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Minister of Foreign Affairs, Riad Malki, agreed that Israel’s observer status at the African Union should be rescinded.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 The decision was totally inexplicable and we will continue to argue that the decision should be rescinded,’’ Pandor said in the capital Pretoria.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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Moving to the Metropole: Migration as Revolution
In an act that should be seen as revolutionary, Africans are moving to the centre to benefit from the resources that continue to be extracted from their continent.
When African students and other black persons escaping Ukraine at the start of the Ukraine-Russia conflict were being ejected from exiting transport (trains and busses) and denied entry into neighbouring Poland, many Africans were enraged with the shameless display of racism. One of these Africans was a middle-aged man from Congo—must have been a graduate student—only recently settled in Germany. Seated inside a café at the Berlin central train station with five of his German and British friends, he exploded: “One wonders how they built all these things? From where did you get all this money? Look where we are, this Hauptbahnof [main train station] must have consumed a fortune. The vehicles you make? No way!” His monologue lasted a while as his friends listened either in agreement or disbelief: “This is our money,” he went on. “This is why you never stop these civil wars on the continent only to treat us like sub-humans. But we will not stop coming, whatever the cost!” he declared. His voice sounded austere, choked with emotion. None of his friends volunteered an immediate response. Then one said, this Ukraine situation is embarrassing.
While the angry tirade was sparked by the treatment of Africans trying to escape a war zone, clearly, this man had thought about all this stuff for some time. He must have been educated or observant enough to make the connections between the extraction back home in the DRC, the endless violent wars, the resources in Europe (as coming from his home), and the racist treatment of his kindred who otherwise deserve some respect for sustaining the beautiful lifestyles and infrastructures of the western world. Had he listened to Mallence Bart-Williams’ viral TEDx Talk? The story of this Congolese man, whom I will call Tshibumba Matulu (after the painter Tshibumba Matulu that Dutch anthropologist, Johannes Fabian writes about in Remembering the Present) is the story of “the metropole and the periphery” that dependency theorists Samir Amin, Immanuel Wallerstein and Andre Gunder Frank developed in the 1970s and 1980s. The last line of his vitriol is interesting enough in the sense that now, Africans are seeking to see the world as one whole and thus determined to move to the centre—follow up on and seek to enjoy their resources—at whatever cost. Indeed, despite the innumerable roadblocks (immigration laws, expensive and convoluted visa processes, slave traders in the Maghreb, drowning in the Mediterranean, rank racism, and Islamophobia in the western world), Africans are moving to the centre, to the metropole, en masse. They are determined to follow up on their resources.
This is the story of both the open and disguised violence of neoliberalism, where Africa is heavily mined on the cheap, exploited through unequal exchange, climate/conservation colonialism, with the proceeds coming from African human and natural resources being stolen through inexplicable claims of value addition. This point of view has been recently, succinctly and loudly expressed by Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni in her fight with French President Emmanuel Macron over immigration policies in Europe. Known for her anti-immigrant policies, Meloni’s (selfish) position is that if the French stopped stealing resources from 14 African countries through the clearly colonial and extortionist CFA, Africans would not be forced to make the dangerous journeys to Europe (where, by implication, they come to follow up on their resources, which are violently extracted leaving behind absolute poverty and suffering). In that viral clip doing the rounds across the globe, Meloni concludes that the solution to stop Africans from moving from their country to Europe is to leave them alone and have them receive the full benefit of their God-given resources:
So, the solution is not to take Africans and bring them to Europe, the solution is to free Africa from certain Europeans [especially France] who exploit it and allow these people to live off what they have.
While this message seemed directed at the French, the spread of (both violent and structural) capitalism across the African continent is real and threatening. With the collapse of the African economies about 30 years ago (via structural adjustment programmes), where foreign-owned companies returned under the neoliberal order and took over Africa’s major resources or the pillars upon which these economies stood—mineral resources (gold, oil, coffee, diamonds), banking, telecommunications, selling of agricultural products which used to be a function of cooperatives and direct government help—the continent has been left in a clear condition of morbidity. The bold choice, which I argue should be seen as revolutionary, is to move to the centre and demand the benefits of the resources that have been endlessly stolen from the continent, violently and through disguised extractivist structures.
Being a Congolese from Goma, Tshibumba Matulu must have witnessed the scramble for Congolese resources by the rich and mighty of the western world very up-close and personal—Dan Gertler International (DGI), Glencore Plc. and Alain Goetz, all of whom have a strong foothold in the country’s mining sector. These multinational companies own almost all the mining sites in the DRC, and have been implicated in the unending violence in the country, which is connected to the ways in which resources are mined. Take South Sudan as the other example where Glencore has a strong foothold in South Sudanese oil. In early November 2022, Glencore Plc. executives were found guilty of bribing the South Sudanese leadership—starting just four weeks after the country’s independence—as “they sought to profit from political turmoil . . . they inserted themselves into government-to-government deals that had been negotiated at preferential rates”. The Africa Progress Panel estimated that in a period of two years (2010-2012), DRC lost US$1.3 billion in asset sales to DGI. A 2021 study showed that DRC risked losing US$3.71 billion to controversial Israeli businessman Dan Gertler. This is a lot of money—which ends up in Israel where Gertler is one of the richest men and has been controversially implicated in a thousand scandals in Congo. To understand the fact that modern extraction follows a colonial model, one has to appreciate the fact that colonialism’s extraction was and is always outsourced to corporations. King Leopold operated in his individual capacity as a businessman, using his loot to build estates, infrastructures and palaces in Belgium (and not on the African continent). That an independent businessman, Dan Gertler, would promise guns to a government and actually deliver on his promise exposes the ways in which governments in the west outsource businessmen to colonise Africa on their behalf.
These multinational companies own almost all the mining sites in the DRC, and have been implicated in the unending violence in the country.
Dependency theory so succinctly exposed the roots and execution of underdevelopment in Black Africa, which is, in brief, resources being extracted on the cheap from the periphery (Africa), to be moved and generate more value in the metropole. If these resources ever come back to the continent (Latin America or Africa), they return more expensively. In this periphery-metropole dichotomy, endless capitalist exploitation (which mostly thrives on violence) not only depletes resources and opportunities at the periphery, but also makes life unliveable and unbearable. It then enacts tougher controls to keep the peoples of the periphery at the periphery so that they do not move to the metropole and overwhelm its amenities. This is why African journeys to the metropole are not only dangerous, but are also defined by more drama that tends to generate an incredible amount of grim news broadcasts. Dependency theory does not explicitly follow up on the revolutionary journeys where the exploited—like Tshibumba Matulu—painstakingly seek the benefits of their resources in the metropole. This is perhaps because it pursued another route out of this colonial conundrum, which was to de-link the metropole from the periphery.
Capitalism’s violence, revolutionary journeys
Transiting through airports in Dubai or Doha, one will encounter East African languages, especially Kiswahili and Luganda. Manning a counter in twos or threes, staff tend to speak to each other in their languages. While duty stations may not be allocated depending on the mutual native linguistic intelligibility between workers, since all speak English, somehow, workers from the same Great Lakes linguistic community find themselves together. That the numbers of labour migrants moving to the Middle East have soared over the past years is not just testament to the availability of job opportunities in the Middle East, but also to the dire conditions in which they live in their countries—conditions made difficult by the capitalist neoliberal reforms of the 1980s, and in some cases by conflict (especially in Northern Uganda, Karamoja, Turkana areas, South Sudan and Somalia). Middle Eastern salaries are not the greatest attraction as they range between US$600 and US$900 depending on seniority (far much less for domestic work). But that the same amounts cannot be earned back home speaks more to the dire conditions at home.
Data from the Uganda Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development published in the Daily Monitor, indicates that for the last six years (2016-2022), an average of 24,086 Ugandans left the country annually in search of employment, especially in the Middle East. What makes conditions so hostile in the Great Lakes Region? Besides Somalia and Central African Republic—where there is outright violence—why is the scale of movement of young people in particular so high in the Great Lakes region? It is the ravages of both internal capitalism (by the petty bourgeoisies) and foreign capital moving from South Africa northwards, but also coming from Europe and North America—and China exploiting the neoliberal environment. This is evident in cases of land grabbing, forced evictions, refugee crises caused by resource wars, especially in DRC and South Sudan, and the terrible business environment in the region.
Dependency theory does not explicitly follow up on the revolutionary journeys where the exploited painstakingly seek the benefits of their resources in the metropole.
Theoretically and practically, without the violence of the state and other related state actors, it is difficult for capitalism to reproduce itself. States do not only set the conditions under which extraction occurs (such as banking regimes, neoliberal regimes), but they are also ready to commit violence on the exploited. In Uganda, cases of land grabbing by local capitalists have made land ownership and agriculture difficult. In other cases, collusion between the state and foreign capitalists to evict peasants off their lands is causing first, rural urban-migration, and then journeys abroad. Among the most memorable cases is that of the 2001 evictions in Mubende where the German coffee company Neumann Gruppe used outright violence (with the help of the state), including shooting, burning houses and animals, and maiming people to create way for a coffee plantation. Over 2,000 families remain destitute and are yet to find justice. Faced with mass unemployment, extortionist banking regimes with high interest rates that have stymied creativity and made business difficult across East Africa, many young people struggle to start thriving businesses.
Violent evictions have also taken place in Kenya and Tanzania to create way for capitalist expansion or capitalist ostentation (Franz Fanon warned that political elites would turn the continent into an entertainment centre for foreign capitalists). This is the story in Samburu where evictions have taken place to create way for American charities. It is the story of the green colonialism that led to the Ogiek and Maasai evictions from the Mau Forest in the name of conservation. Guillaume Blanc’s recently published book, The Invention of Green Colonialism, demonstrates how the rhetoric of conservation (by colonially founded organisations including UNESCO, WWF, IUCN) perpetuates a colonial model of conservation that privileges animals and plants over humans. While capitalists in Europe and North America—consuming endlessly—have destroyed nature, they have maintained a mythical, fictionalised Eden in Africa, insisting that peasants, who have developed ways of coexisting with nature, who eat very little meat, have neither cars, nor computers nor smartphones, are a danger to the environment. They are evicted from huge swathes of land that are then reserved for white people to hunt and gaze at wild animals.
Away from the forests and the plains, the poor are also being “cleansed” from the capital cities. The 2021 Mukuru Kwa Njega eviction in Nairobi that left 40,000 people homeless is etched in the memories of Kenyans. In what Mwaura Mwangi aptly termed “Demolition Colonialism”, thousands of poor Nairobians have had their houses demolished so that the rich can enjoy easy transit. This is not anti-development position, but rather a reading that seeks to recognise the rights of the poor, and make visible the history of slums in major cities across Africa.
Theoretically and practically, without the violence of the state and other related state actors, it is difficult for capitalism to reproduce itself.
Then come the wars in the DRC, Somalia, CAR, and South Sudan—a product of business dealings by multinationals including Glencore and CNOOC, among others— that have led to an increase in refugees numbers, now reaching 2.3 million people according to UNHCR. In his book Saviours and Survivors, Mahmood Mamdani implicates CNOOC and ExxonMobil in protecting oil wells using different rebel groups in the Sudan-South Sudan conflict. The end product of these clandestine oil dealings are the over 1.5 million refugees hosted in Uganda, making it the country with the largest number of refugees in the world. The influx of people escaping resource-related conflicts has overwhelmed resources in the Great Lakes region. And while many of the refugees will stay in the region, many others are making the journey to the Middle East, to Europe and to North America.
With all this aggressive capitalist expansion manifesting in different forms, the African in the Great Lakes (and other places on the continent) is left with no choice but to make the journey to Europe and to North America. I want to read these journeys not just as migration, but as revolution. They might seem puny, unorganised and migrating out of desperate need, but Africans are moving to the centre to benefit from the resources that continue to be extracted from their continent. This is how the extractors perceive these journeys—not as migration, but as revolution—which explains why there are so many roadblocks along the way.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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