Even in a season of bad years, it is a particularly very bad year for the Horn of Africa. War and hunger tearing at Somalia, revolutionary hope in Ethiopia turned into existential crisis, the coming end of Kenyatta’s reign over Kenya with a Kalenjin successor and ethnic tensions in the wings, and in Uganda, the recent suspicious death of an Archbishop amidst a military regime openly massacring the country’s citizens, bring the region to the very edge of catastrophe.
As always happens for the region, it all starts with failed rains, most likely somewhere between Ethiopia and Somalia, although because the way in which it works is complex, few pause to consider that stopping hunger deaths in the Ogaden could create a more stable East Africa. But the rains have failed for more than three years now, and in time, the impact will be felt as coups and massacres as far afield as Kampala and the Congolese border.
In the meantime, as superpower rivalry swoops in, a looming election cycle is setting unease. The elections come. They are stolen. Civil war breaks out in Uganda. In Kenya, tensions between Luo, Kikuyu and Kalenjin politicians push the country to the brink of civil war; in no time, there will be an attempted coup in Nairobi.
But for the more alert readers, if the above scenario sounds more like a description of 1977, rather than of 2022, then there is a good reason for it; it is 1977. There have been many turning points in our post-independence history, but if I were pressed hard to pick the one that unites us in our common fate, I would settle for 1977.
And then, I would back up a little to 1972. For this was the year in which a general, global drought hit East Africa in a serious way. An indictment of public media discourse in the region is the degree of ignorance it engenders not just in its audience, but also in its reporters and editors, and so it was not until 2012 that, travelling to Kaabong from Kotido in Karamoja, I first heard the words “Loreng Lega”, from a pastoralist-turned farmer, Faustino Odir. He was explaining why he, a Jie man, started farming, saying that his family fled Loreng Lega in Karamoja in 1973 and lived in Masindi in Western Uganda for 36 years.
When I inquired further, I was told that Loreng Lega means Red Jewels, in Ateker. At the time, before plastic and glass spread across the pastoralists’ lands as beads, women wore loops of iron wire as neckpieces and kept them fresh with cow butter. In 1973, the cows died. There was no butter. The neckpieces turned rusty and the ever-poetic Ateker found a name for the famine. I might have left it there but there were others. I was told of Lopiar and Loreng Arup, all describing famines — Lopiar in 1980 and Loreng Arup in 1986.
The 1972 famine — also named the Dimbleby Famine by the international media after the British journalist Jonathan Dimbleby who brought it to Western attention — caused what I came to see as the most important political event in all of Eastern Africa for 50 years. Without that event, it is arguable that Eritrea may never have split from Ethiopia, Somalia might still be stable, Museveni would not be president and the Rwanda genocide of 1994 would not have happened.
The fall of Emperor Haile Selassie undid settled but fragile political ties that had kept Somalia, north-eastern Uganda, northern Kenya, parts of South Sudan and all of Ethiopia manageably stable for centuries. The immense legitimacy that comes from a political system widely seen as both righteous and lawful is not a cheap one, and with the great 19th century opening of all the world’s corners to communication and commerce, Ethiopians learnt that the feudal system they had so naturally accepted was in fact a very bad system. Attempts at reforms did not go far enough, and the fact that by 1974 Ethiopia still had actual, rather than metaphoric peasants, who gave up a part of their harvest to the landlord, meant that the country was really asking for it.
The fall of Selassie, heart-rending and ruinous as it was, was a foregone conclusion, which is not to say the successor system was deserved nor that those who carried out the coup de grace to an ossified system were angels. The tragedy of Ethiopia has always been that the rules of political dialectics that describe a move to a better system, don’t usually apply.
We have been paying the price for Selassie’s fall ever since.
With the fall of Selassie, subject ethnic groups on the empire’s periphery began to question their status — questions unthinkable whilst Menelik’s progeny sat on the throne. For a measure of how recent this is, Somali writer Nurrudin Farrah once told me that he met the Emperor as a child when he came on a tour of the territories and was picked to read a poem to him.
The loss of Ethiopia’s sacerdotal myth (aspects of it still exist in what is described as Solomonite society in origin) combined with the ascendency of the Derg to convince the empire’s provinces that the time to leave had come. The most important departure was Eritrea. But in 1977, it looked as if Somalia might be the first.
The tragedy of Ethiopia has always been that the rules of political dialectics that describe a move to a better system, don’t usually apply.
The Ogaden war that broke out in July 1977 was a tragic event that should have been avoided, if only for the fact that it produced none of the intended goals. When Siad Barre launched his Greater Somalia wars, the irredentist suit for the unification of ethnic Somalia, he may not have foreseen an even greater shrinkage of Somalia. But it was an explicit threat to territorial Kenya as it was to Ethiopia, both countries more important to world powers than Somalia.
That Siad Barre chose to launch a revanchist campaign in the deep winter of the Cold War only ratcheted up the stakes. It ensured that his war was very quickly hijacked to become a USSR-USA affair. It is here that one of the most cynical manoeuvres of the Cold War era took place.
Since the 1930s, Imperial Ethiopia had aligned with capitalist powers after Haile Selassie petitioned the League of Nations to stop Italian aggression against what was then better known as Abyssinia. American patronage of Ethiopia continued even after the Derg was entrenched, but the openly Marxist Mengistu Haile Mariam could no longer be accommodated. Down in Mogadishu, Siad Barre was in bed with the Soviets. The march down to the Ogaden war happened with cold abject calculations. The Soviets helped Mogadishu draw up a battle plan against Ethiopia. The popular version of the story, as told to me by the late Kenyan cameraman, Mohinder Dhillon who covered the fighting, is that at the 11th hour, the Soviets, doubtless with the battle plans in their breast pockets, switched sides and supported the Ethiopians while the Americans fled Addis Ababa to take sides with Siad Barre. Beyond all belief, the Somalis marched into battle with the same Soviet battle plan. The result was a complete rout of Somali forces, the centre of battle converging at Jijiga. But there are more subtle ways in which it happened, which is beyond the scope of this piece.
That Siad Barre chose to launch a revanchist campaign in the deep winter of the Cold War only ratcheted up the stakes.
The result was that Mengistu got allies he was comfortable with, and the Americans, the port of Barbera and the Eastern Africa Indian Ocean. Which was cold comfort for both the USSR and the USA; scholarly journals make the argument that, by so openly going to war against the Soviets in Africa, Jimmy Carter and his national security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, may have precipitated the end of the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty — the detente with the Soviet Union — meaning they threw away something bigger for a regional conflict.
It was a short war, lasting from June 1977 to May 1978. But it put an end to short regional wars for it put in the hands of non-state actors the means to wage guerrilla warfare. Before that, guns and ammunition had been the preserve of state actors. Both the Americans and the Soviets decanted ship and plane loads of arms into the conflict. They inaugurated a regional small arms market that is nigh impossible to shut down. And this is where the tragedy begins.
The first groups to acquire those guns were the pastoralists that straddle the Horn. The testing ground for the destructive power of guns easy to acquire, hide and maintain were the cattle rustlings which had for centuries been little more than sporting, manhood-proving raids. Supercharged with the AK47, they became lethal.
The Turkana had hitherto ruled the pastoralist roost, acquiring their first guns from Menelik in 1911, and lording it over the Samburu, Karamojong, Didinga, Tepeth, Pokot, Toposa, and Nyangatom. Now, all these groups had guns. The region’s descent into hell had begun; these gun trails were to feed Joseph Kony’s war, and all still feed conflicts in the region.
As it was, the timing could not have been worse. The pastoralists had not fully recovered from the famine of 1972, but the famine was not a singular factor. The fate of pastoralists is one that those living in the capital cities — who are nearly all from agricultural communities — don’t fully appreciate nor care about. What had happened was that colonialism had closed up lands and created administrative units corresponding to ethnicity, in effect, inventing tribes. This did not suit nomadic pastoralism, which not only required open lands, but also did not want national borders.
The region’s descent into hell had begun; these gun trails were to feed Joseph Kony’s war, and all still feed conflicts in the region.
The worst affected pastoralist groups were those of south-western Uganda and Rwanda, who suddenly found themselves stateless for their forage lands were split between Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania and Congo.
Deep into independence in 1977, pastoralists started to realise that the post-colonial state had left them out and would continue to leave them out. The race to pick up guns was a belated reaction to the knowledge that unless they fought, their way of life was doomed.
The death of animals and humans from the 1972 famine broke pastoralism. But now, unbeknownst to all, an even bigger event — Lopiar — was coming in 1980 to effectively bury it. Before that, another fateful event occurred. The fall of Idi Amin in 1979 left tens of thousands of guns floating in Uganda. Just think of what it means that, when the Ugandan army under Amin fled in 1979, all of Uganda government’s guns fell into private hands. A lot of the suddenly unemployed Ugandan soldiers found that the Ogaden war had already created a market for the guns in their hands. In Moroto, the story is still told of how people carried guns like so many bunches of firewood on their heads.
Hence, when 1980 came, pastoralists were armed to the teeth. The famine of that year is hard to outdo. It is estimated that up 21 per cent of pastoralist lives were lost in that year, first to the drought and the loss of animals, but the bulk of it to the cholera outbreak that followed. They called it Lopiar, The Sweep, in Ateker languages. (On a minor note, this was the event that gave birth to Kakuma Camp, for the relief agencies that arrived found the Turkana assembled in this high, cooler and moist valley. Henceforth, arriving refugees from Somalia, Sudan and Uganda would go there, because it was a feeding centre.)
But the biggest impact was still in the future. In Uganda, 1980 is thought of narrowly as the year that Museveni launched a bush war in response to a lost election. What is rarely thought of is that Museveni, himself a pastoralist, was merely doing what pastoralists all over The Horn of Africa were doing. He was playing the part of kraal boss, and like all kraal bosses, he was leading a group of young pastoralists to fight to keep their way of life viable, for it falls upon young men in pastoralist societies to go out and fight for animals when the herd is either dead or rustled. This time, they were going to rustle the entire Uganda.
Museveni not only led Ugandan pastoralists to battle, but combined those with pastoralist refugees from Rwanda as well. The mass of guns floating all over the region found eager takers.
Overall, the decision could not have been worse. The gun turned against pastoralists, and for the next two decades, hundreds of thousands would perish in ensuing conflicts. The shadow of the Rwanda genocide of 1994 obscures the fact that the 1990s was the worst decade for pastoralism. The drawing up of colonial borders had kettled in nomadic lifestyles. The attack on Rwanda in 1990 by Paul Kagame and the late Fred Rwigyema was not too different from the Somali attack on Ethiopia in 1977; the aim was the same, to pry loose the 1884 Berlin conference borders and let the herds roam free. It was not too different from the armed gunfights by the Turkana, Pokot, and Karamojong against the Kenyan and Ugandan armies. The Toposa of Southern Sudan were caught in a much more complex battle, for they were caught between the Khartoum forces and the SPLA, who both supplied them with guns, and although they were better off with the SPLA, whom they chose in the end, they were still part of the “Karamoja” cluster, their fate still impacted by the fall of Emperor Haile Selassie.
The shadow of the Rwanda genocide of 1994 obscures the fact that the 1990s was the worst decade for pastoralism.
Grimly, the killings in Rwanda in 1994 were not too distant in form from the gun deaths that happened with such casual repetitiveness between Ugandan, Kenyan, Ethiopian and Sudanese pastoralists at the same time that they were rarely reported. But hundreds of thousands perished in the decades between 1977 and 2006.
The one pastoralist struggle that made good was the ascension of Museveni to power. He has said it many times — and makes propaganda use of herding his animals for the cameras — but what perhaps explains the seeming paradox of his reformist rhetoric which clashes with his dictatorial practice, is that he was driven to pick the liberation lingua of his time to gain support beyond his clannist instinct, whilst fighting for something closer to his heart. If Museveni does not seem that presidential, it is because his psychological make-up is that of a kraal leader. You have to meet many of them throughout the pastoralist lands in the north to meet his kind: tyrannical, brash, hard-driving, imperative, brooking no argument, but above all uber-clannist. The massive land grabs in the latter days of his presidency have a central pattern — to benefit pastoralists as unreported conflicts in many, many parts Uganda between farmers and pastoralists protected by the army attest. The colonial and postcolonial abuse of pastoralists made its mark. They are called “backward”, which is derogatory, considering that pastoralists today remain the true custodians of African cultures abandoned by agricultural communities, and that many in agricultural communities are only a generation removed from pastoralism. But conflict is conflict, and Museveni used to state that he would not leave power while his people remained backward. He has since turned every government institution into an ethnically monolithic stronghold.
If Museveni does not seem that presidential, it is because his psychological make-up is that of a kraal leader.
The biggest coming conflict of Museveni’s life, and one which will survive him for the coming decades, will be a rebalancing of the power stakes between pastoralists and agrarians, for in the long term, agriculture always wins, even if by absorbing pastoralists. This means that this coming conflict will once more pit Museveni’s pastoralists against the agricultural communities of southern and south-western Uganda. The break with Buganda and Busoga, hitherto Museveni’s biggest supporters, is only the opening salvo of this coming conflict. Bobi Wine may be the spearhead of this struggle, but it will outlive him and reshape Uganda for generations to come.
It is Museveni’s terrible, bad luck that Cold War II is returning when his government has lost all legitimacy, meaning that in the event of another armed rebellion, he will no longer be the good guy. He lost that tag forever when he ordered his goons to shoot to death dozens on 18 November 2020. Even worse, he is now the de facto Haile Selassie of Eastern Africa, meddling in Congo, Rwanda, Sudan, Kenya and Somalia. By positioning his son to succeed him, and now openly saying that Ugandan public offices will be ring-fenced to those with money (effectively his bush war pastoralist compadres), he is creating a feudal monarchy out of Uganda, like Ethiopia in reverse. He is making Selassie’s mistakes. But he is also giving a bad name to pastoralists who are otherwise noble people.
That is because, as in 1977, the factors to turn conflicting interests into ruinous warfare are in place, almost comically so in how much the players of 1977 are back in place. In Kenya, another Kenyatta is about to exit office. His vice president happens to be a Kalenjin. In the wings, vying for succession, is another Odinga. You cannot make this stuff up. But unlike 1977, and unlike Moi, Ruto is Museveni’s protégé. The ethnic configurations of Kenya are such that should Ruto become president, he will find himself forced to govern like Moi, albeit a Moi who can count on another Idi Amin in Uganda as his ally. This will mean that the coming political instability in Uganda will also become political instability in Kenya. Ruto is opening the gates for Uganda’s political incompetence to be imported into Kenya. We just hope that among his intimate exchanges with Museveni, military rule in Kenya did not crop up.
Like in 1977, Ethiopia is at war. It might be a matter of time before dreams of Greater Somalia are revived, as Mogadishu once more watches Addis Ababa’s discomfiture. Somalia’s options are not that many. After all, the state disintegrated after Siad Barre was beaten on the plains of the Ogaden. It is a matter of time before someone in Mogadishu sees a foreign military adventure as a way to unite the country’s clans. Should this happen, the Ogaden could well be the playing field. But this will not be too much news to Kenya whose biggest threats have so far come from Somalis.
Almost beyond belief, Russia, in the place of the Soviet Union, could very well join China and the USA in messing up the politics of the region, which mess is already in high gear. In 2022, there could well be more AK47s poured in, but there might be other weapons as well.
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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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