Thirty-eight years later, the quest for justice has remained nothing but an illusion for the people of Wagalla and, between the 10th and the 14th of February of every year, the sense of neglect is heightened. Survivors and victims’ families meet every year during this period to rejuvenate their resoluteness to seek justice. The only real solace the suffering families have received is the acknowledgement in the Truth Justice and Reconciliation Commission Report that atrocities were visited upon them by their very own government. But the affected families still await the execution of the recommendations made in the report.
The Wagalla massacre is possibly one of Kenya’s worst human rights violations. It took place between the 10th and the 14th of February 1984; heavily armed security officers descended on the quiet Wajir area, ostensibly to mop up guns illegally held by locals.
To truly understand what led to the Wagalla massacre, one must go back to the very formation of Kenya. Only in doing this do we realize that massacres such as Wagalla do not just happen – they are the result of a history that precedes them. And for the north, this history began even before Kenya became a nation.
According to a Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC) paper, Foreigners at Home – The dilemma of citizenship in Northern Kenya, the Scramble for Africa carved up much of the continent with little regard for the need to keep ethnicities together. In 1896, Emperor Menelik of Ethiopia, buoyed by his conquest over Italy II, wrote to the heads of states of Britain, Italy, France, Germany, and Russia, stating his claim over territory stretching from Juba River on Lake Turkana (formerly Lake Rudolf) to Marsabit Mountain.
The British, afraid that he would encroach on their colony, formed a boundary commission that was mandated to establish boundary features and map out the ethnic identities of the populations. The Northern Frontier District (NFD) was created as a buffer zone against international and inter-clan territorial conflicts that threatened to spill over into the colony.
To this end, several legislations were enacted by the colonialists. First, in 1902, the Outlying District Ordinance Act effectively closed the NFD, restricting movement in and out of the district. The Special Districts (Administration) Ordinance of 1934 gave extensive powers of arrest, restraint, detention, and seizure of properties in the north. Finally, the Stock Theft and Produce Ordinance (1993) legalized the collective punishment of northern tribes and clans declared hostile by the Provincial Commissioner (PC). The definition of what constituted a hostile tribe was left to the Provincial Administration to determine.
By the time of its independence, Kenya was practically divided in two — north and south — with specific laws in place that ensured that the north continued to be governed under draconian legislation that became even harsher after independence. An Indemnity Act passed in 1970 restricted the taking of legal proceedings regarding certain acts carried out in certain areas between 25 December 1963 and 1 December 1967. The Indemnity Act was passed to protect members of the security forces who participated in the secessionist Shifta War in northern Kenya between 1963 and 1967.
The stage was set for what happened in Wagalla two decades later.
In the 1980s, scarce natural resources and political tensions had led to feuds and repeated violent conflict between the Degodia and the Ajuran in Wajir. The government issued an ultimatum to both groups to surrender their weapons. The ruling administration felt that the Degodia, who surrendered just eight weapons (in comparison to the 27 surrendered by the Ajuran), had not complied fully and decided to mount a joint operation to disarm them.
Anatomy of the Wagalla massacre
The massacre at the Wagalla Airstrip occurred in what is presently Wajir County. The bloodbath began in the small hours of 10 February, ending with a stampede and a shootout on the chilly morning of 14 February 1984. All men and boys over the age of 12 years belonging to the Degodia sub-clan of the Somali tribe in north-eastern Kenya were rounded up and detained at the newly constructed airstrip in Wagalla, nine miles from Wajir town.
According to Annalenna Tonelli, 1,000 people were killed, but according to various community groups, the number is closer to 5,000. Annalena is the undisputed heroine of Wagalla. An Italian volunteer and Catholic lay sister, Annalena had lived in Wajir for 15 years prior to the massacre, assisting the less fortunate, running a tuberculosis and rehabilitation centre.
The Wagalla massacre destroyed a community, changed its social cohesion, and placed the burden of regenerating the dead society on the shoulders of widows. Those murdered were husbands, fathers, brothers or guardians, citizens of this sovereign republic who had a right to have their lives protected by the state. If indeed the state had a case against these people, natural justice would have dictated that they be brought before the courts and charged according to the laws of the land. That was not the case.
This is the worst massacre recorded in Kenyan history. Previously, the government has said that only fifty-seven people had died. However, On Wednesday 18 October 2000, when he was minister in the Office of the President, William Ruto told parliament that 380 people had died in what has been called the Wagalla massacre.
The Wagalla massacre destroyed a community, changed its social cohesion, and placed the burden of regenerating the dead society on the shoulders of widows.
The Member of Parliament who raised the issue, Elias Barre Shill, said the minister was trying to avoid crucial questions. Shill charged that more than 1,000 ethnic Somalis were victims of the 1984 killings, adding that the Kenyan government should apologize and pay compensation.
There were other massacres in Bulla Karatasi in Garissa, in Turbi, and in Malka Marri, but Wagalla remains a classic example of a state run amok, an illustration of the genocidal intentions of a government incapable of exerting any meaningful control over the security of its citizens.
Like most Kenyans, I learned about the Wagalla Massacre from newspaper stories about 5,000 men who were killed at an airstrip by the Kenyan government. I was shocked by what sounded like a tale from another world; in many ways, it was a tale from another planet. The Northern Frontier District, as it was then known, had for long operated under a different set of military laws from the rest of Kenya. Successive regimes treated its populations brutally. Only during the sunset years of the Moi era did the residents begin to feel free to speak out about that terrible event.
The facts and figures from the Wagalla massacre are now etched into the fabric of the history of Kenya. What is probably less known is that this massacre was a deliberate act of genocide, not a military operation gone rogue. It began at the policy level.
It all started with a high-level cabinet meeting at Harambee House, where the political idea of justifying a massacre was mooted. No details emerged from this meeting, no minutes or reports. Even the efforts of the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Committee could not unearth the policy prescriptions discussed that initiated a process that culminated in the death of so many people. More fundamentally, the TJRC came under fire because of “inherent flaws” in its mandate – which allowed for amnesty recommendations in some cases – and concerns that it would fail to hear from the perpetrators as well as from the victims, and would thereby fail to explain how the crimes were allowed to occur.
What is probably less known is that this massacre was a deliberate act of genocide, not a military operation gone rogue.
These concerns led the late Nobel Peace Prize winner Professor Wangari Maathai to describe the commission as one designed “to facilitate impunity, hoodwink and massage the victims and sweep the crimes under the carpet”.
Sources within the corridors of power confirm that a meeting did take place at Harambee House where security issues concerning Wajir were discussed and orders issued to the Provincial Security Committee in Garissa to initiate a security operation against a small Somali sub-clan living in Wajir District.
The meeting gave authorization, but the timing, strategy, and resources were left to the Provincial Security Committee led by Benson Kaaria who was the Provincial Commissioner of North Eastern Province at the time. This committee authorized the District Security Committee (DSC) to prepare the ground for the military operation. The District Commissioner at the time, J.P. Matui, was on leave. In the available documents and in his own testimony at the TJRC, the acting District Commissioner, M.M Tiema, appears to have been used to achieve a predetermined objective.
The final order for the operation was given on 8 February 1984. This was at a meeting held in Wajir by the Kenya Intelligence Committee. The DSC and the Provincial Security Committee were in attendance. This meeting was the crucial source of authority to undertake the major security operation.
According to the Etemesi Report, the military operation began on 10 February with a signal from the Garissa Provincial Police Officer that read:
All Degodias plus stock in Griftu Division plus adjacent divisions will be rounded up and treated mercilessly. No mercy will be exercised. You will get more instructions from this Head Quarter in another two days. No nonsense will be accepted. Further instructions will follow on the relief of the stock. Report progress daily.
On that day, the military moved into all the areas occupied by the Degodia sub-clan and carried out their orders. The Commander of the operation was Major Mudogo. According to the Etemesi Report, the operation had no written “Operational Procedures”. In layman’s language, the military operation had no rules or limits, and the security forces were given a blank cheque to run riot. And run riot they did. They started detaining people from northeastern and eastern Kenya at four o’clock in the morning. The military was assisted in identifying their targets by KANU youth wingers, some of whom were from the targeted community.
Early in the operation, the military moved into Bulla Jogoo, a heavily populated section of Wajir. The Ministerial Statement and the Etemesi Report have their versions of what happened. Survivors have an altogether rather different and chilling story.
Military invasion and raids
According to the Ministerial Statement made in parliament by the Minister for Internal Security, the military moved into Bulla Jogoo at five in the morning and ordered the residents to leave their huts. The order was not complied with and “the commander gave orders for the huts to be destroyed.”
The Etemesi Report has a slightly different version of events: by five in the morning, under the command of Captain Njeru, the army had already placed a cordon around the Manyatta. Administration Police and Kenya Police then moved in to round up the people. Residents were hiding in their huts in fear of the security forces. They were ordered to dismantle their homes and move out of the area. By two in the afternoon, they had not complied with the order and Major Mudogo gave the order for the huts to be razed.
Survivors say the huts started burning at daybreak when soldiers raided the area.
Government documents that appear to have been doctored after the event and suffer serious contradictions, say that 381 male Degodia were detained.
According to the Ministerial Report tabled in parliament, all the people were gathered and detained for screening and interrogation at the newly constructed airstrip at Wagalla. The Etemesi Report says the people were first divided into various sections for easy identification, then forced to strip naked. Survivors say those who refused to strip were summarily executed in front of their colleagues. A prominent religious leader was the first to be executed after he resisted the order to strip. All of this happened on 10 February 1984.
The military operation had no rules or limits, and the security forces were given a blank cheque to run riot.
The operation to round up the Degodia sub-clan continued on 11 February. People were arrested from their settlements in places far away from Wajir District. Some herders were picked up as far away as Jalaqo in Modogashe, Garissa District. Some were captured in Eastern Province and others near Mandera District.
The net was cast so wide that nobody could escape the reach of the security forces. The Etemesi Report says that those arrested were placed under guard, and interrogations continued at the airstrip.
According to the DSC, having so many people detained made it impossible to interrogate them individually, so they were divided into subsections. In total, there were 11 subsections of the sub-clan at the airstrip. The method of interrogation applied was extreme even for that era.
After being forced to strip, the prisoners were ordered to lay face down on the hot surface of the airstrip during the hottest month of the year. Temperatures are so high in February that one can get cooked by the sun. Survivors say many people succumbed to heatstroke, and this is corroborated by the Etemesi Report, which adds that detainees were subjected to “physical beating”. The physical beating, according to survivors, involved the butt of a gun, batons, and bayonets. A witness at the TJRC testified that the torture was so extreme that men complained they were sodomized at night. Survivors say people were being beaten to death in front of their colleagues.
To add to their misery, the people were denied food and water. A situation was created at Wagalla Airstrip that led to disaster in the following days.
On 12 February, the acting District Commissioner (DC), M.M. Tiema, addressed a public gathering in Wajir. Witnesses say he issued a lot of threats. Official records indicate that he assured members of the public of security in the town and asked them not to panic. In reality, most people in town had either been detained or displaced due to fear of the military. The targeted sub-clan were the dominant urban poor in the town and the place looked deserted and desolate. Tiema and Officer Commanding Police Division (OCPD) Wabwire decided to take a stroll to the Wagalla Airstrip to assess the progress of the operation. They were accompanied by another officer, C.M. Mbole, who was the head of the dreaded — now defunct — Special Branch.
Official reports indicate that as soon as the DC alighted from his vehicle, the crowd burst out shouting, some detainees moving towards him and others running away through an opening in the perimeter fence. That is when Wabwire ordered that those escaping be shot. A total of 13 people were shot dead in the confusion. Survivors remember the District Commissioner’s visit, the shouting and the brief melee but have no recollection of shooting at this point. The Etemesi Report suggests that due to the difficult conditions they were subjected to, the people were begging for clemency from the District Commissioner. Witnesses report that there were many people who were killed in the first three days of the operation and the report of people running away was used to cover up that fact.
A witness at the TJRC testified that the torture was so extreme that men complained they were sodomized at night.
The District Commissioner jumped into his car and left the venue amidst the cries of the suffering men in the airstrip. The Etemesi Report says that the operation did not succeed in recovering guns or arresting any known bandits. The report is scathing about the DC and the OCPD leaving the situation to junior officers, calling their action a “cowardly move” lacking “any sense of responsibility”.
On 13 February, official reports showed for the first time the confusion reigning among the authorities in Wajir. There was a state of “fear, confusion and panic” within the DSC. This is probably because of the sheer numbers of the dead at the Wagalla Airstrip. By this date many people had been tortured to death, others had died from heatstroke and a large number were facing death due to thirst and starvation. Since the operation had no clear guidance, there was no way forward. Reports indicate that a decision was reached to release the remaining men and transport them back to their homes. The Provincial Security Committee visited Wajir on this date and received a briefing on the situation. The committee agreed with the DSC’s decision to release the remaining detainees.
The provincial security did not visit Wagalla Airstrip but flew right over it. Survivors told the TJRC that they clearly remember a helicopter flying over the airstrip and being threatened by being told that the PC was supervising the operations. The order to release the detainees was given as part of a cover-up that was conjured up after the event.
The 14th of February, Valentine’s Day 1984, is completely absent from official reports regarding what happened at the Wagalla Airstrip. The Etemesi Report says nothing about this to date. However, survivors say it was the morning on which the stampede happened.
By this date, the Wagalla Airstrip was full of dead bodies. The military and police manning the area were tired and jittery. They were butchering the detainees one after the other. It was no longer an interrogation, just a slaughter.
Witnesses recall the crowd surging once towards the barbed wire fence, which gave way, allowing hundreds to make a dash for the nearby bushes. The military opened fire and many were shot. In fact, people survived because of their determination to escape or to die trying, and not because they were released from the Wagalla Airstrip. The stampede saved many but caused confusion. It was no longer the clean operation envisaged by the government. A lot of people escaped and ran naked into the bushes near Wagalla. Corralling them was difficult because there were no roads and the forces involved in the security operations were by that time fatigued and demoralized. It was a nightmare of immense proportions. That Valentine morning the Wagalla Airstrip was full of bodies in different stages of decomposition. Some had died moments before, with fresh bullet wounds in their backs, others were injured and screaming for help. Dazed, weak men were milling around naked and totally disoriented.
The 14th of February, Valentine’s Day 1984, is completely absent from official reports regarding what happened at the Wagalla Airstrip.
According to the Etemesi Report, Tiema and Wabwire reported that 13 people were shot in the stampede and that, as arrangements were being made to transport people to their various destinations, 16 more bodies were discovered at the airstrip. The report says that it is “believed that they may have died as a result of dehydration, hunger and excessive exposure to the sun”.
At that point, the security team was faced with the question of what to do with the dead bodies and the injured persons at the airstrip. Official reports say there were 29 bodies at the airstrip and, in a state of panic and confusion, the DSC decided to “dispose of the bodies”. The Etemesi Report further states that “a total of 20 bodies were thrown into the bush near Korodile, 100 miles northwest of Wajir town, while the other nine were buried at an area 6 to 10 miles from the Wagalla Airstrip on the way to Giriftu. This was done by Lieutenant Chungo of the army and police inspector Wachira respectively”.
Survivors remember things very differently. The dead, the injured, and the weak survivors were all thrown into the backs of army Lories and disposed of in different locations. Some were discarded in the places mentioned in the official report and others were dumped as far away as Moyale and Mandera Districts. What they all agreed on is that bodies were disposed of as far away as 100 miles away from the Wagalla Airstrip. The Etemesi Report agrees with the survivors when it states that the “officers were unable to verify what took place at the airstrip and how many people died”.
Official records say that the Wagalla Massacre was a routine military operation gone wrong. The Etemesi Report is specifically focused on this angle. The report says there were no specific instructions given to the subordinate commanders other than to show no mercy to the detainees. It seemed to the committee that compiled the report that no individual was responsible for any specific action. Accordingly, this was mob action. The report says that the situation got out of hand and an “unfortunate incident occurred at Wagalla Airstrip”. It adds, “The system of interrogation used at the airstrip left a lot to be desired and was very unprofessional”.
There were no specific instructions given to the subordinate commanders other than to show no mercy to the detainees.
The most contentious question concerning the Wagalla Massacre is the death toll. Just how many people died in the carnage? The government has for decades stuck with the figure of 57 dead, but this figure has no basis. No names or any other details of the deceased were given. The Etemesi Report, which was written under circumstances that guaranteed no independent judgment, arrived at this figure by adding up figures from various sources. According to the DSC, 29 people died at the Wagalla Airstrip. It was confirmed that 15 bodies were buried at Sister Annalena Tonelli’s compound. Sister Annalena allegedly left 12 bodies in the bush. One person died in the hospital and was buried in the public cemetery. These different numbers were added up to come up with the official death toll. The government’s own report admits that the confusion that reigned makes it impossible to know what happened at Wagalla Airstrip in February 1984.
When hope departs from a heart, only darkness remains, and where once a bright future promised, nothingness abides. The psychological scars caused by the absence of all the men in one’s family run deep. But the worst scars of all are the ones left when a community that once believed in justice and the truth is for decades denied them.
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Asylum Pact: Rwanda Must Do Some Political Housecleaning
Rwandans are welcoming, but the government’s priority must be to solve the internal political problems which produce refugees.
The governments of the United Kingdom and Rwanda have signed an agreement to move asylum seekers from the UK to Rwanda for processing. This partnership has been heavily criticized and has been referred to as unethical and inhumane. It has also been opposed by the United Nations Refugee Agency on the grounds that it is contrary to the spirit of the Refugee Convention.
Here in Rwanda, we heard the news of the partnership on the day it was signed. The subject has never been debated in the Rwandan parliament and neither had it been canvassed in the local media prior to the announcement.
According to the government’s official press release, the partnership reflects Rwanda’s commitment to protect vulnerable people around the world. It is argued that by relocating migrants to Rwanda, their dignity and rights will be respected and they will be provided with a range of opportunities, including for personal development and employment, in a country that has consistently been ranked among the safest in the world.
A considerable number of Rwandans have been refugees and therefore understand the struggle that comes with being an asylum seeker and what it means to receive help from host countries to rebuild lives. Therefore, most Rwandans are sensitive to the plight of those forced to leave their home countries and would be more than willing to make them feel welcome. However, the decision to relocate the migrants to Rwanda raises a number of questions.
The government argues that relocating migrants to Rwanda will address the inequalities in opportunity that push economic migrants to leave their homes. It is not clear how this will work considering that Rwanda is already the most unequal country in the East African region. And while it is indeed seen as among the safest countries in the world, it was however ranked among the bottom five globally in the recently released 2022 World Happiness Index. How would migrants, who may have suffered psychological trauma fare in such an environment, and in a country that is still rebuilding itself?
A considerable number of Rwandans have been refugees and therefore understand the struggle that comes with being an asylum seeker and what it means to receive help from host countries to rebuild lives.
What opportunities can Rwanda provide to the migrants? Between 2018—the year the index was first published—and 2020, Rwanda’s ranking on the Human Capital Index (HCI) has been consistently low. Published by the World Bank, HCI measures which countries are best at mobilising the economic and professional potential of their citizens. Rwanda’s score is lower than the average for sub-Saharan Africa and it is partly due to this that the government had found it difficult to attract private investment that would create significant levels of employment prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Unemployment, particularly among the youth, has since worsened.
Despite the accolades Rwanda has received internationally for its development record, Rwanda’s economy has never been driven by a dynamic private or trade sector; it has been driven by aid. The country’s debt reached 73 per cent of GDP in 2021 while its economy has not developed the key areas needed to achieve and secure genuine social and economic transformation for its entire population. In addition to human capital development, these include social capital development, especially mutual trust among citizens considering the country’s unfortunate historical past, establishing good relations with neighbouring states, respect for human rights, and guaranteeing the accountability of public officials.
Rwanda aspires to become an upper middle-income country by 2035 and a high-income country by 2050. In 2000, the country launched a development plan that aimed to transform it into a middle-income country by 2020 on the back on a knowledge economy. That development plan, which has received financial support from various development partners including the UK which contributed over £1 billion, did not deliver the anticipated outcomes. Today the country remains stuck in the category of low-income states. Its structural constraints as a small land-locked country with few natural resources are often cited as an obstacle to development. However, this is exacerbated by current governance in Rwanda, which limits the political space, lacks separation of powers, impedes freedom of expression and represses government critics, making it even harder for Rwanda to reach the desired developmental goals.
Rwanda’s structural constraints as a small land-locked country with no natural resources are often viewed as an obstacle to achieving the anticipated development.
As a result of the foregoing, Rwanda has been producing its own share of refugees, who have sought political and economic asylum in other countries. The UK alone took in 250 Rwandese last year. There are others around the world, the majority of whom have found refuge in different countries in Africa, including countries neighbouring Rwanda. The presence of these refugees has been a source of tension in the region with Kigali accusing neighbouring states of supporting those who want to overthrow the government by force. Some Rwandans have indeed taken up armed struggle, a situation that, if not resolved, threatens long-term security in Rwanda and the Great Lakes region. In fact, the UK government’s advice on travel to Rwanda has consistently warned of the unstable security situation near the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Burundi.
While Rwanda’s intention to help address the global imbalance of opportunity that fuels illegal immigration is laudable, I would recommend that charity start at home. As host of the 26th Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting scheduled for June 2022, and Commonwealth Chair-in-Office for the next two years, the government should seize the opportunity to implement the core values and principles of the Commonwealth, particularly the promotion of democracy, the rule of law, freedom of expression, political and civil rights, and a vibrant civil society. This would enable Rwanda to address its internal social, economic and political challenges, creating a conducive environment for long-term economic development, and durable peace that will not only stop Rwanda from producing refugees but will also render the country ready and capable of economically and socially integrating refugees from less fortunate countries in the future.
Beyond Borders: Why We Need a Truly Internationalist Climate Justice Movement
The elite’s ‘solution’ to the climate crisis is to turn the displaced into exploitable migrant labour. We need a truly internationalist alternative.
“We are not drowning, we are fighting” has become the rallying call for the Pacific Climate Warriors. From UN climate meetings to blockades of Australian coal ports, these young Indigenous defenders from twenty Pacific Island states are raising the alarm of global warming for low-lying atoll nations. Rejecting the narrative of victimisation – “you don’t need my pain or tears to know that we’re in a crisis,” as Samoan Brianna Fruean puts it – they are challenging the fossil fuel industry and colonial giants such as Australia, responsible for the world’s highest per-capita carbon emissions.
Around the world, climate disasters displace around 25.3 million people annually – one person every one to two seconds. In 2016, new displacements caused by climate disasters outnumbered new displacements as a result of persecution by a ratio of three to one. By 2050, an estimated 143 million people will be displaced in just three regions: Africa, South Asia, and Latin America. Some projections for global climate displacement are as high as one billion people.
Mapping who is most vulnerable to displacement reveals the fault lines between rich and poor, between the global North and South, and between whiteness and its Black, Indigenous and racialised others.
Globalised asymmetries of power create migration but constrict mobility. Displaced people – the least responsible for global warming – face militarised borders. While climate change is itself ignored by the political elite, climate migration is presented as a border security issue and the latest excuse for wealthy states to fortify their borders. In 2019, the Australian Defence Forces announced military patrols around Australia’s waters to intercept climate refugees.
The burgeoning terrain of “climate security” prioritises militarised borders, dovetailing perfectly into eco-apartheid. “Borders are the environment’s greatest ally; it is through them that we will save the planet,” declares the party of French far-Right politician Marine Le Pen. A US Pentagon-commissioned report on the security implications of climate change encapsulates the hostility to climate refugees: “Borders will be strengthened around the country to hold back unwanted starving immigrants from the Caribbean islands (an especially severe problem), Mexico, and South America.” The US has now launched Operation Vigilant Sentry off the Florida coast and created Homeland Security Task Force Southeast to enforce marine interdiction and deportation in the aftermath of disasters in the Caribbean.
Labour migration as climate mitigation
you broke the ocean in
half to be here.
only to meet nothing that wants you
– Nayyirah Waheed
Parallel to increasing border controls, temporary labour migration is increasingly touted as a climate adaptation strategy. As part of the ‘Nansen Initiative’, a multilateral, state-led project to address climate-induced displacement, the Australian government has put forward its temporary seasonal worker program as a key solution to building climate resilience in the Pacific region. The Australian statement to the Nansen Initiative Intergovernmental Global Consultation was, in fact, delivered not by the environment minister but by the Department of Immigration and Border Protection.
Beginning in April 2022, the new Pacific Australia Labour Mobility scheme will make it easier for Australian businesses to temporarily insource low-wage workers (what the scheme calls “low-skilled” and “unskilled” workers) from small Pacific island countries including Nauru, Papua New Guinea, Kiribati, Samoa, Tonga, and Tuvalu. Not coincidentally, many of these countries’ ecologies and economies have already been ravaged by Australian colonialism for over one hundred years.
It is not an anomaly that Australia is turning displaced climate refugees into a funnel of temporary labour migration. With growing ungovernable and irregular migration, including climate migration, temporary labour migration programs have become the worldwide template for “well-managed migration.” Elites present labour migration as a double win because high-income countries fill their labour shortage needs without providing job security or citizenship, while low-income countries alleviate structural impoverishment through migrants’ remittances.
Dangerous, low-wage jobs like farm, domestic, and service work that cannot be outsourced are now almost entirely insourced in this way. Insourcing and outsourcing represent two sides of the same neoliberal coin: deliberately deflated labour and political power. Not to be confused with free mobility, temporary labour migration represents an extreme neoliberal approach to the quartet of foreign, climate, immigration, and labour policy, all structured to expand networks of capital accumulation through the creation and disciplining of surplus populations.
The International Labour Organization recognises that temporary migrant workers face forced labour, low wages, poor working conditions, virtual absence of social protection, denial of freedom association and union rights, discrimination and xenophobia, as well as social exclusion. Under these state-sanctioned programs of indentureship, workers are legally tied to an employer and deportable. Temporary migrant workers are kept compliant through the threats of both termination and deportation, revealing the crucial connection between immigration status and precarious labour.
Through temporary labour migration programs, workers’ labour power is first captured by the border and this pliable labour is then exploited by the employer. Denying migrant workers permanent immigration status ensures a steady supply of cheapened labour. Borders are not intended to exclude all people, but to create conditions of ‘deportability’, which increases social and labour precarity. These workers are labelled as ‘foreign’ workers, furthering racist xenophobia against them, including by other workers. While migrant workers are temporary, temporary migration is becoming the permanent neoliberal, state-led model of migration.
Reparations include No Borders
“It’s immoral for the rich to talk about their future children and grandchildren when the children of the Global South are dying now.” – Asad Rehman
Discussions about building fairer and more sustainable political-economic systems have coalesced around a Green New Deal. Most public policy proposals for a Green New Deal in the US, Canada, UK and the EU articulate the need to simultaneously tackle economic inequality, social injustice, and the climate crisis by transforming our extractive and exploitative system towards a low-carbon, feminist, worker and community-controlled care-based society. While a Green New Deal necessarily understands the climate crisis and the crisis of capitalism as interconnected — and not a dichotomy of ‘the environment versus the economy’ — one of its main shortcomings is its bordered scope. As Harpreet Kaur Paul and Dalia Gebrial write: “the Green New Deal has largely been trapped in national imaginations.”
Any Green New Deal that is not internationalist runs the risk of perpetuating climate apartheid and imperialist domination in our warming world. Rich countries must redress the global and asymmetrical dimensions of climate debt, unfair trade and financial agreements, military subjugation, vaccine apartheid, labour exploitation, and border securitisation.
It is impossible to think about borders outside the modern nation-state and its entanglements with empire, capitalism, race, caste, gender, sexuality, and ability. Borders are not even fixed lines demarcating territory. Bordering regimes are increasingly layered with drone surveillance, interception of migrant boats, and security controls far beyond states’ territorial limits. From Australia offshoring migrant detention around Oceania to Fortress Europe outsourcing surveillance and interdiction to the Sahel and Middle East, shifting cartographies demarcate our colonial present.
Perhaps most offensively, when colonial countries panic about ‘border crises’ they position themselves as victims. But the genocide, displacement, and movement of millions of people were unequally structured by colonialism for three centuries, with European settlers in the Americas and Oceania, the transatlantic slave trade from Africa, and imported indentured labourers from Asia. Empire, enslavement, and indentureship are the bedrock of global apartheid today, determining who can live where and under what conditions. Borders are structured to uphold this apartheid.
The freedom to stay and the freedom to move, which is to say no borders, is decolonial reparations and redistribution long due.
The Murang’a Factor in the Upcoming Presidential Elections
The Murang’a people are really yet to decide who they are going to vote for as a president. If they have, they are keeping the secret to themselves. Are the Murang’a people prepping themselves this time to vote for one of their own? Can Jimi Wanjigi re-ignite the Murang’a/Matiba popular passion among the GEMA community and re-influence it to vote in a different direction?
In the last quarter of 2021, I visited Murang’a County twice: In September, we were in Kandiri in Kigumo constituency. We had gone for a church fundraiser and were hosted by the Anglican Church of Kenya’s (ACK), Kahariro parish, Murang’a South diocese. A month later, I was back, this time to Ihi-gaini deep in Kangema constituency for a burial.
The church function attracted politicians: it had to; they know how to sniff such occasions and if not officially invited, they gate-crash them. Church functions, just like funerals, are perfect platforms for politicians to exhibit their presumed piousness, generosity and their closeness to the respective clergy and the bereaved family.
Well, the other reason they were there, is because they had been invited by the Church leadership. During the electioneering period, the Church is not shy to exploit the politicians’ ambitions: they “blackmail” them for money, because they can mobilise ready audiences for the competing politicians. The politicians on the other hand, are very ready to part with cash. This quid pro quo arrangement is usually an unstated agreement between the Church leadership and the politicians.
The church, which was being fund raised for, being in Kigumo constituency, the area MP Ruth Wangari Mwaniki, promptly showed up. Likewise, the area Member of the County Assembly (MCA) and of course several aspirants for the MP and MCA seats, also showed up.
Church and secular politics often sit cheek by jowl and so, on this day, local politics was the order of the day. I couldn’t have speculated on which side of the political divide Murang’a people were, until the young man Zack Kinuthia Chief Administrative Secretary (CAS) for Sports, Culture and Heritage, took to the rostrum to speak.
A local boy and an Uhuru Kenyatta loyalist, he completely avoided mentioning his name and his “development track record” in central Kenya. Kinuthia has a habit of over-extolling President Uhuru’s virtues whenever and wherever he mounts any platform. By the time he was done speaking, I quickly deduced he was angling to unseat Wangari. I wasn’t wrong; five months later in February 2022, Kinuthia resigned his CAS position to vie for Kigumo on a Party of the National Unity (PNU) ticket.
He spoke briefly, feigned some meeting that was awaiting him elsewhere and left hurriedly, but not before giving his KSh50,000 donation. Apparently, I later learnt that he had been forewarned, ahead of time, that the people were not in a mood to listen to his panegyrics on President Uhuru, Jubilee Party, or anything associated to the two. Kinuthia couldn’t dare run on President Uhuru’s Jubilee Party. His patron-boss’s party is not wanted in Murang’a.
I spent the whole day in Kandiri, talking to people, young and old, men and women and by the time I was leaving, I was certain about one thing; The Murang’a folks didn’t want anything to do with President Uhuru. What I wasn’t sure of is, where their political sympathies lay.
I returned to Murang’a the following month, in the expansive Kangema – it is still huge – even after Mathioya was hived off from the larger Kangema constituency. Funerals provide a good barometer that captures peoples’ political sentiments and even though this burial was not attended by politicians – a few senior government officials were present though; political talk was very much on the peoples’ lips.
What I gathered from the crowd was that President Uhuru had destroyed their livelihood, remember many of the Nairobi city trading, hawking, big downtown real estate and restaurants are run and owned largely by Murang’a people. The famous Nyamakima trading area of downtown Nairobi has been run by Murang’a Kikuyus.
In 2018, their goods were confiscated and declared contrabrand by the government. Many of their businesses went under, this, despite the merchants not only, whole heartedly throwing their support to President Uhuru’s controversial re-election, but contributing handsomely to the presidential kitty. They couldn’t believe what was happening to them: “We voted for him to safeguard our businesses, instead, he destroyed them. So much for supporting him.”
We voted for him to safeguard our businesses, instead, he destroyed them. So much for supporting him
Last week, I attended a Murang’a County caucus group that was meeting somewhere in Gatundu, in Kiambu County. One of the clearest messages that I got from this group is that the GEMA vote in the August 9, 2022, presidential elections is certainly anti-Uhuru Kenyatta and not necessarily pro-William Ruto.
“The Murang’a people are really yet to decide, (if they have, they are keeping the secret to themselves) on who they are going to vote for as a president. And that’s why you see Uhuru is craftily courting us with all manner of promises, seductions and prophetic messages.” Two weeks ago, President Uhuru was in Murang’a attending an African Independent Pentecostal Church of Africa (AIPCA) church function in Kandara constituency.
At the church, the president yet again threatened to “tell you what’s in my heart and what I believe and why so.” These prophecy-laced threats by the President, to the GEMA nation, in which he has been threatening to show them the sign, have become the butt of crude jokes among Kikuyus.
Corollary, President Uhuru once again has plucked Polycarp Igathe away from his corporate perch as Equity Bank’s Chief Commercial Officer back to Nairobi’s tumultuous governor seat politics. The first time the bespectacled Igathe was thrown into the deep end of the Nairobi murky politics was in 2017, as Mike Sonko’s deputy governor. After six months, he threw in the towel, lamenting that Sonko couldn’t let him even breathe.
Uhuru has a tendency of (mis)using Murang’a people
“Igathe is from Wanjerere in Kigumo, Murang’a, but grew up in Ol Kalou, Nyandarua County,” one of the Mzees told me. “He’s not interested in politics; much less know how it’s played. I’ve spent time with him and confided in me as much. Uhuru has a tendency of (mis)using Murang’a people. President Uhuru wants to use Igathe to control Nairobi. The sad thing is that Igathe doesn’t have the guts to tell Uhuru the brutal fact: I’m really not interested in all these shenanigans, leave me alone. The president is hoping, once again, to hopefully placate the Murang’a people, by pretending to front Igathe. I foresee another terrible disaster ultimately befalling both Igathe and Uhuru.”
Be that as it may, what I got away with from this caucus, after an entire day’s deliberations, is that its keeping it presidential choice close to its chest. My attempts to goad some of the men and women present were fruitless.
Murang’a people like reminding everyone that it’s only they, who have yet to produce a president from the GEMA stable, despite being the wealthiest. Kiambu has produced two presidents from the same family, Nyeri one, President Mwai Kibaki, who died on April 22. The closest Murang’a came to giving the country a president was during Ken Matiba’s time in the 1990s. “But Matiba had suffered a debilitating stroke that incapacitated him,” said one of the mzees. “It was tragic, but there was nothing we could do.”
Murang’a people like reminding everyone that it’s only they, who have yet to produce a president from the GEMA stable, despite being the wealthiest
It is interesting to note that Jimi Wanjigi, the Safina party presidential flagbearer is from Murang’a County. His family hails from Wahundura, in Mathioya constituency. Him and Mwangi wa Iria, the Murang’a County governor are the other two Murang’a prominent persons who have tossed themselves into the presidential race. Wa Iria’s bid which was announced at the beginning of 2022, seems to have stagnated, while Jimi’s seems to be gathering storm.
Are the Murang’a people prepping themselves this time to vote for one of their own? Jimi’s campaign team has crafted a two-pronged strategy that it hopes will endear Kenyans to his presidency. One, a generational, paradigm shift, especially among the youth, targeting mostly post-secondary, tertiary college and university students.
“We believe this group of voters who are basically between the ages of 18–27 years and who comprise more than 65 per cent of total registered voters are the key to turning this election,” said one of his presidential campaign team members. “It matters most how you craft the political message to capture their attention.” So, branding his key message as itwika, it is meant to orchestrate a break from past electoral behaviour that is pegged on traditional ethnic voting patterns.
The other plunk of Jimi’s campaign theme is economic emancipation, quite pointedly as it talks directly to the GEMA nation, especially the Murang’a Kikuyus, who are reputed for their business acumen and entrepreneurial skills. “What Kikuyus cherish most,” said the team member “is someone who will create an enabling business environment and leave the Kikuyus to do their thing. You know, Kikuyus live off business, if you interfere with it, that’s the end of your friendship, it doesn’t matter who you are.”
Can Jimi re-ignite the Murang’a/Matiba popular passion among the GEMA community and re-influence it to vote in a different direction? As all the presidential candidates gear-up this week on who they will eventually pick as their running mates, the GEMA community once more shifts the spotlight on itself, as the most sought-after vote basket.
Both Raila Odinga and William Ruto coalitions – Azimio la Umoja-One Kenya and Kenya Kwanza Alliance – must seek to impress and woe Mt Kenya region by appointing a running mate from one of its ranks. If not, the coalitions fear losing the vote-rich area either to each other, or perhaps to a third party. Murang’a County, may as well, become the conundrum, with which the August 9, presidential race may yet to be unravelled and decided.
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