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A Dagger to the Heart: The Killing of Indigenous Oromo Leaders

11 min read.

A coalition of Oromo advocacy and human rights calls for the investigations into the killing of Oromo leaders on the orders of Ethiopian ruling party officials.

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A Dagger to the Heart: The Killing of Indigenous Oromo Leaders
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On the evening of 1 December 2021, 14 respected, experienced and culturally venerated leaders of the Karrayyuu Oromo community of 100,000 in central Ethiopia were killed within minutes by Oromia Special Police and Federal forces operating on the orders of ruling party officials sitting a hundred kilometres away in Adama city.

The murdered men were located at Fantalle district, East Shewa Zone of the Oromia regional state in Ethiopia. They were killed execution-style at 7p.m. far from the village where they were abducted when Prosperity Party bosses gave the go-ahead signal via cell phone message to waiting members of the special forces. The murdered men had just finished conducting Waaqa Kadhaa, a sacred indigenous prayer ceremony held at a special site designated for that purpose. In the close-knit iconic livestock-rearing culture of the Karrayyuu people, this was an unthinkable atrocity.

We, a coalition of Oromo advocacy and human rights groups operating internationally consider that this horrifying series of events indicate the intentionality and destructiveness of Abiy Ahmed’s government against the Oromo and other southern and marginalized peoples who do not support his direction for the country. We urge the international community, in particular those concerned with justice, peace, stability and human rights, to take note of what has happened in Karrayyuu. Those who were deeply committed to spirituality and to democratic principles above all, were brutally massacred with lightning speed, an act that sends an ominous warning to the populace that no one is safe right now in Ethiopia.

Historic, political and economic contexts 

The shocking massacre was carried out amid an ongoing brutal war between the Ethiopian National Defense Force (ENDF) and the Tigray Defence Forces in the north of the country, and with the Oromo Liberation Army in the south. The site of the killing is in the Karrayyuu camel-rearing, pastoral grazing and watering lands located close to coveted trade routes for lucrative commodities in a cash-strapped economy. This valued territory has become a target of territorial expansionism by Amhara militias emboldened by the failure of Abiy Ahmed’s government to protect vulnerable populations like the Karrayyuu.

In the days leading to the event, Karrayyuu Oromo community leaders had resisted allowing young people to leave their homeland to be conscripted into the ENDF in the north. Among Oromo communities throughout Ethiopia, the Karrayyuu are well known and esteemed for their consistent practice of the principles of the time-honoured Gadaa system of socio-political organization that encompassed all Oromo before their incorporation into Ethiopia at the turn of the 20th century.

These and other factors make the December tragedy resonate with the entire population and account for the sense of threat and foreboding among other vulnerable groups in the country.

The brutality against of the Karrayyuu Oromo, and their displacement, has historical precedent in Ethiopia. The Karrayyuu have been historically and repeatedly dispossessed of their pastoral land. They lost more than half of it when the government of Haile Selassie established a massive sugar cane plantation at Metahara and when the Awash National Park in the Awash valley was carved out of Karrayyuu territory 200 kilometres east of Finfinnee/Addis Ababa. Jobs at the sugar factory did not benefit the Karrayyuu but instead went to labour imported from other areas. Over the years, substantial contraband trade elsewhere in Ethiopia became extremely lucrative. The routes to the outlets for contraband goods in Djibouti and Somaliland – and therefore the flow of wealth and power – meet at Awash, just east of Fantalle, before running directly through Karrayyuu territory.

Karrayyuu land has been encroached upon by residents of the neighbouring Amhara Region for a number of reasons. They seek territorial expansion for farmland and control/influence over strategic trade routes, and have set their sights on the grazing lands of the Karrayyuu pastoralists. Since the regime of Abiy Ahmed came to power, Amhara Region militia have proceeded to encroach on adjacent Karrayyuu land, clearing vegetation and razing Oromo pastoral structures to the ground and moving signposts without any pushback from government forces who would be expected to enforce the law and protect established legal boundaries.

These aggressive moves by the militia are followed by the arrival of settlers who construct houses and begin farming. Before 2018, there were territorial disputes but “there was balance”, according to residents. Now a sign reading “Welcome to Amhara Region” has been erected 45 kilometres deep into Karrayyuu land, crossing the vital supply routes to Djibouti and Somaliland. The sign was dismantled eight times by Karrayyuu and nine times reconstructed by Amhara militia, until the Prosperity Party dispatched an armed pickup truck to support the Amhara in this struggle over the boundary marker by safeguarding the sign.

Local people interpret such actions as an indication that the Abiy Ahmed government is reviving the imperialistic and assimilationist policies of previous Ethiopian regimes. Actions such as these foment ethnic conflict and justify the use of violence in favour of one ethnic group over the rest of Ethiopia. Such policies invite greater instability in Ethiopia and in the region, as the wars in the north and the south attest. The Fantalle territory is currently a significant prize for Amhara expansionism at the expense of the Karrayyuu. The Abiy Ahmed regime is allowing and condoning this overt land grab.

The massacre and its aftermath 

What is known about the Karrayyuu massacre is that Prosperity Party leaders sitting in Adama ordered the execution in cold blood of the Abbaa Gadaa and thirteen other individually selected Gadaa leaders in Fantalle district on the evening of 1 December.

Members of the Michile Gadaa, currently halfway through its eight-year term of office, were present in Motoma, the seat of the Gadaa, a sacred village within the loose collection of hamlets that comprise the area of Karra. They had met on the morning of 1 December 2021 for a prayer ceremony, Waaqa Kadhaa, and had returned to their huts when five vehicles arrived, several of which had mounted machine guns, carrying about 20 Ethiopian government “security forces” — described as a mixture of Oromia Special Forces, Federal soldiers and police.

Local people interpret such actions as an indication that the Abiy Ahmed government is reviving the imperialistic and assimilationist policies of previous Ethiopian regimes.

These “security forces” called out from their homes several dozen people who had attended the ceremony and read out the names of 40 individuals. All forty Gadaa leaders, including their overall leader, the Abbaa Gadaa, Kadiro Hawas Boru, and Gadaa Councillor, Jiloo Didoo, came forward and peacefully submitted after discussing among themselves about the consequences of complying.

Traditional weapons which were worn for the ceremony, and rifles owned by about 20 of the men were removed from their homes and piled before them. Once their weapons had been taken, they were subjected to verbal and, increasingly, to physical abuse.

When the men asked the government forces what they had done to deserve such treatment, the Abbaa Gadaa advised everyone to keep calm, saying there was nothing to fear because they had done no wrong. He informed the soldiers that Abiy Ahmed had visited the area twice and spoken with him personally. Kadiro showed the soldiers a gift he had been given by Abiy Ahmed to prove this claim. (It appeared to be a sort of key fob.) 

The forty Gadaa leaders were taken to Anole, an isolated arid area about six kilometres from the village, where they were divided into two groups. Sixteen, including the Abbaa Gadaa, Kadiro Hawas Boru, and Jiloo Didoo remained in Anole where, according to two eyewitnesses who later escaped, they were forced to lie face down on the ground and beaten. The Abbaa Gadaa was separated from the group several times during the day and beaten within earshot of the others. There were many screams of pain but the witnesses were lying face down and unable to see what was happening most of the time.

Throughout the day, there were phone calls between the commander of the soldiers holding the detainees and Prosperity Party headquarters in Adama to discuss the fate of the detained. According to the two escaped leaders, members of the Oromia Special Forces spoke with government officials in Adama to receive instructions and orders to kill the Karrayyuu elders.

Finally, after dark, around 7p.m., the 16 men were lined up and their heads were covered before execution. When the firing started, one of the soldiers threw his gun down and shouted, “I cannot kill Oromo. I cannot kill Karrayyuu!” Hearing this, two of the 16 Gadaa leaders seized the opportunity to run off and escape. The fate of the reluctant soldier is not known. His body was has not been found, although the witnesses reported that he was sharply rebuked by his fellows as the witnesses escaped.

The Abbaa Gadaa advised everyone to keep calm, saying there was nothing to fear because they had done no wrong.

Villagers had heard prolonged shooting during the night and, tipped off by the eyewitnesses, located the killing field later in the morning of 2 December. A soldier guarding the corpses tried to prevent community leaders from taking the bodies but he was chased away. The 14 bullet-riddled remains of the Gadaa leaders were taken back to Karra for burial. Their bodies had already been attacked by wild animals when they were found.

The government’s initial response was to announce that the killings were carried out by “Shane” (Oromo Liberation Army, OLA), a claim that had no credence or evidentiary basis and has since been contradicted by senior officials of the Prosperity Party themselves who have claimed that the Oromia Regional Government is responsible.

Local informants believe that only a disagreement between members of the security forces on 1 December prevented all forty men from being executed in Anole.

The other 24 Gadaa leaders were driven 55 kilometres southwest to a military camp at Wolenchiti, where they were detained and tortured for six or seven days before being transferred to a secret location in Mojo, 28 kilometres on the other side of Adama, along the road to Finfinnee/Addis Ababa. The beatings and torture continued.

Local informants believe that only a disagreement between members of the security forces on 1 December prevented all forty men from being executed in Anole.

One of the detainees, Jiloo Boraya Hawas, who was in his fifties, died from his injuries on 8 December in Mojo. His body lay in the cell with the other detainees for 24 hours before being moved to a container next to the cell where it stayed until Karrayyuu elders tracked down the detainees and confronted their captors on 10 December. The body of Jiloo Boraya Hawas was taken back to Karra where he was buried on 11 December.

Other detainees received hospital treatment before being returned to detention. Six were released to return home on 31 December. The others remain in custody. The presence of these detainees in Mojo and the testimony of the two leaders who escaped the massacre and lived to share their eyewitness accounts, have prevented further claims that the killings were the work of OLA.

The implications for the Karrayyuu

The speed and ferocity of this attack on the sacred and revered Gadaa institution have shocked Oromo communities across the world. The Gadaa is more than a religious institution: it is the core of Oromo identity, the basis of law-making, morality and ethics, civil conduct, and the foundation of a democratic ethos shared by Oromo and other Cushitic peoples of Ethiopia.

Oromo democracy, which predates any western equivalent by several centuries, and includes more checks and balances, is grounded in the Gadaa. The Karrayyuu killings are of enormous significance to all Oromo – whether followers of Waaqefata (traditional monotheist Oromo religion), Christianity or Islam.

Although Prosperity Party officials have been known to spread false information in the past, it is worth noting that they have stepped forward to offer this information, which contradicts earlier government statements that falsely accused OLA “Shane” of the brutality. A leaked one-page letter containing reports of the Karrayyuu massacre written to the Oromia Police Commission and the Attorney from the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission also confirms, “The order to commit the killing was given from above.”

The persecution of Karrayyuu Oromo had intensified prior to the massacre. Those found in urban areas, buying goods or seeking medical attention, were liable to face beatings and imprisonment. Local estimates are of 200 persons detained, including women and the elderly. They cannot be reached by relatives bringing food and are kept incommunicado. Since the atrocity on 1 December, movement has been further curtailed. Karrayyuu pastoralists are prevented from taking their animals to essential water and pasture. They are now forbidden to carry arms that have been essential to their livelihood, protecting their camels. Now they are arrested or shot if seen carrying rifles.

When the firing started, one of the soldiers threw his gun down and shouted, “I cannot kill Oromo. I cannot kill Karrayyuu!”

Within a few weeks of the massacre, the sacred Gadaa village at Motoma was razed to the ground by Amhara Region Militia. The Karrayyuu who resisted are accused of supporting OLA.

We call for a thorough investigation of the Karrayyuu massacre that will identify the perpetrators, and confirm who ordered and who performed the executions, so that the entire chain of command can be held accountable. Such a disclosure will reveal the nature of the regime in power and provide insight into the mechanisms by which impunity prevails in Oromia.

We call for the Karrayyuu community’s territories to be respected. Amhara militia should be instructed to evacuate the areas immediately. Federal military forces need to return to their barracks. Traditional and ceremonial arms should be returned so that the Karrayyuu may restore their lives and livelihoods. Confiscated camels should be returned to their owners. Funds should be provided for the rehabilitation of a community that has lost its leaders and the families of the executed men.

If the government officially admits the chain of events and holds the perpetrators accountable, this could open the door to reconciliation between the Karrayyuu and the government. Otherwise, the current climate of confrontation between the community and government soldiers sends an ominous message to all Oromo and other marginalized indigenous peoples and bodes ill for the entire region, setting the stage for another catastrophe.

For Oromia and the wider south

The Karrayyuu experience is what Oromo see as the fate of countless other vulnerable communities if protections are not put in place. Indeed, the events in Karrayyuu are a microcosm of what is happening in communities and villages everywhere in Oromia; the harassment and persecution directed at all groups considered, rightly or wrongly, to be adversaries of Abiy’s government. Unfortunately, reports have not been getting out about atrocities taking place in the centre and south of the country due to communication blackouts and travel restrictions.

The UN Human Rights Council has resolved to establish an independent commission of experts to investigate human rights abuses throughout Ethiopia, and not just the violations in the Tigray and Amhara Regions. This is most welcome. An independent verification of egregious abuses in Oromia and other regions of oppressed and marginalized peoples of Ethiopia, who constitute the vast majority of the population of the country, will likely strengthen calls for thoroughgoing changes to the political and power structure of Ethiopia.

An independent investigation will also demonstrate the intentional removal of Oromo, Gumuz, Agaw and Kemant people from Amhara, Benishangul-Gumuz and Oromia Regions by Amhara Region militia.

If investigations go forward, it will become clear that a solution to Ethiopia’s structural problems will not be found in negotiations among northern belligerents alone but must include accountability issues and voices from the wider south and from marginalized peoples.

Democratic forces in Ethiopia and finding inclusive solutions 

Investigations will also confirm that forces of democracy have been under attack for three years, since late 2018, starting with attempts to eliminate members of Qeerroo, the Oromo prodemocracy student movement. After four years of peaceful protests and at the cost of thousands of young lives, this group brought an end to EPRDF rule in 2018. The Oromo youth were intent on implementing the principles of democracy in Ethiopia. Their hard-won opening of the democratic space was, however, systematically sabotaged by Abiy Ahmed who had already identified the Qeerroo as his “biggest threat” upon arrival in office.

It should be noted that currently the Ethiopian regime accuses Western countries of “imperialism” and “neo-colonialism”, yet this same Ethiopian regime is spearheading systematic suppression and attacks on indigenous African ways of life and indigenous institutions and leaders within its own boundaries. Abiy Ahmed employs “pan-African” rhetoric claiming “Africa for Africans” on the international stage, while allying himself with notorious dictators and totalitarians around the world. His regime is empowered by this foreign assistance to crush indigenous Oromo people’s aspirations for local autonomy and democracy. Are the Oromo, who aspire to revive an indigenous form of democratic governance, less “African” than the ruler who aspires to destroy ancient ways of life in order to institute authoritarian rule?

Within a few weeks of the massacre, the sacred Gadaa village at Motoma was razed to the ground by Amhara Region militia.

We support any efforts to reach a ceasefire between Ethiopian government forces (including Amhara Region militia and embedded Eritrean troops) and Tigrayan forces. However, we recommend genuinely inclusive negotiations, inclusive of forces represented in Oromia and the southern and marginalized peoples as well, in order to seek a countrywide and lasting solution. The underlying stresses and fault lines in Ethiopian society will not be addressed if negotiations are either influenced or dictated by the government or limited to and controlled by the forces that created the current war.

The oppressed and marginalised peoples together constitute 70 to 75 per cent of the Ethiopian population. At over 40 million, for example, the Oromo alone are twice the population of the average African country. These now-silenced peoples must – with international support and mediation – be central to the conduct of any impartial, independently convened dialogue intended to navigate a way to stable forms of democracy and peace.

Media contacts: 

Bonnie Holcomb, Oromo Advocacy Alliance, Washington DC, bkholcomb@gmail.com, +1 301 523 5565 Dr Trevor Trueman, Oromia Support Group, UK osg@talktalk.net +44 1684 573722

Coalition of Advocacy and Human Rights Groups – Signatories 

Advocacy 4 Oromia
Melbourne, Australia
Baro Tumsa
Institute Greenbelt, MD, USA

Oromia Support Group
Malvern, UK
Melbourne, Australia

Oromia Global Forum
Tacoma Park, MD, USA Oromo

Advocacy Alliance
Washington DC, USA

Oromo Human Rights Defenders
Minneapolis, MN, USA

Oromo Legacy Leadership and Advocacy Association
Falls Church, VA, USA

Oromo Professionals Group
Washington, DC, USA

Union of Oromo Communities in Canada
Ontario, Canada

World Oromo Congress
Washington, DC

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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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Asylum Pact: Rwanda Must Do Some Political Housecleaning
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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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Beyond Borders: Why We Need a Truly Internationalist Climate Justice Movement
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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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Politics

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?

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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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