Connect with us

Politics

Racist Europe: The Ukraine Conflict and the Dark Underbelly of Euro-Modernity

6 min read.

As the total disregard for people of African descent is shown in the context of the deadly invasion of Ukraine by Russia, Christiane Ndedi Essombe and Benjamin Maiangwa argue that the contempt and compulsive need to invalidate, belittle and dehumanize people of African descent remains unchanged in an irredeemably racist Europe. Essombe and Maiangwe ask what does this racism reveal about international human rights frameworks?

Published

on

Download PDFPrint Article

Despite the supposed universality of human rights, we are constantly reminded that these ‘rights’ seemingly never quite apply the same way to racialized people.

It is worth highlighting that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was signed after World War II, at a time where virtually all of Africa was still colonized by European powers, Jim Crow laws were still enforced in the United States and the vast majority of Indigenous peoples could not vote in Canada. Such an omission, in and of itself, may have been the silent admission that universal human rights were not intended to be so universal after all.

The multiple violations of human rights against people of African descent specifically, from the Transatlantic slave trade to the state-sanctioned murders of suspected Haitians in the Dominican Republic, can leave one wondering whether anti-blackness is the oldest and most accepted international foreign policy. Indeed, the UDHR does not seem to apply to people of African descent who still die in droves in the Mediterranean, remain at risks of getting beaten by US border agents as they exercise their right to seek asylum and can get forcibly tested, evicted and framed as carriers of COVID-19 or Ebola without seemingly any breach of human rights frameworks.

The ongoing armed conflict in Ukraine has understandably shaken and shocked an overwhelming number of governmentsand citizens around the world. For many, the last few weeks may very well have been a reminder that history is written in real time and brutality is still the order of international politics. An assault on an independent sovereign country and deadly attacks on civilians – including children – is no longer the distant rhetoric from past historical events but constitute instead a contemporary reality.

NATO country members openly shared that they are “more united than ever” as Russia faces “unprecedented sanctions”. Several NGOs and UN agencies have also immediately joined forces to ensure the safety of the people of Ukraine, illustrating a clear commitment to their human rights and a stand against the invasion of Ukraine overall. The understandable and anticipated condemnation has been swift and unequivocal, even if ineffective so far.

Yet this response has not been equally applicable to non-Ukrainians, particularly people of African descent. Even non-white people fleeing wars and poverty on the continent, or in Syria, Libya, Yemen, Afghanistan are treated with disgust or allowed to drown in huge numbers in the Mediterranean. This nonresponse to the plights of the “Other” shows the cracks in the so-called universal responsibility to protect, while also demonstrating the nonchalance of African leaders who treat their own people as non-beings at home and abroad.

In any event, it would be expected that during an armed conflict, international human rights law would apply for “everyone within the state’s jurisdiction or effective control”. This implies that representatives of the state ought to guarantee everybody’s human rights regardless of citizenship, including their right to safety as per three of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Yet, several videos have circulated showing how African students, and South Asian individuals were denied that very right. Waiting in the cold for hours, threatened to get shot atdenied access onto trains and forced to walk for hours , it appears that these individuals were not to benefit from the very international laws that should protect them at any time.

“They’re not allowing Black people […], they prioritize Ukrainians” shared a witness recounting their experience as they attempted to leave Ukraine. In addition to illustrating a clear violation of international human rights by discriminating people based on their skin color, this sentence speaks to the intrinsic functioning of racial hierarchy. Black people are seen as belonging to the bottom of such a hierarchy: they are existentially understood as the “Other” who cannot enjoy the same rights as the majority. The only conclusion that can be drawn in the face of such accounts: the treatment of Black foreigners and South Asian foreigners within an emergency context is a manifestation of racism and a clear confirmation that the ‘non-western’ is indeed the wretched of the earth, failed by their own governments and the world community.

Further corroborating that conclusion are the neighboring government’s deliberate changes to prevent documentation and paperwork from jeopardizing border crossing for those fleeing the war. As such, for Ukrainian authorities, documentation cannot be used as a premise to discriminate between individuals. The only reference that remains is a phenotypical one and, effectively, the distinction between white people and non-white people was applied. White people, seemingly regardless of nationality, were able to leave without much difficulty.

Evidently, international human rights principles are colour-blind which might be the very reason why they repeatedly fail to acknowledge, anticipate, and address racism. In 2022, after global condemnation of racism following the videotaped murder of George Floyd, the sudden amnesia and denial about racism as a global phenomenon is both disturbing and revealing. Racism is a critical underpinning of the nation-state ideology. As such, in a nation based on homogeneity, in this case European ancestry, so-called “minorities” are racialized individuals for whom the state laws will not be applied the same way. In such a construction, the very fabric of the society is based on a hierarchical treatment between the majority who belongs and the minority who is only tolerated as long as it knows its place.

That very premise – the differential application of human rights towards racialized populations – is constantly left unchallenged despite being constantly corroborated, be it internationally or in internal disparities in police brutalityincarceration rates, and poverty rates in countries such as Canada and US.

On 1 March, 2022, the African Union shared that it was “disturbed” by reports of African nationals fleeing the war in Ukraine and being denied access to neighbouring countries. In keeping with the common habit of using ‘discrimination’ as a euphemism for racism in political statements, the statement also fell short of calling the treatment of African nationals attempting to flee Ukraine for what it was: racism and ineptitude on the part of the African governments.

What does it say then, that both non-African and African governmental bodies alike ignore the obvious plight of people of African descent and other racialized populations?

What does it say that for many, condemning racist practices against African people inherently distracts away the attention from the “real issue”?

These reactions, one could argue, point to the same underpinning: in human rights laws and in the common imaginary, the individual to protect is inherently seen as white and somehow without of a racial identity. It follows that non-White people are still not seen as deserving of rights and protection.

That would also explain, at least in part, the double standards in rhetoric and overall media coverage witnessed since the beginning of this war.

When such a blatant and terrifying aggression could be an opportunity to both renew a commitment to prevent wars and defend human rights for all, it appears that it is currently failing abysmally.

As a result, when facts show that Ukrainian civilians are caught in a terrible war and deserved to be safe and that non-white people are simultaneously subjected to racism by Ukrainian authorities even during the war, there is seemingly no framework to comprehend this horror.

Two manifestations of human rights violations end up pitted against each other in the Olympics of Oppression instead of being analyzed as stemming from a similar ideological ill: the pursuit of domination over a given people. In any case, the observable consequence is that, once again, human rights don’t extend to racialized people and specifically not to people of African descent.

Does it imply then that people of African descent are already perceived as inexistant and that extending human rights to them is seen as unnecessary?

Death of a people and its civilization does not seem to have such obvious characteristics. It is often only in hindsight that one can appreciate the erasure of a people from international frameworks. Complicating that endeavor is the fact that often, Africans themselves only know about their history as told by former colonial powers or by the Africans who ended up assimilating into a supposedly colorless, objective, approach to their own people.

Fanon warned us that “for the colonized subject, objectivity is always directed against [them]”. It must then be concluded that “objective” international human rights cannot possibly apply objectively to African nationals.

The odds are even further reduced when the geographical setting is Europe itself: the colonial “metropole” that normalized the use of astoundingly barbaric methods to conduct their hegemonic ambitions and carry its so-called mission civilisatrice (civilizing mission) for the purported welfare of the “uncivilized African”.

Centuries pass by and yet, it appears that the contempt and compulsive need to invalidate, belittle and dehumanize the non-western Other – in this case, the person of African descent – remains, even in the context of a war.

Evidence piles up and yet, the very authorities that should speak up against the mistreatment of any other racialized people, remain timid.

Again, we ask, what do these reactions (or lack thereof) reveal about international human rights frameworks? What do they reveal about the existence of African people? Where do they belong?

Even on the African continent, it could be argued that laws and political decisions do not protect our existence and the sustainability of our cultures and heritage.

It is estimated that hundreds of pre-colonial African languages are close to extinction and many have already disappeared.Discourses proffering  various philosophical approaches to governance and social relations such as Negritude (nativist humanism), Afrocentricity, Pan-Africanism, African Socialism (Ujamaa or familyhood), and Ubuntu (togetherness) have for the most part disintegrated after the fanfare of political independence subsided. The architectural landscape on the African continent counts very few remaining pre-colonial artefacts except for the royal palaces of Abomey in Benin, Rock-Hewn churches of Lalibela in Ethiopia and the Djenné mosque in Mali.

Finally, if we look at the organizations of societies themselves on the continent, whether it is populous centers, the division of labour or existing socio-economic classes, they can all be traced back to an era where the erasure of people of African descent was an explicit political ambition.

Whether it is abroad or on the continent, it seems that no legislative or human rights framework can effectively protect the rights and existence of African people.

As the total disregard for people of African descent is further evidenced, this time in the context of the deadly invasion of Ukraine by Russia, perhaps it is worth considering Issa Shivji’s clarion call for an anti-imperialist reconceptualization of human rights that would ‘unreservedly’ be centred on the collective rights and struggles of oppressed people.

This article was first published by ROAPE.

Support The Elephant.

The Elephant is helping to build a truly public platform, while producing consistent, quality investigations, opinions and analysis. The Elephant cannot survive and grow without your participation. Now, more than ever, it is vital for The Elephant to reach as many people as possible.

Your support helps protect The Elephant's independence and it means we can continue keeping the democratic space free, open and robust. Every contribution, however big or small, is so valuable for our collective future.

By

Christiane Essombe holds a Master of Public Health from the University of Montreal School of Public Health. She has worked with various marginalized populations such as people with albinism in Tanzania, migrating people at the US/Mexico border, survivors of the Colombian armed conflict and refugee claimants in Montreal. She is currently completing a PhD in sociology at the University of Cape Town. Benjamin Maiangwa is Assistant Professor in the department of Political Science at Lakehead University. Maiangwa’s research focuses broadly on the intersection of politics, culture, and society. His recent publications use storytelling, action research, and critical ethnography to explore notions of contested belonging, mobility, and how people experience conflict and peace in everyday life.

Politics

Asylum Pact: Rwanda Must Do Some Political Housecleaning

Rwandans are welcoming, but the government’s priority must be to solve the internal political problems which produce refugees.

Published

on

Asylum Pact: Rwanda Must Do Some Political Housecleaning
Download PDFPrint Article

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.

Continue Reading

Politics

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

The elite’s ‘solution’ to the climate crisis is to turn the displaced into exploitable migrant labour. We need a truly internationalist alternative.

Published

on

Beyond Borders: Why We Need a Truly Internationalist Climate Justice Movement
Download PDFPrint Article

“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.

Continue Reading

Politics

The Murang’a Factor in the Upcoming Presidential Elections

The Murang’a people are really yet to decide who they are going to vote for as a president. If they have, they are keeping the secret to themselves. Are the Murang’a people prepping themselves this time to vote for one of their own? Can Jimi Wanjigi re-ignite the Murang’a/Matiba popular passion among the GEMA community and re-influence it to vote in a different direction?

Published

on

The Murang’a Factor in the Upcoming Presidential Elections
Download PDFPrint Article

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.

Continue Reading

Trending