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Environmental Crisis: The New Empire and Its Colonies

8 min read.

The world’s biodiversity hotspots are in the Global South and they have become the targets for capitalist pirates fronted by “conservation” organizations.

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Environmental Crisis: The New Empire and Its Colonies
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The global climate crisis is beginning to manifest in extreme weather events like floods, droughts and temperature rises all over the world. It is therefore important that the world come together at this time to meet this new challenge. However, the rate of commercialization of “climate finance”, carbon trade, carbon offsets, and other financial instruments are overtaking the pace of actual reduction of emissions, which is what the environment needs.

In tropical Africa, Asia, and other parts of the Global South, indigenous people are now suffering injustices like dumping of European toxic wastes, displacement of people for carbon trading, displacement of people to create protected areas, and violent law enforcement to “protect” the environment and wildlife. The payment of money for planting of trees does not reduce emissions, which are the source of the crisis. The UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) held in Glasgow in November 2021 clearly demonstrated the depth of this problem in the fact that the summit was reduced to a business meeting for cutting deals rather than leading environmental stewardship.

The conference resulted in a lot of financial calculations and discussions, but failed to make any concrete commitments on reduction of emissions or reliance on fossil fuels. The success of these financial machinations has created and publicized a myth that a clean environment is something that can be bought and paid for instead of being achieved through action and behavioural change. A major “elephant in the room” at COP26 was the open display of skewed power relations between the major polluters (wealthy Western nations) and their “clients”. These clients or “subject” states are relatively poor nations in the Global South that are responsible for a very small fraction of global emissions and are also the most biodiverse.

Heads of states from African countries were diverted from policy discussions with their peers into parallel meetings (euphemistically called “side events”) with NGOs or corporate interests. The discussions in these side meetings typically centred on what financial inducements could be offered to the individuals or governments involved to subvert their existing natural resource regulations for the benefit of the NGOs or their corporate patrons. This is the point at which colonization and resource looting is happening because intergovernmental meetings are governed by frameworks of sovereignty, diplomacy, and laws as opposed to the “side events, which are essentially backroom deals, all greenwashed in the “detergent” that is climate change and global “biodiversity crisis”. The seriousness of the challenges posed to humankind by environmental pollution and climate change cannot be overstated, but what the whole world is failing to do is recognize and acknowledge human behaviour, capitalism and consumption patterns as the primary cause.

Capitalism is currently very close to its apex in human history and has lost sight of any coherent objectives, other than the mantra of “more”. Very few (if any) global corporations have any visions defining their “endgame” or how big they want to become, or why. It has become de rigueur for global corporations and organizations to grow far beyond their ability to positively manage their own impact on the human society within which they exist. The fallacy of using engineering and technology as surrogates for human impact has been ruthlessly exposed by the current global pandemic and the exponential growth of technology as an end in itself, rather than a solution to specific needs. The resultant “disconnects” are so wide, that the world is now struggling to recognize cognitive dissonance for what it is.

This bizarre “open ended” approach has led to untrammelled consumption, landing the world in the environmental and moral miasma where we currently find ourselves. For example, Amazon, a runaway success that has become probably the world’s most profitable company, pays some of the lowest taxes relative to its earnings, and is staffed by a workforce that barely earns a living wage and must fight for the right to use toilets at work. It now has a fabulously wealthy CEO who donates some money to combat climate change, while spending part of it on a flying into low orbit on a phallus-shaped rocket simply for self-actualization.

Consumers have also become startlingly slavish to brands, forgetting even that basic tenet of choice. Apple Inc. is a manufacturer of high quality (and very highly priced) technological devices, which have won it customers all over the world. However, it is difficult for anyone who hasn’t visited the United States to fathom the bizarre hold the company has on its clients. Stories abound in the media of (normal, sane, mature) people camping for a few days on the streets to buy an expensive new model of a mobile phone on the day of its release. None of them can explain why they cannot buy it the following day. A friend recently shared a harrowing tale of how she bought an Apple computer and spent two hours on the phone talking to machines before she finally got a human being to address her user issues after spending thousands of dollars purchasing the machine. This is a professional person who is never wasteful or profligate or tolerant of nonsense in any of her habits. These are just two of countless examples, and the upshot of this malaise is that global corporations, organizations and even governments have moved away from managing policies, actions and human outcomes into the management of perceptions.

The other inescapable effect has been the untold sums of money accrued in profit. These twin threats have brought capitalists to the table of sovereign heads of states, where they pose the greatest danger to humankind. Leaders around the world are now discussing policies with the heads of corporations that have been unable to achieve internal self-control. This is perfectly illustrated in the co-called mitigation measures being put in place to combat climate change, where the only tangible movement is the normalization of propaganda, greenwashing, and human rights violations and other absurdities that are perpetrated in the name of combating climate change. It is a classic case of elite capture, more astounding because it is happening on a global scale.

One of the more egregious examples of this is the much-touted 30×30 campaign, which recommends that 30 per cent of all land around the world be set aside as protected areas by the year 2030. This was initially proposed by conservation organizations, pushed by their corporate donors and, crucially, supported by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP). The support of a UN body is the easiest path to obtaining the compliance of governments around the world by creating “goals” and making the action look like an achievement.

Leaders around the world are now discussing policies with the heads of corporations that have been unable to achieve internal self-control.

The UNEP recommendation serves conservation interests well, because despite its history of ethical and practical failures, the veneer of “greater good” that hangs over the UN discourages even the most basic scrutiny. In this particular case, none of the many documents written in favour of this recommendation says whether the 30 per cent is a global calculation, or whether every country will have to set aside 30 per cent of its own land. This apparent lacuna is where the prejudice is concealed, because it is common knowledge that the world’s biodiversity hotspots are in the tropics (primarily inhabited by non-Caucasian people). Besides, no significant biodiversity gains are likely to accrue from creating new protected areas in Europe and much of the Global North. Besides, the high human population density and regard for human rights in the Global North would present a challenge as regards the violence and human rights violations required to create that many new protected areas. This demonstrates that the creation of protected areas is a deeply flawed concept and a primitive, obsolete conservation tool.

Philosophically, protected areas are by definition lands that are taken — or “protected” — from their owners, the indigenous people. They are based on the globally popular myth of ideal nature existing within a matrix of “pristine wilderness” devoid of human presence. This isn’t remarkable, knowing that the concept — first developed in United States — was the brainchild of Theodore Roosevelt and John Muir. Neither of these men had any ecological knowledge and their assertions are based on the pillars of white supremacy and the need for self-actualization. This “poisoned root” of conservation is the reason why in the Global South, the practice still requires continuous unmitigated violence; it remains a continuous slow-burning war against indigenous people. Together and separately, Muir and Roosevelt both regularly expressed their disdain for Native American societies, referring to them as “dirty” and “uncivilized”, respectively, in their writings.

It is also crucial to understand that this model was developed in a settler colony by racist immigrants without any reference to the presence, let alone the needs of indigenous populations. In recent years, there have been numerous attempts by conservation interests to make protected areas “inclusive” of local people, more “community focused” and to “share revenues” without much regard for their impact or their overall effect. This is because none of the practitioners has dealt with the principle issues of why protected areas were exclusive, visitor-focused (as opposed to community-focused) and why none of the revenue was being shared with the communities in the first place.

The emphasis on tourism is an avatar of the dominance of external influences over the needs and aspirations of locals in conservation policy and practice. The influences and involvement of external parties cannot be driven by livelihood dependencies on in situ resources, so they are also dependent on external drivers, namely capitalism and neoliberalism. Conservation organizations have realized this and to satisfy their ever-increasing needs for funding they have deliberately moved to engage closely with the corporations and capitalists who bear the greatest responsibility for the current environmental crisis through their resource use patterns.

It is also crucial to understand that this model was developed in a settler colony by racist immigrants without any reference to the presence, let alone the needs of indigenous populations.

The corporations in turn have their eye on marketing and have realized that any association with environmental responsibility, however tenuous, is commercially beneficial. This has given rise to what is generally known as “greenwashing” of products and services, a process that has grown from a marketing gimmick into a global battery of financial instruments that include carbon credits, nature bonds, grants, easements, and a myriad other ways in which real or perceived financial muscle can be used to acquire ownership or control of natural resources. The power of the propaganda machine is such that all the global financial structures have failed to ask how carbon trading differs from money-laundering and other white-collar crime.

The reality we live with today is that this casual lip service to environmental concerns has evolved into full-blown corporate partnerships between the self-styled “saviours” of the environment and those who over-exploit its resources. This has created an all-powerful monster whose preferred victims are the nations and peoples who still have and live within relatively intact natural environments and biodiversity. Ironically, the environmental stewardship shown by nations and various indigenous societies in the Global South has now made their homelands and resources targets for capitalist pirates, fronted by “conservation” organizations, backed by UNEP, and facilitated by governments.

The organizations pushing this injustice need to temper their self-absorption with some caution, because we are currently living in the information age, and it is only a matter of time before previously “ignorant” rural societies realize that wildlife and forests are the “enemy” causing them to lose their rights and start acting accordingly. The prevalence of armed personnel, aircraft, fences, drones and surveillance equipment in conservation are an indication that practitioners are aware at some level that what they are doing is socially unsustainable and needs to be backed by violence. However, this is a provision of false assurance, because societies that have nowhere else to go cannot be moved. Barring a change of policy, there will necessarily be bloodshed, pitting “conservationists” against people who have nothing left to lose. Already, the number of extrajudicial killings in Eastern, Southern and Central Africa under the guise of conservation is untenable, so attempts to implement the 30 x30 proposal and effectively double the amount of land under protected areas would further escalate this slow-burning violence.

The power of the propaganda machine is such that all the global financial structures have failed to ask how carbon trading differs from money-laundering and other white-collar crime.

The growth in the size and budgets of conservation NGOs gives them the ability to step beyond the roles that are generally expected of civil society organizations. In Kenya and in many parts of Africa, these organizations are now even involved in armed law enforcement, hitherto the preserve of the state. They also move to influence formal policy decisions by funding the necessary processes like stakeholder meetings. In Kenya, The Nature Conservancy, International Fund for Animal Welfare and World Wildlife Fund routinely fund policy discussion meetings and Kenyan delegations to international conferences. The government pretends not to know that this is akin to brewers and distillers funding liquor licensing board meetings. In a nutshell, this is capitalism and investment being presented as conservation and philanthropy. This example demonstrates a key effect of the increased conservation funding levels in that some of the larger organizations have the financial muscle to effectively achieve state capture.

Climate change is, and will continue to be an existential threat to our world, but the human greed and racism that feeds on it moves much faster than the much-touted rise in global temperatures and sea levels. The arts and humanities must therefore step up and necessarily participate in the quest for environmental justice, because the prostitution otherwise known as donor-funded “science” cannot be expected to point out the ills of their capitalist benefactors.

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Mordecai Ogada is a carnivore ecologist from Kenya and co-author of The Big Conservation Lie.

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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“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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