Colonial Deportation in Context: What Goes Around, Comes Around10 min read.
There are parallels to be drawn between the colonial measures of regulation, control and containment imposed on Africans and those imposed on today’s refugees and migrants.
Brexit Britain’s dismal plan to export its “immigration problem” to Rwanda through the forced deportation of asylum seekers is in some ways redolent of how, more than a century earlier, Kenya Colony dealt with its “native question”. That centred upon how to control the “natives” in a white European colony.
Some of the same buzzwords can be heard again this time around. Morality, betterment, economics, labour, containment, segregation and deterrence. Africans (and migrants of other ethnicities) must be contained in the equivalent of “native” reserves so that states can better control them. Moving them into reserves (aka migrant hostels, barracks, camps or detention centres) is for their own good. They will learn to give up whatever they were doing and labour for the white man (or in Rwanda’s case, industrious black and brown people). They will learn by example to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, as if they had never worked hard before. They will be mighty grateful for the opportunities offered – or they damn well ought to be. Saviours, of whatever colour, will save the lazy “natives” from themselves – or in the case of cross-Channel migrants, from people smugglers. Morally, it is the right thing to do. Civilisation will rub off on them. But whether the deported migrants will be treated as citizens or subjects in their new “home” remains unclear.
Writing in The Times in April, the then Home Secretary Priti Patel, chief architect of the UK-Rwanda deportation scheme, said, “We can provide legal, safe, orderly and controlled ways for people to better their lives, flee oppression, persecution or conflict and enjoy new opportunities” (emphasis mine). This ignores the fact that forced deportation is itself oppressive, and a form of trafficking. The “best interests” argument was regularly used by colonial administrators, in Kenya and in other British colonies, to justify forced removals and other oppressive measures against Africans, such as the Maasai removals and the Talai resettlement (discussed below).
Continuities in the colonial treatment of mobile Africans, and the modern-day treatment of refugees and asylum seekers (both African and other non-whites), are plain to see. Scholars Hanna Brankamp and Patricia Daley write of labourers, migrants and refugees, then and now: “Colonial biopolitics dictated that nonwhite bodies only move at the behest of capital, colonial authorities, and certainly never of their own volition”. Discussing both colonial migrant labourers and post-colonial refugees and migrants, and historical trajectories of migration control, their term “racialized subjects in need of spatial fixation” is a useful one. They draw parallels between measures of regulation, control and containment that are still in vogue today.
The role of Brexit
The goal of ending unfettered immigration to Britain lay at the heart of the Brexit vote in 2016, when a slim majority of British people voted to leave the European Union (EU). Those voters, known as Brexiteers, seem to forget that 47.5 million people did not vote to leave. Though this figure includes 13 million people who did not vote at all, those who voted to stay in the EU are called Remainers. The country formally left the EU in January 2020. But Brexiteers are furious that Brexit has not delivered what they expected, or were promised. In particular, they rage at what they see as out-of-control immigration, and the spectre of “hordes” of young men “of fighting age” from Africa and the Middle East arriving on our beaches. The majority are wrongly assumed to be Muslims, who are believed, in the wake of several terrorist attacks by young Muslim men living in Britain, to pose a terror threat. Immigration, especially by cross-Channel dinghy from France, aided by people smugglers, has soared under successive Tory governments; 28,500 migrants crossed the Channel this way in the past year, treble the figure for the previous 12 months. More than 20,000 people have crossed since the start of 2022. Crossings have continued since the Home Office announced its deportation plan, which indicates that it is not a deterrent. Some 1295 people crossed in one day (22 August), a record for 2022 so far. The fact that the migrants are escorted ashore by Border Force officials, housed in hotels, fed and watered, and “paid” £39 a week, all at taxpayers’ expense, only infuriates Brexiteers more.
“Colonial biopolitics dictated that nonwhite bodies only move at the behest of capital, colonial authorities, and certainly never of their own volition”.
Gloating over this fiasco is the divisive figure of Nigel Farage, an éminence grise obsessed with immigration and the EU, who has never managed to get elected to the British parliament, despite seven attempts. He was, nonetheless, the driving force behind Brexit, when leader of the fringe UKIP (UK Independence Party) and Brexit Party. Farage continues to whip up anti-migrant sentiment on right-wing broadcast channels such as GB News, but also in the pages of serious national newspapers. If one person is single-handedly responsible for the anti-migrant rhetoric, it is Farage. Shamefully, the two final candidates who fought to succeed Boris Johnson as Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss, parroted Farage in their frantic attempt to appeal to Tory Party members who chose the new PM. As predicted, Truss won. (The British electorate as a whole was not allowed to vote.) At an earlier stage of the contest, all the candidates said they supported the Rwanda deportation plan – despite the fact that several of them are, like Patel and Sunak, the children of immigrants to the UK. (Sunak’s parents were born in Kenya and Tanganyika, Patel’s are from Uganda.)
Fear of a mass invasion by Africans features in much of this rhetoric. Online comments contain hysterical claims that “the whole continent” is headed for Europe. “Most of Africa would prefer to live in Britain”, posted a reader at the Daily Telegraph on 22 June, one example that stands for many. In fact, the top countries of migrants’ origin include non-African countries such as Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Albania, Myanmar and Vietnam.
The deportation plan can be seen as the culmination of the Tories’ hostile environment policy towards immigrants, which was first introduced ten years ago. In 2012, the then Home Secretary, Theresa May, announced a strategy aimed at tackling “illegal” immigration by making life so unbearable for certain migrants they would voluntarily choose to leave. May herself used the words “a really hostile environment”. (Ironically, she now criticises the Rwanda deportation policy.) However, the opposition Labour Party first coined the expression in 2007. The then Labour immigration minister Liam Byrne referred to the desirability of creating a “hostile environment” in a consultation document that year, although the policy was not implemented. He has angrily denied May’s claims that Labour invented it.
Migration within colonial Kenya
Switching my focus to Kenya and the deeper historical context of forced migration, many of the internal relocations that took place in colonial Kenya (and the British protectorate that preceded it, before 1920) involved coercing Africans into leaving home to labour for white settlers. They moved seasonally in large numbers. “Squatters had not looked for work; [Lord Delamere] had sent for them, fetching their families and flocks by train”, writes historian John Lonsdale. However, not all displacement was coerced; this denies African and Asian agency, and overlooks all the other reasons why men, and women (often ignored in migration studies), moved as individuals in search of work.
The deportation plan can be seen as the culmination of the Tories’ hostile environment policy towards immigrants, which was first introduced ten years ago.
Norman Leys (a medical doctor and rights activist) reported how many colonial district officers initially refused to comply with demands from settlers and other private employers to use their influence and procure labourers. “Then an agitation began in Nairobi and in London. As a result of that agitation instructions were sent to district officers that, while no compulsion was to be used, ‘moral suasion’ was to be resorted to, chiefs were to be ‘encouraged’ to persuade their people to leave home to work for Europeans.” Then as now, Anglican bishops issued a statement condemning the plan. “We believe that ideally all labour should be voluntary. We recognise that, at present, this is impossible … [But] we are of the opinion that compulsory labour, so long as it is clearly necessary, should be definitely legalised.”
Under colonial vagrancy laws, it even became impossible for Africans who were not in employment to move around the country. The raising of the hut and poll tax also “encouraged” (Leys’ word, he was being ironic) Africans to seek wage labour outside their home areas. Settler estates depended on African labour to function, but recruitment proved difficult. Some settlers resorted to “exceptional violence” in order to get labour, in the words of scholars Bruce Berman and John Lonsdale. “The ferocity and unpredictability of the settler assault on the African population threatened to undermine the whole apparatus of colonial control”. The state had to step in to control labour supply, and did so after World War I when mass forced conscription into the Carrier Corps was seen to have been a “success”. (Some success; 95,000 African porters died.) It was a matter of carrots but more often sticks, as this appalling statement exemplifies:
I always treat my natives the same as I treat my children, I try to be kind to them, and to advise and direct them, but when kindness has no effect you have to do the same as they do in the public schools at home and throughout the empire – cane them. (Lt. Col. J.G. Kirkwood, Legislative Council member, Legco debate, 28 November 1941).
The language of infantilization persists today in the narratives around migrants.
Although the state, including the railway, was the largest single employer in the country at this point, thousands of men moved seasonally between the settler estates and African reserves, where their families tended to remain on the land. But over time, whole families moved to live on settler estates as squatters, and were initially allowed to bring their cattle with them. They grew subsistence crops, while women and children also provided labour to settlers during peak harvest and planting times. By 1931, the number of squatters in the highlands had risen to 113,176, the majority Kikuyu. They occupied one million acres of settler land, some of it land that the Maasai had formerly occupied. Although this arrangement brought some benefits for squatters (for one, it allowed them to expand beyond crowded Kikuyuland, creating a toe-hold that lasts to this day), harsh new laws forced African compliance with government. One of the most hated was the Registration of Natives Ordinance of 1915, which forced all males over the age of 15 to carry a form of identity called the kipande.
Over time, settlers became alarmed about the large number of squatter stock on their land, and fearing the diseases that this stock allegedly carried, began forcing squatters and their stock off farms. Resentment at this was among the issues that sowed the seeds of Mau Mau (aka the Land and Freedom Army). “The squatters saw their economic deprivation as linked to their political subordination and it was these two problems that they hoped to eradicate when they took the oath and swore to support the Mau Mau movement,” wrote Tabitha Kanogo in her ground-breaking book Squatters and the Roots of Mau Mau.
Maasai and other forced moves
Some communities were forcibly moved in their thousands, to become internally displaced in other parts of colonial Kenya. The most infamous forced migrations were the Maasai moves following two treaties or “agreements” made between Maasai leaders and British protectorate officials in 1904 and 1911. The moves were ordered to make way for white settlement, first in the central Rift Valley, later in the highlands of Laikipia. Maasai from certain socio-territorial sections (not the Maasai as a whole) were initially moved into two reserves, one in the north, the other in the south on the border with German territory (later Tanganyika and Tanzania). In 1904, the British promised the Maasai they could keep Laikipia for ever. But only seven years later, under pressure from settlers, they broke their pledge and moved the Maasai again, this time at gunpoint, into an enlarged southern reserve in what is now Narok County.
It is estimated that the Maasai lost up to at least 50 per cent of the territory they had once used, but the figure could be nearer 70 per cent. The losses did not just involve land, but included the loss of good grazing, access to water sources and sacred sites, and the fatal exposure of both humans and livestock to diseases like East Coast fever and malaria, which were unknown in Laikipia in those days. The ripple effects of these events continue to the present day, in agitation by Maasai for the return of lost land or compensation. Neither is likely to materialise, for a variety of reasons.
The language of infantilization persists today in the narratives around migrants.
Fears about Maasai warriors and the assumed threat they posed to Europeans in the early years of colonial rule were remarkably similar to the current rhetoric in Britain, centred on the irrational fear of “hordes of young men of fighting age” arriving on our shores. Not only is their potential (but unproven) violence feared, but also their perceived sexuality – “Lock up your daughters!” is the cry of the anti-migrant Tory right. This is obviously part of a larger racist trope, referred to as the “black peril” in the scholarship on settler colonies, but also prevalent in the USA, especially in the formerly segregated Deep South.
British administrators saw the warriors as a dangerous standing army, which could let rip at any moment. In a discussion of the merits of confining the Maasai to reserves, Protectorate Commissioner Sir Charles Eliot (the equivalent of a governor) wrote to the Foreign Office in 1903: “[Maasai] simplicity, loyalty, and soldierlike qualities inspire a sympathy which makes people forget that a race which regards fighting and raiding as the only occupations for a young man of honour can never be anything but a dangerous race.” He also condemned the warriors’ alleged “immorality”. In fact, as other officials who knew the Maasai better than Eliot were constantly telling him, they had never attacked Europeans and posed no danger. “And they are not likely to,” wrote Deputy Commissioner Frederick Jackson, “so long as they are treated fairly”. On the contrary, several administrators sympathetic to the Maasai feared that racist South African settlers in the Rift Valley might attack the Maasai if they were not physically separated. For these and other reasons, they were forced into reserves.
Today, the Maasai are not alone in their grievance with historical injustices. The Talai clan of Kericho County, part of the Kipsigis community, has for years sought reparations for forced resettlement. The British evicted them in 1934-36 from the Kipsigis Reserve to an allegedly mosquito-infested valley at Gwassi near Lake Victoria, where they stayed, under supervision, until the mid-1950s. They claim to have been moved to make way for tea plantations, some of which are still owned by UK-based multinationals. A group of Talai wrote to Prince William (elder son of King Charles III) in May this year seeking an apology and his support for reparations. The letter says: “We inherited the pain, you inherited the profit.” They hoped for sympathy from Will “because Kenya is special to him”. Earlier appeals to the British government appear to have received no reply.
Some communities were forcibly moved in their thousands, to become internally displaced in other parts of colonial Kenya.
Historians who have researched Talai history, most particularly the role of ritual leaders or orkoiik, say there is in fact no evidence that the Talai were evicted from land that became tea estates. But they were certainly evicted under colonial laws, said one leading scholar, and “unquestionably have a case”. UN human rights rapporteurs investigated the case and found for the Talai in 2021, which the community hailed as a great victory. However, the UN may have “ordered” the British government to apologise and pay compensation, but that does not mean anything will happen. The Tory government has been a tad preoccupied since Prime Minister Boris Johnson was ousted, and a bitter struggle ensued to replace him. And since Prince William has no political power or influence, all he can say is pole sana.
The Rwanda scheme is becoming more bogged down by the day. It recently emerged that British ministers who backed the plan were warned months ago, by the government’s own advisor, that Rwanda tortures and kills political opponents. The government wants to keep these comments in a Foreign Office report secret, partly in order not to offend Rwanda. Media houses, including the BBC, are challenging this. The doomed flights are postponed until after a judicial review of the policy at the High Court, London, which began on 5 September and is expected to last five days. President Paul Kagame has also thrown a spanner in the works by announcing, after pocketing the £120 million down-payment, that Rwanda will only take 200 migrants – a drop in the ocean. Patel and the Home Office she previously headed (she resigned on Monday 5 September, hours after Truss’s victory) made a major mistake by not specifying, in the MoU with Rwanda, how many migrants Britain planned to deport. Some of us suspect that our government never intended to carry out the policy in the first place. It was simply red meat thrown to Brexit voters.
This article is part of a series on migration and displacement in and from Africa, co-produced by the Elephant and the Heinrich Boll Foundation’s African Migration Hub, which is housed at its new Horn of Africa Office in Nairobi.
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Kenya’s Police Are Violent and Unaccountable – Should They Be Abolished?
After Kenya’s independence in 1963, the police were “Africanised” but retained much of their colonial character. Under Daniel arap Moi’s authoritarian regime (1978-2002), the police continued to play a key role in repressing dissent.
A world without the police is inconceivable to many people. The police are viewed as part of modern society’s foundation, ensuring democracy and keeping people safe.
In practice, however, police around the world sometimes repress social movements, stifle democracy, and exacerbate social and racial injustice. Across the African continent, they often use force to prop up repressive regimes. And in Kenya in particular, extortion and extrajudicial killings by the police are rampant.
Kenya is unusual for its extensive attempts to reform the police. Reform efforts began in earnest in 2008, when the police were found to be complicit in post-election violence. And yet, after 15 years and billions of shillings spent, the police reform project has largely failed.
The Kenyan police remain repressive, unaccountable and effectively unreformable. Many citizens complain about how the police treat them like ATMs – a source of cash. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the police killed tens of Kenyans while enforcing curfew measures.
We’ve conducted hundreds of interviews, discussion groups and over a decade of ethnographic research into how counter-terrorist policing and securitisation have shaped Nairobi. And in turn, how local residents respond to police violence and build their own practices of care, mutual aid and security.
We have come to the conclusion that the police make most people feel less safe. Many residents told us they don’t depend on the police for their safety: they keep each other safe. Given the impasse of police reform – and citizen responses to this – there is a strong argument to be made for the abolition of the Kenyan police altogether.
Policing at an impasse
Modern police institutions made their first appearances on the African continent as part of colonisation and the expansion of European capitalist interests.
In Kenya, the roots of policing lie in early colonial “conquest”. The Imperial British East African Company developed security forces to protect its expanding economic interests in the 1890s, and the Kenya-Uganda Railroad developed its own police force in 1902.
After Kenya’s independence in 1963, the police were “Africanised” but retained much of their colonial character. Under Daniel arap Moi’s authoritarian regime (1978-2002), the police continued to play a key role in repressing dissent.
There have been calls to reform the Kenyan police for decades. But the 2007-08 post-election violence, in which police were complicit in widespread ethnic violence, accelerated attempts at reform.
Over the past 15 years, police reform has been enshrined in the 2010 constitution and actualised in numerous acts of parliament. It’s been supported internationally with funding and technical expertise from the UN, the US and the EU, among others. It prompted the reorganisation of the police service and the establishment of civil oversight mechanisms.
Yet, despite all of these efforts, the Kenyan police remain corrupt, violent and unaccountable.
Civilian oversight over the police has proved ineffectual. The Independent Policing Oversight Agency has managed to bring only 12 cases of police violence to conviction out of more than 20,000 complaints received between 2012 and 2021. That is only one out of every 1,667 complaints. The under-resourced agency simply can’t grapple with the immense volume of reported police abuses.
The case for abolition
Police reform has failed. Is it time to consider abolition?
Abolition is not about simply tearing things down, but rather asking what should exist in place of outdated and violent systems that no longer serve people. Abolition is a creative and constructive project with deep philosophical roots.
So why abolish the Kenya police?
- The police are functionally obsolete for most Kenyans. In many low-income neighbourhoods, our research shows that people avoid calling the police to respond to crises or crimes. For many, experience shows that the police can make matters worse.
- The police often exacerbate insecurity, violence and corruption. To provide for their own safety, residents increasingly organise themselves into networks of friends, family and neighbours for basic safety. For instance, women in Mathare, Nairobi, organise their own security practices, which include conflict resolution, de-escalation of violence and support for survivors.
- In more affluent neighbourhoods, residents increasingly rely on private companies to provide security in their compounds. Police are seen as one among many security services available for hire. In our research, the few positive experiences with the Kenyan police were reported (predominantly) by such affluent residents.
- The remaining function of the police is “enforcing order” and protecting the state against society. Officers uphold and protect a rarefied governing class and political elite against the population.
Police abolition, therefore, would mean dismantling ineffective and repressive institutions and replacing them with systems of actual safety, systems that enable society to thrive.
What should replace the police?
When confronted with the idea of “abolition” for the first time, many people often respond: “but who will keep us safe?”
In Nairobi, the answer is to be found in existing social practices. The problem is that there’s a lack of resources to support alternatives to punitive security. We call for defunding the police and investing these resources in such alternatives.
- Invest in communities.When we ask about local security problems, residents often answer that the lack of schools, food, land, quality housing, water, electricity, toilets, healthcare and safe places for kids to play are what cause “insecurity”. Reinvestment in community means funding such social infrastructure to allow people to thrive. This reduces crime and violence.
- Invest in alternative safety mechanisms.This means strengthening dispute-resolution mechanisms that help resolve conflicts without violence. The government needs to support existing social justice centres, networks and movements fighting for change.
When these forms of social reinvestment are pursued, the need for the police is greatly diminished.
Wangui Kimari, Anthropologist, University of Cape Town and Zoltán Glück, Assistant Professor of Anthropology, American University
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.
Nigeria: A Messiah Will Not Fix Country’s Problems
In Nigeria’s recent election cycle, many citizens looked to Peter Obi for change. But the country needs people-led social transformation, not saviors.
On February 25, Nigerians once again took to the polls with a determination that their votes could change the fate of a country in deep despair. For the seventh time since a civilian dispensation began in 1999, Nigerians hoped that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) would conduct a free, fair, and credible election. This hope was reinvigorated by the emergence of technology that would ensure, purportedly, a transparent process. Yet, once again, voters had their dreams crushed with an election marred by violence, ballot box snatching, forged results and, of course, voter intimidation and buying. In the days that followed, despite mounting evidence of irregularities and international outcry, INEC declared Bola Ahmed Tinubu, of the All Progressives Congress (APC), the winner of the presidential poll. The continuation of a gerontocratic oligarchy was solidified.
Although media attention focused on a young class of voters and the uniqueness of this historical moment, a deeper analysis is necessary. If nothing else, this election provided an opportunity to examine the shifting landscape of Nigeria’s elite electoral politics, and the increasingly complex voting patterns of citizens, while understanding these voters are increasingly a minority—less than 30 percent of the registered voters (about one-tenth of the population) cast their vote.
The dizzying rise of Peter Obi as a “third force” candidate over the last nine months was largely due to a movement of emergent and middle-class youth, the so-called “Obidients,” who used technology to galvanize a youthful base to push forward their candidate. That the Obidient movement was formed, ironically, off the back of the EndSARS movement, is in many ways a direct contradiction. The generation that was “leaderless” now suddenly had a leader. The rate at which young people chose this candidate still gives me whiplash. But there was no shaking their convictions. Obi was their candidate, and no one could shake their belief that a new Nigeria would be formed under his presidency, despite the evidence that he was directly endorsed by the same ruling class that has led to the country’s demise.
Obi is not a revolutionary, a social welfarist, nor even pro labor, but he became the savior many youth were looking for to “rescue” Nigeria. Ironically, the millions of youth that fought the EndSARS battle, and named themselves the leaderless soro soke (“speak up” in Yoruba) generation, did not seek elective office themselves. Rather, many put their eggs in Obi’s basket in supporting an older, veteran politician whose clean cut and soft demeanor led to his near deification. Other EndSARS activists, including Omoyele Sowore, were mocked for running in the election and were seen as not experienced enough for the job. In the end Sowore performed abysmally at the polls, despite his demonstrated commitment to Nigerian youth and human rights record and involvement in the EndSARS protests (Sowore’s African Action Congress polled only 14,608 votes, faring worse than in the 2019 election).
This absolute faith in Obi was demonstrated when his followers patiently waited for five days after the election to hear from him. Instead of sending them into the streets, he advised them to wait for him to challenge the electoral irregularities in the courts. Why did a leaderless generation need a hero?
The contradictions in the EndSARS ideology and the Obidient campaign will be tested in the years ahead. After the Lekki massacre on October 20, 2020 brought the massive street protests of the EndSARS movement to an abrupt halt, many of the sites of protests shut down completely and groups that were loosely organized dismantled into relative silence for almost two years. In fact, there was little indication that EndSARS would evolve into a mass political movement until Peter Obi emerged on the scene in May 2022. The first- and second anniversaries of the Lekki massacre were marked by smaller protests in Lagos and a few other cities, which paled in comparison to the numbers at the 2020 protests. Still, efforts to free many of the prisoners arrested during EndSARS are proving difficult, with some protesters and victims still in jail today. There was no direction, no cohesiveness, and no willingness to move forward at that point. But in May 2022, seemingly out of nowhere, things began to shift. A candidate emerged that many EndSARS protesters seemed to think would be the savior.
Understanding the youth divide
While often lumped into a sum, the category of “youth” is not a single class of people. When Obi was said to carry the youth vote he actually only carried the vote of a particular category of young people, an emergent middle and professional class, who were also some of the most vocal in the EndSARS movement. However, if we are to use the discredited election geography as a proxy for representation, it is clear that this demographic is both well defined and narrow. Major urban areas like Lagos and Abuja pulled towards Obi, as did a few Eastern states. The North Central states including Plateau and Benue asserted their own identity by aligning with Obi, perhaps in a rejection of the Northern Muslim tickets of the Peoples Democratic Party (with whom Atiku Abubaker ran) and the APC.
The 2023 election also forces us to re-examine the dynamics of class, ethnic and religious divides and the deepening malaise of the poor and their disengagement with politics. What is clear from this election, like many before, is that Nigeria has yet to come of age as a democracy; indeed, the conditions for democracy simply do not exist. It is also quite evident that the Nigerian elite are adept at changing the political game to suit the mood of the Nigerian people. Electoral malpractices have shifted over time in response to the increasing pressure of civil society for accountable elections. Strong civil society advocacy from organizations focused on accountability and transparency in government have pushed against electoral practices. While these practices continue, there are significant shifts from previous elections where vote buying was brazen. However, it begs the historical questions: has Nigeria ever had a truly free and fair election, and is the process with which democracy is regenerated through the ballot the path for emancipatory politics? These questions become more relevant as the numbers of voters continue to dwindle, with the 2023 election having the lowest turnout in Nigeria’s electoral history, despite the social media propaganda around the youth vote and the turning tide of discontent that was predicted to shape the election.
Lessons from history
The fact that young people were surprised by the events on February 25 may be indicative of youthful exuberance or a startling lack of knowledge of history. The idea that a ruling class, who had brought the EndSARS struggle to a bloody end, would somehow deliver a free and fair election, needs more critical scrutiny. For those that remember the history of the June 12, 1993 elections—annulled after the popular rise of MKO Abiola—the election is no surprise. But for young people deprived of history education, which has been removed from Nigeria’s curriculum for the past 30 years, the knowledge may be limited. When a young person says they have never seen an election like this, they also cannot be faulted, as many young voters were voting for the first time. Given that many youth seem to underestimate the long history of elections and electoral fraud, the question of intergenerational knowledge and of a public history that seems to be absent from electoral discourse cannot be ignored. It is also hard to fault young voters, in a land where there is no hope, and whatever hope is sought after can be found in the marketplace.
Many of the young organizers were adept at reading their constituencies and mobilizing their bases, but some of the elephants in the room were ignored. One of these elephants, of course, was the deep geographic and ethno-religious and class divisions between the North and the South. This is evident in the voting patterns in the North West and North East where Obi’s campaign did not make a dent. Though Obi ran with a vice president from the North, the majority of votes in Northern zones were divided between PDP, APC and New Nigeria People’s Party while two of the North Central states, Plateau and Nasarawa, went to Obi’s Labor party. Kano, the largest voting population in the country went to Rabiu Kwankwaso’s NNPP, an outlier who was ignored to the peril of opposition parties (Kwankwaso was the former governor of Kano).
Obi’s campaign also focused on the emergent middle class youth, as well as appealing to religious sentiments through churches on a Christian ticket and ethnic sentiments appealing to his Ibo base in the South East, where he swept states with more than 90 percent of the vote. The North is largely made up of the rural poor with poverty rates as high as 87 percent and literacy rates among young women in Zamfara state as low as 16 percent. Tracking Obi’s victories, most of the states where he won had lower poverty rates and higher literacy rates; states like Delta and Lagos have the lowest poverty counts in the country. While Obi used poverty statistics to bolster his campaign, his proposed austerity measures and cuts in government spending do not align with the massive government investments that would be needed to lift Nigerians out of poverty. While the jury is still out on the reasons for low voter turnout, deepening poverty and the limited access to cash invariably impacted poor voters.
Historically, Nigeria’s presidency has swung between the North and the South, between Muslims and Christians, and this delicate balance was disrupted on all sides. In 2013, an alliance between the Southern Action Congress (AC), the Northern All Nigeria’s People’s Party (ANPP), and Congressive People’s Alliance (CPC) to produce the Action People’s Congress (APC) was able to remove the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) who had dominated the political scene. Another important historical note is that of the legacy of Biafra that lives on, as an Igbo man has never taken the helm of the Presidency since the Civil War. While Obi ran on the promise of a united youth vote, the lingering ethnic and religious sentiments demonstrate the need for his campaign to have created a stronger alliance with the North and the rural and urban poor.
The failure of the youth vote is also a failure of the left
The other factor that we must examine is the failure of the left to articulate and bring into public critique the neoliberal model that all the candidates fully endorsed. Many young Nigerians believe if Nigeria works, it will work for everyone, and that “good governance” is the answer to the myriad problems the country faces. The politics of disorder and the intentionality of chaos are often overlooked in favor of the “corrupt leader” indictment. The left was divided between the Labor Party, whose presidential flag bearer ran on a neoliberal rather than pro worker or socialist platform, and the African Action Congress, who ran on a socialist manifesto, but failed to capture the imaginations of young people or win them over to socialist politics and ideology. In seeking to disrupt the two party power block, young Nigerians took less notice of the lack of difference between the three front running parties, and chose to select the lesser of three evils, based on credentials and the idea that Obi was “the best man for the job.” In fact, the Nigerian youth on the campaign trail emphasized experience in government as a criteria for a good candidate, over and above fresh ideas.
The left also failed to garner the EndSARS movement and channel it into a political force. The emergent youth middle class, not the workers and the working poor, continued to carry the message of liberal rather than revolutionary politics. Unfortunately, just as the gunning down of Nigerian protesters caught young people off guard in October 2020, so too the massive rigging of this election. However, there is no cohesive movement to fight the fraud of this election. The partisan protests and separate court cases by the Labor Party and PDP, demonstrate that the disgruntled candidates are fighting for themselves, rather than as a single voice to call out electoral fraud and the rerun of the election. The fact that there is acceptance of the National Assembly election outcomes and not the presidential election, points to the seeking of selective justice, which may eventually result in the complete disenfranchisement of the Nigerian people.
At this time we must seek answers to our current dilemma within history, the history that we so often want to jettison for the euphoria or overwhelming devastation of the moment. The question for the youth will now be, which way forward? Will we continue to rely on the old guard, the gerontocratic oligarchy that has terrorized Nigerians under the guise of different political parties for the past 24 years? Or will we drop all expectations and pursue the revolution that is sorely needed? Will young people once again rise to be a revolutionary vanguard that works with millions of working poor to form a truly pro-people, pro-poor party that has ordinary Nigerians as actual participants in a virbrant democracy from the local to the federal levels, not just during election time but every day? Will the middle class Nigerian youth be willing to commit class suicide to fight alongside the poor to smash the existing oligarchy and gerontocracy and snatch our collective destiny back?
It is a time for truth telling, for examining our own shortcomings. As young people, as the left, and as civil society, we have relied too long on the oppressors for our own liberation.
This post is from a partnership between Africa Is a Country and The Elephant. We will be publishing a series of posts from their site once a week.
Africa in the New World Disorder
The war in Ukraine indicates a new world disorder, where great powers fight for primacy and Africa continues to be exploited.
There are some of us in Africa who believe that we should not invest any serious thinking in the war in Ukraine as it is one of the “European tribal wars.” The logic of that belief is that in Africa we have too many of our own problems to invest energy and effort in European problems. The trouble of being African in the present world order, however, is that all problems and wars end up African in effect if not in form. In the sense in which one who knows it feels it, every war in the world is an African war because Africans have, for the longest time, felt and known wars that are not of their creation. The African condition itself can be understood as a daily experience of war.
Over centuries Africa has been structured and positioned to be on the receiving end of all world problems. As such, Africa is not only the storied cradle of mankind, but also the cemetery of the human condition where every human and world problem comes to kill and to die as well. The worst of the human condition and human experiences tend to find final expression in Africa. It is for that reason that Julius Nyerere once opined that the Devil’s Headquarters must be in Africa because everything that might go wrong actually goes wrong in the continent.As the world tiptoes precariously from the COVID-19 pandemic, at the same time it seems to be tottering irreversibly towards a nuclear World War III. The countries of the world that have the power and the privilege to stop the war pretend to be unable to do so. Even some powerful and privileged Western thinkers are beating the drums of war. For instance, Slavoj Zizek, considered “the most dangerous philosopher in the West,” wrote for The Guardian in June 2022 to say: “pacifism is the wrong response to the war in Ukraine,” and “the least we owe Ukraine is full support, and to do that we need a stronger NATO.” Western philosophers, not just soldiers and their generals, are demanding stronger armies and bigger weapons to wage bigger wars. In Ukraine, the conflict is proving too important to be left to the soldiers, the generals and the politicians. In that assertion Zizek speaks from the Euro-American political and military ego, whose fantasy is a humiliating total defeat of Russia in Ukraine. Zizek, the “dangerous philosopher” takes his place as a spokesperson for war and large-scale violence, agitating from a comfortable university office far away from the horrors of Bakhmut.
United States President, Joe Biden, spoke from the same egopolitics of war before the Business Roundtable CEO Quarterly Meeting on March 21 last year: “And now is a time when things are shifting… there’s going to be a new world order out there, and we’ve got to lead it. And we’ve got to unite the rest of the free world in doing it.” Clearly, an “end of history” fantasy of another unipolar world led by the US and its NATO allies has possessed Western powers that are prepared to pump money, weapons and de-uniformed soldiers into Ukraine to support the besieged country to the “last Ukrainian.” During a surprise visit to Kyiv on the eve of the anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Biden hawkishly said the US will support Ukraine in fighting “as long as it takes,” dismissing diplomatic alternatives. Suggestions for a negotiated settlement in Ukraine that have come from influential figures, such as Henry Kissinger on the right and Noam Chomsky on the left, have been dismissed with the sleight of the left hand, and this is as Ukraine is literally being bombed to dust. African countries that have for years been theaters of colonial invasions, proxy wars, sponsored military coups, and regime changes can only see themselves in Ukraine. What Ukraine is going through is a typical African experience taking place in Europe and the first victims are Europeans this time.
Being Africans in Africa, at the least, should equip us with the eyes to see the war in Ukraine for what it is, a war driven by a Euro-American will to power, a spirited desire for world dominion against the Russian fear of NATO encirclement and containment, and nostalgia about a great Soviet empire. It is a war of desires and fears from which the belligerents will not back off. The envisaged “new world order” can only be another “world disorder” for an Africa that has for so long been in the periphery of economic, political, and military world affairs.
Destined for war: The Thucydides trap
Well before the war, the Singaporean diplomat and scholar Kishore Mahbubani described how the “world has turned a corner” and why “the West has lost it” in trying to maintain its economic and political dominion by any means necessary and some means unnecessary. Power is shifting under the feet of a young and fragile Euro-American empire that will not lose power peacefully, hence the spirited desire to force another unipolar world without China and Russia as powers. Taiwan and Ukraine are the chosen sites where the Euro-American establishment is prepared to militarily confront its threatening rivals. That “from AD 1 to 1820, the two largest economies were always those of China and India” and that “only in that period did Europe take off followed by America” is little understood. That the Euro-American empire has not been the first and it will not be the last empire is little understood by the champions of the “new world order” that Francis Fukuyama, in 1989, mistakenly declared as “the end of history and the last man;” a world ruled by the West, led by the US and its European allies had arrived and was here to stay in Fukuyama’s enchanting prophecy. Ensuing history, 9/11 amongst other catastrophic events, and the present war in Ukraine, were to prove Fukuyama’s dream a horrific nightmare. Mahbubani predicts that the short-lived rise and power of the Euro-American Empire has “come to a natural end, and that is happening now.” It seems to be happening expensively if the costs in human life, to the climate and in big dollars are to be counted.
In the struggle of major world powers for dominion of the globe Ukraine is reduced to a burnt offering. While, on the one hand, we have a terrified Euro-American empire fearing a humiliating return to oblivion and powerlessness, on the other hand we have the reality of an angry China and Russia, carrying the burden of many decades of geopolitical humiliation. Such corners of the world as Africa become the proverbial grass that suffers when elephants fight. The scramble to reduce Africa to a sphere of influence for this and that power is a spectacle to behold and the very definition of the new world disorder; a damaged and asymmetrical shape of the world where the weaker other is dispensable and disposable.
In its form and content, this new world disorder is ghastly to ponder, not only for Africa, but also for the rest of the world. Graham Allison pondered it in 2015 and came up with the alarming observation that “war between the US and China is more likely than recognised at the moment” because the two powerful countries have fallen into the Thucydides Trap. The ancient Greek historian, Thucydides, described the trap when he narrated how avoiding war becomes next to impossible when a ruling power is confronted by a rival rising power that threatens its dominion. Thucydides witnessed how the growing power and prosperity of Athens threatened Sparta in ancient Greece, driving the two powers to war. The political and historical climate between China and the US captures the charged political temperatures that punctuated the relations between an entitled and proud Sparta confronted with the growth and anger of a frightening Athens. The proverbial chips were down.
For the US and China to escape the Thucydides Trap that is luring both superpowers to war, “tremendous effort” is required of both parties and their allies. The effort is mainly in mustering the emotional stamina to see and to know that the world is going to be a shared place where there must never be one center of power; that political, economic and military diversity is natural, and the world must be a decolonial pentecostal place where those of different identities, and competing interests can share power and space, is the beginning of the political wisdom that can guarantee peace. President Xi Jinping of China seems to have read Allison’s warning about the Thucydides Trap that envelops China and the US because on a visit to Seattle he was recorded saying: “There is no such thing as the so-called Thucydides Trap in the world. But should major countries time and again make the mistakes of strategic miscalculation, they might make such traps for themselves.” The world is sinking deeper into new disorder and violence because rival powers cannot resist the Thucydides Trap and keep repeating “strategic miscalculations” based on their will to power and desire for global dominion.
The problem with China (the Athens of our present case) that troubles the US as the Sparta of the moment is that, as Allison observes, “China wants to be China and accepted as such—not as an honorary member of the West.” The problem with world powers, past and present, seems to be that they cannot live with difference. In fact, political, economic and cultural differences are quickly turned from competition to conflict, from opposition to total enmity. How to translate antagonism to agonism, and to move from being enemies to being respectful adversaries that can exist among each other in a conflictual but shared world is a small lesson that seems to elude big powers, whose egopolitics drives their geopolitics into a kind of militarized lunacy. One would be forgiven, for instance, to think that playground toys are being spoken of when presidents of powerful countries talk about monstrous weapons to be deployed in Ukraine. Observing from Africa one can hazard the view that big powers might be small and slow learners, after all. The death-drive of the superpowers is perpetuated by the desire to force other countries, including other powers, to be “more like us” when they are formidably determined to be themselves. To break out of the Thucydides Trap and avoid war, for instance, the US has to generate and sustain enough emotional stamina to live with the strong truth that China is a 5,000-year-old civilization with close to 1.5 billion people and in its recent rise is only returning to glory and not coming from the blue sky. And that the world has to be shared with China and other powers, and countries. China, and allies, would also not have learnt well from many years of decline if they dreamt and worked for a world under their sole dominion.
Any fantasy of one world ruled from one mighty center of power is exactly that, a fantasy that might be pursued at the dear cost of a World War. Away from that fantasy, the future world will be politically pentecostal, not a paradise but a perpetually in the making and incomplete world where human, national, cultural, political and religious differences will be normal. From Africa that future world is thinkable and world powers should be investing thought and action in that and not in new monstrous weapons and military might.
Africa in the new world disorder
The symptoms are spectacular and everywhere to be seen. It can be the Namibian President, Hage Geingob, on live television having to shout at a German politician, Norbet Lammert, for complaining about the growing Chinese population in Namibia. Geingob asks why Germans land in Namibia on a “red carpet” and do “what they want” but it becomes a huge problem for the West when the Chinese are seen in Namibia. That Namibia should not be reduced into a theater of contestation between the West and China because it is a sovereign country was Geingob’s plea to the German politician. It can be President Emmanuel Macron of France, in May 2021, asking President Paul Kagame of Rwanda for forgiveness for France’s role in the genocide of 1994—the bottom line being that African conflicts and genocides bear European footprints and fingerprints. Africa is reduced to the West’s crime scene, from slavery to colonialism and from colonialism to present coloniality.
Coloniality is brought to life with, for instance, the US Republican lawmakers launching a bill “opposing the Republic of South Africa’s hosting of military exercises with the People’s Republic of China and the Russian Federation and calling on the Biden administration to conduct a thorough review of the US-South Africa relationship.” Africa as an object that does not have the agency to act for itself but is acted upon in the new world disorder, is real. It is Africa as a child in the world system that must be protected from other relationships and that must be told who to relate with and who not to relate with. It is also Africa as an owned thing that must be protected from rival owners. Behind the myth of African independence and liberation is the reality of Africa as a “sphere of influence,” about which world powers are still scrambling for control and ownership, including Russia and China. When in January 2018, Donald Trump referred to African countries as “all these shithole countries,” he meant that Africa still metaphorized the toilet of the world order, where disposable waste and dispensable people were to be found. Looking at the world disorder from Africa is a troubling view from the toilet of world affairs.
Looking at the world disorder from Africa with African eyes and sensibility makes it obvious that it is Africa that should be against war and for a decolonial, multipolar world order where differences are legitimated, not criminalized; where economic competition, political opposition, and rivalry are democratized from antagonism to agonism; and where political opponents are adversaries that are not necessarily blood enemies that must work on eliminating each other to the “last man.” Such a world order may be liberating in that both fears and desires of nations may play out in a political climate where might is not necessarily right. From long experiences of being the dominated and exploited other of the world, Africa should expectedly be the first to demand such a world.
World powers need to be persuaded or to pressure themselves to understand what Mahbubani prescribes as a future world order that is against war, and liberating in that it is minimalist, multilateral, and Machiavellian. Minimalist, in that major countries should minimize thinking and act like other countries are minors that should be changed into their own image. Multilateral in the sense that world institutions, such as the United Nations, must be pentecostal sites where differences, fears and desires of all countries are moderated and democratized. Machiavellian in that world powers, no matter how mighty they believe they are, must adapt to the change to the order of things and live with the truth that they will not enjoy world dominion alone, in perpetuity. The world must be a shared place that naturalizes and normalizes political, economic, cultural, and human diversity.
This post is from a partnership between Africa Is a Country and The Elephant. We will be publishing a series of posts from their site once a week.
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