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The Female Kadhis Controversy

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The 2010 Constitution requires that not more than two-thirds of the members of elective or appointive bodies shall be of the same gender. Article 170, which provides for the appointment of Kadhis, does not specify their gender. Yet the constitution is absent in the intra-Muslim discussions on the appointment of female Kadhis.

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The Female Kadhis Controversy
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Kadhi courts are arguably the oldest judicial institution in Kenya, being the judicial system prevailing in the Sultanate of Zanzibar that controlled a substantial portion of the East African coast.

In the 1963 agreement between Prime Minister Muhammad Shamte of Zanzibar and President Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya, the coastal strip was brought within the territorial jurisdiction of Kenya. In exchange, the Kenyan government would guarantee the preservation the Muslim religion and its institutions, courts, officers, schools, lands and the Arabic language within the new state.

Kadhi courts have thus been an integral part of the judiciary since pre-colonial times and were the focus of fierce contestations during the 2010 constitutional review process in Kenya.

Kadhis, especially the Chief Kadhis, have always been males, appointed from Muslim communities and from scholarly Arab Muslim families at the coast (the Saggafs, the Mazruis, the Bākathirs and the Barawa). After independence, Kadhis were also appointed from other non-coastal communities, notably the Somali.

Female Kadhi

Following the promulgation of the 2010 constitution, Kadhi courts now reflect the face of Kenya. In the last decade, the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) has recruited Kadhis from a pool of scholars of Islamic law, some hailing from such minority Muslim communities as the Maasai, the Agikuyu, the Ameru, the AbaGusii, the Turkana and the iTeso. Yet the gender composition of the courts remains unresolved, and it has become a topic of debate in the last few months.

It is not clear what has sparked the recent debates, but the impending retirement of the current Chief Kadhi, Hon. Ahmed Muhdhar, must have animated discussions among the various interest groups over the possibility of appointing a Chief Kadhi of non-Arab descent and the appointment of female Kadhis, both of which are unprecedented in Kenyan legal history.

The Kenya Muslim National Advisory Council (KEMNAC), led by Sheikh Juma Ngao, had in the months before the women Kadhis debate erupted called successive press conferences pitching for the appointment of a non-Arab Chief Kadhi.

The women Kadhis discussion only came to the fore after The Standard published an article asking whether the time was ripe for a female Kadhi.  Another piece followed in The Nation. In early July 2021, the Garissa Township Member of Parliament, Hon. Aden Duale, weighed in on the question while addressing a gathering. He came out strongly in opposition to the appointment of women Kadhis. Duale wields immense authority among the Muslims of northern Kenya and his comments generated debate within the Muslim social spaces. I followed the debates closely and actively participated in some of the discussions, especially on Facebook. I documented some of the comments, followed almost every discussion on social media, on television and in the Friday Khutba sermons such as those by Sheikh Feisal Al–Amoody of Malindi and Ibrahim Lethome of Jamia Mosque Nairobi. Various sheikhs also commented on the debate in their darsas (mosque lessons), notably Al-Sayyid Ahmad Ahmad Badaway, aka Mwenye Baba, who is regarded by the Muslim faithful as one of the foremost religious authorities.

Contestation

The contestation over the appointment of female Kadhis in Kenya first arose during Chief Justice Willy Mutunga’s time at the judiciary. The Chief Justice, a known crusader for equality and human rights, openly backed the appointment of women to serve as Kadhis. Predictably, this put him on a collision course with the National Muslim Leaders Forum (NAMLEF) and the Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims (SUPKEM). Both strongly objected to such appointments. They occasionally used the Friday sermons to teach and remind Muslims of the position of Islamic jurisprudence on the appointment of female Kadhis. Sheikh Bahero of Bakarani Mosque, Mombasa, for example, dedicated khutba after khutba to this issue.

The latest debates have seen the two organizations take a measured approach while KEMNAC has taken centre stage in shaping the discourse. I can confirm that KEMNAC, Jamia Mosque Nairobi, SUPKEM and the Council of Imams and Preachers of Kenya (CIPK) have all written to the JSC urging that women should be not be appointed as Kadhis. So far, the only organ that has come out clearly in support of the appointment of women Kadhis is Muslims for Human Rights (MUHURI) led by Khelef Khalifa.

Perhaps the most eloquent opposition to the appointment of female Kadhis is from Hon. Aden Duale’s speech transcribed below:

We will not listen to what the NGOs will tell us. We will not listen to what government will tell us. We will not listen to what Western countries and powers will tell us. Sisi ni Waislamu, katiba yetu sisi ni hiyo kitabu ya Qur’an awwalan (We’re Muslims and our Constitution is that book of Qur’an first). Hii ingine ya Kenya inakuja second (This other one of Kenya comes second). We will not accept a woman to be a Kadhi. It is not found in the Qur’an, and it is not found in the teachings of the Prophet. Wakati wa nikaah, umeona mwanamke huko? (During marriage solemnization, do you see a woman there?). Islam has given the roles women can perform and the roles they cannot achieve. [Hon.] Martha Koome is a Chief Justice in a secular judiciary, and she is not a Chief Justice over religious organization or religious belief. Msijaribu kuweka mkono yenu katika (do not try to interfere in) how Islam is run in this country, the same way we will not allow you to run the Christian faith. We must leave it to the bishops. We must respect religious leaders kama nyinyi mnataka hii Kenya ikuwe nchi nzuri (If you want Kenya to be a nice country). . . .”

Such a speech conjures up images of past contestations over the inclusion of Kadhi courts in the 2010 constitution and raises questions as to whether the debate was concluded. Even though the Christian clergy who vehemently opposed the inclusion of the Kadhi courts in the 2010 constitution have moved on, some of the fears they raised at the time now seem to have caught up with Muslims.

The Jurists

As Duale stated, there is no specific Quránic verse or Hadith (Sayings) of the Prophet that approves of the appointment of women to the position of Kadhi or to any other position of leadership. The Hadith that says, “There shall not prosper a nation that appoints a woman to rule them,” is often quoted as a direct prohibition. There are verses of the Qur’an, like 4:34, that show men’s authority over women, and only in the story of the Queen of Saba (Sheba) is a woman seen to have power over men.

Some verses discourage women from mixing with men or appearing “unnecessarily”   in public places. Further, the two-women-equals-one-man ratio in the inheritance law and in the law of testimony during evidentiary proceedings signifies, in the opinion of the majority of jurists, that the woman is not a man’s equal.

The only organ that has come out clearly in support of the appointment of women Kadhis is Muslims for Human Rights (MUHURI) led by Khelef Khalifa.

Furthermore, in the fourteen centuries of Islamic history no woman has been appointed to the position of judge (Kadhi). Then there is the Hadith that says a woman is deficient in intellect and religiosity, which is taken to warrant her disqualification from holding such an important office.

A majority of Muslim exegetes and jurists in the pre-modern era took to these arguments as a restatement of the law on this particular question: Women should obey their husbands, stay at home, and have no authority over men.

Another class of jurists has provided interpretations that seem more gender-egalitarian and have used historical, logical, textual and contextual nuances in the explanation of the texts relied upon by the first strand of jurists. Their discussions can be found in the studies by Prof Mohammad Fadel  of the University of Toronto School of Law and by Dr Abdulkadir Hashim, a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Philosophy and Religious studies of the University of Nairobi.

All the verses and Hadith relevant to the question of female Kadhis are analysed in their two works using exegetical, hermeneutical and comparative perspectives. Fadel uses tools within the philosophy of Islamic jurisprudence to argue that appointing women as judges in Kadhi courts is possible even without resorting to extraneous sources of law for justification. On the other hand, Hashim uses both historical and comparative law approaches to answer this question while situating it within the immediate Kenyan context.

Women should obey their husbands, stay at home and should have no authority over men.

On comparative perspectives, there is a text titled Women Judges in the Muslim World: A Comparative Study of Discourse and Practice by Nadia Sonneveld and Monika Lindbekk. This work documents the practice of appointing Muslim women in Muslim majority countries to be judges, and even more specifically, Sharia court judges who are the equivalent of Kadhis.

These countries include Malaysia, Pakistan, Palestine and Indonesia. Most of these countries are, like Kenya, commonwealth-common law jurisdictions with a rich Islamic heritage and a robust jurisprudence. Islamic law forms part of its basic structure and can provide parameters for consideration in Kenya.

Pakistan, for example, has a Federal Shariat Court (FSC) that checks on the repugnancy of any law to the doctrines of Islam. Twice, a petition was filed to bar women from being appointed as judges using arguments from within the Islamic legal tradition. The FSC threw out both petitions.

Reflections on the female Kadhis debate

The female Kadhis debates have generated a few thoughts. First, most Muslims are not aware of the historical developments in the court across the years, the laws that regulate the functionality of the court, the recruitment procedures for Kadhis, and the status and place of Kadhis and Kadhi courts in the judicial structure in Kenya. One discerns from the discussions that they are speaking of an idealized Islamic court, in a historicised Islamic state far removed from modernity, globalization and the realities of the nation-state that is Kenya.

Second, secular-religious dialectics pop out in these discussions. There are questions as to whether the constitution is superior, or whether it is God’s law that is superior. Some other Muslims are asking whether Kadhis are judicial officers performing religious duties or religious leaders performing secular judicial functions, or even both.

Third is the crisis of Islamic scholarship and religious authority in Kenya, something that has been alluded to in the past. Unlike the Catholic Church, for example, Muslims do not have a papal figurehead. Their religious and legal authority derives from allegiance to the Qur’an, the Hadith and the interpretation of these sources by Muslim jurists of the four schools of law across the centuries and geographies. Muslim states, and some Muslim minority states such as Uganda, have an official Mufti who is the ultimate authority on issues at the intersection of religion and governance.

On the particular question of female Kadhis, there was a whole mix of people attempting to issue a fatwa on a question that no one, not even the JSC, raised. The rules of fatwa in the Islamic legal tradition are that there must be someone or an entity that asks a question seeking legal interpretation. A juristic authority must exist to answer the question authoritatively. Neither has the JSC asked anyone to provide a ruling on the appointment of female Kadhis, and nor do we have such a fatwa-issuing authority in Kenya currently. I have previously asked for the constitution of such authority.

Women in the pre-modern era in the Roman, Persian and Islamic civilizations essentially did not have authority over men and did not hold public office except in monarchical structures. The absence of women in public office was not limited to the judgeship only. Before the modern nation-state, we did not have Muslim women as presidents, ministers of state, peoples’ representatives, or managers in public corporations. In a strictly “Islamic sense” as expounded by the first group of jurists, no Muslim woman would be qualified today to hold any such office.

There are questions as to whether the constitution is superior, or whether it is God’s law that is superior.

It is true that women, even in other religious groups, do not solemnize marriages. But Kadhis today rarely solemnize marriages as Muslim marriage officers appointed under the Marriage Act 2014 are spread across the country. Imams even solemnize the bulk of marriages, and parties only come to court to make applications before the Kadhi for marriage recognition and registration. What prevents a female Kadhi for example, from making judicial orders that a potential couple have met the requirements of marriage in Islamic law and can therefore proceed to a recognized marriage officer of their choice for solemnization of their marriage?

There is also the apprehension that as Kadhis, Muslim women will have the authority to dissolve marriages, an authority popularly exercised by men within the domestic sphere. It is a known fact that Muslim women have been unilaterally dissolving their marriages through the khul’ procedure and nothing in Islamic law denies them that jurisdiction. As Kadhis, Muslim women would be exercising public authority in dissolving marriages by judicial decree, the same way women magistrates do. They would only be observing the regulations for the judicial dissolution of such marriages as provided for under Islamic law.

Moreover, Kadhis’ appeals go to the High Court, and women judges in the High Court dissolve the same Muslim marriages. So, it smacks of cognitive dissonance to deny Muslim women an opportunity to serve in the Kadhi courts on the basis that women did not have that jurisdiction in the past. Yet, the same jurisdiction is exercised at appeal by women, and Muslim women judges in particular.

The ignored Constitutional context

Unlike the Independence Constitution, the 2010 Constitution provides in Article 27 for the two-thirds gender rule, which requires that not more than two-thirds of the members of elective or appointive bodies shall be of the same gender. Article 170 of the constitution that provides for the appointment of Kadhis does not specify the gender of the Kadhis, and that has been a fundamental aspect for those agitating for the appointment of female Kadhis.

It smacks of cognitive dissonance to deny Muslim women an opportunity to serve in the Kadhi courts on the basis that women did not have that jurisdiction in the past.

A notable aspect is that the constitution is absent in the intra-Muslim discussions on female Kadhis, either because Muslims do not believe in the supremacy of the constitution as suggested in Hon. Duale’s remarks, or Muslim religious authorities see it as a hot potato, or both. I expected someone like Sheikh Ibrahim Lethome, an advocate, a former CKRC Commissioner (Constitution of Kenya Review Commission) and someone trained in Islamic law to have a broader approach to this question that situates the constitution within the discourse. He has been on many platforms speaking about this issue, but he has chosen to gloss over the place of the constitution in the question.

Old jurists’ opinions are authoritative but not timeless; neither are they eternal in their signification. They are embedded in a context, and contexts change, and such changes require the expenditure of juristic energy in finding solutions to old questions posed in a different environment. That energy is what Muslim scholars in Kenya worth the name must expend.

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Tito Kunyuk is the Principal Kadhi at the Kisumu Law Courts, Kenya.

Politics

Who Won Kenya’s “Nominations”?

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

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

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

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

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

Why do parties dread nominations?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Money, politics, and the cost of campaigns

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

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

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

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

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

Are the losers actually the biggest winners?

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

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

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

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

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

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Politics

Asylum Pact: Rwanda Must Do Some Political Housecleaning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Politics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Labour migration as climate mitigation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reparations include No Borders

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

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

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

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

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

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

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