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UK-Rwanda Asylum Pact: Colonial Era Deportations are Back in Vogue

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“Go back to Africa” has taken on a new meaning, with Britain’s controversial plan to deport migrants to Rwanda, and outsource its “immigration problem”.

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UK-Rwanda Asylum Pact: Colonial Era Deportations are Back in Vogue
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The British government has sparked outrage—and applause from right-wing voters—with its new plan to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda.

The plan applies only to single men, who would be given one-way plane tickets to a country 4,000 miles away, where their asylum claims will be processed. Even if they are granted asylum, the men would not be allowed back to Britain. Rejected applicants will be deported again. The idea is to deter migrants, stop people smugglers, and ultimately end mass immigration. The scheme particularly targets migrants and asylum seekers who cross the English Channel from France in rubber dinghies, after paying a fortune to people traffickers. Some 6,000 people have crossed the channel this way so far this year, almost three times the number that had crossed by this time last year. The migrants largely come from Syria, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Somalia, Myanmar and Venezuela.

The irony is that the controversial plan is the brainchild of Home Secretary Priti Patel, the daughter of Ugandan-Asian immigrants who arrived in Britain in the 1960s. Under her hostile immigration regime, it is highly likely that her own parents would not have been allowed in – something she has admitted. It is also ironic that the government says Rwandan asylum seekers will still be allowed into Britain.

The government is selling this as a great opportunity for migrants to start a new life in a country they call “fundamentally safe and secure”. The reality is that Rwanda is a dictatorship, with a very poor human rights record, intolerant attitudes to LGBTI+ people, and a tendency to crush any kind of dissent. Migrants fleeing detention and torture could now experience further trauma. An earlier deal that Rwanda cut with Israel, between 2014 and 2017, failed; many of the asylum seekers reportedly left Rwanda almost immediately, and used people smugglers to try and return to Europe.

The government has faced increasing pressure from voters to curb immigration. In the Brexit referendum in 2016, after which the UK left the European Union, the “Leave” camp promised to end illegal immigration. But the dangerous channel crossings have risen sharply under Prime Minister Boris Johnson, much to the anger of Tory voters. This new plan was hatched after failed attempts to collaborate with France to stop the boats. Initial costs are projected to be up to £30,000 per migrant, although the actual cost is likely to be much higher. Rwanda will receive £120 million from Britain for “economic development”.

Cynics say this is a distraction and a “dead cat” story, announced just before the May council elections when the Tories fear electoral defeat. Johnson faces leadership challenges, amid fierce criticism of the so-called “partygate” scandal which has seen him, his wife and senior No. 10 staff investigated by the police and fined for breaking COVID lockdown laws.

The United Nations, human rights lawyers, opposition parties and refugee bodies have condemned the plan as criminal, inhumane, cruel, and unworkable. Some leading Tories have also condemned it, notably former ministers Andrew Mitchell and Rory Stewart.

Other reactions

“I think it’s a way of getting rid of people the government doesn’t want, dumping them in a distant African country, and they’d have no chance of getting out of there again,” said Lord Alf Dubs, 89, a Labour peer who sits in the House of Lords. Lord Dubs came to Britain as a child fleeing the Nazis, via the Kindertransport scheme before World War Two, which saved thousands of young Jewish lives. He campaigns on refugee and asylum issues.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, the most senior cleric in the Church of England, condemned the plan in his Easter Sunday sermon. He said it raises “serious ethical questions” and cannot “stand the judgement of God”. In response, Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Minister for Brexit Opportunities, defended the policy as “almost an Easter story of redemption”.

The United Nations, human rights lawyers, opposition parties and refugee bodies have condemned the plan as criminal, inhumane, cruel, and unworkable.

Unions representing civil servants who work at the Home Office warn of mass walkouts and requests for transfer to other government departments if this plan goes ahead. Human rights lawyers and refugee bodies say they will vigorously fight the scheme in the courts. There is also likely to be strong opposition from politicians in both houses of parliament (the Commons and the Lords).

But Brexit voters are thrilled—this is what they voted for. Typical comments posted online in the right-wing media include: “Send them all back to Africa!” … “With the policy all the way! Brilliant plan.” … “The majority [of migrants] are not asylum seekers or refugees but economic migrants who are just jumping the queue illegally.” … “This is the best idea the government have come up with in a long time, make it retrospective and get rid of what is already here, women and children as well, get on with it.” Different reactions on Twitter include this: “The Rwandan one-way ticket scheme is rooted in the fundamentally racist notion that all black people are ‘the same’ and can simply ‘get sent back’ to Africa.”

Meanwhile, British people have largely welcomed government plans to bring Ukrainian refugees to the UK, at least temporarily. Perceptions of the cross-channel migrants as black and Muslim (many are neither) are compared to nice white Christian Ukrainians who “share our culture”. (In fact, Ukraine has one of the largest Jewish populations outside Israel.)

Antecedents

Britain has form when it comes to deportation. Most famously, more than 162,000 convicts were deported to Australia between 1788 and 1868, the majority for petty crimes such as stealing a sheep, cutting down a tree or poaching. In the early 18th century, it also deported convicts to the American colonies to work; the alternative was execution. Once freed, many of the ex-convicts in Australia stayed there and joined the free settlers. Some rose to prominent positions in society.

British people have largely welcomed government plans to bring Ukrainian refugees to Britain, at least temporarily.

On a much smaller scale, in colonial East Africa the British punished Africans they considered dangerous by sending them into internal exile. They fell into three main groups: political figures like Harry Thuku and Samuel Muindi Mbingu; convicted witches/sorcerers; and prophets or other religious figures. The last group included the Maasai prophet Senteu, half-brother to Paramount Chief Olonana, who was deported to North Nyeri, the Samburu prophet Leaduma (sent first to the coast, then Embu, where he died), and Kamba anti-colonial prophet Ndonye wa Kauti (deported to Lamu). Thuku and Senteu were allowed home; Mbingu, Leaduma and Ndonye were not. A few “undesirable” whites were also deported overseas.

Who would ever have guessed that, decades later, post-colonial Britain would be planning to deport thousands of “undesirables” to the middle of Africa?

Genocide victims made homeless

In an exclusive front-page splash headlined “Priti heartless”, Britain’s Mirror newspaper reported that former genocide victims living in the Hope Hostel in Kigali have been ousted to make way for the migrants. Patel was pictured touring the hostel this week with Rwandan officials, after striking the controversial deal. It was a shelter for traumatised orphans, who are now adults. “I barely know any other home. I was only told about moving out a few days ago,” said one woman.

Rwandans react

In Rwanda and across East Africa, the news that Rwanda is set to receive UK migrants has been received with an unprecedented level of incredulity. In part, this is to do with the fact that the first Rwandans learned of the idea was after the UK press reported it. Those living in the diaspora heard about it first.

“It is astonishing really, but we have become used to these sorts of things happening here,” said a former minister.

Rwanda remains one of the most densely populated countries in the world. In 2019, there were 1,242 people per square mile, making it the world’s 14th most densely populated country. Some of the objections that British voters have against migrants, particularly around the additional pressure on school places, hospital appointments and general access to public services, can be made about Rwanda too.

Given the magnitude of the policy and the potential triggers around community cohesion, it would have been a good idea if the proposal had been debated in parliament before an agreement was reached with the UK. None of the parliamentarians we spoke with knew of the policy before it was announced.

More than 162,000 convicts were deported to Australia between 1788 and 1868, the majority for petty crimes such as stealing a sheep, cutting down a tree or poaching.

“It is ill thought out, and if I am being frank, likely to backfire”, noted the minister. “There are so many loops to this. We already have a significant number of refugees in the country from Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Some of these, especially the Congolese, are already very difficult to manage. What makes us think we can take on Britain’s migrants?”

In 2018, Rwandan police shot and fatally wounded 12 Congolese refugees who had gathered to demonstrate against a 25 per cent cut in the food provided by the UN refugee agency at a camp in Kiziba, western Rwanda. Rwanda hosts about 174,000 refugees, including 57,000 people from neighbouring Burundi who fled violence in 2015.

It is telling that Rwandan media has almost unanimously stayed clear of the asylum pact despite the furore surrounding the announcement in the UK media. In Rwanda, the few media organisations that still exist have either made a choice not to cover the story, or are waiting to see how it plays out. This explains in part why the Rwandese public has not engaged with the story, even though many might have opinions and things to say about the proposed plan to settle migrants in their communities.

“It is a difficult one,” said a local editor. “But you know how it works. Everyone is waiting to see which way the wind blows. At the end of the day, no one wants to be shut down over Eritreans or Syrians. But generally, there is despondency.”

Tiered asylum system

Questions have also been raised as to how the UK scheme would work vis-à-vis existing refugee schemes in the country. The Rwandan government insists claims will be decided according to existing Rwandan and international law.

In Rwanda and across East Africa, the news that Rwanda is set to receive UK migrants has been received with an unprecedented level of incredulity.

Already, the agreement with the UK appears to be treating UK migrants better. Traditionally, Rwanda has settled refugees and those seeking asylum in refugee camps – away from local communities. By using Hope Hostel to accommodate UK migrants, Rwanda will be offering one set of refugees a form of accommodation that is completely different from the other.

Besides, what is there to prevent those already living in camps from seeking ways to travel to Europe in the hope of being returned? That way, they would have access to hostel accommodation as opposed to camps.

Not all is doom and gloom

The headlines may be brutal, and they are certainly not what the two countries expected when they agreed this deal. Overall, Rwanda stands to gain, at least financially. The estimated £120 million that Rwanda will receive initially is a definite bonus for a country trying to regrow its economy after the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Rwandan government is also using the agreement as proof that countries like the UK have confidence in its policies and governance, and acknowledge it as a worthy partner – a boon for President Paul Kagame, whose style of leadership, especially with regard to opposition politics, has been on the ropes lately.

“For the last 28 years, we have built a country that is united,” government spokesperson Yolande Makolo told Sky News, responding to criticism of the plan from Human Rights Watch. “We have built a country that is stable. We have built a functioning government that provides services for Rwandans. Human Rights Watch might say what they want to say, but that is up to them. It doesn’t mean it is the truth.”

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Eleneus Akanga is a Rwandan journalist based in the UK. He fled Rwanda in 2007 after his newspaper The Weekly Post was shut down by the government. Dr Lotte Hughes is an historian of Africa and empire, and a journalist, who has written extensively about Kenya. Her publications include the chapter ‘Memorialisation and Mau Mau. A critical review’, in Julie MacArthur (ed.), Dedan Kimathi on Trial. Colonial Justice and Popular Memory in Kenya’s Mau Mau Rebellion (Ohio University Press, 2017). Academic profile: https://open.academia.edu/LotteHughes

Politics

Pax Savannah: Adjusting Kenyan Foreign Policy for Prosperity

A Pax Savanna doctrine would end the ambiguity of historical non-alignment that makes Kenya “Look East” today and “Look West” tomorrow.

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Pax Savannah: Adjusting Kenyan Foreign Policy for Prosperity
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One of the most confounding aspects of Kenyan foreign policy is the fact that there is generally no official doctrine guiding the conduct of the country’s external relations or its decision making. Kenyan international relations aficionados are left to speculate on the actions of the leadership with regards to questions of economics, peace, migration, climate, and culture.

As for the citizens, there is increasing disappointment with the conduct of the country’s foreign affairs due to numerous faux pas, an unresponsive officialdom, minimal camaraderie with fellow African countries on issues, and significant dalliance with the West on issues of global concern.

Remarkably, this could be because Kenya’s current foreign policy document published in 2014 makes no mention of the word “doctrine” despite it being the guiding framework for the country’s diplomatic engagements.

Foreign policy doctrine is the overarching justification grounding the rules upon which political leadership handles situations or explains the actions of one country towards another.

Subsequently, the justifications provided, or the activities carried out in the diplomatic community, tend to confound many observers, be they local or international. For example, there are numerous interpretations of what “pragmatism” means in Kenyan foreign policy. For some, it is “a cunning and ruthless pursuit of her national goals irrespective of ideals” while for others it is mainly an “emphasis on economic considerations when tackling national challenges”, among other interpretations.

In November 2022, President William Ruto’s international relations dealings were reported in the news as both “Look East” and “Look West”, and also as the “Here and There Diplomacy” characterized by conflicting signals, questionable or controversial conduct, and poor communication.

Kenyan foreign policy proclamations and practice, therefore, contradict the country’s projection of consistency in pursuit of stability within its national, regional, continental, and global engagements even while possessing a very realist understanding of threat in its traditionalist diplomatic conduct.

This is despite attaining a “pluralist dividend” following promulgation of the Constitution of Kenya 2010. It is therefore important to recognize that an understanding of opportunities from a post-modernist context can increase the benefits of including non-state actors in Kenya’s foreign policy.

In a sense, their inclusion would infuse new ways of thinking about global power relations, increase the country’s understanding of its potential sphere of influence, encourage consideration of entities outside of officialdom, and the possibility of novel ideas in the country’s external relations.

Kenyan diplomacy in a multipolar world

Shifts in polarity within global developments seem to be a new feature of the post-COVID and post-truth world.

The Russia-Ukraine conflict, the rise of China, disruptive technology, inflationary shocks, continued troubles in the Middle East, energy challenges, inadequate growth, an unexceptional America, demographic pressures, and a strain on natural resources seem to have ushered in a multipolar world by means of force; force, in this instance, being both natural and man-made events resulting in crisis in which one disaster builds into another, making situations worse. This context of polycrisis is particularly affecting power distribution within the international system.

Shifts in polarity within global developments seem to be a new feature of the post-COVID and post-truth world.

A modernization of Kenyan foreign policy is, therefore, required to establish a transformative diplomacy that can consider new nuances, increase sophistication in negotiation, and actualize greater responsiveness in the country’s conduct of its external relations.

Kenya must begin imagining itself on its own terms instead of based on Western “exceptionalist” predetermination illustrated by, for example, the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) description of the country as an “anchor state” that provides stability.

This categorization is on account of the strategic confidence Kenya offers the US based on its financial services and infrastructural connectedness that make it a “hub of its subregion”. Further, this is due to Kenya’s promotion of regional peace and security among its neighbours in tandem with US/Western interests.

However, this perspective limits Kenya’s ability to become an African exemplar state; the appropriate democratic model within its immediate sphere of influence which is primarily the East African Community (EAC) and the greater Horn of Africa region.

As such, developing a doctrine would help pursue international peace and prosperity as championed by Kenya in response to an increasingly multipolar world through a multilateralism that focuses on building profitable relations as a means to building alliances within the savanna climate countries.

Peace in the savanna equals peace in the world

Generally, Kenya’s diplomatic pillars (peace diplomacy, economic diplomacy, diaspora diplomacy, environmental diplomacy, cultural diplomacy) are captured as a list of priorities, that is, a shared common purpose with the international community as opposed to being a defined,  inherent framework for the country’s global ambitions.

In this sense, Kenya identifies issues of concern, spaces for action, institutions to influence, and opportunities for collaboration without giving a clear picture or viewpoint of what a harmonious world looks like according to its national interests.

Considering its history, Kenya must, therefore, develop a doctrine that offers guidance on domestic linkages to its foreign affairs, foundations in regional integration, prospects for new diplomatic constituencies, efforts towards modernization, and responses to emerging threats – essentially, explaining the centrality of Kenyan external relations logic in building profitable relations as a means of acquiring positive and sustainable alliances that benefit the world.

Kenya’s understanding of redistributed power requires a geostrategic reorganization of its motivations for cultural, economic, military, or political distinctiveness towards making an impression on the Savanna Climate Countries.

By distinguishing The Savanna as the space within which to optimize its global footprint, Kenya will be able to deploy an “Africa plus World” strategy that will harness the maritime advantages of the Indian Ocean Rim as a portal to increased economic collaboration in trade, investment, and the development of the country.

A Pax Savanna doctrine offers the language and reasoning of a “looking worldwide” foreign policy position that searches for partnership from all corners of the globe while ending the ambiguity of historical non-alignment that makes Kenya “Look East” today and “Look West” tomorrow.

Such a construct of objectives – a policy imagination of Kenya’s place in the world – must consider the geopolitical ways and means to become a part of either the current global economic system, the emerging alternative world order or, better still, a continental renaissance architecture.

While it interacts with the Bretton Woods system, the country should consider whether it will be a part of BRICKS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, Kenya, South Africa) or BRICSEA (Brazil, Russia, India, China, Southern and Eastern Africa).

This can only be achieved if the country works in tandem with the EAC to become a fast-growing economy that can, together with the BRICS countries, participate in dominating the world by 2050. EAC members’ engagement would be on equal terms with the BRICS member countries based on their combined advantage in terms of land mass, population, and GDP.

Ultimately, through whatever promising form or formation of international politics, Kenya should seek to take up the mantle of championing African prosperity, legitimacy, and welfare both for its own benefit and for the benefit of its continental compatriots.

A Pax Savanna doctrine offers the language and reasoning of a “looking worldwide” foreign policy position.

In doing so, Kenya would provide clarity concerning its participation in the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), its intervention in Haiti, and justifications for Double Taxation Agreements (DTAs) or Free Trade Agreements (FTAs), among other actions.

Projection of influence in intergovernmental forums such as the Group of 20 (G20), the principal organisations of the United Nations (the UN General Assembly, the Security Council, the Economic and Social Council, the International Court of Justice, the UN Secretariat, and the Trusteeship Council) and coalitions such as the Group of 77 (G77), among others, must then be channelled towards achieving a Pax Savanna, an “Africa plus World” strategy that focuses on the Indian Ocean Rim as a theatre of specific transformational interest for Kenya.

Transformative diplomacy initiatives as rejuvenation

Non-state actors tend to be viewed or engaged with from a significant distance in Kenyan foreign policy. For instance, in and of their own right, professionals are only mentioned or acknowledged once in the entire 2014 foreign policy document.

This may be a consequence of previous clashes on questions concerning human rights as seen on issues regarding the Kenyan cases at the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the handling of suspects in the ongoing global war on terror.

Regrettably, these lenses of contestation are similarly applied to non-state actors in a whole range of other global spaces such institutional reforms, tax governance, debt sustainability, regional integration, climate change, trade advocacy, consumer rights, gender responsiveness, non-communicable diseases, and civil protection, i.e. emergency response.

Unlike the diaspora whose geolocational and financial influence are well captured (to the point of a ministerial evolution that has seen the creation of a state department for diaspora affairs), the vast human resource experience(s) and occupational positioning outside officialdom are yet to be truly harnessed for purposes of informing the national development agenda. Experts, scholars, practitioners, and students in spaces outside established diplomatic bureaucracy are peripheral entities in Kenyan foreign affairs policymaking.

Non-state actors tend to be viewed or engaged with from a significant distance in Kenyan foreign policy.

Adopting transformation as restorative diplomatic force of interactions will therefore champion more inclusion of non-state actors or professionals in decision-making, thereby helping to move current foreign policy away from its exclusive traditions, practices, and its policymaking roots to a more productive working relationship despite the differences that may emerge from time to time.

Such an approach would encourage the Kenyan government to embrace various platforms that expand access to expertise from the wider diplomatic professional community and from among its citizens. It would offer the government the opportunity to support the inclusion of new foreign policy ideas, and avenues for contribution by non-state actors thereby ending their marginalisation.

Deliberate mapping of Kenyan citizens in academia, non-governmental organisations (international and local), staffers within various diplomatic offices in Kenya, including the United Nations, the private sector, and faith-based organisations, among others, is critical in building support and partnerships in the national interest.

Moreover, such an initiative would infuse new ideas on improving Kenya’s foreign policy through emerging institutions such as the Foreign Service Institute (FSI), National Defence University (NDU) of Kenya, and the International Relations Society of Kenya (IRSK) to build bridges across existing tensions to prevent reversals and orchestrate diplomatic transformation for the modern age.

This would serve as a means of moving beyond the simple recognition and inclusion of multiple actors in decision-making to the establishment of an “Emergence Doctrine” of “The Exemplar State” to become a force for good in Africa and the world.

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Politics

Is Somalia’s Quest for Membership of the EAC Premature?

Somalia must first ensure sustained progress in stability, infrastructure development, governance, and economic growth before considering full membership of the East African Community.

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Is Somalia’s Quest for Membership of the EAC Premature?
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The current members of the East African Community (EAC) are Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, and South Sudan. The Somali Federal Government, under the leadership of Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, has expressed a strong interest in joining the EAC, sparking questions among Somali citizens as to whether the country is ready to join such a large and complex regional bloc.

During President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud initiated Somalia’s pursuit of EAC membership during his previous term as a president from 2012 to 2017. However, little progress was made during his first term and, following his re-election, President Hassan reignited his pursuit of EAC membership without consulting essential stakeholders such as the parliament, the opposition, and civil society. This unilateral decision has raised doubts about the president’s dedication to establishing a government based on consensus. Moreover, his decision to pursue EAC membership has evoked mixed responses within Somalia. While some Somalis perceive joining the EAC as advantageous for the country, others express concerns about potential risks to Somalia’s economic and social development. President Hassan has defended his decision, emphasising that Somalia’s best interests lie in becoming a member of the EAC.

To assess Somalia’s readiness to join the EAC, the regional bloc undertook a comprehensive verification mission. A team of experts well versed in politics, economics, and social systems, was tasked with evaluating Somalia’s progress. The evaluation included a thorough review of economic performance, trade policies, and potential contributions to the EAC’s integration efforts. During this process, the team engaged with various government institutions and private organisations, conducting comprehensive assessments and discussions to gauge Somalia’s preparedness.

One of the key requirements for Somalia is demonstrating an unwavering commitment to upholding principles such as good governance, democracy, the rule of law, and respect for human rights. Somalia must also showcase a vibrant market economy that fosters regional trade and collaboration.

Successful integration into the EAC would not only elevate Somalia’s regional stature but would also foster deeper bonds of cooperation and shared prosperity among the East African nations. While this is a positive step towards regional integration and economic development, there are several reasons for pessimism about the potential success of Somalia’s membership in the EAC.

Somalia must also showcase a vibrant market economy that fosters regional trade and collaboration.

Somalia has faced significant challenges due to prolonged conflict and instability. The decades-long civil war, coupled with the persistent threat of terrorism, has had a devastating impact on the country’s infrastructure, economy, governance systems, and overall stability.

The following fundamental factors raise valid concerns about Somalia’s readiness to effectively participate in the EAC.

Infrastructure development

Infrastructure plays a critical role in regional integration and economic growth. However, Somalia’s infrastructure has been severely damaged and neglected due to years of conflict. The country lacks adequate transportation networks, reliable energy systems, and while communications infrastructure has improved, internet penetration rates remain low and mobile networks – which are crucial for seamless integration with the EAC – can be unavailable outside of urban centres. Rebuilding such infrastructure requires substantial investments, technical expertise, and stability, all of which remain significant challenges for Somalia.

Political stability and governance

The EAC places emphasis on good governance, democracy, and the rule of law as prerequisites for membership. Somalia’s journey towards political stability and effective governance has been arduous, with numerous setbacks and ongoing power struggles. The lack of a unified government, coupled with weak state institutions and a history of corruption, raises doubts about Somalia’s ability to meet the EAC’s standards. Without a stable and inclusive political environment, Somalia may struggle to effectively contribute to the decision-making processes within the regional bloc.

Economic development and trade

Somalia’s economy has been heavily dependent on the informal sector and faces substantial economic disparities. The country needs to demonstrate a vibrant market economy that fosters regional trade and collaboration, as required by the EAC. However, the challenges of rebuilding a war-torn economy, tackling high poverty rates, and addressing widespread unemployment hinder Somalia’s ability to fully participate in regional trade and reap the benefits of integration.

Security Concerns

Somalia continues to grapple with security challenges, including the presence of extremist groups and maritime piracy. These issues have not only hindered the country’s development but also pose potential risks to the stability and security of the entire EAC region. It is crucial for Somalia to address these security concerns comprehensively and to establish effective mechanisms to contribute to the EAC’s collective security efforts.

Economic Disparity and Compatibility

Somalia’s economy primarily relies on livestock, agriculture, and fishing, which may not align well with the more quasi-industralised economies of the other EAC member states. This mismatch could result in trade imbalances and pose challenges for integrating Somalia into the regional economy. For instance, according to the World Bank, Somalia’s GDP per capita was US$447 in 2021 whereas it is US$2081 for Kenya, US$1099 for Tanzania, and US$883 for Uganda. Furthermore, Somalia faces significant economic challenges, including capital flight that drains resources from the country, contributing to its status as a consumer-based economy.

This divergence in economic structures could lead to trade imbalances and impede the seamless integration of Somalia into the regional economy. The substantial economic gap between Somalia and other EAC member states suggests a significant disparity that may hinder Somalia’s ability to fully participate in the EAC’s economic activities. Additionally, Somalia has yet to demonstrate fiscal or economic discipline that would make it eligible for EAC membership. While Somalia has a functioning Central Bank and the US dollar remains the primary mode of financial transactions, the risk of integration lies with the other EAC members; cross-border trade would occur in an environment of instability, posing potential risks to the other member state.

Somalia faces significant economic challenges, including capital flight that drains resources from the country, contributing to its status as a consumer-based economy.

While these fundamental challenges remain, it is important to acknowledge the progress Somalia has made in recent years. This includes the gradual improvement in security conditions, the establishment of key governmental institutions, and the peaceful transfer of power. One can also argue that many of these fundamental economic, infrastructure, political instability, and security concerns exist across the East African Community. However, what makes Somalia unique is the scale of the challenges it faces today. Somalia has adopted a federal political structure, which has not worked well so far. This level of fragmentation and civil political distrust makes Somalia’s case unique. More than ever, Somalia needs meaningful political and social reconciliation before it can embark on a new regional journey.

The absence of an impact assessment by the relevant ministries in Somalia is alarming. Without this assessment, it becomes challenging to make informed decisions about the potential benefits of joining the EAC and the impact on our economy and society. Conducting this assessment should be a priority for Somalia’s ministries to ensure a comprehensive evaluation of the potential benefits and risks involved in EAC membership. Furthermore, President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud’s decision to pursue Somalia’s integration into the EAC lacks political legitimacy as a decision of this nature would normally require ratification through a popular vote and other legal means through parliament. The failure to achieve this could potentially allow another president in the future to unilaterally announce withdrawal from the EAC.

Fragile state of Affairs and internal disputes

The recent reopening of the Gatunda border post between Uganda and Rwanda after a three-year period of strained relations indicates a fragile state of affairs. The East African Court of Justice has ruled that Rwanda’s initial closure of the border was illegal, highlighting the contentious nature of inter-country disputes. Furthermore, Tanzania and Uganda have formally lodged complaints against Kenya, alleging unfair advantages in trade relations, and have even gone as far as threatening Kenya with export bans. These grievances underscore the underlying tensions and competition between member states, which could potentially hinder the harmonious functioning of the East African Community. These political and economic disagreements among member states increase the risks associated with Somalia’s membership. Somalia must carefully evaluate whether it is entering a united and cohesive bloc or one plagued by internal divisions. Joining the East African Community at this juncture carries the risk of being drawn into ongoing disputes and potentially being caught in the crossfire of inter-country rivalries.

Conflict in South Sudan

The prolonged conflict in South Sudan, which has been ongoing since its admission to the East African Community (EAC) in 2016, serves as a cautionary tale for Somalia. Despite the EAC’s efforts to mediate and foster peace in the region, the outcomes have been mixed, resulting in an unsustainable peace. This lack of success highlights the challenges faced by member states in resolving conflicts and maintaining stability within the community. Somalia must carefully evaluate whether its participation in the EAC will genuinely contribute to its stability, economic growth, and development, or if it risks exacerbating existing internal conflicts. Joining the community without a solid foundation of political stability, institutions, and peace could potentially divert resources and attention away from domestic issues, hindering Somalia’s progress towards resolving its own challenges. South Sudan’s admission to the EAC in 2016 was seen as a major step towards regional integration and stability. However, the country has been mired in conflict ever since, with two civil wars breaking out in 2013 and 2016. The EAC has been involved in mediation efforts, with mixed results.

Assessing Readiness

Somalia must evaluate the readiness of its institutions, infrastructure, and economy to effectively engage with the East African Community. Comprehensive preparations are crucial to ensure that joining the community is a well thought-out and strategic decision, rather than a hasty move that could further destabilise the nation. Somalia needs to assess whether its infrastructure, institutions, and economy are sufficiently developed to cope with the challenges and demands of integration. Premature membership could strain Somalia’s resources, impede its growth, and leave it at a disadvantage compared to more established member states.

Somalia must carefully evaluate whether it is entering a united and cohesive bloc or one plagued by internal divisions.

Somalia must ensure sustained progress in stability, infrastructure development, governance, and economic growth before considering full membership of the EAC. A phased approach that prioritises capacity building, institution-strengthening, and inclusive governance would enable Somalia to lay a solid foundation for successful integration and reap the maximum benefits from EAC membership in the long term. Failure to address these concerns would make Somalia vulnerable to exploitation and market monopolies by stronger economies, and could also risk a lack of seamless convergence for Somalia’s membership. While there is political will from EAC leaders to support Somalia’s membership, it is vitally important that they make the right decision for Somalia and the EAC bloc as a whole to ensure a successful integration. I believe that, at this juncture, the disadvantages of Somalia joining the EAC outweigh the benefits.

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Politics

2023 Marks 110 Years Since the Maasai Case 1913: Does it Still Matter?

It was a landmark case for its time, a first for East Africa and possibly for the continent. A group of Africans challenged a colonial power in a colonial court to appeal a major land grab and demand reparations. They lost on a technicality but the ripple effects of the Maasai Case continue to be felt.

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2023 Marks 110 Years Since the Maasai Case 1913: Does it Still Matter?
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In the name Parsaloi Ole Gilisho there lies an irony. It was spelled Legalishu by the colonial British. Say it out loud. He gave them a legal issue, all right. And a 110-year-old headache.

This extraordinary age-set spokesman (a traditional leader called ol-aiguenani, pl. il-aiguenak) led non-violent resistance to the British, in what was then British East Africa, that culminated in the Maasai Case 1913. Ole Gilisho was then a senior warrior, who was probably in his mid- to late thirties. In bringing the case before the High Court of British East Africa, he was not only challenging the British but also the Maasai elders who had signed away thousands of acres of community land via a 1904 Maasai Agreement or Treaty with the British. This and the 1911 Agreement – which effectively rendered the first void – are often wrongly called the Anglo-Maasai Agreements. In Ole Gilisho’s view, and those of his fellow plaintiffs, these elders had sold out. The suit accused them of having had no authority to make this decision on behalf of the community. This represented a very serious challenge by warriors to traditional authority, including that of the late laibon (prophet) Olonana, who had signed in 1904, and died in 1911.

The British had expected the Maasai to violently rebel in response to these issues and to colonial rule in general. But contrary to modern-day myths that the Maasai fought their colonisers, here they resisted peacefully via legal means. They hired British lawyers and took the British to their own cleaners. Spoiler: they lost, went to appeal, and lost again. But archival research reveals that the British government was so convinced it would eventually lose, if the Maasai appealed to the Privy Council in London (they didn’t), that officials began discussing how much compensation to pay.

The facts are these. The lawsuit was launched in 1912. There were four plaintiffs, Ole Gilisho and three fellow Purko (one of the 16 Maasai territorial sections) Maasai. In Civil Case No. 91 they claimed that the 1911 Maasai Agreement was not binding on them and other Laikipia Maasai, that the 1904 Agreement remained in force, and they contested the legality of the second move. They demanded the return of Laikipia, and £5,000 in damages for loss of livestock during the second move (explained below). Ole Gilisho was illiterate and had never been to school. But he and his fellow plaintiffs were assisted by sympathetic Europeans who were angered by the injustice they saw being perpetrated against a “tribe” that British administrators conceded had never given them any trouble. These sympathisers included people who worked for the colonial government, notably medical Dr Norman Leys and some district officials, lawyers, a few missionaries, the odd settler, and a wider group of left-wing MPs and anti-colonial agitators in Britain.

What had led up to this? After the 1904 Agreement, certain groups or sections of Maasai had been forcibly moved from their grazing grounds in the central Rift Valley around Naivasha into two reserves – one in Laikipia, the other in the south on the border with German East Africa. The British had pledged that this arrangement was permanent, that it would last “so long as the Maasai as a race shall exist”. But just seven years later, the British went back on their word and moved the “northern” Maasai again, forcing them at gunpoint to vacate Laikipia and move to the Southern Reserve. In all, it is estimated that the Maasai lost at least 50 per cent of their land, but that figure could be nearer 70 per cent. The ostensible reason for moving them was to “free up” land for white settlement – largely for British settlers but also for South Africans fleeing the Boer War (also called the South African War).

But just seven years later, the British went back on their word and moved the ‘northern’ Maasai again, forcing them at gunpoint to vacate Laikipia and move to the Southern Reserve.

By the time the case came to court, Ole Gilisho had become a defendant, even though he was in favour of the plaint. So were at least eight other defendants. He had signed the 1904 Agreement, and now stood accused with 17 other Maasai of having no authority to enter into such a contract. The first defendant was the Attorney General. Ole Gilisho’s son-in-law Murket Ole Nchoko, misspelled Ol le Njogo by the British, and described as a leading moran (il-murran or warrior) of the Purko section, was now the lead plaintiff. The plaint was called Ol le Njogo and others v. The Attorney General and others.

Challenges facing the plaintiffs

Most Maasai were illiterate in those days, and this obviously placed them at a major disadvantage. They could not write down their version of events. They were forced to rely, in their dealings with officials and their own lawyers, upon translators and semiliterate mediators whose reliability was questionable. But it is evident, from the archival record which includes verbatim accounts of meetings between Maasai leaders and British officials in the run-up to the moves and case, that the level of verbal discourse was highly sophisticated. This comes as no surprise; verbal debate is a cornerstone of Maasai society and customary justice. Unfortunately, that alone could not help them here. They knew they needed lawyers, and asked their friends for help. Leys, who was later sacked from the colonial service for his activism, admitted in a private letter: “I procured the best one in the country for them.” This was more than he ever admitted openly.

Local administrators used intimidation and all kinds of devious means to try and stop the case. (I didn’t come across any evidence that the Colonial Office in London sanctioned this; in fact, it ordered the Governor not to obstruct the main lawyer or his clients.) They allegedly threatened Ole Gilisho with flogging and deportation. They threatened and cross-questioned suspected European sympathisers, including Leys and the lawyers. They banned Maasai from selling cattle to raise the legal fees, and placed the Southern Reserve in continuous quarantine. It was hard for the plaintiffs, confined to a reserve, to meet their lawyers at all. At one point, lawyers were refused passes to enter the reserve, and their clients were prevented from leaving it.

We hear Ole Gilisho’s voice in the archival record. Forced to give a statement explaining his actions to officials at Enderit River on 21 June 1912, when asked if he had called Europeans to his boma, he replied: “Is it possible for a black man to call a white man?” He denied having called the Europeans (probably lawyers or go-betweens), saying they had come to him. Leys later explained to a friend that Ole Gilisho had probably been “terrified out of his wits”, and hadn’t meant what he said.

What happened in court

The case was thrown out when it first came before the High Court in Mombasa in May 1913. The Maasai appealed, and that is when the legal arguments were fully aired by both sides – lawyers for the Crown and the Maasai. The appeal was dismissed in December on the grounds that the plaintiffs’ claims were not cognisable in municipal courts. The two agreements were ruled not to be agreements but treaties, which were Acts of State. They could not, therefore, be challenged in a local court. It was impossible for the plaintiffs to seek to enforce the provisions of a treaty, said the judges – “The paramount chief himself could not bring such an action, still less can his people”. Claims for damages were also dismissed.

The Court of Appeal’s judgement centred on the status of a protectorate, in which the King was said to exercise powers granted to him under the Foreign Jurisdiction Act of 1890. Irrational as it sounds, the Crown claimed that British East Africa was not British territory, and the Maasai were not British subjects with any rights of access to British law, but “protected foreigners, who, in return for that protection, owe obedience” to the Crown. As Yash Pal Ghai and Patrick McAuslan later put it, when discussing the case in a 1970 book: “A British protected person is protected against everyone except the British.” On the plus side, the judges ruled that the Maasai still retained some “vestige” of sovereignty. (The Maasai’s lawyer argued that they did not.) This triggered later moves by Maasai politicians, in the 1960s, to float the idea of secession from Kenya and the possible creation of a sovereign Maasai state. John Keen had threatened this in 1962 at the second Lancaster House Conference in London, attended by a Maasai delegation.

Alexander Morrison, lawyer for the Maasai, argued that British rule and courts were established in the protectorate, which had not been the case 30 years earlier. The Maasai were not foreigners but equal to other British subjects in every way. The agreements were civil contracts, enforceable in the courts, and not unenforceable treaties. If one took the Crown’s claim about Acts of State to its logical conclusion, he argued, a squatter refusing to leave land reserved for the Maasai could only be removed by an Act of State. None of his arguments washed with the judges. (See my 2006 book Moving the Maasai for a fuller account.)

Morrison advised his clients to appeal. It seems they couldn’t raise the funds. However, oral testimony from elders reveals a different story: Ole Gilisho had planned to sail to England to appeal to the Privy Council, but he was threatened with drowning at sea. This is impossible to verify, but it rings true.

In an interview carried out on my behalf in 2008 by Michael Tiampati, my old friend John Keen had this to say about the outcome of the case: “If the hyena was the magistrate and the accused was a goat, you should probably know that the goat would not get any form of justice. So this is exactly how it was that the Maasai could not get any fair justice from British courts.”

Contemporary African resistance

Unbeknown to the Maasai, there was growing anti-colonial resistance in the same period in other parts of Africa. All these acts of resistance have inspired African activists in their continuing struggles. To mention a few: the Chilembwe rebellion in Nyasaland, now Malawi (1915); the Herero revolt in German South West Africa, now Namibia (1904–1908); resistance in present-day Kenya by Mekatilili wa Menza (largely 1913-14); the First Chimurenga or First War of Independence in what is now Zimbabwe (1896–1897); and the Maji Maji rebellion in German East Africa, now Tanzania (1905–1907). But none of these rebellions involved lawsuits. The closest precedent may have been R vs Earl of Crewe, Ex-parte Sekgoma in 1910. Chief Sekgoma, who had been jailed by the British in the Bechuanaland Protectorate (now Botswana) after many attempts to remove him as chief, instructed his lawyer to bring a writ of habeus corpus against the Secretary of State for the Colonies, Lord Crewe. He demanded to be tried in an English court, refusing an offer of release on condition that he agrees to live in a restricted area of the Transvaal. The suit was dismissed, the court ruling that the King had unfettered jurisdiction in a protectorate, and his right to detain Sekgoma was upheld. Sekgoma apparently said: “I would rather be killed than go to the Transvaal. I will not go because I have committed no crime – I wish to have my case tried before the courts in England or else be killed.” Freed in 1912, he died two years later.

Enduring myths

The case, and other key events in early twentieth century Maasai history, have given rise to several myths. They include the idea that the stolen land should “revert” to the Maasai after 100 years, but that was not stated in the 1904 Agreement, which was not limited in time, was not a land lease, and has not “expired” as many people claim. Neither agreement has. Keen knew this, but nonetheless called for the land to “revert”. Other myths include the idea that Olonana’s thumbprint was placed on the 1911 Agreement posthumously, and it must therefore be invalid. But neither his thumbprint nor name are on the document, which was “signed” by his son Seggi. Anyhow, Olonana was a key ally of the British, who had no reason to kill him (which is another myth).

The original of the 1904 Agreement has never been found, which has led some Maasai to believe that it never existed and therefore all the land must be restored and compensation paid for its use to date. There may be sound legal arguments for restorative justice, but this is not one of them. These myths are ahistorical and unhelpful, but may be understood as attempts to rationalise and make sense of what happened. Some activists may wish that the Maasai had resisted violently, rather than taken the legal route. Hence the insistence by some that there was a seamless history of armed resistance from the start of colonial rule. Not true. There are much better arguments to be made, by professional lawyers with an understanding of international treaty rights and aboriginal title, which could possibly produce results.

Ole Gilisho had planned to sail to England to appeal to the Privy Council, but he was threatened with drowning at sea.

Where does all this leave the Maasai today? Over the years, there has been much talk of revisiting the case and bringing a claim against Britain (or Kenya) for the return of land or reparations for its loss. None of this has resulted in concrete action. I attended a planning workshop in Nairobi in 2006 when plans were laid for a lawsuit. VIPs present included the late Ole Ntimama, scholar Ben Kantai and John Keen. Keen declared, with his customary flourish, that he would stump up a million shillings to get the ball rolling. I don’t know how much money was raised in total, but it disappeared into thin air. As did the lawyers.

Leading lawyers have advised that too much time has passed, and (unlike the successful Mau Mau veterans’ suit) there are no living witnesses who could give evidence in court. It is unclear whether the agreements still have any legal validity. The British government might argue, as it previously has, including in response to my questions, that it handed over all responsibility for its pre-1963 actions to the Kenyan government at independence. This is a ludicrous argument, which is also morally wrong. Former colonial powers such as Germany have accepted responsibility for historical injustices in their former colonies, notably Namibia. Has the time come for Ole Gilisho’s descendants to call a white man to court?

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