Somalia faces yet another severe drought that is threatening the country with famine if immediate action is not taken. The Gu and Dayr rainy seasons have been short, significantly reducing crop production and devastating livestock. Flash floods and locust infestations have contributed to crop destruction nationwide. Somalia’s Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit (FSNAU) has reported that seven million people are suffering from food insecurity with another 2.9 million in food crisis. UN agencies estimate the US$1.2 billion is needed to support the affected communities.
For the past three decades, haunting images of malnourished children and women have hit the airwaves to tug at the heartstrings of taxpayers in donor countries in an effort to increase giving. This is the sad reality; an emergency is declared, followed by a call for billions of dollars in fundraising.
Somalia is not alone in enduring this inhumane and degrading approach to supporting fragile low-income countries. Across the continent, images of starving African children have given birth to a global aid industry that is immoral and unjust. In these unprecedented times, as a global pandemic rages, with severe ramifications for economies throughout the world, many Africans have been awakened by the global outcry for justice and equity led by the Black Lives Matter movement. It has become a moral, political, and economic imperative to examine the impact of humanitarian interventions in the Global South that are often rooted in neo-colonialism and imperial dominance. This article focuses on the protracted humanitarian crisis in Somalia as a case study of failed government leadership and an aid system that has forgotten its mission.
Decades of climate crises and no relief in sight
The humanitarian crisis in Somalia has always been about water — either too much of it or not enough. The country’s economy is largely driven by the 60 per cent of the population that are agro-pastoralists and whose livelihoods have been wiped out by cyclical environmental calamities. Multiple droughts and famine have displaced three million people in the last five decades.
In 1973, “Daba-dheer” — the long-tailed drought — hit the northern region of the country, causing severe food shortages. Over 100,000 families were relocated to the Lower Shabelle and Juba regions by the military government of Siad Barre.
The humanitarian crisis in Somalia has always been about water — either too much of it or not enough.
In 1991-1992, as the civil war raged, famine conditions led the US government to send military airlifts of food to alleviate the suffering of millions. Despite these efforts, 300,000 people died during that period.
In 2011, the world woke up to images of millions of starving Somali children as the country was struck by yet another famine that took the lives of over 260,000 people, half of whom were children under five. In 2016-17, the country again went through another severe drought that reduced crop production and wiped out vital livestock.
Recent data from various UN agencies shows that up to 50 per cent of Somalia’s population, approximately 7.7 million people, are food insecure. This staggering statistic is a 30 per cent increase from last year. Although conflict and political instability are major contributors to food insecurity, droughts, floods, and environmental degradation have had a far greater and deadlier impact. As the climate emergency agenda now grabs our attention globally (and rightly so), it must be recalled that Somalia has endured climate disasters for over five decades.
Up to 50 per cent of Somalia’s population, approximately 7.7 million people, are food insecure.
And while in the past Somalia’s funding partners have responded to the humanitarian crises without addressing the root cause — climate change — we are now seeing a swift shift in language, where “climate solutions” are evoked to align with the billions committed at COP26 to support developing countries to adapt and mitigate climate change.
The humanitarian paradox
Somalia remains the world’s longest-running humanitarian mission, with billions of dollars spent annually, and there are some fundamental questions that must be raised as the climate crisis moves on to the global stage. Why have successive Somali governments been unable to tackle the most serious humanitarian crises? Why are we not realizing modest improvements but instead continue to see a dramatic increase in the humanitarian caseload as more aid is pumped into the system? How long can this state of emergency be sustained? Where is the return on investment for these dollars? Where is the accountability? What reforms are needed in the current structure to bring about real and tangible changes?
The water problem
While Somalis are nomadic agro-pastoralists accustomed to seasonal mobility, the extreme changes in the weather patterns have left most of the landmass uninhabitable. Rainy seasons have become extremely irregular and the rains minimal, while flash floods devastate towns along major rivers. The Gu rains have worsened conditions in human settlements and displaced tens of thousands in the critically dense urban settlements of Beledweyne and Jowhar along the Shabelle River. The problem is just as critical along the Jubba River where the poor floodwater infrastructure results in massive crop destruction.
Flooding and drought are not new to Somalia. These natural disasters have plagued the country for decades yet those in charge of Somalia, both the government and its UN partners, have long neglected addressing the central problem of Somalia’s humanitarian crises — water management.
The failure to manage water has devastated the country’s capacity for self-sufficiency. This negligence is partly responsible for the deaths of millions of Somalis from starvation and for the internal displacement of a fifth of the country’s population. Living conditions in the internally displaced persons (IDP) camps are by any standards some of the most abhorrent and inhumane. Mogadishu is the epicentre of this internal displacement of populations and hosts close to a million IDPs. Baidoa, Kismayo, and Bosaaso also host large displaced populations.
Failed government leadership
While natural disasters have caused a number of problems in Somalia, the real crisis is failed leadership across all levels of government. At the heart of the suffering of the Somali people is a defunct leadership. According to the World Bank, over 70 per cent of Somalis earn less than two dollars a day, with an unemployment rate of 80 per cent. Somalis under 35 years old make up two-thirds of the population, giving the country great potential to accelerate recovery and development with the right leadership in place.
The country’s abundant natural resources — including the longest coastline in Africa and large oil reserves — remain untapped due to inadequate human resource development and internal conflict. While the exploitation of these untapped natural resources could be a game changer, the country’s potential will undoubtedly be crushed by a conscienceless leadership.
Callous political elites have assembled for the sole purpose of chasing power and have shown very little regard for the majority whom they have condemned to a life of misery. Greed and corruption keep the country in a state of perpetual insecurity. Year after year, the country features at the top of global corruption indices. The looting of public assets and resources has been normalized and impunity reigns supreme. Those who have taken the most from the poor are rewarded by the system with ever-higher office.
Poor governance and weak institutions led by ego-driven male politicians are the source of the ongoing political, security, and humanitarian crises. The top leadership and their ministers are picked based on loyalty rather than competence. Appointing weakest-link personalities is the norm in order to curtail any criticism of the government. Lawmakers who are ill-equipped to manage the affairs of an extremely fragile post-conflict country are selected by a clan system that has proven to be inadequate and corrupt. Year after year, poorly resourced government institutions struggle to implement effective planning and coordination mechanisms and fail to meet the complex and serious challenges faced by the country. Inept leadership, mismanagement of key portfolios, and the lack of accountability within government also give humanitarian and development partners free reign to do as they see fit.
Callous political elites have assembled for the sole purpose of chasing power and have shown very little regard for the majority whom they have condemned to a life of misery.
In particular, the last five years have been politically tumultuous. From day one, the Federal Government of Somalia (FGS) made its priority to go after political foes, stifle free speech, and inhibit freedom of movement, using government and international instruments to attack anyone it deems a threat. Attacks on former presidents, prime ministers, and the use of firepower against peaceful protests have been the hallmark of the administration. The current political standoff is indicative of an out-of-touch leadership that will stop at nothing to rig elections. A highly contested election cycle lands the country in uncharted territory. Attempts to steal the election by any means necessary have ushered in a new dawn of political chaos not seen since the country’s Third Republic was formed in 2000. As millions face starvation and security threats from Al-Shabaab mount, FGS and regional leaders have derailed all efforts to hold timely and credible elections.
President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo, whose term ended on 8 February 2021, attempted a coup d’état on 27 December 2021, dramatically raising the political temperature in Mogadishu. In April, over 100,000 people fled the capital after government forces and leading opposition supporters clashed over the proposed law to extend the government’s mandate by two years — a violation of the country’s provisional constitution. These delays, clashes and uncertainties have led to the near-total collapse of government functions causing economic hardship and deep fissures across all sectors including within the security apparatus.
The current political standoff is indicative of an out-of-touch leadership that will stop at nothing to rig elections.
Political volatility has contributed to the weak response to the current drought. International donors are very apprehensive about disbursing aid to support drought mitigation efforts for fear that the funds will be used to finance political campaigns. The continued political instability has also prevented major donors from providing much-needed development aid. Those in the know understand that very little progress is being made, if any, and that the “igu sawir” — the photo-ops by government officials— are only for show, to give international partners and the public the impression that things are moving forward. The recent agreement by the National Consultative Council, consisting of Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble and the heads of regional governments, says that elections must be completed by 25 February 2022. This is the third such agreement on elections, a last ditch effort to salvage the polls and prevent the country from spiralling into political violence.
The billion-dollar failure
In 2020, Somalia received US$2.0 billion both in humanitarian and development aid. The absence of a vested and capable government, the lack of accountable partnerships between humanitarian aid partners and the government, rampant corruption by all actors, and psychological dependence on aid have kept Somalis on life support. While increased funds are required to tackle the complex challenges across the country, it must be understood that money alone will not change the conditions on the ground.
The problem with the humanitarian and development aid cycle in Somalia is that assessments of threats are routinely conducted, analysed and published, but meaningful steps are rarely taken to pre-empt a crisis. Prevention and proactive measures are not defined early, clearly, or prioritized and resources tend to arrive after disasters have taken hold and families have lost their most basic resilience. Recurrent droughts and floods persist because partners do not invest in real solutions that would address their root causes. Very conveniently, money earmarked for emergencies can only be used for “aid” in the form of food and non-food items; it cannot be redirected to where it would have a more meaningful impact such as water management and infrastructure.
The goal cannot simply be “saving lives” without any measure of the quality of those lives that are saved. There seems to be no feedback loop in this cycle to critique both the continued investment in inadequate strategies, and the recurrence of deadly events that hinder economic development, improved governance, the rise of civil society, and the implementation of effective, long-term solutions. The majority of programmes are designed in Halane, a UN compound where all international actors reside, with much of the decision-making taking place in Nairobi, Geneva, or London without localized understanding or willingness to programme for impact. Development work does not work in theory alone — it has to work in practice.
The goal cannot simply be “saving lives” without any measure of the quality of those lives that are saved.
There are numerous UN agencies and hundreds of INGOs/NGOs operating throughout the country, all with different approaches and mandates that they carry out in a highly paternalistic, condescending, and out of touch, master-servant manner. Each agency has its own unique mission/vision (agenda) and the aid machinery and infrastructure are greased with dollars meant for Somalia’s most vulnerable. It is a system that prioritizes the sustainable livelihoods of its expats, who receive exorbitant compensation packages.
Aid system in need of urgent reform
The failure to adapt and the refusal to reform and transfer ownership to local communities has resulted in poor outcomes. Despite the worsening climate shocks that call for long-term sustainable solutions, UN agencies and international partners continue to push an emergency response narrative and often hide behind self-imposed policies to justify ad hoc short-term programmes as the pendulum swings between extremes for the Somali people.
“This is Somalia” is a common phrase among partners that means “anything goes”, and leads to programmes that set the bar at the lowest level possible. The effectiveness of projects is hardly considered; instead, project burn rates (how fast project budgets are spent) are used as a measure of progress. In the decades-long absence of a functional national and subnational government, many in the UN system have become accustomed to unfettered powers. Partners have operated without needing to work with the government. They are governed by organizational mandates with zero oversight or monitoring from the national or regional authorities. Both local and international NGOs are funded by donors directly through UN agencies to provide nearly all the basic services (shelter, water, health, education).
Until very recently, partners and donors have been reluctant to invest in government institutions to build capacities. This act is counterintuitive to the basic principle of supporting a state-building agenda. UN agencies and donors are often not able to directly assess, monitor, and evaluate the implementation of programmes and rely on self-reported methodologies from implementing agencies whose predetermined outcomes favour them. Consequently, this leads to results that are open to interpretation, that are unreliable and questionable at best.
The modus operandi in Somalia is to continue to rely on non-state actors to deliver essential services while the government at all levels fails to build true capacities, sound governmental systems, civil and economic infrastructure and financial models to resource programmes for its citizens. Rigid partner structures that operate parallel to the government at best downplay the role of the government and at worse stifle real institutional development.
The humanitarian crisis across the country needs the immediate attention of the government and the international community before it becomes a full-blown famine. The Somali government must mobilize resources and capacities to prevent yet another humanitarian catastrophe.
As the election fever builds, federal government and the federal member states should redirect the millions allotted for vote-buying and election rigging to the hundreds of thousands of families that have lost the means to support themselves. Governments both national and local must begin people-centred campaigns to fundraise from Somalis at home and abroad. It is fundamental that international partners and the aid infrastructure make room for swift reforms that shift programming power to local actors and governments.
Investment in water infrastructure to support adequate water resources is the only way out of Somalia’s humanitarian conundrum. Given that nearly all of the rural livelihoods are agro-pastoral — investment in robust water infrastructure is critically needed to build resilient, sustainable communities that no longer need to rely on water trucks for the supply of water.
Empowering affected communities to apply locally developed solutions should be prioritized. Top-down plans with heavy overheads must be avoided. Direct support to communities using transparent money transfer systems is needed to provide immediate relief to the communities for whom agro-pastoralism is a traditional way of life. Developing and investing in low-hanging fruit such as the blue economy and livestock, the backbone of Somalia’s fragile economy, is urgently needed.
New conversations must be had around what it means to assist those in dire need with the goal of building resilient and self-sufficient communities. The historical humanitarian systems of shock and response have systematically failed Somalia. Such approaches keep Somalia mired in a state of despair, unable to make ends meet. Reform of the aid system led by a strong capable government that understands the complexity and the expertise required to tackle many of the existential threats the country faces is needed. This will reinforce mutual accountability between the government and the international community.
Developing and investing in low-hanging fruit such as the blue economy and livestock, the backbone of Somalia’s fragile economy, is urgently needed.
It is about time humanitarian actors in Somalia asked themselves where the value-added for their investments is to be found and how they can restructure the current approach to bring about a significant impact to the lives of marginalized Somalis.
Government leadership must prioritize saving millions from starvation, end the political standoff, and hold timely and credible elections. The international community and those who bankroll Somalia’s political elite have a moral and practical obligation to ensure that election stagnation ends and that credible election outcomes are obtained. By failing to do so, Somalia’s partners will have contributed to the imminent demise of the Third Republic and to allowing the famine that now threatens the country to take hold.
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Asylum Pact: Rwanda Must Do Some Political Housecleaning
Rwandans are welcoming, but the government’s priority must be to solve the internal political problems which produce refugees.
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.
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.
“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 debt, unfair trade and financial agreements, military subjugation, vaccine apartheid, labour 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.
The Murang’a Factor in the Upcoming Presidential Elections
The Murang’a people are really yet to decide who they are going to vote for as a president. If they have, they are keeping the secret to themselves. Are the Murang’a people prepping themselves this time to vote for one of their own? Can Jimi Wanjigi re-ignite the Murang’a/Matiba popular passion among the GEMA community and re-influence it to vote in a different direction?
In the last quarter of 2021, I visited Murang’a County twice: In September, we were in Kandiri in Kigumo constituency. We had gone for a church fundraiser and were hosted by the Anglican Church of Kenya’s (ACK), Kahariro parish, Murang’a South diocese. A month later, I was back, this time to Ihi-gaini deep in Kangema constituency for a burial.
The church function attracted politicians: it had to; they know how to sniff such occasions and if not officially invited, they gate-crash them. Church functions, just like funerals, are perfect platforms for politicians to exhibit their presumed piousness, generosity and their closeness to the respective clergy and the bereaved family.
Well, the other reason they were there, is because they had been invited by the Church leadership. During the electioneering period, the Church is not shy to exploit the politicians’ ambitions: they “blackmail” them for money, because they can mobilise ready audiences for the competing politicians. The politicians on the other hand, are very ready to part with cash. This quid pro quo arrangement is usually an unstated agreement between the Church leadership and the politicians.
The church, which was being fund raised for, being in Kigumo constituency, the area MP Ruth Wangari Mwaniki, promptly showed up. Likewise, the area Member of the County Assembly (MCA) and of course several aspirants for the MP and MCA seats, also showed up.
Church and secular politics often sit cheek by jowl and so, on this day, local politics was the order of the day. I couldn’t have speculated on which side of the political divide Murang’a people were, until the young man Zack Kinuthia Chief Administrative Secretary (CAS) for Sports, Culture and Heritage, took to the rostrum to speak.
A local boy and an Uhuru Kenyatta loyalist, he completely avoided mentioning his name and his “development track record” in central Kenya. Kinuthia has a habit of over-extolling President Uhuru’s virtues whenever and wherever he mounts any platform. By the time he was done speaking, I quickly deduced he was angling to unseat Wangari. I wasn’t wrong; five months later in February 2022, Kinuthia resigned his CAS position to vie for Kigumo on a Party of the National Unity (PNU) ticket.
He spoke briefly, feigned some meeting that was awaiting him elsewhere and left hurriedly, but not before giving his KSh50,000 donation. Apparently, I later learnt that he had been forewarned, ahead of time, that the people were not in a mood to listen to his panegyrics on President Uhuru, Jubilee Party, or anything associated to the two. Kinuthia couldn’t dare run on President Uhuru’s Jubilee Party. His patron-boss’s party is not wanted in Murang’a.
I spent the whole day in Kandiri, talking to people, young and old, men and women and by the time I was leaving, I was certain about one thing; The Murang’a folks didn’t want anything to do with President Uhuru. What I wasn’t sure of is, where their political sympathies lay.
I returned to Murang’a the following month, in the expansive Kangema – it is still huge – even after Mathioya was hived off from the larger Kangema constituency. Funerals provide a good barometer that captures peoples’ political sentiments and even though this burial was not attended by politicians – a few senior government officials were present though; political talk was very much on the peoples’ lips.
What I gathered from the crowd was that President Uhuru had destroyed their livelihood, remember many of the Nairobi city trading, hawking, big downtown real estate and restaurants are run and owned largely by Murang’a people. The famous Nyamakima trading area of downtown Nairobi has been run by Murang’a Kikuyus.
In 2018, their goods were confiscated and declared contrabrand by the government. Many of their businesses went under, this, despite the merchants not only, whole heartedly throwing their support to President Uhuru’s controversial re-election, but contributing handsomely to the presidential kitty. They couldn’t believe what was happening to them: “We voted for him to safeguard our businesses, instead, he destroyed them. So much for supporting him.”
We voted for him to safeguard our businesses, instead, he destroyed them. So much for supporting him
Last week, I attended a Murang’a County caucus group that was meeting somewhere in Gatundu, in Kiambu County. One of the clearest messages that I got from this group is that the GEMA vote in the August 9, 2022, presidential elections is certainly anti-Uhuru Kenyatta and not necessarily pro-William Ruto.
“The Murang’a people are really yet to decide, (if they have, they are keeping the secret to themselves) on who they are going to vote for as a president. And that’s why you see Uhuru is craftily courting us with all manner of promises, seductions and prophetic messages.” Two weeks ago, President Uhuru was in Murang’a attending an African Independent Pentecostal Church of Africa (AIPCA) church function in Kandara constituency.
At the church, the president yet again threatened to “tell you what’s in my heart and what I believe and why so.” These prophecy-laced threats by the President, to the GEMA nation, in which he has been threatening to show them the sign, have become the butt of crude jokes among Kikuyus.
Corollary, President Uhuru once again has plucked Polycarp Igathe away from his corporate perch as Equity Bank’s Chief Commercial Officer back to Nairobi’s tumultuous governor seat politics. The first time the bespectacled Igathe was thrown into the deep end of the Nairobi murky politics was in 2017, as Mike Sonko’s deputy governor. After six months, he threw in the towel, lamenting that Sonko couldn’t let him even breathe.
Uhuru has a tendency of (mis)using Murang’a people
“Igathe is from Wanjerere in Kigumo, Murang’a, but grew up in Ol Kalou, Nyandarua County,” one of the Mzees told me. “He’s not interested in politics; much less know how it’s played. I’ve spent time with him and confided in me as much. Uhuru has a tendency of (mis)using Murang’a people. President Uhuru wants to use Igathe to control Nairobi. The sad thing is that Igathe doesn’t have the guts to tell Uhuru the brutal fact: I’m really not interested in all these shenanigans, leave me alone. The president is hoping, once again, to hopefully placate the Murang’a people, by pretending to front Igathe. I foresee another terrible disaster ultimately befalling both Igathe and Uhuru.”
Be that as it may, what I got away with from this caucus, after an entire day’s deliberations, is that its keeping it presidential choice close to its chest. My attempts to goad some of the men and women present were fruitless.
Murang’a people like reminding everyone that it’s only they, who have yet to produce a president from the GEMA stable, despite being the wealthiest. Kiambu has produced two presidents from the same family, Nyeri one, President Mwai Kibaki, who died on April 22. The closest Murang’a came to giving the country a president was during Ken Matiba’s time in the 1990s. “But Matiba had suffered a debilitating stroke that incapacitated him,” said one of the mzees. “It was tragic, but there was nothing we could do.”
Murang’a people like reminding everyone that it’s only they, who have yet to produce a president from the GEMA stable, despite being the wealthiest
It is interesting to note that Jimi Wanjigi, the Safina party presidential flagbearer is from Murang’a County. His family hails from Wahundura, in Mathioya constituency. Him and Mwangi wa Iria, the Murang’a County governor are the other two Murang’a prominent persons who have tossed themselves into the presidential race. Wa Iria’s bid which was announced at the beginning of 2022, seems to have stagnated, while Jimi’s seems to be gathering storm.
Are the Murang’a people prepping themselves this time to vote for one of their own? Jimi’s campaign team has crafted a two-pronged strategy that it hopes will endear Kenyans to his presidency. One, a generational, paradigm shift, especially among the youth, targeting mostly post-secondary, tertiary college and university students.
“We believe this group of voters who are basically between the ages of 18–27 years and who comprise more than 65 per cent of total registered voters are the key to turning this election,” said one of his presidential campaign team members. “It matters most how you craft the political message to capture their attention.” So, branding his key message as itwika, it is meant to orchestrate a break from past electoral behaviour that is pegged on traditional ethnic voting patterns.
The other plunk of Jimi’s campaign theme is economic emancipation, quite pointedly as it talks directly to the GEMA nation, especially the Murang’a Kikuyus, who are reputed for their business acumen and entrepreneurial skills. “What Kikuyus cherish most,” said the team member “is someone who will create an enabling business environment and leave the Kikuyus to do their thing. You know, Kikuyus live off business, if you interfere with it, that’s the end of your friendship, it doesn’t matter who you are.”
Can Jimi re-ignite the Murang’a/Matiba popular passion among the GEMA community and re-influence it to vote in a different direction? As all the presidential candidates gear-up this week on who they will eventually pick as their running mates, the GEMA community once more shifts the spotlight on itself, as the most sought-after vote basket.
Both Raila Odinga and William Ruto coalitions – Azimio la Umoja-One Kenya and Kenya Kwanza Alliance – must seek to impress and woe Mt Kenya region by appointing a running mate from one of its ranks. If not, the coalitions fear losing the vote-rich area either to each other, or perhaps to a third party. Murang’a County, may as well, become the conundrum, with which the August 9, presidential race may yet to be unravelled and decided.
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