Anglican primates are engaged in a very public spat. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, and the Archbishop of Uganda, Stephen Kaziimba Mugalu, differ on the position of the Anglican Communion on same-sex relations. The primates’ tracasserie, has been public, tense, and is straining the bonds holding the Communion together.
In a public statement on 29th May 2023, Archbishop Mugalu declared his and the Church of Uganda’s (CoU) gratitude and unqualified support for Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act 2023. The Act prohibits people from having same-sex sexual relations. It imposes sanctions on the promotion or recognition of same-sex relations and related matters, which, according to Archbishop Mugalu, are prohibited both in the scriptures and in Ugandan culture. But a dismayed Archbishop Welby, in a press release, urged Archbishop Mugalu to withdraw his public support of laws that criminalize LGBTI people. He wrote, “There is no justification for any Province of the Anglican Communion to support such laws: not in our resolutions, not in our teachings, and not in the gospel we share.”
Was Archbishop Welby returning a compliment? In February, Archbishop Mugalu rebuked Archbishop Welby after the Church of England’s (CoE) General Synod approved the blessing of couples in same-sex unions. He condemned Welby’s approval of a change in the Church’s marriage doctrine that allowed clergy to preside over blessings of same-sex unions of couples considered “married” by the British government. Further, the CoE synod approved supplementary prayers and liturgies for such occasions.
Archbishop Welby made a curious admission on the contentious issues of human sexuality: “None of us get this right and I am only too conscious of the failing of the Church of England…” For this reason, he invited his fellow disciples across the Anglican Communion to a dialogue and urged them to desist from homophobia, racism and all other “othering” of our brothers and sisters in Christ.
I see this primates’ tiff as an acute case of culture clash, given the global texture of the Anglican Communion. The primates differed in their interpretation of the CoE Synodal Resolutions and the Ugandan Anti-homosexuality Act. Despite both having cultural advisers, the contradictions were bound to erupt, because they became mutually puzzled by each other’s behaviour which was not according to expectations. William Blake captures this contradiction best in The Everlasting Gospel: “Both read the Bible, day, and night. But thou read’st black where I read white.”
Each primate speaks to a different audience, both at home and abroad.
The Church of England’s resolutions of February 2023
During the 2023 General Synod, the CoE passed several resolutions to enable her clergy to perform blessings for same-sex civil partnerships and marriages. The resolutions removed legal impediments to the “solemnisation of same-sex marriage in the Church of England”. They achieved this without abandoning the traditional view of marriage as legitimate and honourable. In making these accommodations in practice, the CoE welcomed the LGBTI people and repented for the harm caused.
Archbishop Welby and the CoE received these changes as a fitting response to their social milieu where justice and fairness for LGBTI peoples is enshrined in the anti-discrimination laws. Same-sex civil partnerships and marriages are now permissible. Archbishop Mugalu, on the other hand, saw the changes as a contradiction. He wondered how the CoE could maintain traditional marriage as a lifelong union between one man and one woman and at the same time permit clergy to bless couples in same-sex relationships.
Archbishop Welby claimed the CoE laboured long on the need for change before arriving at the present position. It reached the conclusion having sought the mind of scripture while seeking to “not reject Christ and His authority”. So, to question these changes, argued Archbishop Welby, makes the CoE and Anglican Church abroad “a victim of derision, contempt, and even attack for being part of the perceived ‘homophobic church’.”
But Archbishop Mugalu and the CoU were worried. Rejecting the inherited teaching on marriage and the sin of homosexual practices would damage her witness. There was a reluctance to change, for any such shift might cause the CoU and other Anglican churches to be perceived as being part of what is called the “gay church”.
Thus, while Archbishop Welby rejected Archbishop Mugalu’s statements and the tag of a “homophobic church”, Archbishop Mugalu refused the association with Archbishop Welby’s position for fear of being labelled a “gay church”.
The Church of Uganda’support for the Anti-Homosexuality Act
Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act 2023 prohibits any form of sexual relations between persons of the same sex. It also prohibits the promotion or recognition of same-sex relations and related matters. It imposes a long prison sentence for homosexual offences and life imprisonment for aggravated homosexual offences against the underage or the disabled. It also prohibits those convicted under the Act from working directly with children to aid the CoU’s mission to protect children.
Archbishop Mugalu supported the Act because, in his view, Ugandans consider sexual relations between persons of the same sex to be an aberration. The archbishop argued that the previous legislation, drawn from the colonial era, criminalized same-sex relations under the Penal Code Act of 1950. He was in favour of the Act’s strong anti-grooming measures and restrictions on promoting the homosexual lifestyle.
Rejecting the inherited teaching on marriage and the sin of homosexual practices would damage her witness.
But the Archbishop of Canterbury differed. Both he and the CoE believe that homosexual attraction is natural, not a matter of choice. It is, therefore, wrong for Uganda to criminalize people for being who they are. So, if the Church were to support laws forbidding partnerships between LGBTI people, its action would be unjust. And since the CoE believes this to be a clear injustice, its position should be reflected in the rest of its beliefs; it should become a moral and ethical force in the 21st century. Welby therefore called on the CoU to reject such “criminal sanctions against same sex attracted people”, instead affirming them as humans, because God’s love is the same for every human being, irrespective of their sexuality.
The CoU refused to be tagged as condoning injustice and claimed that it was advancing laws that protect human rights. The CoU said it had forced the government to replace the death sentence in the penal code and in earlier bills with life imprisonment. In addition, it was pointed out that the prohibitions against homosexuality in Uganda were mild compared to the laws in the Arabian Peninsula and in the Middle East.
The CoE noted a profound dislocation between the Church and the society we are called to serve. A dislocation not about their position concerning partnership or sexual expression, but a fundamental disagreement about justice and fairness. The society views the CoE as inhabiting a different moral universe.
The CoU refused to be tagged as condoning injustice and claimed that it was advancing laws that protect human rights.
But Archbishop Mugalu would never affirm LGBTI people, nor allow the CoU to normalize homosexuality. The defining mark of the CoU is the sacrificial blood of the Uganda Martyrs. Although their confession and baptism defined their faith, the young martyrs’ refusal to yield to the homosexual advances of their king and dying for it is legendary. Now faced with a similar challenge, how can the CoU betray them, or abandon the Lord Jesus Christ?
Why the primates’ clash?
There are two explanations for the archbishops’ clash: ethnocentrism as advanced by anthropologists like Paul Hiebert, and the psychological dynamics of culture clash as advanced by Glenn Adams and Hazel Rose Markus.
Whenever we find differences in culture, Paul G. Hiebert concludes, ethnocentrism occurs, “the tendency to judge other cultures by our own values and assumptions of our culture”. So, it becomes the norm to view one’s own cultural position as the most suitable. And this is mutual. For just as we judge others’ customs as crude, they feel the same about ours.
The divergence of the archbishops’ vision of human sexuality is unyielding. The tension stretches into their interpretation of the 1998 Lambeth Conference Resolution 1.10, the most cited Anglican authority on human sexuality that holds “homosexual practice as incompatible with scripture” and, therefore, the church “cannot advise the legitimising or blessing of same-sex unions nor ordaining those involved in same gender unions.” Archbishop Justin emphasizes the resolution’s stand that “all baptised, believing and faithful persons, regardless of sexual orientation, are full members of the Body of Christ”. He “calls on all our people to minister pastorally and sensitively to all irrespective of sexual orientation and to condemn irrational fear of homosexuals”.
On the other hand, Archbishop Mugalu’s reading of the resolution supports the Uganda Anti-homosexuality Act, to the dismay of Archbishop Welby, who judges the Ugandan action as inhuman from the UK point of view. Archbishop Welby’s reading of the resolution is consistent with the CoE’s position, which embraces and welcomes LGBTI people, while Archbishop Mugalu judges it from his cultural point of view as compromising and contradictory.
For Archbishop Welby, to offer loving pastoral services to individuals made in the image of God is to affirm their value and identity. Supporting Archbishop Welby, the Archbishop of York laments existing laws that target people perceived to be different. According to the Archbishop of York, unloving laws that cause prejudice, violence, discrimination, and oppression are not rooted in the Gospel’s call to love our neighbours as Christ has loved us. Homosexual orientation is now viewed as being as normal as being left-handed in Western culture. It is nature. So, to discriminate on the grounds of sexuality is unlawful and deeply wrong. The CoE refuses to inhabit a different moral universe. A further reason to re-examine our scriptures and the tradition is to see if we can find a better way.
At the heart of the divide in the Anglican Communion’s approach to pastoral care for LGBTI people is a mutual pervasive process of devaluing the non-dominant group in contact with the more dominant group. These differences are cast as the result of negative shared tendencies rather than as a matter of divergent life experiences.
The Archbishop of Uganda holds a different logic of loving pastoral care for LGBTI people. Such services, argues Archbishop Mugalu, must be understood as guiding sinners back to God’s love through repentance. The CoU holds that God condemns all sexual sin: fornication, adultery, polygamy, bestial acts, paedophilia, and homosexuality. Repentant sinners can receive God’s love by confessing the wrong done and changing their lives. The CoU’s model of care and love is found in the example of Jesus’ treatment of the woman caught in adultery. Jesus said to her “Go, and sin no more.” Since God cannot bless what he calls sin, God wants to free from bondage those caught in sexual sin. The CoU has therefore developed pastoral healing ministries and recovery centres, where LGBTI people can find healing, forgiveness, freedom, and hope.
For Archbishop Welby, to offer loving pastoral services to individuals made in the image of God is to affirm their value and identity.
Culture reveals the psychological dynamics underlying the divide. When change comes, we are asked to examine cultural practices and institutions to foster a more inclusive, equal, and just multi-cultural society. The culture cycle offers insight into the primates’ clash.
Adams and Markus observe that culture comprises explicit and implicit patterns of historically derived and selected ideas and their embodiment in institutions, practices, and artifacts. Hence, the culture cycle is conceived as a multilayered, interacting, and dynamic system of ideas, institutions, interactions and individuals.
Conceptually, the culture cycle represents the dynamic process through which the cultural and the psychological interact and mutually make up one another.
Hazel Markus and Alana Conner show culture as a system of four dynamically interacting and interdependent layers. Here, culture is composed of the ideas, institutions, and interactions that guide and reflect individuals’ thoughts, feelings, and actions. The culture cycle can either start from the left hand or the right hand. The two archbishops seem to start the culture cycle from opposite ends.
Starting the culture cycle from the left, one begins with ideas, then the institutions and interactions that influence the individual. Consequently, cultures shape the self. For a person thinks, feels, and acts in ways that reflect and perpetuate these cultures. This appears to have been Archbishop Mugalu’s and the CoU’s starting point. Since Ugandan culture frowns on homosexuality, this norm determines how individuals in that culture respond to the demands of LGBTI people. So, according to Anita Among’, Speaker of the Ugandan Parliament, the Anti-Homosexuality Act “captures the norms and aspirations of Ugandans, for the House legislates for the citizens”. How, query’s Archbishop Mugalu, can the CoU embrace and normalize same-sex relations against their will, culture, and religious beliefs?
Joining the culture cycle from the right is reflected by individuals participating in and creating (i.e., reinforcing, resisting, and/or changing) cultures adopted by other people, in the present and the future. This is the point from which Archbishop Welby and the CoE seem to have started from in the cycle. The CoE adopted an embracing posture, following the individual experience of the young generation that has grown up in a UK society where homosexual orientation is normal. These individuals were previously rejected by the Church. So, for most of their lives, members of this generation have endured deep hurt and distress emanating from a sense of rejection and unworthiness at the hands of their own church, while finding acceptance and affirmation in the wider society. The CoE perceives this dislocation as a fundamental disagreement over justice and fairness, and thus transcending sexual expression and partnerships.
How, query’s Archbishop Mugalu, can the CoU embrace and normalize same-sex relations against their will, culture, and religious beliefs?
Taking a position against homosexuality in the Ugandan society makes the CoU, and therefore Archbishop Mugalu, a moral voice. But taking a similar position would place the CoE in dissonance with the society it aims to serve.
If this divide is to be bridged, then the Anglican Church must examine the interconnected and shifting dynamics that make up the culture cycle and afford certain ways of being while constraining others. We need to recognize that to foster more inclusive, equal, and effective institutions and practices, the deeper work will involve changing how cultures construct the meaning and nature of social group differences themselves.
We can exploit the power individuals have to shape their cultures through their actions, as we focus on how cultures shape people.
We disagree, but are not divided
What is God saying to us Anglicans now?
The Anglican Communion may not be divided for now, but it will wither on the vine and die unless these fierce disagreements are attended to. It is possible, in the words of E. Nader, that the Anglican Communion is approaching the moment of its collapse, trailing in the dust of a British Empire whose robes are now tattered and thrown into the heap of history. Our generation is called to act to maintain the communion for the sake of the “wider church” and the world.
Since the dissonance in human sexuality ruptured, the Anglican Communion has presented two divergent visions, one based on doctrinal unity defined by the traditional teaching of the faith received, the other on progressive reforms anchored in Anglican unity and God’s providence, expressed in the Nicene Creed, the one holy, catholic, and apostolic church.
Archbishop Stephen Mugalu, together with his brother primates from what they have termed the Orthodox Provinces, is persuaded that only doctrinal purity and safeguarding the traditional faith will unite the Anglican Communion. Their commitment to sever the relationship with the Archbishop of Canterbury at the April 2023 Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON) IV meeting in Kigali, Rwanda, should be understood as the shifting dynamics of the Church’s “serial” development observed by professor Andrew Walls.
Walls noted that as the Church moved away from its Mediterranean centre, she experienced multiple and major demographic and character shifts that brought her to its present form. With every demographic shift, the dynamic centres moved alongside the energy and the informing cultural orientations.
Together with other archbishops from the Global South, Archbishop Mugalu claims to represent 85 per cent of the Anglican Communion, which projects the demographic shift Walls mentioned. They are now asserting dynamism as they seek to shape the Communion by infusing new energy with their cultural orientation.
The Anglican Communion may not be divided for now, but it will wither on the vine and die unless these fierce disagreements are attended to.
The 2023 GAFCON IV commitment is a departure from their 2008 commitment not to leave the Anglican Communion. Then, they demanded repentance from Archbishop Rowan Williams for not sanctioning the Episcopal Church of the United States of America (ECUSA), which had violated the guidance of Lambeth Resolution 1.10. by consecrating an openly gay bishop in 2003. The inaction of Archbishop Williams led to the Archbishops from the Orthodox Provinces boycotting Lambeth 2008, and to the formation of GAFCON.
The Archbishops of the Orthodox Provinces see the CoE’s decision to bless couples in same sex unions as a betrayal of the historic faith and cannot in good conscience follow a leader whose fidelity to the faith they question. As a result, they have resolved not to recognise this Archbishop of Canterbury as their Primus inter Pares. If this threat is carried through, the primates would have dismembered one of the key instruments of the Communion. Archbishop Mugalu and the team will remain in the Communion only if the CoE repents for advancing false teachings. But they have offered to pray for the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Church of England to repent, in line with Revelation 2:5b: “If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.” But the CoE is not willing to repent and is open to progress to advance their witness.
Anglicans, including the Archbishop of Canterbury, who see unity as God’s providence, see God’s movement as one singular act. This is where God gathers the Church and all creation to himself. This vision is embodied in the Anglican Communion Covenant, part of which states: “In the providence of God, which holds sway even over our divisions caused by sin, various families of churches have grown up within the universal Church in history. Among these families is the Anglican Communion, which provides a particular charism and identity among the many followers and servants of Jesus.” We can call the Church “one, holy and apostolic” only where the Church shows these realities as pertaining to God, describing how God works and moves to his unifying ends.
How well this common vision of the Anglican Communion matches God’s actual identity — the “it is finished” identity of Jesus Christ by which God orders the history of creation, is subject to our interpretation. “We are not divided, but we disagree, and that is very painful,” Archbishop Welby conceded to the CoE’s General Synod.
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Is Somalia’s Quest for Membership of the EAC Premature?
Somalia must first ensure sustained progress in stability, infrastructure development, governance, and economic growth before considering full membership of the East African Community.
The current members of the East African Community (EAC) are Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, and South Sudan. The Somali Federal Government, under the leadership of Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, has expressed a strong interest in joining the EAC, sparking questions among Somali citizens as to whether the country is ready to join such a large and complex regional bloc.
During President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud initiated Somalia’s pursuit of EAC membership during his previous term as a president from 2012 to 2017. However, little progress was made during his first term and, following his re-election, President Hassan reignited his pursuit of EAC membership without consulting essential stakeholders such as the parliament, the opposition, and civil society. This unilateral decision has raised doubts about the president’s dedication to establishing a government based on consensus. Moreover, his decision to pursue EAC membership has evoked mixed responses within Somalia. While some Somalis perceive joining the EAC as advantageous for the country, others express concerns about potential risks to Somalia’s economic and social development. President Hassan has defended his decision, emphasising that Somalia’s best interests lie in becoming a member of the EAC.
To assess Somalia’s readiness to join the EAC, the regional bloc undertook a comprehensive verification mission. A team of experts well versed in politics, economics, and social systems, was tasked with evaluating Somalia’s progress. The evaluation included a thorough review of economic performance, trade policies, and potential contributions to the EAC’s integration efforts. During this process, the team engaged with various government institutions and private organisations, conducting comprehensive assessments and discussions to gauge Somalia’s preparedness.
One of the key requirements for Somalia is demonstrating an unwavering commitment to upholding principles such as good governance, democracy, the rule of law, and respect for human rights. Somalia must also showcase a vibrant market economy that fosters regional trade and collaboration.
Successful integration into the EAC would not only elevate Somalia’s regional stature but would also foster deeper bonds of cooperation and shared prosperity among the East African nations. While this is a positive step towards regional integration and economic development, there are several reasons for pessimism about the potential success of Somalia’s membership in the EAC.
Somalia must also showcase a vibrant market economy that fosters regional trade and collaboration.
Somalia has faced significant challenges due to prolonged conflict and instability. The decades-long civil war, coupled with the persistent threat of terrorism, has had a devastating impact on the country’s infrastructure, economy, governance systems, and overall stability.
The following fundamental factors raise valid concerns about Somalia’s readiness to effectively participate in the EAC.
Infrastructure plays a critical role in regional integration and economic growth. However, Somalia’s infrastructure has been severely damaged and neglected due to years of conflict. The country lacks adequate transportation networks, reliable energy systems, and while communications infrastructure has improved, internet penetration rates remain low and mobile networks – which are crucial for seamless integration with the EAC – can be unavailable outside of urban centres. Rebuilding such infrastructure requires substantial investments, technical expertise, and stability, all of which remain significant challenges for Somalia.
Political stability and governance
The EAC places emphasis on good governance, democracy, and the rule of law as prerequisites for membership. Somalia’s journey towards political stability and effective governance has been arduous, with numerous setbacks and ongoing power struggles. The lack of a unified government, coupled with weak state institutions and a history of corruption, raises doubts about Somalia’s ability to meet the EAC’s standards. Without a stable and inclusive political environment, Somalia may struggle to effectively contribute to the decision-making processes within the regional bloc.
Economic development and trade
Somalia’s economy has been heavily dependent on the informal sector and faces substantial economic disparities. The country needs to demonstrate a vibrant market economy that fosters regional trade and collaboration, as required by the EAC. However, the challenges of rebuilding a war-torn economy, tackling high poverty rates, and addressing widespread unemployment hinder Somalia’s ability to fully participate in regional trade and reap the benefits of integration.
Somalia continues to grapple with security challenges, including the presence of extremist groups and maritime piracy. These issues have not only hindered the country’s development but also pose potential risks to the stability and security of the entire EAC region. It is crucial for Somalia to address these security concerns comprehensively and to establish effective mechanisms to contribute to the EAC’s collective security efforts.
Economic Disparity and Compatibility
Somalia’s economy primarily relies on livestock, agriculture, and fishing, which may not align well with the more quasi-industralised economies of the other EAC member states. This mismatch could result in trade imbalances and pose challenges for integrating Somalia into the regional economy. For instance, according to the World Bank, Somalia’s GDP per capita was US$447 in 2021 whereas it is US$2081 for Kenya, US$1099 for Tanzania, and US$883 for Uganda. Furthermore, Somalia faces significant economic challenges, including capital flight that drains resources from the country, contributing to its status as a consumer-based economy.
This divergence in economic structures could lead to trade imbalances and impede the seamless integration of Somalia into the regional economy. The substantial economic gap between Somalia and other EAC member states suggests a significant disparity that may hinder Somalia’s ability to fully participate in the EAC’s economic activities. Additionally, Somalia has yet to demonstrate fiscal or economic discipline that would make it eligible for EAC membership. While Somalia has a functioning Central Bank and the US dollar remains the primary mode of financial transactions, the risk of integration lies with the other EAC members; cross-border trade would occur in an environment of instability, posing potential risks to the other member state.
Somalia faces significant economic challenges, including capital flight that drains resources from the country, contributing to its status as a consumer-based economy.
While these fundamental challenges remain, it is important to acknowledge the progress Somalia has made in recent years. This includes the gradual improvement in security conditions, the establishment of key governmental institutions, and the peaceful transfer of power. One can also argue that many of these fundamental economic, infrastructure, political instability, and security concerns exist across the East African Community. However, what makes Somalia unique is the scale of the challenges it faces today. Somalia has adopted a federal political structure, which has not worked well so far. This level of fragmentation and civil political distrust makes Somalia’s case unique. More than ever, Somalia needs meaningful political and social reconciliation before it can embark on a new regional journey.
The absence of an impact assessment by the relevant ministries in Somalia is alarming. Without this assessment, it becomes challenging to make informed decisions about the potential benefits of joining the EAC and the impact on our economy and society. Conducting this assessment should be a priority for Somalia’s ministries to ensure a comprehensive evaluation of the potential benefits and risks involved in EAC membership. Furthermore, President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud’s decision to pursue Somalia’s integration into the EAC lacks political legitimacy as a decision of this nature would normally require ratification through a popular vote and other legal means through parliament. The failure to achieve this could potentially allow another president in the future to unilaterally announce withdrawal from the EAC.
Fragile state of Affairs and internal disputes
The recent reopening of the Gatunda border post between Uganda and Rwanda after a three-year period of strained relations indicates a fragile state of affairs. The East African Court of Justice has ruled that Rwanda’s initial closure of the border was illegal, highlighting the contentious nature of inter-country disputes. Furthermore, Tanzania and Uganda have formally lodged complaints against Kenya, alleging unfair advantages in trade relations, and have even gone as far as threatening Kenya with export bans. These grievances underscore the underlying tensions and competition between member states, which could potentially hinder the harmonious functioning of the East African Community. These political and economic disagreements among member states increase the risks associated with Somalia’s membership. Somalia must carefully evaluate whether it is entering a united and cohesive bloc or one plagued by internal divisions. Joining the East African Community at this juncture carries the risk of being drawn into ongoing disputes and potentially being caught in the crossfire of inter-country rivalries.
Conflict in South Sudan
The prolonged conflict in South Sudan, which has been ongoing since its admission to the East African Community (EAC) in 2016, serves as a cautionary tale for Somalia. Despite the EAC’s efforts to mediate and foster peace in the region, the outcomes have been mixed, resulting in an unsustainable peace. This lack of success highlights the challenges faced by member states in resolving conflicts and maintaining stability within the community. Somalia must carefully evaluate whether its participation in the EAC will genuinely contribute to its stability, economic growth, and development, or if it risks exacerbating existing internal conflicts. Joining the community without a solid foundation of political stability, institutions, and peace could potentially divert resources and attention away from domestic issues, hindering Somalia’s progress towards resolving its own challenges. South Sudan’s admission to the EAC in 2016 was seen as a major step towards regional integration and stability. However, the country has been mired in conflict ever since, with two civil wars breaking out in 2013 and 2016. The EAC has been involved in mediation efforts, with mixed results.
Somalia must evaluate the readiness of its institutions, infrastructure, and economy to effectively engage with the East African Community. Comprehensive preparations are crucial to ensure that joining the community is a well thought-out and strategic decision, rather than a hasty move that could further destabilise the nation. Somalia needs to assess whether its infrastructure, institutions, and economy are sufficiently developed to cope with the challenges and demands of integration. Premature membership could strain Somalia’s resources, impede its growth, and leave it at a disadvantage compared to more established member states.
Somalia must carefully evaluate whether it is entering a united and cohesive bloc or one plagued by internal divisions.
Somalia must ensure sustained progress in stability, infrastructure development, governance, and economic growth before considering full membership of the EAC. A phased approach that prioritises capacity building, institution-strengthening, and inclusive governance would enable Somalia to lay a solid foundation for successful integration and reap the maximum benefits from EAC membership in the long term. Failure to address these concerns would make Somalia vulnerable to exploitation and market monopolies by stronger economies, and could also risk a lack of seamless convergence for Somalia’s membership. While there is political will from EAC leaders to support Somalia’s membership, it is vitally important that they make the right decision for Somalia and the EAC bloc as a whole to ensure a successful integration. I believe that, at this juncture, the disadvantages of Somalia joining the EAC outweigh the benefits.
2023 Marks 110 Years Since the Maasai Case 1913: Does it Still Matter?
It was a landmark case for its time, a first for East Africa and possibly for the continent. A group of Africans challenged a colonial power in a colonial court to appeal a major land grab and demand reparations. They lost on a technicality but the ripple effects of the Maasai Case continue to be felt.
In the name Parsaloi Ole Gilisho there lies an irony. It was spelled Legalishu by the colonial British. Say it out loud. He gave them a legal issue, all right. And a 110-year-old headache.
This extraordinary age-set spokesman (a traditional leader called ol-aiguenani, pl. il-aiguenak) led non-violent resistance to the British, in what was then British East Africa, that culminated in the Maasai Case 1913. Ole Gilisho was then a senior warrior, who was probably in his mid- to late thirties. In bringing the case before the High Court of British East Africa, he was not only challenging the British but also the Maasai elders who had signed away thousands of acres of community land via a 1904 Maasai Agreement or Treaty with the British. This and the 1911 Agreement – which effectively rendered the first void – are often wrongly called the Anglo-Maasai Agreements. In Ole Gilisho’s view, and those of his fellow plaintiffs, these elders had sold out. The suit accused them of having had no authority to make this decision on behalf of the community. This represented a very serious challenge by warriors to traditional authority, including that of the late laibon (prophet) Olonana, who had signed in 1904, and died in 1911.
The British had expected the Maasai to violently rebel in response to these issues and to colonial rule in general. But contrary to modern-day myths that the Maasai fought their colonisers, here they resisted peacefully via legal means. They hired British lawyers and took the British to their own cleaners. Spoiler: they lost, went to appeal, and lost again. But archival research reveals that the British government was so convinced it would eventually lose, if the Maasai appealed to the Privy Council in London (they didn’t), that officials began discussing how much compensation to pay.
The facts are these. The lawsuit was launched in 1912. There were four plaintiffs, Ole Gilisho and three fellow Purko (one of the 16 Maasai territorial sections) Maasai. In Civil Case No. 91 they claimed that the 1911 Maasai Agreement was not binding on them and other Laikipia Maasai, that the 1904 Agreement remained in force, and they contested the legality of the second move. They demanded the return of Laikipia, and £5,000 in damages for loss of livestock during the second move (explained below). Ole Gilisho was illiterate and had never been to school. But he and his fellow plaintiffs were assisted by sympathetic Europeans who were angered by the injustice they saw being perpetrated against a “tribe” that British administrators conceded had never given them any trouble. These sympathisers included people who worked for the colonial government, notably medical Dr Norman Leys and some district officials, lawyers, a few missionaries, the odd settler, and a wider group of left-wing MPs and anti-colonial agitators in Britain.
What had led up to this? After the 1904 Agreement, certain groups or sections of Maasai had been forcibly moved from their grazing grounds in the central Rift Valley around Naivasha into two reserves – one in Laikipia, the other in the south on the border with German East Africa. The British had pledged that this arrangement was permanent, that it would last “so long as the Maasai as a race shall exist”. But just seven years later, the British went back on their word and moved the “northern” Maasai again, forcing them at gunpoint to vacate Laikipia and move to the Southern Reserve. In all, it is estimated that the Maasai lost at least 50 per cent of their land, but that figure could be nearer 70 per cent. The ostensible reason for moving them was to “free up” land for white settlement – largely for British settlers but also for South Africans fleeing the Boer War (also called the South African War).
But just seven years later, the British went back on their word and moved the ‘northern’ Maasai again, forcing them at gunpoint to vacate Laikipia and move to the Southern Reserve.
By the time the case came to court, Ole Gilisho had become a defendant, even though he was in favour of the plaint. So were at least eight other defendants. He had signed the 1904 Agreement, and now stood accused with 17 other Maasai of having no authority to enter into such a contract. The first defendant was the Attorney General. Ole Gilisho’s son-in-law Murket Ole Nchoko, misspelled Ol le Njogo by the British, and described as a leading moran (il-murran or warrior) of the Purko section, was now the lead plaintiff. The plaint was called Ol le Njogo and others v. The Attorney General and others.
Challenges facing the plaintiffs
Most Maasai were illiterate in those days, and this obviously placed them at a major disadvantage. They could not write down their version of events. They were forced to rely, in their dealings with officials and their own lawyers, upon translators and semiliterate mediators whose reliability was questionable. But it is evident, from the archival record which includes verbatim accounts of meetings between Maasai leaders and British officials in the run-up to the moves and case, that the level of verbal discourse was highly sophisticated. This comes as no surprise; verbal debate is a cornerstone of Maasai society and customary justice. Unfortunately, that alone could not help them here. They knew they needed lawyers, and asked their friends for help. Leys, who was later sacked from the colonial service for his activism, admitted in a private letter: “I procured the best one in the country for them.” This was more than he ever admitted openly.
Local administrators used intimidation and all kinds of devious means to try and stop the case. (I didn’t come across any evidence that the Colonial Office in London sanctioned this; in fact, it ordered the Governor not to obstruct the main lawyer or his clients.) They allegedly threatened Ole Gilisho with flogging and deportation. They threatened and cross-questioned suspected European sympathisers, including Leys and the lawyers. They banned Maasai from selling cattle to raise the legal fees, and placed the Southern Reserve in continuous quarantine. It was hard for the plaintiffs, confined to a reserve, to meet their lawyers at all. At one point, lawyers were refused passes to enter the reserve, and their clients were prevented from leaving it.
We hear Ole Gilisho’s voice in the archival record. Forced to give a statement explaining his actions to officials at Enderit River on 21 June 1912, when asked if he had called Europeans to his boma, he replied: “Is it possible for a black man to call a white man?” He denied having called the Europeans (probably lawyers or go-betweens), saying they had come to him. Leys later explained to a friend that Ole Gilisho had probably been “terrified out of his wits”, and hadn’t meant what he said.
What happened in court
The case was thrown out when it first came before the High Court in Mombasa in May 1913. The Maasai appealed, and that is when the legal arguments were fully aired by both sides – lawyers for the Crown and the Maasai. The appeal was dismissed in December on the grounds that the plaintiffs’ claims were not cognisable in municipal courts. The two agreements were ruled not to be agreements but treaties, which were Acts of State. They could not, therefore, be challenged in a local court. It was impossible for the plaintiffs to seek to enforce the provisions of a treaty, said the judges – “The paramount chief himself could not bring such an action, still less can his people”. Claims for damages were also dismissed.
The Court of Appeal’s judgement centred on the status of a protectorate, in which the King was said to exercise powers granted to him under the Foreign Jurisdiction Act of 1890. Irrational as it sounds, the Crown claimed that British East Africa was not British territory, and the Maasai were not British subjects with any rights of access to British law, but “protected foreigners, who, in return for that protection, owe obedience” to the Crown. As Yash Pal Ghai and Patrick McAuslan later put it, when discussing the case in a 1970 book: “A British protected person is protected against everyone except the British.” On the plus side, the judges ruled that the Maasai still retained some “vestige” of sovereignty. (The Maasai’s lawyer argued that they did not.) This triggered later moves by Maasai politicians, in the 1960s, to float the idea of secession from Kenya and the possible creation of a sovereign Maasai state. John Keen had threatened this in 1962 at the second Lancaster House Conference in London, attended by a Maasai delegation.
Alexander Morrison, lawyer for the Maasai, argued that British rule and courts were established in the protectorate, which had not been the case 30 years earlier. The Maasai were not foreigners but equal to other British subjects in every way. The agreements were civil contracts, enforceable in the courts, and not unenforceable treaties. If one took the Crown’s claim about Acts of State to its logical conclusion, he argued, a squatter refusing to leave land reserved for the Maasai could only be removed by an Act of State. None of his arguments washed with the judges. (See my 2006 book Moving the Maasai for a fuller account.)
Morrison advised his clients to appeal. It seems they couldn’t raise the funds. However, oral testimony from elders reveals a different story: Ole Gilisho had planned to sail to England to appeal to the Privy Council, but he was threatened with drowning at sea. This is impossible to verify, but it rings true.
In an interview carried out on my behalf in 2008 by Michael Tiampati, my old friend John Keen had this to say about the outcome of the case: “If the hyena was the magistrate and the accused was a goat, you should probably know that the goat would not get any form of justice. So this is exactly how it was that the Maasai could not get any fair justice from British courts.”
Contemporary African resistance
Unbeknown to the Maasai, there was growing anti-colonial resistance in the same period in other parts of Africa. All these acts of resistance have inspired African activists in their continuing struggles. To mention a few: the Chilembwe rebellion in Nyasaland, now Malawi (1915); the Herero revolt in German South West Africa, now Namibia (1904–1908); resistance in present-day Kenya by Mekatilili wa Menza (largely 1913-14); the First Chimurenga or First War of Independence in what is now Zimbabwe (1896–1897); and the Maji Maji rebellion in German East Africa, now Tanzania (1905–1907). But none of these rebellions involved lawsuits. The closest precedent may have been R vs Earl of Crewe, Ex-parte Sekgoma in 1910. Chief Sekgoma, who had been jailed by the British in the Bechuanaland Protectorate (now Botswana) after many attempts to remove him as chief, instructed his lawyer to bring a writ of habeus corpus against the Secretary of State for the Colonies, Lord Crewe. He demanded to be tried in an English court, refusing an offer of release on condition that he agrees to live in a restricted area of the Transvaal. The suit was dismissed, the court ruling that the King had unfettered jurisdiction in a protectorate, and his right to detain Sekgoma was upheld. Sekgoma apparently said: “I would rather be killed than go to the Transvaal. I will not go because I have committed no crime – I wish to have my case tried before the courts in England or else be killed.” Freed in 1912, he died two years later.
The case, and other key events in early twentieth century Maasai history, have given rise to several myths. They include the idea that the stolen land should “revert” to the Maasai after 100 years, but that was not stated in the 1904 Agreement, which was not limited in time, was not a land lease, and has not “expired” as many people claim. Neither agreement has. Keen knew this, but nonetheless called for the land to “revert”. Other myths include the idea that Olonana’s thumbprint was placed on the 1911 Agreement posthumously, and it must therefore be invalid. But neither his thumbprint nor name are on the document, which was “signed” by his son Seggi. Anyhow, Olonana was a key ally of the British, who had no reason to kill him (which is another myth).
The original of the 1904 Agreement has never been found, which has led some Maasai to believe that it never existed and therefore all the land must be restored and compensation paid for its use to date. There may be sound legal arguments for restorative justice, but this is not one of them. These myths are ahistorical and unhelpful, but may be understood as attempts to rationalise and make sense of what happened. Some activists may wish that the Maasai had resisted violently, rather than taken the legal route. Hence the insistence by some that there was a seamless history of armed resistance from the start of colonial rule. Not true. There are much better arguments to be made, by professional lawyers with an understanding of international treaty rights and aboriginal title, which could possibly produce results.
Ole Gilisho had planned to sail to England to appeal to the Privy Council, but he was threatened with drowning at sea.
Where does all this leave the Maasai today? Over the years, there has been much talk of revisiting the case and bringing a claim against Britain (or Kenya) for the return of land or reparations for its loss. None of this has resulted in concrete action. I attended a planning workshop in Nairobi in 2006 when plans were laid for a lawsuit. VIPs present included the late Ole Ntimama, scholar Ben Kantai and John Keen. Keen declared, with his customary flourish, that he would stump up a million shillings to get the ball rolling. I don’t know how much money was raised in total, but it disappeared into thin air. As did the lawyers.
Leading lawyers have advised that too much time has passed, and (unlike the successful Mau Mau veterans’ suit) there are no living witnesses who could give evidence in court. It is unclear whether the agreements still have any legal validity. The British government might argue, as it previously has, including in response to my questions, that it handed over all responsibility for its pre-1963 actions to the Kenyan government at independence. This is a ludicrous argument, which is also morally wrong. Former colonial powers such as Germany have accepted responsibility for historical injustices in their former colonies, notably Namibia. Has the time come for Ole Gilisho’s descendants to call a white man to court?
Who Is Hustling Who?
In Kenya, political elites across the spectrum are trying to sell off the country for themselves—capitulation is inevitable.
My drive to Limuru happened on the first Wednesday (July 19) of the protests. Everything was eerily quiet, Nairobi, renowned for its traffic jams, was quiet. Matatus and buses were parked in their hubs. Shops and stalls were closed. Even the hawkers that dot the roads and highways stayed home. Save for the heavy police presence everywhere, it felt like the country had come to a standstill.
We got to Kangemi shortly after the police had shot and wounded two protestors—the road was strewn with stones and armed riot police huddled by the side of the road waiting for the next wave of attacks that never came. In the end, six people would be shot to death throughout the country, and countless were injured and arrested. Coming from the US, where police arrest protestors and shoot black people, there were no surprises here. The US can hardly be the standard of good policing or democratic practices, but the lives lost simply for asking the government to center the people in its economic planning seemed especially cruel.
But it was the emptiness of the roads that made the whole drive eerie. Perhaps I was refracting what was happening in Kenya through what followed the 1982 coup in which 240 people were killed; or the ethnic clashes of the 1990s that culminated in the 2007 post-election violence. Yet, there was a general agreement among people that there was something different about the Kenya of today—that something was already broken and the nightmares to come were slowly but surely revealing themselves—like a bus carrying passengers and the driver realizing the brakes were out just as it was about to descend a steep hill.
Voting with the middle finger
But all this was predictable. President Ruto has been a known quantity since the 1990s when he led the violent Moi youth wingers. He and his running mate and later president, Uhuru Kenyatta, were brought in front of the ICC to face charges of crimes against humanity following the post-election violence in 2007. Some key witnesses disappeared and others were intimidated into silence. Who in their right mind gives evidence against those in control of the state? The ICC was already discredited as being Western-crimes-against-humanity friendly (the US has never been a signatory rightly afraid its former presidents, such as George Bush, would be hauled before the court). The ICC eventually withdrew the case in March 2015.
I kept asking everyone I met, why was Ruto voted in spite of his history? The answers varied: He rigged the elections; he did not rig and if he did, he only managed to be better at it than Raila Odinga; he appealed to the youth with the idea of building a hustler nation (what a telling term); the Kikuyus have vowed never to have a Luo president and therefore opted for Ruto who is Kalenjin as opposed to Odinga who is Luo.
I sat with older Kikuyu men in the little Nyama Choma spot in Limuru Market and they talked about a generational divide between the Kikuyu and youth (Ruto) and the elderly Kikuyus (Odinga). But the one I heard over and over again was that Kenyans are tired of the Kenyatta and Odinga political dynasties. As one Trump supporter was to say, they voted for him with the middle finger. And so, the Kenyans who voted for Ruto were giving a middle finger to the Kenyatta, Moi and Odinga political dynasties. But no one had really expected buyer’s remorse to kick in one year into the Ruto presidency.
I also asked about Odinga’s protests: what was the end game? One theory is that he was looking at power-sharing, having done it once before, following the 2007 elections. In our shorthand political language, he was looking for another handshake. Some said the people have a right to protest their government, and he is simply asking the government to repeal the tax hikes and reinstate the fuel subsidies. Others believed that he wants to be a genuine and useful voice of opposition for the good of the country and its poor.
My own theory is that he is attempting a people-powered, centered, democratic, and largely peaceful takeover—where people take to the streets to overthrow an unpopular government. We saw this in Latin America in the 2000s. In response to Odinga’s absence during the three days of protests (he was sick), some leaders in his Azimio party have started using this language. The only problem with this strategy is that the sitting government has to be wildly unpopular. Ruto still has a lot of support, meaning that he does not have to compromise or give up power. It was to my mind turning into a stalemate and I was worried that the state would respond with more state-sponsored violence.
But real economics broke the stalemate. In a country where people are barely surviving and the majority are poor without savings to rely on, or relatives to reach out to for help, the hawkers, small stall and shop owners simply went back to work. In other words, those that would have been hurt the most by three days of protests (a day at home literally means a day without food for the family) simply went back to work, and the matatus and buses hummed back to life, slowly on Thursday and full throttle by Friday.
Saturday around Westlands might as well have been as busy as a Monday as people overcompensated for lost time to either sell or shop. If the protests were going to succeed the opposition (composed of some of the wealthiest families in Kenya, including Odinga’s) really should have thought about how best to protect those who would be the most affected. They should find legal and innovative ways to put their money where their political mouths are.
Cuba as Kenya’s north star
Odinga had to change tactics and called for a day of protest against police violence instead of three-day weekly protests in perpetuity. He is now in danger of turning into a caricature of his old revolutionary self and becoming an Al Sharpton, who instead of protesting the American government for the police killings of black people, protests the police themselves leaving the government feeling sanctimonious. Obama or Biden could weigh in, in righteous indignation without offering any real change (remember Obama’s emotional pleas over gun shootings and police shootings as if he was not the one occupying the most powerful office in the US)?
The one question that keeps eating at me is this: why is the most apparent outcome at the time a surprise later? Ruto was always going to sell off Kenya with a percentage for himself and his friends. Odinga was always going to capitulate. The end result is that the Kenyan bus will continue to careen on without brakes. So, what is to be done?
I was in Cuba earlier this year. I got a sense of the same desperation I felt in Kenya but the difference is Cubans have free access to healthcare, education, housing, and food security. They have free access to all the things that make basic survival possible. Before calling for the tax hikes and cutting fuel subsidies might it not have been more prudent to have a safety net for Kenyans? Would that not have been the most logical thing? But of course not, Ruto is acting at the behest of the IMF and big money. Ruto has learned the art of pan-African political rhetoric. Abroad he can call for a different non-US-centered economic system and castigate the French president over paternalism but at home, his politics are hustler politics.
Life in Cuba is difficult, as a result of relentless sanctions from the US, but it is far from impossible. It remains the north star for those who understand discussions around fundamental change as the only starting point. We can have arguments about the nature of those fundamental changes, but we can all agree we should not be a country where one family, say the Kenyatta family, owns more than half a million acres of land. Or where, as Oxfam reported, four individuals hold more wealth than that held by 22 million Kenyans. The kind of politics that begin with a necessity for fundamental change will obviously not come from Ruto.
But one hopes it can still come from the Odinga camp. Or even better, from a genuinely progressive people-powered movement that has inbuilt questions of fundamental change in its political, economic, and cultural platform.
In spite of the empty roads, Limuru Market was thriving and Wakari Bar kept its reputation as one of the best places for Nyama Choma and for lively political conversations. People are paying attention, after all, it is their lives and livelihoods on the line. Politicians, especially those in the opposition and the political left should listen as well.
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