Last month, Beatrice Waruguru’s body arrived at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport from Saudi Arabia, almost a year after she was reported dead. Like many other young Kenyans seeking job opportunities in the Middle East, many of them women, her family says Waruguru left Kenya for Saudi Arabia in February 2021, and died under suspicious circumstances in December that year. The family maintains she was tortured. Waruguru worked as a househelp.
In 2010, Rose Adhiambo went to Beirut in search of a job at the age of 24, only to return home in a coffin six months later after being subjected to a catalogue of abuse by employers. Jane Njeri Kamau, 36, died under similarly harrowing circumstances in November 2014, also in Lebanon, where she had been employed as a househelp. Njeri fell ill while in police custody together with her friend, 22-year-old Margaret Nyakeru. Both had been detained after fleeing from their respective employers because of “ill-treatment”. They had been arrested in May of that year and held for five months. Nyakeru lived to tell the story.
The above cases suggest that the ill-treatment and abuse of Kenyan workers in the Gulf is not new. The problem does, however, appear to be have worsened with the COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing economic crisis.
While the US remains the largest source of overseas remittances into Kenya, accounting for 63.2 per cent, the Middle East has emerged as an important rival in recent times. According to Kenyan Wall Street, remittances from Asia in the twelve-month period leading up to February 2022 amounted to US$42.5 million, with Saudi Arabia being the largest source (US$19.2 million), followed by Qatar (US$7.1 million) and the United Arab Emirates (US$4.6 Million).
Speaking to the media, Sharon Kinyanjui, WorldRemit Director for Europe, Middle East, and Africa Receive Markets, explained that this development is a consequence of growing rates of migration from Kenya to the Middle East, itself a reflection of increasing rates of unemployment, compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic, back home. According to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics Economic Survey 2021, total employment outside small-scale agriculture and pastoral activities stood at 17.4 million in 2020, down from the 18.1 million recorded in 2019. In the same period, the survey finds, wage employment in the private sector declined by 10 per cent from 2.1 million jobs in 2019 to 1.9 million jobs in 2020, and “informal sector employment is estimated to have contracted to 14.5 million jobs”.
In July 2021, Labour Cabinet Secretary Simon Chelugui said that since January 2019, the ministry had facilitated the employment of over 87,784 Kenyans in the Middle East, the majority of them working in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, UAE and Bahrain. But these young Kenyans are taking risks because states such as Saudi Arabia have an extremely poor record with regard to the labour rights and working conditions of domestic workers. Reports of Kenyan domestic workers in Saudi Arabia suffering physical and sexual abuse, or dying under controversial circumstances have continued to appear in the press.
Stella Nafula Wekesa left Kenya in August 2021 to work as a househelp on a two-year contract. She died on 10 February 2022. A medical report from Saketa Hospital in Saudi Arabia indicates that Stella succumbed to cardiopulmonary arrest, but her family has said she died after her employer refused to take her to hospital, and alleges that she had suffered mistreatment under previous employers.
Appearing before the Labour and Social Welfare Committee in July 2021, Labour Cabinet Secretary Chelugui told members of parliament that 93 Kenyans have been killed while working in the Middle East in the last three years. Most were in Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the UAE. The Departmental Committee on Labour and Social Welfare also noted that 1,908 distress calls were reported between 2019 and 2021, with 883 being reported in 2019-2020 and 1,025 in 2020-21.
But these young Kenyans are taking risks because states such as Saudi Arabia have an extremely poor record with regard to the labour rights and working conditions of domestic workers.
Chelugui had been summoned to explain the circumstances that led to the death of Melvin Kang’ereha in Saudi Arabia in 2020. Kang’ereha was also domestic worker, a job she obtained through United Manpower Services, a recruitment agency. She was reportedly abused and mistreated by her employer and did not return home alive.
In its 2021 report Amnesty International said migrant workers continued to be vulnerable to abuse and exploitation under Saudi Arabia’s sponsorship system, with tens of thousands arbitrarily detained and subsequently deported. The situation is no better in Qatar, which has faced criticism of its human rights record in the build up to the 2022 World Cup. “In the decade since Qatar was awarded the right to host the World Cup, exploitation and abuse of these workers has been rampant, with workers exposed to forced labour, unpaid wages and excessive working hours,” reports Amnesty.
Lebanon, which is grappling with a deep economic crisis and growing poverty, is emerging as another problematic destination for Kenyan migrant domestic workers. The Middle East Eye and Al Jazeera, among other leading international media, have highlighted numerous cases that point to poor working conditions and abuse. As in the Gulf countries, many of the affected persons appear to be female domestic workers, underlining the gendered nature of the threats faced by Kenyan and other workers in the region: A report by the International Labour Office finds that when it comes to “women’s paid employment and treatment of migrants, the region is falling behind others”.
Why is labour migration to these countries so distinctly marked by exploitation, abuse and life-threatening conditions?
At the core of the problem is the notorious Kafala system, which the Council on Foreign Relations describes as a mode of sponsorship that gives private citizens and companies almost total control over migrant workers’ employment and immigration status. Institutionalized in most Arab Gulf countries and some neighbouring states like Lebanon, the Kafala system renders migrants vulnerable to the whims of employers who retain control over their legal residency and right to work. The consequences for women are particularly harsh. Those who manage to escape abusive work conditions do so without their passports, which remain in the custody of their tormentors. It becomes complicated for employment agencies to intervene as they would be in breach of contract.
Despite the structural nature of such victimization, a good deal more could be done by the sending countries to protect the growing number of migrants opting to work in the Middle East. It is revealing that working conditions and levels of harassment appear to vary considerably depending on the country of origin of the workers. According to the aforementioned ILO report, workers from the Philippines, for instance, receive higher pay. If on the one hand, such discrepancies are evidence of a racially segmented hierarchy of discrimination, they also reflect the extent to which individual governments are willing and/or able to guarantee the protection of their citizens abroad.
Critics of the Kenyan government point to its failure to offer meaningful consular assistance to victims of abuse. Consulates often do not arrange for flights back home and workers are often told to fundraise for the cost of their repatriation.
Mary Vimto, who went to Lebanon in 2014 through a broker who had no office, is now in her eighth year under the same employer. Mary’s experience has been good, but while she herself has not experienced harsh treatment, Mary tells me, “Kenyans are suffering in Lebanon”.
And does the consulate help?
“To say the truth, the consul told us he doesn’t have any connection with the Kenyan government, so he cannot help Kenyans easily,” says Mary, who uses social media to raise awareness about the difficulties faced by Kenyan women working in Lebanon. She goes on: “Because I do YouTube videos, I [learn about] problems from different ladies as the majority don’t get help from the consulate unless you pay some money. Assume you don’t have the money?” she asks.
Critics of the Kenyan government point to its failure to offer meaningful consular assistance to victims of abuse.
In a 14 January 2022 report, the Middle East Eye said that some 20 Kenyan women had camped for a week outside the Kenyan consulate in Beirut seeking repatriation. Most of the women were domestic workers some of whom had suffered physical and sexual abuse that had worsened with the economic crisis in Lebanon and the COVID-19 outbreak. The situation of these domestic workers is complicated because Kenya does not have an embassy in Beirut. But even if it did, there is little reason to believe that the situation would be any better than in Saudi Arabia where the Kenyan mission has been of little help to Kenyan domestic workers in that country, at least according to Kenyans working or who have worked there.
Asked whether the Kenyan consulate offered her any help, Vera, another Kenyan victim of abuse by employers in Lebanon, told the Elephant that it didn’t, and that at one point, the officer she spoke to told her she had to stay put. Vera called her mother and informed her about her situation but neither the agency in Nairobi nor the Ministry of Labour offered any help when Vera’s mother visited their offices.
The other key weakness of government policy is the lack of regulation to control the activities of brokers—individuals and groups operating recruitment agencies (some of which are unregistered) that profit from enlisting domestic workers on terms that amount to modern-day slavery. For instance, one of the women who camped outside the Kenyan consulate in Beirut told the Middle East Eye that she travelled to Lebanon in November 2021, having been promised a salary of US$300 by her agents. Upon arrival, her employers offered her half the amount agreed—US$150. She couldn’t accept the work as the money wasn’t enough to cater for her family back in Kenya, and became desperate to return home.
Rose Adhiambo, whose death in 2010 is mentioned above, had been connected to an employer by Interlead Limited, which describes itself as a trusted and accredited agent, “a pioneering Human Capital Management (HCM) Solutions Company that provides manpower sourcing services for organizations locally and across the globe. . .” Adhiambo’s employer subjected her to conditions akin to slavery. Her body was found on the first-floor balcony of a building in Beirut’s Sahel Alma neighbourhood. “She is said to have fallen to her death from the sixth floor of a building in a bungled bid to escape from a house where she worked as househelp,” The Standard reported in September 2010. Before attempting to flee, Adhiambo had called her family and informed them of her situation and her intention to escape.
The case of Vera, a returnee from the Gulf who was interviewed by The Elephant, is also illustrative. Vera went to Lebanon in August 2014 on a two-year contract, having deferred her education at Moi University in the first semester of her second year because she couldn’t afford to pay the fees. While at her home in Nairobi, she was approached by a woman who told her about opportunities to teach English in Lebanon. Abela Agencies, whose offices were at the time in Uganda House, Nairobi, arranged for Vera to travel to Lebanon. She was offered US$750; the contract was in Arabic.
Upon Vera’s arrival in Lebanon, she learnt she would instead be a domestic worker on a US$200 salary. “I was connected to a lady employer. The house was on the 16th floor in the Middle of Beirut. They have these big windows and flowers on the outside. I was okay with watering the flowers but my problem was cleaning windows from the outside. I couldn’t do that as it was risky,” the beginning of problems with her employer which culminated in her employer taking her back to the agency in Beirut. “I had not settled; I was not experienced as a housemaid. I couldn’t function well because what I got on the ground was not what I anticipated. I was also not well briefed,” Vera says.
Before attempting to flee, Adhiambo had called her family and informed them of her situation and her intention to escape.
Vera was employed by a second family for whom she worked for five months. She says that although they were not physically abusive, there were restrictions on what she could touch or eat, and she was only allowed to call home once or twice a month. When one of the sons in the family moved out, she was asked to work for his young family and the situation escalated; the wife would leave her locked up in the house and she was not allowed to operate the TV. “They would go eat out and leave me without food. They would then tell me there is milk powder and sugar and I can make tea for myself. She would bring bread on Monday and make me have it until the next week,” Vera says.
When the going got extremely tough, she demanded to return home. The response was harsh: “I paid a lot of money, I bought you and you have to work for at least seven months for me to recover my money,” Vera recalls. When Vera fell ill due to the cold, she was not taken to hospital.
In November 2021, Francis Atwoli, the Secretary General of the Central Organization of Trade Unions, termed the working conditions in the Middle East as slavery and called for the closure of agencies enlisting Kenyans to work in the Gulf. “As a government, we should take care of our people. We are tired of watching our children coming back in coffins,” Atwoli said. However, Atwoli’s seriousness on the matter has been questioned given his preoccupation with succession politics rather than with the welfare of workers.
The government has rejected calls to ban the export of labour, with CS Chelugui arguing, “It is only a small percentage of Kenyans who are suffering, while more than 100,000 Kenyans were under favourable conditions.” Given the growing macro-economic importance of remittances from countries such as Saudi Arabia, it seems unlikely that calls for a ban will be heeded anytime soon, a fact which underscores the importance of addressing the need for better protections at the policy level.
There have been attempts by parliament to address the Middle East problem. In November 2021, the Senate Labour and Social Welfare Committee presented a report to parliament in which it accused recruitment agencies of riding on the absence of formal agreements or memorandums of understanding between Kenya and other countries to manipulate desperate jobless Kenyans.
“And where they exist, the agreement falls short of taking care of the interests of the workers,” the report by the Senate Labour and Social Welfare Services committee reads in part. The committee also reported that recruitment agencies and employers were taking advantage of the lack of policy and a legal framework on labour migration to exploit Kenyans working in the Middle East.
“It is only a small percentage of Kenyans who are suffering, while more than 100,000 Kenyans were under favourable conditions”.
It further reported that Kenyans working as domestic workers do not receive consular assistance to protect their rights. “With the growing numbers of migrants to the Middle East, there is need to streamline key prerequisite processes for effective governance,” the report says. It recommended the immediate suspension of all labour migration of domestic workers to Saudi Arabia, where abuse and employment conditions akin to slavery are particularly rife.
When I asked him whether the government is doing enough to protect Kenyans in the Middle East, Senator Sakaja, chair of the Labour and Social Welfare Committee, told me it doesn’t and that, in fact, the government is squarely to blame for the problem. “First, the reason they go there is because there are no jobs here. There are more than 18,000 Kenyans in Saudi Arabia, the majority are domestic workers. But some have been successful,” he said.
Sakaja noted that most of those who have gone there through the Musaned system are okay. “In that system, you can check the house she is working in, the contacts and where the passport is,” he explained.
However, Sakaja spoke of the presence of rogue agents who run the business as human trafficking. “Because for every girl you send out, you are given almost US$1,500, it is as if they are putting potatoes in sacks. They don’t care. You should have insurance, their return ticket and be recognized by that [Musaned] system so that there is proper reporting,” he said, adding that all the agencies should be vetted afresh.
Sakaja argued that the Philippines has over 300,000 workers in Saudi Arabia but they don’t have cases of their people being killed or harassed because their government has set up a system to liaise with the government of Saudi Arabia. He also decried the shortage of personnel to handle consular issues. “We only have one labour officer called Juma. From Riyadh to Jeddah are thousands of kilometres. So, we said we must have more labour attachés and officers in Jeddah and Riyadh and safe houses in case of anything,” he said during the interview.
Sakaja also said that there are Kenyans languishing in deportation centres, and others who have been buried in cemeteries in Saudi Arabia. (Sakaja’s remarks in parliament are reported in the Hansard from page 23.)
Before resigning to join active politics, former Foreign Affairs Chief Administrative Secretary Ababu Namwamba said he was leading a review of the Diaspora Policy and, together with CS Chelugui, reviewing the bilateral legal instruments with all the Middle East countries “that are causing Kenyans a lot of trouble”.
A Labour Migration Management Bill was to be passed and a Migrant Workers Welfare Fund established following a government directive at the Cabinet level. The bill is still stuck in the National Assembly, while the fund is yet to be operationalized.
What is so difficult about establishing bilateral agreements, vetting agents and putting in place a system that works?
Interest groups are active in pretty much every sector in Kenya—individuals working in government or have influence in government who use their power for financial gain. If Haki Africa is to be believed, the migrant labour sector is no different. In a report published by the Daily Nation, the Mombassa-based national human rights organisation claimed one government official owned 10 labour recruitment agencies.
“I paid a lot of money, I bought you and you have to work for at least seven months for me to recover my money,”
So powerful are some recruitment agencies that they have reportedly bribed members of parliament to go slow on a clampdown, a claim corroborated by Senator Sakaja who went on to allege that some members of parliament and officials from the Ministry of Labour own the recruitment agencies. Cotu’s Atwoli is on record saying, “most of the recruitment agencies in the country are owned by senior people in government and operate with impunity”.
Needless to say, confirming such allegations is far from straightforward. It would nonetheless explain why, despite Sakaja’s report and former Nominated Senator Emma Mbura’s April 2015 petition in the Senate seeking better policies for Kenyan migrants in the Middle East, not much has been achieved.
Mbura, a human rights activist, had proposed that the government develop a framework that spells out the minimum entry-level salary, weekly and daily rest periods and signs a special employment contract with Saudi Arabia to protect Kenyan workers. The framework, she said, would also provide Kenyans with paid leave, non-withholding of passports and work permits, free communication and humane treatment.
Whatever the obstacles to reform, one thing is clear: a complete overhaul of the entire labour export industry is necessary because unless substantive reforms are undertaken, Kenyan migrant workers, particularly women, will continue to return to their families abused and mistreated. Unless we listen to those who live to share their tales, others will continue to arrive in body bags—a state of affairs no amount of foreign currency can justify.
This article is the first in a series on migration and displacement in and from Africa, co-produced by the Elephant and the Heinrich Boll Foundation’s African Migration Hub, which is housed at its new Horn of Africa Office in Nairobi.
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.
The Information Disorder Calls for Multidisciplinary Collaboration
The responses to the information disorder adopted in Kenya have been largely ineffective. Multidisciplinary stakeholders working collaboratively stand a higher chance of success and will result in a more informed audience that is less susceptible to mis- and disinformation.
The information disorder (i.e., mis- and disinformation) pervasive on social media has arguably interfered with democratic processes across the world. As public authorities and political actors continue to embrace social media as a broadcast and civic engagement tool, the potency of manipulated narratives online is further entrenched. This is debatably truer in electoral contexts where issues are perhaps more emotive and divisive. For example, in the run-up to Kenya’s general elections, a notable amount of mis- and disinformation on social media was observable. As Wambui Wamunyu and June Okal noted, doctored images of crowds during political rallies, mild deepfake videos, doctored photos, and fake accounts passing off as political actors or mainstream media were just some of the categories of mis- and disinformation observable on social media. These observations tie in with earlier research by Odanga Madung and Brian Obilo, highlighting the practice of using bloggers for disinformation campaigns. During the actual elections, the EU Election Observer Mission also observed “manufactured amplification and coordination of messages online by fake accounts and malicious, bot-driven activity in support of the presidential candidates”.
The impact of the information disorder on democracies has been extensively discussed and will not be the subject of this article. Instead, this article focuses on the diverse responses which have been mooted and implemented in Kenya by policy makers, media, civil society, and social media platforms in response to the information disorder. In particular, this article argues that these responses are largely ineffective when used in isolation and suggests that collectives comprised of a broad range of multidisciplinary stakeholders working collaboratively are likely to have a higher chance at success. One such collective, Fumbua, was established in the run-up to the 2022 general elections in Kenya, and this article argues that the frameworks for collaboration it established can be repurposed to address the information disorder in numerous contexts.
Contextualizing the information disorder on social media
The proliferation of mis- and disinformation on social media is made easier by the fact that such platforms, by nature, enable peer-to-peer engagement with little to no gatekeeping. While this characteristic has also meant that these platforms have served to create room for civic engagement and act as an equalizer, such civic engagement is often undermined by the harmful content that is prevalent. In recognition of the potential for harm their platforms pose to democratic processes, numerous social media platforms have adopted policies and tools specifically designed to address election-related mis-and disinformation. Comparatively, the content moderation tools applied in the Global South have arguably been scant. For example, in Brazil, the individuals tasked with enforcing Twitter’s policies during the presidential election only got access to the necessary internal tools a day prior to the election, and only in a limited capacity. Twitter allegedly utilized automatic enforcement technology and third-party service providers. According to numerous commentators, it is not uncommon for content moderation efforts in the Global South to be below par. From automatic enforcement tools trained on datasets lacking in local context, to human content moderators facing the same challenge, these platforms’ efforts to curb the information disorder are handicapped from the outset. These challenges are exacerbated in electoral contexts. Recent developments have shown that it sometimes takes third parties such as researchers or civil society pointing out harmful content for platforms to act.
It is generally agreed that mis-and disinformation was prevalent on social media during Kenya’s August 2022 general election. For example, the EU Election Observer Mission indicated in its report that it had identified hundreds of misleading Facebook and Twitter profiles. Platforms triggered their civic integrity policies a few weeks prior to the election and set up information centres and moderately labelled misleading content. However, these labels were not consistently applied and were in fact only deployed during the election tallying process. Stakeholders seemingly lacked a clear solution to address the information disorder on social media. The lack of sustainable and scalable solutions is not unique to Kenya and the region. It is certainly a global problem and a key step in the right direction is securing more transparency from platforms in relation to their enforcement processes as this will enable stakeholders to co-create solutions. However, in the interim, the information disorder can be addressed by effecting incremental and sustainable changes to how media is produced and consumed. One way to accomplish this is through multidisciplinary collectives such as Fumbua.
Addressing the information disorder
Fumbua is a collective of media and media-related organisations which came together in the run-up of the 2022 general election with a view to addressing the information disorder as it relates to political campaigning. The efforts to address the information disorder in Kenya’s 2022 general election can largely be categorized into actions taken in anticipation of the mis- and disinformation (pre-emptive measures) and actions taken in response to the information disorder (reactive measures). Fumbua brought together organisations involved in both areas, such as fact checkers, “pre-bunkers” and traditional media. Both these reactive and pre-emptive measures are discussed below.
The information disorder can be addressed by effecting incremental and sustainable changes to how media is produced and consumed.
Mis- and disinformation has reportedly featured in Kenyan elections since 2013. Consequently, with each passing cycle, stakeholders have been able to understand its nature and develop solutions which are alive to Kenya’s specific context. Unfortunately, due to the rapidly evolving nature of mis- and disinformation practices, the solutions developed have often been reactive in that they seek to get rid of such harmful content or undo its effects after the fact. For example, by criminalizing false content through the Computer Misuse and Cybercrimes Act, by fact checking such content, by using labels to warn audiences of the nature of the content, and by obtaining the takedown of such content from social media sites.
Fact checking has perhaps been the most prevalent or visible response to the information disorder. It essentially entails systematically breaking down the validity of claims made by public officials, institutions, and political actors with a view to identifying whether the claim is factual or not. In Kenya’s elections, various fact-checkers were active. These included independent media, the fact-checking desks of mainstream media, and collectives or associations. To name a few, Africa Check, Africa Uncensored, Pesa Check, Media Council of Kenya, Kenya Editors Guild and The Star were involved in fact-checking claims made during the Kenyan elections. While fact-checking has increasingly become common, it would be improper to conflate its growing prominence with its ability to address the information disorder, especially when empirical evidence on the subject is divided. In highly politicized environments, it is unlikely that being exposed to verification of claims will affect an audience’s world view. This is more so the case where the objectivity and impartiality of the fact-checkers are in question. Fact-checkers often must compete with an audience’s confirmation bias and their credibility is often questioned due to the conflict their narrative poses to the world view of some audiences. This is not made easier by the fact that fact-checking is a difficult, time-consuming, and labour-intensive process which cannot compete with the speed at which false information is spread through social media. Add in the fact that false information more easily captures attention due to its ability to trigger negative emotions and one can understand why the utility and efficacy of fact-checking is limited. Fact-checking claims made through social media have also been especially difficult in Kenya due to the minimal and often performative support given to fact-checkers by social media platforms.
For fact-checking to be effective, it must offer an alternative narrative to that which it is disputing. The challenge is that such a narrative must exist in the first place and must be capable of being accepted by an audience. Where such a narrative exists, there is a risk that it may come with “political baggage” and as such be difficult to accept. In such cases, the efficacy of fact-checking is limited, and this is essentially the challenge faced by fact-checkers – purveyors of false information are not bound by the same rules. Despite all this, fact-checking has been found to positively affect audience beliefs notwithstanding pre-existing beliefs and whether an alternative narrative was presented. However, these credentials are limited as the effects on belief are weak and gradually becoming negligible. Additionally, they do not always translate to downstream effects (i.e., changing of votes).
For a long time, stakeholders seeking to curb the information disorder have found themselves on the back-foot, always responding after the fact. By the time interventions such as fact-checks, social media takedowns, and flags are deployed, harmful content has likely taken root. With this in mind, some pre-emptive solutions have been contemplated and used by stakeholders. These are discussed below.
While fact-checking has increasingly become common, it would be improper to conflate its growing prominence with its ability to address the information disorder.
As discussed earlier in this article, fact-checkers often face the challenge of having to overcome an audience’s inherent biases and the political baggage accompanying the alternative narratives they seek to put forth. In seeking to overcome this reactionary approach, Stephan Lewandowsky and Sander van der Linden argue that it may be more effective to inoculate audiences against harmful content by priming their minds to anticipate it. This has come to be referred to as prebunking, and it essentially entails exposing audiences to watered down versions of false or misleading content with a view to highlighting the tactics used by purveyors of such content. Prebunking efforts recognize that the information disorder may not necessarily be solved by disseminating more accurate information given that harmful content is often consumed in highly politicized contexts. Instead, these efforts seek to redesign information architecture through behavioural interventions (i.e., changing how audiences consume information). In Kenya, Stop Reflect Verify was the first publicly documented election-related prebunking program. It offered a misinformation quiz focused on the Kenyan elections.
While prebunking seemingly promises to reduce the reactionary nature of stakeholder efforts, there is insufficient proof that skills learned in prebunking programmes are applied in practical situations. Counterfactual thinking may be a useful strategy to incorporate into prebunking efforts. Counterfactual thinking involves stimulating an audience’s mind to consider alternative facts and hypotheses when presented with information in a bid to logically deduce the likely truth. The lack of consensus on the utility and efficacy of prebunking as an alternative to fact-checking points to the need for the deployment of multiple interventions in a coordinated fashion, and this is where multidisciplinary collectives such as Fumbua come in.
Building in sustainability
Periodically, civil society, media practitioners, and the donor community focus their efforts on election-related programmes in a collaborative manner (for example the media’s collaboration during presidential debates). In most cases, the collaboration does not survive the post-election period. As a result, these election stakeholders have to start anew during each election. A considerable amount of time and resources are dedicated to establishing the frameworks for collaboration, taking away from the potential impact these programmes may have. With collectives such as Fumbua, stakeholders are able to repurpose the goodwill that fostered collaboration during elections to continue to address the information disorder in other contexts. By sustaining the collaboration, stakeholders would be able to leverage on incremental gains and make a more impactful change. In relation to the information disorder, they would be better able to move towards how media is generated and consumed. The effect of this would be a more informed audience that is less susceptible to mis- and disinformation.
The Next Emergency: Building Resilience through Fiscal Democracy
Crisis is the new constant and advocacy efforts should seek ways of growing public awareness through civic education.
Are East African countries ready to face the next crisis or are they simply keen to go back to how things were? What does a new normal mean when speaking about public finance management (PFM)?
In continuing the struggle for structural transformation, economic justice efforts must work towards developing a new citizen and preparing for unpredictable or unforeseen events, more so those with extreme socio-economic and political consequences.
This is because, besides known challenges posed by existing inequalities, the COVID-19 pandemic has pointed out how “unusual circumstances such as man-made disasters, natural catastrophes, disease outbreaks and warfare … depress the ability of citizens to engage in economic activity and pay taxes as well as that of governments [capacity] to collect revenue [or] provide services”.
Such circumstances therefore demand more inclusion of human rights-based approaches in economic justice efforts to champion greater fairness within existing financial architecture.
Disasters should, therefore, not obliterate human rights but should heighten the need to respect, protection, and fulfilment of obligations through prioritizing expenditure on service delivery, as well as all elements of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ESCRs) to “boost the capacity of residents to withstand shocks” by improving coping mechanisms.
Promotion of fair taxes among other broader economic justice initiatives within PFM should consequently adapt towards championing ESCRS within the context of more disruptive and unexpected incidents. Crisis is constant in the new normal.
Fiscal democracy and civil protection: Recovery, resilience, and transformation
Currently, conversations on recovery are focused on tackling reduced tax collection; slowed growth; depressed formal or informal productivity; exploding unemployment; diminished remittances; persistent poverty; decline in energy access; and escalating food insecurity.
This emphasis seeks to reverse the effects of various lockdown policies that placed restrictions on businesses, mobility, movement within and across international borders, [plus] public gatherings. However, it speaks mostly of a desire to return to pre-COVID levels of economic activity while vital systems in tackling the next crisis such as water, education, or health remain unaddressed.
Economic justice initiatives should therefore embrace fiscal democracy and civil protection as goals or appendages in achieving the structural transformation agenda. This will then speak to the resilience, and transformation needed to ensure PFM works for Africans in good times or bad.
Understanding fiscal democracy takes the form of better prioritization, response to problems, and improved sanctions for mistakes in the revenue cycle.
Advocacy for increased domestic opportunities, promotion of childhood development, enhanced socio-economic mobility, support for workers, motivation of local entrepreneurship, diversification of public infrastructure from mega projects, as well as increased innovation through subsidized research and development should be at the heart of economic justice efforts.
Economic justice initiatives should therefore embrace fiscal democracy and civil protection as goals or appendages in achieving the structural transformation agenda.
Civil protection gives a new framework of planning by envisioning contexts or processes in which a series of unfortunate events can emerge, thus providing adequate responses without breaking the social contract.
Transformation therefore occurs when both go hand in hand so that public facilities are not overstretched in the event of crisis. Hence, in looking at the impact of Covid-19, across the East Africa region, we must ask ourselves: How transformative are the current recovery efforts underway? Will they offer a new resilience?
The salvage job: Economic sustainability through reliefs, guarantees, subsidies, and funds
Responses have clearly been driven by the urgency to overcome the pandemic and the need to forestall outright disaster or collapse. The “short-term rescue mode” has seen efforts to ensure vaccine access and bolstering of public health systems.
On the economic front governments “Have sought debt relief, implemented corporate tax deferrals plus exemptions, made direct citizen transfers and interest rate adjustments. [They have also] implemented guarantees and subsidies, liquidity support and food relief … [with] examples of support for micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs). Cash transfers and other safety nets for poor and vulnerable populations are critical for an integrated … response. While not transformational, they are building blocks for a basic level of resilience to external shocks.”
The fact that these efforts are not transformational must motivate the infusion of a justice quotient in recovery efforts. This will enable a movement beyond an emergency-oriented recovery that recognizes existing modern challenges such as climate change, population growth, scarce resources, man-made or natural calamities.
In the case of tax justice, to make the linkages that will establish economic sustainability in East Africa, it is important to understand the effect of recovery efforts in relation to public debt; the tax burden on individuals or households; illicit financial flows; harmful tax practices; economic growth; and resource distribution.
Recognizing the prevalent debt crisis even before the pandemic struck is important in informing economic justice movements and their activities. Concerns were looming over the fact that 40 per cent of Sub-Saharan African countries were in or at high risk of debt distress. Between 2010 and 2018, public debt in East Africa grew rapidly as shown in Figure 1.
Figure 1 – National Debt to GDP Ratio
In this time, East African Community (EAC) governments failed to mobilize sufficient revenue despite an overall increase in taxes. The situation was therefore exacerbated by COVID-19, the consequence being that these countries are now stuck in a situation where they must tax more to bridge revenue gaps.
Basically this, first and foremost, creates a context of unfair tax policies in the region that burden their respective citizens, does not enhance service delivery, and is exclusionary in how debt repayment strategies are developed.
Lack of open debate about a country’s fiscal priorities within the existing PFM system neglects the needs of youth who constitute the majority of the population among other segments of society, curtails ideas on how to increase resources needed to provide for new economic opportunity(ies) and respond to the next emergency.
Recognizing the prevalent debt crisis even before the pandemic struck is important in informing economic justice movements and their activities.
Secondly, an environment or ecosystem of illicit financial flows (IFFs) that constitutes the formation of International Financial Centres (IFCs) in Kigali and Nairobi plus the signing of numerous Double Taxation Agreements (DTAs) continues to perpetuate itself thereby providing loopholes within the tax architecture that undermine efforts at domestic revenue mobilization (DRM) because the monies going out of countries are so massive, outweighing Overseas Development Assistance (ODA).
This is thanks to “Constitutionalism [among other legal questions] plus demands to implement new public finance management principles, growth in trade and services across countries in the region or with other countries across the globe, and discovery of natural resources requiring more inflows of foreign direct investments (FDI).”
On average IFFs accounts form 6.1 per cent of Sub-Saharan Africa’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) thereby impeding economic development and sustainability. For instance, since 2011, Kenya is estimated to lose KSh40 billion annually “as government, local firms and multinationals engage in fraudulent schemes to avoid tax payments”. As of 2021, The State of Tax Justice Report indicates this has grown to an estimated KSh69 billion annually at current exchange rates.
Third, growing account deficits and rising external debt are heavily limiting to economic growth. Increased spending on debt repayment is restricting prioritization on essential public goods and services while borrowing remains one of the key sources of budget financing.
In as much as Kenya cancelled its recent pursuit of another Eurobond, the about-turn towards borrowing domestically following a surge in yields within international markets because of the Russia-Ukraine war is still going to punish the country’s citizens by squeezing them out of access to credit.
Lastly, the debt burden is disempowering the citizen. Rising public debt may result in poor public participation in the management of fiscal policy, and weak structures for keeping governments accountable. This is further worsened by limited access to information on debt or public spending. Moreover, there is weak oversight by parliaments as executives take full control of processes.
Policy-making processes during cascading crises: Fiscal Consolidation, Special Drawing Rights, and Open Government
By understanding that crisis is constant, and that it is likely to manifest as confluence events — merging risks of mitigatable disaster(s) — or major confluence events, that is, the combination of potentially unmitigated risk(s) at any one point in time, how does policy making at such a time help to prepare for the emergency next time?
For example, what does Kenya’s fiscal consolidation programme — which comprises of reforms to improve oversight, monitoring, and governance of state-owned enterprises; improved transparency of fiscal reporting; and comprehensive information of public tenders awarded including beneficial ownership information of awarded entities — have to do with preparing for the next series of cascading crises?
Several emergency relief funds have been established to address the impact of COVID-19, such as the Rapid Credit Facility, the Catastrophe Containment and Relief Trust, and the Debt Service Suspension Initiative (DSSI).
However, these efforts are not likely to unlock the existing “trilemma” of solving the health plus economic crisis and meeting development targets while dealing with a tightening fiscal space. This is because they are stuck in the present circumstances with no consciousness of how much the challenge is likely to prevail into the future.
East African Community governments, in this time, failed to mobilize sufficient revenue, despite an overall increase in taxes.
Adopting fiscal democracy not only provides a new agenda determining organizing principles, but it has the potential for establishing a new citizenship through further entrenchment of human rights-based approaches in economic justice, and commitment to open government principles.
It will also anticipate and prevent the disaster capitalism witnessed during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many African countries seem to be in a constant state of crisis, thus allowing for IFFs through PFM malfeasance that locks corruption and fraud into procurement through bid rigging or collusion.
Principals of public participation, demands for accountability, championing non-discrimination, advocacy for empowering programing, and legitimacy through the rule of law should set standards on beneficial ownership while open contracting, open data for development, legislative openness, improving service delivery, access to information, and access to justice will help build resilience in government.
A call to civic education: Revenue rights and obligations
Somewhere along the way, capacity building and training programming took prominence over civic education. Advocacy efforts should look for ways to bring back more popular public awareness. Denial of resources for these kinds of activities has been a major blow for PFM advocacy among other activist efforts.
Civic education will re-establish links between individual claims to service delivery and assigned duties in the fulfilment of public demands. Citizens will be able to identify how the problem manifests and engage on the immediate, underlying or root causes of an issue.
Rising public debt may result in poor public participation in the management of fiscal policy, and weak structures for keeping governments accountable.
It will also allow them to establish the patterns of relationships which may result in the non-fulfilment of rights or absconding of obligations. This will enable them to assign appropriate responsibility by identifying the relevant authorities. It will keep an eye on resources through participating in decision making.
Governments and political leadership should therefore work to improve their communication capabilities in engaging the public so that once this new citizenry is involved, they can work together to achieve representative priorities for action.
This article is based on a presentation and comments made at the African Forum and Network on Debt and Development (AFRODAD), Eastern and Southern Africa Regional Debt Conference, Towards strengthening accountability and transparency around public debt management and the use of IMF Special Drawing Rights (SDRs) in Eastern and Southern Africa, 20–21 June 2022, Nairobi, Kenya.
‘They Cannot Represent Themselves, They Must Be Represented’
Beyond service delivery, refugee-led organizations are increasingly involved in advocacy yet the current set-up within the field of humanitarian governance continues to relegate them to the role of mere beneficiaries.
Ever since it appeared in the epigraph of Edward Said’s influential critique of Western “experts”, Orientalism, Marx’s dismissal of the French peasantry has come to stand for everything wrong with a certain type of condescending political crusade: elites speaking on behalf of groups viewed as incapable of articulating their own interests.
Commonly known in the humanitarian world as “saviourism”, this patronizing tendency is entrenched within the field of displacement governance, where highly placed individuals employed by donor agencies regularly devise policies on behalf of downtrodden communities whose circumstances are remote from their own.
The dramatic rise to prominence of RLOs (Refugee-led Organizations) presents an important challenge to the paternalism of this order.
Within a short space of time since 2018 when an historic summit in Geneva was convened by refugee leaders from across the world, demands for “a seat at the table” have been recognized at the highest level. In 2019, the UN invited RLO representatives to its own Global Refugee Forum. In 2020, Canada announced an advisory role for a former refugee to observe its international protection meetings; Germany and the USA have since followed suit, underlining the growing acknowledgement of the legitimacy and significance of refugee leadership.
On the surface, these developments would seem to suggest the RLO phenomenon is a rare example of successful “localization”—the transfer of resources and decision-making power to stake-holding communities.
Yet little is known about the regional trajectories of RLOs. This despite the fact that local (or “glocal”) actors in the Global South laid the foundations for the aforementioned developments on the world stage. Without data on the impact of RLOs in camps, settlements and cities where their most important work takes place, their contributions and the obstacles they face remain poorly understood.
Having worked for an international organization as a migration specialist in Kenya and visited Uganda, I’m struck by the vibrancy of RLO mobilization in both countries, as well as the persistent challenges they face. Their successes and their struggles reflect the specificities of displacement governance in East Africa and the surrounding regions—the Great Lakes and Horn of Africa. Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda each host some of the largest refugee populations in the world. Conditions and regulatory frameworks vary and are far from perfect for RLOs in these countries. For the most part, however, they shoulder their “burdens” without succumbing to the anti-immigrant xenophobia rife in more affluent nations. Presidents Museveni of Uganda and Kagame of Rwanda each have lived experience of exile, a fact that reflects a certain acceptance of displacement as a mundane reality rather than an alarming aberration.
This context has important implications for the political agency of refugees. For whilst their participation in public life remains limited and is at times curtailed, RLOs in this region are particularly dynamic and advanced. It is no coincidence that Ugandan RLOs, where refugees enjoy freedom of mobility and association, have played a leading role in the movement for refugee participation in Africa. Studies have identified between 20 and 30 such groups operating in Kampala, home to some 80,000 refugees. The precise number is difficult to ascertain given that RLOs vary in size and visibility.
Defined loosely as organizations established and led by refugees, RLOs include well-established NGOs with transnational networks, funding partnerships and global profiles such as HOCW (Hope of Children and Women Victims of Violence), whose capacious premises in Kampala are not so different from the national or indeed international NGO offices that I have visited in Asia and Africa.
It is no coincidence that Ugandan RLOs, where refugees enjoy freedom of mobility and association, have played a leading role in the movement for refugee participation in Africa.
At the other end of the spectrum, RLOs can be small, informal, community-based “self-help” groups that operate without donor funding or formal membership. Between these two poles are medium-sized operations that lack substantial funding but are registered and possess formal membership structures.
A recent study by refugee researchers, which identified 63 RLOs in Uganda and 138 in Kenya, claimed beneficiaries report positive experiences with RLOs because they treat them with greater dignity and understanding of their needs than larger humanitarian agencies. Service delivery is adapted to local conditions and as a result, targeted towards the needs of groups and individuals. It also tends to be less bound by bureaucratic rules, reaching the newly arrived who lack documentation—often the most vulnerable.
More than mere service-delivery, RLOs are increasingly engaged in advocacy. HOCW’s Congolese founder, John Bolingo Ntahira, contributed to the inaugural Global Refugee Summit in 2018, and remains on the Global Refugee Network’s steering committee, underlining East African RLOs’ pivotal role in driving the international movement for refugee representation in policy-making.
Together with a handful of other pioneering RLO leaders, Bolingo set up RELON (Refugee-Led Organizations Network) in 2017, a network headquartered in Kampala that has branched out into other African countries.
Expanding through international gatherings and leveraging connections in the African Union are high priorities for RELON, which is keen to develop a continental voice. It has campaigned successfully in host countries on issues such as refugees’ access to vaccines, travel documents, and the registration of SIM cards.
This penchant for building solidarities across borders and working at multiple scales of governance holds the key to the innovative potential of RLOs. As transnational actors with diasporic links and cosmopolitan sensibilities, refugee leaders I met are well-travelled, well-networked and inclined towards Pan-African solutions. Unlike many career diplomats who might claim the same, the continental coalitions they build are comprised of people with lived experience of the challenges faced in exile—individuals like Bolingo who shared a home with 70 compatriots in an old bus converted into a make-shift shelter in the early 2000s.
This penchant for building solidarities across borders and working at multiple scales of governance holds the key to the innovative potential of RLOs.
Who better to address the interests of displaced persons than men and women who have themselves experienced or witnessed mortal threats, precarious border-crossings and destitution first-hand, and who still dwell among refugee communities?
The UNHCR has taken various strides toward enabling meaningful RLO participation, such as issuing innovation awards to RLOs for their work during the pandemic and piloting small grants. More generally, the working relationship between RLOs and big players within the international humanitarian order expands daily with new initiatives documented on social media amidst smiles and handshakes. The former wish to project themselves as legitimate actors on the world stage, in close proximity to the latter, who in turn find it increasingly incumbent upon them to demonstrate awareness of the importance of RLOs.
Yet, beneath the surface of these exchanges lies a simmering tension. Several refugee leaders I interviewed made allegations of bad faith against powerbrokers in the humanitarian field, accusing them of condescension and placing obstacles in their path: actively undermining their access to funding and/or oppressively “micro-managing” them in exploitative unequal “partnerships”, and excluding and patronizing them at every turn.
“Our ‘big brothers’ don’t want to recognize us,” said a key figure in Kenya bitterly. He is convinced that those who currently control the purse strings “fear” losing privileged positions over organizations such as his own. Others who stopped short of explicit accusation made their sentiments known through body language: brows furrowed, jaws clenched at the mere mention of the behemothic agencies, donors and organizations that comprise the humanitarian establishment.
A 2020 article by Oxford researchers lifts the lid on the history of this encounter with sordid allegations against at least one UNHCR IP (Implementing Partner), InterAid, which stands accused of setting up a fake CBO (Refugee Now) run by its own staff to create false evidence of “community” engagement. If the truth of such matters is difficult to verify, their legacy of mistrust and grievance is clear.
At a conference on localization last March in Nairobi during NGO week, refugee leaders and their allies lamented the lack of structural transformation when it comes to funding flows and decision-making in the humanitarian field. Attendees and speakers included Jean Marie Ishimwe, founder of Youth Voices Community, a Kenyan RLO, and INGOs such as Trócaire, an Irish charity committed to localization.
Frustration that growing RLO visibility during the pandemic has failed to alter mind-sets and bottom lines when it comes to partnerships and budgets was palpable. RLOs complained of being instrumentalized or ignored altogether by most big donor agencies and their IPs. Too often, they said, “inclusion” takes the form of tokenism: invitations to participate in activities typically expect them to mobilize their communities for the realization of projects that have already been designed. Offers of “capacity-building”, meanwhile, rarely consider the pedagogical potential of RLOs, whose local knowledge and lived experience of displacement is often lacking among so many of their expat counterparts employed by international and national NGOs. They lamented the lack of multi-year funding for the development of their administrative capacity, a gap that leaves them unable to hire or retain qualified professionals that might boost their ability to attract funding independently, reinforcing their dependency on larger organizations.
Frustration that growing RLO visibility during the pandemic has failed to alter mind-sets and bottom lines when it comes to partnerships and budgets was palpable.
None of this will surprise observers of localization given the almost complete failure to implement the “Grand Bargain” of 2016, which promised to funnel a quarter of humanitarian funds directly to national and local actors within the field of humanitarian governance but delivered a mere 0.5 per cent of tracked funding in 2019.
The hesitancy of large donors to fund RLOs stems at least in part from genuine constraints. RLOs, they say (in private), can be too small and unprofessional to manage and effectively spend large grants that require complex financial auditing. A related concern is the perception that RLOs are unstable given the changing personal trajectories of staff and/or founders, whose individual asylum and resettlement claims can mean suspending operations mid-way through funding cycles. Then there is concern about the potentially distortive impact of funding RLOs, whose ethnic, religious and/or national affiliations arguably make them unsuitable for serving broader, diverse refugee publics.
My own inquiries confirmed what researchers have already documented: that none of these charges should be dismissed, because each contains a grain of truth.
Most RLOs do begin as CBOs catering for specific ethnic and national groupings; oftentimes they possess limited administrative capacity. Those that do manage to grow in size and ambition do indeed tend to be headed by well-educated men. Moreover, it is not unknown for the personnel of RLOs to be resettled in the course of funding cycles. I also heard several references to “founder’s syndrome”, a psychological disorder among some egoistic individuals who struggle to detach their personal interests from those of the organization they have established.
In view of such challenges, some of the most enthusiastic supporters of refugee leadership are seeking to bridge the gap between RLOs and the powerbrokers that perpetuate their exclusion constructively.
COHERE, an INGO with offices in Kampala and Nairobi, has thrown its full weight behind putting refugee-led organizations “in the driving seat”. It does this through training and advice to RLOs on how to attract funds, how to implement and document project work effectively, and how to plan strategically in the longer term. If in its advocacy COHERE counters prejudice among RLO-sceptics, much of its daily work addresses donors’ concerns through corrective measures that acknowledge the need for work on all sides.
Some of the most enthusiastic supporters of refugee leadership are seeking to bridge the gap between RLOs and the powerbrokers that perpetuate their exclusion constructively.
Herein lies the difference between COHERE and reactionary big players dragging their feet on localization: Where the latter use RLOs’ weaknesses as justification to prolong a status quo in which the former can only ever be “beneficiaries”, tokens and symbols in projects they design themselves, the former view them as obstacles that can and must be removed to create a more level playing field.
A glimpse at COHERE’s network provides strong evidence of RLOs’ ability to grow and develop in ways critics seem reluctant to acknowledge. In Kampala, I visited Bondeko Refugee Livelihoods Centre, founded by a Congolese priest now resettled in Canada. Far from parochial, its young staff and membership was diverse in terms of gender and ethnicity: many of those it supports are from Burundi and Rwanda, and like many refugee businesses in Kampala, it even provides employment for Ugandan citizens. The founder’s resettlement seems not have had adverse consequences.
As an expat employed by an international organization engaged in advocacy, refugee leaders’ critiques of the humanitarian sector’s paternalism can feel close to the bone. When they fume against the condescension of do-gooders who represent their interests without walking in their shoes, are they talking about me?
None of the refugee leaders I interviewed for this article said so (explicitly), and it would be easy enough to join them in pointing fingers elsewhere. More challenging than “speaking the truth to power”, however, is speaking it to oneself: to admit that the entrenched privilege they seek to dismantle includes my own.
To the legions of foreign “experts” whose postings in the Global South involve analysing, shaping or influencing policies that do not directly affect us, RLOs pose questions we should be asking ourselves everyday about our long-term presence and role in the Global South. Above all: What are we doing to devolve power and resources to present and future generations of stakeholders?
Signatories of the Charter 4 Change such as COHERE and Trócaire have committed to channelling a quarter of humanitarian funding directly to national and/or local NGOs. But many larger bureaucratized entities with decades of heritage and established identities have shown little urgency in adapting to a world in which refugees are partners rather than beneficiaries. Despite many words and some (limited) deeds, commitment to structural reform remains unproven and there is scant evidence of the soul-searching that should be taking place.
For African NGOs, a different kind of self-reflection may be required. Although “local” in terms of registration, these tend to be staffed by highly educated professionals hailing from host country elites, among whom lived experience of exile is rare. It is easier for them to attract donor funding than RLOs, which can cause resentment and rivalry. One refugee leader I interviewed seethed as he recounted rebuffing an invitation from a national NGO to participate in a project as a beneficiary: “We’ll get our own funding to work on this issue,” he scoffed, insisting he could have implemented the same project more effectively.
Devota Nuwe, acting Co-Director of The Refugee Law Project, a highly respected national NGO based in Kampala, has occasionally found herself on the receiving end of such sentiments in the course of her career as a displacement specialist. The kinds of remarks directed at her and her colleagues by individual refugee leaders aggrieved at salaried professionals whose job it is to support them suggest a frankness rarely directed against INGO workers. (“Those clothes you’re wearing, it’s because of us!”).
What such sentiment fails to acknowledge is that there are contexts in which refugees cannot easily represent themselves—in which they must be represented by non-refugees. Defending or appealing on their behalf in courts of law, for example, is specialized work that requires qualified professionals acquainted with the host country’s legal system and political context.
Perhaps this explains Nuwe’s relaxed attitude towards the rise of RLOs, whom she and her colleagues have welcomed into their industry, despite the occasional criticism that comes their way. “There’s room for all of us,” she chuckles, when I ask her if she ever gets anxious about the prospect of a competitive threat from individuals who openly tell her they should be in her place.
In truth, national NGOs that enjoy the trust of their stakeholders have nothing to fear from the rise of RLOs. The same can be said of INGOs already cooperating in partnerships with RLOs, in which each plays a distinct but complementary role to achieve common objectives.
In truth, national NGOs that enjoy the trust of their stakeholders have nothing to fear from the rise of RLOs.
Indeed, there is something to be said for UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s oft-cited commitment to making humanitarian action “as local as possible, as international as necessary”. The trouble with the current setup is that it under-utilizes the potential of refugees, and is far more international than it needs to be. In the words of John Bolingo Ntahira: “No one understands refugees’ problems better than we do”. Those of us who profess expertise on displacement would do well to acknowledge this basic fact and its transformative potential.
This article is part of a series on migration and displacement in and from Africa, co-produced by the Elephant and the Heinrich Boll Foundation’s African Migration Hub, which is housed at its new Horn of Africa Office in Nairobi.
Op-Eds2 weeks ago
Confidence in Public Institutions Is at an All-time Low
Op-Eds1 week ago
Education in Rwanda: A Long Walk to the Knowledge Economy
Politics1 week ago
Southern Cameroon: War and No Peace
Op-Eds1 week ago
We Must Democratize the Economy
Politics5 days ago
‘They Cannot Represent Themselves, They Must Be Represented’
Op-Eds1 week ago
No Imperialist Peoples, Only Imperialist States
Politics2 days ago
The Information Disorder Calls for Multidisciplinary Collaboration
Politics2 days ago
The Next Emergency: Building Resilience through Fiscal Democracy