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Kenya’s 2022 General Election: A Biting Cold Wind Against Our Colonial Nakedness

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Hubris got us here. Not only the hubris of our nobles who felt entitled to choose leaders for us from amongst themselves, but also from the scholars who have excelled in law, history and political science, but choose to serve the nobles rather than apply the knowledge to our human conditions in situ.

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Kenya’s 2022 General Election: A Biting Cold Wind Against Our Colonial Nakedness
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​The period immediately following the 9th August general elections in Kenya was a rude awakening for many. In any contest where there’s only one winner, and so there the contrasting feelings of jubilation and disappointment are no surprise. What would shock a keen observer is the visceral negative reaction shock amongst a section of the supporters of the Azimio la Umoja side. The reaction went beyond disappointment; it was grief that quickly deteriorated into recriminations against any individual or group perceived not to have ‘given their all’ in support of Rt. Hon. Raila Odinga’s candidature.

This is Mr. Odinga’s fifth stab at the presidency, so the spectre of disappointing results is not totally new to his supporters, particularly those over 40 years old. Disappointment and even certain levels of anger have been de rigueur in past elections, but the inexplicable grief and recriminations have been unique to 2022. One unique feature of this year’s elections is that the narrative has portrayed those perceived not to have supported Raila not as competitors or rivals, but as evil saboteurs.

The result was a barrage of vitriolic abuse directed at Kikuyu people on social media, much of it written in Dholuo, which few Kikuyus can read or understand. We certainly hope that the Azimio running mate Martha Karua was somehow shielded from it because a significant proportion of the diatribe is sexist as well. However, those who are shocked and wondering just what happened in 2022 are deluded, because the question is guided by their powers of perception (or lack thereof) rather than by the sequence and consequence of events.

Faith in “The System”

The primitive and flawed history of our electoral structures certainly don’t provide any reason to believe otherwise. However, Kenya is also a nation founded on the dishonesty of colonialists, so we Kenyans still struggle to internalize the truths of political history, including those we have lived through and witnessed. The Luo nation is no exception to this rule, despite boasting several renowned historians and political scientists. The Luo nation has long lived with the well-founded belief that they (through the person of Raila Odinga) have been victims of electoral malpractice in the past.

When the much-vaunted ‘handshake’ between the Rt. Hon Odinga and former President Uhuru Kenyatta took place in 2018, the Luo nation greeted it with unbridled joy at the prospect that ‘one of us’ would finally ascend to the highest office in the land. It was almost comical to see the jubilation that greeted the symbolic launch of Kisumu port where Mr. Odinga was flown to Kisumu in a Kenya Defence Forces aircraft, a very potent (and deliberate) subliminal message, which they tried to actualize through the legally ill-advised “Building Bridges Initiative” (BBI).

In a conversation on the Maisha Kazini YouTube channel, we discussed at length how this project (which failed) was an attempt to entrench feudalism in our formal government structures. In a startling show of cognitive dissonance, the people who had fought so long for democracy and electoral justice mentally crowned Uhuru Kenyatta as a ‘King’ whose reign was ending and had magnanimously designated their leader as the crown prince. ODM leaders, notably Dr. Oburu Odinga crowed about the Uhuru’s endorsement and about the support of “the system” being a sure path to State House for Raila Odinga.

Sadly, this dissonance was so convincing that the people believed them, culminating in a toxic mix of relatively lackluster campaigns, while followers remained inexplicably assured of victory. The people who had steadfastly cast their votes for generations and fought for justice somehow discarded that legacy and internalized the belief that victory would be delivered by a combination of expected injustice and support from the alleged erstwhile perpetrators thereof. A mind-boggling conundrum by any measure.

It would be difficult for any mortal to derive reason from such a bizarre far-flung psychosocial situation, hence the extreme bitterness at the absence of a unanimous support for Mr. Odinga from Kikuyu voters (the decision of other Kenyan voters is not on the table). The Odinga supporters saw the failure of certain areas of Kikuyu land to support Odinga as a betrayal, and rather than recognize the significant number of votes that accrued from the Mt. Kenya region up from virtually nothing in 2017.

How can we explain this avalanche of opprobrium?

This reaction betrays the logic of the whiteness that is rooted in the coloniality of power in Kenya. Underlying the offence was the perception amongst the Luo proletariat that their Kikuyu counterparts had the temerity to reject the Luo liege, even after Odinga’s pact with his Kikuyu peer. Lack of attention to history blinded Odinga’s supporters, both in Luoland and the larger Kenyan intellectual class, to the fact that the Kikuyu proletariat did not view the handshake in the same way as the Luo voters did, nor did they relate to Uhuru the way the Luo did to Raila.

This oversight blinded them to the reality of the Mt. Kenya’s region’s rejection of Uhuru’s political machinations, as opposed to the rejection of Mr. Odinga himself. It was far from automatic that the Kikuyu would blindly follow Uhuru into the handshake. Mt. Kenya has had a fractured relationship with the Kenyattas from the very beginning. At independence, Jomo Kenyatta suppressed Mau Mau history and left Mau Mau veterans landless. Twice before, Uhuru Kenyatta had been rejected at the ballot by the Mt Kenya region: in 1997 when he contested as MP for Gatundu, and in 2002 when he contested to presidency. The rise of Uhuru’s acceptance in Mt Kenya was linked to the trauma of the violence against the Kikuyus in the Rift Valley following the botched elections of 2007, a violence which many Kikuyus attribute to Raila Odinga himself, since the violence stopped when Raila shook hands with Kibaki.

It was this trauma, and Raila’s perceived or actual responsibility in it, that Uhuru exploited in 2013 when he hired a British PR firm which rode on the ICC indictments to present Uhuru as an anti-imperialist freedom fighter. It was not tribal adoration that got Uhuru president, that is if he even won the vote. It was trauma, money and gas lighting by a heavy bureaucratic and intellectual artillery that later included the manipulation of social media by Cambridge Analytica.

The second issue that was overlooked was the anger of the Mt. Kenya region at the collapse of the economy. In his hubris, Uhuru failed to realize that huge infrastructural investments would not pacify ordinary people whose businesses were suffering as the Kenyatta empire grew. The milk industry, for example, is a case in point, where the Kenyatta family dominance in the milk industry was seen as the reason for the drop in the prices ordinary farmers were fetching for their milk. By the time Uhuru and Raila were proposing BBI, people in central Kenya, especially the youth, were saying they did not care for more power-sharing deals when they were not able to earn a living.

Coloniality and ethnicity

The failure to notice the cracks in the deal, due to casual attempt to merge political views of Mt. Kenya and Nyanza region, is linked to the fact that coloniality and whiteness manifested in completely different ways in the two regions. In Kikuyu land, coloniality was imposed through extreme violence, leading to the familiar stories of a society riven between the Mau Mau resistance and colonial collaboration. The Kikuyu have memories in form of living survivors and the trauma of the victims.

By contrast, coloniality in the greater Nyanza region, which included the Luhya regions of the northern Lake Victoria shores, was imposed by co-option through government bureaucracy, colonial education and conversion to Christianity. In Nyanza, there was no conventional rebellion warfare, and the only contact with the rebellion was in the person of the detainees imprisoned at Mageta island. And so coloniality was experienced as psychological more than material. The Africans who became the ‘whites’ were those who became educators, administrators, colonial apparatchiks and clergy. Their descendants still occupy high political offices and are much-admired personalities, such as outgoing governor Cornel Rasanga and Dr. Patrick Amoth of the Chief Amoth Owira family; Prof Peter Anyang Nyongo and the late Prof. Aggrey Nyong’o of the Canon Hesbon Nyong’o family; and the numerous political and business players across both Kenya and Uganda who are descendants of Canon Jeremiah Musungu Awori. Many songs praise men as ‘chal gi mzungu’. Many non-Luos may hear Luos refer to each other as ‘Odiero’ and think it is a very common name, but it is actually an honorific that means ‘white man.’

The only aberration in this historical link was brought about by the fallout between Jomo Kenyatta and Jaramogi and the consequent odium faced by the Odingas. This brought in the suffering narrative as an additional ingredient into Luo nobility. Up to the elections, the answer to any questions on Odinga’s leadership qualities invariably included references to how much he has suffered or sacrificed. With the passage of time and the monumental legal changes in Kenya, however, individual suffering was becoming a less “accessible” qualification, which placed Mr. Odinga on something of a pedestal. Others therefore could only seek distinction through the competence with which they served him and the conspicuous manner in which they displayed this service or consumed the proceeds thereof.  Philosophy scholar Joe Kobuthi recently identified this as a form of masculinity that is defined by conspicuous consumption, belying the casual humorous term ‘ujaluo’ used by less erudite people to describe it.

By contrast, whiteness in central Kenya was mostly defined by collaboration against the rebellion. The reward in Mt Kenya for collaboration was entry into government, and access to government contracts and title deeds as a way of climbing the social ladder. In central Kenya, people who pursue school education do not enjoy the same clout that is enjoyed by people with access to wealth. A prominent example was Prof Wangari Maathai who won the 2004 Nobel Prize but lost her parliamentary seat in the 2007 elections. Her international accolades did not win her a free pass to parliament.

Within this matrix, it was difficult to notice major forewarnings that the Odinga bargain was likely to collapse. In January 2021, news broke surrounding a leaked letter allegedly from then Murang’a Senator Irungu Kang’ata to president Kenyatta, which warned that BBI was deeply unpopular in Kikuyu areas. During this time, Babu Ayindo prophetically penned this tweet that escaped attention: “@RailaOdinga, I am prepared to believe that Sen. Irungu Kang’ata deliberately misaddressed that letter. Ja’kom, that letter is yours. Please read what the letter is saying and, more importantly, what the letter is saying without saying.”

Many observers will have noticed the lyrical sob stories that were circulating on social media following the initial announcement of the results, treating Mr. Odinga’s apparent loss like some kind of Greek tragedy. Those familiar with the strong African traditions surrounding death will be uncomfortable with the reference to a living person in language and tone more appropriate for mourning at a wake. It is an unexpected manifestation of ethnic chauvinism, because the personal grief stems from the belief that there was some kind of “queue” for leadership and the “white” Luo candidate was the next in line, having been ‘anointed’ by the sitting president. The usurping of this coronation by a ‘black’ candidate with no known lineage is anathema to all feudalists, including the oppressed vassals.

Such hubris was largely facilitated by Kenyan intellectuals in media, education and cultural spaces, who failed to do the work of unpacking political relationships beyond the usual narrative of tribal quirks. Yet underlying these tribal mathematics was the matrix with which the colonialists ascribed certain vocations to certain ethnic groups to protect colonial interests. For instance, because the colonial interests and African resistance in central Kenya centered on land, the British concocted an elaborate scheme called the Swynnerton plan, where the route to social mobility was joining government to help suppress the resistance, and after independence, getting access to government contracts through feudal networks.

This difference would also explain why the British and Americans would look at Jaramogi as a “communist” when Jaromogi’s flirting with the communist block was more about strategic political muscle against the US-supported Jomo Kenyatta, rather than a reflection of Jaramogi’s economic thinking. Jaramogi’s entrance into politics was on the back of the colonial restrictions on African trading and financial credit in Kisumu. He was therefore more of an indigenous capitalist than a communist. With his lack of direct experience with the land conflicts and colonial violence in central Kenya, it is also understandable that Jaramogi was adamant about the release of Jomo Kenyatta as a condition for independence discussions, while other Kikuyu politicians were more willing to negotiate with the British on their own while Jomo was in jail. After independence, it was Jaramogi who joined forces with Bildad Kaggia in advocating for fundamental land reforms that would give land to Mau Mau veterans, while the Kikuyu politicians – led by Jomo Kenyatta himself – enriched themselves in their newfound status as the new black settlers.

However, this collaboration failed to address the economic logic of the colonial Kenyan state, and the way it was intertwined with ethnic stereotypes. As such, the stereotypes of Kikuyu strength as that of business while Luo strength as that of academics, and similar prejudices about other Kenyan ethnic groups, continued to dominate Kenyan political life. In Kikuyu land, the Kenyatta family would stoke ethnic bigotry to claim unique rights of Kikuyus, and would use ritual, such as the cutting of Field Marshal Muthoni’s hair by Uhuru’s mother, Mrs. Ngina Kenyatta, as a spiritual tool to enforce Kikuyu compliance.

Other ethnic groups outside the two main protagonists are relegated to the stereotypes of witchcraft, docility, cultural stagnation and even terrorism, and rarely do Kenyans interrogate what these stereotypes mean politically. Often, the effect is reduced to that of numbers, but nobody questions why prominent national politicians like Kivutha Kibwana and Ekuru Aukot are often ridiculed for aspiring for the presidency. In many areas in Kenya, people cannot aspire for any office because they are denied identity cards in the name of not belonging one of the 45 or 46 tribes.

Watershed Moment

This election has therefore been a watershed moment, where the less obvious and more psychological implications of coloniality have been exposed, now that the legal and administrative hurdles associated with elections are decreasing in importance. This psychological dimension of coloniality was hidden from Kenyan politics through the use of ethnicity as a zero-sum narrative to explain Kenyan political life. The Kenyan intellectual class, especially in the media and the education system, covered up this decadence by rebranding tribal parochialism as the irredeemable nature of Africans, and by making hollow calls for Enlightenment style human rights. They therefore had no conceptual framework with which to understand the dynamic nature of Kenya’s politics and the importance of class and economics, especially since the promulgation of the 2010 constitution.

Hubris got us here. Not only the hubris of our nobles who felt entitled to choose leaders for us from amongst themselves, but also from the scholars who have excelled in law, history and political science, but choose to serve the nobles rather than apply the knowledge to our human conditions in situ. When our elite acquire journalistic and academic expertise which does not address what ails us, then we are stuck with “competents” as opposed to educated people. From now on, let us normalize ignoring any purported “expert” who cannot unpack this watershed moment for us. That failure should suggest to us that the “expert” is either part of the mess, or not courageous enough to help our nation move on from it. That’s the definition of deadwood, which can only slow down the growth of our society.

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Mordecai Ogada is a carnivore ecologist from Kenya and co-author of The Big Conservation Lie. Wandia Njoya is a scholar, social and political commentator and blogger based in Nairobi, Kenya.

Politics

Why Azimio’s Presidential Petition Stood No Chance

In so far as the court had nullified the 2017 elections, the evidential threshold required for any subsequent electoral nullification was going to be substantially high for any petitioner.

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Even before the 9 August general election, it was expected that the loser of the Kenyan presidential contest would petition the Supreme Court to arbitrate over the outcome. Predictably, the losing party, Azimio La Umoja-One Kenya Coalition, petitioned the court to have William Ruto’s win nullified on various procedural and technical grounds. Azimio’s case was predicated on, among others, three key allegations. First, that William Ruto failed to garner the requisite 50 per cent plus one vote. Second, that the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) chairman Wafula Chebukati had announced the outcome without tallying and verifying results from seven constituencies. Finally, that the commission could not account for 250,000 votes that were cast electronically.

As we know, Azimio lost the case as the judges dismissed all the nine petitions that the party had filed, unanimously finding that William Ruto had won fairly.

Adjudicating electoral fallouts

Since its inception in 2010, the Supreme Court has played a decisive role in adjudicating fallouts linked to contentious presidential politics in Kenya, with the court deliberating on the outcome of three out of the four presidential elections held after its inauguration. Prior to this, the losing party had no credible institutional mechanism of redress and electoral disputes were generally resolved through mass political action (as in 2007) or consistent questioning of the legitimacy of the winner (as in 1992 and 1997).

The Supreme Court’s presence has, therefore, been crucial in providing losers with an institutionalised mechanism to channel dissent, with the court operating as a “safety valve” to diffuse political tensions linked to presidential elections. It is, hence, impossible to conceive of the relatively peaceful elections held in 2013, 2017 and 2022 without the Supreme Court whose mere presence has been key in discouraging some of the more deadly forms of political rivalry previously witnessed in Kenya.

Relentless petitioning

While the Azimio leadership were right to petition the court in the recent election, first because this successfully diffused the political tensions among their supporters, and second because the court was expected to provide directions on IEBC conduct in future elections, it was clear that Raila Odinga’s relentless petitioning of the court in the previous two elections, and the nullification of the 2017 elections, was in essence going to be a barrier to a successful petition in 2022.

In so far as the court had nullified the 2017 elections, the evidential threshold required for any subsequent electoral nullification was going to be substantially high for any petitioner. The relentless petitioning of the court and the nullification of the 2017 elections had in essence raised the bar for the burden of proof, which lay with the petitioner(s) and, therefore, reduced the probability of a successful petition.

The Supreme Court’s presence has been crucial in providing losers with an institutionalised mechanism to channel dissent.

The reason for this is both legal and political. Legal in the sense that the IEBC is expected to conduct the elections under the law, which, among other issues, requires that the electoral process be credible and the results verifiable before any certification is made, otherwise the election is nullified, as was the case in 2017. It is political because the power to select the president is constitutionally, hence politically, delegated to the Kenyan people through the ballot, unless electoral fraud infringes on this, again as was the case in 2017.

The court in its deliberation must, therefore, balance the legal-political trade-off in its verdict in search of a plausible equilibrium. For instance, while the majority of Azimio supporters had anticipated a successful petition based on the public walkout and dissent by the four IEBC commissioners, it seems that the decision to uphold the results displayed the court’s deference to political interpretation of the law by issuing a ruling that did not undermine the Kenyan voters’ right to elect their president.

While the settlement of legal-political disputes by a Supreme/Constitutional court is a common feature across democracies, and continuously being embedded in emerging democracies like Kenya, it does seem that in this election, the political motivations for upholding the vote outweighed the legal motivations for nullifying it. In essence, the court demonstrated its institutional independence by ruling against the Kenyatta-backed Azimio candidate due to insufficient evidence.

Supreme Court power grab 

A counterfactual outcome where the evidential threshold for the nullification of presidential results is low would foster a Supreme Court power grab, in lieu with the 2017 nullification, by marginalising the sovereign will of Kenyans to elect their president.

In many ways, nullification of the results would also have incentivised further adversarial political behaviour where every electoral outcome is contested in the Supreme Court even when the outcome is relatively clean, as in the case of the 2022 elections.

It is this reason (among others) that we think underlined the Supreme Court justices’ dismissal of Azimio’s recent petition. The justices ultimately dismissed the evidence presented by the petitioners as “hot air, outright forgeries, red herring, wild goose chase and unproven hypotheses”, setting a clear bar for the standard of evidence they expect in order to deliberate over such an important case in the future.

In essence, the court demonstrated its institutional independence by ruling against the Kenyatta-backed Azimio candidate due to insufficient evidence.

Since the earth-shaking nullification of the 2017 elections, the Supreme Court transcended an epoch, more political than legal by “invading” the sovereign space for Kenyans to elect their president, thereof setting a precedence that any future successful petition to contest a presidential election requires watertight evidence.

In a sense, Azimio were victims of Odinga’s judicial zealotry and especially the successful 2017 petition. In so far as the evidence submitted to the Supreme Court by Azimio in 2022 was at the same level or even lower than the 2017 base, their case at the Supreme Court was very likely to be dismissed and even ridiculed as the justices recently did.

The precedent set by the 2022 ruling will, actually, yield two positive political outcomes. First, it will in the future weed out unnecessary spam petitions that lack evidence and rather increase needless political tensions in the country. Second, it has signalled to future petitioners, that serious deliberations will only be given to petitions backed by rock-solid evidence.

Missed opportunity

From the recent ruling, it is evident that the judgement fell far below the precedent set in 2017. The 2017 Supreme Court ruling that the IEBC should make the servers containing Form 34A publicly available, was crucial in improving the credibility of the 2022 elections, by democratising the tallying process. At a minimum, the expectation was that the justices would provide a directive on the recent public fallout among the IEBC commissioners with regard to future national tallying and announcement of presidential results.

By dismissing the fallout as a mere corporate governance issue, the justices failed to understand the political ramifications of the “boardroom rupture”. What are we to do in the future if the IEBC Chair rejects the results and the other commissioners validate the results as credible?

Additionally, by ridiculing the petitioners as wild goose chasers and dismissing the evidence as “hot air”, the justices failed to maintain the amiable judicial tone necessary to decompress and assuage the bitter grievances among losers in Kenya high-octane political environment.

In a sense, Azimio were victims of Mr Odinga’s judicial zealotry and especially the 2017 successful petition.

The Supreme Court ought to resist the temptations of trivializing electoral petitions, as this has the potential of triggering democratic backsliding, where electoral losers might opt for extra-constitutional means of addressing their grievances as happened in December 2007. It is not in the petitioners’ place to ascertain whether their evidence is “hot air” or not, but for the court to do so, and in an amiable judicial tone that offers reconciliation in a febrile political environment.

The precedent set by the 2017 ruling that clarified the ambiguities related to the IEBC’s use of technology to conduct elections, set an incremental pathway towards making subsequent elections credible and fair, and increased public trust in the key electoral institutions in Kenya.

The justices, therefore, need to understand that their deliberations hold weight in the public eye and in the eyes of political leaders. Therefore, outlining recommendations to improve the IEBC’s conduct in future elections is a bare minimum expectation among Kenyans. In this case, while they provided some recommendations, they failed to comprehensively address the concerns around the walk-out by the four IEBC commissioners.

At the minimum, chastising the IEBC conduct was necessary to consolidate the electoral gains made thus far but also recalibrate institutional imperfections linked to how elections are to be conducted and, especially, contestations around the role of the commissioners in the national tallying of results in the future.

This article is part of our project on information and voter behaviour in the 2022 Kenyan elections. The project is funded by the Centre for Governance and Society, Department of Political Economy, King’s College London.

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Politics

GMOs Are Not the Only Answer

In a country where agricultural production is dominated by smallholders, the decision to allow genetically modified crops and animal feeds into Kenya as a means of combatting perennial hunger ignores other safer and more accessible alternatives such as Conservation Agriculture.

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GMOs Are Not the Only Answer
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Newly elected President William Ruto has, to use a much abused expression, hit the ground running. I am, however, not certain that he is running in the right direction. On 3 October 2022, during the second meeting of his recently (and unconstitutionally) constituted cabinet, Ruto announced that his government had authorized the cultivation and importation of genetically modified crops and animal feeds, sweeping aside the grave concerns raised by Kenyans and lifting a ten-year ban with the stroke of a pen.

The decision was made at a time when Kenya is facing the worst drought in four decades that has left over four million people facing starvation. According to President Ruto, the adoption of GMOs is the solution to the recurring cycles of drought and famine that Kenyans have been increasingly experiencing.

I shall not go into the merits and demerits of what some call Frankenfoods here. However, it seems to me that Ruto’s decision is driven solely by the political imperative to bring down the price of maize through cheap imports of GM maize following the withdrawal of the maize subsidy.

Already, back in November 2018, the Route to Food Initiative (RTFI), the Kenya Biodiversity Coalition (KBioC), the Africa Biodiversity Network (ABN) and Greenpeace Africa had issued a joint statement raising “concerns over recent disconcerting developments in the country, that [suggest] the Government has made [a] unilateral decision to adopt genetically modified crops”, and adding that “an all-inclusive nationwide discourse through public participation, which addresses whether the technology is appropriate for us, is being circumvented”.

The group also voiced their suspicion that the report of the Task Force to Review Matters Relating to Genetically Modified Foods and Food Safety that was set up by the Ministry of Health in 2013 was being withheld because it was against the adoption of GM foods. This suspicion may well be founded since, in making the announcement, State House said that the decision to lift the GMO ban was “made in accordance with the recommendation of the Task Force”, while failing to make the so-called Thairu report—which was submitted in 2014—available for public scrutiny.

The cabinet said that in reaching its decision to lift the ban it had also referred to reports of the European Food Safety Authority, among others.

The European Union’s policy on GMOs “respects the right-to-know by ensuring clear labelling and traceability of GMOs. This requires reliable methods for the detection, identification and quantification (for authorised GMO) in food, feed, and the environment”. There is zero tolerance for unapproved GMOs and stringent regulation of products originating from or containing GMOs.

A detailed risk analysis and the availability of a validated method for locating, identifying, and quantifying GMOs in food or feed are prerequisites for authorization. For any GM launch, biotech businesses that want to market their product in the EU must submit an application. A very precise way of detecting each unique GMO is included in the application dossier.

The terms of reference of the government’s GMO task force included, among others, assessing Kenya’s infrastructural capacities to monitor genetically modified products in the country; assessing the adequacy of qualified human resource capacity to monitor research, use and importation of genetically modified products into the country; and recommending approval procedures for imports of GM foods.

If we are to look only at the procedures established by the National Biosafety Authority for the importation of GM products into the country, then we may conclude that Kenya lacks the infrastructural and qualified human resource capacity to monitor their research, use and importation. In effect, an entity wishing to import a GM product into the country is merely required to provide the particulars of the supplier, the nomenclature of the GMO, proof that the GMO has been registered in the exporting country, its use in the country of origin, its intended use in Kenya, a summary risk assessment, methods and plans for safe handling, storage, transport and use, and the emergency response foreseen in the event of an accident with the GMO. The second of the two-page the application document is reserved for the applicant’s signature before a commissioner for oaths, a magistrate or a judge. Means of detection of GMOs are not mentioned.

It would seem then that Ruto’s government has fully devolved the responsibility for Kenya’s biosafety and biosecurity to the authorities of foreign nations. This is very frightening when you consider, for example, that the European Union Regulation EC304/2003 allows EU companies to produce and export to other countries pesticides that are banned or restricted in the EU. This double standard is the reason why active ingredients which have been withdrawn in the EU find their way to Kenya, poisoning our bodies and our environment, and destroying our biodiversity.

Maize is not the only ugali

The lifting of the ban on GMOs may have sounded the death knell for Kenyan small-scale maize growers; GM maize is to be found on the international markets at prices that defy all competition, which will now prove to be a boon for well-connected maize-importing cartels.

But maize, a staple in the majority of Kenyan households, is a relatively recent arrival on our national menu, becoming a major staple during the First World War when disease in millet led to famine.

As Noel Vietmeyer observes in the foreword to the first volume of Lost Crops of Africa,

“Lacking the interest and support of the authorities (most of them non-African colonial authorities, missionaries, and agricultural researchers), the local grains could not keep pace with the up-to-the-minute foreign cereals, which were made especially convenient to consumers by the use of mills and processing. The old grains languished and remained principally as the foods of the poor and the rural areas. Eventually, they took on a stigma of being second-rate. Myths arose—that the local grains were not as nutritious, not as high yielding, not as flavorful, nor as easy to handle. As a result, the native grains were driven into internal exile. In their place, maize, a grain from across the Atlantic, became the main food from Senegal to South Africa.”

But with initiatives such as the Busia County Biodiversity Policy, which recognises the role that biodiversity can play in addressing food insecurity, the tide is turning and Kenyans are rediscovering and embracing the culinary habits of our forebears. You would think then that the GMO decision will not, in the main, affect the choices we make in the foods we consume. That those of us a tad squeamish about eating foods that have been genetically interfered with can opt out.

Were it that simple.

Many Kenyans are unaware that the Seed and Plant Varieties Act Cap 326 of 2012 prohibits farmers from sharing, exchanging or selling uncertified and unregistered seeds. Yet, to mitigate against the effects of perennial droughts and the escalating costs of hybrid seeds, community seed banks have been conserving indigenous seeds—that are demonstrably more climate-resilient—for sale during the planting season, in contravention of the law and at the risk of a one million shilling fine, or two years’ imprisonment, or both. Criminalising a system through which small-scale farmers acquire 90 per cent of their planting material does not augur well for Kenya’s food security, or for our biodiversity. Small-scale farmers are fighting back, however, with a group from Machakos recently going to court to challenge the legislation. It remains to be seen who between David and Goliath will prevail.

But maize, a staple in the majority of Kenyan households, is a relatively recent arrival on our national menu, becoming a major staple during the First World War when disease in millet led to famine.

What is clear is that Kenya’s David, while remaining impoverished over the decades since independence, is the mainstay of the country’s agriculture in terms of productivity. The Economic Survey (2021) of the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics reports that,

“The share of marketed agricultural output for small farms increased marginally to 73.3 per cent in 2020. This is a reflection of the continued dominance of the smallholder sector in the marketing of agricultural produce during the year under review. The value of sales through small farms increased by 9.4 per cent from KSh 341.4 billion in 2019 to KSh 373.6 billion in 2020. Similarly, the value of sales by large farms increased by 8.9 per cent from KSh 125.0 billion in 2019 to KSh 136.1 billion in 2020.”

The survey defines large farms as those above 20 hectares.

The small-holder has consistently outperformed the large-scale farmer despite government policies that have since the 70s viewed smallholders as without agency beyond adopting technologies that are presented as capable of transforming agriculture and building livelihoods. The adoption of GMOs is likely to be yet another of these technologies that, together with unjust seed legislation, will increase rather than decrease Kenya’s food insecurity.

President Ruto worries about food insecurity but fails to consider the very ready solution available to his administration and recommended in the Agricultural Policy (2021) of the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Fisheries and Cooperatives, namely, conservation agriculture.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO – also quoted in Ruto’s decision to lift the GMO ban) recommends conservation agriculture as it is a sustainable system of production that conserves and enhances natural resources; enhances biodiversity; assists in carbon sequestration; is less labour and fertilizer intensive; improves the health of soils; and increases yields over time.

Criminalising a system through which small-scale farmers acquire 90 per cent of their planting material does not augur well for Kenya’s food security, or for our biodiversity.

The very promising results obtained among the small-scale farmers that have adopted the system following training under the FAO beginning in 2015 show that the government would do well to promote conservation agriculture among smallholders as a means of mitigating both against food insecurity and the effects of climate change, rather than hastily reaching for GM technologies that the country is ill-equipped to safely handle.

But clearly, the president is not on the same page as his Ministry of Agriculture and so, like others, I can only conclude that Ruto’s lifting of the GMO ban is for the benefit of the seed multinationals and their clients, the large-scale farmers who have taken over most of the productive land to grow cash crops for export, leaving small-scale farmers to exploit marginal lands for the production of food crops for local consumption. And for the benefit of maize-importing cartels.

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Mary Kanyaman Ekai: Gender and Livestock Rustling in Northern Kenya

Mary Kanyaman Ekai was a peace ambassador from Turkana County who lost her life in the course of saving her family’s livestock in Turkana East on September 24th 2022. Kanyaman’s case illustrates the complexity of “cattle rustling” at Kenya’s northern frontier from a gender perspective. 

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Mary Kanyaman Ekai: Gender and Livestock Rustling in Northern Kenya
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Following the recent rise of incidents at the border of Baringo, Turkana and West Pokot County, it seems timely to learn more about a strong female figure, a woman who dedicated her life to the fight against the frequent outbreaks of violence. By providing a short portrait of Kanyaman, we are able to illustrate the role of women in conflict resolution. Grounded in the authors’ ethnographic research conducted in both West Pokot and Turkana County, the article is based not only on an in-depth interview conducted in 2020 with Kanyaman, but also on the broad expertise of social scientists working in the respective areas.

It was pure luck that led to the meeting with Mary Kanyaman Ekai in December 2020. Mary was visiting Kapenguria on some errands for the Turkana County Government and I (Elizabeth Ndunda), on my part, was seeking information from influential elders from the pastoralist communities in northern Kenya. The tall lady in the elegant dress was introduced to me as mama wa maji na amani, Swahili for mother of water and peace. I immediately recognized Mary the moment she entered the room. I knew her from various news feeds and meetings with officials where she prominently acted as peace ambassador and environmental and gender activist.

On this December 2020, Mary was on a sad mission. The previous day, bandits had attacked the village of Lopii in Turkana East and killed three young men, taking off with a considerable number of livestock. Although these kinds of violent outbreaks often involve brutal, reckless murder and criminal marketing chains, they are commonly labelled “cattle rustling” or “cattle raiding”, with the act of stealing cattle portrayed as culturally intrinsic to pastoralist societies. Yet, the shifting nature of the raids, which are driven by economic logic and modern forms of violence, should more accurately be referred to as “predatory raiding”, according to international security advisor Dylan Henrickson.

Mary and her entourage were in Kapenguria to seek the County Commissioner’s help in following up the bandits and ultimately punishing them before more attacks occurred. This has been a continuous cycle between the government and the communities of north-western Kenya.

Later the same day, while we were enjoying a cold soda in the unforgiving heat of West Pokot, Mary remarked that, for this specific meeting, Kalya Hotel was very aptly named, as kalya means peace in the Pokot language. The objective of our encounter was to discuss the weaknesses and challenges of the current conflict resolution mechanisms in northern Kenya. These mechanisms usually include disarmament measures, peace barazas (Swahili for meeting), peace caravans and arbitration measures. Disarmament involves the military and police, a common state response to regain control after a period of violence. Peace caravans are the latest, trendy mechanism for peacebuilding. Professionals from each county organize themselves and move from county to sub-county gathering villagers together and speaking of the need for peace. The colourful events usually include a lot of entertainment in order to attract many participants. However, Mary’s biggest concern was that women were simply left out and not considered able to play an important role in conflict resolution. She is far from being alone in holding this opinion. In a 1991 book titled Women and Things: Pokot Motherhood as Political Destiny, anthropologist Barbara Bianco states that the majority of peace projects target the men. Women are mainly included in programmes to fulfil a funding requirement, to attract donors. And yet they play a significant role.

So, who better than Mary Kanyaman Ekai, with her deep insights into these mechanisms, to be the perfect source of information on the subject? Born in 1979 in Turkana East, Mary learned the sad reality of raids early in her childhood, when she had to flee her home after the painful loss of family members to livestock rustling. Despite this stroke of fate, the girl’s athletic skills came to the fore in school as did her driven ambition to acquire an education. A Bachelor of Microbiology and Biotechnology and one of the few female Turkana professionals, Mary was predestined to become a public servant in the Ministry of Health. However, she didn’t rest on her laurels but pioneered the Golden Valley Cooperative Society, whose objective was to enhance resilience through improved and commercialized livestock production and to champion peaceful coexistence between neighbouring communities in the border areas of Baringo, Samburu and Turkana. Mary believed that peaceful coexistence among the pastoralist communities could be achieved if only pastoralists had alternative livelihoods and women had a greater voice.

Women are mainly included in programmes to fulfil a funding requirement, to attract donors.

Although Mary immediately agreed to our meeting, it took us some time before we were able to settle down; Mary was constantly interrupted by many people claiming her attention. I could understand this as I too was drawn to her strong voice filled with emotion as she spoke of the deaths that cattle rustling has caused in the region. Her phone rang constantly during the interview, a reminder of the busy life that she led and the tight schedule that she kept.

“Many people know my brother Ekuru. Even in the villages, people call me Ekuru’s sister. I’m not sure they would listen to me if I was not related to him.” Her brother, the lawyer Dr Ekuru Aukot, vied for the presidency on a Third Party Alliance ticket in 2017. Laughing, Mary says, “Here in this pastoralist culture, it is difficult for a woman to have her own identity, she is either a daughter or a wife of someone. I sit in the County Government yet even there I’m known as Ekuru’s sister.” With some resignation in her voice, she goes on to explain that it is this mentality and culture that has led to the role of women in conflict resolution being ignored by many peace projects and NGOs. Women from pastoralist communities are often considered victims, not active participants in the conflict. She asked me, “Isn’t it common to assume that women have little role to play in conflicts since northern Kenya is a heavily patriarchal society with archaic beliefs and supposedly harming norms including early marriage and FGM?”  Mary declared this point of view faulty.

“Many people know my brother Ekuru. Even in the villages, people call me Ekuru’s sister. I’m not sure they would listen to me if I was not related to him.”

Yes, women are victims of conflict and often face the highest security threats during periods of violence, being exposed to both physical and sexual violence. However, Mary was convinced that women play a significant role in motivating men to engage in livestock rustling. She explained that for a young man and woman to lead an accomplished life, they must marry and have children. While undergoing initiation is one important step in the journey from childhood to adulthood, young men are also required to show their courage, and acquire wealth which in turn attracts the “best wife”. This wealth is in the form of livestock—cattle, camels, goats, sheep and donkeys—that can be grown through careful breeding of animals, or simply through raiding. Dowry is often daunting and young men have little to show, and the list of fathers (every paternal uncle) who expect some livestock in exchange for their precious daughter is long. Their wives-to-be, in turn, encourage and motivate them to acquire the needed wealth and prestige as rapidly as possible.

This view is shared by officials of the county government’s Peace and Reconciliation Department. They state that while women understand the disadvantages and the calamities brought on by raiding, they are quick to defend and praise the sons and husbands who participate. This seems understandable, as men are expected to avenge death and destruction by recovering stolen livestock. Of course this creates a cycle of violence as each group feels the need for revenge. However, to simply assume pastoralists do so to impress their women would be to ignore the lack of security and justice in northern Kenya. The responsibility to recover stolen animals that are crucial for their livelihood is often left with the victims. Therefore, the women are not defending or praising violence per se, but are trying to ensure security, justice, and continuity.

Although “beaded” girls and mothers challenge their men to participate in raids through mocking and praise songs, they also want their husbands to come back alive. Lal is a ceremony during which returning warriors are anointed with oil held in a lal, a cattle horn of high symbolic value that has been blessed by spiritual elders. The honouring and cleansing of warriors with the lal after raids is done exclusively by women. It is the women’s duty to spread the oil in the lal on the warriors after a battle or to carry it to the areas where the warriors congregate. Mary encouraged women to stop the cycle of violence by refusing to protect the men during livestock rustling.

So, is it all women’s fault?

It is a little more complex than that. Professor Kennedy Mkutu, an expert in the field of violence and guns in northern Kenya, argues that pastoralists are under threat from inadequate policing, pressure on land and common resources, and the proliferation of small arms. The number of small arms circulating within the region is concerning; spears and arrows have been replaced with more deadly weapons and it is now popular for a father to gift his son a gun during initiation. Another factor that adds to the complexity is the devastating long-term absence of rain. The pressure on communally owned and unregistered land is not only high due to the changing climate but is further exacerbated by outside interests in resources such as crude oil, gold or sand. And as if all this was not enough, politicians exploit the precarious situation.

“Now”, I ask Mary, “with declining resources—over which women have little to no control—and the increase in small arms, and as disarmament measures fail and guns become more common, what can women do?” I was surprised to see Mary laugh heartily, “You look at women as weak and lacking control. Women are the instigators of violence between the Pokot and Turkana. The men fight because of us. I may not have control over the use and ownership of cattle, animals or property but I do not want to be married to a poor man, worst of all a coward. Until their [women’s] participation is seen and understood, we cannot adequately address conflict.” For instance, women have begun playing a vital role in armament. With disarmament measures being stepped-up, and with constant checks and increased patrols along the borders, women transport small arms and ammunition from Somalia and Uganda, hiding them in their clothes and undergarments. It is easy for the women because they are not as thoroughly searched as men are.

“Spears and arrows have been replaced with more deadly weapons and it is now popular for a father to gift his son a gun during initiation.”

Mary must have seen my eyebrows rising and was quick to reassure me that women are indeed quite vocal in encouraging their men to engage in livestock rustling. However, they remain timid on issues of peace and collaboration. “Older women who have a strong standing in the community may become vocal about peace, but the younger women are more supportive of their raider husbands, arguing that this is the only means of gaining wealth, economic and social status.” Elderly women have probably seen more destruction from the violence, the lost sons, brothers and husbands. They have faced highly volatile situations throughout life and have become more inclined to peace. Their participation in peacebuilding stems from the knowledge and experience that violence has devastating effects notwithstanding the wealth gained. The younger women are more desperate to find a “suitable partner”, one who will bring them pride and wealth, and earn them respect.

Therefore, for women leaders in the pastoral regions such as Mary Kanyaman, women hold the answer to sustainable peace. Mary held onto the belief that cooperation among the pastoralist women would “silence the guns”. To illustrate, Mary showed me an intricate belt, made from cow hide and decorated with shells. This belt is known as leketyo and is a powerful symbol for some pastoralists women. The belt is given to a woman during her first pregnancy, to protect the child she carries. It ultimately connects her with the child and its lifeline. Interestingly, so explains Mary to me, when a warrior goes to raid, he requests his mother to wear the belt, to ensure her child is protected. “Every pastoralist woman, even we who are modern, has their belt,” says Mary, seemingly lost in thought, brushing away some imaginary dust from the shells on the belt.

During the March 2020 POTUMA peace campaigns that took place in Kapenguria, Kainuk and Marich, organized by the former Minister of Immigration, Linah Kilimo, women, both old and young, publicly removed the belts, a symbol that they would no longer be active participants in the conflict. Those going for war could rely on themselves for protection. By removing their belts, the respected elderly women had placed a curse on those involved in violence and especially in acts of rape, which is taboo.

“There was so much crying from 2019, so many of our children died as they fought for cows,” Mary said. Indeed, statistics from The Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED) records show that in 2018 alone 11 raids and 4 fatalities occurred. In 2019, ACLED records more than twelve dead in the first raid, followed by various massacres that brought the fatalities to a total of 47. Only deaths were recorded. The injured, the traumatised and the destroyed families and livelihoods are not reflected. “Enough was enough. We toured hotspots including Kainuk and Sigor and we challenged women to take up the mantle of peacebuilding. The lal was silent, there were no songs composed for warriors that season. Women did not go to ceremonies honouring warriors and therefore there was no singing”.

According to Mary, this peace campaign had a significant influence because the women were finally involved. “While government officials were searching for the bandits, we women knew exactly where they were hiding. They rely on us for food and water as they prepare to raid. We told them clearly; we will let the police know where they are when asked. This ultimately led to a long period of peace and collaboration”. It seems it was a peaceful time; people travelled from Lodwar to Kainuk to get products for sale, and to do business. Women from Loyaa went all the way to Kapenguria to shop and sell milk. It was a good time. However, according to Mary, problems returned when the campaigns for the 2022 elections started, and politicians began insulting each other anew. The seeds of hatred grew fast. “Within weeks, we were back to fighting again.” However, contrary to other times, there has been a growing number of women actively involved in and participating in peacebuilding. For instance, the current Bunge la Wananchi grassroots assembly in Kapenguria holds the highest number of women from Marakwet, Turkana and Pokot participants ever, who are working towards peace-making and peacebuilding within their villages. This is an achievement for Mary. However, there is still a lot to be done.

Problems returned when the campaigns for the 2022 elections started, and politicians began insulting each other anew.

That day in Kapenguria, I would never have expected that the energetic peace ambassador seated in front of me in the Kalya Hotel would become a victim of livestock rustling herself. After her brother Ekuru Aukot announced Mary’s death on September 24th 2022, social media channels reported that besides Mary, eight General Service Unit (GSU) police officers, one Senior Chief and two civilians were found dead after they were ambushed by bandits at Namariat Kakiteitei in Turkana East. The story of her death reads like a crime novel. In the night of Friday to Saturday, the village of Ngikengoi was searched by armed bandits who stole livestock and murdered two people. Mary called for security backup to recover the livestock and volunteered to have the law enforcement officials use her vehicle to pursue the suspects. But, for whatever reason, the bandits got wind of the operation and laid a trap for the two vehicles.

Social media channels were awash with devastating pictures of the crime scene, with some commentators crying for revenge, while others called for an end to the violence. Tears came to my eyes when I saw the picture of a mother of four, a wife, a government servant, and a peace ambassador—a role model for women—laying there shot dead. Would we fall into another cycle of violence and revenge?

It has become obvious that current state mechanisms are not effective enough. The short-term disarmament followed by highly publicized peacebuilding barazas seem nothing more than a cosmetic solution to an internalized problem. Mary’s death should be a lesson to both local and national leaders and calls for an immediate change in the response to the violence. Within a society where women have been both victims and motivators of livestock rustling, they must become actively involved in peace-making. As Mary said, “Women are in a unique position, but largely ignored. They can reach their husbands within their homes, they can admonish their sons. Men informally seek the advice and approval of their wives, and sons seek to bring their mothers joy and pride. Therein lies an opportunity that is yet to be explored in order to shift the tide of violence in northern Kenya”.

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