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China, Oil and the South Sudan Resource Curse

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South Sudan remains heavily reliant on oil revenues but the extraction of this resource has resulted in major environmental damage and great human suffering.

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China, Oil and the South Sudan Resource Curse
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South Sudan is caught between a rock and a hard place, heavily dependent on the revenues generated by a resource whose extraction is having a negative impact on the country.

China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) operates the Dar Petroleum Operating Company (DPOC) and Greater Petroleum Operating Company (GPOC) consortia that produce all of the country’s oil. CNPC started operating in Sudan in 1996, long before South Sudan became an independent state in 2011, without putting in place proper waste management systems and undertaking environmental audits.

While oil production generates over 90 per cent of the government’s budget, the issue of waste management and accountability has been a continuing challenge. Major environmental damage has been reported in the oil fields, jeopardising the lives of those who live in the oil producing states.

“They don’t care about waste management and environmental protection. They want it cheaper, and the agreements are opaque so I don’t know what they signed, in terms of service delivery and environmental care,” said an analyst who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The source also claimed that DPOC and GPOC are “sabotaging” the regulations developed by the Ministry of Petroleum to avoid their corporate social responsibilities towards the communities and the country. “They [DPOC and GPOC] don’t want the implementation of these policies and recently rejected a comprehensive environmental audit saying they are Western ideas, American ideas.”

In the 90s, aware of the impact that oil extraction would have on local communities, the Sudanese government took the draconian measure of ordering the Sudanese Army to evict the civilian population to make way for exploration and production.

“When South Sudan gained independence it was a new responsibility. The whole point of fighting was to do things differently from the old Sudan. The first thing would have been to change things, but the country couldn’t stop oil production. It was young and needed money to continue running its business, to provide basic services and continue with developmental projects,” said Dr Bior Kwer Bior, founding Executive Director for Nile Initiative for Health and Environment, a member of South Sudan’s Civil Society Coalition on Natural Resources.

Today, the decision to continue with oil production has come to haunt the country in terms of the impact on the environment and on the health of local populations.

“Whenever there’s oil extraction obviously there will be impact on the environment. Normally there are safeguards that are put in place to protect the environment. There should be a plan for protecting the environment, an accurate environmental management system, baseline assessment before you start production, and good ways of waste management,” noted Dr Kwer.

According to article 28 of the South Sudan Petroleum Act, contractors must submit an application to the Ministry of Petroleum for a permit to undertake exploratory drilling. The application must include an environmental and social impact assessment. Regarding transportation, treatment and storage, the Act requires that “detailed information on all relevant issues [. . .] including economic, technical, operational, safety related, commercial, local content, land use and environmental aspects of the project” be provided. The Act further clarifies that “The Ministry shall grant a license on the basis of an evaluation of the application, including the environmental and social impact assessment, and the technical competence, experience, history of compliance and ethical conduct and financial capacity of the applicant and the contractor, as well as safety related aspects.”

However, since its enactment in 2012, the provisions of the Act have not been fully implemented and the country continues to engage with the oil companies without proper environmental and social impact assessments having been undertaken.

Environmental impact

A report released by the Nile Initiative for Health and Environment, recorded that over 218 children were born with deformities as a result of oil pollution in the oil-producing states of Unity and Upper Nile.

The organization says it collected the data from the birth registries of the health facilities in Pariang, Unity State, and from media reports of cases in Upper Nile State. Its tally may undercount the true figure because of the absence of health facilities and road networks in the areas where oil fields are located.

Local populations lack awareness of the dangers of the chemicals and waste materials dumped on their doorsteps, which contaminate the water in the wells and ponds that are used by the communities.

“The topography of Pariang in Unity State is a low land. The water from the crude oil, the waste water, is dumped in local ponds, flows all the way to local streams and this is what is causing diseases,” Dr Kwer said. “As a consequence of oil production, waste is hazardously dumped in the areas, and the containers that used to contain the chemicals are in the hands of the communities being used for drinking water,” he continued.

The water discharged with minimal treatment contains toxins such as hydrocarbons that have had a negative impact on communities in the oil producing regions of Upper Nile State, Unity State, and the Ruweng Administrative Area, which by itself produces over 80 per cent of South Sudanese oil. “The impact is huge and negative, towards the communities, and the land, animals and the air. The processes were not satisfactory to us. First of all, the level of oil spills, in which pipe breaks spill crude oil into the soil [and] the containers of chemical materials which find their way to communities and are being used for domestic activities,” Charles Judo, Chairperson of the Civil Society Coalition on Natural Resources (CSCNR), said in an interview.

Judo observed that although oil production in South Sudan started on the wrong footing, “The government has now agreed to conduct an environmental audit, not only to assess the environment but the social impact of the oil activities. And as a member of the civil society I want to see in the future that all the processes are open and transparent to the public.”

Diplomatic impact

At its meeting in May 2021, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), renewed for another year the arms embargo, travel ban and assets freeze imposed on South Sudan in 2018. The UNSC also extended for a further 13 months the mandate of the panel of experts tasked with overseeing those measures. The arms embargo prohibits the supply, sale or transfer of weapons, as well as the provision of technical assistance, training and other military assistance to the territory of South Sudan.

Having previously abstained, this time the Chinese government voted for the arms embargo. Economic analysts said that China’s vote was in retaliation against the decision taken by the government of South Sudan to put in place restrictive measures to improve accountability and transparency in the oil sector, in particular the undertaking of an environmental audit and the implementation of the human resource policies developed by the South Sudan Ministry of Petroleum.

The Chinese government had previously abstained but for the first time voted for the arms embargo.

“The Chinese companies recently have seen some line ministries as a threat, and there have been debates with the Ministry of Petroleum, saying they are not happy with the policies the government is trying to impose on the oil companies and that they should be treated exceptionally because they were supporting South Sudan even during the dark days,” said a source who requested anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter. “They said the environmental audit is expensive. They want samples only taken in one area while others should be skipped.” It is deeply concerning that the Chinese want to dictate what the country should do with its resources.

Contribution by the civil society

The role of civil society is to amplify advocacy efforts and share information to ensure that accountability and transparency are priorities.  “Issues to do with monitoring and evaluation of whatever is related to oil, starting from the signing of the contracts, starting [upstream] to downstream. Whatever agreements are about to be reached, civil society ensures there’s transparency,” Judo said.

Some of the concerns raised by citizens include lack of access to timely and reliable information. “The civil society should be empowered to create awareness about agreements reached by the government and other stakeholders, from exploration, production and selling. The role is to ensure the process is flexible and known to all the South Sudanese citizens,” Judo added.

It is deeply concerning that the Chinese want to dictate what the country should do with its resources.

The National Audit Chamber of South Sudan recently issued a report indicating that the 2 per cent share of net petroleum revenues have not been transferred to the oil producing states to finance service delivery and development projects as foreseen in the Petroleum Revenue Management Act 2013 and the Transitional Constitution 2011. The central government has instead reallocated the funds for other use.

“As civil society we are aware and concerned about all these issues. So far, we have been hearing about the processes of signing the agreements but we have never been involved, not only at the signing but also starting from the initial processes and negotiations. There was no transparency and we never had access to contracts to see and compare with other companies. We have never seen the contracts, but from the output, we are not happy about the agreements with the Chinese companies,” said Judo.

Community awareness

Outbreaks of unknown diseases, stillbirths, deformities in new-borns, miscarriages and infertility have been recorded among populations living in oil producing regions yet there is little awareness within these communities of the dangers they face.

The oil companies support development projects such as schools and hospitals but this is part of their corporate social responsibility and not enough. Communities in Pariang County in Unity State and in Paloich in Upper Nile State have held several demonstrations, accusing the oil companies of making empty promises. In August 2020, there was a demonstration over the lack of employment opportunities for local people that had been promised in the Memorandum of Understanding between the government and the oil companies. “They don’t keep their promises but only concede and don’t deliver. Communities need services to be provided to them and this remains key,” said a concerned citizen.

Resource curse

The reconstituted government of National Unity is tasked with the responsibility of reforming the sector and eventually joining the Extractive Industry and Transparency Initiative (EITI) to help the country control and manage well the revenues generated from its natural resources. In so doing, the needs of the communities living in and around the oil producing areas must be prioritised to ensure a do-no-harm approach. In particular, it is crucial that the issue of waste management is addressed as a matter of urgency. The government must also ensure that environmental audits are undertaken before production begins in new oil fields to avoid further environmental degradation.

Outbreaks of unknown diseases, stillbirths, deformities in new-borns, miscarriages and infertility have been recorded among populations living in oil producing regions.

There is also a need to establish accountability mechanisms to ensure that resources are used properly and that the communities in the oil producing regions receive their share of the oil revenues as stipulated in the law.

Further, the government and civil society organizations must educate the communities concerned about the benefits and the challenges that come with oil production activities in their regions, including how relocating to other regions can help them escape the health ordeals that they are currently facing.

It will not be easy to bring order to the sector, especially after more than three decades during which the oil companies explored and produced crude oil without proper government oversight. However, environmental degradation and human suffering must be put to an end as they negate the whole idea of producing oil to fuel development and render the resource a curse rather than a blessing for South Sudan.

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Mary Ajith Goch works as the director of the Catholic Radio Network, a national organization consisting of nine community-based radio stations in South Sudan and Sudan. From January 2016-August 2021, she also served as the chairperson of the Association for Media Development (AMDISS), a member-based association for independent media houses. Prior to her current assignment, she was a journalist with the Citizen Newspaper in South Sudan from 2010-2016.

Politics

Asylum Pact: Rwanda Must Do Some Political Housecleaning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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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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