Nobody should really be surprised by the conflict taking place inside the Republic of Ukraine. In their long modern history, Europeans have been at war, or in preparation for war, or recovering from one, longer than they have been at peace.
Western Europe has been the key driver of conflicts at home and globally for the last three centuries. European armies have war graves in just about every country on every continent.
The only surprise is that they have been able to keep their warlike behaviour in check for the last seventy-seven years (if we exclude the fighting that followed the 1990 break-up of Yugoslavia), since the end of their 1939-1945 war that they spread to much of the rest of the world.
And even that peace was only because they managed, for once, to come to an agreement about the thing that drives their conflicts: money.
Ambassador Martin Kimani, Kenya’s permanent representative to the United Nations did an important thing when he asserted the idea that Africans can also have an opinion on world events, drawing on the lived African historical experience.
In his February speech to the Security Council, while criticizing the then anticipated Russian military entry into Ukrainian territory, Ambassador Kimani urged Russian leaders to follow the example set by Africa’s post-colonial leaders and simply accept post-empire borders as they are. He also urged them to put their faith in international diplomacy, in order to resolve such disputes.
Deep down, these words will sound strange to European ears on all sides of the Ukraine dispute. The historical record shows that this is simply not how these people do business, and certainly not the white powers of Western Europe (which birthed other white powers like the United States and Canada). For them, war is the norm, and when they say “peace”, they mean their successful imposition of conditions to their liking on the side they have defeated.
Ambassador Kimani urged Russian leaders to follow the example set by Africa’s post-colonial leaders and simply accept post-empire borders as they are.
The conflict now located in Ukraine has been brewing for quite some time. It is an expression of a wider tension between the continuing ambitions of Western countries and economic masters against the interests of Russia in the various forms it has taken before, during and after becoming the world’s first, biggest and most powerful non-capitalist state.
There has never been a period of actual good relations between Russia and the Western European powers in over one hundred years. And places like Ukraine are where this has often played out. The great plains of Europe, lying between Russia proper and the powers of the West, made up of shifting, weaker states, have always been a buffer zone.
In the first phase, this was the fight between the German and Russian empires during the 1914-1918 war, which led to both the collapse of the Russian monarchy, and the dissolution of the German Empire.
The second phase was between 1920 and 1939, when various combinations of Western European powers sponsored rebellions, small wars and sabotage in an attempt to dislodge the communist-led Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) regime that had eventually taken over the Russian state following the collapse of the monarchy there.
This was only briefly suspended by the rise of fascism to state power in Spain, Italy and Germany, setting the conditions for the 1939-1945 war.
But this was in fact a war against Germany’s attempt to re-establish an empire to replace the one taken from it under the terms of the treaty ending the 1914-1918 war, much as it was dressed up as a war against the fascism of Hitler’s Germany. During that war, the capitalist Western powers were embarrassed to have had to make an anti-Hitler alliance with the very Soviet Union they had been trying to undermine militarily not a few years earlier.
There has never been a period of actual good relations between Russia and the Western European powers in over one hundred years.
The end of that war gave rise to the third phase, between 1946 and 1991, when the effort to remove the communists (whose reach had now expanded to control parts of central Europe) resumed and became an all-consuming fixation of Western statecraft. Now led by the United States, it re-oriented all Western political, diplomatic and military thinking to see the Soviet Union, and its satellites state, as the principal enemy.
It is in this phase, known as the Cold War, that institutions like the US-dominated military alliance known as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO: 1947), the well-known American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA: 1947) in the West, and the rival Soviet-led Warsaw Pact (Treaty of Friendship, Co-operation and Mutual Assistance: 1955) in Eastern Europe, were formed. This phase officially came to an end with the collapse and dissolution of the USSR in 1991. The Warsaw Pact dissolved in 1991 while, conversely, NATO has just kept on going.
Originally made up of 15 member states by 1955, and committed to mutual defence for fifty years, NATO has never properly explained why then it continues to exist. There are a number of contradictions. The Cold War itself did not last 50 years, and the NATO side won anyway, yet it has gone on to include fifteen new members, thus doubling its membership. What is more, the bulk of these new member states are former territories of the Warsaw Pact, with membership being offered to even more, such as Ukraine, which used to be part of the Soviet Union proper. In other words, NATO became twice as big as its original size after the reason for its creation no longer existed.
This brings us to the fifth phase running from 1991 to Russia’s February invasion of Ukraine, which is a whole story in itself.
Russia’s unease with this expansion—expressed in a number of failed diplomatic initiatives, with Ukraine increasingly at the epicentre—was never really taken seriously. The immediate trigger begins with a 2014 coup in Ukraine that brings a pro-West government to power. There followed a series of measures against the Russian ethnic minority of Ukraine, as well as proscriptions against the symbols and legacy (both good and bad) Russia had left in Ukraine during the communist era. In particular, there was the public rehabilitation of the legacies of fascist organizations that had collaborated with Hitler’s forces during the German invasions of the 1940s, and the public tolerance of new fascist organisations. It is one issue to wonder why anyone should find it desirable to join a political identity with such a record. It is another issue to also question why such politics should be even permissible in a society claiming to be civilized.
How this invasion ends will be the start, and then the nature, of the sixth phase.
Africans are not obliged to take sides. But there is a human obligation to share knowledge and experience, as Ambassador Kimani has done. And any call for the avoidance of armed conflict is a good thing.
More than once in the last century, Europeans have dragged us into their conflicts in a bout of global racism.
Therefore, scenes of Africans being discriminated against on the Ukraine-Poland border as they tried—like many other peoples in Ukraine—to flee the looming conflict, should have been expected.
European culture is racist, and it did not become racist when it arrived in the Americas, Asia and Africa; it was its racism that took it there in the first place. What is more, Europeans actually began their racism among themselves.
Eastern Europe is Slavic country. “Slavic” is how the Eurasian people described themselves, as a concept of praise. However, these people had been conquered in the 9th Century (in other words, in yet another inter-European war), and had been reduced to what would now be called slavery.
So, Western European history ascribed a different meaning to the name. “Slavonic” was turned to mean “captive” in Latin. “Slav” is where the word “slave” in Western European languages comes from.
European racism—now directed at mainly non-white people—may be less expressive and performative at home as compared to the settler spaces it created overseas, because it is less directly in the presence of black people, and it is also more secure and confident in itself at home. But it is always there; it is just a matter of opportunity and circumstance (such as a border).
The Nazi Germany era was in many ways a condensed form of the already 400-year white supremacist project that had seen white Europeans forcibly settle themselves in the Americas from the arctic to the Antarctic, Australia, New Zealand, and all of southern Africa. In all cases, these incursions (that Hitler called “lebensraum”, literally, “space for living in”, when he applied them to Eastern Europe) began with genocides, and were sustained on them.
European culture is racist, and it did not become racist when it arrived in the Americas, Asia and Africa.
Being hemmed in militarily, Hitler’s Germany found it necessary to massively mobilize its population. It did this by appealing to their racism by victimizing a significant minority in an acute intensification of perhaps the longest standing racial prejudice in European public life; vilifying people of Jewish descent, as well as picking on its neighbours.
Underneath the usual romanticisation of the conflicts among Europeans lies the story of coal and iron. Until perhaps the 1960s, the Alsace-Lorraine region, which lies where the lands of France and Germany meet, held the largest known deposits of iron ore in the Western world. Together with the abundant supplies of the coal in the neighbouring regions, this created the opportunity for the bulk production of perhaps the most significant material to industrialization—steel.
On top of the already mentioned 1914-1918 British-German war that led to Germany’s loss of its entire global empire as well as territory closer to home, and the 1939-1945 British-French-American-Russian war against Germany, Italy, and Japan, which left Europe militarily split in half for the following four decades, there had already been the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-1871 which had ended with German occupation of France. All these were essentially conflicts over the Alsace–Lorraine region.
It was the site of the beginnings of a reversal of fortunes for Germany in its big gamble to also invade the Soviet Union in 1941. This gave rise to the heroic politics of the Americans leading the massive landings on the shores of Western Europe in a race for Berlin, the German capital. The real panic was to try and capture Germany before the Russians advancing from the East did. Perhaps they feared that Russia would reclaim those territories it conceded to Germany as part of the process of pulling out of the 1914-1918 war in which the then new communist regime had felt it had no side.
Underneath the usual romanticisation of the conflicts among Europeans lies the story of coal and iron.
This is why from the day of the German defeat in 1945, up until its reunification in 1990, all the countries that had fought Hitler’s armies had their armies in the ridiculous situation of each controlling a cramped sector of Germany’s capital Berlin, while Berlin as a whole was itself deep inside Soviet-controlled territory (because the Soviet Union’s Red Army had overrun German territory before the Western armies got there).
Russia has always been governed by a cultural tension between its actual Asiatic roots, and an underlying tendency to embrace a more western European identity. This “Westernizer tendency” (as it is known) played a role in taking the monarchy to the degree of crisis the Russian Empire had. In trying to become more like the more industrialised powers to the west, Imperial Russia had become financially indebted to them.
The socialist revolution under the communist party put an end to this, and in so doing saved the Russian state from collapse.
All foreign investments as well as locally owned private concerns were nationalized. Furthermore, key elements of Slavic culture, such as language, were synthetized into education and science in a way that allowed for the rapid progress of the spread of education and technological knowledge. This enabled the country to make a rapid leap forward technologically, and become an industrial and military power by the middle of the last century.
The political leaders were also adept at keeping the country’s enemies at bay through military and diplomatic manoeuvring. The coming to power of the Russian communists in October 1917 only intensified this, because under the Russian monarchy, Russia had been in alliance with the big powers of the West (France and Britain), in fighting Germany in the 1914-1918 war. It was of great use partly because, being to the east of Germany, Russia formed a whole other front. Those powers were very annoyed when Russia’s new rulers pulled out of the conflict.
Russia has always been governed by a cultural tension between its actual Asiatic roots, and an underlying tendency to embrace a more western European identity.
From that moment, the fight was no longer over the respective profit-seeking factions of several empire states seeking to grab valuable territory and markets for themselves. It became a fight between all such factions collectively on the one side, versus a huge country taken over by a political party that was opposed to private profit-making to begin with, on the other.
But with this loss of a crucial ally in the ongoing war, three things were at stake for the powers to the west. Germany, which had only really united as one nation in the 1871 war (minus Austria; that would be organized later by Hitler), now had more opportunities and room to manoeuvre in the conduct of the war. There was the immediate possibility of Germany taking over all the installations and resources that the Russian forces had left scattered all over the eastern front from Finland, Siberia to the central European plains.
Second, the substantial aforementioned economic and war debts that the economic powers to the west had over broke imperial Russia were now under threat of not been honoured.
Finally, the prospect of the communist party finally taking power, especially in a major country, raised the prospect of communism (by this time a movement with nearly eighty years of struggle behind it) gaining popularity in all the major capitals of Europe. For (mainly Western European) capitalist governments, this would be a political disaster.
Germany lost the war anyway. And, as said, the big powers to the west immediately turned their attention to supporting a combination of Russian forces trying to remove the communists from power in a growing Russian civil war between 1920 and 1922. Eventually, after deploying a few military expeditions, and even engineering a couple of coup attempts, they gave up and went home. But they were to continue sponsoring Russian exile groups in sporadic incursions and attacks on the growing communist state for many years after, until 1939 when Britain and the United States, principally, needed to make an about-turn and form an alliance with the very same Soviet Union they had been undermining, against Hitler.
It paid off well; the record shows that Nazi Germany’s decisive defeat took place on the Eastern front, at great human and material cost to the Soviet Union. Russian losses to Nazi Germany exceeded 26 million people, including 10 million soldiers.
Therefore, beyond the earlier historic rivalries, by 1945 significant countries of Western Europe were collectively hostile to the Soviet Union, the culmination of a process that had begun shortly after the communist takeover of power in 1917, but which also predated it.
Indeed, as soon as the ’39-’45 hostilities ended in Europe with the capture of Berlin, the Western powers immediately reverted to a stance of armed hostility towards the Soviet Union. It is said that one legendary American General called Patton had to be removed from command because he was calling for an immediate attack on the Soviet forces in Germany, followed by the invasion of Moscow. This stance has effectively continued even after the demise of communist rule in Russia. The old game of lusting after the territories of the Balkans and beyond has resumed.
This then, is the Russian experience of Western powers, right from the start of the last century, whether as the Russian Empire, the communist state, or as the Russian Federation.
After being besieged by Western debt, what began as a free-for-all among the competing ambitious ruling classes of the various European empires developed into a quasi-unity of those ruling classes in a joint attempt to prevent the spread of communism among the ordinary people. Once that was achieved, they all went back to trying to have economic advantage over the weaker parts Europe. These were the 1990s wars over the re-division of the Baltic states, and their seduction into the Western debt-based economic system.
Whether democratic or not, any Russian head of state would do well to understand NATO’s interest in Eastern European countries now bordering Russia in this context. President Vladimir Putin, whatever one may think of him, certainly holds a sense of this history.
The old game of lusting after the territories of the Balkans and beyond has resumed.
Russia fears it may be seen as the next prize; the very name “Ukraine” literally means “border” or “frontier” in some Slavic languages. The only new development is that wealthy Russians probably also harbour the same ambitions, and wish to expand their own place in the Russian economy.
All this tells us Africans four critical things.
First, that these wars are about business: making money, or seizing territory to make money from it later. When capitalists want something, they find an excuse to start a war in order to get it. These recurrent conflicts were only suspended for the last eighty years with the creation of a trade mechanism that enabled interested European countries to access resources for their domestic industries without having to also physically control the territory. This mechanism began life as the European Coal and Steel Commission, later renamed the European Economic Commission, and then renamed again the European Commission. Today, it is known as the European Union.
To Europeans, fighting is normal. And they are very good at it, on the whole. They manufacture their own weapons, and make money out of that, too. War, for the European, is a relatively sustainable activity.
Even modest-sized European cities will have a monument (if not whole cemeteries) to the dead of more than one war. There are about 68,000 war memorials in the UK alone, and 3,000 war cemeteries in France.
Tiny Belgium holds about 800 military cemeteries for the 1914-1918, and the 1939-1945 wars alone. It is why military-style language (e.g. “to pull a flanker”, and “to steal a march”, in common English) peppers a lot of casual Western speech. It is why most Western armed forces retain standing divisions trained to be quickly transported far abroad, and to fight in terrain very unlike their home territories. Europeans (and white America) are warmongers. That is the historical and contemporary record, quite contrary to the political propaganda they produce in their media and education systems.
The second lesson is that among white powers (of which the Russian state is one) there is never any real principle involved. Millions died fighting “Nazis”, only for the politicians that sent them to their deaths to recruit those very same Nazi leaders into their own programmes.
When capitalists want something, they find an excuse to start a war in order to get it.
For example, one Arthur L. Rudolph was a German Nazi-era scientist brought to the United States in 1945 for his rocket-making expertise. He has even been honoured by the United States National Aeronautic and Space Agency (NASA). He is considered to be the “father” of the Saturn V rocket upon which the Apollo moon-landing programme depended.
More directly, one Adolf Heusinger, a German general who served as chairman of the NATO Military Committee from 1961 to 1964, had in an earlier life been a colonel in Hitler’s General Staff, and had been directly involved in planning the invasion of the Soviet Union.
The Soviet Union also grabbed from defeated Germany as many Nazi scientists as it could lay its hands on. But their case was handled more like a reparative abduction than the offer of an entirely new comfortable life.
Today’s enemy may become tomorrow’s friend, and today’s friend was the enemy yesterday. It is just their culture of politics, war and diplomacy. Get involved at your own risk.
Third, that when these giants fight, they do so on an industrial scale. Their conflicts often spill across other borders and territories. Their weaponry brings mass death, and their logistical and human resource needs often suck in people who have very little to do with the actual cause of the conflict. In Africa, it is only Ethiopia that has come anywhere near this scale of war-making.
Today’s Democratic Republic of Congo was plundered for the rubber and copper needed to make tires and bullet casings for the 1914-1918 war. The Lumumba-led independence government fell victim to the Cold War rivalry over Congo’s uranium deposits as part of the America vs. Soviet Union nuclear arms race.
Hundreds of thousands of black Africans faced off and killed each other as loyal soldiers of the German and British armies fighting for German Tanganyika and British Uganda and Kenya, respectively.
Ukrainians, like all peoples everywhere, matter. That is why its real independence from either power is important to the rest of the world. For the Western powers, it would be nice to have Ukraine, but Russia as a whole, is the real prize.
Whatever one may wish to now call it, Ukraine is a place of wealth and potential profit. It is the second largest country in Europe by area, holding significant reserves of uranium, titanium, manganese, iron, mercury and coal.
It is a world leader in the production and export of a whole range of agricultural products (corn, potatoes, rye, wheat and eggs, all of which are central to the processed food industry).
In Africa, it is only Ethiopia that has come anywhere near this scale of war-making.
Ukraine is also a country with a significant body of advanced industrial knowledge.
And as with the Alsace-Lorraine, and the earlier wars to dislodge the Communist Party of the Soviet Union from power, this is about Western corporations (and Russian oligarchs) looking to increase their wealth.
This is not an African story, but it is certainly beginning to look like one. In the history of the conflicts of the modern world, certain zones stand out as having suffered from the accident of being located where strategic resources were to be found. Before the DRC, there was Western Europe and the Middle East. With lots of minerals and fertile land, all that is missing in Ukraine is a population too weak, too poor, and too divided to think and speak for itself. War, autocratic government, and CIA-sponsored “good governance” workshops have been known to supply those.
Therefore, Ambassador Kimani’s advice notwithstanding, Africans are better off staying away from all this, just as Ukraine would have been wiser to stay out of the Russia-NATO rivalries.
While the white powers were not fighting in Ukraine, they were still promoting fighting somewhere else. Now that they have also kicked off in Europe, it means their unusual break of eight decades of peace is finally over. “Normal service has resumed”.
Europe is at war with Europe, in Europe, once again.
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Is Somalia’s Quest for Membership of the EAC Premature?
Somalia must first ensure sustained progress in stability, infrastructure development, governance, and economic growth before considering full membership of the East African Community.
The current members of the East African Community (EAC) are Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, and South Sudan. The Somali Federal Government, under the leadership of Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, has expressed a strong interest in joining the EAC, sparking questions among Somali citizens as to whether the country is ready to join such a large and complex regional bloc.
During President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud initiated Somalia’s pursuit of EAC membership during his previous term as a president from 2012 to 2017. However, little progress was made during his first term and, following his re-election, President Hassan reignited his pursuit of EAC membership without consulting essential stakeholders such as the parliament, the opposition, and civil society. This unilateral decision has raised doubts about the president’s dedication to establishing a government based on consensus. Moreover, his decision to pursue EAC membership has evoked mixed responses within Somalia. While some Somalis perceive joining the EAC as advantageous for the country, others express concerns about potential risks to Somalia’s economic and social development. President Hassan has defended his decision, emphasising that Somalia’s best interests lie in becoming a member of the EAC.
To assess Somalia’s readiness to join the EAC, the regional bloc undertook a comprehensive verification mission. A team of experts well versed in politics, economics, and social systems, was tasked with evaluating Somalia’s progress. The evaluation included a thorough review of economic performance, trade policies, and potential contributions to the EAC’s integration efforts. During this process, the team engaged with various government institutions and private organisations, conducting comprehensive assessments and discussions to gauge Somalia’s preparedness.
One of the key requirements for Somalia is demonstrating an unwavering commitment to upholding principles such as good governance, democracy, the rule of law, and respect for human rights. Somalia must also showcase a vibrant market economy that fosters regional trade and collaboration.
Successful integration into the EAC would not only elevate Somalia’s regional stature but would also foster deeper bonds of cooperation and shared prosperity among the East African nations. While this is a positive step towards regional integration and economic development, there are several reasons for pessimism about the potential success of Somalia’s membership in the EAC.
Somalia must also showcase a vibrant market economy that fosters regional trade and collaboration.
Somalia has faced significant challenges due to prolonged conflict and instability. The decades-long civil war, coupled with the persistent threat of terrorism, has had a devastating impact on the country’s infrastructure, economy, governance systems, and overall stability.
The following fundamental factors raise valid concerns about Somalia’s readiness to effectively participate in the EAC.
Infrastructure plays a critical role in regional integration and economic growth. However, Somalia’s infrastructure has been severely damaged and neglected due to years of conflict. The country lacks adequate transportation networks, reliable energy systems, and while communications infrastructure has improved, internet penetration rates remain low and mobile networks – which are crucial for seamless integration with the EAC – can be unavailable outside of urban centres. Rebuilding such infrastructure requires substantial investments, technical expertise, and stability, all of which remain significant challenges for Somalia.
Political stability and governance
The EAC places emphasis on good governance, democracy, and the rule of law as prerequisites for membership. Somalia’s journey towards political stability and effective governance has been arduous, with numerous setbacks and ongoing power struggles. The lack of a unified government, coupled with weak state institutions and a history of corruption, raises doubts about Somalia’s ability to meet the EAC’s standards. Without a stable and inclusive political environment, Somalia may struggle to effectively contribute to the decision-making processes within the regional bloc.
Economic development and trade
Somalia’s economy has been heavily dependent on the informal sector and faces substantial economic disparities. The country needs to demonstrate a vibrant market economy that fosters regional trade and collaboration, as required by the EAC. However, the challenges of rebuilding a war-torn economy, tackling high poverty rates, and addressing widespread unemployment hinder Somalia’s ability to fully participate in regional trade and reap the benefits of integration.
Somalia continues to grapple with security challenges, including the presence of extremist groups and maritime piracy. These issues have not only hindered the country’s development but also pose potential risks to the stability and security of the entire EAC region. It is crucial for Somalia to address these security concerns comprehensively and to establish effective mechanisms to contribute to the EAC’s collective security efforts.
Economic Disparity and Compatibility
Somalia’s economy primarily relies on livestock, agriculture, and fishing, which may not align well with the more quasi-industralised economies of the other EAC member states. This mismatch could result in trade imbalances and pose challenges for integrating Somalia into the regional economy. For instance, according to the World Bank, Somalia’s GDP per capita was US$447 in 2021 whereas it is US$2081 for Kenya, US$1099 for Tanzania, and US$883 for Uganda. Furthermore, Somalia faces significant economic challenges, including capital flight that drains resources from the country, contributing to its status as a consumer-based economy.
This divergence in economic structures could lead to trade imbalances and impede the seamless integration of Somalia into the regional economy. The substantial economic gap between Somalia and other EAC member states suggests a significant disparity that may hinder Somalia’s ability to fully participate in the EAC’s economic activities. Additionally, Somalia has yet to demonstrate fiscal or economic discipline that would make it eligible for EAC membership. While Somalia has a functioning Central Bank and the US dollar remains the primary mode of financial transactions, the risk of integration lies with the other EAC members; cross-border trade would occur in an environment of instability, posing potential risks to the other member state.
Somalia faces significant economic challenges, including capital flight that drains resources from the country, contributing to its status as a consumer-based economy.
While these fundamental challenges remain, it is important to acknowledge the progress Somalia has made in recent years. This includes the gradual improvement in security conditions, the establishment of key governmental institutions, and the peaceful transfer of power. One can also argue that many of these fundamental economic, infrastructure, political instability, and security concerns exist across the East African Community. However, what makes Somalia unique is the scale of the challenges it faces today. Somalia has adopted a federal political structure, which has not worked well so far. This level of fragmentation and civil political distrust makes Somalia’s case unique. More than ever, Somalia needs meaningful political and social reconciliation before it can embark on a new regional journey.
The absence of an impact assessment by the relevant ministries in Somalia is alarming. Without this assessment, it becomes challenging to make informed decisions about the potential benefits of joining the EAC and the impact on our economy and society. Conducting this assessment should be a priority for Somalia’s ministries to ensure a comprehensive evaluation of the potential benefits and risks involved in EAC membership. Furthermore, President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud’s decision to pursue Somalia’s integration into the EAC lacks political legitimacy as a decision of this nature would normally require ratification through a popular vote and other legal means through parliament. The failure to achieve this could potentially allow another president in the future to unilaterally announce withdrawal from the EAC.
Fragile state of Affairs and internal disputes
The recent reopening of the Gatunda border post between Uganda and Rwanda after a three-year period of strained relations indicates a fragile state of affairs. The East African Court of Justice has ruled that Rwanda’s initial closure of the border was illegal, highlighting the contentious nature of inter-country disputes. Furthermore, Tanzania and Uganda have formally lodged complaints against Kenya, alleging unfair advantages in trade relations, and have even gone as far as threatening Kenya with export bans. These grievances underscore the underlying tensions and competition between member states, which could potentially hinder the harmonious functioning of the East African Community. These political and economic disagreements among member states increase the risks associated with Somalia’s membership. Somalia must carefully evaluate whether it is entering a united and cohesive bloc or one plagued by internal divisions. Joining the East African Community at this juncture carries the risk of being drawn into ongoing disputes and potentially being caught in the crossfire of inter-country rivalries.
Conflict in South Sudan
The prolonged conflict in South Sudan, which has been ongoing since its admission to the East African Community (EAC) in 2016, serves as a cautionary tale for Somalia. Despite the EAC’s efforts to mediate and foster peace in the region, the outcomes have been mixed, resulting in an unsustainable peace. This lack of success highlights the challenges faced by member states in resolving conflicts and maintaining stability within the community. Somalia must carefully evaluate whether its participation in the EAC will genuinely contribute to its stability, economic growth, and development, or if it risks exacerbating existing internal conflicts. Joining the community without a solid foundation of political stability, institutions, and peace could potentially divert resources and attention away from domestic issues, hindering Somalia’s progress towards resolving its own challenges. South Sudan’s admission to the EAC in 2016 was seen as a major step towards regional integration and stability. However, the country has been mired in conflict ever since, with two civil wars breaking out in 2013 and 2016. The EAC has been involved in mediation efforts, with mixed results.
Somalia must evaluate the readiness of its institutions, infrastructure, and economy to effectively engage with the East African Community. Comprehensive preparations are crucial to ensure that joining the community is a well thought-out and strategic decision, rather than a hasty move that could further destabilise the nation. Somalia needs to assess whether its infrastructure, institutions, and economy are sufficiently developed to cope with the challenges and demands of integration. Premature membership could strain Somalia’s resources, impede its growth, and leave it at a disadvantage compared to more established member states.
Somalia must carefully evaluate whether it is entering a united and cohesive bloc or one plagued by internal divisions.
Somalia must ensure sustained progress in stability, infrastructure development, governance, and economic growth before considering full membership of the EAC. A phased approach that prioritises capacity building, institution-strengthening, and inclusive governance would enable Somalia to lay a solid foundation for successful integration and reap the maximum benefits from EAC membership in the long term. Failure to address these concerns would make Somalia vulnerable to exploitation and market monopolies by stronger economies, and could also risk a lack of seamless convergence for Somalia’s membership. While there is political will from EAC leaders to support Somalia’s membership, it is vitally important that they make the right decision for Somalia and the EAC bloc as a whole to ensure a successful integration. I believe that, at this juncture, the disadvantages of Somalia joining the EAC outweigh the benefits.
2023 Marks 110 Years Since the Maasai Case 1913: Does it Still Matter?
It was a landmark case for its time, a first for East Africa and possibly for the continent. A group of Africans challenged a colonial power in a colonial court to appeal a major land grab and demand reparations. They lost on a technicality but the ripple effects of the Maasai Case continue to be felt.
In the name Parsaloi Ole Gilisho there lies an irony. It was spelled Legalishu by the colonial British. Say it out loud. He gave them a legal issue, all right. And a 110-year-old headache.
This extraordinary age-set spokesman (a traditional leader called ol-aiguenani, pl. il-aiguenak) led non-violent resistance to the British, in what was then British East Africa, that culminated in the Maasai Case 1913. Ole Gilisho was then a senior warrior, who was probably in his mid- to late thirties. In bringing the case before the High Court of British East Africa, he was not only challenging the British but also the Maasai elders who had signed away thousands of acres of community land via a 1904 Maasai Agreement or Treaty with the British. This and the 1911 Agreement – which effectively rendered the first void – are often wrongly called the Anglo-Maasai Agreements. In Ole Gilisho’s view, and those of his fellow plaintiffs, these elders had sold out. The suit accused them of having had no authority to make this decision on behalf of the community. This represented a very serious challenge by warriors to traditional authority, including that of the late laibon (prophet) Olonana, who had signed in 1904, and died in 1911.
The British had expected the Maasai to violently rebel in response to these issues and to colonial rule in general. But contrary to modern-day myths that the Maasai fought their colonisers, here they resisted peacefully via legal means. They hired British lawyers and took the British to their own cleaners. Spoiler: they lost, went to appeal, and lost again. But archival research reveals that the British government was so convinced it would eventually lose, if the Maasai appealed to the Privy Council in London (they didn’t), that officials began discussing how much compensation to pay.
The facts are these. The lawsuit was launched in 1912. There were four plaintiffs, Ole Gilisho and three fellow Purko (one of the 16 Maasai territorial sections) Maasai. In Civil Case No. 91 they claimed that the 1911 Maasai Agreement was not binding on them and other Laikipia Maasai, that the 1904 Agreement remained in force, and they contested the legality of the second move. They demanded the return of Laikipia, and £5,000 in damages for loss of livestock during the second move (explained below). Ole Gilisho was illiterate and had never been to school. But he and his fellow plaintiffs were assisted by sympathetic Europeans who were angered by the injustice they saw being perpetrated against a “tribe” that British administrators conceded had never given them any trouble. These sympathisers included people who worked for the colonial government, notably medical Dr Norman Leys and some district officials, lawyers, a few missionaries, the odd settler, and a wider group of left-wing MPs and anti-colonial agitators in Britain.
What had led up to this? After the 1904 Agreement, certain groups or sections of Maasai had been forcibly moved from their grazing grounds in the central Rift Valley around Naivasha into two reserves – one in Laikipia, the other in the south on the border with German East Africa. The British had pledged that this arrangement was permanent, that it would last “so long as the Maasai as a race shall exist”. But just seven years later, the British went back on their word and moved the “northern” Maasai again, forcing them at gunpoint to vacate Laikipia and move to the Southern Reserve. In all, it is estimated that the Maasai lost at least 50 per cent of their land, but that figure could be nearer 70 per cent. The ostensible reason for moving them was to “free up” land for white settlement – largely for British settlers but also for South Africans fleeing the Boer War (also called the South African War).
But just seven years later, the British went back on their word and moved the ‘northern’ Maasai again, forcing them at gunpoint to vacate Laikipia and move to the Southern Reserve.
By the time the case came to court, Ole Gilisho had become a defendant, even though he was in favour of the plaint. So were at least eight other defendants. He had signed the 1904 Agreement, and now stood accused with 17 other Maasai of having no authority to enter into such a contract. The first defendant was the Attorney General. Ole Gilisho’s son-in-law Murket Ole Nchoko, misspelled Ol le Njogo by the British, and described as a leading moran (il-murran or warrior) of the Purko section, was now the lead plaintiff. The plaint was called Ol le Njogo and others v. The Attorney General and others.
Challenges facing the plaintiffs
Most Maasai were illiterate in those days, and this obviously placed them at a major disadvantage. They could not write down their version of events. They were forced to rely, in their dealings with officials and their own lawyers, upon translators and semiliterate mediators whose reliability was questionable. But it is evident, from the archival record which includes verbatim accounts of meetings between Maasai leaders and British officials in the run-up to the moves and case, that the level of verbal discourse was highly sophisticated. This comes as no surprise; verbal debate is a cornerstone of Maasai society and customary justice. Unfortunately, that alone could not help them here. They knew they needed lawyers, and asked their friends for help. Leys, who was later sacked from the colonial service for his activism, admitted in a private letter: “I procured the best one in the country for them.” This was more than he ever admitted openly.
Local administrators used intimidation and all kinds of devious means to try and stop the case. (I didn’t come across any evidence that the Colonial Office in London sanctioned this; in fact, it ordered the Governor not to obstruct the main lawyer or his clients.) They allegedly threatened Ole Gilisho with flogging and deportation. They threatened and cross-questioned suspected European sympathisers, including Leys and the lawyers. They banned Maasai from selling cattle to raise the legal fees, and placed the Southern Reserve in continuous quarantine. It was hard for the plaintiffs, confined to a reserve, to meet their lawyers at all. At one point, lawyers were refused passes to enter the reserve, and their clients were prevented from leaving it.
We hear Ole Gilisho’s voice in the archival record. Forced to give a statement explaining his actions to officials at Enderit River on 21 June 1912, when asked if he had called Europeans to his boma, he replied: “Is it possible for a black man to call a white man?” He denied having called the Europeans (probably lawyers or go-betweens), saying they had come to him. Leys later explained to a friend that Ole Gilisho had probably been “terrified out of his wits”, and hadn’t meant what he said.
What happened in court
The case was thrown out when it first came before the High Court in Mombasa in May 1913. The Maasai appealed, and that is when the legal arguments were fully aired by both sides – lawyers for the Crown and the Maasai. The appeal was dismissed in December on the grounds that the plaintiffs’ claims were not cognisable in municipal courts. The two agreements were ruled not to be agreements but treaties, which were Acts of State. They could not, therefore, be challenged in a local court. It was impossible for the plaintiffs to seek to enforce the provisions of a treaty, said the judges – “The paramount chief himself could not bring such an action, still less can his people”. Claims for damages were also dismissed.
The Court of Appeal’s judgement centred on the status of a protectorate, in which the King was said to exercise powers granted to him under the Foreign Jurisdiction Act of 1890. Irrational as it sounds, the Crown claimed that British East Africa was not British territory, and the Maasai were not British subjects with any rights of access to British law, but “protected foreigners, who, in return for that protection, owe obedience” to the Crown. As Yash Pal Ghai and Patrick McAuslan later put it, when discussing the case in a 1970 book: “A British protected person is protected against everyone except the British.” On the plus side, the judges ruled that the Maasai still retained some “vestige” of sovereignty. (The Maasai’s lawyer argued that they did not.) This triggered later moves by Maasai politicians, in the 1960s, to float the idea of secession from Kenya and the possible creation of a sovereign Maasai state. John Keen had threatened this in 1962 at the second Lancaster House Conference in London, attended by a Maasai delegation.
Alexander Morrison, lawyer for the Maasai, argued that British rule and courts were established in the protectorate, which had not been the case 30 years earlier. The Maasai were not foreigners but equal to other British subjects in every way. The agreements were civil contracts, enforceable in the courts, and not unenforceable treaties. If one took the Crown’s claim about Acts of State to its logical conclusion, he argued, a squatter refusing to leave land reserved for the Maasai could only be removed by an Act of State. None of his arguments washed with the judges. (See my 2006 book Moving the Maasai for a fuller account.)
Morrison advised his clients to appeal. It seems they couldn’t raise the funds. However, oral testimony from elders reveals a different story: Ole Gilisho had planned to sail to England to appeal to the Privy Council, but he was threatened with drowning at sea. This is impossible to verify, but it rings true.
In an interview carried out on my behalf in 2008 by Michael Tiampati, my old friend John Keen had this to say about the outcome of the case: “If the hyena was the magistrate and the accused was a goat, you should probably know that the goat would not get any form of justice. So this is exactly how it was that the Maasai could not get any fair justice from British courts.”
Contemporary African resistance
Unbeknown to the Maasai, there was growing anti-colonial resistance in the same period in other parts of Africa. All these acts of resistance have inspired African activists in their continuing struggles. To mention a few: the Chilembwe rebellion in Nyasaland, now Malawi (1915); the Herero revolt in German South West Africa, now Namibia (1904–1908); resistance in present-day Kenya by Mekatilili wa Menza (largely 1913-14); the First Chimurenga or First War of Independence in what is now Zimbabwe (1896–1897); and the Maji Maji rebellion in German East Africa, now Tanzania (1905–1907). But none of these rebellions involved lawsuits. The closest precedent may have been R vs Earl of Crewe, Ex-parte Sekgoma in 1910. Chief Sekgoma, who had been jailed by the British in the Bechuanaland Protectorate (now Botswana) after many attempts to remove him as chief, instructed his lawyer to bring a writ of habeus corpus against the Secretary of State for the Colonies, Lord Crewe. He demanded to be tried in an English court, refusing an offer of release on condition that he agrees to live in a restricted area of the Transvaal. The suit was dismissed, the court ruling that the King had unfettered jurisdiction in a protectorate, and his right to detain Sekgoma was upheld. Sekgoma apparently said: “I would rather be killed than go to the Transvaal. I will not go because I have committed no crime – I wish to have my case tried before the courts in England or else be killed.” Freed in 1912, he died two years later.
The case, and other key events in early twentieth century Maasai history, have given rise to several myths. They include the idea that the stolen land should “revert” to the Maasai after 100 years, but that was not stated in the 1904 Agreement, which was not limited in time, was not a land lease, and has not “expired” as many people claim. Neither agreement has. Keen knew this, but nonetheless called for the land to “revert”. Other myths include the idea that Olonana’s thumbprint was placed on the 1911 Agreement posthumously, and it must therefore be invalid. But neither his thumbprint nor name are on the document, which was “signed” by his son Seggi. Anyhow, Olonana was a key ally of the British, who had no reason to kill him (which is another myth).
The original of the 1904 Agreement has never been found, which has led some Maasai to believe that it never existed and therefore all the land must be restored and compensation paid for its use to date. There may be sound legal arguments for restorative justice, but this is not one of them. These myths are ahistorical and unhelpful, but may be understood as attempts to rationalise and make sense of what happened. Some activists may wish that the Maasai had resisted violently, rather than taken the legal route. Hence the insistence by some that there was a seamless history of armed resistance from the start of colonial rule. Not true. There are much better arguments to be made, by professional lawyers with an understanding of international treaty rights and aboriginal title, which could possibly produce results.
Ole Gilisho had planned to sail to England to appeal to the Privy Council, but he was threatened with drowning at sea.
Where does all this leave the Maasai today? Over the years, there has been much talk of revisiting the case and bringing a claim against Britain (or Kenya) for the return of land or reparations for its loss. None of this has resulted in concrete action. I attended a planning workshop in Nairobi in 2006 when plans were laid for a lawsuit. VIPs present included the late Ole Ntimama, scholar Ben Kantai and John Keen. Keen declared, with his customary flourish, that he would stump up a million shillings to get the ball rolling. I don’t know how much money was raised in total, but it disappeared into thin air. As did the lawyers.
Leading lawyers have advised that too much time has passed, and (unlike the successful Mau Mau veterans’ suit) there are no living witnesses who could give evidence in court. It is unclear whether the agreements still have any legal validity. The British government might argue, as it previously has, including in response to my questions, that it handed over all responsibility for its pre-1963 actions to the Kenyan government at independence. This is a ludicrous argument, which is also morally wrong. Former colonial powers such as Germany have accepted responsibility for historical injustices in their former colonies, notably Namibia. Has the time come for Ole Gilisho’s descendants to call a white man to court?
Who Is Hustling Who?
In Kenya, political elites across the spectrum are trying to sell off the country for themselves—capitulation is inevitable.
My drive to Limuru happened on the first Wednesday (July 19) of the protests. Everything was eerily quiet, Nairobi, renowned for its traffic jams, was quiet. Matatus and buses were parked in their hubs. Shops and stalls were closed. Even the hawkers that dot the roads and highways stayed home. Save for the heavy police presence everywhere, it felt like the country had come to a standstill.
We got to Kangemi shortly after the police had shot and wounded two protestors—the road was strewn with stones and armed riot police huddled by the side of the road waiting for the next wave of attacks that never came. In the end, six people would be shot to death throughout the country, and countless were injured and arrested. Coming from the US, where police arrest protestors and shoot black people, there were no surprises here. The US can hardly be the standard of good policing or democratic practices, but the lives lost simply for asking the government to center the people in its economic planning seemed especially cruel.
But it was the emptiness of the roads that made the whole drive eerie. Perhaps I was refracting what was happening in Kenya through what followed the 1982 coup in which 240 people were killed; or the ethnic clashes of the 1990s that culminated in the 2007 post-election violence. Yet, there was a general agreement among people that there was something different about the Kenya of today—that something was already broken and the nightmares to come were slowly but surely revealing themselves—like a bus carrying passengers and the driver realizing the brakes were out just as it was about to descend a steep hill.
Voting with the middle finger
But all this was predictable. President Ruto has been a known quantity since the 1990s when he led the violent Moi youth wingers. He and his running mate and later president, Uhuru Kenyatta, were brought in front of the ICC to face charges of crimes against humanity following the post-election violence in 2007. Some key witnesses disappeared and others were intimidated into silence. Who in their right mind gives evidence against those in control of the state? The ICC was already discredited as being Western-crimes-against-humanity friendly (the US has never been a signatory rightly afraid its former presidents, such as George Bush, would be hauled before the court). The ICC eventually withdrew the case in March 2015.
I kept asking everyone I met, why was Ruto voted in spite of his history? The answers varied: He rigged the elections; he did not rig and if he did, he only managed to be better at it than Raila Odinga; he appealed to the youth with the idea of building a hustler nation (what a telling term); the Kikuyus have vowed never to have a Luo president and therefore opted for Ruto who is Kalenjin as opposed to Odinga who is Luo.
I sat with older Kikuyu men in the little Nyama Choma spot in Limuru Market and they talked about a generational divide between the Kikuyu and youth (Ruto) and the elderly Kikuyus (Odinga). But the one I heard over and over again was that Kenyans are tired of the Kenyatta and Odinga political dynasties. As one Trump supporter was to say, they voted for him with the middle finger. And so, the Kenyans who voted for Ruto were giving a middle finger to the Kenyatta, Moi and Odinga political dynasties. But no one had really expected buyer’s remorse to kick in one year into the Ruto presidency.
I also asked about Odinga’s protests: what was the end game? One theory is that he was looking at power-sharing, having done it once before, following the 2007 elections. In our shorthand political language, he was looking for another handshake. Some said the people have a right to protest their government, and he is simply asking the government to repeal the tax hikes and reinstate the fuel subsidies. Others believed that he wants to be a genuine and useful voice of opposition for the good of the country and its poor.
My own theory is that he is attempting a people-powered, centered, democratic, and largely peaceful takeover—where people take to the streets to overthrow an unpopular government. We saw this in Latin America in the 2000s. In response to Odinga’s absence during the three days of protests (he was sick), some leaders in his Azimio party have started using this language. The only problem with this strategy is that the sitting government has to be wildly unpopular. Ruto still has a lot of support, meaning that he does not have to compromise or give up power. It was to my mind turning into a stalemate and I was worried that the state would respond with more state-sponsored violence.
But real economics broke the stalemate. In a country where people are barely surviving and the majority are poor without savings to rely on, or relatives to reach out to for help, the hawkers, small stall and shop owners simply went back to work. In other words, those that would have been hurt the most by three days of protests (a day at home literally means a day without food for the family) simply went back to work, and the matatus and buses hummed back to life, slowly on Thursday and full throttle by Friday.
Saturday around Westlands might as well have been as busy as a Monday as people overcompensated for lost time to either sell or shop. If the protests were going to succeed the opposition (composed of some of the wealthiest families in Kenya, including Odinga’s) really should have thought about how best to protect those who would be the most affected. They should find legal and innovative ways to put their money where their political mouths are.
Cuba as Kenya’s north star
Odinga had to change tactics and called for a day of protest against police violence instead of three-day weekly protests in perpetuity. He is now in danger of turning into a caricature of his old revolutionary self and becoming an Al Sharpton, who instead of protesting the American government for the police killings of black people, protests the police themselves leaving the government feeling sanctimonious. Obama or Biden could weigh in, in righteous indignation without offering any real change (remember Obama’s emotional pleas over gun shootings and police shootings as if he was not the one occupying the most powerful office in the US)?
The one question that keeps eating at me is this: why is the most apparent outcome at the time a surprise later? Ruto was always going to sell off Kenya with a percentage for himself and his friends. Odinga was always going to capitulate. The end result is that the Kenyan bus will continue to careen on without brakes. So, what is to be done?
I was in Cuba earlier this year. I got a sense of the same desperation I felt in Kenya but the difference is Cubans have free access to healthcare, education, housing, and food security. They have free access to all the things that make basic survival possible. Before calling for the tax hikes and cutting fuel subsidies might it not have been more prudent to have a safety net for Kenyans? Would that not have been the most logical thing? But of course not, Ruto is acting at the behest of the IMF and big money. Ruto has learned the art of pan-African political rhetoric. Abroad he can call for a different non-US-centered economic system and castigate the French president over paternalism but at home, his politics are hustler politics.
Life in Cuba is difficult, as a result of relentless sanctions from the US, but it is far from impossible. It remains the north star for those who understand discussions around fundamental change as the only starting point. We can have arguments about the nature of those fundamental changes, but we can all agree we should not be a country where one family, say the Kenyatta family, owns more than half a million acres of land. Or where, as Oxfam reported, four individuals hold more wealth than that held by 22 million Kenyans. The kind of politics that begin with a necessity for fundamental change will obviously not come from Ruto.
But one hopes it can still come from the Odinga camp. Or even better, from a genuinely progressive people-powered movement that has inbuilt questions of fundamental change in its political, economic, and cultural platform.
In spite of the empty roads, Limuru Market was thriving and Wakari Bar kept its reputation as one of the best places for Nyama Choma and for lively political conversations. People are paying attention, after all, it is their lives and livelihoods on the line. Politicians, especially those in the opposition and the political left should listen as well.
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