Kenyans have known for some time that the 2022 presidential election would be a two-horse race between Deputy President William Ruto and President Kenyatta’s favoured successor and long-time opposition leader, Raila Odinga. What some might not have anticipated is that with just a few weeks to go till the 9 August polls, the election remains too close to call. So how did we get here, and what will determine who emerges victorious to take up their position in State House?
Barring any last minute shocks, the outcome will depend on three main questions. First, how successful will Ruto’s Kenya Kwanza and Odinga’s Azimio La Umoja prove to be in winning over the undecideds and potential swing voters, and at maximising the turnout of their supporters? Second, can George Wajackoyah, a surprise third candidate, succeed in getting enough votes to prevent either Ruto or Odinga from securing 50% + 1 of the vote in the first round, pushing the election to a run-off? Third, how even will the playing field prove to be?
Taking each of these points in turn suggests that this election is more uncertain than any since 2007 and that any outcome remains possible.
The presidential race
Ruto entered the campaign period with a healthy lead over Odinga in a number of opinion polls, but that has now evaporated. Almost every month, Odinga and his Azimio La Umoja alliance – whose campaigns have been invigorated in recent months by the selection of Martha Karua as Odinga’s running mate, the addition of new alliance members, and a more active meeting schedule – have added a significant proportion of votes to their tally. On the whole, Odinga appears to have done this, not by making inroads into Ruto’s support base, but by winning over some of the formerly “undecided” and “refuse to answer”. Thus, while 38 per cent of respondents said that they would vote for Ruto and 27 per cent for Odinga in TIFA’s February 2022 opinion poll, by the end of June 2022 this had shifted to 39 per cent saying that they would vote for Ruto and 42 per cent for Odinga. Over the same period, the proportion of “undecided” and “no response” fell from 20 per cent and 11 per cent respectively in February to 10 per cent and 5 per cent in June.
Ruto entered the campaign period with a healthy lead over Odinga in a number of opinion polls, but that has now evaporated.
Opinion polls always have some room for error – not all who say that they will vote are registered to, or will vote, and it is possible that some people change their mind at the last minute. Given Odinga’s marginal lead, this means that the election is too close to call. In such a situation, small things can make all the difference. So what might determine how the elections play out on August 9?
Getting the vote out
With everything to play for, Kenya Kwanza and Azimio La Umoja are focused winning over any remaining undecided voters and maximising turn out in their areas. In order to understand how they are doing this, it is important to recognize that there is not so much one national campaign as a number of sub-national battles taking place in the country’s former regions, each of which is shaped by local dynamics. In other words, while the state of the economy and the credibility of the candidates is significant everywhere, the balance of power, and the nature of the contest, is different in every area.
In terms of strongholds, while Odinga is dominating his home area of Nyanza, and Ruto has a lead in his Rift Valley backyard, the rest of the country will likely split their vote. While the majority of citizens in Nairobi, North Eastern and at the Coast appear to be backing Odinga, competition remains fierce in both areas. Similarly, while Ruto retains a lead in Central Kenya, the vote in Eastern is divided between the two candidates, and both alliances know that they can secure significant votes in all of these areas.
The difference this makes in the strategies candidates use is profound. Confident of victory in their homelands, Odinga and Ruto are relying on existing structures to mobilise a high turnout in these areas, and devoting more of their attention to key battlegrounds. This is demonstrated by the furious campaigning in Central Kenya. One of the most populous and economically influential regions, and home to the Kikuyu community of President Uhuru Kenyatta, Central is the region that appears to have been the most visited.
Despite Kenyatta backing Odinga, Ruto appears to have maintained the lead that he has held in the region for many months. His success reflects a combination of popular frustrations at the country’s current economic challenges and long-term planning, including sponsoring allied leaders in the region in the 2017 elections to build a strong base independent of Kenyatta’s influence.
Odinga’s failure to win over Central after many years in which the region’s leaders demonised the former opposition leader as a destabilising force is perhaps the biggest weakness of his campaign. Had Odinga secured a dominant position in Central, it would have been extremely difficult for Ruto to build a large enough support base to be a serious contender for the presidency. Much will now depend on whether Odinga, with Kenyatta and Karua’s backing, can eat into Ruto’s support base in Central, or whether continued economic difficulties will rally voters to Kenya Kwanza’s call for change.
The second most visited region appears to be Western, which along with North Eastern Kenya, is split fairly evenly between the two candidates. Thus, while both favour Odinga, the gap appears to be under 10% per cent. Western’s relatively large population, and the fact that Odinga has historically polled well here, while Ruto has co-opted prominent Western leaders in Musalia Muvadi and Moses Wetangula, means that the campaign is likely to be fierce right up to polling day.
Despite Kenyatta backing Odinga, Ruto appears to have maintained the lead that he has held in the region for many months.
Much will depend on which party has built the most effective infrastructure for getting the vote out. It is one thing to attract support in an opinion poll and another to get those people to the polls. While it is normally safe to assume that the ruling party has an advantage in this regard, given greater access to resources and state equipment, the situation is complicated in 2022 by two factors. First, there is no real “opposition candidate”, with Ruto, the “outsider”, having been Deputy President since 2013. Second, the effective mechanisms of political mobilization developed in traditionally “ruling party” areas such as Central Kenya may not benefit Odinga, even though he has the support of Kenyatta, because a majority of voters there are not planning to back Azimio.
What this suggests is that the election could remain extremely close right up until polling day, increasing the prospects for other factors to influence the outcome.
Will Wajackoyah spoil the party?
The presidential election has clearly been complicated by the late entry of George Wajackoyah, a 61-year old university professor. Minor candidates tend to struggle for media coverage and public attention. However, Wajackoyah’s manifesto, which calls for the legalisation of marijuana, the prioritisation of snake farming, the (clearly illegal) suspension of parts of the constitution, and (worryingly xenophobic) promise to “deport idle foreigners”, and his populist and unconventional style, have earned him significant media attention and captured the imagination of a significant number of Kenyans (mainly disgruntled young people in urban areas).
Wajackoyah – who polled 4 per cent of the popular presidential vote in TIFA’s June poll – has no chance of winning the election. His support base may also be exaggerated. Many of the young people to whom he is appealing may not even be registered to vote, and some who say that they will vote for him may decide not to “waste” their vote on a third candidate when they get to a polling station. Nevertheless, Wajackoyah – who is currently gaining ground – may seriously upset the election if, with say just 2 to 5 per cent of the vote, he prevents either of the main candidates from securing an absolute majority in the first round.
Wajackoyah has said that “a victory for either” Odinga or him would “be a win”, but it is unclear whether he would be able to direct his largely anti-establishment support base to swing behind Odinga in a second round. The current political uncertainty may therefore last for longer than many are expecting: Kenya has never before experienced a presidential run-off.
How “free and fair” will the election be?
The closeness of the race also means that the evenness of the playing field – from media coverage to the free and fairness of the election itself – will prove critical. This will place even greater pressure on the Independent and Electoral Boundaries Commission (IEBC) – at a time when the national press has cast doubt on whether this body is ready to manage these complex elections. In the run-up to the 2022 polls, there have been questions raised both about the IEBC’s handling of the thorny question of whether leaders accused of corruption and criminality should be allowed to run, and about important decisions about how the elections will be run. In particular, the IEBC’s decision to only produce an electronic voters register – with no “manual” copy – and not to have a “live” tally of overall results available online for all to see during the counting process, has led to controversy.
Public concern has been amplified by a damaging war of words with the Director of Criminal Investigations that – puzzlingly – has been escalated by the IEBC itself. Following the arrest of Venezuelan nationals at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, apparently on the basis that they were carrying election materials in an unconventional manner, had out-of-date passports, and were not met by IEBC officials, Chebukati released a statement highly critical of the police, alleging that they were harassing IEBC contractors working for Smartmatic, a multinational elections company helping the IEBC to manage election technology. This triggered an ongoing public spat that has seen the DCI raise serious questions about IEBC protocols and credibility, accusing the “the elections agency of misrepresenting facts, lying and laxity in the management of this year’s General Election”.
Such public spats are particularly unfortunate given that the IEBC was already struggling with a significant credibility challenge due to the fact that its chair, Wafula Chebukati, presided over the 2017 general election that was nullified by the Supreme Court. The IEBC also faces the challenging task of running high-tech elections across the country for six elective posts – President, Senator, Governor, Women Representative, Member of Parliament, and Member of County Assembly – on a single day. In a close contest, any logistical issues, intentional or not, could quickly be interpreted as manipulation by a mistrustful electorate.
The current political uncertainty may therefore last for longer than many are expecting: Kenya has never before experienced a presidential run-off.
These concerns mean that the ability of both coalitions to protect the vote by deploying party agents comprehensively across the country will be particularly important. Here, too, there will be a difference with previous elections. When one coalition or another was dominant in most of the country’s regions, it was very hard for the less popular coalition to post party agents. They would often be intimidated or quietly co-opted by the much larger coalition in that area. In 2022, there are far fewer “one-party zones”, with both Kenya Kwanza and Azimio competitive, if not winning, across much of the country. This means that it will be more feasible to deploy party agents consistently across the country. That should mean that malpractice is less likely, although it might also mean that – if there are attempts to rig the ballot – we see more explicit and blatant evidence of this than in the past.
It also seems clear that the closeness of the election and the fact that both candidates have been ahead in the opinion polls at some point, means that both Ruto and Odinga are confident they will win. Given that they have already also raised concerns about the performance of the IEBC, and in Ruto’s case the “deep state”, this means they are likely to dispute the outcome if they lose by a small margin – especially if there are logistical problems. In turn, this will make it harder to persuade all Kenyans that the electoral process was free and fair – even if it was – which in turn will have implications for the legitimacy of the resulting government.
Close elections, it turns out, create particular headaches for everyone involved. Only by watching how these three issues develop can we understand how they are likely to play out.
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Being Black in Argentina
What does Javier Milei’s presidential victory mean for Argentina’s black and indigenous minorities?
On November 19, Javier Milei secured the presidency of the Republic of Argentina with 56% of the vote. However, his victory is expected to significantly impact a specific segment of the country.
During my six-month exchange in Argentina’s Venado Tuerto (pop. 75,000) in 2016, I encountered someone of shared Black ethnicity on the street only once. A person whom many locals incidentally mistook for me—along with a Cuban Black girl, the only black person like me in the whole high school. As insignificant as a census of this small city’s population may seem, it effectively illustrates a sobering reality: the presence of Black people in Argentina is sparse, and their numbers have dwindled over time.
“Hay más por otros lados, acá no llegaron” (There are more of them elsewhere, they have not arrived here) is a rhetoric prevalent among many Argentines, but the reality is quite dissimilar. Contacts between Argentina and Black people, particularly of African descent, date back to the 16th century transatlantic slave trade, when West and Central Africa people were brought by Spanish and Portuguese settlers to the coastal city of Buenos Aires, only to be sold and moved mostly within the Río de la Plata, present-day Argentina and Uruguay. In “Hiding in Plain Sight, Black Women, the Law, and the Making of a White Argentine Republic,” Erika Denise Edwards reports that between 1587 and 1640 approximately 45,000 African slaves disembarked in Buenos Aires. By the end of the 18th century, one-third of Argentina’s population was Black.
What, then, became of the Black African population in Argentina? Some attribute their decline to historical factors such as their active involvement in conflicts including the War of Independence against Spanish colonists (1810-1819) and the war with Paraguay (1865-1870), in which Black men often found themselves on the front lines, enduring the brunt of the attacks, or even choosing to desert and flee the country. These factors intersect with a gradual process of miscegenation and interracial mixing, leading to a progressive whitening of the population—both in terms of physical attributes and ideology.
Adding to this complex mix, political rhetoric comes into play. Influential Argentine leaders, such as Domingo Faustino Sarmiento in the 19th century, idealized white Europe not only as a model for overcoming the country’s socio-economic challenges but also as a narrative that implied the absence of Black people in Argentina, thereby erasing an integral part of the nation’s history.
Doing so has shrewdly allowed a country to avoid reckoning with its past of slavery and navigate the complexities of its presence, using the escamotage that there are no race-related issues in the country because there are no Black people. This assertion is incorrect for several reasons beyond those mentioned above. First, despite being imperceptible to the naked eye, there is a small but existing population of Afro-descendants in Argentina. Nevertheless, in my second stay in Argentina, this time in Buenos Aires, it became more apparent to me how a certain nationalistic current, in the footsteps of Sarmiento, proudly makes itself of this consistent lack of Black heritage. Comparing itself favorably to neighboring countries, this current boasts a notion of white supremacy in Argentina, which celebrates the Italian immigration from the 19th and 20th centuries as the foundation of national identity, while largely overlooking the historical legacy of African bodies that predates it.
As a result, even in a cosmopolitan capital city such as Buenos Aires, a significant portion of the white Argentine population based its identity on my opposite—not knowing that as an Afro-Italian, my Italian citizenship actually made them closer to my blackness and African roots than they wanted. Asserting that there are no racial concerns in Argentina is misleading. It amounts to the invisibilization of racial discrimination in a country where those who deviate from the preferred prototype, including Indigenous communities such as Mapuche, Quechua, Wichi, and Guarani, experience limited access to education and social services, and are disproportionately prone to experience poverty than their white counterparts.
Even within everyday discourse in Argentina, the assertion is refuted: many are labeled Black despite not matching the physical appearance associated with the term. The expression “es un negro” might refer to everyone who has darker skin tones, grouping them into a specific social category. However, beyond a mere description of physical attributes, “es un negro” delineates a person situated at various margins and lower rungs of society, whether for economic or social reasons. The appellation is also ordinarily used in jest as a nickname for a person who, of “black phenotype,” has nothing. The label “morocho” seems to be the most appropriate appellation for dark-skinned people in the country.
Argentine white supremacist identity is often matched by a certain right-wing political ideology that is classist, macho and, to make no bones about it, xenophobic. In the 2023 elections, such a systemic structure takes on the face of Javier Milei. The Argentine’s Donald Trump claimed in 2022 at the presentation of his book that he did not want to apologize for “being a white, blonde [questionable element], blue-eyed man.” With false modesty, the demagogue took on the burden of what it means in the country to have his hallmarks: privilege, status, and power.
Milei’s need for apologies should not revolve around his connotations but rather the proposals presented during his election campaign and outlined in his political program, which include the dollarization of pesos and the removal of government subsidies. Besides assessing if these actions would really benefit the vulnerable economy of the country, it’s worth questioning why it’s the middle-class, often white population that stands to suffer the least from such policies. They can afford to transact in dollars, weather an initial depreciation of their income, and provide for their children’s education without relying on government subsidies. In essence, they can do without the limited benefits offered by the Argentine state, given their already privileged positions.
The election of this politician not only adversely affects Black minorities, but also targets apparent minorities whom this divisive ideology seeks to erase, including Indigenous populations and the poorest segment of society—the current Argentinian “blacks”—who significantly enrich the Argentine populace. In such a scenario, one can only hope that the world will strive for a more consistent record of their existence.
Risks and Opportunities of Admitting Somalia Into the EAC
The process of integrating Somalia into the EAC should be undertaken with long-term success in mind rather than in the light of the situation currently prevailing in the country.
The East African Community (EAC), whose goal is to achieve economic and political federation, brings together three former British colonies – Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania – and newer members Rwanda, Burundi, South Sudan, and most recently the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Somalia first applied to join the EAC in 2012 but with fighting still ongoing on the outskirts of Mogadishu, joining the bloc was impossible at the time. Eleven years later, joining the bloc would consolidate the significant progress in governance and security and, therefore, Somalia should be admitted into the EAC without undue delay. This is for several reasons.
First, Somalia’s admission would be built on an existing foundation of goodwill that the current leadership of Somalia and EAC partner states have enjoyed in the recent past. It is on the basis of this friendship that EAC states continue to play host to Somali nationals who have been forced to leave their country due to the insecurity resulting from the prolonged conflict. In addition, not only does Somalia share a border with Kenya, but it also has strong historical, linguistic, economic and socio-cultural links with all the other EAC partner states in one way or another.
Dr Hassan Khannenje of the Horn Institute for Strategic Studies said: ”Somalia is a natural member of the EAC and should have been part of it long ago.”
A scrutiny of all the EAC member states will show that there is a thriving entrepreneurial Somali diaspora population in all their economies. If indeed the EAC is keen to realise its idea of the bloc being a people-centred community as opposed to being a club of elites, then a look at the spread of Somali diaspora investment in the region would be a start. With an immense entrepreneurial diaspora, Somalia’s admission will increase trading opportunities in the region.
Second, Somalia’s 3,000 km of coastline (the longest in Africa) will give the partner states access to the Indian Ocean corridor to the Gulf of Aden. The governments of the EAC partner states consider the Indian Ocean to be a key strategic and economic theatre for their regional economic interests. Therefore, a secure and stable Somali coastline is central to the region’s maritime trade opportunities.
Despite possessing such a vast maritime resource, the continued insecurity in Somalia has limited the benefits that could accrue from it. The problem of piracy is one example that shows that continued lawlessness along the Somali coast presents a huge risk for all the states that rely on it in the region.
The importance of the maritime domain and the Indian Ocean has seen Kenya and Somalia square it out at the International Court of Justice over a maritime border dispute.
Omar Mahmood of the International Crisis Group said that ”Somalia joining the EAC then might present an opportunity to discuss deeper cooperation frameworks within the bloc, including around the Kenya-Somalia maritime dispute. The environment was not as conducive to collaboration before, and perhaps it explains why the ICJ came in. Integrating into the EAC potentially offers an opportunity to de-escalate any remaining tensions and in turn, focus on developing mechanisms that can be beneficial for the region.”
Nasong’o Muliro, a foreign policy and security specialist in the region, said: “The East African states along the East African coast are looking for opportunities to play a greater role in the maritime security to the Gulf of Aden. Therefore, Somalia joining the EAC bloc will allow them to have a greater say.”
Third, Somalia’s membership of the Arab League means that there is a strong geopolitical interest from Gulf states like Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. However, Somalia stands to gain more in the long-term by joining the EAC rather than being under the control of the Gulf states and, to a large extent, Turkey. This is because, historically, competing interests among the Gulf states have contributed to the further balkanisation of Somalia by some members supporting breakaway regions.
On the other hand, the EAC offers a safer option that will respect Somalia’s territorial integrity. Furthermore, EAC partner states have stood in solidarity with Somalia during the difficult times of the civil conflict, unlike the Gulf states. The majority of the troop-contributing countries for the African Union Mission to Somalia came from the EAC partner states of Uganda, Kenya and Burundi. Despite having a strategic interest in Somalia, none of the Gulf states contributed troops to the mission. Therefore, with the expected drawdown of the ATMIS force in Somalia, the burden could fall on the EAC to fill in the vacuum. Building on the experience of deploying in the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, it is highly likely that it could be called upon to do the same in Somalia when ATMIS exits by 2024.
The presence of the Al Shabaab group in Somalia is an albatross around its neck such that the country cannot be admitted into the EAC without factoring in the risks posed by the group.
According to a report by the International Crisis Group, the government of Somalia must move to consolidate these gains – especially in central Somalia – as it continues with its offensive in other regions. However, Somalia may not prevail over the Al Shabaab on its own; it may require a regional effort and perhaps this is the rationale some policymakers within the EAC have envisioned. If the EAC can offer assurances to Somalia’s fledgling security situation, then a collective security strategy from the bloc might be of significance.
Somalia’s admission comes with risks too. Kenya and Uganda have in the past experienced attacks perpetrated by Al Shabaab and, therefore, opening up their borders to Somalia is seen as a huge risk for these countries. The spillover effect of the group’s activities creates a lot of discomfort among EAC citizens, in particular those who believe that the region remains vulnerable to Al Shabaab attacks.
If the EAC can offer assurances to Somalia’s fledgling security situation, then a collective security strategy from the bloc might be of significance.
The EAC Treaty criteria under which a new member state may be admitted into the community include – but are not limited to – observance and practice of the principles of good governance, democracy and the rule of law. Critics believe that Somalia fulfils only one key requirement to be admitted to the bloc – sharing a border with an EAC partner state, namely, Kenya. On paper, it seems to be the least prepared when it comes to fulfilling the other requirements. The security situation remains fragile and the economy cannot support the annual payment obligations to the community.
According to the Fragility State Index, Somalia is ranked as one of the poorest among the 179 countries assessed. Among the key pending issues is the continued insecurity situation caused by decades of civil war and violent extremism. Furthermore, Human Rights Watch ranks Somalia low on human rights and justice – a breakdown of government institutions has rendered them ineffective in upholding the human rights of its citizens.
Somalia’s citizens have faced various forms of discrimination due to activities beyond their control back in their country. This has led to increasingly negative and suspicious attitudes towards Somalis and social media reactions to the possibility of Somalia joining the EAC have seen a spike in hostility towards citizens of Somalia. The country’s admission into the bloc could be met with hostility from the citizens of other partner states.
Dr Nicodemus Minde, an academic on peace and security, agrees that indeed citizens’ perceptions and attitudes will shape their behaviour towards Somalia’s integration. He argues that ”the admission of Somalia is a rushed process because it does not address the continued suspicion and negative perception among the EAC citizens towards the Somali people. Many citizens cite the admission of fragile states like South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo as a gateway of instability to an already unstable region”.
Indeed, the biggest challenge facing the EAC has been how to involve the citizens in their activities and agenda. To address this challenge, Dr Minde says that ’’the EAC needs to conduct a lot of sensitisation around the importance of integration because to a large extent many EAC citizens have no clue on what regional integration is all about”. The idea of the EAC being a people-centred organisation as envisioned in the Treaty has not been actualised. The integration process remains very elitist as it is the heads of state that determine and set the agenda.
The country’s admission into the bloc could be met with hostility from the citizens of other partner states.
Dr Khannenje offers a counter-narrative, arguing that public perception is not a major point of divergence since “as the economies integrate deeper, some of these issues will become easy to solve”. There are also those who believe that the reality within the EAC is that every member state has issues with one or the other partner state and, therefore, Somalia will be in perfect company.
A report by the Economic Policy Research Centre outlines the various avenues through which both the EAC and Somalia can benefit from the integration process and observes that there is therefore a need to fast-track the process because the benefits far outweigh the risks.
EAC integration is built around the spirit of good neighbourliness. It is against this backdrop that President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud has extended the goodwill to join the EAC and therefore, it should not be vilified and condemned, but rather embraced. As Onyango Obbo has observed, Somalia is not joining the EAC – Somalia is already part of the EAC and does not need any formal welcoming.
Many critics have argued that the EAC has not learnt from the previous rush to admit conflict-plagued South Sudan and the DRC. However, the reality is that Somalia will not be in conflict forever; at some point, there will be tranquillity and peace. Furthermore, a keen look at the history of the EAC member states shows that a number of them have experienced cycles of conflict in the past.
Somalia is, therefore, not unique. Internal contradictions and conflict are some of the key features that Somalia shares with most of the EAC member states. The process of integrating Somalia into the EAC should, therefore, be undertaken with long-term success in mind rather than in the light of the situation currently prevailing in the country.
The Repression of Palestine Solidarity in Kenya
Kenya is one of Israel’s closest allies in Africa. But the Ruto-led government isn’t alone in silencing pro-Palestinian speech.
Israel has been committing genocide against the people of Occupied Palestine for 75 years and this has intensified over the last 30 days with the merciless carpet bombing of Gaza, along with raids and state-sanctioned settler violence in the West Bank. In the last month of this intensified genocide, the Kenyan government has pledged its solidarity to Israel, even as the African Union released a statement in support of Palestinian liberation. While peaceful marches have been successfully held in Kisumu and Mombasa, in Nairobi, Palestine solidarity organizers were forced to cancel a peaceful march that was to be held at the US Embassy on October 22. Police threatened that if they saw groups of more than two people outside the Embassy, they would arrest them. The march was moved to a private compound, Cheche Bookshop, where police still illegally arrested three people, one for draping the Palestinian flag around his shoulders. Signs held by children were snatched by these same officers.
When Boniface Mwangi took to Twitter denouncing the arrest, the response by Kenyans spoke of the success of years of propaganda by Israel through Kenyan churches. To the Kenyan populous, Palestine and Palestinians are synonymous with terrorism and Israel’s occupation of Palestine is its right. However, this Islamophobia and xenophobia from Kenyans did not spring from the eternal waters of nowhere. They are part of the larger US/Israel sponsored and greedy politician-backed campaign to ensure Kenyans do not start connecting the dots on Israel’s occupation of Palestine with the extra-judicial killings by Kenyan police, the current occupation of indigenous people’s land by the British, the cost-of-living crisis and the IMF debts citizens are paying to fund politician’s lavish lifestyles.
Kenya’s repression of Palestine organizing reflects Kenya’s long-standing allyship with Israel. The Kenyan Government has been one of Israel’s A-star pupils of repression and is considered to be Israel’s “gateway” to Africa. Kenya has received military funding and training from Israel since the 60s, and our illegal military occupation of Somalia has been funded and fueled by Israel along with Britain and the US. Repression, like violence, is not one dimensional; repression does not just destabilize and scatter organizers, it aims to break the spirit and replace it instead with apathy, or worse, a deep-seated belief in the rightness of oppression. In Israel’s architecture of oppression through repression, the Apartheid state has created agents of repression across many facets of Kenyan life, enacting propaganda, violence, race, and religion as tools of repression of Palestine solidarity organizing.
When I meet with Naomi Barasa, the Chair of the Kenya Palestine Solidarity Movement, she begins by placing Kenya’s repression of Palestine solidarity organizing in the context of Kenya as a capitalist state. “Imperialism is surrounded and buffered by capitalistic interest,” she states, then lists on her fingers the economic connections Israel has created with Kenya in the name of “technical cooperation.” These are in agriculture, security, business, and health; the list is alarming. It reminds me of my first memory of Israel (after the nonsense of the promised land that is)—about how Israel was a leader in agricultural and irrigation technologies. A dessert that flowed with milk and honey.
Here we see how propaganda represses, even before the idea of descent is born: Kenyans born in the 1990s grew up with an image of a benign, prosperous, and generous Christian Israel that just so happened to be unfortunate enough to be surrounded by Muslim states. Israel’s PR machine has spent 60 years convincing Kenyan Christians of the legitimacy of the nation-state of Israel, drawing false equivalences between Christianity and Zionism. This Janus-faced ideology was expounded upon by Israel’s ambassador to Kenya, Michel Lotem, when he said “Religiously, Kenyans are attached to Israel … Israel is the holy land and they feel close to Israel.” The cog dizzy of it all is that Kenyan Christians, fresh from colonialism, are now Africa’s foremost supporters of colonialism and Apartheid in Israel. Never mind the irony that in 1902, Kenya was the first territory the British floated as a potential site for the resettlement of Jewish people fleeing the pogroms in Europe. This fact has retreated from public memory and public knowledge. Today, churches in Kenya facilitate pilgrimages to the holy land and wield Islamophobia as a weapon against any Christian who questions the inhumanity of Israel’s 75-year Occupation and ongoing genocide.
Another instrument of repression of pro-Palestine organizing in Kenya is the pressure put on Western government-funded event spaces to decline hosting pro-Palestine events. Zahid Rajan, a cultural practitioner and organizer, tells me of his experiences trying to find spaces to host events dedicated to educating Kenyans on the Palestinian liberation struggle. He recalls the first event he organized at Alliance Français, Nairobi in 2011. Alliance Français is one of Nairobi’s cultural hubs and regularly hosts art and cultural events at the space. When Zahid first approached Alliance to host a film festival for Palestinian films, they told him that they could not host this event as they already had (to this day) an Israeli film week. Eventually, they agreed to host the event with many restrictions on what could be discussed and showcased. Unsurprisingly they refused to host the event again. The Goethe Institute, another cultural hub in Kenya that offers its large hall for free for cultural events, has refused to host the Palestinian film festival or any other pro-Palestine event. Both Alliance and Goethe are funded by their parent countries, France and Germany respectively (which both have pro-Israel governments). There are other spaces and businesses that Zahid has reached out to host pro-Palestine education events that have, in the end, backtracked on their agreement to do so. Here, we see the evolution of state-sponsored repression to the private sphere—a public-private partnership on repression, if you will.
Kenya’s members of parliament took to heckling and mocking as a tool of repression when MP Farah Maalim wore an “Arafat” to Parliament on October 25. The Speaker asked him to take it off stating that it depicted “the colors of a particular country.” When Maalim stood to speak he asked: “Tell me which republic,” and an MP in the background could be heard shouting “Hamas” and heckling Maalim, such that he was unable to speak on the current genocide in Gaza. This event, seen in the context of Ambassador Michael Lotem’s charm offensive at the county and constituency level, is chilling. His most recent documented visit was to the MP of Kiharu, Ndindi Nyoro, on November 2. The Israeli propaganda machine has understood the importance of County Governors and MPs in consolidating power in Kenya.
Yet, in the face of this repression, we have seen what Naomi Barasa describes as “many pockets of ad hoc solidarity,” as well as organized solidarity with the Palestinian cause. We have seen Muslim communities gather for many years to march for Palestine, we have seen student movements such as the Nairobi University Student Caucus release statements for Palestine, and we have seen social justice centers such as Mathare Social Justice Centre host education and screening events on Palestinian liberation. Even as state repression of Palestine solidarity organizing has intensified in line with the deepening of state relations with Apartheid Israel, more Kenyans are beginning to connect the dots and see the reality that, as Mandela told us all those years ago, “our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of Palestinians.”
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