Connect with us

Politics

Arror and Kimwarer: Theft on a Grand Scale

14 min read.

A footnote in a World Bank report dating back four decades inspired the mounting of fictitious dam construction projects in Elgeyo Marakwet to create avenues for the theft of billions of shillings in public funds.

Published

on

Arror and Kimwarer: Theft on a Grand Scale
Download PDFPrint Article

In a November 1983 report of a World Bank appraisal mission to Kenya to look into the Kiambere hydroelectric dam on the Tana River, then under construction, there is a small footnote about other Kenyan rivers with hydroelectric potential. One of those identified is the Arror River, a major tributary of the Kerio River in the North Rift. Arror is a Marakwet word that means “the river that flows and makes a loud sound” and, in the last few years, the river has more than lived up to its billing. It is the site of one of two phantom dam projects (the other is on the Kerio River near Kimwarer village) that have been used to siphon billions of shillings from public coffers. Even for a government with a well-earned reputation for thievery, the Arror-Kimwarer scam is a breath-taking and unparalleled display of corruption.

The idea of building a dam on the Arror River dates back to 1986. According to the Nation, at the time, Arror Dam was projected to cost KSh414 million, it never materialised but due to lack of funds. Answering a question in Parliament in February 2009, then Assistant Minister for Water and Irrigation, Mwangi Kiunjuri said that the Kerio Valley Development Authority (KVDA) commissioned an Italian firm to carry out a feasibility study for “dams for irrigation and hydropower generation in Arror River Basin” that “indicated the suitability of the project to generate hydropower and develop a potential area of about 6,460 acres of irrigation”. According to Kiunjuri, the project would add 70 megawatts to the national grid. However, according to figures cited by Kiunjuri, in the 23 years since the project was first proposed, the cost of the project had increased 42-fold, ballooning to Kshs16.8 billion which, he said, exceeded the entire allocation to his ministry.

Kiunjuri was answering a question from then Member of Parliament for Marakwet West, Boaz Kipchumba Kaino, about “plans to construct two dams for irrigation and hydropower generation in Arror and Chesuman Locations in Marakwet District . . . which were factored in the 1995-1996 development plan”. According to Kaino, “many studies have been carried out on the same project. Each study has come up with the same 70 megawatts potential.”

In September 2009, Kaino again put Kiunjuri on the spot regarding the two dams. While reiterating his answer from seven months before, the latter added that there had been a request in 1994 to build 11 small dams in the Kerio Valley, and that “the only attempt that has ever been made in that area to have a dam for irrigation and production of hydropower was in 1986,” an apparent reference to the Arror dam.

Interestingly, in these exchanges, there was no mention of a dam at Kimwarer, only at Chesuman, nearly 90 kilometres to the north. The plan for a multipurpose dam in Kimwarer appears to have been mooted sometime after the Arror dam. It is listed in the National Water Masterplan 1992 as one of 28 multipurpose dams for hydropower, irrigation, domestic water supply and flood protection and was said to be at the pre-feasibility level in a 2003 report for the World Bank, alongside “Sererwa Dam located on the Arror river”.

A decade later, when the National Water Masterplan 1992 was updated to the National Water Master Plan 2030, Kimwarer was listed together with Arror as one of six multipurpose dam projects in the Rift Valley Catchment Area “designed for hydropower and irrigation. According to information from the KVDA, the hydropower component of the Kimwarer Dam would have “an installed capacity of 20 MW”. By 2012, a pre-feasibility study had apparently been completed. The KVDA published the Request for Proposal for the new Arror project (which included Kimwarer in this latest version) in December 2014.

In 2015, there was a new commitment to the dam project from the Italian government. Then prime minister Matteo Renzi visited Kenya in July. It was his second trip to the continent in two years. Several European countries, including Italy, were indeed keen on strengthening their relationships in Africa at that time. The main International challenges were fighting global terrorism and curbing migration. Renzi was among the initiators of the Khartoum and Rabat Processes. Launched in Rome the previous year, the Khartoum Process was a platform for political cooperation amongst the countries along the migration route between the Horn of Africa and Europe. The European Union launched the EU Trust Fund for Africa in November 2015 in Malta, a tool “to deliver an integrated and coordinated response to the diverse causes of instability, irregular migration and forced displacement”. Renzi travelled to Ethiopia and Kenya in this context. (Renzi’s meeting with president Uhuru Kenyatta made the headlines less for its content than for a picture shared by The Star in which Renzi seemed to be wearing a bulletproof vest under his blazer.)

“During the visit of Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi to Kenya, SACE, Intesa Sanpaolo and BNP Paribas announced the finalization of a €306 million loan to finance the Itare Dam project, built by CMC-Ravenna on behalf of the Kenyan National Treasury”, the SACE press office reported the day after the visit of the Italian Export Credit Agency. Intesa Sanpaolo is among the biggest Italian banks while CMC, the Italian construction company awarded the project, would feature prominently in the Kenyan dams saga. CMC signed the contract in May 2015. Itare was the very first dam awarded to the Italians in 2014 but, like the others, the project has never been concluded. It is listed in the Kenya Vision 2030 project, an ambitious development plan that has been ongoing since 2008.

After Itare, public invitations to tender were issued for Arror and Kimwarer, dam projects that by July 2015 appeared to present a unique opportunity for Italian companies to invest in. Italy has had an historical presence in Kenya since 1966 when the San Marco space launch platform was built near Malindi, a town now dubbed Little Italy. San Marco is still used by the Italian Space Agency to launch satellites into space. Italians soon followed, making investments along the Malindi coastline, exploiting Kenya’s natural resources and gaining privileged access to the country in the process. These long-lasting ties did not prevent the failure of the dam projects, however, which turned out to be a political game rather than a development opportunity.

Itare was the very first dam awarded to the Italians in 2014 but, like the others, the project has never been concluded.

Yet when cancelling the Kimwarer dam project in 2019, the government, through a statement from State House, claimed that the dam, which by then was to cost KSh22.2 billion, was “neither technically nor financially viable”. The statement further said that a technical committee “formed following the discovery of irregularities and improprieties” surrounding the Kimwarer and Arror Dams, had established that no current reliable feasibility study had been conducted on the former. “The only feasibility study carried out on a similar project twenty-eight (28) years ago had revealed a geological fault across the 800 acre project area, which would have negative structural effects on the proposed dam”. If a feasibility study had shown this in 1991, why then was the dam included in the National Water Master Plan formulated a year later and again when the plan was updated over a decade later? And what accounts for the over 68-fold increase in the cost of the Arror project to KSh28.3 billion in 2009 from an initial KSh414 million in 1986? In fact, according to former Prime Minister Raila Odinga, “Kimwarer and Arror dams were planned for during Mwai Kibaki’s government and the contract awarded to an Iranian company, which estimated the entire cost at Sh5 billion, now the figure has escalated to KSh63 billion”.

To get to grips with the saga surrounding the construction of the controversial dams, in late 2020 Dauti Kahura travelled to Elgeyo Marakwet County in the greater Rift Valley region, where the twin dams were to be built. It is one of the 20 smallest of Kenya’s 47 counties, with an area of 3,050 square kilometres and a population of slightly less than half a million people, according to the 2019 population census.

Agriculture is the county’s economic mainstay. Potatoes are grown in the highlands while in the flat middle belt, maize plantations dot the landscape. Fruits such as avocadoes, mangoes, pawpaw and grains such as green grams, sorghum and millet do very well in the Kerio Valley. The topography, climate and availability of water make the area ideal for the production of these crops.

The county’s biggest town is the world-famous Iten, renowned for producing elite athletes and world-class marathoners. But other than a huge banner announcing “You Are Now Entering Iten Home of World Class Athletes”, there is little else about the bustling little rural town that tells you anything about its great sons and daughters.

Leaving Eldoret in neighbouring Uasin Gishu headed north-east to Iten, one’s attention is drawn to the rolling plateau of hectares upon hectares of maize plantations that disappear into the horizon. It is harvest time, the morning sun is out and the ready-to-be-harvested maize stalks are arranged like igloos. Massey Fergusson and John Deer tractors and combine harvesters dot the landscape, an indication that maize farming is serious business here.

Speeding across the undulating flatland one comes across scores of lithe, mostly male, runners tackling the 38 kilometres between Iten and Eldoret, a morning ritual for runners who hope to one day break world marathon records. They are joined by a band of European athletes who are persuaded that by running alongside the amateur athletes, they will perhaps crack the secret to the Kenyans’ success in long-distance races.

The county’s biggest town is the world-famous Iten, renowned for producing elite athletes and world-class marathoners.

From Iten to Kapsowar is a distance of 46 kilometres, and the higher you climb the cooler it gets. Many of the matatus here are Probox saloon vehicles and although people are not packed inside them like sardines, the cars are driven at terrific speeds by chatty, confident drivers. Nine kilometres from Cheptongei, the road starts winding upwards as you approach Kapsowar trading centre.

At Kapsowar, the boda boda (motorcycle taxi) rider Kahura hires to take him to the bottom of the valley, where the Arror dam was meant to be built, says that few outsiders have shown interest in going down into the area. The dam was to be built in Marakwet West constituency between Hossen and Kipsaiya, two facing ridges that share a border on the valley floor. The rider says that KVDA officials had come here to persuade the people to agree to the proposal to build the dam. According to a report in the Business Daily newspaper, the officials had promised that locals would be compensated with up to five times as much land as they would give up for the two dams. KSh6 billion was promised as compensation to the more than 900 families that would be affected, although to date that too is yet to materialize.

“No dam was built,” says Salome Chebet, a local resident. “It was a huge con from our leaders. The only thing they put up was a container office, which served as a liaison office.” It has since been carted away. “With hindsight, it’s a good thing the dam was never built,” she says. “We no longer desire it because it was all a political con game from people who we elected and who claim to represent our interests.” Chebet says KVDA officials and elected representatives, including Marakwet West Member of Parliament William Kisang, Senator Kipchumba Murkomen and Governor Alex Tunoi Tolgos, had frequented Kapsowar to sell the imaginary dam to the people. In parliament in 2016, the then Senate Majority Leader, Murkomen had declared that, “under the Arror and Kimwarer Projects, it is expected that over 10,000 acres of land in Kerio valley will be irrigated. Through the project, there will be generation of 80 megawatts of hydropower as an enabler to manufacturing, provision of clean water for 80,000 households and livestock; and support to the Arror and Kimwarer rivers catchments’ conservation initiatives”.

The boda boda rider agrees with Chebet. “It is true. For a while, there was a flurry of activities at Kapsowar. The KVDA officials accompanied by these politicians would descend here hoping to convince the people of the viability of the said dam. But these were thugs, ready to fill their pockets.”

Indeed, the KVDA held several barazas where they extolled the virtues of the dam; how it would generate electricity, how the local people living up the valley—that has rich soils for growing fruits such as avocadoes, mangoes and pawpaw—would benefit. Strangely, some of the people Kahura spoke to had not heard about the compensation arrangements. “There is one thing they never addressed, even when pressed to do so: the compensation issue. How would they compensate the people? How much money were we talking about here? Where was the land where they would relocate the people as the dam was ostensibly being built? How suitable and viable was it in comparison to our land?” says the rider.

“You can imagine our consternation when we learnt that some of the money meant for the dam went into buying beddings and towels for a hotel,” says an angry Chebet. She is referring to a February 2019 claim by the Director of Criminal Investigations, George Kinoti, that a company had been awarded a tender to supply “towels worth Sh20 million, while another delivered tiles and carpets”. According to his investigators, over a hundred companies were awarded tenders to supply items that had little to do with the actual dam construction, including food and wine worth KSh17 million, bedsheets and airline tickets worth Ksh1.5 million. The scale of the pay-outs to individuals and companies for the supply of goods and services for the fictitious construction is astounding, amounting to KSh21 billion according to reporting by Citizen TV.

“All these were white lies,” observes Arap Cherop who has lived in Kaptoiyoi since 1983. Residents of Kaptoiyoi village, which is situated on the floor of the valley between Hossen and Kipsaiya, would have been the most affected because they would all have had to be relocated. “But where were we being relocated to?” he asks.

“The KVDA officials, sometimes led by their boss David Kimaiyo, on several occasions came here to apparently give us the benefits of the coming dam, which according to them, included irrigation and water for domestic use, but we also asked them questions and they couldn’t answer many of them,” he says.

According to residents, no compensation was ever paid, despite the disruptions to planting seasons between 2018 and 2020. Those Kahura spoke to said that after news of the scandal broke, the barazas that the KVDA used to hold all dwindled away.

Over a hundred companies were awarded tenders to supply items that had little to do with the actual dam construction.

Asked about the prospects for justice, the rider replies, “You’ve seen and heard for yourself. Money was eaten by our leaders, helped by the dubious Italians. But that’s the nature of our politics—very ethicized. It is our leaders who have short-changed their own people, but you know what? We can’t be counted on to expose them. It would be akin to exposing our dirty linen in public, so we’ll suffer in silence and when the elections come in 2022, we’ll be swept in a wave of euphoria, be reminded that we’re all Kalenjin and that one of our sons will be gunning for the ultimate seat. Can we surely afford to embarrass him at that critical juncture, everything else notwithstanding?”

The following day Kahura visited the site of the proposed Kimwarer dam, another phantom project, now cancelled, without anything to show for it on the ground. According to the Kenyan prosecutors, the dam was never approved by the Treasury. In 2019, CMC signed a bankruptcy agreement with the Court of Ravenna, the city on the Romagna coastline where CMC is headquartered. The bankruptcy agreement is a repayment plan that aims to avoid the closure of the company and save the jobs of its 5,454 employees. The COVID-19 pandemic has slowed down CMC’s activities and consequently, the company’s income for the past two years has been lower than expected. According to its 2020 balance sheet, CMC went into arbitration at the International Chamber of Commerce claiming damages of US$124 million from the KVDA, which was later replaced by the Kenyan State. “The arbitration is in the initial phase and the presumed verdict will be in either the last trimester of 2022 or the first trimester of 2023”, the balance sheet reads. According to a note shared with journalists from the CMC press office back in 2019, between 28th December 2017 and 9th November 2018 the KVDA made two advance payments for Arror and Kimwarer totalling over US$66 million.

Kimwarer is located in Keiyo South constituency, 60 kilometres from Eldoret town on the Eldama Ravine Road. Unlike the Eldoret-Iten Road, the Eldama Ravine Road is in dire need of repair. The gaping potholes and washed away sections of the road meant the trip took twice as long as the journey from Eldoret to Kapsowar, which is 84 kilometres. The road takes you to HZ centre, a trading centre named after the late “Total Man” and powerful politician Nicholas Biwott’s construction company, HZ Construction and Engineering Company Limited. If the dam had been built, it would have swallowed up the unassuming little centre.

KVDA made two advance payments for Arror and Kimwarer totalling over US$66 million.

As opposed to Kapsaiya area, Kimwarer is less settled, so fewer people would have been displaced. Still, it is a semi-forested area, full of vegetation and lush greenery. It holds the community grazing area, where the local people leave their cattle to graze freely for weeks on end.

The initial descent into the valley is not as steep as when heading to the site of the Arror dam and it is possible to drive part of the way through the wet tropical-like vegetation, leaving the car to cut through the dense vegetation accentuated by tall indigenous trees. The two guides accompanying Kahura from HZ centre tell him they grew up grazing cattle in the area and know the geography of Kimwarer like the backs of their hands.

Once on the valley floor, gazing up towards HZ centre and towards the Eldama Ravine Road, the guides say that had the dam been built, the entire area would have been shorn off vegetation and anybody living there would have had to leave. “But as it is, the only evidence that anything had happened here is drilling,” says one of them. Only the gaping holes remain. Other large pits had been dug for soil testing though nothing was ever heard of the results. Many are now covered by vegetation or filled by the local people to avoid their cows falling into them.

Silas Kiplagat from Tulwobei village, the homesteads nearest to the site of the proposed dam, says the people are no longer interested in it, “because as you’ve seen for yourself, this was one huge scam. Our politicians all took us for a ride. It was all so absurd. The former MP, Jackson Kiptanui, Senator Murkomen and Governor Tolgos all came here to persuade us to support the project.”

KVDA officials, “who we were told would be in charge of the project,” had visited. “They held a meeting at the HZ centre social hall and enumerated the advantages of the dam when finished,” says Kiplagat. Other government officials whom Kiplagat says showed up were National Land Commission officials who also met the locals at the social hall and told them they were seeking their participation, insofar as the dam’s project was concerned.

“Then all visits stopped suddenly,” says Vincent Kiprop, also from Tulwobei village, “and the ensuing scandal startled the people. How is it that your own leaders can conspire to rip you off?” Kiprop asks. The residents are very angry with their leaders. “But hey, what are our options?” he shrugs.

“The former MP, Jackson Kiptanui, Senator Murkomen and Governor Tolgos all came here to persuade us to support the project.”

Kahura returns to Iten town where he meets with Kiptarus Kipkoros, a local journalist who is well acquainted with the dams’ saga. “The ‘dams project’ was meant to finance the 2022 election campaigns in the north Rift Valley region and especially in Elgeyo Marakwet,” says Kipkoros. He blames the media for the misinformation and confusion surrounding the two dams. “KVDA MD David Kimosop would hire a special helicopter to ferry journalists from Nairobi to the supposed dam sites. But you and I know their intention was not to establish whether the sites existed, report on the scandal or even investigate the story — not as long as the brown envelopes were aplenty.”

Kipkoros alleges that Kimosop would take the journalists on an aerial tour of Elgeyo Marakwet County, circle the areas around the two dams then return to Eldoret for a sumptuous meal before sending them back to Wilson Airport each with a brown envelope in hand. “Therefore, the politicians [read the MP, Senator and Governor] and the journalists helped conceal the true extent of the mega-dams scandal.” Journalists became part of the people who helped siphon the state’s money, says Kipkoros.

Before the scandal broke, weekends in Elgeyo Marakwet County were awash with choppers flying into the area. “Here in Iten they would drop at St Patrick Iten School grounds, at the market field, or anywhere where there is a landing field,” says Kipkoros. “Afterwards, the whizzing of the choppers in the air over the weekends suddenly ceased. It is very painful to watch elected leaders robbing their own people,” says the journalist. “The politicians used the money for self-aggrandisement,” he says, adding that

The journalist claims that the politicians and top KVDA officials used the cash to fund extravagant lifestyles, which astonished the people of the small, poor county of Elgeyo Marakwet. “The politicians inundated the county with choppers loaded with money every weekend, dishing it out to their supporters and at hurriedly set-up fundraisers.”

Before the scandal broke, weekends in Elgeyo Marakwet County were awash with choppers flying into the area.

Longrock Engineering Limited was named as one of the companies that allegedly received part of the money for the dams. The company was allegedly paid KSh6.2 million to supply furniture and provide transport services. “Now, Longrock is a corruption of the name Kaplongorok, a family name that hails from Kipsait in Kapsowar,” said Kipkoros. According to an investigation published by Africa Uncensored, there are five companies with “Longrock” in their names that were suppliers for the construction of the dams, all of whose directors or shareholders are directly linked to the KVDA and more specifically to board member Dinah Chelanga. “You can see for yourself the extent to which the money was distributed to friends, loyal supporters and relatives,” says Kipkoros.

The journalist says the politicians and the KVDA officials bought their girlfriends and wives brand new Toyota sedans and SUVS. “Some even acquired new wives on account of that money.”

However, even the journalist sees little prospect for real justice and accountability in the ongoing prosecutions over the scams. “The war on corruption will not be won by engaging in politics of deceit and subterfuge,” he says. What Uhuru is doing is not fighting corruption, but fighting [Deputy President William] Ruto and that’s why the people will just be angry for a while but quickly revert to type — that is ethnic politics.”

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

Mr Kahura is a senior writer for The Elephant. Lorenzo Bagnoli is a board member of the Investigative Reporting Project Italy (IRPI), a centre for investigative journalism based in Italy.

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