and that she was to report ready to teach the following Monday, 15th November.
Earlier in the week, Omollo had been the spokesperson of the Teachers’ Pressure Group, which had called into question the loyalty of the union leaders to its members, and the opaque health insurance scheme into which teachers pay through involuntary salary deductions. Shortly after the press conference, Omollo received a call from the TSC Nairobi County office warning her not to publicly discuss issues facing teachers.
The idea that a teacher can pack her bags in the middle of the term and move 400 km away, ready to teach in three days, is nothing short of cruel. The move clearly disregards human nature, and the fact that teaching is, by its very essence, a profession of relationship. Teachers cannot take care of students’ minds and wellbeing when they themselves are anxious about their own wellbeing, and worse, when they are denied the freedom of thought and speech. The transfer communicates that the TSC does not care, and worse, it callously turns one teacher into a warning to other teachers.
Similar treatment of a teacher was witnessed in April this year. The media reported about a teacher, Magdalene Kimani, who trekked to a school 20km away for a number of days to administer national examinations. In reaction to this fairly innocent report, the county education office sent her a “show cause” letter, yet the report was initiated by the media rather than the other way round. The education officials were heartless to ignore the teacher’s 20km trek and then issue a threatening letter to her.
These two cases are just a microcosm of the harassment that Kenyan teachers endure under the TSC. For instance, the TSC has carried out massive transfers of teachers away from their home areas in a procedure called “delocalization”. In her appearance before the Senate, Nancy Macharia, the CEO of the TSC, justified the initiative affecting thousands of teachers as a move to encourage “national cohesion”. It is amazing that one can think that cohesion comes from displacing teachers, disrupting their families, and showing no care about what worried teachers mean for students. To make such moves that increase teachers’ anxiety during school unrest is insensitive and a symptom of bureaucratic hubris.
It should not surprise Kenyans, therefore, that this callousness is bound to show up in the schools and public spaces. Senior government officials display an amazing lack of emotional intelligence and sensitivity to ordinary professionals, and a seeming ignorance of the harm that their actions against juniors imply for the larger public. Teachers who are anxious and who feel disrespected cannot treat children with dignity and respond to the extra-ordinary circumstances of the children under their care. To expect otherwise, as the TSC seems to do, is the definition of either hubris or inhumanity.
Take, for instance, the forms that teachers have to fill in regularly. According to the TSC, teachers have to fill in 18 forms, but teachers say that the forms are more than that. The ludicrous CBC promise of paying attention to individual learners has meant that teachers fill in forms detailing the special learners in their class, the nature of the learners’ challenges, and the remedies that the teachers have taken to address those challenges. Teachers are also expected to file reports on how they have covered what KICD calls “strands” and “subs-strands”. Now that this is assessment season, teachers are also required by the Kenya National Examinations Council to assess students conducting group activities, but the assessments require the teacher to grade each individual student along six or seven measurements. This means that for one subject taught to one class of sixty students, a teacher is filling in 60 rows x 7 columns.
Senior government officials display an amazing lack of emotional intelligence and sensitivity to ordinary professionals.
The problem with this work is not simply the amount. It’s that the work is demeaning. Teachers are filling in paperwork about teaching rather than doing the actual teaching. In the language of the anthropologist David Graeber, this is the “bullshitization” of work caused by an increase in bureaucrats with nothing to do but supervise others. The point of these forms is not to improve teaching and learning, as the bureaucrats have deluded themselves. The point is control by people who spend their days in offices and do not understand the beauty and mystery of the human connection between teachers and children, nor the fact that that beauty and mystery cannot be translated into numerical measurements. By some perverse psychology, Graeber explains, work in the neoliberal era has meant an exponential increase in administrators who subsequently use bureaucratic tools to terrorize the people doing the actual work.
I do not use the word “terrorize” lightly. The word has been used by education scholars in their assessments of performance appraisal for teachers, including by the eminent British education sociologist Stephen J. Ball, in his well-cited journal article The Teacher’s Soul and the Terrors of Performativity. The nature of terror is to plant shame and fear in the individual, make the individual feel isolated and therefore incapable of changing anything about their condition. Terror is also characterized by a lack of predictability. And because the system is always incoherent and inconsistent, teachers can never tell where the attack will come from. No matter what the teacher does, the teacher is never good enough.
One teacher told me that with TPAD, teachers are told to rate themselves but not too much, and then punished for not achieving 100 per cent performance. The teacher put it this way: “During the introduction of TPAD, we were directed that we should not rate ourselves more than 80 per cent even when you know you have met the ‘targets’. During the recent interviews, those without evidence of it were disqualified.”
The point is control by people who spend their days in offices and do not understand the beauty and mystery of the human connection between teachers and children.
Another tragically hilarious story was recounted in a letter to the editor of the Nation newspaper some years back. The letter, titled “TSC should listen to teachers’ voice on appraisal row”, read:
Back in 2010, quality assurance and standards personnel from the Ministry of Education visited the school I was teaching in then.
As a routine, they demanded to inspect teachers’ ‘tools of trade’, as they called them. These included schemes of work, records of work books, lesson notes and lesson plans and files containing learners’ progress reports, amongst many others. We complied. Only one member of staff had all these. The rest of us, in a staff of 27, including the principal, had one or more documents missing.
After perusal, we were given a lengthy lecture on how ‘lazy’ we had become, and that only one of us merited a recognition in a public forum, notably, the school’s Annual General Meeting, and that the institution would be posting better results were we to emulate our colleague.
After the exit of the QASO personnel, the entire staffroom burst into laughter. Months later, the teacher in question was transferred following complaints from parents and learners over his below par delivery and alcoholism.
This is an egregious story of how bureaucrats confuse measures and tools of work with the actual work itself. Humiliating teachers for not having submitted complete records is similar to judging a carpenter’s work not by the furniture but by the carpenter’s hammer. For the teacher, part of the torture of performance appraisal comes from the consciousness that the work that one is doing is barely a reflection of the real work of teaching. As the story shows, a teacher actually teaching in the classroom is unlikely to achieve perfect record keeping, and yet, it is the lack of record keeping that is used to judge the teacher as lax and incompetent.
As Ball explains, the goal of teacher appraisals is not the improvement of teaching, as education bureaucrats claim. The real goal is to capture the teacher’s soul. The demand for performativity seeks to change not what teachers do, but who the teachers are. It is a vicious power grab aimed at denying teachers the ability to make judgements based on their professional opinion, and at making the bureaucrats and managers, rather than the children in their classrooms, the main focus of teaching. This obsession is so acute in the TSC, that as the latest wave of school fires began a few weeks ago, teachers were simultaneously receiving text messages from their employer reminding them to meet the deadlines for their appraisals. In other words, our children are not a priority for the education bureaucrats. It is for this reason that many teachers have adopted the “teach and go home” philosophy. It even has an acronym: TAGH.
The common sense of cruelty
How is this cruelty so easily enforced without public resistance?
Part of what makes appraisals so difficult to resist is that they sound like common sense. The argument of the managerialists and politicians in support of appraisals goes something like this: Public education is useless and is failing our children (the Kenyan version is that it produces incompetent graduates). The problem is the teachers. To improve our education and make teachers work better, teachers need to be policed with appraisals or performance contracts, where their performance is measured by a score.
This logic is devilishly convincing when one has no personal experience of teaching. I have been studying performance management in education for a decade, and to this day, I still struggle with explaining why the system is abusive. The common sense character comes from Anglo-American billionaires and politicians whose power and access to the media allows them to spread the narrative of truant and incompetent teachers who are overpaid by the state and protected by permanent and pensionable terms (called “tenure” in the US). Teachers in the US, UK and Australia, among other English-speaking countries have gallantly resisted this attack, but their struggle has been rendered longer and harder by the fact that politicians and billionaires have used the media to poison the public’s opinion of teachers.
The demand for performativity seeks to change not what teachers do, but who the teachers are.
The demonization of teachers is, in reality, an effort to end job security for teachers and replace it with appraisals, or what American conservatives call “teacher accountability”. To avoid the political mess of firing teachers en masse, these haters of teachers call for more measurement of teachers’ work. They also advocate for drastic measures like shaming and firing teachers, and closing schools that do not meet “standards”, standards that are solely determined by students’ examination scores. Appraisal management is a large-scale and sanitized form of “constructive dismissal”, which is the technical term for workplace bullying, where a worker is deliberately mistreated so that they can quit. The tactics are working, because many teachers tell me that they want to quit.
Microsoft seems to be preparing for such a scenario where the number of trained teachers will be so insufficient that technology will have to do the teachers’ work. Microsoft came on my radar when one teacher wrote to me that part of the TSC’s regime of form-filling includes teachers uploading their notes on Microsoft. It appears that when the president attended the Global Partners for Education conference in London in August 2021, one of the events was to sign a deal with Microsoft whose goal was vaguely defined as “to enable the best use of technology to dramatically enhance learning.”
The article gives no details of what Microsoft intends to do with those notes, but one can legitimately worry that the point is to eventually use those notes to create lessons for which Microsoft will charge Kenyans, and probably without honouring the copyright of teachers. If such is the case, then the teaching profession is essentially a plantation in which the TSC is the foreman that terrorizes teachers to extract materials for foreign companies to exploit.
There is yet another common sense narrative to make us accommodate this potential exploitation, and this narrative came with CBC. It is the narrative of “individual talent” and “personalized learning”. When Kenyans hear it, they think the discussion is about a human teacher giving loving and individual attention to each child, when in fact, the corporates are talking about children learning from tablets and without teachers.
This hatred for teachers is not about education. It’s a cruel contempt for society and especially for the poor whom, the rich think, do not deserve a good education, least of all at public expense. Others suggest that it comes from contempt for teachers as people with expertise, and as members of unions that are still standing up against the casualization of labour. Rev. William J. Barber also mentioned another logic of this attack: “The reason they want to privatize education is because a lot of people who are greedy know that they can’t make as much money out in other markets now. So they want to come in and siphon off money from the government for their own personal pockets. Some of them don’t hate government; they just hate government money going to anybody but them.”
Whatever the case, the war against teachers and public education, which has a peculiarly Anglo-American character, is a war that has been waged against Kenyan public school teachers since 2010, led by the current president who was Finance Minister and Acting Education Minister then, and with the help of the British Government. As Nimi Hoffman details in her article, the DfID engaged British academics who used unethical means to push for a project that undermined teachers’ unions through hiring contract teachers on low pay. The project was piloted in Kakamega County and was rigorously resisted by the teachers’ unions.
It is for this reason that many teachers have adopted the philosophy of “teach and go home”.
The relentless effort to casualize teaching continued in April 2015, when the TSC announced the replacement of the punitive performance management system with a more “encouraging” appraisal system. The pilot project was funded by the World Bank, and the British Council funded the implementation of appraisals. To anticipate the resistance of the union officials, the then TSC chief executive officer Gabriel Lengoiboni reminded them that they had implicitly accepted the project when they participated in the benchmarking trip to Britain in 2014.
Education policy in Africa has largely been influenced in this way. Foreign governments offer trips abroad for teachers, and the familiarity disempowers teachers from questioning or opposing the policy being subtly pushed through this informal networking. Even the Bologna Process, largely responsible for the bureaucratization of Kenyan higher education, was entrenched through sponsored trips to Europe for African vice-chancellors and senior academics.
Truth is exposure
The way to end this intricate system of decadence in the school system is through public exposure. But education leaders in Kenya are notoriously secretive, fanatically hostile to self-examination and ironically, steadfastly resistant to public interrogation. Learning institutions muzzle teaching professionals despite academic freedom being guaranteed by the constitution. The Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development replaced the education system with competency but avoided any debate in the media about their choice. The TSC terrorizes teachers in the shadows and punishes teachers for any publicity in the media. In the universities, public debate is discouraged through an insidious rebuke of disagreement as “attacking people personally” and with calls for intervention from a third party to lead in reconciliation. Being a teacher in Kenya’s colonial school system is like living in a bad version of the movie “Stepford Wives”, where people are supposed to ignore reality and humanity and live in a fictional utopia.
There is little difference between this scenario and witchcraft. The defining characteristic of witchcraft is that actions happen in the shadows, supposedly with no human actors, as if brought about by the wind, with nobody to hold accountable. There is no one to name, no one to be held responsible. Education institutions maintain a stoic silence in the delusion that because education bureaucrats have blocked their ears and cannot hear alternative voices and visions of education, those alternatives do not exist.
The demonization of teachers is, in reality, an effort to end job security for teachers and replace it with appraisals, or what American conservatives call “teacher accountability”.
This is why we need a Truth and Justice Commission for education. We need a public forum where Kenyans are forced to hear all the participants in education, especially those who are the most vulnerable. It is time for Kenyans to stop listening to the disjointed stories of the media, the propaganda of the private sector, and the silence of educational institutions, and to construct for themselves a complete story that connects the dots between the brutality suffered by our children, the terror experienced by teachers, the deaf ears of education bureaucrats and the sadism of the Kenyan public. Our faith in the colonial education system is a national delusion that can only be cured by the truth.
In the immediate, TPAD and the litany of bureaucracy which the TSC imposes on teachers needs to be abolished. The TSC has no mandate, and no qualification, to be peeping into the classrooms and making pedagogical decisions. Despite its “Commission”, tag the TSC’s role is mainly human resource clerical work. If the TSC officers want to enjoy the dignity of teaching, they are welcome to join us in the classroom. As they know, there are not enough teachers, and moving with their salaries to the classroom would save the country some money for hiring teachers. Likewise, the yearly assessments of the Kenya National Examination Council need to be done away with. With the introduction of CBC, the KICD promised Kenyans the end of exam obsession. It is ridiculous that CBC is now increasing yearly assessments all the way down to primary school. And Martha Omollo’s transfer should be reversed. The remedial measures should be guided by this simple principle: our children deserve to be taught by adults who are free in thinking, creative in teaching, and caring in interaction.
Prebendal Politics and Transition to Democracy in Somalia
The Somali political space is a marketplace that does not allow for free and fair elections and diminishes the credibility and legitimacy of the electoral process, hindering the emergence of democracy in Somalia.
Government should belong to the people, be for the people and by the people. This is the democratic ideal borne out of man’s innate desire for good governance, societal stability, and development. Credible elections are the hub around which the practice of ideal and sustainable democracy revolves.
As such, it is closely tied to the growth and development of democratic political order. To realise this democratic ideal, however, electing people to participate in government should be freely and fairly done to allow for the right choice of the electorates to emerge. The elections process is the only means of guaranteeing the credibility and sanctity of democratic practice. The election becomes a crucial point in the continuum of democratisation and an imperative means of giving voice to the people’s will, which is the basis of government authority.
Fundamentally, democratic development involves the practice and sustainability of regular, credible electoral conducts and processes. In fact, one of the cardinal features of democratic practice is the conduct of credible, free and fair elections. Therefore, the cardinal issue in a democratic polity could viewed as the method of selecting people who govern at any point in time.
Conducting elections in fragile countries like Somalia cannot be an easy task by any yardstick. Conducting free and fair elections in such a polity, that gives the victor free reign to grab resources, is a much more difficult assignment the success of which even angels cannot guarantee. This is in large part because of the insecurity, political infighting amongst the elites, endemic corruption and the threat from Al-Shabaab. The militant group has historically made it difficult to hold elections in Somalia by threatening to attack polling places.
To minimize concerns about Al-Shabaab disrupting elections, Somali political leaders and their international allies have supported a narrow voting process based on a power-sharing formula between clans, rather than a popular vote (universal suffrage is still a distant dream for the country) and adopted the electoral college model. In the model, elders are selected from across the diverse clans and they, in turn, nominate or elect parliamentarians, who in turn elect the president. Initially, one elder from each clan picked one member of parliament (MP), but this has now changed to an electoral college system. In this system, each clan still appoints one member of parliament, but instead of one person deciding, each clan picks 51 of its members to vote for that clan’s one representative in the lower house of parliament as happened in 2016/17 indirect election.
Since early 2000, Somalia has had four indirect national elections and witnessed a peaceful transfer of power from one civilian to another. In 2012, 135 traditional clan elders elected members of parliament, who in turn elected their speakers and the federal president. In 2016, elections were conducted in one location in each federal member state. The 135 traditional clan elders also selected the members of the 275 electoral colleges made up of 51 delegates per seat, constituting the total college of 14,025. On the other hand, the senate (upper house) members were nominated by the federal member state presidents, while the federal member state parliament selected the final members of the upper house.
The ongoing (2020/21) election mirrors the 2016 exercise but has expanded the number of delegates involved in the lower house (electoral collegeElectoral College) from 51 to 101 delegates. This expansion raised the number of participants in the lower house election from 14,025 to 27,775—a notable growth in suffrage. Furthermore, the September 2020 agreement increased the number of voting centres per member state from one to two. It also established federal and state election commissions to oversee the polls. However, elections in Somalia have lacked the basic ingredients of democratic elections as most Somalis are not included in the voting. The elections have also been characterised by pervasive corruption and widespread electoral fraud.
It is common knowledge in Somalia that running in an election and winning requires not only political clout but also a lot of money. An aspiring politician needs the help of a well-heeled or well-grounded politician or a money bag to bankroll their political campaign to see success in such an endeavour. This is mainly because taking political office in Somalia has come to be seen primarily as a means of enrichment and of gaining influence, and not as an opportunity to serve the people.
Somali elites and prospective parliamentarians receive campaign funding from both internal and external actors. External actors include neighbouring countries such as Kenya and Ethiopia, Gulf countries and Western allies. On the other hand, internally, the key powerbrokers are the elites who have captured states and regions, and particularly those who had mastered the art of obtaining contracts during the war; they have built business empires in the import/export sectors, construction and rebuilding, clearance and customs and are now playing a critical role in politics.
The cost of democracy
In the electoral collegeElectoral College system, the price of votes ranges from US$5,000 to US$30,000, with politics at the local and national levels recognised to have become increasingly monetised over time. Some candidates are said to have offered bribes of up to US$1.3 million to secure votes. Jeffrey Gentlemen reports that in 2012 former President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud gave several clan elders a US$5,000 bribe each to influence the choice of their clan’s representatives in Parliament.
The 2012 parliamentary and presidential elections that brought Hassan Sheikh to power had little legitimacy, and they were criticised as the most fraudulent in Somalia’s history. Hassan Sheikh was elected as President, backed by the Qatari Government with money brought to Mogadishu by Farah Abdulkadir (a former Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs), and business and political allies in Mogadishu. The various processes and elections to put together the leadership of the federal member states were also marred by high levels of corruption and intimidation.
Taking political office in Somalia has come to be seen primarily as a means of enrichment and of gaining influence, and not as an opportunity to serve the people.
The 2016/17 federal election involved a significant amount of money. Farmaajo’s win surprised most observers, and Somali analysts estimate that at least US$20 million changed hands during the parliamentary elections that culminated in the presidential election. Farmaajo’s supporters had hoped that he could be the answer to corruption and extremism in Somalia, but he too succumbed to corruption. He is believed to have influenced elections in the federal member states using money and coercion. During Farmaajo’s time in office corruption worsened and security deteriorated.
Between 2017 and 2021, elections were held across the federal member states that optimised the defining features of prebend, the salience of clan identity, and the pervasive use of violence and money. In Puntland, incumbent President Said Abdullahi Dani narrowly won the election after carefully crafting an alliance of two clan-based interests, The Saleban Clans. An estimated US$15 million changed hands in the week before the election, with all candidates using money to buy support.
In Galmudug, FGS employed the Somalia National Army (SNA) and Ethiopian military support to restrict opposition figures and elders access to voting centres. The FGS was able to disarm Ahla Sunna Wal Jamma using financial incentives. Eventually, Ahmed Abdi Kaariye, also known as Qoor, won the election with the support of the federal government.
In the Hirshabelle election, the FGS spent more than US$1.2 million to secure the election of the Hirshabelle president. Former Al-Shabaab leader Mukhtar Robow was the running favourite in the South-West State elections. Robow is from an influential Leysan sub-clan (one of the largest in South-west State) with a loyal clan militia, and he was considered widely popular among the broader population. He reportedly refused a significant financial pay-off not to take part in the election and was duly arrested by Ethiopian forces acting on behalf of the federal government before the election itself.
The arrest of Mukhtar Robow and the blatant intervention of Ethiopian forces on behalf of the federal government led to a demonstration and a reported 15 deaths. A critical statement by Nicholas Haysom, Special Representative of the U.N. Secretary-General, in which he raised questions over allegations of abuses by forces loyal to the federal government saw him declared persona non grata.
The long-delayed parliamentary and presidential election was supposed to offer Somalis universal suffrage. However, given the security and logistical challenges of conducting an election in Somalia, as mentioned previously, Somalis opted for indirect election, and so far, the election of members of the senate has been concluded. It is commendable that the majority of senators have been elected by the FMS state legislature in accordance with the electoral model adopted on 17 September. However, the senate election was marred by foul play where FMS presidents and elites pre-determined the winners of every seat, contrary to the agreements and the national interest. The cases of corruption were widely reported; bribes were given to the state legislatures by aspiring senators and their sponsors, including federal and regional executives.
The election for the lower house has just started. Each of the 275 members of the lower house will be elected by an electoral college of 101 clan elders and civil society, determined through the collaboration of the FMS authorities, clan elders and civil society. Nonetheless, the lack of criteria by which the members of civil society and clan elders will be selected has created great concern among the public. It is widely believed that the federal member state presidents have the upper hand in the process, as they also play a role in determining clan elders and civil society. Corruption and vote buying are widespread in all regions; prospective parliamentarians are buying votes.
Abdi Malik Abdullahi tweeted, “2021 electoral process in Somalia is commercialised and sham.” On her part, Hodan Ali tweeted, “Somali politicians poised to spend 10s of millions of dollars on election rigging/buying while millions face killer drought conditions across the country.” Nadeef shared similar view. He noted, “I have realised that Somali leaders are not trying to fix any of our problems. They are trying to make enough money and get enough power so that problems that affect us don’t reach them.”
Given the foregoing, it is clear that taking political office is perceived more as a means to personal economic advancement. This, no doubt, intensifies the unhealthy rivalry and competition for political office that triggers corruption, election rigging, violent conflicts and even coups. In recent years, those seeking power have included prominent scholars coming from all corners of the world to seek elective office on the strength of the size of their pocket. Indeed, the Somali political space is a marketplace that does not allow for free and fair elections and diminishes the credibility and legitimacy of the electoral process, hindering the emergence of democracy in Somalia.
In both Somalia and the West, these influences are believed to be coming from five or six Middle Eastern and African countries with various interests in Somalia. These countries include Turkey, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Ethiopia, Kenya, Egypt, and Sudan. They have been increasingly involved in providing the political elites with campaign money to secure their specific objectives such as access to oil, port and airport development projects, and other business opportunities. Turkey has financial and infrastructure interests in Somalia, including significant investment in the Mogadishu airport. Qatar is a supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood and wishes to see its regional influence expand in East Africa. The United Arab Emirates opposes the Muslim Brotherhood, and may therefore be acting to counteract Qatari influence in East Africa.
Corruption and vote buying are widespread in all regions; prospective parliamentarians are buying votes.
The Gulf crisis has made Somalia a proxy ground for strategic rivalries across the wider region. Qatar and Turkey have supported the last two presidents. Under Farmaajo’s presidency, the UAE supported federal member states and their oppositions, enhancing the bargaining power of federal member state elites in the political marketplace. The UAE is reported to have made payments to parliamentarians and has directed considerable investment towards Puntland, Somaliland and Galmudug. The UAE has also maintained its corporate interests in port development and strategic infrastructure in Berbera, Bossaso and Hobyo.
On the other hand, maritime disputes between Kenya and Somalia have raised Kenya’s involvement profile. FGS has accused Kenya of supporting Jubaland president Ahmed Madobe against the federal government. Ethiopia remains one of the most influential actors in Somalia and since the election of Abiy Ahmed in 2018, the country has taken a much stronger position in supporting the federal government.
Internal actors including clan elders, political entrepreneurs, conglomerates and technocrats are entangled in a web of political clientelism, kickbacks and redistribution, and debt relations. The federal formula has shaped elite political competition around access to external rents in Somalia.
In recent years, those seeking power have included prominent scholars coming from all corners of the world to seek elective office on the strength of the size of their pocket.
These actors use territorial control, access to strategic infrastructure and foreign exchange to protect their ill-gotten assets and to secure new opportunities. These businesses cope with containing cost and risk by stashing wealth abroad and by avoiding growth to circumvent the attention of governance providers and armed actors who may wish to extract or take a stake in an expanding business.
Consequences of state capture by elites and external actors
The consequences of corruption will be far-reaching. Donors will expect to call the shots after an election. This will constitute a cog in the wheel of progress of such a political entity, with outside forces dictating the direction politics and development will take. It may become difficult for the Somali government to act in the interests of the Somali people rather than those of foreign capital since the occupants of political office will owe allegiance to the money bag (the godfather) rather than the state.
It has become increasingly clear that the main incentive for joining politics in Somalia has become prebendal as the issues of democratic ideals and political ideology are relegated to the background. Ideally, ideology serves as a guide to an individual politician and to a political party’s development initiatives, policies, programmes and actions. This is because a political leadership that emerges without ideology will lack development focus and discipline and not be subject to the rule of law.
Agricultural Productivity as Performance: A Tale of Two Mozambican Corridors
Agricultural corridors in Mozambique emerge when international funders and investors, national elites, local bureaucrats and smallholder farmers overstate the success of agricultural projects.
In what is now remembered as the Great Leap Forward, 15 to 55 million people died of starvation in Mao Zedong’s China. Decreeing increased efforts to multiply grain yields, Chairman Mao unleashed panic in rural China, and local officials, fearful of the national government, competed to fulfil (or over-fulfil) quotas based on Mao’s exaggerated claims, collecting “surpluses” that in fact did not exist and leaving farmers to starve as a result.
The Great Leap Forward took place between 1958 and 1962. Such schemes ostensibly aimed at improving the human condition and which end up in epic failure, as observed by James C. Scott, have reoccurred throughout history.
Other examples may not have led to a widespread loss of life as happened in mid-twentieth century China, but they have certainly produced hybrid and rather unpredictable outcomes. An agricultural campaign with similar objectives as the Great Leap Forward was adopted by the Mozambican government for the year 2018/19.
It rallied smallholder farmers to increase production and productivity under the motto, “Mozambique Increasing Production and Productivity Towards Zero Hunger”. In the end, Mozambican farmers were unable to significantly increase production.
They had faced a number of challenges: limited access to credit, fertilizer, farm inputs, and feeder roads, and thus to markets. Which is to say, without easy access to markets, any surplus the farmers had produced was wasted before it even got to market.
What is more important to consider is the fact that this failure to increase the productivity of rural farmers in Mozambique had occurred at the same time as the government had put in place measures to commercialise agriculture along two important transport corridors located in its central and northern regions, that is, the Beira and Nacala agricultural corridors. The Mozambican government had been mobilizing international capital over a decade or so, in order to build and renovate transport infrastructure with the aim of commercialising agriculture along the corridors.
Despite attracting some capital and infusion of technology, capital flows and technological transfers were generally unpredictable as they largely depended on the intervention of multiple actors and the dynamics of the global economy and global commodity prices. Adding to the lack of the much-needed infrastructure was the absence of Mozambican capital, as the banking system in Mozambique was unwilling to take the risks that come with financing agriculture. Investments in agriculture normally take 5-10 years to show visible returns, and Mozambican investors cannot afford to wait that long.
Additional challenges to the implementation of the Beira and Nacala agricultural corridors were related to national and local politics. On the one hand, the armed confrontation between government forces and the armed branch of the major political party in the opposition, Renamo, which affected parts of Sofala and Nampula provinces between 2013 and 2016, had led to a reduction of investments, disrupting the flows of existing businesses. Also, agricultural corridors, in particular the Nacala corridor, tend to generate anxiety over land, leading to continuous debates and campaigns over “land grabbing” and land titling. As a result, both the Beira and Nacala agricultural corridors faced significant challenges in their implementation.
Investments in agriculture normally take 5-10 years to show visible returns, and Mozambican investors cannot afford to wait that long.
The vision of their blueprints, that is, of interlinked agricultural activities – that would have stretched from the cities of Beira and Nacala on the Indian Ocean up to Mozambique’s land-locked neighbours, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Malawi – is yet to materialize. Despite the fact that such a grand vision is yet to materialize – if at all it will – this piece highlights its material consequences on the ground.
As a recently published special issue of the Journal of Eastern African Studies on growth corridors has shown, a careful examination of the planning, implementation and effects of agricultural corridors suggests that they often generate anxiety over land, and potential environmental impacts, and reconfigure power dynamics between international capital, local elites, bureaucrats and smallholder farmers – whether or not their official objectives are achieved.
By focusing on the practices of international investors, national elites, local bureaucrats and project beneficiaries, this research has suggested that, in order to attract capital, selected regions for development projects must dramatize their potential as places for investment, carefully selecting project locations and participants who will make compromises so as to conceal failure, virtually guaranteeing that the programme will be declared a success when the time comes for evaluation. These performances of success require the participation of a constellation of actors in order to be effective.
Along the Beira and Nacala agricultural corridors of Mozambique, there has been a widespread trend where international funders and investors, national elites, local bureaucrats and smallholder farmers collude in performing agricultural success, not only to attract the much-needed international capital, but in ways that bring the largely non-existent corridors to life. Agricultural corridors in Mozambique, in this sense, emerge on those occasions when international funders and investors, national elites, local bureaucrats and smallholder farmers overstate the success of agricultural projects – much like Chinese local officials did in the early 1960s. Below are two examples worth considering.
The tomato processing plant that never was
The administrative post of Tica in Nhamatanda District – along the Beira agricultural corridor – is famous for its abundant production of tomatoes. They are often left to rot when farmers are not able to sell all their produce.
In the local media, talk of building a tomato processing plant in Tica can be traced back to 2009, when a local entrepreneur reportedly received about US$33,000 from the Nhamatanda District Development Fund to build a tomato processing plant in order to capitalize on the district’s agricultural potential. In some of the media accounts, the processing plant was presented as if it already existed, running and fulfilling its promise to absorb the horticultural produce of farmers along the Beira agricultural corridor.
In 2013, a daily newspaper Notícias, published a news piece with the title, Processing plant created in Nhamatanda. The content of the news was based on an interview with the then district administrator of Nhamatanda, who said that a building plot had been located for the construction of the processing plant, and that a public tender for constructors had been announced and bids were awaited. He stated that the building would be completed by December 2013, and that equipment would be installed by February 2014.
There has been a widespread trend where international funders and investors, national elites, local bureaucrats and smallholder farmers collude in performing agricultural success.
In April 2015, another headline by the Voice of America read, Tomato processing plant changes the lives of producers in Tica. This story was based on two women who had been making a living for over 12 years selling tomatoes at a small agricultural market. This time the district administrator was announcing that the building was going to be completed by May 2015. In February 2018, another headline announced, This year Nhamatanda is going to process tomato, in an article where a district administrator was boasting of the 200,000-tonnes capacity of the future processing plant, advising local farmers to get ready to “produce a lot” since there was going to be a company to buy their produce.
When I visited the factory in March 2018, the building was not equipped. In a follow-up visit three months later, the main building of the processing plant was closed; a small agricultural inputs shop was operating from the security booth. The main building had caught fire at some point, and was closed pending repairs. The situation on the ground was in stark contrast to what district officials had been telling visiting researchers and journalists.
Ideas such as the introduction of financial services or the provision of technical assistance and tillage services are attractive, not only to farmers, but also to international donors and investors, but at the time the success of the tomato processing plant in Tica was being widely touted in the media, most of these plans were yet to materialize. The fire did indeed put an abrupt end to the brief lifespan of the plant, but the expectation of agricultural commercialisation that the plant had generated in the region long before it began operating exemplified the extent to which local officials were willing to create a narrative of success around a project in anticipation of, or as a means of attracting the much needed but seriously lacking investment capital.
A very important agribusiness fair
On 7 and 8 July 2018, an agribusiness fair took place at the municipal soccer field of Ribáuè in Nampula province along the Nacala agricultural corridor. The fair was entitled Nakosso Agribusiness Fair: Facilitating Access to Markets, and was the first of a series of five fairs to be organized in northern Mozambique by a private company working in partnership with the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation. The fair was an important event in the calendar. The provincial governor opened it in a ceremony that was also attended by the Ministers of Agriculture and Rural Development, and by the Minister of Industry and Commerce.
The fair had stands showing various products by local farmers’ associations, whose work is often done with the support of district extension officers, and through a number of NGO-supported projects. As the visiting dignitaries went from one exhibition stand to another, the interaction with exhibitors was punctuated by questions, compliments and suggestions for improvement. The opening ceremony ended with the provincial governor’s speech, where he congratulated the exhibitors and encouraged them to continue the good work.
The events that took place during the fair, including the governor’s speech, were disseminated across the district through local radio station news programmes by the end of the day and the following morning they featured in the provincial news broadcast – a local feat.
The processing plant was presented as if it already existed, running and fulfilling its promise to absorb the horticultural produce of farmers along the Beira agricultural corridor.
In many ways, the fair represented the desired agricultural life in the district, showcasing products and opportunities for smallholder, medium and large-scale farmers in the production and commercialization processes – financial institutions, input providers and dealers, extension officers, successful smallholder farmers and large commercial farms were all brought together at the fair in a performance of agricultural success.
While district statistics point to the growth in local production and productivity in the past three years, the fair is especially effective as a field to demonstrate agricultural productivity all throughout the corridor, giving materiality to the corridor as a result, and enlisting a network of actors in the project of corridor making. In other words, the example of the fair illustrates how such events can provide occasions for the demonstration of success, and the creation of an ideal vision for the agricultural corridor. In Mozambique, the significance of agricultural fairs is perhaps best exemplified by the fact that they form a distinctive feature in the agenda of visiting high-level dignitaries, from the president of the republic, to provincial governors and ministers.
Despite the fact that on some occasions visiting dignitaries have questioned the blatant exhibition of produce brought in from other areas – in ways similar to the deception adopted by local officials in 1960s China – the fair is presented as a sample of agricultural developments already taking place in other areas covered by the corridor, especially given the efforts local officials put into achieving some kind of geographical representation of exhibitors. Finally, the fair also provides an opportunity for a pedagogy, through the celebration of cases of success that should be seen as models to be followed by other actors, in particular smallholder farmers.
In Mozambique, the significance of agricultural fairs is perhaps best exemplified by the fact that they form a distinctive feature in the agenda of visiting high-level dignitaries.
The idea of the corridor, whether the corridor existed or not, was in Mozambique, producing material effects on the ground.
Without actual investments and infrastructure, blueprints, visions and policies for agricultural commercialisation in Mozambique come to be, or are given visibility, only when specific agricultural projects within the geographical location of the corridor are presented as successful.
At these events, complex entanglements emerge, exemplifying the everyday work of international funders and investors, national elites, local bureaucrats, and smallholder farmers, as they all perform project success on different occasions. Meanwhile, agricultural commercialisation, within the identified corridor region, remains low.
The lesson from these examples is that whether or not they achieve their official objectives – often to increase productivity and lift people out of poverty – development plans, visions and blueprints have material consequences.
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