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Kenyan Diaspora Vote: Unfulfilled Constitutional Right

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The electoral commission’s bid to have the diaspora vote in the 9 August 2022 elections is facing headwinds as voter registration fails to kick off on time.

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Kenyan Diaspora Vote: Unfulfilled Constitutional Right
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In December 2021, Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission Chairman Wafula Chebukati announced the Commission’s plans for mass voter registration in the diaspora. According to the IEBC boss, Kenyans living in the United Kingdom, Canada, the United States of America, South Sudan, Qatar, United Arab Emirates and Germany will have an opportunity to participate in the 9 August 2022 polls. The new centres were in addition to East African Community countries  (Tanzania, Uganda, Burundi, and Rwanda) and South Africa, where Kenyans were able to cast their votes in the 2017 general election.

Regulation 34(2) of the Elections (Registration of Voters) Regulations 2012 provides that: “A decision by the Commission to register Kenyan citizens residing outside Kenya or to conduct elections outside Kenya shall be based on the presence of [a] Kenyan Embassy, High Commission or Consulate.” The IEBC was to undertake a 15-day voter registration exercise for the diaspora from 21 January to 6 February 2022.

Chebukati said that additional Biometric Voter Registration (BVR) kits would be made available in countries with multiple registration centres (US, Canada, UAE and Tanzania). A BVR kit was also to be installed in the Huduma Centre at the General Post Office in downtown Nairobi for the registration of Kenyans who would have travelled to Kenya during the registration period.

Voter registration did not kick off on schedule.

In a statement dated 21 January, the Commission gave COVID-19 travel restrictions and logistical challenges as the reasons behind the failure to begin the registration. “The commission regrets the delay in rolling out the voter registration exercise in the affected countries and is closely working with the relevant authorities to ensure it kicks off,” the statement said. The Commission said that the period of registration would be prolonged to compensate for the time lost. 

Registration in London started on 24 January, on 1 February in Ottawa, Vancouver and Toronto and on 31 January in the UAE.

By February 6, the IEBC had enrolled only 2,959 new voters in 12 countries: Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, South Africa, South Sudan, the US, the UK, UAE, Qatar, Germany and Canada.

The failure to start registering Kenyans in the diaspora on time, and the low numbers registered, is indicative of the mess that has been the bid to ensure that Kenyans in the diaspora can vote.

After years of lobbying for their right to dual citizenship and the right to participate in Kenyan elections in their countries of residence, the Constitution of Kenya 2010 extended voting rights to at least three million Kenyans living abroad. However, only about 4,000 Kenyans in the diaspora were able to vote in the 2013 and 2017 presidential elections (in its communication on voter registration in the diaspora, the IEBC has stated that Kenyans living abroad can only participate in presidential elections and referendums).

Section 109 (1) (a) and (b) of the Elections Act gives the IEBC the power to make regulations to prescribe the manner in which registers of voters shall be compiled, the manner in which they shall be revised and the procedure for the progressive registration of Kenyans living abroad.

Article 82 (1) provides that Parliament shall enact a law that shall provide for “the progressive registration of citizens residing outside Kenya, and the progressive realisation of their right to vote”. Further, Article 83 (3) provides that “administrative arrangements for the registration of voters and the conduct of elections shall be designed to facilitate, and shall not deny, an eligible citizen the right to vote or stand for election”.

The Kenyan diaspora does not think the IEBC has complied with the constitution. With their billions of shillings in remittances, Kenyans living abroad rightfully argue they should participate in the election of the country’s leadership and have felt cheated ever since only a very small minority were allowed to participate in the 2013 and 2017 elections.

In November 2012, the government had announced that the diaspora would not be able to vote because of “logistical and financial constraints”. Then Justice and Constitutional Affairs Minister Eugene Wamalwa told Parliament at the time that voting outside of Kenya was “not practical” as the electoral commission was already facing challenges in enrolling voters at home.

With their billions of shillings in remittances, Kenyans living abroad rightfully argue they should participate in the election of the country’s leadership.

“Kenyans in the Diaspora will not vote in the 2013 elections. It is not practical to have them take part now. I am appealing to those who can come home to register to do so,” Wamalwa said, adding that the matter had been discussed at cabinet level.

Martha Karua, who had resigned as Justice Minister, accused the cabinet of interfering with the independence of the IEBC, which she said had set aside 47 BVR kits to register Kenyans living abroad.

Angered by the decision, Kenyans living abroad moved to court, calling Wamalwa’s pronouncement illegal, ill-conceived and ill-timed. However, High Court Judge David Majanja ruled that although the right to vote is guaranteed constitutionally, it is not absolute and cannot be realised instantaneously but only progressively.

At the centre of the issue is also the actual number of Kenyans living abroad. At the time, Wamalwa said that only 152,000 Kenyans were registered with Kenyan missions abroad, adding that the three million figure was an exaggeration; the ministry of Foreign Affairs put the number at 700,000.

Agnes Gitau, who lives in the UK and is the Kenya Diaspora Alliance representative for London, said the process was flawed and would exclude many people due to logistics, and the short registration period of 15 days. “There has also been confusion on required documents. We believe it’s a deliberate attempt to exclude many,” Gitau said.

The IEBC chairman had said Kenyans abroad must “produce evidence of citizenship which is a valid Kenyan passport”, yet Kenyans residing in the other countries of the East African Community could use their identity card as proof of citizenship.

However, following a High Court decision, in a memo to registering missions the Commission announced that Kenyans in the diaspora could register as voters using either an Identity card or a valid passport. In the memo dated February 1, acting CEO Marjan Hussein said the directive was issued on 31 January pending determination of a petition filed by Okiya Omtatah against the IEBC and the Attorney General.

Omtatah had challenged the provisions of the Elections (Registration of Voters) Regulations, (2012), particularly Regulation No.37, which prohibit the use of national identity cards to register citizens in the diaspora as voters.

On 20 January, the Kenya Diaspora Alliance (KDA) released a statement in which it welcomed the IEBC’s decision to add eight more countries to the list of countries where the Kenyan diaspora could vote but also raised various concerns about the registration process. The lobby group, which said it represents 46 Kenya diaspora organisations, took issue with the 15 days allocated to the registration exercise. Kenyans within the country were given three weeks to register but, beyond that deadline, IEBC offices remain open for continuous registration until February 28. This option is not available to Kenyans in the diaspora.

“This discrepancy in the time limits seems to deny the Kenyans in the diaspora a fair opportunity to register in their numbers by having less time to register,” KDA said in the statement. The KDA also raised concerns regarding the vast areas—spanning countries and continents—covered by the missions that act as voting centres.

“This means that the Kenyans who wish to vote must travel over long distances and often expensively to register as voters. The Kenyan Embassies and High Commissions earmarked as registration centres are inadequate and logistically challenging for Kenyans who have to travel far and wide to register. That in itself negates the spirit and objective of the exercise,” KDA said. The KDA also does not think that Kenyans in the diaspora have been adequately consulted and involved in the process. “There also seems to be a selective partnership and collaboration between IEBC and some Kenyan diaspora organizations in supporting the exercise.”

Consequently the KDA has, among other things, demanded that more registration and voting stations be provided in order to improve access. It has also demanded that the use of technology, including registration through e-Citizen and other suitable online platforms, be explored. The Alliance has also called for more time (six weeks) for registration and that the IEBC consults with the organisation and with other credible diaspora groups so that the right to vote is enjoyed by all Kenyans living abroad.

In a letter to Chebukati dated 27 September 2021, the Kenya Qatar Diaspora Sacco took issue with the low number of diaspora voters.

“Despite the political engagement of the diaspora, intensive government outreach to emigrants, and high-stakes electoral competition, fewer than 3,000 Kenyans were permitted to vote from abroad in the year 2013 and 2017 presidential elections,” said Engineer Maxwell Odhiambo, chairman of the Kenya Qatar Diaspora Sacco Ltd. and KDA representative in Qatar. He said that the registration of Kenyans in the diaspora requires a strategic and organised approach, with the IEBC, the embassy and the local diaspora organizations working together.

Diaspora voting in Africa

African countries whose constitutions provide for diaspora voting include Algeria, Angola, Benin, Botswana, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, Djibouti, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Lesotho, Mali, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Rwanda, São Tomé and Principe, Senegal, South Africa, Sudan, Togo, Tunisia and Zimbabwe.

Despite this provision, however, many of these countries have yet to make the diaspora vote a reality. This, according to Voting from Abroad: The International IDEA Handbook is due to lack of the political, legislative, financial or administrative agreements necessary for the regulation and organisation of the diaspora vote.

South Africa

When South Africa became a democracy following the end of apartheid, citizens in the diaspora were able to participate in the watershed 1994 election. However, diaspora voting was abolished soon thereafter until its reinstatement following a 2009 ruling of the Constitutional Court.

In Diaspora Voting in South Africa: Perceptions, Partisanship and Policy Reversal, Elizabeth Iams Wellman observes that the details of the South African case reveal an intensely partisan divide over the inclusion of South Africans abroad.

“Perceptions of the diaspora by the major political parties shaped both policy provision and implementation. With its two policy reversals, the case of South Africa also suggests a number of broader theoretical implications, including the critical variable of how diaspora voting becomes law, as well as the centrality of the political party as a key locus of analysis,” Wellman writes.

Wellman notes that nearly 100,000 South Africans voted in 78 countries in the 1994 election. However, the ANC government went on to ban external voting in 1998, effectively denying “the estimated 1-2 million South Africans living outside of the country” the right to vote. The ban was triggered by a dispute over the registration of voters for the 1999 elections.

Moreover, voter turnout in the 1994 elections was also much lower than anticipated and the electoral commission said it did not make a lot of logistical sense to send teams to register South Africans in the diaspora.

The registration of Kenyans in the diaspora requires a strategic and organised approach, with the IEBC, the embassy and the local diaspora organizations working together.

“Everybody saw 100,000 [votes] which probably was divided among 10 or 13 parties to a greater or lesser extent, and that 5,000 or 10,000 more or less wouldn’t make a difference”.

The IEC had argued that the 1994 decision was to give those who had left the country temporarily the opportunity to vote, questioning why those who had left the country permanently would you still want to vote.

In 2009, however, the Constitutional Court forced the government to reinstate the diaspora vote—all South Africans living abroad could once again participate in national elections. Wellman argues that in South Africa’s case, emigrant enfranchisement—or their exclusion from electoral politics—depends on the ruling party’s perception of the diaspora.

And unlike Kenya’s case where diaspora voting is enshrined in the constitution and other electoral laws and regulations, external balloting in South Africa was reintroduced through the courts and not through legislation. There is thus not much political goodwill to implement it.

For its part, the IEBC has cited logistical and financial challenges in rolling out the diaspora registration. To be sure, diaspora voting is disproportionately expensive while political parties have limited resources; mobilizing potential supporters around the world is far more costly than campaigning back at home. There is therefore no incentive to push for the diaspora vote.

“Uncertainty over the diaspora population and their political leanings (or political interest) suggests that positions on diaspora voting may be driven more by perceptions than accurate information,” Willman writes.

Angola

Angolans living abroad are likely to vote for the first time this year. In September last year, Marcy Lopes, the Minister of Territory Administration, said registration of diaspora voters would start in January 2022. The exercise will last three months.

The Institute of Angolan Communities Abroad estimates that at least 400,000 Angolans live abroad, 47 per cent in Africa, 24 per cent in Portugal and a substantial number in France.

The move to have Angolans abroad vote is part of the constitutional changes proposed by President João Lourenço to the National Assembly. The Constitutional Law of 1992 provided for the diaspora vote but lack of logistical capacity to undertake voter registration abroad has meant that Angolans living abroad have not enjoyed the right.

Angola’s missions abroad started registering citizens on January 17. Angola’s Ambassador to Portugal, Carlos Alberto Paz Fonseca, estimates that about 30,000 nationals who have attained the voting age will register.

The United States

America’s system appears well organized. US citizens resident abroad are eligible to vote in all presidential and congressional elections.

According to American Citizens Abroad, in order to register as a voter a US citizen only needs to visit www.fvap.gov and follow the procedure. However, unlike for African countries for instance, where embassies act as polling stations, this is not the case for the US. This is because embassies are federal entities, whereas it is the states, rather than the federal government, that run elections.

According to Richard Johnson, there are 5.5 million American citizens, including military personnel, living abroad. If Americans abroad were a state, they would be the 23rd largest.

External balloting in South Africa was reintroduced through the courts and not through legislation.

“About 3 million of these Americans abroad can vote — the rest are children. The countries with the highest numbers of adult Americans are Canada (622,000), the UK (329,000), Mexico (201,000), France (169,000), and Japan (125,000). London is the largest ‘American’ city in the world outside of the US, with more than 100,000 Americans living in or around the capital,” the lecturer in US Politics and Policy at Queen Mary University of London, writes.

Johnson notes that in 2009 the US passed the National Defence Authorization Act that requires states to offer overseas voters the option to return their ballot electronically. In practice, this means voters can email or even fax their ballots back to their county superintendent of elections, Johnson explains.

The steps the IEBC has taken since 2017 — including the increase in the number of foreign countries where Kenyans can register to vote — point to an agency committed to having the Kenyan diaspora participate in presidential elections. But this is not enough.

The IEBC should prepare early enough to have as many Kenyans abroad register. The Commission, for instance, should have election attachés in embassies abroad to facilitate continuous registration of Kenyans as voters. Should this option prove expensive, the IEBC could explore with the embassies how best to ensure the continuous registration of voters.

But the easiest solution would be to adopt the use of technology. As the Kenya Diaspora Alliance has recommended, the IEBC needs to explore registration through e-Citizen and other acceptable online registration platforms as this option would address the IEBC’s logistical challenges and be convenient for Kenyan voters wherever in the world they may be.

It would, in fact, offer an opportunity to test e-voting for future use domestically.

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Eliud Kibii is a sub-editor with The Star newspaper and writes on international relations, security and electoral processes.

Politics

Asylum Pact: Rwanda Must Do Some Political Housecleaning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Politics

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

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

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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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