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Borana Sacrifice in the Oromo Liberation Struggle

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The Borana were at the forefront of the Oromo national liberation struggle and tens of thousands paid the ultimate prize while many others were arrested, liquidated, maimed, or displaced throughout Oromia.

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Borana Sacrifice in the Oromo Liberation Struggle
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Constitutionally, Ethiopia is a democratic federal state organized along ethnolinguistic lines. However, the de facto centralization of power, political repression and politicization of ethnicity continue to be the dominant features of the state.

The Oromo national movement began to develop in the 1960s by challenging the policies and practices of the Ethiopian colonial state. Even though the Oromo people are the largest national group in Ethiopia—estimated at 50 million—they were treated as a political minority both by Haile Selassie and by the Derg regime that overthrew him.

From the beginning of Haile Selassie’s autocratic rule in 1941, the Oromo language was banned from use in the education curriculum, in schools, and in the administration. The Abyssinian bourgeoisie viewed Oromo identity and language as a hindrance to the expansion of Amhara identity. Amharic, which is the language of the Amhara, the politically dominant ethnic group, and the mother tongue of less than 20 per cent of Ethiopia’s population, was imposed on the other ethnic groups without considering their sentiments and opinions. The Oromo language ban would remain in place until 1991, resulting in ethnonational domination, political disenfranchisement and exclusion, cultural destruction, and sparking outrage that would lead to radical Oromo nationalism.

Moreover, in spite of their diversity, their numbers and their occupation of large urban and pastoral zones, the Oromo people of Ethiopia have experienced a long history of marginalization, forced assimilation and the loss of their fertile lands, which were annexed and ceded to other ethnic minorities by the ruling Amhara hegemony. This ostracism has resulted in the decline of the pastoralist lifestyle among the Oromo.

The creation of the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) and the 1974 Ethiopian revolution awakened Oromo aspirations to regain their political rights, human dignity and equality. The revolution not only aroused Oromo pride in their national identity, language and culture, but also raised their hopes of regaining their lands; after the 1974 revolution, land reform of some kind was a foregone conclusion.

Post-Derg 

Two major geopolitical tragedies caused by former Somalia strongman Siad Barre—the 1977-1978 Ethio-Ogaden war and the civil war in 1991 that led to the collapse of Barre’s military regime—produced a massive wave of return of Ethiopian refugees and an influx of newly created Somali refugees.

In 1977, with Ethiopia in turmoil, and the balance of power decisively in Somalia’s favour, Barre had launched a ground invasion of Ethiopia to wrestle the Ogaden—or Western Somalia as Somalis referred to it—from Ethiopian control. This triggered the movement of refugees fleeing the Ogaden war and the drought-stricken regions of the Horn.

The situation was further exacerbated by the massive displacement of Somali refugees fleeing the civil war that had begun in Mogadishu, the capital city of Somalia. As the civil war in Mogadishu deepened, other parts of the country fell into the hands of clan-based warlords. Somali refugee arrivals in Ethiopia increased significantly due to the combined effects of drought, famine and political instability in Somalia.

The Somali returnees were assisted by the UNHCR and by several NGOs. In some districts and Kebele (the smallest administrative unit similar to a ward), the returnees overwhelmed the local populations by up to nearly 300 per cent, a figure indicating that the returnees were mixed up with new refugees from Somalia and immigrants from Kenya; by registering as returnees, families could access support from the UNHCR.

The situation was further exacerbated by the massive displacement of Somali refugees fleeing the civil war that had begun in Mogadishu.

Getachew Kassa writes that the Garre (a major Somali clan inhabiting southern Somalia, Ethiopia and northern Kenya) were identified as Qohati (returnee). During their stay in Somalia, and in the course of their repatriation, the “returnees” had developed a higher opportunistic capacity to act in modern politics and to successfully interrelate with international refugee policies and UN organizations. Upon their return, they linked up with the local pastoralists of their own clan, but retained a rather separate identity and lifestyle compared to the pastoralists.

While the Arsi and Guji ex-members of the Somali Abbo Liberation Front redefined their agenda and identity in the terms agreed with the local Oromo and left the organization, the Garre, the Gabra and the Mareexaan returnees changed the name of the organization to Oromo Abbo Liberation Front (OALF).

Claiming an Oromo identity was a way of legitimising their demands to be resettled in an Oromo-speaking region. In both Liiban and Dirree, conflict first broke out in November 1991 between the Gabra Miigoo and the Borana, following an attempt by the former to open an OALF office in Yaaballoo.

The Degodia, one of the major Somali clans, had supported the Borana in checking the movements of the heavily armed and motorized ex-soldiers of Siad Barre that had been supporting both the Mareexaan and the Garre/Gabra Miigoo against the Borana. The Degodia did not side with the Somali owing to their clan affiliation in opposition to the Said Barre-led Mareexaan in Somali politics. The Tigray Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF) tried to arbitrate between the conflicting parties, while simultaneously re-organizing the administrative set-up and building its local network of alliances.

These political dynamics can only be analysed in the light of the OLF factor where the Boranas were alleged to be OLF sympathizers. At that crucial early stage, the Borana came to be identified as strong OLF supporters, although the organisation was only active in the Borana zones of Dirre, Liiban, Yaaballo and Moyyalle during the short period of campaigning from 1991 to 1992 when it was part of the Transitional Government of Ethiopia.

This impression was later exacerbated by the position of the Borana along the border with Kenya, an area where one of the OLF military branches became active after 1992; several Borana elders were quite critical of the OLF’s decision to withdraw from the 1992 elections, a decision that exposed youths, supporters and sympathizers to harsh state repression.

The Ethiopian constitution grants the Oromia region “special interest” status because the city of Addis Ababa is an enclave in Oromia. However, a law that stipulates how this “special interest” region is to be governed has yet to be promulgated.

Researcher Sara Lister suggests that even in those districts that had remained under Oromia administration (Region 4) after 1994, into which the Borana had been squeezed, the Gabra Miigoo have generally been well-treated by the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) in order to create a counterforce to the Borana, and have benefited from increased numbers of political positions.

The 1995 and 2000 regional and federal elections, and the 2001 Woreda (district) and Kebele (ward) elections were held without any opposition figures running, with the result that all political representatives and administrators were simply “appointed” by the Oromo People’s Democratic Organization (OPDO) through an internal party process. A few Borana with a low level of education who were affiliated with OPDO managed to get some political positions, mainly at the lower district level (Woreda).

The Ethiopian constitution grants the Oromia region “special interest” status because the city of Addis Ababa is an enclave in Oromia.

By 1995, the Maareexan seemed to have fallen out of sympathy with the EPRDF. In 1998, the pastoral component of the Maareexan gave up Somali territorial claims in the Liiban District of Region 4 and recognized the Borana traditional system of resource management. They slowly re-established themselves in pastoral life.

The Gabra Miigoo retained their Oromo identity and aligned with the OPDO, the Oromo branch of the EPRDF. As mentioned, the Gabra pastoralists slowly re-built their relations with the Borana pastoralists by revitalizing their customary leadership and Yaa’a.

Tigray uprising

In the spring of 1991, the EPRDF, a Tigrayan-led coalition of rebel organizations under the leadership of Meles Zenawi, began to achieve real successes and defeated the Ethiopian army, forcing military dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam, who had ruled the country since 1994, to flee the country. In the midst of cease-fire talks, EPRDF tanks entered Addis Ababa virtually unchallenged and a transition government was formed soon after, with Meles Zenawi as its president. In July, a new democratic constitution was drafted, and Eritrean independence was acknowledged without incident.

Formed in 1974, the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) was the first major Oromo political party. However, it was overshadowed by the ruling EPRDF coalition member, the Oromo People’s Democratic Organization (OPDO) created by Meles Zenawi. Seeking self-determination for the Oromo people, the OLF pulled out of the interim government with the EPRDF in 1992.

Reality dawned on the Oromia nation as soon as the TPLF leader, Meles Zenawi, ascended to power. The Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia was proclaimed, the EPRDF was swept to power in poorly contested, sham elections in August 1995, and Zenawi became Ethiopia’s first prime minister. The TPLF dominated the EPRDF ruling alliance. The Tigrayan minority dominated the senior ranks of government and the TPLF promulgated a series of laws crippling the opposition, ethnic-cleansing the Oromos and Amharas, muzzling the media and shackling civil society.

The reality is that the TPLF faced the united opposition of almost all Ethiopian nationalities. This is because, in the nearly three decades that it was in power (1991-2018), the organization had a dismal record of governance and gross violations of human rights

The political emancipation of the Oromo and the ignominious defeat of Tigray/TPLF and their apologists in Ethiopia is a culmination of many years of struggle and sacrifice. Tens of thousands paid the ultimate prize while many others were arrested, liquidated, maimed, or displaced throughout Oromia.

The Oromia region has 21 districts, also called Aanaale or Woreda. The district is the third level of the administrative units of Ethiopia after the zones and the regional states. All the clusters of Oromo groups, which are a combination of the two confederacies, Borana Oromo and Barentu Oromo, contributed to the triumph over Tigrayan oppressors. In particular, the Borana who occupy the Borena zone of southern Ethiopia and northern Kenya that stretches to the Tana Delta off the coast, contributed significantly to this struggle.

The reality is that the TPLF faced the united opposition of almost all Ethiopian nationalities.

The Tigray regime’s sunset days were characterized by politically instigated ethnic clashes and the massacre of Oromos in Nagelle, Udat, Borbor, Moyale, Bale and Hararge. Consequently, over one million Oromos, among them thousands of Boranas, were displaced. Losses from similar sporadic ethnic clashes, where the Tigray government openly sided with opponents, cannot be quantified.

The initial shock came with the cold-blooded murder of the legendary former governor of the Borana region in Ethiopia, Jatani Ali Tandhu, by TPLF operatives in a Nairobi Hotel on 2 July 1992. Former Saku Member of Parliament Jillo Falana reported that two assassins were holed up in the Ethiopian Embassy in Nairobi. The two men accused of killing Jatani were arrested, tried in the Kenyan courts and released under unclear circumstances. On 3 April 1996, Hussein Sora, the lawyer handling the Jattani case at the time, was also murdered. In April 1994, the Supreme Leader of the Borana, Boruu Guyyoo Boruu, was assassinated shortly after attending a peace meeting arbitrated by the TPLF. The assassination created differences and distance between the Borana customary leadership and the EPRDF officials.

By 1995, the Borana had been excluded from institutional politics and had lost important seasonal rangelands in Liiban and crucial water and pasture resources in Dirree.

Killings of Oromos were reported in the 1996 Kenya Human Rights Commission Report and in Oromo Commentary (1997). Other lists of the Oromo who were either killed or disappeared under the brutal TPLF regime appeared in Madda Walaabuu Press on 5 June 2018. Several Oromo refugees who sought asylum in Kenya under UNHCR protection were arbitrarily arrested and deported to Ethiopia on suspicion of being members of the OLF. “These recurring incidents have convinced many Boran leaders in Kenya that the Ethiopian agents are after the elimination of Borans both in Kenya and Ethiopia,” stated Oromia online.

There is no question that all the nations, nationalities and peoples of Ethiopia suffered under the TPLF dictatorship. However, the intensity of oppression experienced by the Oromia nation was exceptional in that the regime was bent on neutralizing Oromia’s vast human and natural resources and its centrally located landmass that shares boundaries with almost all the nations and nationalities of Ethiopia. This exceptional subjugation of the Oromo demands an exceptional solution if it is to end.

Relentless Devotion

Oromos who fled repression internationalised the Oromo struggle through massive demonstrations in various countries. In particular, the Oromo Olympian, Fayissa Lelissa became an international icon of the Oromo liberation movement, catapulting the Oromo struggle to the global arena with a simple symbolic sign of Oromo resistance as he approached the finishing line.

Oromo musicians have kept the fire burning during the high and low moments of the struggle. Oromo professionals have changed the toxic TPLF narrative and provided guidance. Oromo religious leaders have been steadfast in their prayers. This recognition of the impact of the Oromo diaspora would be incomplete without the mention of Jawar Mohamed and the Oromia Media Network, and Hamza Borana and Radio Daandii Haqaa (RDH) both of which have provided visibility and galvanised the struggle through sustained strategic communication. Sadly, both Jawar and Hamza Borana are now behind bars in Addis Ababa.

The Boranas rejected TPLF adventurism in favour of the Oromo Liberation Front. Consequently, for 27 years, the Borana endured state-sponsored terrorism (admitted by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in the Ethiopian Parliament in 2018). Their oppression left a scar on all Borana leaders, individuals, and institutions. Everyone suffered, especially those kin at the frontline in Ethiopia and in Moyale, Sololo, Marsabit and Isiolo in Kenya, and in the entire Waso belt, Sololo, Moyale, Saku, Waso, southern Ethiopia and in the diaspora.

There is no question that all the nations, nationalities and peoples of Ethiopia suffered under the TPLF dictatorship.

The TPLF regime and their surrogates sought to disempower the Borana in all their dimensions including in politics, the economy, culture and security, and punished them by annexing their land, in particular the Wayama belt, which was grafted onto Region 5 of Somalia, a tactic to create a protracted and perpetual war in southern Ethiopia. The losses cannot be quantified.

The Borana made this great sacrifice out of their fervent desire to uphold and protect the overarching interests and heritage of the Oromo people. Borana leaders, elders and individuals of goodwill provided open and public diplomacy for the Oromo national liberation struggle. One example is the meeting between Gen. Hussein Mohamed Farah Aideed and the Borana leadership organized by the late Hussein Sora and Waso leaders from Isiolo. General Aideed, who was on an official visit, met elders from Moyale, Sololo, Marsabit, and Isiolo. It was a cordial meeting during which the Borana elders requested Gen Aideed to support the OLF. Gen Aideed, and later his son Hussein Aideed, established rear bases for the OLF in central and lower Shabelle in Somalia near the Indian Ocean port of Merca. These bases were the target of the Ethiopian invasion of Somalia in December 2006.

Boranas have therefore been at the forefront of the Oromo national liberation struggle. The next step is to now join their compatriots in consolidating the struggle by seeking comprehensive redress for the historical injustices manufactured by the TPLF, especially the territorial disputes concerning the Wayama belt that was annexed by the TPLF regime. This will put an end to the perennial conflict in that zone and sustain peacebuilding between Oromia and Region 5. The resolution of Borana grievances should be led and owned by a committee of Ethiopian Boranas with the tacit support of Kenyan Boranas.

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Salad Malicha is a communication policy expert based in Isiolo.

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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