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Between a Rock and a Hard Place: Somaliland’s Elections in Limbo

12 min read.

Disagreement over plans to reshuffle Somaliland’s licensed political parties and the sequencing of elections has put the electoral calendar into question. Once again, squabbling and tactical manoeuvring by the country’s political elites threaten to undermine Somaliland’s hard-earned reputation as a beacon of democratic hope in the bleak political context of the Horn of Africa. Without serious attempts at consensus-building, these developments could place Somaliland on a trajectory leading to severe political crisis.

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Somaliland’s Presidential Election – Late Again?
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The Commitment to Timely Elections unravels

Its remarkable successes notwithstanding, Somaliland’s democratisation process has been marred by recurrent delay and resultant disputes since its inception more than 20 years ago. Until just a few weeks ago, it looked as though for the first time, Somaliland would be holding its presidential election – due in November 2022 – on time. Following on from the successful and widely praised local council and parliamentary elections of May 2021, the government of President Muse Bihi had consistently confirmed its readiness to hold the polls on schedule. Allocations for the election expenses were made in the 2022 national budget, and the National Electoral Commission (NEC) was tasked with setting up a timeline. The government reiterated its commitment to the international donor community in Nairobi and in return secured financial support for the election.

However, prospects of a timely election were thrown into disarray in late December 2021, when the Somaliland Government started to change course by calling for the “opening of political parties”.

Background: Three Party Limit and derailed Party Licensing Cycle

Article 9 of the Somaliland Constitution limits the number of political parties to three. Arguably, this limits the freedom of association and the political space within the country. But based on historical experience of the first post-independence elections, this limitation is intended to prevent a proliferation of political parties along (sub)clan lines and to ensure that each of the three pursues a wide national base.

According to the original political parties law which governed the local council elections of 2002, three political parties were to be licensed out of so-called “political associations” contesting local council elections every five years. In 2011, a review of Law 14 – which governs the formation and selection of political parties – granted the three political parties a license of ten rather than five years. The logic behind the change was to provide more continuity and to give the three political parties the opportunity to compete in two presidential elections during the decade for which they would be licensed. However, the law did not factor in the recurrent delays in Somaliland’s electoral timetable: To date, the parties (Kulimye, Waddani and UCID), licensed in December 2012, only contested one presidential election in late 2017 (delayed from 2015). The next presidential election is due in November 2022, and the next local council elections are not due until 2026, but the licenses of the current parties expire on 26 December 2022.

A Party Election?

In 2021, the current administration proposed fresh amendments to Law 14 of 2011. These were designed to enable a direct election — not to elect candidates into offices, but only to determine the three political parties to be registered for a ten year period following expiry of the current licenses. The changes also included a clause that was detrimental to the opposition: Existing political parties would become “transitional” and would therefore be barred from competing in any presidential, parliamentary or local council election once the process of registering new political associations and parties was initiated. In effect, the revised version of the law would have “neutralised” the three existing political parties in May 2022.

Parliament passed the proposed amendments in 2021, but the government later changed course. It vetoed the amended law in a letter dated 20 July 2021, but only received by the (newly elected) Parliament on 21 August 2021. The President’s main objection was that the election period for the political parties would have been in conflict with the timeline of the constitutionally mandated presidential election. He requested Parliament to address this conflict between the Constitution and Law 14/2021.

However, sections of the government and some members of Parliament (MPs) continued to push for the implementation of the amended law, arguing that the President failed to reject the bill within the required 21 day period and that it had therefore become law. The call for the application of this controversial version of Law 14 infuriated the opposition parties, who saw their chance to contest in the presidential election thrown in doubt.

Wrangling over the legality of the 2021 amendments of Law 14 continued in the courts. The Supreme Court, in its ruling of 16 January 2022, affirmed the legality of the original Law 14 of 2011. However, the court endorsed one clause from the amended Law 14 of 2021 to enable the direct election of new political parties. Tensions were somewhat eased by the ruling. The leaders of the opposition felt that the court ruling favoured them because it did not accept the key proposed government amendment to Law 14/2011 that would have relegated the political parties to a “transitional” status at the onset of a fresh registration process. Although the court did not explicitly rule on the legality of the supposedly adopted new Law 14 of 2021, the confirmation of Law 14 of 2011 in principle gives the political parties – especially the opposition – a “new lease of life” to compete in the forthcoming presidential election.

Presidential or Political Parties Election first?

Law 14 of 2011 stipulates that the registration process for new political parties begins six months before the polling date[i]. The latter would be on 26 November 2022, one month before the expiration of the parties’ licenses on 26 December 2022[ii]. This would place the two elections in short sequence, starting with the presidential election on 13 November, theoretically followed by the political parties elections 13 days later, on 26 November 2022[iii].

However, statements by the Ministry of Information leave no doubt that the intention remains to select new political parties ahead of (not after) the presidential election, and to let the three newly elected national parties compete in it. The announcement of a new “Political Associations Registration Committee” by President Bihi at the end of January underlines that the government continues to pursue a swift “opening” of the political parties. The technical timelines of this process would inevitably lead to the postponement of the presidential poll.

In effect, this implies that the issue is not only a matter of sequence. Local commentators, legal and electoral experts strongly believe that only one electoral process is technically possible by November 2022.[iv] Prioritizing one election therefore automatically means pushing the second election beyond its constitutional (in the case of the presidential election) or legal (in the case of the parties election) timeline, leading to political crisis.

Meanwhile, the continuing confusion effectively prevents the electoral commission from mobilising the required funds, updating the voter register and preparing a technical process on time. Therefore the lack of clarity and the disagreement on the way forward jeopardizes the chances of realizing one or even both processes by November 2022.

Underlying Realpolitik

For all sides, but especially for the ruling party Kulmiye and the larger opposition party Waddani, the issue at stake concerns vital political and clan interests. The government’s sudden move to initiate the registration of new political associations has been attributed to recent changes in Somaliland’s domestic political dynamics.[v] Among these is Kulmiye’s unexpectedly poor performance in the combined elections of May 2021[vi], which local observers saw as an indication of voters’ rejection of government policies and performance as well as deepening rifts within the clan coalition carrying the current government[vii]. The situation was exacerbated when Kulmiye narrowly lost the highly contested election of the new Speaker of Parliament, effectively handing control over this key institution to the opposition. Both events are perceived to have led to a less favourable political atmosphere for the ruling party and its chances in the presidential election[viii] – a prospect that has obviously excited the opposition[ix].

Against the background of their disappointment during the 2017 presidential election and in light of their performance in 2021, there is a strong belief among Waddani supporters that their candidate would be able to defeat the incumbent President Bihi in 2022. Therefore, the interpretation among Waddani supporters is that the push for the opening of political parties is a scheme to deny the Waddani candidate any chance of contesting and winning the Presidency[x]. Whether these assumptions are true or not, it is safe to assume that a delay in the election would produce particularly strong opposition to a government term extension from Waddani quarters, raising the spectre of violent confrontation, particularly if the government resorts to physical intimidation to counter protests instead of exercising political tolerance and self-restraint.

The circumstances are particularly sensitive on account of the underlying clan constellation and the assumed formula of “power sharing through rotation” – a concept that does not align easily with electoral democracy. At the centre are the three major Issaq sub-clans: Habar Awal, Habar Je’lo, and Habar Younis, whose capacity to work together and accommodate each other has been essential to securing Somaliland’s long-term stability. The election of Ahmed Silanyo as President in 2010 was seen as a political accommodation of the Haber Je’lo, who believed that their “turn” to hold the highest office of the land had arrived. Similarly, there is an expectation of a Habar Younis to be elected in 2022 (as there was in 2017). Waddani party is the primary political vehicle of the Habar Younis. A second failure of the party/clan to win the Presidency – especially if based on a procedural manoeuvre and a suspected manipulation of the process – would put Somaliland’s democracy under severe stress.

Scenarios

Several scenarios are on the horizon. In the first, the government continues to pursue the process of opening political parties immediately, with the intention to hold the contest over the licensing of political parties before the presidential election. The resources to cover the process are available and it is expected to kick off officially in May 2022. While President Bihi has already appointed the Political Party Registration Committee (RAC) to oversee the vetting of political associations, they are yet to be confirmed by parliament.

In this scenario, the government would hold the political parties’ election before November 2022, capitalising on strong public support for opening the political parties. This would likely split and weaken the opposition parties who would not be able to challenge the popular demand. Following the election, government would likely seek to reach an agreement with the emerging parties on a new election date and an extension of its term based on a technical timeline developed by the NEC. This scenario entails two distinct risks: Either the Guurti, the Upper House of Parliament, endorses a “technical” extension pitting the ruling party Kulmiye against either weakened or entirely new, unfunded and largely unprepared contestants; or, the Guurti – as in the past – affords the President a generous extension by e.g. two more years in office and once again jeopardizes the electoral cycle.

The second scenario is that the process falters and the government does not succeed in its bid to hold the political parties contest before November 2022 due to strong challenges from the opposition and other interested stakeholders. The opposition would likely accuse government of circumventing the election bodies, i.e. the RAC and the National Electoral Commission (NEC), and manipulating their mechanisms to achieve a certain outcome of the process. The opposition and some political aspirants are already referring to the new members of RAC as “partisan”, since four of the seven proposed commissioners are members Kulmiye party. Protracted political deadlock would drag the process out and would “necessitate” an extension of the government’s term by the Guurti. Under these circumstances, the Guurti would adopt such an extension without a prior consensus between the stakeholders. If unmitigated, this would return Somaliland to political crisis comparable to the ones that engulfed the country from 2008 to 2010 and between 2015 and 2017, the two two-year spells that followed the respective term expiries of President Rayale and President Silanyo. Except that in this case, the licenses of the current political parties would expire on 26 December 2022. Without remedy, this would throw the country into a severe and unprecedented constitutional crisis. In the absence of these legally recognized bodies, it would no longer be clear who the legitimate stakeholders for consensus building to resolve this crisis would be. This could further encourage the opposition leaders to threaten establishment of a parallel government in defiance, as other opposition parties have done before.

In the third possible scenario, the party election process falters. However, the government and parties reach a consensus to extend both the term of government and the licenses of the political parties, e.g. for a period of two years. The government term extension would have to be adopted by the Guurti, the parties extension would require an amendment of Law 14 by the parliament. In this scenario, extension of the parties’ licenses would lead the opposition to accept the extension of the government’s term more easily[xi]. In fact, some argue that this could even be a preferred outcome of the crisis for some opposition leaders, as it would be more likely to make Muse Bihi a one-term president and would buy the opposition time and opportunity to build momentum. Early indications are that forging such a “deal” would not be an easy undertaking. The opposition parties’ right to stand in the (delayed) presidential election would certainly be a key point of contention. Needless to say, political actors outside the current trio of existing parties who are preparing to register new associations would passionately oppose such a scenario, since it would deny them the chance to enter the political playing field.

The fourth scenario would be a return to the presidential election timeline as mandated by the constitution. This would require swift consensus between the political parties and the government to postpone the “opening” up of political associations and to extend the licenses of the current parties through yet another amendment of Law 14. Presidential elections would take place – only between the existing political parties – on 13 November 2022. Like the third scenario, such a move would dash the hopes of aspiring political associations and a large section of the public which was generated by the government’s earlier signals towards the opening the party registration process.

Technically, there would also be the (remote) possibility of holding the two processes together, i.e. electing a new President and the future political parties on the same day. However, this option is widely thought to risk serious confusion. Aspiring new political associations would complain of being cut out of the presidential competition, and having nothing to fundraise or build momentum around until the next scheduled elections in 2026. Theoretically, the election could also lead to a “President without party”.

There does not seem to be final clarity on whether the presidential contest will be between the old or new political parties, despite signals towards the opening of political associations. This question will guide whether Somaliland heads into scenario 1 (new parties) or scenarios 3, 4 or 5 (old parties). The prevailing public sentiment and the visible political indications suggest that the country is in scenario 1. However, delays caused by the foreseeable confrontations over the RAC and its process have a strong potential to push it towards scenario 2. Scenarios 3 and 4 would depend on consensus building between the existing political parties and are unlikely to materialise in the absence of significant changes in Somaliland’s political dynamics and landscape. Scenario 5 is a remote possibility.

Reform the Party System?

Since the adoption of the constitution in 2002, calls for reforms to deal with the restriction of political parties have been constant. Today some MPs believe the on-going debate could be an opportunity for broad discussions on the restriction of political parties, and to come up with an enduring solution that prevents the problem from resurfacing every 10 years[xii]. Indeed, there is need to re-think the political party system beyond the immediate challenge. Political observers tend to view the restriction of political parties as undemocratic and in contradiction to the constitutional right to freedom of association[xiii]. What was once conceived as a temporary measure to secure the gradual development of Somaliland’s democracy has in reality allowed three entities to form an oligopoly that controls the political space.

Moreover, it is increasingly clear that the three-party-limit has failed to achieve its stated intention, namely to promote political parties with a broad national base. Instead, all three have strong and identifiable clan allegiances. Political actors tied together in identity-based segments rather than policy-based units are hardly fit to pursue national interests. More so as the political parties as well as the Registration Committee have been overly focussed on the rights and registration of the parties as entities, whilst showing little to no regard to the democratic duties that come with these, especially in a context where only three parties are allowed to compete. As a result, the parties have de facto been owned by a handful of leaders with very little concern for democratic practices within their own structures.

Neither the 2002 nor the 2012 elections of political parties (through local council elections) produced democratic and inclusive political parties with a broad national base as intended by the constitution. Rather than evaluating and rectifying these challenges, Somaliland is now in the midst of repeating the same exercise, expecting a different outcome. In fact, if anything, detaching the political parties election from an actual contest for offices (as in the local elections) is likely to reinforce the problem.

Therefore, regardless of how the current standoff plays out, it will be important for Somaliland to “re-invent” itself in this area. Political parties have been vital to the consensus-based state-building process in Somaliland. They must continue to play this role without holding the country’s political space “hostage” in the long term.

Conclusion

The best hope of overcoming the current electoral preparation challenge and the seemingly perpetual cycle of electoral delays and crisis would be through a return to consensus politics, the remedy to which Somaliland has traditionally turned in moments of fierce political contestation. Somaliland’s political leaders should cooperate to reach a political compromise at the negotiation table. However slim, the opportunity to set a consensual electoral timeline and stage peaceful elections still exists, and should be pursued at all costs.

Somaliland rightly earned praise from both domestic and international observers for holding peaceful and transparent parliamentary and local council elections on 31 May 2021[xiv]. At the time, the international community[xv] and the people of Somaliland commended the President and his administration for organizing the long overdue polls and financing 70%[xvi] of the election operation.

If Somaliland’s political elites were to capitalize on these successes by forging a political consensus on the key challenges to holding the two processes, they would spare the country the grim prospect of acute political tension and possibly even violent confrontation. They would also capitalize on the unique opportunities of the recent spike in international interest in Somaliland and reinforce its distinct political trajectory from Somalia at a time when the latter is still struggling to stage even indirect elections a year after President Farmajo’s electoral term expired. And, last not least, President Bihi would continue to demonstrate the kind of leadership he provided after the opposition’s strong performance in the 2021 elections, allowing Somaliland’s democratic process to continue to thrive. Without doubt, the world is craving for such “rare good news in the troubled Horn of Africa”.[xvii]

This article was published in collaboration with Hbs Horn of Africa.

[i] See Article 6.5 of Law 14/2011: http://www.somalilandlaw.com/Political_Parties___Assoc_Law___Amends__20…

[ii] According to an MP with legal background, in a press conference held in Hargeisa in January 2022.

[iii] The registration process would begin on 26 May 2022.,

[iv] Phone interview with a member of NEC, Hargeisa, 18 January 2022. According to Local commentators and legal expert on local satellite TVs analysing the court ruling on Jan 16, 2022

[v] Suleiman Ibrahim Hashi, local political analyst, MMTV Somali on 12 January 2022. See: https://youtu.be/-Esa4v_VImc

[vi] International Crisis Group (ICG), 2021: Building on Somaliland’s Successful Elections. Crisis Group Africa Briefing N°174. Nairobi/Brussels, 12 August 2021. https://www.crisisgroup.org/africa/horn-africa/somaliland/b174-building…

[vii] Informal discussion with media people, Hargeisa, 13 December 2021.

[viii] Informal discussion with media people, Hargeisa, 13 December 2021.

[ix] Informal discussion with media people, Hargeisa, 13 December 2021.

[x] Informal discussion a Waddani youth supporter. Hargeisa, 11 January 2022.

[xi] Phone conservation with former MP. Hargeisa, 16 December 2021.

[xii] See e.g. https://qarannews.com/daawoshir-jaraaid-xasaasiya-oo-uu-qabtay-xildhiba…

[xiii] Michael Walls (et. al.) 2021: Limited International Election Observation Mission Somaliland House of Representatives and local council elections, 31 May 2021, DPU Consultancy Report. October 2021. See: https://www.ucl.ac.uk/bartlett/development/sites/bartlett_development/f…

[xiv] ICG 2021.

[xv] https://hornobserver.com/articles/1039/EU-commends-Somalilands-recently…

[xvi] Academy for Peace and Development and Institute of Public Policy (APD-IPP) (2021): A Vote for Change: Somaliland’s Two Decades Old Electoral Democracy, May 2021. https://apd-ipp.com/2021/05/24/a-vote-for-change-somalilands-two-decades-old-electoral-democracy/

[xvii] ICG 2021.

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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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“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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The Murang’a Factor in the Upcoming Presidential Elections
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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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