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Charles Njonjo: Ruthless Defender of Entrenched Inequality

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The political and legal system that Njonjo defined and defended was meant to guard the security and prosperity of Kenya’s wealthy and entitled upper classes. It has endured.

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Charles Njonjo, the first Attorney General of independent Kenya, died earlier this year at the age of 101. Writers of obituary essays have rendered competing verdicts on his life. The activist John Githongo warmly remembered Njonjo as a “steadfast friend and a man of his word”. The politician Miguna Miguna, by contrast, gave a dark valedictory: “Rot in hell, Charles Njonjo”, he wrote. “You represent all the problems Kenyans want and must rid themselves of”.

Njonjo saw himself as a stalwart defender of Kenyans’ liberties. In his day, he was a prolific contributor to political conversation: his speeches from the floor of Parliament were said to be second only to Tom Mboya’s in their length. His favourite theme was the relationship between law and liberty. On one memorable occasion, he lectured parliamentarians for an hour and 45 minutes, insisting that preventative detention—the incarceration of people pre-judged as dangerous to the political order—was entirely constitutional. The legal and administrative regime that he defined and defended was meant to guard the security and prosperity of Kenya’s wealthy and entitled upper classes. It was a regime that was paranoid about dissent, scornful of the poor, and focused on the security of property. It was a regime where—in the name of the common good—many categories of people found themselves incarcerated.

That is why it is worth inquiring again into Charles Njonjo’s life. It is not to humanize a man who disregarded the humanity of so many people. It is that, in unpacking the human history behind Kenya’s political institutions, we can see—and also challenge—the logics that uphold injustice in our contemporary times.

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Charles Njonjo’s father, Josiah Njonjo, was a divisional chief under Kenya’s colonial government and one of the founders of the Kikuyu Association, an early political party. He was by no means a pliable tool of British colonial policy. When in 1933 the government appointed a commission to investigate Gikuyu people’s complaints over the loss of their hereditary lands, Chief Josiah testified at length about the injustices that had attended the onset of colonial rule. British settlers had appropriated “land which was ours and on which they now plant coffee and make themselves rich at the expense of the Kikuyu owners”, he said. African farmers taking their cattle from one part of the Gikuyu reserve to another were forced to pass through European farms, risking fines and imprisonment. He asked the government to rectify the injustice:

Seeing that both we and the Europeans are children and subjects of the King, surely it is only fair that all the children should be given equal justice? We are as loyal as the Europeans and are as prepared to work for the sake of Her Majesty as the Europeans are.

Chief Josiah’s appeal was framed within the logic of conservative loyalism. He sought to level out the racial hierarchy that structured colonial Kenya’s politics, insisting that Africans, like white settlers, deserved justice from the British crown.

It is not surprising that Chief Josiah’s son would become a lawyer. In the late 1940s, Charles Njonjo was in England, studying at Exeter and the London School of Economics, where he chaired the East African Students’ Union. He applied for a post in the colonial civil service, but insisted that the terms of his employment should match those offered to Europeans. When Kenya’s government refused, an indignant Njonjo entered Gray’s Inn to study law. By the early 1950s, he was living with a young Harry Nkumbula—later a leading Zambian nationalist—in a London flat provided by the Communist Party. According to British intelligence, he was friendly with the Caribbean activist George Padmore, and was involved in Fenner Brockway’s Congress of Peoples Against Imperialism. He returned to Kenya in January 1955 to take up his first government post: as temporary Assistant Registrar General. British intelligence operatives thought him possessed of an “anti-European outlook” and “potentially very dangerous”. He was popular among African students in London because of his “personality and pleasant manners”, but capable of “cool, calculated reasoning to achieve his ends”. When he landed in Nairobi, he was found to have in his luggage a prohibited publication: George Padmore’s Africa: Britain’s Third Empire, a vituperative critique of Britain’s colonial project in Africa.

Njonjo applied for a post in the colonial civil service, but insisted that the terms of his employment should match those offered to Europeans.

Here is one way to see Charles Njonjo. Formed by his father’s conservative loyalism and by his own experiences with colonial racism, he spent his career wielding the tools of English culture and identity to demand recognition, respect, and authority from European and American brokers of power. By 1963, he was Kenya’s Attorney General, the first African to hold the post. He was famously fastidious in his manner, appearing always in a three-piece Saville Row-tailored pinstripe suit, with a watch chain looped across his waistcoat and a red carnation in his buttonhole. He complained on the floor of Kenya’s Parliament about politicians who “dressed like shamba men [garden boys]”. It was “disgraceful”, he said. He attended the ceremonies in London marking the 750th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta, and told the Kenyan press that “the Magna Carta is part of our tradition, too”. He was patron of the East African Library Association, and once told an audience that “libraries are sacred spaces and librarians are very holy people”.

At a time when most African states were hastily placing Africans in the topmost positions of the civil service and the military, Njonjo insisted that British policemen, soldiers and civil servants were essential. “Should we lower our standards . . . just because a man has a black face?”, he asked. He scorned cultural nationalists’ efforts to make Swahili Kenya’s national language. Kenyans should not be ashamed of speaking English, he told parliamentarians, because it was “not an Englishman’s language but an international means of communication”. Swahili was a concoction of Arabic phrases, with an inadequate vocabulary. To speak Swahili on the floor of Parliament would “make this House like that of Babel, because nobody would understand whatever the other said”. He insisted that Kenyans should “avoid as much as possibly an attempt which would make us narrow in our outlook”.

It is for this reason, perhaps, that Njonjo was a consistent defender of Kenyan women’s liberties. He derided the nationalist impulse to calcify public culture in the name of traditional morality. In neighbouring Tanzania and in Uganda, governments were adopting laws prohibiting the wearing of miniskirts and wigs. It was, according to activists, a way of defending African women’s morals against foreign influences. Charles Njonjo derided this cultural defensiveness. When in 1966 a parliamentarian introduced a motion to bar women from wearing slacks and tights, using lipstick, or straightening their hair, Njonjo took the floor and pointed out that the mover was wearing headgear that was inconsistent with traditional attire. Women should be allowed to exercise the “right to choose their own fashions and makeup and men should not interfere”, he averred. In 1972, politicians called for a ban on lurid films from Kenya’s cinemas. Njonjo insisted that parliamentarians “must respect the intelligence of our people. Kenyans should be intelligent enough to judge for themselves”.

American diplomats found Charles Njonjo to be “svelte, dapper, articulate, informed, and totally incongruous in the black African context”. Njonjo saw himself as a legatee of the Anglophone tradition of legal and political reasoning. It was a source of moral authority, an instrument that he could wield against other Kenyans—and against Europeans and Americans, too. When the American newspaper magnate Katharine Graham—publisher of the Washington Post and Newsweek—was late for a meeting, Njonjo scolded her for her lack of punctuality, then brusquely turned on his heel and walked out of the room.

The Kenya that Njonjo sought to create was meant to be—in his words—the “greatest living example of democracy, justice and peace”. But there was no space for the poor. They were disreputable, a danger to the public good. In 1968, Njonjo pushed through a new law giving authorities the power to remove prostitutes and beggars from cities and send them to work for their parents on the land. He called beggars “lazy people who think they can enrich themselves at the expense of others”. Under Njonjo’s tenure, punishments for crimes of property were disproportionately harsh. In August 1963—a few months before Kenya’s independence—Njonjo warned “thugs” that assault and theft would be punished with “the severest sentence”, including public flogging. He insisted, “Kenya must get back to the stage where people can leave their homes and property without worry and where they will feel secure”. A few years later Njonjo again waxed nostalgic about an imaginary past, telling parliamentarians, “Kenya should go back to the old way of life where a person could leave his house unlocked and not be worried that thieves would break into it”.

Njonjo saw himself as a legatee of the Anglophone tradition of legal and political reasoning.

Here was the political theory that lay beneath the growth of Kenya’s security state. Over the course of his nearly twenty years in public service, Njonjo insisted that “a strong popular government must be ready at all times and in all circumstances to protect the security of the state and the liberties of the people”. The incarceration of dissidents, detention without trial, the expansion of prisons—all of this was, for Njonjo, a means of guaranteeing Kenyans’ freedom. The “liberty of individuals could only be protected by protecting the state”, he told parliament in 1966, while defending a new law allowing for the long-term detention of criminals. The “law means nothing if it were not to ensure liberty, but liberty could only exist when protected by law and legal process”, he said in 1971. Law and liberty “stand hand in hand, as equal partners in the fight against their common foes of anarchy and oppression”. In 1977, while defending the detention of dissidents by government, he warned, “Kenya’s freedom could disappear overnight if adequate public security was not provided”.

It was, among other things, a rationale for expanding the power of Kenya’s president. When in 1968 opposition activists pressed for the creation of a new post—a Prime Minister, who would control and advise President Kenyatta—Njonjo called the proposal “misconceived, meaningless and pitiful”. Eight years later, Njonjo warned Kenyans that it was a “criminal offence” for anyone to “compass, imagine, devise, or intend the death or deposition of the President”. The mandatory sentence for any such offence was death.

A great many people lost their lives and their freedom in those years. A great many people spent years in prison as a guarantee for the security and liberty of Kenya’s rich and propertied classes. Some of the detainees were well known. Raila Odinga—now a leading contender in Kenya’s presidential elections—was detained from 1983 to 1988, from 1988 to 1989, and from 1990 to 1991. Amnesty International adopted him as a prisoner of conscience. Martin Shikuku, Kenya’s most consistent parliamentary critic of government corruption, spent three years in prison. The famous novelist Ngugi wa Thiong’o was detained in December 1977 for “activities and utterances which are dangerous to the good government of Kenya”. Other people suffered anonymously. They were caught up in a carceral system that was geared to the punishment and confinement of the poor. When in 1969 Kenya’s courts sentenced a 19-year-old man to ten years in prison for snatching a bag from a pedestrian, Attorney General Njonjo defended the sentence, arguing, “Young offenders who commit cold and calculated crimes deserve severe and long term punishments”.

That, then, is another way to see the late Njonjo: as a ruthless defender of entrenched inequality, an architect of a legal and political system that advantaged the wealthy and criminalized the lives of the poor. In the 1950s, hundreds of thousands of Kenyans had been tried and convicted of offenses committed during the course of the anti-colonial Mau Mau insurgency. After independence, many Kenyans expected—naturally—that their records would be wiped clear, that the new government would ignore or vacate convictions given under colonial jurisdiction. For Attorney General Njonjo there were no clean slates. He promised that “previous convictions of a political nature incurred by people in the fight for independence” would be ignored by independent Kenya’s magistrates. But earlier convictions were, however, always admissible as evidence in a court proceeding. “Theft under the colonial Government is still theft today”, he said.

The most cutting criticism of Charles Njonjo’s life came from the novelist Ngugi wa Thiong’o, whose satirical novel Matigari ma Njirũũngi was published—in the Gikuyu language—in 1986, six years after his release from detention. The novel features Matigari, a Mau Mau warrior who comes out of the forest to confront the injustices of post-colonial Kenya. In a pivotal scene the “Minister of Truth and Justice”—clad in a pinstripe suit, with a red carnation on the lapel and a white handkerchief in the breast pocket—confronts a restive crowd of workers and students. Having already arrested and detained their leaders, the Minister assures them that “without the rule of law—truth and justice—there is no government, no nation, no civilization”. There follows a self-revealing sermon about the law:

Niĩ ngĩrĩire wathoinĩ, ngarũmio na ngarũmia watho, ngathoomithio na ngoomithio watho, na ũmũũthĩ ũyũ nĩ niĩ mũigi, mũigĩrĩri, na mũgitĩri watho.

I was brought up in the law. I abide by the law, and the law abides in me. I have been taught the law, and I staunchly believe in it. I am the guardian of the law today. I make the law, and I ensure that it is kept.

In the Gikuyu original, the Minister mashes up the different functions of legal practice. The words slide together. There is no space, grammatically or vocabularically, for judicial independence. There is no separation of powers, no function of the law that is distinguishable from the person of the Minister himself. Ngugi’s satire reveals Charles Njonjo’s definition of the law to be tautologically self-interested, self-defining, and self-elevating.

Njonjo’s downfall, when it came, was swift. On 1 July 1983, he announced that he was resigning his position as Minister for Constitutional Affairs. He was accused of scheming, in the company of Kenya Air Force men, to oust President Daniel arap Moi. President Moi appointed a Commission of Inquiry to go into Njonjo’s affairs, and over the course of 109 days, Kenyans were transfixed as a parade of witnesses opened up Njonjo’s dirty laundry for public inspection. On average Kenya’s leading newspaper, the Daily Nation, dedicated six and a half pages per day to the hearings; and over the course of several months the newspaper published over a million words about Charles Njonjo’s private life. Sales rose dramatically: where the newspaper had been selling 150,000 copies per day, during the Njonjo inquiry it sold 200,000 copies.

Njonjo warned Kenyans that it was a “criminal offence” for anyone to “compass, imagine, devise, or intend the death or deposition of the President”.

Much of the evidence seems to have been introduced with the sole purpose of embarrassing Njonjo. The panel spent several days in January 1984 discussing the excess baggage that Njonjo shipped from London to Kenya on Kenya Airways. The baggage—which arrived in the airport every few weeks—weighed 240 kilograms on average. There were suitcases and boxes full of oranges, clothing and toys. There were regular shipments of Ribena. Njonjo never paid customs duties on any of it; neither did he pay the shipping costs to Kenya Airways. Four months later the panel listened to witnesses describe how Njonjo had funnelled money from the Association of the Disabled in Kenya to support the Kikuyu Constituency Development Fund. “Njonjo Diverted Disabled’s Money” was the newspaper headline.

There was more serious evidence too. Witnesses described how Njonjo had made plans with mercenaries from Israel and South Africa, planning a coup timed for early August 1982. Based on this and other evidence the judges ruled—in December 1984—that Charles Njonjo had set in motion “intrigues deliberately designed to undermine the position of the Head of State, his image, as well as usurp the power of the constitutionally established government”. President Moi pardoned him on the very day the verdict was announced. Njonjo duly repaid the funds that had been usurped from the Association of the Disabled, and thereafter he largely disappeared from public life.

The political and legal system that Njonjo built, however, has endured. In a recent article, the journalist Patrick Gathara has argued that contemporary Kenya’s prisons “carry the DNA of their forebears”. Today over 50,000 people are detained in Kenya’s prisons, crowded into buildings that are meant to house 14,000 at most. According to a 2015 report, Kenya has incarcerated more of its citizens than any other country in eastern Africa, outside Rwanda and Ethiopia. Today Kenya’s elite lives behind barbed wire fences, while—under the guise of counter-terrorism—Kenya’s police target poor and marginal residents of Nairobi. As Gathara argues, this is a legacy of colonial government. It is also a legacy of Charles Njonjo. In working to protect Kenyans’ liberties, he made the incarceration and punishment of the poor seem to be a moral necessity.

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Derek R. Peterson is Ali Mazrui Collegiate Professor in the History Department and the Department of Afro-American and African Studies at the University of Michigan.

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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