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Reflections on Medical Ethics in the Era of COVID-19

11 min read.

The intense centralisation of health services has killed the doctor-patient relationship while hospitals have now become centres for gathering detailed patient information that is exploited by pharmaceutical companies.



Reflections on Medical Ethics in the Era of COVID-19
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According to William Ruddick, the wide field usually referred to as “medical ethics” comprises a range of disciplines, including medical ethics (primarily, medical doctor-centred), and healthcare ethics (including nurses and other healthcare providers), clinical ethics (focused on hospital case decisions with the aid of diverse committees and consultants), and bioethics (including general issues of reproduction, fair distribution of organs and other scarce life-saving resources, and protection of the biosphere). All discussions of medical ethics proceed from the assumption that all things being equal, all patients have moral status. As Matjaž Zwitter observes in a chapter on “Moral Status”, “There should be no doubt that all of us with a capability of deciding about ourselves have moral status.” Zwitter further points out that only beings with moral status can be meaningfully said to have rights.

However, in our time, the misconception is widespread that science, of which medicine is a part, is all about “objective” observation of facts without any consideration of values (standards by which we judge some things to be good or bad, right or wrong, beautiful or ugly, and so on). Nevertheless, we human beings cannot live without values, because it is they that make life truly human by enabling us to choose our goals and the appropriate means of attaining them. Thus, in the introduction to his Medical Ethics: A Very Short Introduction, psychiatrist Tony Hope writes, “As my clinical experience grew so I became increasingly aware that ethical values lie at the heart of medicine. Much emphasis during my training was put on the importance of using scientific evidence in clinical decision-making. Little thought was given to justifying, or even noticing, the ethical assumptions that lay behind the decisions. So I moved increasingly towards medical ethics, wanting medical practice, and patients, to benefit from ethical reasoning.” In what follows, I examine the viability of the doctor-patient relationship, undergirded by medical ethics, in the era of COVID-19.

Principles of medical ethics in the era of COVID-19

One of the best-known texts associated with medical ethics is the Hippocratic Oath authored in ancient Greece about 2400 years ago. It required a person being admitted to the position of a medical doctor to swear by a number of healing gods to uphold certain ethical standards. The oath established several principles of medical ethics that are still considered crucial to the conduct of a medical doctor today. At the heart of medical ethics are questions regarding what is morally acceptable or morally unacceptable for a doctor to do in the course of caring for the sick. Three of the key issues in medical ethics are commitment on the part of the doctor to do only good to the patient, to respect the patient’s right to accept or decline a medical procedure, and to conduct medical research in line with sound ethical principles.

Doing only good to the patient

According to William Ruddick, the Hippocratic injunction “Strive to help, but above all, do no harm” is the ruling moral maxim in the doctor-patient relationship. In current discussion, this maxim has been codified in oft-cited principles of beneficence (action to promote the good/welfare) and non-maleficence (refraining from doing evil). For the doctor to achieve these noble goals, he or she must utilize their medical knowledge in a free atmosphere in which their only concern is their patient’s well-being, without having to worry about demands from an elaborate medical care bureaucracy. Yet in the era of COVID-19, the doctor has been turned into a functionary of just such a bureaucracy, receiving instructions from local and global health authorities, and being stopped from using certain medications, even if he/she and his/her patient would have liked to use them.

Respecting informed consent

The principle of informed consent stipulates that the patient has a right to accept or decline a medical procedure after being duly furnished with information about what it entails and the possible positive and negative impacts arising from it. As I indicated in COVID-19 Vaccine Mandates in the Light of Public Health Ethics, the medical ethical principle of informed consent is based on the conviction that each and every human being is endowed with intrinsic infinite worth (dignity) and human agency (the capacity of the person to act out of his/her own uniquely human viewpoint). Underlying the two considerations is the assumption that the human person is a ‘know-er’, since it is impossible to adequately enjoy human dignity and human agency without knowledge. All this implies the idea of human rights—certain entitlements due to every person by virtue of his/her humanity.

Human dignity, human agency and human rights presume the autonomy of the individual. In his On Liberty, John Stuart Mill asserted the autonomy of the individual as follows:

“The only part of the conduct of any one, for which he is amenable to society, is that which concerns others. In the part which merely concerns himself, his independence is, of right, absolute. Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign.”

In a chapter on “Autonomy and Its Limitations”, Matjaž Zwitter highlights at least five characteristics of individual autonomy. Understood as the right to self-determination, autonomy includes the right to information and protection of privacy. In an ideal situation, a patient with full autonomy participates in all essential medical decisions, and consents to every invasive procedure. Nevertheless, even patients with full capacity have the right to transfer their autonomy to others such as family members, friends, or to their physicians. In cases where patients are unable to decide for themselves and therefore with limited autonomy, surrogate decision-making is justified. Nevertheless, a doctor is not morally obliged to respect a directive by a surrogate decision-maker if this directive is clearly against the patient’s interests. Some persons make advance directives, to be followed in case of their future incapacity to participate in decisions regarding their treatment. While such written or oral directives are helpful, their validity may be re-considered in situations that the person could not have foreseen at the time of making the advance directive.

In the era of COVID-19, the doctor has been turned into a functionary of just such a bureaucracy, receiving instructions from local and global health authorities.

Thus, in “COVID-19 Vaccine Mandates in the Light of Public Health Ethics”, I pointed out that in the light of the notions of human dignity, human agency and human rights manifesting in medical care as informed consent, any measures imposed on the patient in the name of containing COVID-19 is paternalism, that is, the treating of adults as though they were children. This is equally true in medical care where the doctor-patient relationship is in operation, as in public health policy where health authorities institute measures for the welfare of populations.

Research ethics in medicine

Progress in the medical field rides on research, but therein also lies the danger of the violation of the moral principles that ought to govern the doctor-patient relationship. Consequently, as Adebayo A. Ogungbure notes, the aim of medical research ethics is to ensure that research projects involving human subjects are carried out without causing harm to the subjects involved.

One of the most outrageous violations of medical research ethics was the “Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male”  of which Ogungbure writes:

“The Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the African American Male was the longest experiment on human beings in the history of medicine and public health. Conducted under the auspices of the US Public Health Service (USPHS), the study was originally projected to last six months but ended up spanning forty years, from 1932 to 1972. The men used as subjects in the study were never told that they had the sexually transmitted disease. The term “bad blood” was coined to falsely depict their medical condition. The men were told that they were ill and promised free care. Offered therapy “on a golden platter”, they became willing subjects. The USPHS did not tell the men that they were participants in an experiment; . . .

Though the study was organised and managed from Washington, the participants dealt with a black nurse named Eunice Rivers, who helped with transportation to the clinic, free meals, even burials. The project did not stop until Peter Buxtun, a former PHS venereal disease investigator, shared the truth about the study’s unethical methods with an Associated Press reporter.”

As Ogungbure further explains, the health authorities went to great lengths to ensure that the men in the “Tuskegee Study” were denied treatment, even after penicillin had become the standard cure for syphilis in the mid-1940s. He points out that the ignominious study only came to an end when the Associated Press published a well-researched article about it by whistle-blowing reporter Jean Heller. As a result, writes Ogungbure, congressional hearings about the Study took place in 1973, and the following year the United States Congress passed legislation creating the National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioural Research. Apologising for the Tuskegee Syphilis Study on 16 May 1997, President Bill Clinton described it as “deeply, profoundly, and morally wrong”.

Yet in the early years during which African Americans in Alabama were being ravaged by the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, Adolf Hitler’s regime in Germany was busy conducting grossly unethical research on segments of the population that he considered to be inferior to his mythical Aryan race in the name of eugenics (a set of beliefs and practices that aim to improve the genetic quality of a human population by excluding people and groups judged to be inferior or promoting those judged to be superior). Ogunbure explains that one of the consequences of the atrocities committed by Nazi Germany was the drafting of the Nuremberg Code by an international panel of experts on medical research, human rights and ethics, which served as the initial model for those few public and private research and professional organisations that voluntarily chose to adopt guidelines or rules for research involving human subjects.

Progress in the medical field rides on research, but therein also lies the danger of the violation of the moral principles that ought to govern the doctor-patient relationship.

The following are the ten basic principles of the Nuremberg Code: Seek the voluntary consent of the human subject; conduct only an experiment that is necessary, and whose results will promote the good of society; an experiment on humans ought to only follow experiments on animals; an experiment ought to avoid all unnecessary physical and mental suffering and injury; no experiments likely to cause death or disabling injury should be undertaken; the humanitarian importance of the problem to be solved by the experiment ought to exceed the degree of risk involved; the experimental subject should be protected against even remote possibilities of injury, disability or death; an experiment ought to be conducted only by scientifically qualified persons; the human subjects should be at liberty to opt out of an experiment at any stage; the scientist in charge must be prepared to terminate an experiment at any stage if he/she has any reason to believe that its continuation is likely to result in injury, disability or death.

Several other documents on medical research ethics have been issued since the Nuremberg Code, including the World Medical Association’s Declaration of Helsinki of 1964 which has been revised several times since, and Canada’s Belmont Report of 1979.

Centralisation killing the doctor-patient relationship 

One of the dominant trends in our day is the centralisation of services. Those of us who are older recall a time when the branch bank manager had considerable freedom to make decisions. Then, due to digitisation, came the motto “Every Branch is Your Branch”, because every branch was now directly link to the head office. What we were not told was that the branch manager would henceforth be a mere functionary who had to wait for decisions on every minor detail from the head office. We have witnessed similar developments in the university system, with the Commission for University Education (CUE) now having massive control over the operations of universities in Kenya, so that although there are over forty public universities in the country, CUE requires all of them to operate along the same lines, leaving very little room for lecturers to exercise the time-honoured academic freedom.

Similarly, as hospitals have grown in physical size as well as in the number of personnel, so have their centralizing bureaucratic procedures (“red tape”). Doctors have to comply with elaborate protocols put in place by hospital management to avoid or reduce the number of court cases filed against the hospitals. Similarly, the elaborate chains of command pile pressure on doctors to comply with the policies of the hospitals even when those policies are contrary to patients’ interests. For example, one leading hospital chain in Kenya requires doctors to “request” three different tests on every patient suspected of having malaria, significantly raising the patients’ bills. If the results show that patients do have malaria, doctors in the hospital chain are again duty-bound to administer only a specific set of drugs. In short, doctors have very little say in that whole process.

Furthermore, hospitals have now become centres for gathering detailed information about patients for purposes other than the patients’ welfare. Many of my Kenyan readers have probably noticed that they can only purchase drugs or have tests done in private hospitals after giving their phone numbers to the personnel at the front desk. This enables the hospitals to access a patient’s personal records for the purpose of building a detailed history of all the drugs and tests that he/she has procured from that hospital over the years. This is precisely the kind of information which large pharmaceutical companies are eager to buy from the hospitals for a handsome price. In the era of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the pharmaceuticals use artificial intelligence to analyse the massive information (“big data”) to get a  very clear picture of trends in the health of individuals and populations, thereby enabling them to design business plans that bring them massive profits.

As hospitals have grown in physical size as well as in the number of personnel, so have their centralizing bureaucratic procedures.

The death of the doctor-patient relationship on the back of intense centralisation has already taken a huge toll on the quality of health in hospitals in Kenya. According to the “Kenya Patient Safety Survey” conducted by the Ministry of Health in 2013, a patient’s safety could not be guaranteed in a majority of medical facilities in the country: only 13 hospitals out of 493 public and private health facilities in 29 counties surveyed achieved a score greater than one on an ascending scale of 0-3. The report stated, “Overall safety compliance was relatively poor, with less than one per cent of public facilities and only about two per cent of private facilities achieving a score greater than one in all five areas of risks assessed.” For instance, less than 10 per cent achieved a score greater than one in providing safe clinical care to patients. Of the 13 that scored more than one, 11 were private facilities, while only two were public. Furthermore, less than six per cent of public hospitals achieved a score greater than one in having a competent workforce. According to the report, this state of affairs had in some instances resulted in death.

Besides, in mid-2015, twenty-eight children in Busia County became partially paralysed due to medical malpractice. According to The Standard, the children had partial paralysis arising from injections given in the six months between December 2014 and June 2015, although those with severe paralysis reported initial complaints after treatment in 2013. The Standard quoted then Cabinet Secretary James Macharia as stating, “Our initial investigations point towards medical malpractice from inappropriate injection techniques as the primary cause of partial paralysis in all the 28 children.”

This is precisely the kind of inforamation which large pharmaceutical companies are eager to buy from the hospitals for a handsome price.

Yet in the era of COVID-19, the heavy centralisation of hospital operations that is stifling the traditional doctor-patient relationship has moved to an unprecedented high level. COVID-19 testing and treatment are heavily centralised and meticulously directed from the highest health authorities in each country. In many countries, doctors are strictly forbidden to use COVID-19 vaccines and therapies that have not yet been approved by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and adopted by their own top health authorities. Besides, countries are required to share their data on COVID-19 infections, hospitalisations, vaccinations and deaths with the WHO. Many health authorities at country level run online COVID-19 databases through which citizens can request for vaccination, download their vaccination certificates, and show proof of vaccination. Various governments also have arrangements among themselves to verify the authenticity of international travellers’ vaccination certificates/passports.

Furthermore, David Ngira and John Harrington inform us that generally, WHO recommendations are used as a form of quality control by domestic regulators who view them as a guarantee of safety and effectiveness. Ngira and Harrington also point out that many African states have relied wholly on the WHO Global Advisory Committee on Vaccine Safety given their weak national drug regulators and the limited capacity of the Africa Centre for Disease Control (CDC). The Africa CDC itself deems vaccines safe for use by member states on the basis of WHO recommendations. This means that the doctor no longer has the latitude to give his/her patient guidance strictly on the basis of his/her medical training and experience, but rather on the basis of protocols formulated by local and global health authorities.

Thus in the face of intense centralisation of medical care in the era of COVID-19, time-honoured principles of medical ethics such as the single-minded promotion of the good of the patient, confidentiality, respect for the patient’s right to informed consent, and the imperative for moral integrity in medical research, all of which held the doctor personally responsible for what he/she did in the course of his/her work, are inconceivable in a situation in which a doctor only acts on “orders from above”. The loser in this undesirable paradigm shift is the patient, and the winner the wealthy who have turned medical care into a business. I recently heard a senior Israeli medical professor state that when politics is mixed with science, all that remains is politics. To which I add that when medical care is mixed with business, all that remains is business.

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Dr. Reginald M.J. Oduor is Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of Nairobi. He is the first person with total visual disability to be appointed to a substantive teaching position in a public university in Kenya. He was the founding Editor-in-Chief of the New Series of Thought and Practice: A Journal of the Philosophical Association of Kenya from 2009 to 2015. With Drs. Oriare Nyarwath and Francis E.A. Owakah, he edited OderaOruka in the Twenty-First Century. He is also Co-founder and current Chair of the Society of Professionals with Visual Disabilities (SOPVID). Email: Blog:


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.



Asylum Pact: Rwanda Must Do Some Political Housecleaning
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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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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.



Beyond Borders: Why We Need a Truly Internationalist Climate Justice Movement
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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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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?



The Murang’a Factor in the Upcoming Presidential Elections
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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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