Contradictions big and small
In December 2022, Ruto declared that Kenya would plant 15 billion trees by 2032. Just a few months later, he lifted a logging ban that he put in place as Deputy President in 2018. Introduced to protect shrinking mountain forests that are key water sources, a task force was convened to investigate mismanagement by the Kenya Forest Service (KFS). Their recommendations, including the reform of KFS, were never implemented. This calls into question Ruto’s motive for lifting the ban, in particular, because it will likely reverse the gains in tree cover made in recent years. This will exacerbate the drought in Kenya, threatening an already fragile food and water supply. It will also reduce hydropower generation.
The problem with tree planting programs is that without a sophisticated design that prioritizes natural forest regrowth and ecological restoration over tree plantations and false metrics like the number of trees planted, they often do more harm than good. Planting the wrong trees in the wrong places can reduce biodiversity, accelerating extinctions and impairing ecosystems’ resilience. Trees also struggle to survive in the wrong environment, and even disturb the soil, releasing carbon instead of storing it. This is particularly true in drylands like those found in most of Kenya, where tree planting can also devastate wildlife.
More obviously, a large proportion of seedlings often die before reaching maturity. With no details on what tree species will be planted where, how sufficient seeds will be sourced, how they will be grown to maturity, or how they will be monitored and protected, planting 15 billion trees is just another of Ruto’s hustles.
Ruto’s Minister of Environment, Climate Change and Forestry, Soipan Tuya, told every Kenyan to plant 30 trees per year toward the goal of 15 billion. Without any resources or plan to support mass tree planting by all citizens, this is worse than hollow nonsense—it’s a show to distract from the lack of any meaningful plan for reforestation or other ecological restoration. In an even more transparently empty performance, Tuya admonished Kenyans not to cut trees for Christmas.
Ruto has long used his farmer roots to portray himself as the everyman. A large landowner heavily invested in farming businesses, his embrace of climate-smart agriculture will undoubtedly enrich him at the expense of most farmers. Climate-smart agriculture is an opaque term that co-opts regenerative practices from sustainable agriculture and agroecology while using the climate emergency as justification to depoliticize those practices and empower industrial-scale approaches that favor big agribusiness. It has been heavily criticized for having no enforceable social or environmental criteria, leading to wildly different uses of the term. This lets big agribusiness label themselves as climate-smart by simply doing things like selling drought-tolerant seeds, despite industrial agriculture’s major contribution to greenhouse gas emissions globally. Climate-smart agriculture provides a greenwashed avenue for industrializing agriculture in Africa, which would likely increase emissions and make smallholder farmers more vulnerable.
Climate-smart agriculture also does nothing to address pressing issues for smallholder farmers such as land tenure, scarcity of arable land, or lack of capital to invest in expensive “climate-smart” technologies. Bigholder farmers with large capital reserves like Ruto, of course, will benefit from increased mechanization and input-intensive cultivation at the expense of smallholder farmers who are the least responsible for agricultural emissions. Smallholder farmers, comprising the majority of Africans today, would instead benefit from tried-and-true agroecological practices that support climate-resilient agriculture from the soil up.
Proponents of climate-smart agriculture believe that expensive technologies and inputs can be partly financed by carbon offset schemes. Instead of supporting smallholder farmers, this would create market pressures to consolidate larger tracts of land to facilitate economies of scale for carbon trading, creating incentives for land grabbing and coercion while unfairly putting the burden of climate mitigation on the least culpable but most vulnerable.
Ruto has pledged to phase out fossil fuels by 2030. He often starts this story by talking about how 90 percent of Kenya’s energy is renewable. Unlike other African leaders whose economies are dependent on fossil fuel extraction, Ruto can promote himself by talking about Kenya’s existing renewable energy production. But, this is a disingenuous story. As Murefu Barasa from EED Advisory said at our recent dialogue on climate emergencies in Africa, Kenya’s grid-based electricity is 90 percent renewable, not its total energy use. Electricity makes up only 12 to 15 percent of national energy use. 65 percent comes from biomass (firewood and charcoal), most of which is non-renewable. Petroleum makes up 20 percent and the remaining five percent is from other sources.
This dubious renewables story is further compromised by Kenya’s dependence on hydropower. Hydro is the second largest source of electricity generation after geothermal, making up about one-third of the total mix. The increasing prevalence of droughts severely undermines hydropower. Ruto’s story also does not account for the rapid increase in energy demand or high population growth. Finally, one-quarter of the population does not even have access to the grid to make use of electricity, renewable or otherwise. In this story, Ruto rarely talks about fossil fuels despite committing to build a 600km gas pipeline from Dar es Salaam to Nairobi. What does this doublespeak mean for his pledge to phase out fossil fuels? The media has been oddly silent on the matter.
To much fanfare, Ruto drove a bright yellow electric car to the Africa Climate Summit. If he had wanted to make a more meaningful statement and stand with the average Kenyan, you have to wonder why he did not make the easy 30-minute walk from the State House to the convention center. Perhaps because infrastructure to protect pedestrians is negligible in Nairobi. While more than 80 percent of Kenyans in cities walk and take public transit, and private vehicle ownership is rare, Ruto is prioritizing electric vehicle adoption and EV charging infrastructure over more equitable and low-emission options like walking, bicycling, and public transit.
In a similar stunt a few months earlier, the First Lady Rachael Ruto cycled from the State House to the UN-Habitat Assembly. While she showed up her husband by cycling instead of driving, she was surrounded by security vehicles, affording her protections that other cyclists do not have. Nairobi does not have cycling lanes. Neither her initiative, Mama Cycling, nor her husband’s policies include investments in cycling lanes or other critical safety infrastructure for cyclists. She returned to the State House in a car.
The green growth lie
In his latest costume change, Ruto has transformed himself into the go-to African climate champion. His previous climate contradictions are small in comparison to his embrace of climate positivism, carbon markets, and win-win green growth. Watch as his power and wealth grow.
Piggybacking on other leaders, Ruto has called for sorely needed reform of the international financial system and multilateral development banks, as well as debt relief and pauses. He has even called for global carbon taxes and the establishment of a new green bank. These are crucial but notably incomplete pieces of the puzzle.
Using the legitimacy that selectively criticizing European and American institutions lends him, he has shrewdly but disingenuously positioned himself as the pan-African climate leader and anointed himself as the African spokesperson for green growth. At the same time, in a clever sleight-of-hand, he has abandoned the consensus on common but differentiated responsibilities, calling it the blame game and letting polluters off the hook. Demanding accountability for historical responsibilities is not victim-playing. This is a false, pernicious, and damaging narrative dressed up as pan-African leadership. Make no mistake, this is leadership for Ruto himself and the elite few alone.
In a troubling about-face, he dropped his support for a Loss and Damage Fund and said “we don’t want the North to pay, we all want to pay.” The subtext is that we just need better lending practices to solve the climate emergency. In other words, make markets more fair but don’t do anything else. The few beneficiaries of this greenwashed, business-as-usual approach are obvious. It is a betrayal of the great majority of Africans, especially the historically large youth population.
What are Ruto’s vehicles for solving the climate finance emergency? Carbon markets and green growth. These solutions are at best magical thinking. But, given his consistently self-serving record, it seems more like a cynical bid for more power and wealth than a genuine, if gullible, belief that ever more elaborate market fixes can solve fundamental market failures.
Ruto’s embrace of carbon markets at COP27 and the Africa Climate Summit 2023 is consistent with his agenda to promote market-based mechanisms while undermining a just transition. International carbon offset markets—especially voluntary, unregulated ones—are a fatally dangerous distraction. Since their inception at COP3 in 1997, a broad range of research from progressive and conservative government, academic and media organizations have amassed an alarmingly large and insurmountable mountain of evidence demonstrating that, while offsets tell a tempting story in theory, offsetting emissions in practice is impossible.
The fundamental problem—as Barbara Hayer, the director of the Berkeley Carbon Trading Project, recently told the New York Times—“is that you’re trading a known amount of emissions with an uncertain amount of emissions reductions. But there’s also the whole trading approach of companies being able to buy their way out of their responsibility to reduce their own emissions.” Efforts to fix offset’s flaws are too little too slowly. Genuine offsets that reduce emissions immediately and permanently are in fact antithetical to markets today—the global economy is too large, too complex, and too fragmented for offsets to ever be effectively regulated. Regulated in one location, polluters will always be able to move to other locations where they are not. Carbon credits, instead, offer polluters a license and incentive to keep polluting.
What does this mean for Africa? With Ruto’s leadership, the African Carbon Markets Initiative (ACMI) was launched at COP27 in Egypt. It aims to reach 300 million credits retired annually by 2030. With weak regulatory and enforcement frameworks across the continent, ACMI will suffer from the same, if not worse, issues as other voluntary carbon markets.
The ACMI will give major polluting countries and fossil fuel and other transnational companies new opportunities to increase their emissions while saying they are reducing them. Africa is the fastest-warming and most vulnerable continent so increased emissions will exacerbate already mounting climate impacts. It also creates perverse incentives that undermine resilient and inclusive development, enabling historical polluters to keep investing in carbon-intensive development elsewhere at the expense of development in Africa. At the same time, it also shifts responsibility for climate mitigation from big polluters to negligible ones.
Carbon offset projects incentivize tons of carbon reduced over local and regional development across crucial sectors. They also incentivize green land grabbing to develop projects like tree plantations and hydropower dams. At the end of the day, carbon offset projects may get less than one-third of the money paid by polluters for credits. The rest will go to middlemen like Ruto.
At the Africa Climate Summit in September, Ruto spoke of carbon markets interchangeably with climate finance, implying that they were one and the same for Africa. In fact, many critics said the Summit was little more than a trade conference for carbon credits. It featured both virtual and physical ‘deal rooms,’ exclusive spaces where investors and project developers could meet to cut deals. Carbon credits are not a substitute for, nor can they provide, adequate climate finance.
The 2023 Climate Change (Amendment) Bill to the 2016 Climate Change Act, rushed through the Kenyan Parliament with minimal due diligence or public participation in the lead-up to the African Climate Summit, was signed into law on September 1 by Ruto. While regulation of domestic carbon trading with stipulations for community benefit sharing is perhaps better than previously unregulated trading, it may also lend legitimacy to a deeply flawed solution.
While the Amendment does include stipulations for land-based vs non-land-based projects, it does nothing to address contentious issues of land tenure. A large amount of rural land in Kenya (and 90 percent across Africa) is undocumented and informally administered. The Bill’s inconsistency with the Community Land Act that governs the process for registering communally-owned land will put rural communities at risk of losing their land and being excluded from community benefit agreements. This will make the process prone to exploitation by middlemen who can take advantage of undocumented land ownership. Land dispossession puts communities’ livelihoods at risk and therefore impairs their climate resilience.
During the National Assembly proceedings on August 22, elected representatives debated the amendment. One MP alone, Ahmed Shakeel Ahmed Shabbir of Kisumu East, dissented. He said:
I have never seen this country develop anything out of carbon credits. It is the foreign consultants who in collusion with these Kenyan consultants take away our benefits from carbon credits. Our carbon credits are worth a lot of money. They take our carbon credits and throw them at the cost of nothing with foreign consultants. And they say, ‘you must allow us to do that, we are bringing benefit to Kenya.’ I have seen no benefit to Kenya. It is the same way the colonialists came here, they gave us cowry shells and took away our gold, they gave us cowry shells and took away our wealth. Now, they are giving us carbon credits and taking away our wealth.
Good lies contain partial truths. As Danny Cullenward of CarbonPlan said: Carbon offsets can work—“if you were to reinvent the entire industrial structure, focus on a subset of activities and accept prices that are massively higher than they are today.” Short of that, carbon markets are a convenient hustle for opportunists and middlemen because they sound so good in theory but so few people understand them in practice. They are an important thread in Ruto’s green growth lie, a lie he told well at the Africa Climate Summit where he made carbon credits synonymous with climate finance (more about this lie in part two).
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Being Black in Argentina
What does Javier Milei’s presidential victory mean for Argentina’s black and indigenous minorities?
On November 19, Javier Milei secured the presidency of the Republic of Argentina with 56% of the vote. However, his victory is expected to significantly impact a specific segment of the country.
During my six-month exchange in Argentina’s Venado Tuerto (pop. 75,000) in 2016, I encountered someone of shared Black ethnicity on the street only once. A person whom many locals incidentally mistook for me—along with a Cuban Black girl, the only black person like me in the whole high school. As insignificant as a census of this small city’s population may seem, it effectively illustrates a sobering reality: the presence of Black people in Argentina is sparse, and their numbers have dwindled over time.
“Hay más por otros lados, acá no llegaron” (There are more of them elsewhere, they have not arrived here) is a rhetoric prevalent among many Argentines, but the reality is quite dissimilar. Contacts between Argentina and Black people, particularly of African descent, date back to the 16th century transatlantic slave trade, when West and Central Africa people were brought by Spanish and Portuguese settlers to the coastal city of Buenos Aires, only to be sold and moved mostly within the Río de la Plata, present-day Argentina and Uruguay. In “Hiding in Plain Sight, Black Women, the Law, and the Making of a White Argentine Republic,” Erika Denise Edwards reports that between 1587 and 1640 approximately 45,000 African slaves disembarked in Buenos Aires. By the end of the 18th century, one-third of Argentina’s population was Black.
What, then, became of the Black African population in Argentina? Some attribute their decline to historical factors such as their active involvement in conflicts including the War of Independence against Spanish colonists (1810-1819) and the war with Paraguay (1865-1870), in which Black men often found themselves on the front lines, enduring the brunt of the attacks, or even choosing to desert and flee the country. These factors intersect with a gradual process of miscegenation and interracial mixing, leading to a progressive whitening of the population—both in terms of physical attributes and ideology.
Adding to this complex mix, political rhetoric comes into play. Influential Argentine leaders, such as Domingo Faustino Sarmiento in the 19th century, idealized white Europe not only as a model for overcoming the country’s socio-economic challenges but also as a narrative that implied the absence of Black people in Argentina, thereby erasing an integral part of the nation’s history.
Doing so has shrewdly allowed a country to avoid reckoning with its past of slavery and navigate the complexities of its presence, using the escamotage that there are no race-related issues in the country because there are no Black people. This assertion is incorrect for several reasons beyond those mentioned above. First, despite being imperceptible to the naked eye, there is a small but existing population of Afro-descendants in Argentina. Nevertheless, in my second stay in Argentina, this time in Buenos Aires, it became more apparent to me how a certain nationalistic current, in the footsteps of Sarmiento, proudly makes itself of this consistent lack of Black heritage. Comparing itself favorably to neighboring countries, this current boasts a notion of white supremacy in Argentina, which celebrates the Italian immigration from the 19th and 20th centuries as the foundation of national identity, while largely overlooking the historical legacy of African bodies that predates it.
As a result, even in a cosmopolitan capital city such as Buenos Aires, a significant portion of the white Argentine population based its identity on my opposite—not knowing that as an Afro-Italian, my Italian citizenship actually made them closer to my blackness and African roots than they wanted. Asserting that there are no racial concerns in Argentina is misleading. It amounts to the invisibilization of racial discrimination in a country where those who deviate from the preferred prototype, including Indigenous communities such as Mapuche, Quechua, Wichi, and Guarani, experience limited access to education and social services, and are disproportionately prone to experience poverty than their white counterparts.
Even within everyday discourse in Argentina, the assertion is refuted: many are labeled Black despite not matching the physical appearance associated with the term. The expression “es un negro” might refer to everyone who has darker skin tones, grouping them into a specific social category. However, beyond a mere description of physical attributes, “es un negro” delineates a person situated at various margins and lower rungs of society, whether for economic or social reasons. The appellation is also ordinarily used in jest as a nickname for a person who, of “black phenotype,” has nothing. The label “morocho” seems to be the most appropriate appellation for dark-skinned people in the country.
Argentine white supremacist identity is often matched by a certain right-wing political ideology that is classist, macho and, to make no bones about it, xenophobic. In the 2023 elections, such a systemic structure takes on the face of Javier Milei. The Argentine’s Donald Trump claimed in 2022 at the presentation of his book that he did not want to apologize for “being a white, blonde [questionable element], blue-eyed man.” With false modesty, the demagogue took on the burden of what it means in the country to have his hallmarks: privilege, status, and power.
Milei’s need for apologies should not revolve around his connotations but rather the proposals presented during his election campaign and outlined in his political program, which include the dollarization of pesos and the removal of government subsidies. Besides assessing if these actions would really benefit the vulnerable economy of the country, it’s worth questioning why it’s the middle-class, often white population that stands to suffer the least from such policies. They can afford to transact in dollars, weather an initial depreciation of their income, and provide for their children’s education without relying on government subsidies. In essence, they can do without the limited benefits offered by the Argentine state, given their already privileged positions.
The election of this politician not only adversely affects Black minorities, but also targets apparent minorities whom this divisive ideology seeks to erase, including Indigenous populations and the poorest segment of society—the current Argentinian “blacks”—who significantly enrich the Argentine populace. In such a scenario, one can only hope that the world will strive for a more consistent record of their existence.
Risks and Opportunities of Admitting Somalia Into the EAC
The process of integrating Somalia into the EAC should be undertaken with long-term success in mind rather than in the light of the situation currently prevailing in the country.
The East African Community (EAC), whose goal is to achieve economic and political federation, brings together three former British colonies – Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania – and newer members Rwanda, Burundi, South Sudan, and most recently the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Somalia first applied to join the EAC in 2012 but with fighting still ongoing on the outskirts of Mogadishu, joining the bloc was impossible at the time. Eleven years later, joining the bloc would consolidate the significant progress in governance and security and, therefore, Somalia should be admitted into the EAC without undue delay. This is for several reasons.
First, Somalia’s admission would be built on an existing foundation of goodwill that the current leadership of Somalia and EAC partner states have enjoyed in the recent past. It is on the basis of this friendship that EAC states continue to play host to Somali nationals who have been forced to leave their country due to the insecurity resulting from the prolonged conflict. In addition, not only does Somalia share a border with Kenya, but it also has strong historical, linguistic, economic and socio-cultural links with all the other EAC partner states in one way or another.
Dr Hassan Khannenje of the Horn Institute for Strategic Studies said: ”Somalia is a natural member of the EAC and should have been part of it long ago.”
A scrutiny of all the EAC member states will show that there is a thriving entrepreneurial Somali diaspora population in all their economies. If indeed the EAC is keen to realise its idea of the bloc being a people-centred community as opposed to being a club of elites, then a look at the spread of Somali diaspora investment in the region would be a start. With an immense entrepreneurial diaspora, Somalia’s admission will increase trading opportunities in the region.
Second, Somalia’s 3,000 km of coastline (the longest in Africa) will give the partner states access to the Indian Ocean corridor to the Gulf of Aden. The governments of the EAC partner states consider the Indian Ocean to be a key strategic and economic theatre for their regional economic interests. Therefore, a secure and stable Somali coastline is central to the region’s maritime trade opportunities.
Despite possessing such a vast maritime resource, the continued insecurity in Somalia has limited the benefits that could accrue from it. The problem of piracy is one example that shows that continued lawlessness along the Somali coast presents a huge risk for all the states that rely on it in the region.
The importance of the maritime domain and the Indian Ocean has seen Kenya and Somalia square it out at the International Court of Justice over a maritime border dispute.
Omar Mahmood of the International Crisis Group said that ”Somalia joining the EAC then might present an opportunity to discuss deeper cooperation frameworks within the bloc, including around the Kenya-Somalia maritime dispute. The environment was not as conducive to collaboration before, and perhaps it explains why the ICJ came in. Integrating into the EAC potentially offers an opportunity to de-escalate any remaining tensions and in turn, focus on developing mechanisms that can be beneficial for the region.”
Nasong’o Muliro, a foreign policy and security specialist in the region, said: “The East African states along the East African coast are looking for opportunities to play a greater role in the maritime security to the Gulf of Aden. Therefore, Somalia joining the EAC bloc will allow them to have a greater say.”
Third, Somalia’s membership of the Arab League means that there is a strong geopolitical interest from Gulf states like Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. However, Somalia stands to gain more in the long-term by joining the EAC rather than being under the control of the Gulf states and, to a large extent, Turkey. This is because, historically, competing interests among the Gulf states have contributed to the further balkanisation of Somalia by some members supporting breakaway regions.
On the other hand, the EAC offers a safer option that will respect Somalia’s territorial integrity. Furthermore, EAC partner states have stood in solidarity with Somalia during the difficult times of the civil conflict, unlike the Gulf states. The majority of the troop-contributing countries for the African Union Mission to Somalia came from the EAC partner states of Uganda, Kenya and Burundi. Despite having a strategic interest in Somalia, none of the Gulf states contributed troops to the mission. Therefore, with the expected drawdown of the ATMIS force in Somalia, the burden could fall on the EAC to fill in the vacuum. Building on the experience of deploying in the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, it is highly likely that it could be called upon to do the same in Somalia when ATMIS exits by 2024.
The presence of the Al Shabaab group in Somalia is an albatross around its neck such that the country cannot be admitted into the EAC without factoring in the risks posed by the group.
According to a report by the International Crisis Group, the government of Somalia must move to consolidate these gains – especially in central Somalia – as it continues with its offensive in other regions. However, Somalia may not prevail over the Al Shabaab on its own; it may require a regional effort and perhaps this is the rationale some policymakers within the EAC have envisioned. If the EAC can offer assurances to Somalia’s fledgling security situation, then a collective security strategy from the bloc might be of significance.
Somalia’s admission comes with risks too. Kenya and Uganda have in the past experienced attacks perpetrated by Al Shabaab and, therefore, opening up their borders to Somalia is seen as a huge risk for these countries. The spillover effect of the group’s activities creates a lot of discomfort among EAC citizens, in particular those who believe that the region remains vulnerable to Al Shabaab attacks.
If the EAC can offer assurances to Somalia’s fledgling security situation, then a collective security strategy from the bloc might be of significance.
The EAC Treaty criteria under which a new member state may be admitted into the community include – but are not limited to – observance and practice of the principles of good governance, democracy and the rule of law. Critics believe that Somalia fulfils only one key requirement to be admitted to the bloc – sharing a border with an EAC partner state, namely, Kenya. On paper, it seems to be the least prepared when it comes to fulfilling the other requirements. The security situation remains fragile and the economy cannot support the annual payment obligations to the community.
According to the Fragility State Index, Somalia is ranked as one of the poorest among the 179 countries assessed. Among the key pending issues is the continued insecurity situation caused by decades of civil war and violent extremism. Furthermore, Human Rights Watch ranks Somalia low on human rights and justice – a breakdown of government institutions has rendered them ineffective in upholding the human rights of its citizens.
Somalia’s citizens have faced various forms of discrimination due to activities beyond their control back in their country. This has led to increasingly negative and suspicious attitudes towards Somalis and social media reactions to the possibility of Somalia joining the EAC have seen a spike in hostility towards citizens of Somalia. The country’s admission into the bloc could be met with hostility from the citizens of other partner states.
Dr Nicodemus Minde, an academic on peace and security, agrees that indeed citizens’ perceptions and attitudes will shape their behaviour towards Somalia’s integration. He argues that ”the admission of Somalia is a rushed process because it does not address the continued suspicion and negative perception among the EAC citizens towards the Somali people. Many citizens cite the admission of fragile states like South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo as a gateway of instability to an already unstable region”.
Indeed, the biggest challenge facing the EAC has been how to involve the citizens in their activities and agenda. To address this challenge, Dr Minde says that ’’the EAC needs to conduct a lot of sensitisation around the importance of integration because to a large extent many EAC citizens have no clue on what regional integration is all about”. The idea of the EAC being a people-centred organisation as envisioned in the Treaty has not been actualised. The integration process remains very elitist as it is the heads of state that determine and set the agenda.
The country’s admission into the bloc could be met with hostility from the citizens of other partner states.
Dr Khannenje offers a counter-narrative, arguing that public perception is not a major point of divergence since “as the economies integrate deeper, some of these issues will become easy to solve”. There are also those who believe that the reality within the EAC is that every member state has issues with one or the other partner state and, therefore, Somalia will be in perfect company.
A report by the Economic Policy Research Centre outlines the various avenues through which both the EAC and Somalia can benefit from the integration process and observes that there is therefore a need to fast-track the process because the benefits far outweigh the risks.
EAC integration is built around the spirit of good neighbourliness. It is against this backdrop that President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud has extended the goodwill to join the EAC and therefore, it should not be vilified and condemned, but rather embraced. As Onyango Obbo has observed, Somalia is not joining the EAC – Somalia is already part of the EAC and does not need any formal welcoming.
Many critics have argued that the EAC has not learnt from the previous rush to admit conflict-plagued South Sudan and the DRC. However, the reality is that Somalia will not be in conflict forever; at some point, there will be tranquillity and peace. Furthermore, a keen look at the history of the EAC member states shows that a number of them have experienced cycles of conflict in the past.
Somalia is, therefore, not unique. Internal contradictions and conflict are some of the key features that Somalia shares with most of the EAC member states. The process of integrating Somalia into the EAC should, therefore, be undertaken with long-term success in mind rather than in the light of the situation currently prevailing in the country.
The Repression of Palestine Solidarity in Kenya
Kenya is one of Israel’s closest allies in Africa. But the Ruto-led government isn’t alone in silencing pro-Palestinian speech.
Israel has been committing genocide against the people of Occupied Palestine for 75 years and this has intensified over the last 30 days with the merciless carpet bombing of Gaza, along with raids and state-sanctioned settler violence in the West Bank. In the last month of this intensified genocide, the Kenyan government has pledged its solidarity to Israel, even as the African Union released a statement in support of Palestinian liberation. While peaceful marches have been successfully held in Kisumu and Mombasa, in Nairobi, Palestine solidarity organizers were forced to cancel a peaceful march that was to be held at the US Embassy on October 22. Police threatened that if they saw groups of more than two people outside the Embassy, they would arrest them. The march was moved to a private compound, Cheche Bookshop, where police still illegally arrested three people, one for draping the Palestinian flag around his shoulders. Signs held by children were snatched by these same officers.
When Boniface Mwangi took to Twitter denouncing the arrest, the response by Kenyans spoke of the success of years of propaganda by Israel through Kenyan churches. To the Kenyan populous, Palestine and Palestinians are synonymous with terrorism and Israel’s occupation of Palestine is its right. However, this Islamophobia and xenophobia from Kenyans did not spring from the eternal waters of nowhere. They are part of the larger US/Israel sponsored and greedy politician-backed campaign to ensure Kenyans do not start connecting the dots on Israel’s occupation of Palestine with the extra-judicial killings by Kenyan police, the current occupation of indigenous people’s land by the British, the cost-of-living crisis and the IMF debts citizens are paying to fund politician’s lavish lifestyles.
Kenya’s repression of Palestine organizing reflects Kenya’s long-standing allyship with Israel. The Kenyan Government has been one of Israel’s A-star pupils of repression and is considered to be Israel’s “gateway” to Africa. Kenya has received military funding and training from Israel since the 60s, and our illegal military occupation of Somalia has been funded and fueled by Israel along with Britain and the US. Repression, like violence, is not one dimensional; repression does not just destabilize and scatter organizers, it aims to break the spirit and replace it instead with apathy, or worse, a deep-seated belief in the rightness of oppression. In Israel’s architecture of oppression through repression, the Apartheid state has created agents of repression across many facets of Kenyan life, enacting propaganda, violence, race, and religion as tools of repression of Palestine solidarity organizing.
When I meet with Naomi Barasa, the Chair of the Kenya Palestine Solidarity Movement, she begins by placing Kenya’s repression of Palestine solidarity organizing in the context of Kenya as a capitalist state. “Imperialism is surrounded and buffered by capitalistic interest,” she states, then lists on her fingers the economic connections Israel has created with Kenya in the name of “technical cooperation.” These are in agriculture, security, business, and health; the list is alarming. It reminds me of my first memory of Israel (after the nonsense of the promised land that is)—about how Israel was a leader in agricultural and irrigation technologies. A dessert that flowed with milk and honey.
Here we see how propaganda represses, even before the idea of descent is born: Kenyans born in the 1990s grew up with an image of a benign, prosperous, and generous Christian Israel that just so happened to be unfortunate enough to be surrounded by Muslim states. Israel’s PR machine has spent 60 years convincing Kenyan Christians of the legitimacy of the nation-state of Israel, drawing false equivalences between Christianity and Zionism. This Janus-faced ideology was expounded upon by Israel’s ambassador to Kenya, Michel Lotem, when he said “Religiously, Kenyans are attached to Israel … Israel is the holy land and they feel close to Israel.” The cog dizzy of it all is that Kenyan Christians, fresh from colonialism, are now Africa’s foremost supporters of colonialism and Apartheid in Israel. Never mind the irony that in 1902, Kenya was the first territory the British floated as a potential site for the resettlement of Jewish people fleeing the pogroms in Europe. This fact has retreated from public memory and public knowledge. Today, churches in Kenya facilitate pilgrimages to the holy land and wield Islamophobia as a weapon against any Christian who questions the inhumanity of Israel’s 75-year Occupation and ongoing genocide.
Another instrument of repression of pro-Palestine organizing in Kenya is the pressure put on Western government-funded event spaces to decline hosting pro-Palestine events. Zahid Rajan, a cultural practitioner and organizer, tells me of his experiences trying to find spaces to host events dedicated to educating Kenyans on the Palestinian liberation struggle. He recalls the first event he organized at Alliance Français, Nairobi in 2011. Alliance Français is one of Nairobi’s cultural hubs and regularly hosts art and cultural events at the space. When Zahid first approached Alliance to host a film festival for Palestinian films, they told him that they could not host this event as they already had (to this day) an Israeli film week. Eventually, they agreed to host the event with many restrictions on what could be discussed and showcased. Unsurprisingly they refused to host the event again. The Goethe Institute, another cultural hub in Kenya that offers its large hall for free for cultural events, has refused to host the Palestinian film festival or any other pro-Palestine event. Both Alliance and Goethe are funded by their parent countries, France and Germany respectively (which both have pro-Israel governments). There are other spaces and businesses that Zahid has reached out to host pro-Palestine education events that have, in the end, backtracked on their agreement to do so. Here, we see the evolution of state-sponsored repression to the private sphere—a public-private partnership on repression, if you will.
Kenya’s members of parliament took to heckling and mocking as a tool of repression when MP Farah Maalim wore an “Arafat” to Parliament on October 25. The Speaker asked him to take it off stating that it depicted “the colors of a particular country.” When Maalim stood to speak he asked: “Tell me which republic,” and an MP in the background could be heard shouting “Hamas” and heckling Maalim, such that he was unable to speak on the current genocide in Gaza. This event, seen in the context of Ambassador Michael Lotem’s charm offensive at the county and constituency level, is chilling. His most recent documented visit was to the MP of Kiharu, Ndindi Nyoro, on November 2. The Israeli propaganda machine has understood the importance of County Governors and MPs in consolidating power in Kenya.
Yet, in the face of this repression, we have seen what Naomi Barasa describes as “many pockets of ad hoc solidarity,” as well as organized solidarity with the Palestinian cause. We have seen Muslim communities gather for many years to march for Palestine, we have seen student movements such as the Nairobi University Student Caucus release statements for Palestine, and we have seen social justice centers such as Mathare Social Justice Centre host education and screening events on Palestinian liberation. Even as state repression of Palestine solidarity organizing has intensified in line with the deepening of state relations with Apartheid Israel, more Kenyans are beginning to connect the dots and see the reality that, as Mandela told us all those years ago, “our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of Palestinians.”
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