Navigating the law
There is currently no legal framework in Kenya which provides for the uniqueness of gestational surrogacy, leaving its participants to work around the existing laws and, in some cases, to bend them to the limit. This journalist even recorded one agent who seemed to suggest that hospital staff could be bribed to falsify birth certificates.
“Because there is no legal framework for surrogacy that would transfer the child to the commissioning parent, the closest framework that exists to permanently transfer parental rights is adoption via the courts,” said Bobby Mkangi, a constitutional lawyer and expert in child rights and protection who served on the task force that drafted the Adoption Regulations.
But the adoption route is closed, by law, to many who might want to commission a surrogate baby in Kenya.
The Children Act says adoption is only permitted under “special circumstances” to sole applicants seeking to adopt children of the alternate sex (i.e. a single male cannot adopt a girl, and a single female cannot adopt a boy); and to sole foreign females.
The law does not allow adoption, even under “special circumstances”, to sole applicants or couples who are unmarried, to “homosexuals” and to “sole foreign males”.
The government went one step further in 2019 when it banned all international adoptions.
Despite these restrictions, agencies such as Gaurav Wankhede’s advertise Kenya to gay clients. “Unfortunately, gay surrogacy is not legal in every country. Which leads to many broken hearts in the LGBT community. Surrogacy Agency Kenya is right here to make your dreams come true and resolve all the obstacles related to gay surrogacy,” its website says.
New Life Global also recommended Kenya as a destination for “Single Intended Fathers or Same Sex Couples” on its website, although when contacted they said they had closed their Kenya branch down in 2019. Their Kenya website remained active until a few days after receiving our questions, which they explained as an oversight by their IT team.
“Despite the fact that surrogacy is not banned in Kenya, we saw that the legal part of the procedures was not regulated quite well,” New Life explained.
These agencies and their local handlers have been relying on narrow loopholes and other legal grey areas created in part by the lack of any legal recognition of surrogacy.
Surrogates are particularly exposed because the law recognises their rights as mothers, but not as surrogates. Lacking clear legal status themselves, they are seldom provided with independent legal guidance.
Commissioning parents who venture into the legal minefield of surrogacy in Kenya also risk losing their money, children, or both — either to the state which might intervene by taking the child away, or to surrogates who later backtrack and decide they want to keep the child. Allegations of human trafficking are also a real concern.
Enricah Dulo, a specialist family law advocate and a legal expert in gestational surrogacy practice in Kenya, explained that the formal adoption process set out in the Children Act is complex and will take “a minimum of three months”.
“The system is designed to protect the interests of the child at all times and to prevent human trafficking,” she said.
“Adoption involves a period of trial parenting that is supervised by officers from the Department of Children Services or an approved adoption society. The final adoption order is confirmed by a judge of the Family Division of the High Court, taking all factors into consideration.”
Heterosexual married couples do not have the same legal challenges as gay couples or single parents because the adoption route is open to them in Kenyan law.
One of the pathways some commissioning parents follow is to avoid adoption altogether, Dulo said, and to apply for legal custody and parental orders of the child instead.
Legal custody also sidesteps the government’s 2019 ban on international adoptions, it seems.
Dulo said she has been helping commissioning parents seek legal and parental orders for children born to them out of gestational surrogacy agreements by filing cases, not at the High Court, but the Children Court.
Dulo maintains that certain sections of the Kenya Constitution (Art. 53 (2)) and the Children Act (Sect. 4(2)) provide a degree of leeway because they state that the best interests of the child are of paramount importance when considering any matter.
Although less time-consuming and less complex than adoption cases, there are still some important checks that a Children Court magistrate will insist on. These include DNA test results to confirm a genetic link between baby and commissioning parents, as well as consent from the surrogate mother relinquishing all her rights over the newborn.
Once an order has been issued by the Children Court, Dulo approaches the Department of Civil Registration to issue a birth certificate in the name(s) of the commissioning parents.
But some agencies appear to have found a short-cut around even this shorter route. This reporter interviewed two surrogates who claimed, independently of one another, that their surrogacy agencies had arranged for the commissioning parents’ names to be entered straight into the surrogate baby’s birth records when they are born.
This method is thought to be illegal, as it not only risks children being trafficked but also denies the surrogates their legal rights as the birth mothers.
Kenya’s Births and Deaths Registration Act makes no special provision for the genetic variables of surrogacy. “By legal definition the person who gives birth is the legal mother whose name should be entered into the notification,” said Professor Marion Mutugi, a geneticist and Vice Chancellor of Amref International University.
Surrogate Minnie (details changed to protect her) was contracted by surrogate recruiter and one-time New Life Kenya manager Millicent Aoko Ogott to deliver a baby for a Kenyan couple whom she never met.
After the embryo transfer, Ogott put her in a rental house on the outskirts of Nairobi for the entire nine months of her pregnancy.
She attended all her antenatal clinics at the hospital where she would later give birth.
Minnie said she was checked into the hospital under the name of the commissioning mother.
She said she was not allowed to see the child after it was born, and claimed that the commissioning parents’ names were entered in the birth notification at the hospital.
The birth notification is later used to generate a birth certificate by the Registrar of Birth under the Department of Civil Registration.
Minnie was paid Sh685,000 by the agency.
Minnie also told the story of her friend who carried a child — this time for a foreign couple through an unnamed surrogacy agency. She, too, gave birth at the same hospital, never saw the child and the parents’ names were entered in the birth notification. (Asked to put this reporter in touch with her friend directly, Minnie said her friend did not wish to be contacted).
Another surrogate, Judy (not her real name) told this reporter about a fellow surrogate she knows who gave birth at another hospital in Nairobi and who also claimed that the commissioning couple (both foreigners) were entered in the birth notification at the hospital – again through an unnamed surrogacy agency.
We contacted both hospitals named to us by the surrogates. One did not respond to our queries, while the other, through a lawyer, confirmed that “our practice in the processing of birth notifications has always been that the gestational carrier of a baby is the birth mother of the baby and the carriers’ name is the only one that is allowed to appear in the Birth Notification”.
The lawyer adopted a hostile tone to any suggestion that the hospital’s staff might be complicit in bypassing the law.
Instead of offering to look into the allegation, the lawyer dismissed it as “frivolous and vexatious”.
Ogott denied all allegations and referred us to her lawyer who did not respond except to warn about the laws of defamation, criminal libel and malicious falsehood.
These denials notwithstanding, the impression that surrogate agencies do conspire with hospital staff in order to short-circuit birth registration laws was furthered when this reporter posed as a Kenyan commissioning parent called Angela, and approached the African Fertility Agency.
Agency co-owner Jahjah had the following taped phone conversation with the undercover reporter:
Jahjah: Ule mtoto wako atazaliwa (Your baby that will be born)
Angela/Naipanoi: ehh? (Yes?)
Jahajah: Huwa tunachoranga na Hospitali alafu birth certificate inatoka na complete majina yenu, yako na mzee (We make arrangements with the hospital so the birth certificate has you and your husband’s name)
Naipanoi: Ohh majina yetu? So you talk with the hospital natoa kitu kidogo? (Oh, our names? You talk with the hospital and we give a small token?)
Jahjah: Na si unajua Kenya saa zingine unaeza fanya mambo mawili kidogo usaidiwe. (You know in Kenya, you need to do one or two things and you are assisted)
Naipanoi: Yes Kenya iko hivyo (Yes, Kenya is like that)
Jahjah : Alafu at the same time, hatutaki kurisk kazi ya watu huko hospitali. (At the same time we don’t want to place people’s careers at risk at the hospital)
Naipanoi: Yeah true. Pia unajuanga kusaidiana ni muhimu….. ‘cause unajua venye Kenya iko (Yeah that is true. It’s good to help out. That’s how things work in Kenya.)
Jahjah: Hio ni yangu na wewe, hakuna mtu mwingine anaweza (That is between you and me, no one else can deliver what I have offered)
Naipanoi: Ehh, ohhh..utatengeneza and I won’t have to undergo all that, the adoption, the nini..(So you’ll fix that and I won’t have to undergo all that, the adoption, and all that)
Jahjah : Hata hakuna mambo na adoption. Bila hata kutengeneza hio (birth certificate) hakuna adoption… (Adoption is not even necessary. Even without sorting that (birth certificate) you won’t go through adoption.)
Jahjah denied all allegations against him — including a specific question about the phone call with “Angela”.
Wankhede — Jahjah’s business partner in African Fertility Agency, and the person who had first put “Angela” in touch with him — did not respond to any questions.
Ironically, Dulo recalled that Jahjah and Wankhede had both attended her regular training workshop on “Gestational Surrogacy and Transfer of Parental Rights in Kenya”, in which she teaches participants how the legal framework applies.
She commented: “Whereas it is true that there is still no legal framework regulating gestational surrogacy and the transfer of parental rights in Kenya; this does not in any way mean that it is impossible to have the commissioning parents listed in the birth certificates, unless parties engage in deception and other unscrupulous activities.”
“Agencies, clinics and commissioning parents should engage an advocate and have the transfer of parental rights and orders directing the Registrar of Births to list the commissioning parents in the birth certificates done through the court process.”
This reporter is also aware of a case involving a surrogate and a single gay commissioning parent.
The case is sensitive and complex. The surrogate asked not to be named or identified in any way.
But in essence: after the surrogate had been implanted with an embryo (the commissioning parent’s sperm, and a donor’s egg) and carried the baby to full term, she and the parent pretended to have conceived the child sexually, and not through gestational surrogacy.
She then waived her rights to the child, and gave the commissioning parent custody.
The surrogate said the entire process was very stressful for her: “What I did was not child’s play,” she confided. “There were times when during the process I honestly feared I might end up in prison,” she said.
Like many businesses promoting surrogacy in Kenya, foreign-owned agencies like Become Parents and New Life Global Network (see previous story) appear to target foreign gay couples and lure them with attractive packages of around Sh3.5 million ($32,000).
This is a fraction of what it would cost in western countries like the United States, where packages cost around $120,000 (Sh13.1 million).
The bargain prices available in Kenya are at the expense of desperate surrogates, who are paid far less than their counterparts in the West.
While the businesses advertise Kenya as a safe, friendly and affordable country, parents are often unclear whether this option is legal or not. In reality, parents are at risk of losing their money, children, or both, to surrogates and to the state.
And while surrogacy can be an incredibly fulfilling experience for parents, some agencies have been accused of taking advantage of their naivety and desperation.
In March this year, a surrogacy agency owner called Winnie Warigia Maina appeared in court in a case that received front-page media attention. Maina had reportedly been charged with defrauding Dion William Van Aardt, a Dutch national living in Kenya.
Van Aaardt testified that he had paid Maina Sh2.9 million ($26,200) to arrange for IVF and a surrogate, but was discouraged by Maina from ever meeting the surrogate in person. Months later, Maina allegedly told Van Aaardt that the surrogate and baby had “died”, and requested funeral expenses, only for Van Aaardt to discover that his sperm lay untouched at the IVF clinic, and had never been used.
Warigia reportedly denied the charges and was released on bail. The case continues.
Monica, the surrogate who was forced to have a late-term abortion (see previous story), also claimed that her commissioning parent was overcharged and made to pay expenses that the agency co-owned by Wankhede and Jahjah never incurred.
The parent travelled to Kenya for two weeks as part of the surrogacy package offered by the agency.
During this time, the agency erected a barrier between Monica and the parent, Monica claimed, thereby ensuring there was no communication between them.
“I finally met the parent at the airport, when we flew out to his home country together where I was to give birth,” Monica said.
This was the point at which they both discovered the actual fees being charged by the agency, Monica alleged: “While we sat together on the flight, the parent discovered from me that a lot of what he had paid for seemed excessive. For example, I was just staying at the surrogate hostel but they said that I was costing over Sh100,000 a month for rental, food, upkeep and a personal maid.”
“They also claimed I had made several more visits to the hospital than I actually did,” Monica claimed.
Monica also claimed that six months into her pregnancy, Jahjah had offered her Sh100,000 extra to give birth in the commissioning parent’s country. She agreed.
But on the flight the parent revealed he had actually paid Sh300,000 to the agency, after being told that her family had demanded this additional sum to fly out with him.
Monica also learned, through her commissioning parent, that the surrogacy contract between the agency and the parent, which she was never given sight of, stated she would be paid Sh1.5 million. In fact, Monica claims she had been offered Sh630,000.
Monica’s allegations could not be independently verified, because she does not have direct access to the financial details in question.
However, she is not the only African Fertility Agency surrogate who claims to have discovered that her pay didn’t match the contract signed by the parent.
A pregnant surrogate on a Sh640,000 pay package threatened to run away after discovering the contract between parent and agency billed her services at Sh1.5 million, according to an insider sympathetic to the surrogate who claimed to have direct knowledge of these financial arrangements.
These allegations were put to both Wankhede and Jahjah.
Kioko denied any wrongdoing. Wankhede never responded.
For gay Australian commissioning parents Ryan and James (thought to be their real first names), their experience in Kenya was hellish. The couple were stranded in the country after Wankhede’s Become Parents agency allegedly provided them with “not one, but two fake birth certificates” that their embassy rejected.
Their baby was born in 2018. They claim the surrogate provided fake details that were entered in the birth notification. The notification details helped generate the birth certificate.
After providing the certificates to the embassy for the baby’s passport and citizenship application, the embassy claimed they were fake and refused to assist.
“It soon hit the couple that their situation was dire. They were stranded with a 5-month-old across the globe in a third world country with no timeframe for when they could get out,” according to a blogpost about their experience that was posted by someone called Jet Lake in 2019.
According to the blog, they confronted Wankhede, who reportedly replied: “My agency had tasked obtaining the BC [birth certificate] through a local contact person, and I cannot reach him at present”.
It seems the illegal practice of bypassing Kenya’s birth registration requirements in order to smooth the path for foreign surrogates (see previous section) may have come back to haunt Become Parents and their unsuspecting clients.
Wankhede would later claim that “the certificate just wasn’t processed correctly by Kenyan Authorities and a new certificate was being generated”. But this, too, was reportedly rejected as a fake by the Australian High Commission.
The increasingly panicked couple then visited the Department of Civil Registration seeking help themselves, but found none. Going to court was riskier, their lawyer told them. They had a high chance of losing the child to the state because of their “illegal” marital status.
The blog doesn’t reveal how the plight of Ryan and James was resolved, but it continues to live online and paints Kenya as a “commercial surrogacy nightmare”.
According to Wankhede’s former business partner Bill Houghton, an Irish single parent, using an unnamed surrogacy agency, came unstuck when his baby’s DNA did not match his. The Irish Consulate in Nairobi initially declined to issue the baby with citizenship or a passport. After being stranded in the country for weeks, the embassy finally relented. He was required to adopt the baby in Ireland.
In this case, constitutional and human rights expert Bobby Mkangi smells a rat: “Unless he was appointed to act as a guardian through a guardianship order then everything else is illegal. It’s against the law in Kenya for single parents to adopt, and I can’t see how he would have been allowed to leave the country unless he paid off the immigration control officers at JKIA.”
Mkangi is also concerned that such situations could haunt the child’s life forever. “Any irregularities in the child’s legal status at this stage could mean they miss out on certain rights as citizens of their adopted countries,” he pointed out.
Wankhede did not respond to detailed questions, including about the incidents involving Ryan and James as well as the Irish single parent.
Arrested and left empty-handed
In a worst-case scenario, commissioning parents face arrest and losing their child.
In 2018, police arrested alleged surrogate mother Josephine Muthoni Kariuki (a genetic mother whose eggs had contributed to the embryo) together with commissioning parent Neo Kian Fu, a Chinese national, as well as a Mombasa doctor who had assisted the duo.
They were charged in a Mombasa court with engaging in “acts that promote child trafficking”, according to a charge sheet seen by this reporter.
The surrogacy agreement reportedly unravelled after Kariuki changed her mind about handing the baby over to the commissioning parent.
Police appear to have concluded that the agreement whereby the parent would adopt the baby before departing the country was illegal, and charged the trio. The baby was placed in a children’s home.
The accused denied the charges, and the case was eventually dropped due to a lack of evidence.
It is understood that the child now lives with the surrogate.
This reporter later found the surrogate in one of the surrogate WhatsApp groups she had joined. She claimed: “I was never a surrogate. If I was, why did the court grant me the custody of my son?”
Reviewing all these horror stories told by commissioning parents, Mkangi said: “This is why surrogacy agencies look for countries with weak legal enforcement regimes and weak child protection frameworks to exploit and manipulate. As a result, poor surrogates and desperate parents are put in situations that force them to break the law.”
Almost a decade and a half after the first surrogate baby was born in Kenya, the country still doesn’t have a legislative framework to regulate gestational surrogacy and assisted reproduction.
Over the years, however, there have been many efforts by female lawmakers to address this — all of them have so far been frustrated.
Suba North Member of Parliament Millie Odhiambo-Mabona has been at the forefront of the campaign. In 2014, she sponsored the In-Vitro Fertilization Bill, revived it in 2016 and then reintroduced it in 2018.
Former nominated Senator Judith Sijeny also tabled a bill in the upper chamber in 2014, but it was never passed. Latterly, Nakuru Senator Susan Kihika has also joined the effort by sponsoring the same bill that was initially introduced by Sijeny. However, these bills were never passed into law.
The current situation is not only stalled but it is also controversial and complex.
Two bills tabled in 2019 are waiting to be passed into law, each of them, among other things, laying out the conditions and procedures for surrogacy practice in Kenya.
One is before the Senate, while the other is in the National Assembly.
The Senate legislation, sponsored by Kihika, is called the Reproductive Healthcare Bill. It provides an overarching legal framework to govern safe access to a wide range of reproductive health services for women. This includes family planning, pregnancy terminations, adolescent reproductive health and assisted reproduction — including surrogacy.
But it has stirred strong opposition from the powerful religious lobby, who claim it promotes abortion and teenage access to family planning methods. As a result, the bill has become bogged down in the Senate, and is currently being overhauled entirely.
Kihika did not respond to requests for comment.
In the National Assembly, the experienced Odhiambo had cleverly sponsored two bills — a Reproductive Healthcare Bill and an Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART) Bill. “It was a purely tactical move,” she explained to this reporter. “The Reproductive Healthcare one is very contentious while the ART Bill — which tackles surrogacy — is less so. I had to separate the issues so that in case the former doesn’t pass, the latter would be.”
But it has not been plain sailing, either. Although the ART Bill was passed by the National Assembly, it was shot down in the Senate.
It has now undergone some amendments back in the National Assembly’s health committee, and underwent a second reading in the National Assembly earlier this month.
There are many similarities between the Odhiambo and Kihika bills. Whereas Odhiambo’s bill touches on surrogacy in brief, Kihika’s is much more detailed. Odhiambo is on record in the National Assembly saying that she would not object to the bills being harmonised.
Perhaps the most significant proposal is that both would abolish commercial surrogacy.
Commissioning parents would only be permitted to pay a surrogate’s direct medical expenses, loss of earnings suffered during the pregnancy period and insurance cover in case of disability or death, according to Kihika’s proposals.
Commissioning parents would enter into a signed gestational surrogacy contract with a surrogate. Each party would also be represented by a separate legal counsel, with the commissioning parents paying the surrogate’s legal fees.
Surrogates are divided over the possible demise of commercial surrogacy. On the one hand, Monica is elated: “Paid surrogacy encourages exploitation. If I could be a surrogate again, it would never be for money. I would only do it for free, for a couple unable to conceive a baby naturally.”
But surrogate Judy, on the other hand, is going through a difficult time financially and is considering being a surrogate again. “I closed my business. All the money’s gone. If they ban commercial surrogacy, how will I survive?” she asked.
The proposed change could spell the end of the more controversial agencies, although there is likely to still be a need for those which can provide a more limited administrative service.
As Kihika’s bill stands, the commissioning couple would need to prove their inability to have children naturally in order to be allowed to enter into a surrogacy arrangement.
The other significant change proposed in both bills is that the commissioning parents are recognised as the legal parents, with their names being entered in both the birth notification and birth certificate (a reversal of the current situation).
In addition, a child born as a result of gestational surrogacy would also take the citizenship of the commissioning parents and not that of the surrogate mother (another reversal).
With the passage of this law, a surrogate mother relinquishes all parental and custodial rights over the child as soon as she gives birth.
While these changes would smooth the path for commissioning parents, including foreigners, some experts have raised concerns.
Professor Marion Mutugi, a geneticist and Vice Chancellor of Amref International University, has proposed multiple amendments to the ART Bill which she said needed to be much clearer on who can contract a surrogate: “Is it a single woman, married, unmarried live-in partners, same-sex, who?”
Enricah Dulo, a specialist family law advocate and legal expert in gestational surrogacy practice in Kenya, said the legal parentage should not be transferred from a surrogate to commissioning parent based on the strength of a surrogacy agreement alone as there is also a need to protect children from incidences of human trafficking.
As a further safeguard, Dulo would also like the law to provide for a mandatory DNA test after birth, in order to ensure that either the sperm or egg or both were from the commissioning parent(s). This is also to confirm to the surrogate that she bears no genetic link to the child(ren) she carried to term.
“Kenya is known as a source, transit and destination country for human trafficking,” Dulo warned, adding that “parental rights should still be transferred through a court order” after DNA has confirmed a genetic link to the commissioning parents.
“Any surrogacy bill that passes must recognise the rights and welfare of the child as being of paramount importance,” Dulo said.
Postscript: My encounter with JahJah
At the beginning of this investigation, in mid-2019, I posed as a commissioning parent as a way to crack open the secretive world of commercial surrogacy in Kenya.
It was Gaurav Wankhede who first fell for my story. Posing as Angela, a married woman, I told him my “husband” and I desperately wanted a child.
After some toing and froing over email, he put me in touch with his “local manager”, Josephat Kioko Jahjah, who would arrange for me to visit an IVF clinic for tests and would also pair us with a surrogate.
I pumped Jahjah for as much information as I could, which was how he came to tell me about ways to bypass Kenya’s birth registration law.
As I was reluctant to expose myself to any medical tests, as commissioning parent “Angela” I slowly melted away.
But Jahjah came to know I was really a journalist in 2020. Some surrogates to whom I had identified myself as a reporter had forwarded my messages to him. He later sent me sms’s warning me to stop looking into his surrogacy business, as I was “not Police”.
At one point, he added my number to a surrogate WhatsApp group and then recorded a voice note warning surrogates to stop sharing information with me.
These bullying tactics made some of my surrogate contacts go cold; a few who had previously agreed to give interviews later changed their minds.
I could sympathise with them: some surrogates had already described the control Jahjah and other surrogate recruiters had wielded over them. Some told me how Jahjah had boasted of his financial muscle and good connections with the police.
Much later, when my research was done, I summarised all the allegations I had gathered against Jahjah and Wankhede and sent them via email to their advocate in mid-February 2021, asking for their comment in advance of publication.
Given that I had started this investigation by going undercover, and that I am a freelance journalist, I agreed with my editor and co-publishers, The Elephant and Africa Uncensored, to send the questions on a formal letterhead as a way of underlining my credentials.
Jahjah responded via the advocate the following day, dismissing the allegations as “false and untrue”, but offering to meet “any day and time … to support my claim”.
I was surprised at this offer, and immediately wary of it.
A few days after I responded to Jahjah, requesting a formal on-camera interview with him on a specific date, a surrogate texted me out of the blue to inquire if it was true Jahjah had reported me to the police for investigating and destroying his surrogacy business.
Although I was keen to interview Jahjah in person, I now decided to play things very safe. I would not confirm the exact venue of the interview until the last minute, and I went with two colleagues from Africa Uncensored.
On the morning of the interview I called his number, and an excited-sounding Jahjah picked up. He thanked me for confirming the venue, and said he was looking forward to the interview.
We had chosen the Distrikt Lounge, a restaurant in Ongata Rongai that would be quiet at that time of day. My colleagues had pre-booked a private room at the venue adjoining a pleasant lounge area where the manager had said we were welcome to film an interview.
Jahjah arrived 15 minutes late, curiously underdressed for the cameras. He was wearing a wrinkled loose-fitting sleeveless red T-shirt, baggy blue sweatpants, and casual black shoes. No mask.
He looked confident, arrogant even. Carrying two phones and a charger in one hand, he started distributing his business cards with the other. We each reciprocated with our press cards in turn, but it was mine that Jahjah was most interested in. He asked me to take off my mask, and his eyes moved back and forth between me and my card for some time.
Jahjah declined to sit where our cameraman, Sam Munia, requested and instead positioned himself by the doorway saying he was waiting for his advocate, whom he said was on the way.
It was at this point that Munia noticed three men sitting around a table in the outdoor lounge area taking photos of us on their phones. Pretending he needed a glass of water, Munia stepped outside and spotted another couple of men around the corner.
They called him over and identified themselves as officers from the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI). One of them said they “wanted Naipanoi”.
Munia played for time, giving them his ID and press card details. Our producer, Peris Gachahi then stepped out to do the same.
Left alone with Jahjah, he took out his phone and started photographing me. “Why are you taking my photos?” I asked, and requested that he stop. “I just have to,” he replied, and carried on.
The officers were now losing their patience. Gachahi summoned me to their table, where they inspected my official Kenya Media Council press card and took down my details. They then claimed I was a fake journalist who had malicious intentions towards Jahjah. According to them, a sign of this was because my original letter inviting Jahjah to comment on allegations was formatted incorrectly.
Relief washed over me as my experienced colleagues handled the situation with calm confidence. Yes, they had permission to film there, and the restaurant manager was summoned to confirm it.
The policemen then questioned them about their boss. As soon as my colleagues mentioned John-Allan Namu, co-founder of Africa Uncensored and a respected investigative journalist whose track record has made him a household name in Kenya, the officers backed off.
They said they would wait for the advocate, who arrived a short while later. The officers welcomed her familiarly, one offering her a seat and saying, “Karibu wakili” (‘Welcome, attorney’). She fist-bumped them and sat down, while her eyes seemed to flash concentrated anger and hatred in my direction.
The officer in charge informed her I was a genuine journalist, and showed her my press card. She complained we were forcing this interview on her and Jahjah, but my colleagues and I disputed this. Getting up from their seats, the officers politely informed all of us that “our work is done, we don’t want to interfere,” and took their leave.
Jahjah and his advocate both looked crestfallen, defeated. Things had clearly not gone as they had planned. They conferred with each other briefly, then the advocate informed us that her clients — Jahjah and the absent Wankhede — would not be commenting. “If you want answers, get a court order,” she said. Then they left.
The three of us later drove to the nearby police station, where the DCI officers had told us they were based, to report Jahjah for harassing me by taking photos without my consent.
The officers told us that Jahjah had been there the previous day, to report his suspicions that I was a fake journalist. The officers proposed summoning him to the police station the following week to apologise to us directly. We declined.
Reflecting back on this crazy encounter with Jahjah, his advocate and the cops, I wondered how their ambush might have played out had I arrived at the venue alone.
Then my thoughts turned to the surrogates whose lives and livelihoods are tied to the African Fertility Agency. Is this how they are coerced and intimidated? And what apology will they ever be offered?
Story editing and additional reporting by Lionel Faull, of Finance Uncovered. This article was developed with the support of the Money Trail Project (www.money-trail.org)
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Tanzania: The Dialectics of Maguphilia and Maguphobia
Hopefully, the Magufuli phenomenon would have taught progressive African intellectuals to distinguish between rhetorical anti-imperialism and systemic understanding of the global capitalist-imperialist system
Grief and relief
On March 17, 2021, the fifth president of Tanzania John Joseph Pombe Magufuli, aged 61, died a few months after beginning his second term in office. It was a ‘dramatic’ exit for a person who had almost single-handedly (some would say heavy-handedly) ruled the country for the preceding five years. The reaction of the Tanzanian populace was as dramatic, if not extreme. Large sections of down-trodden (‘wanyonge’ in Swahili) people in urban and semi-urban areas were struck with disbelief and grief. Among them were motorbike taxi drivers (‘bodaboda’), street hawkers (‘machinga’), women food vendors (‘mama Ntilie’) and small entrepreneurs (‘wajasiriamali’). At the other end of the spectrum were sections of civil society elites, leaders and members of opposition parties, and a section of non-partisan intelligentsia who heaved a sigh of relief. Barring a few insensitive opposition political figures in exile, most in the middle-class group did not openly express or exhibit their relief, as African culture dictates, until after the 21-day mourning period had passed. In between the extremes were large sections of politicians and senior functionaries in the state and the ruling party who continued singing the praises of the leader while privately keeping track of the direction of the wind before casting their choice.
Increasingly the division between Maguphiles and Maguphobes is surfacing, particularly among parliamentarians. We may be witnessing a beginning of realignment of forces. Popular perception tends to be cynical, justifiably so, for none of the emerging factions resonates with their interests and daily lives. Street wisdom has it that with the change of wind, opportunist politicians are positioning themselves to be on the right side (‘wanajiweka sawa’ as the street Swahili goes) of the new president.
Between February 27, 2021 when he was last seen in public and March 17 when Magufuli’s passing on was officially announced, President Magufuli disappeared from the public eye. He was not seen at public functions nor did he attend church services on three consecutive Sundays. Magufuli was a practising Catholic and a devout church-goer. He never missed the Sunday Mass nor did he let go the opportunity to make political speeches from the pulpit. This practice distinguished President Magufuli from his predecessors to whom mixing politics with religion was anathema. They had been brought up on the secular doctrine preached and practised by Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, who never stopped reiterating that religion was a private matter and the Tanzanian state was secular. During the two weeks Magufuli was not seen in public, the country was awash with rumours, speculation and stories spun by spin doctors on Magufuli’s health, the nature of his disease, and whether or not he was alive. Internal detractors and a section of the foreign Western press superficially reported and gleefully reiterated that Covid-19 had finally caught up with President Magufuli who was reputed to be a Covid denier. The then Vice-President Mama Samia Suluhu Hassan gave heart complications as the cause of the president’s death. It was known that the president had a pacemaker. It is not necessary for the purposes of this essay to establish what the cause of death of President Magufuli was. I do not intend to cloud my analysis by that debate.
President Magufuli leaves behind a controversial legacy. It would be intellectually futile to strike a strict balance between Maguphilia and Maguphobia. That is a lazy way of understanding a political phenomenon. Drawing up a balance sheet of the good and the bad is an accountant’s job not that of an intellectual analyst. Rather it is important to understand that Magufuli was a political phenomenon, not an individual. Magufuli was a local variant of populist political leaders who have emerged recently in a number of countries of the South. Brazil and India are obvious examples. Conditions were ripe for the emergence of demagogic politicians, partly as a backlash to neo-liberalism which wreaked havoc with the social fabric of the countries in the periphery and partly because of the resulting polarisation, inequalities and impoverishment of the working people and middle classes. Disarmed, disillusioned and stripped of all hope, masses yearned for a messiah. Populists presented themselves as such deliverers. The masses in Tanzania found themselves in this state when Magufuli appeared.
Populist rhetoric varies from country to country but invariably it feeds on heightening racial, religious and gender differences and exploits popular prejudices. The Magufuli phenomenon was not a deus ex machina. To understand it we must locate it in the history and politics of the country and come up with a correct characterisation. I characterise the Magufuli phenomenon as messianic Bonapartism. Before we dwell further on this, let me say a couple of things about Bonapartism as a political phenomenon.
When classes are weak or have been disarmed ideologically and organisationally over a generation, politics suffer from Bonapartist effects. Bonapartism can take different forms depending on the concrete situation. Quickly, we may identify the two most relevant to us – militarist and messianic. Tanzania has been saved of the former for reasons which will become clear in the course of this essay. In the late president we witnessed the latter.
Bonapartism is characterised by the unexpected rise of an individual who stands above classes and social struggles. Indeed he even appears to rise above the state. The famous phrase attributed to Louis XIV ‘l’etat, c’est moi’, ‘I’m the state’ sums it all. Bonapartism has arisen in historical situations where the struggling classes have either exhausted themselves and there is an apparent vacuum in the body politic or the rein of the previous ruler has been so laissez-faire that ‘law and order’ has broken down. The Bonaparte legitimises his crassly high-handed actions to return the country to order and to rein in fighting factions in which everyone is for themselves and the devil takes the hindmost. Liberal institutions of ‘bourgeois’ democracy such as parliament and judiciary are either set aside (a fascist option) or emaciated of their content (neo-fascist authoritarianism). They exist in name only, but go through the rituals of elections, law-making and ‘judicial decision’ making, which means little in practice.
When classes are weak or have been disarmed ideologically and organisationally over a generation, politics suffer from Bonapartist effects
Unlike much of the rest of Africa, Tanzania can justifiably boast of a relatively stable and peaceful polity as well as smooth succession from one administration to another. Julius Nyerere, the founding president, ruled for nearly quarter of a century followed by three presidents, each one of whom was in power for ten years, that is, two terms of five years, the term limit prescribed by the Constitution of the United Republic of Tanzania, 1977. President Magufuli had just entered his second term after the general election of October 2020 when he met his death.
The political antecedents
The driving force during Mwalimu Nyerere’s reign was the ideology of nation-building and development. Nation-building called for national unity. Nyerere was preoccupied by national unity and as a result he reigned in centrifugal forces. At the time of independence there were three identifiable centres of power: the army, trade unions and the state. The army mutiny of 1964 and the alleged attempt by some trade unionists to make common cause with the mutineers drew home the point that all was not well and Nyerere’s national project was tottering. The mutiny became the occasion to dismantle the colonial army, ban independent trade unions and abolish the multi-party system. Opposition parties then were miniscule without much support but they had the potential to derail the national project, as Nyerere saw it. Tanzania was the first country in this part of Africa to rebuild the army from scratch with soldiers recruited mainly from the ruling party’s youth wing.
In 1965 a new one-party constitution providing for a highly centralised executive presidency was passed. From then on, the polity was informed by the centralising tendency, power being concentrated in the state and the party. In 1968, an independent religious organisation of Muslims, the East African Muslim Welfare Society, was banned for fear that it could become an organisational home for disgruntled Muslim politicians. The 1967 Arusha Declaration enshrining the policies of socialism and self-reliance saw the nationalisation of the commanding heights of the economy. That lay the basis for the rise of parastatals with their own spawning bureaucracy. Over a period of next ten years, relatively independent co-operatives were abolished and replaced by crop authorities. Independent student, youth, and women’s organisations were all brought under the wing of the party. Thus the proto-ruling class which could be described as a bureaucratic bourgeoisie or state bourgeoisie established its ideological and organisational hegemony. By the time Nyerere stepped down in 1985, Tanzania had one of the most formidable state-party machines and it was highly bureaucratised.
Four important features of the party-state during Nyerere’s time must be highlighted. One, the Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party did function. Its organs had foundations at grassroots level in villages and streets. The party operated through its various organs such as party branches, ten-cell organs and similar organs, at district, regional and national level. At the top was the Central Committee and the all-powerful National Executive Committee (NEC). These organs met regularly and transmitted their resolutions and proceedings to higher levels. Two, the army was integrated in the party structure. It constituted a region which sent delegates to the NEC and the Congress, just as other regions did. Three, the party had a clearly spelt out philosophy and ideology which became the basis for developing its programmes and manifestos. Consequently, there was an ideology and a structure around which members could rally and participate in decision-making. Fourthly, as a result of these factors, political factions with a clear ideology and politics could not easily crystallise in or outside the party. If factions did emerge, they were temporary and issue-oriented. It was difficult for them to have medium or long-term political ambitions. The only group which did function as a faction and began to flex its muscles in the last five years of Nyerere’s rule was from Zanzibar. The succession saga within the party following Nyerere’s announcement that he was stepping down was actually led by Zanzibaris to which a few mainlanders aligned. To Nyerere’s surprise, the Zanzibari CCM faction proved to be so formidable that it managed to overturn Nyerere’s preferred choice to succeed him.
Magufuli was a local variant of populist political leaders who have emerged recently in a number of countries of the South. Brazil and India are obvious examples. Conditions were ripe for the emergence of demagogic politicians, partly as a backlash to neo-liberalism which wreaked havoc with the social fabric of the countries in the periphery and partly because of the resulting polarisation, inequalities and impoverishment of the working people and middle classes
In sum, although state structures of checks and balances were compromised during Nyerere’s time, the party did act as a check on top leaders providing a platform for relatively free discussions and debates within the party. Throughout this period, the independence of the judiciary was respected even though the judiciary could not play a very active role because, one, the constitution did not have a bill of rights against which the performance and accountability of the state organs and officials could be measured and, two, the law tended to be very widely worded, giving the bureaucracy unfettered discretion. These powers were often abused but grievous abuses were relatively rare and, if and when discovered, legal action was taken against the perpetrators. While Nyerere’s regime could arguably be described as authoritarian it certainly could not be labelled fascist in any sense of the word. When some overzealous youth wingers once described Nyerere as a ‘fascist’, Nyerere is said to have quipped: ‘What would they say if they saw a real one!’
The next ten years under President Ali Hassan Mwinyi saw the first, albeit hesitant, steps on the road to neo-liberalisation. It was during Mwinyi’s term that the leadership code which prevented state and party leaders from using their political office to accumulate personal wealth was lifted. There were also signs of factional struggles within the party but interestingly it was once again the coherent Zanzibar faction which mainlander CCM leaders with presidential ambitions had to attach themselves. Nonetheless, it was on Zanzibar issues – Zanzibar’s membership of the Organisation of Islamic Conference on its own and Parliament adopting a resolution to form a Tanganyika Government thus changing the union structure from two to three governments – that matters came to a head. Nyerere was still around. He managed to salvage the boat. The boat rocked but did not sink.
The next president, Benjamin Mkapa, was the first to be elected in a multi-party election, scoring a majority vote of only 62 per cent, demonstrating that the electorate was getting exhausted with CCM’s scandals and over-bearing bureaucracy. Mkapa, who served as president from 1995 to 2005, can easily be described as the father of neo-liberalism in Tanzania. He privatised national assets, including the national state bank, and steam-rolled through Parliament the mining law, opening up that important sector to rapacious foreign investment. However, he took a leaf from Nyerere’s book by adhering to party protocols and ensuring that the party organs met regularly and that there was a semblance of debate in the top party organs. During his term the judiciary became more active as a bill of rights had been inserted in the constitution in 1984.
By the end of Mkapa rule, Tanzania was a full-blown neo-liberal state. The hardest-hit victims of neo-liberalisation, as elsewhere, were the working people, in both urban and rural areas. As cost-sharing in education and health took hold and various subsidies were removed, the component of social wage from the livelihoods of working people disappeared, exposing them to the full rigour of the so-called free market. Even lower middle classes suffered. If Tanzania was spared of bread riots, it was because of the lingering ideological and organisational hegemony of the state-party over the working people.
Finding a successor to Mkapa proved to be contentious. Jakaya Kikwete and his friend Edward Lowassa, the party’s two leading cadres, had built a strong base in the party’s youth wing. They had waited in the wings to bid for the presidency at the opportune time. Through fair and foul means, aided by some manipulation of party rules by the then party chairman Mkapa, the Kikwete-Lowassa duo managed to keep out another strong contender, Salim Ahmed Salim. Kikwete got the party’s nomination, subsequently winning the presidency with a handsome majority. He lost no time in making his friend Lowassa his Prime Minister and one of their businessman friends – who was widely believed to play kingmaker behind the scenes – treasurer of the party. Eventually, the two friends fell out and Lowassa had to resign as Prime Minister. Be that as it may, the party had become fractionalised and mired in factional struggles. With no coherent ideology like the Arusha Declaration, the factions were not held together by any ideology or political programme but by sheer ambition to power and through power the ability to access the state largesse.
The ten years of Kikwete rule were one of the most laissez-faire periods in the country’s history. The neo-liberal chickens came home to roost. Scandals abounded, there was unchecked embezzlement of public funds, some politicians in collusion with businessmen went on an accumulation spree, corruption mounted. The party was side-lined. Kikwete did not have purchase on party meetings. The party and the government lost any semblance of coherence. The check-and-balance machinery broke down. Policymaking was erratic. Donors ruled the roost. To be sure, in this climate civil society elite and opposition parties enjoyed a measure of freedom which they had not experienced before but all that was at the expense of the masses who continued to sink deeper and deeper into poverty and hopelessness. The party lost credibility, so much so that when the time came for general elections it could not be sure of getting elected. Day by day, the opposition gained in popularity as it exposed the scandals and corruption of CCM politicians.
Unlike much of the rest of Africa, Tanzania can justifiably boast of a relatively stable and peaceful polity as well as smooth succession from one administration to another
Within the party, the person believed to be the strongest contender for presidency was Edward Lowassa. He had both political and financial clout but no purchase on political probity. He had cleverly put in place his people in vital party organs. Succession to Kikwete was ridden with factional struggles, so much so that when finally Lowassa lost out on nomination in the Central Committee, his faction in the Committee came out openly questioning the Central Committee’s decision.
As we have seen, the ruling party and its leaders had been so much maligned and marred by allegations of corruption that it had to nominate for the presidency a person who was not identifiable with the party and its heavyweights, a relatively clean person. That person was John Magufuli, until then a non-entity. In the elections, Magufuli got the lowest vote ever (58 per cent). Lowassa, having moved to the opposition, scored nearly 40 per cent. The opposition also won a significant number of seats in Parliament. As we shall see, Magufuli never forgave the opposition for their relative success.
The rise of a messianic Bonaparte
Thus were created almost textbook conditions for the rise of a Bonaparte, in this case, a messianic Bonaparte. By the time of the fifth president, the post-Nyerere presidents had abandoned the country’s cementing ideology, the Arusha Declaration. What was left of it was smashed to smithereens by the onslaught of neo-liberalism. The ideological vacuum thus created was filled with narrow nationalism and religious dogmas including religious salutations at political meetings and rallies in what was constitutionally a secular state.
The messianic variant of civilian Bonapartism best describes the Magufuli phenomenon. Messianic Bonapartism rules by fiat of the leader. It legitimises its rule not only by material measures in the interest of the down-trodden or oppressed (called wanyonge in Tanzania) but also by metaphysical appeals. The late President Magufuli used both in good measure. One of the most significant collateral damages of messianism is that accountability of the top leader disappears while their subordinates become, if at all, accountable to one person at the top. Politics are submerged in the personality of the president. Patriotism is defined and measured by one’s loyalty to the president. Any critique of the president is labelled unpatriotic or anti-national, the term widely used by Hindutva BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) in India.
Messianic Bonapartism shares some characteristics of the absolute monarchies of Europe. Absolute monarchs derived their legitimacy and authority from God, not from the people. And so-called good absolute monarchs were those who bestowed their largesse on their subjects. President Magufuli did not flinch in giving cash gifts to well-performing functionaries or leading an on-the-spot collection of funds for a complaining widow or a mama Ntilie. Such publicity stunts no doubt endeared the president to the masses, notwithstanding the fact that the impact of these acts was fleeting.
On many levels Magufuli scored a first in the political history of the country. He was the first president of the country since independence 50 years ago who was not a party veteran or a cadre. Unlike his predecessors, he was not brought up in the party. He was nowhere close to the first or second-generation nationalists. In his ministerial portfolios under the third president, Mkapa, and later under the fourth president, Kikwete, he was better known for his close supervision of infrastructure projects than for his political acumen or ideological leanings. He got things done, which earned him the nickname ‘bulldozer’. He was more of a supervisor than a leader. As a president, he never travelled outside the country except to nearby African countries. He did not attend a single United Nations General Assembly or an African Union Summit. He had little appreciation of international geopolitics. Although described as a Pan-Africanist after his death, he showed little understanding of the history or politics of Pan-Africanism. He saw regional organisations like the East African Community (EAC) or Southern African Development Community (SADC) as vehicles to enhance Tanzania’s trade and economic benefits rather than as the political building blocks of Pan-Africanism. Although he rhetorically used the term ubeberu (imperialism), it is doubtful if he ever understood it as a system. He hardly ever talked about ubepari (capitalism) or for that matter ujamaa, socialism. His refrain and rhetoric was maendeleo (development), kutanguliza Mungu (putting God first) and uzalendo (patriotism). For him, ‘development’ was non-partisan; ‘development’ was above politics, above ideology and above all-isms.
He was the first president who was able, in five years, to accomplish major undertakings which his predecessors had failed to do over decades. He moved the capital to Dodoma, a project that had been conceived and planned by Nyerere. He embarked on a gigantic hydroelectric project across Stigler’s Gorge. He initiated the building of the over-2000km-long Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) from Dar es Salaam to Mwanza and further west. He built many miles of tarmac roads across the country. He would invariably quote a string of statistics from memory of the length of roads built, the number of dispensaries, hospitals, schools and factories constructed under him. Whether these figures represented the whole truth on the ground, no one could tell, and those who could kept quiet for fear of contradicting the all-powerful and unpredictable leader. As a matter of fact, during Magufuli’s time the Statistics Act of 2015 was amended to make it a crime punishable by a fine of ten million shillings or three years imprisonment or both ‘to disseminate or otherwise communicate to the public any statistical information which is intended to invalidate, distort or discredit official statistics’ (section 24B). A year later the amendment was repealed following pressure from local NGOs but not until the World Bank issued a statement showing its concern with the amendments and ending with a threat to withdraw its financial support to the strengthening of the national statistics system.
While Nyerere’s regime could arguably be described as authoritarian it certainly could not be labelled fascist in any sense of the word. When some overzealous youth wingers once described Nyerere as a ‘fascist’, Nyerere is said to have quipped: ‘What would they say if they saw a real one
While some of the mega-projects (like the SGR) undoubtedly made developmental sense, others were controversial given their possible medium and long-term ecological effects. The Stigler’s Gorge project and others (like buying eight airbuses and the Tanzanite bridge across the sea) could very well prove to be white elephants. While Magufuli lived, no one dared to challenge or contradict him. One consulting geologist from the University of Dar es Salaam who gave an adverse report on the feasibility of the Stigler’s Gorge project was roundly condemned by the president in public before his peers for being unpatriotic.
He was the first president who made meaningful and far-reaching decisions like abolishing primary and secondary school fees, ordering the building of classrooms and buying of desks, extending health insurance coverage at a cheap premium to almost one-third of the population, issuing street vendors and kiosk owners with identity cards at twenty thousand Tanzanian shillings which would legitimise their occupation and free them from constant harassment by city police and militia. A number of times he cancelled state celebrations like independence day and redirected the money thus saved to infrastructural and health projects. These and other populist moves, some impactful and others inflated out of proportion, endeared him to wanyonge and earned him the title ‘people’s president’, ‘man of the people’ and many other accolades generously bestowed on him by courtiers and praise singers.
Magufuli’s populist measures were not without contradictions. For instance, he barred pregnant school girls from education on the grounds of patriarchal morality which typically blames the victim. Use of misogynistic language was legendary with him. He unabashedly made remarks on the skin colour and figures of young female functionaries in his government. Yet hardly any local gender lobby could dare call him out. While he made primary and secondary education ‘free’, the loan instalment payments by university graduates was doubled, leaving little from their salaries for their upkeep.
He had little respect for the constitution or law. He did not even pay lip service to the rule of law and breached law and the constitution at will. He fired and humiliated senior civil servants in public meetings contrary to public service regulations and without proper investigation of their alleged misdeeds. While this to some extent restored discipline in the civil service, it was a discipline born of fear resulting in his ministers and civil servants shying away from making decisions.
During President Magufuli’s reign some of the most draconian pieces of legislation were passed, propelled by his compliant Attorney General. Public interest litigation (founded on article 26 of the country’s Constitution), under which a number of constitutional petitions were filed challenging some laws and Magufuli’s public appointments, was abolished. A few vocal lawyers conducting such cases were taken before the Advocates Committee for disciplinary action. One of them, who had appeared in a case in which the credentials of the Attorney General himself were questioned, was struck off the roll of advocates. At the time of writing her appeal is pending before the High Court.
The list of unbailable offences under the notorious Money Laundering Act was extended to cover even such offences as tax evasion and use of illegal fishing nets. The law was generously used by the prosecution to incarcerate critical journalists and commentators. A few such cases were sufficient to strike fear in the rest, including critical intellectuals and academics. Once famous as a site of critical debates and discussions, the University of Dar es Salaam became an intellectual desert with its faculty tight-lipped in the face of momentous happenings outside the campus. To be fair, Magufuli could not be solely blamed for this as the trend had already set in in the previous decade. One of the major collateral damages of neo-liberalisation of the university and marketisation of its scholars was the emaciation of the critical intellectual content of university life. But that is a subject on its own and is best left for another day.
Under Magufuli’s presidency, the executive branch of the government became predominant riding rough-shod over other branches. During his presidency, it would require a leap of imagination to believe that the country had separation of powers. Mundane state functions like swearing-in ceremonies became grand functions at the state house with live TV coverage. Invariably, the Speaker of the National Assembly, the Chief Justice, commanders of the army and the police would be present seated in the front row with all their regalia. During such functions, which were essentially executive functions, the Speaker and Chief Justice would be invited to speak assuring the president of their loyalty and re-iterating their admiration for him. His speech would come at the end. In a long-winded rambling monologue, he would harangue, humiliate and even reprimand his ministers and other public officials. The president would often give thinly veiled instructions to the head of the judiciary and the legislature. The speech would end with his oft-repeated refrain that he would not flinch from speaking the truth for those who tell the truth are the beloved of God.
Under President Magufuli’s watch the country for the first time witnessed disappearances and kidnappings whose perpetrators remain unknown to this day. The perpetrators, we are told, were ‘watu wasiojulikana’ (unknown people). During his reign a wealthy businessman was mysteriously kidnapped and as mysteriously reappeared after 10 days. To this day it is not known what the motive was, who did it and what was the deal between the perpetrators and the victim’s wealthy family that led to his release. The businessman incredibly claimed a year later that no ransom money had been paid (https://www.bbc.com/ news/world-africa-50235322). An outspoken, high-profile, if somewhat erratic, leader of the opposition party was shot at in broad daylight by the occupants of a trailing land cruiser. Sixteen bullets were pumped into his body. Thankfully he survived, after dozens of surgeries performed on him in a foreign country, but the agony and the traumatic experience that he and his family and his admirers went through was inhuman and immeasurable. To date the perpetrators have not been arrested or sent before a court of law, nor does anyone know if the police are continuing the investigation or if the file has been conveniently closed.
The driving force during Mwalimu Nyerere’s reign was the ideology of nation-building and development. Nation-building called for national unity. Nyerere was preoccupied with national unity and as a result, he reigned in centrifugal forces
Soon after coming to power on a slim majority, by Tanzanian standards, of 58 per cent President Magufuli lost no time in coming down heavily on opposition parties. Political rallies were banned, opposition leaders were harassed, and slapped with all kinds of charges which kept them in court or prisons most of the time. Civil society organisations and NGOs fared no better. Funded by foreign agencies, some of them dubious, and having no constituency or agenda of their own, NGOs were most vulnerable. Extreme controls were imposed on them. Some of them found their bank accounts closed while others were subjected to all kinds of demands from revenue authorities.
As might be expected, print and electronic media bore the brunt of repression. While public media joined the praise-singing choir, private media too fell in line to protect their businesses and profits. Fearing closure or being slapped with heavy fines by the regulatory agency (TCRA) for smallest of infractions (which were not unknown), the media avoided controversial stories and investigative reporting. A couple of critical newspapers and online TV channels were either banned or starved of advertisements. They went under.
Ironically while the mainstream media was undergoing censure, a mysterious media mini-tycoon emerged on the scene like a phoenix. He owned a couple of newspapers and TV Online (an Online TV channel). His newspapers defamed prominent people, even party stalwarts, without let or hindrance. He abused and poured verbal venom on Magufuli’s critics and perceived opponents and enemies. He had no respect for professionalism or ethics. No disciplinary action has ever been taken against him either by regulatory bodies or media watchdogs.
Arguably the measure which was most important in making Magufuli known on the continent was his bold taking on of the multinational gold company Barrick Gold. And he did it in his own spectacular fashion. He stopped containers full of mineral sand to be exported by Acacia, a subsidiary of Barrick, for smelting. He formed a local team of experts to investigate the mineral content of the sand. Simultaneously, the Tanzania Revenue Authority slapped on it a huge bill of unpaid taxes amounting to USD190 billion. As expected, the expert team found that the sand contained a variety of minerals costing billions of shillings. The long and short of the story is that Barrick Gold had to send its chief executives to Tanzania to negotiate with the government, bypassing the Acacia management. Eventually, the parties struck a deal under which Barrick would pay USD300 million in settlement of the tax dispute and give Tanzania a 16 per cent stake in a new company, Twiga Minerals, which would operate Barrick’s three mines. Meanwhile, the ban on export of mineral sand was lifted. Details and the small print of the agreement were never made public. It is not clear if the promises made have been fulfilled.
In the same vein, a progressive piece of legislation called Natural Wealth and Resources (Permanent Sovereignty) Act was passed in 2017. While the law recognises the sovereign ownership of the people of natural resources, they are legally vested in the president who holds the same in trust. Most of its provisions, including this one, are really hortatory in that they cannot be easily enforced in a court of law. Nonetheless, the law did send a strong message that at least in theory the Tanzanian government would not tolerate any exploitation of its natural resources which had no benefit to the people of Tanzania. One provision which forbade any international agreement from providing for dispute settlement by outside bodies could be considered a great advance since most of these agreements invariably provide for international arbitration of disputes. Research has to be done to establish if this provision has been observed in practice. My hunch is that it has not.
The president also boldly moved against grand corruption. A number of high-profile, and hitherto untouchable, business people perceived to be corrupt were charged with unbailable offences. A few bought back their freedom through plea-bargaining; some are still rotting in jail. The former Vice-President of Acacia Deo Mwanyika was charged with money laundering for alleged tax evasion soon after retirement from the company. Eventually, he bought his freedom by way of a plea-bargaining agreement coughing up millions of shillings. (indeed many others charged similarly had to agree to pay handsome sums of money to get back their freedom.) Ironically, he was nominated by Magufuli’s party to stand for Parliament in the 2020 elections which he duly won. A well-known businessman who had been charged under the money laundering law for allegedly avoiding taxes died in remand custody.
In the 2020 general election Magufuli won by a landslide, getting an unprecedented 84 per cent while the ruling party won all parliamentary seats except a couple. Opposition parties cried foul but theirs was a voice in the wilderness. For the first time since the general elections began in the country in 1965, no election petitions were filed. It was a telling comment on the 2020 General Elections under President Magufuli’s watch. It was also a veiled pointer to the loss of people’s trust in the impartiality of the judiciary.
Within two or so years of Magufuli’s rule the civil and political space virtually disappeared. Selected disappearances, court cases against perceived opponents and closure or fining of media – both print and electronic – instilled fear, uncertainty and hopelessness even in outspoken academic critics. Magufuli shrewdly dangled carrots in front of academics by appointing a significant number of professors and PhDs to his cabinet and top public service positions thus denuding the university of its most senior faculty. The remaining joined the queue hoping to be picked up in the next round of presidential appointments.
The country had never before experienced such an intense perception of repression. Critics were subdued. Some leading opposition politicians were ‘bought’ off with political positions. Overnight they crossed the aisle becoming flag-waving members of the ruling party. Meanwhile, the populist rhetoric coupled with promises of beneficial material improvement for the wanyonge – free education, health insurance, relative discipline in delivery of public services and well-publicised action against notorious businesspeople for corruption, tax evasion, drug business etc – garnered support of the masses behind the president. The president’s unrelenting industrialisation drive, albeit unplanned and incoherent, gave jobless youth the hope of employment. In the event, whatever new industrial plants were put up they made little dent on unemployment figures. In itself the idea of industrialisation had a lot to commend it but for it to make developmental sense it had to be coherent and consistent with a broad vision of building a nationally integrated economy in which industry and agriculture would be mutually reinforcing. The president had no such vision and it is doubtful if he sought any advice or accepted it if given.
The president also became the chairman of the party, in terms of the convention established by the first phase government. Nyerere believed, not without reason, that the Tanzanian polity was not ready for the separation of the state president and the party chairman. The party was brought up and bred on centralisation of power. Under Magufuli’s chairmanship, party organs like the Central Committee and NEC were slimmed down in terms of numbers and filled with loyalists. The old guard of the party was weeded out. Two former Secretary Generals of the party and the foreign minister in Kikwete’s government with presidential ambitions were hounded, defamed and relentlessly humiliated in the media owned by the new kid on the block (see above). No action was taken against the mini media tycoon. Instead, the victims of his defamation campaign were subjected to disciplinary measures. One was reprimanded, another was suspended and put under watch while the former foreign minister was expelled.
Messianic Bonapartism shares some characteristics of the absolute monarchies of Europe. Absolute monarchs derived their legitimacy and authority from God, not from the people. And so-called good absolute monarchs were those who bestowed their largesse on their subjects.
Eventually, all but the latter asked for forgiveness and were duly forgiven. A similar dose of medicine was administered on one of the very vocal cadres of CCM who had campaigned vigorously for Magufuli in the 2015 election. He was appointed minister for information in the Magufuli cabinet. He dared to cross swords with one of Magufuli’s favourite regional commissioners which earned him a revocation of his appointment as a minister. When he tried to hold a press conference to explain his side of the story at a city hotel, he was confronted by a plain-clothes pistol-wielding person who forced him back into his car. To this day no one has been held accountable for that roguish behaviour. Eventually he too asked for forgiveness and was duly forgiven.
The new chairman of the party appointed a young person from the University of Dar es Salaam with progressive credentials as Secretary-General of the party. Another young person with no political or ideological credentials to speak of except vituperous outpourings became the ideology and publicity secretary of the party. None of them had an independent base either in the party or outside. They became the public image of the party in the shadow of the chairman to whom they were eternally beholden.
The passing of the president
The framers of 1977 Constitution (as amended) wisely provided for the contingency of the death of an incumbent president. In case of such eventuality the vice-president would take over for the remaining the term of the deceased president. This provision was not well known even to constitutional lawyers and had certainly not featured in public discussions on the constitution. This was so partly because there had never been such an occurrence but mainly because this provision was new, having been introduced in one of a spate of constitutional amendments following the introduction of multi-party in 1992. In the Eighth Constitutional Amendment, the framers borrowed the system of a running-mate from the United States. Together with this, the framers took over almost lock, stock and barrel the American provision on succession in case of the death of an incumbent president (25th Amendment to the US Constitution). Article 37(5) of the 1977 Constitution stipulated that in case of, among other things, the death of the incumbent, the vice-president should be sworn in to be the president.
After the announcement of the death of the president it took almost 60 hours before the vice-president was sworn in.2 A few legal commentators opined that there was a lacuna (gap) in the constitution which did not provide the timeframe within which the vice-president had to be sworn in. One legal expert who has attained a kind of celebrity status for conducting public interest litigation even opined that it would be imprudent to swear in the succeeding president while the body of the late president had not yet been interred. One does not have to be a constitutional expert to read the constitution in context to conclude that the successor has to be sworn in immediately, that in fact there is no lacuna in the constitution. Under Tanzania’s Constitution the president is the commander in chief of the armed forces with powers to declare war and make peace, with powers to declare state of emergency etc. The presidency therefore cannot remain vacant for any length of time. The practice in the US, from where article 37(5) of the Tanzanian Constitution was lifted, has been to swear in the vice-president to become president immediately on the confirmation of the death of the incumbent president. When John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963 in the city of Dallas, Lyndon B. Johnson, his vice-president, was sworn in within two hours onboard Air Force One while it was still parked on the runway. In the event, to the relief of many, the constitution prevailed. It is not clear which superior force intervened in favour of the constitution. So far, the transition has gone smoothly.
Glimpses into the future
It is too early to say the direction that the new regime will take under president Samia Suluhu Hassan. To be sure, it is likely to be a little more liberal politically and economically and a little less heavy on invoking rhetorical invectives against western governments. In changing the symbolic salutation from religious to secular, the president will probably adhere to the secular tradition of the country. She is likely to open up to the outside world. The extent of opening up will determine whether her government draws in the laissez-faire elements of the fourth phase government or remains within the parameters of national interest. All in all, the party and the government which she now heads is likely to continue on the path of neo-liberalism. Thus the stark choice in the immediate and medium-term future is not so much between nationalism and neo-liberalism but rather between rampant and regulated neo-liberalism.
Whether or not and how far the new president opens up the civil space will also determine how far the working people are able to organise themselves openly to defend their interests. There are disturbing signs that opportunist politicians, businessmen and IFIs (International Financial Institutions) are getting too close to the president. If they prevail, the neo-liberal path will consolidate itself. There is a fear among more conscious elements that some of the worst features of neo-liberalism – rampant pillage of natural resources, reaping of monopoly super-profits at the expense of the working people, land grabbing resulting in eviction of smallholders, further exacerbation of social inequalities and mass misery– may once again reappear with a vengeance. In which case, whatever goodwill the president may have generated will quickly evaporate.
One major lesson to draw from the Magufuli phenomenon is that our polities in the periphery remain fragile and masses disorganised. Therefore our polities are vulnerable and amenable to the rise of narrow nationalists and populists on the one hand, and rampant neo-liberals on the other. Under the circumstances, organisation-building remains foremost on the working peoples’ agenda. The politics of class struggle have to transit from spontaneity to organisation just as committed left intellectuals have to transit from being public to organic intellectuals.
Ultimately the working people have to depend on themselves rather than wait for a messiah to deliver them. Hopefully the Magufuli phenomenon would have taught progressive African intellectuals to distinguish between rhetorical anti-imperialism and systemic understanding of the global capitalist-imperialist system; between populist demagogues and popular democrats; between mass political line and mass evangelism; and between a protracted struggle of the working people for liberation and emancipation from below and short-cut measures to development and promises of deliverance from above.
Challenges and Opportunities for African Universities in a Post-COVID-19 World
The massive disruptions wrought by COVID-19 present an opportunity for a fundamental transformation of Africa’s higher education.
The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed and exacerbated the systemic deficiencies and inequalities in healthcare systems, economies, businesses and educational institutions around the world. African universities have been particularly affected. What does this portend for their future and for the production, consumption and dissemination of scholarly knowledges?
Here I argue that universities face various alternative and overlapping futures ranging from restoration, to evolution, to transformation. These interlinked scenarios encompass every aspect of university affairs from the modalities of teaching and learning, financial models, leadership skills, and institutional governance systems to modes of external engagement. In this context, it is critical to interrogate the desirable transformative trajectories for African universities.
Constructing new futures for African universities and knowledge economies entails institutional, intellectual, and ideological struggles and negotiations, and different ways of studying and assessing the value proposition of universities not only for students and other internal stakeholders, but also for African societies and diasporas in their complex national and transnational dimensions, articulations, and intersections.
As a historian, I trust you will appreciate if I begin by revisiting the agenda for African higher education set at the First African Higher Education Summit held in Dakar, Senegal, in March 2015. The Summit identified the challenges and opportunities for African universities in the realisation of the African Union’s Agenda 2063, which remains as pressing as ever and, indeed, is even more imperative in the coming post-COVID-19 world. Secondly, I will briefly review the challenges exposed and exacerbated by the pandemic. Finally, I will outline the agenda for reform and transformation in four key areas: digitalisation, leadership, institutional cultures, and financing.
Revisiting the agenda of the Dakar Summit
The African Union’s Agenda 2063 provides “a blueprint and master plan for transforming Africa into the global powerhouse of the future. It is the continent’s strategic framework that aims to deliver on its goal for inclusive and sustainable development and is a concrete manifestation of the pan-African drive for unity, self-determination . . . .” Education is indispensable for the realisation of Agenda 2063 in so far as promoting integrated, inclusive, innovative, structural, and sustainable development requires building strong human capital, research systems, and robust collective identities and civic values.
The Dakar Summit sought “to create a continental multi-stakeholders’ platform to identify strategies for transforming the African higher education sector” in pursuit of Agenda 2063. I was commissioned to write the Framing Paper for the Summit and help draft the Declaration and Action Plan. In the paper, I provided a broad overview of the historical development of African higher education from ancient times to the colonial era to the post-independence period.
The latter is characterised by three trends, namely, expansion, crisis and reform. In 1959, on the verge of Africa’s “year of independence” in 1960 when 17 countries achieved their freedom from colonial rule, there were only 76 universities across Africa, mostly concentrated in South Africa, Egypt, and parts of West Africa. The number rose to 170 in 1970, 294 in 1980, 446 in 1990, 784 in 2000, 1,431 in 2010, and 1,682 in 2018. Enrolments rose from 0.74 million in 1970 to 1.7 million in 1980, 2.8 million in 1990, 6.1 million in 2000, 11.4 million in 2010, and 14.7 million in 2017.
As rapid as this growth was, Africa remained with the lowest levels of higher education institutions and tertiary enrolments, which stood at 8.9 per cent of the world’s 18,772 higher education institutions (Asia had 37 per cent, followed by Europe with 21.9 per cent, North America 20.4 per cent, Latin America and the Caribbean 12 per cent), and 6.6 per cent of the world’s 220.7 million students. Forty-five per cent of the African students were in Northern Africa. To put it more graphically, Indonesia had nearly as many students in higher education institutions as the whole of sub-Saharan Africa (7.98 million to 8.03 million).
Enrolment ratios tell the story differently. In 2017, the world’s average enrolment ratio was 37.88 per cent, compared to 8.98 per cent in sub-Saharan Africa and 33.75 per cent in Northern Africa. Kenya’s stood at 11.66 per cent in 2016. For the high- income countries it was 77.13 per cent, for upper-middle-income countries 52.07 per cent, for the middle-income countries 35.59 per cent, and for lower- middle-income countries 24.41 per cent. The proverbial development case of South Korea is instructive. As pundits never tire of pointing out, in 1960 the country’s level of development was comparable to that of some African countries: its enrolment rate in 2017 was 93.78 per cent! And China, the emerging colossus of the world economy, had a rate of 51.01 per cent. Put simply, not enough Africans are going to university.
To put it more graphically, Indonesia had nearly as many students in higher education institutions as the whole of sub-Saharan Africa.
The second trend I discussed in the Framing Paper was the massive crisis of structural adjustment in the lost decades of the 1980s and 1990s. The rationales and models that had undergirded them changed in the maelstrom of the world economic crisis and the rise of neo-liberalism following the end of the long global postwar boom and the demise of the Keynesian welfare state in the global North and the developmental state in the global South. The impact on African higher education was devastating. It was expressed in declining state funding, falling instructional standards, declining facilities, shrinking wages, and low faculty morale. Academics increasingly resorted to consultancies or they became part of the “brain drain” as they sought refuge in other sectors at home or in universities abroad.
This was followed by the third trend from the 2000s as many African economies resumed the growth of the early post-independence years and democratisation spread as struggles for the “second independence” intensified. The reform agenda raised and focused on seven sets of issues that I cannot elaborate on because of space constraints. First, there was the need to re-examine the philosophical foundations and nationalist objectives of African higher education in an era of neo-liberalism and knowledge economies.
Second, African higher education institutions were confronted with the question of how to deal with their changing demographics and the demands for equity, diversity and inclusion based on the social inscriptions of gender, ethnicity, class, religion, etc. Third, the question of privatisation and its effects rose to the top of the policy and public agenda as public institutions were increasingly privatised, private institutions exploded and overtook public ones, and for-profit-institutions expanded. Fourth, the challenges of governance and accountability became increasingly apparent.
Fifth, financial pressures intensified as public funding declined, cost sharing measures were developed, and conditions of work in terms of salaries declined, forcing faculty to indulge in income generation activities including consultancies and adjuncting. The result was low research productivity, poor staff morale, institutional conflicts, and declining quality of education. Many African universities became glorified high schools. Sixth, demands grew for accountability through the quality assurance movement from the ever-expanding stakeholders of higher education. Finally, the perennial struggle between indigenisation and internationalisation for Africa’s higher education institutions and knowledge production systems entered a new phase as globalisation accelerated.
Put simply, not enough Africans are going to university.
The paper noted some of the key global developments African universities had to grapple with. Four stood out. First, was the unbundling of the systems developed after World War II including the erosion of universities’ monopoly over research and credentialing as new entrepreneurial providers and research institutions sponsored by business, non-governmental organisations, and other agencies emerged. Second, was the disruptive and transformative impact of technology in all aspects of university activities from teaching, to research, to operations and provision of services. Third, there were fundamental shifts taking place in the global political economy in terms of hegemonies and hierarchies and in the nature and future of jobs that challenged traditional curricula and pedagogies. Fourth, new forms of intra- and inter-institution competition and collaboration were emerging within and across countries, increasingly sanctified and reproduced by rankings that regulated global academic capitalism.
I made six recommendations for the Summit. First, how to match growth, or massification with quality. Second, strategies for improving financing and management. Third, how to promote the articulation, harmonisation and quality assurance in Africa’s higher education systems that needed greater horizontal and vertical differentiation and diversification. Fourth, modalities to promote institutional autonomy and improve governance. Fifth, enhancing research and innovation. Sixth, strengthening beneficial internationalisation and diaspora mobilisation.
These recommendations found their way into the Summit Declaration and Action Plan, which identified eight priorities. I will quote each priority as described in the heading.
- We call for an ambitious commitment of various stakeholders to expand higher education, including, achieving through concomitant investments in academic staff, infrastructure, and facilities by the state, private sector, and society at large, a higher education enrolment ratio of 50%…
- Promote diversification, differentiation, and harmonization of higher education systems at the national, institutional and continental/regional levels by African countries to enable consolidation and assure the quality of educational provision against locally, regionally, and internationally agreed benchmarks of excellence.
- Increase investment in higher education to facilitate development, promote stability, enhance access and equity; develop, recruit and retain excellent academic staff and pursue cutting-edge research and provision of high quality teaching. Appropriate investments are required at institutional, national, regional, and international levels.
- African higher education institutions shall commit themselves to the pursuit of excellence in teaching and learning, research and scholarship, public service and provision of solutions to the development challenges and opportunities facing African peoples across the continent. Key actions are required by all stakeholders and levels to assure quality, relevance, and excellence.
- Commit to building capacity in Research, Science, Technology, and Innovation.
- Pursue national development through business, higher education and graduate employability: Despite the rapid expansion of higher education enrollments, there are serious concerns about the ability of Africa’s universities to produce the kinds of graduates who can drive the continent forward.
- Nation building and democratic citizenship: As enshrined in the relevant sections of African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights, 1981 and in the AU’s Agenda 2063, the continent seeks to deepen the culture of good governance, democratic values, gender equality, respect for human rights, justice and the rule of law.
- Mobilize the Diaspora: Develop a 10/10 program that sponsors 1,000 scholars in the African diaspora across all disciplines every year, for 10 years, to African universities and colleges for collaboration in research, curriculum development, and graduate student teaching and mentoring.”
Challenges exposed and exacerbated by the pandemic
The outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic in early 2020 forced universities around the world to confront unprecedented challenges that simultaneously exposed and exacerbated existing deficiencies and dysfunctions. Six stand out. First, in terms of transitioning from face to face to remote teaching and learning using online platforms. Second, managing severely strained finances. Third, ensuring the physical and mental health of students, faculty and staff. Fourth, reopening campuses as safely and as effectively as possible. Fifth, planning for a sustainable post-pandemic future. Sixth, contributing to the capacities of government and society in resolving the multiple dimensions of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Universities in Africa were among the most affected and least able to manage the multi-pronged crises because of their pre-existing capacity challenges that centred on ten dimensions, namely, institutional supply, financial resources, human capital, research output, physical and technological infrastructures, leadership and governance, academic cultures, quality of graduates, patterns of internationalisation, and global rankings.
The first refers to the inadequate number of universities on the continent noted earlier. The second concerns inadequate financing, declining public investment, and limited philanthropic support for higher education. The third is about the insufficient availability of faculty and lessening attractiveness of academic careers because of the devaluation of academic labour. The fourth points to low levels of research funding and productivity. The fifth alludes to the poor state and maintenance of physical and technological infrastructures.
The sixth touches on external interference and politicisation of university executive appointments, corporatisation, and lack of leadership development opportunities. The seventh suggests growing social conflicts with the pluralisation of internal and external constituencies and erosion of academic freedom. The eighth signifies persistent mismatches between graduates and the needs of the economy that results in high levels of unemployability. The ninth implies the durability of coloniality, intellectual dependency, and unequal international engagements. The tenth indicates the low standing of African universities in world rankings, notwithstanding the problems with rankings as instruments of global academic capitalism.
Universities in Africa were among the most affected and least able to manage the multi-pronged crises because of their pre-existing capacity.
Some of these institutional deficits directly affected the ability of universities to manage the pandemic and to plan for the post-pandemic future. Most crucial are the technological, financial, and research capacities, and the state of institutional cultures and leadership. Many African universities suffered from limited digital infrastructure, capacity, and connectivity, which made it difficult for them to transition online for education, research and administration. The digital divide was evident among and within countries and institutions in terms of access to broadband, electronic gadgets, data costs, digital literacy and preparedness for administrators, faculty, staff and students. Digital inequalities reflected and reinforced the prevailing differentiations of class, gender, age, race, location, disability, and other social markers.
The technological challenges were compounded by worsening financial strains. University revenues from auxiliary services plummeted following campus closures; student enrolments and ability to pay tuition dropped sharply as economies went into recession and unemployment for parents or guardians rose; government funding declined; and philanthropic donations fell and were increasingly diverted to emergency healthcare. Universities were forced to undertake severe budget cuts including job furloughs, reductions in salaries and pensions, suspension of capital projects and renegotiation of service contracts. Some stared at the brink of bankruptcy and permanent closure. Under such circumstances, new investments in electronic infrastructures were difficult to support and sustain.
The financial crisis was of course not confined to African or developing countries. It was a global phenomenon as evident in numerous reports from UNESCO, the European University Association, International Association of Universities, Association of Commonwealth Universities, and African Association of Universities. Depressing stories on the loss of millions of jobs in universities and other draconian cost containment measures including salary reductions, suspension of pensions and other benefits, increased workload, merging and elimination of some departments, outsourcing of more and more services were reported in the academic and national media in developed and developing countries alike, such as—to mention those that I read every day—University World News, Times Higher Education, The Chronicle of Higher Education, Inside Higher Education, and The New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, and closer to home the Daily Nation and The Standard. Similar reports have been produced by consultancy firms such as McKinsey, Ernest & Young, and Moody’s.
The pandemic not only put pressure on the finances and operations of African universities, but also raised the stakes for research and policy interventions; they were expected to undertake biomedical and socioeconomic research to manage the pandemic. As I noted in an article in University World News summarising a series of webinars by the Alliance for African Partnership that I moderated between April and July 2020, some universities produced hygiene products and personal protective equipment including hand sanitisers, masks, ventilators, EpiTents for patient isolation and mobile hospitals, testing kits, and robots for delivery of food and medicines to patients. Others undertook research on the epidemiology of the coronavirus and biomedical treatments and the socioeconomic impacts of the pandemic, provided advisory services to government, developed software to monitor the pandemic’s spread, and sought to raise awareness and provide psychosocial support to their constituents and the wider society.
Digital inequalities reflected and reinforced the prevailing differentiations of class, gender, age, race, location, disability, and other social markers.
However, most African universities and firms stood on the sidelines as their societies waited for the development of vaccines in the global North, China, and India. At best, a few collaborated with overseas universities, research establishments and networks, and hosted clinical trials, although they were “unable to secure a fair pricing agreement”. Weak research and drug manufacturing capabilities have made African countries vulnerable to vaccine nationalism in the global North, while democratic deficits have led to the securitisation of mitigation measures, gravely undermining human rights in several countries.
As of May 26, 2021 doses administrated per hundred people range from more than 100 per cent in 13 countries to 90 per cent in the UK, 86 per cent in the US, 56 per cent in Canada and 54 per cent in Germany. African countries have the lowest rates of vaccination, ranging from less than one in a hundred in 18 countries, one in a hundred in seven countries, two per hundred in eight, and three per hundred in seven. This is a monumental and global scandal of deadly proportions. What are our universities, governments, and industries doing to serve and save themselves besides stretching their hands and praying for salvation from the rich world apart from indulging in perennial and petty, but often vicious, national and institutional politics?
COVID-19 should be a wake-up call for African universities and countries to strengthen their research capacities, science, technology and innovation systems, manufacturing capabilities, and inter-institutional and interdisciplinary collaboration through existing consortia such as the African Research Universities Alliance, and new ones. Beyond being involved in quality control and to have an important role to protect the continent “from being used as a testing lab for COVID-19 vaccines”, some believe African universities “should join forces with the pharmaceutical industry and funding organizations to manufacture COVID-19 vaccines in the continent”.
Funding for research by governments, the private sector and the universities, and collaborations among the three needs to be enhanced. Despite innovations made in some universities, “the scale of collaboration with the industry that takes headline-making innovation beyond the walls of an institution is conspicuously missing. These collaborations can also provide an opportunity for further validation, and a path to widespread adoption and commercialization.” The comparative research data should be of concern to us all.
Most African universities and firms stood on the sidelines as their societies waited for the development of vaccines in the global North, China, and India.
In 2013, Africa accounted for 2.4per cent of world researchers, compared to 42.8 per cent for Asia, 31.0 per cent for Europe, and 22.2 per cent for the Americas. In terms of scientific publications, Africa’s share was 2.6 per cent in 2014, compared to 39.5 per cent for Asia, 39.3 per cent for Europe, and 32.9 per cent for the Americas. For research and development (R&D) as a percentage of GDP, Africa spent 0.5 per cent compared to a world average of 1.7 per cent and 2.7 per cent for North America, 1.8 per cent for Europe, and 1.6 per cent for Asia. Africa accounted for a mere 1.3 per cent of global R&D.
The agenda for reform and transformation
A crisis, as the saying goes, is the flip side of opportunity. The bigger the crisis, the more profound the lessons to be learned, and the greater the imperatives for transformation. African universities are likely to pursue three scenarios. The restore scenario will be focused on reclaiming the institution’s pre-pandemic financial health and operations, while the evolve scenario applies to “institutions that will choose to incorporate the impact and lessons of the pandemic into their culture and vision” while under the transform scenario institutions will “use the pandemic to launch or accelerate an institutional transformation agenda”.
For some universities what is at stake is survival, for others stability, and for many sustainability. Institutional survival is a precondition for stability, which is essential for sustainability. Confronting the entire higher education sector is the question of its raison d’être, its value proposition in a digitalised world accelerated by COVID-19.
I would like to focus on four critical dimensions: promoting progressive digital transformation, effective leadership, strong institutional cultures, and sustainable funding for African universities. For the first two I propose a dozen strategies for each, and for the last two seven strategies for each, respectively. Given the limitations of space, I shall only give the broad outlines of the various proposed initiatives.
As a scholar of intellectual history—the history of ideas and knowledge producing institutions—I’m only too aware that knowledge production is framed by certain crucial dynamics, what I call the 4Is: first, intellectual, which refers to the prevailing paradigms; second, ideological, in terms of the dominant and competing ideologies at a given moment; third, institutional, as far as the nature and organisation of an institution is concerned; and finally, individual, one’s social biography with reference to gender, race, nationality, class, religion, politics, etc.
For some universities what is at stake is survival, for others stability, and for many sustainability.
Institutional change occurs at the intersections of these dynamics, out of concrete social struggles within and outside the academy, among the university’s ever expanding and shifting constituencies. Change, in short, does not emanate from analytical prescriptions or rhetorical declarations, however compelling. However, constructing desired futures is not a wasteful exercise; it can inspire action for ideas constitute an indispensable part of praxis.
In a forthcoming co-authored paper with Paul Okanda, USIU-Africa’s ICT director, in the Journal of African Higher Education, whose abridged version appeared in University World News on February 11, 2021, a twelve-point agenda is proposed for the digital transformation of African universities. First, they need to embed digital transformation in the institutional culture, from strategic planning, organiational structures, to operational processes. Second, invest in digital infrastructure by rethinking capital expenditures that historically favoured physical plant. Third, develop online design competencies both individually and through consortia. Fourth, entrench technology-mediated modalities of teaching and learning encompassing face-to-face, blended, and online.
Fifth, embrace pedagogical changes in terms of curricula design and delivery that involves students as active participants in the learning process rather than passive consumers. Sixth, develop holistic and innovative curricula that impart skills for the jobs of the 21st century. Seventh, adopt and use educational technologies that support the whole student for student success going beyond degree completion. Eighth, develop effective policies and interventions to address the digital divide and issues of mental health disorders and learning disability.
Ninth, as learning and student life move seamlessly across digital, physical, and social experiences, universities must safeguard data protection, security, and privacy. Tenth, in so far as the market for online programmes is transnational, universities must pay special attention to international students who face unique barriers. Eleventh, they should develop meaningful partnerships with external constituencies and stakeholders, including digital technology and telecommunication companies to close the glaring employability gap. Twelfth, universities will increasingly be expected to anchor their research and innovation in the technological infrastructure that supports and enhances the opportunities of the Fourth Industrial Revolution for Africa.
As for effective leadership, I also see twelve areas for improvement. The multi-pronged health, economic, financial and social crises of COVID-19 have underscored the importance of strategic and smart institutional leadership at all levels.
First, it requires ensuring that appointments of institutional heads and governance boards are based on verifiable leadership competencies, passion and understanding of the higher education sector. All too often, their selection reflects misguided political considerations, expectations of donations which are hardly ever honoured in African universities, or preferences for alumni wedded to institutional nostalgia and stasis. Second, university leaders at all levels, from department chairs to deans, vice chancellors to board members, must undergo periodic leadership development training that is specifically tailored for higher education.
Third, university leaders must possess and sharpen their financial acuity. In addition to managing complex institutional budgets, they now need to develop the ability to manage reductions in staffing, programmes, and space. Fourth, cultural competency is more critical than ever. University leaders must go beyond making statements about valuing diversity and inclusion and articulate and exhibit a deeper awareness of systemic injustice, inequality, and privilege, and show boundless compassion and commitment for promoting an inclusive institution.
Fifth, they must display technological deftness. In an increasingly digitalised academy, it’s no longer enough for university leaders to be comfortable using emerging technologies; they must model and promote institutional technological savviness and competence, and develop analytics expertise to promote data-driven decision-making. Sixth, the pandemic has shown that crisis management is essential. Besides preparing for traditional natural and security threats, leaders are currently forced to manage physical and mental health crises, emergency preparedness and business continuity, and to lead in times of uncertainty.
Seventh, leaders need an entrepreneurial mindset. More than ever universities want leaders who are calculated risk-takers, innovative entrepreneurs, and effective in promoting the university mission as they create beneficial external partnerships and revenue generation initiatives. Eighth, political savviness is an important asset as university leaders are increasingly required to work in uncertain and politically polarised times at national, regional, and global levels that challenge them to pursue and promote advocacy and institutional discourse that is calm, informed, and respectful.
Ninth, empathy and respect is essential as mental stress and financial insecurity rise among university constituencies. Leaders are expected to demonstrate empathy and respect for all their internal constituencies. They must reveal their humanity, even in decision-making. Tenth, multi-genre communication skills are indispensable. Further to strong written and verbal communication skills, leaders are now increasingly expected to provide efficient, timely, clear and persuasive messages and stories to diverse constituencies using multiple platforms including social media.
Eleventh, possessing high emotional intelligence is a must. Additional to the ability to demonstrate confidence and empathy, leaders are more and more expected to demonstrate self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, and social skills, rather than egotism, impulsivity, and proneness to bullying and micromanagement. Finally, agility is necessary. On top of well-established professional knowledge and experience, success increasingly depends on a leader’s ability to be flexible in the face of many changes, to have the capacity to learn and assume new and more responsibilities, and to show fortitude, unflappability, and moral compass.
Building strong institutional cultures requires adherence to seven critical values. First, is academic freedom, which in most jurisdictions embodies two dimensions: the freedom of inquiry for faculty and students and the procedural and substantive autonomy of institutions. In the first instance, a faculty member should be able to teach or express scholarly views without fear of reprisals, and in the second, an institution has the right to determine for itself on academic grounds how its core business of teaching and research is conducted. In many African countries and universities academic freedom in both senses is contested and often breached by pervasive authoritarian interventions and impulses by the state, administration, and governing boards.
Second, is shared governance, which refers to the participation and demarcation of rights and responsibilities in decision making between faculty, management, and governing boards. Typically, faculty is expected to exercise authority on academic matters such as the curriculum, instruction, and degree requirements. As universities have become more complex and demands for accountability have increased, democratic organisational processes have been eroded, replaced by what critics call corporatisation and managerialism. It is critical to balance the management of the university as a complex organisation and the traditions and ethos of collegiality, participation, and distributed power by maintaining what is called in South Africa cooperative governance.
Third, is diversity, equity and inclusion. Given their critical role as pathways for social mobility and leadership across all sectors, universities are increasingly expected to promote diversity, equity and inclusion at all levels and for all their constituencies. Inequalities of access, support, and success are deeply entrenched across Africa’s and the world’s multicultural, multiracial, and multi-ethnic, gendered, and class societies that are also marked by other forms of difference and discrimination. By providing opportunities for underrepresented groups and creating and sustaining an inclusive climate through their mission, values, policies, and practices, universities promote inclusive excellence for institutional and national progress.
Fourth, civility and collegiality. The academic bully culture—as Darla Twale and Barbara De Luca call it in their book by that title—has grown. Some call it academic mobbing. Incivility and intolerance in universities has several manifestations. At a macro level, it reflects the frictions of the increasing diversification of university stakeholders, the growing external pressures for accountability, and the descent of political discourse into angry populisms. Student and faculty incivility is also fueled by a rising sense of entitlement, consumerist attitudes, emotional immaturity, stress, racism, tribalism, sexism, ageism, xenophobia, social media, and other pervasive social and institutional ills that universities must confront and address to foster a healthier institutional climate.
Universities are increasingly expected to promote diversity, equity and inclusion at all levels and for all their constituencies.
Fifth, universities must maintain their role as generative spaces in the rigorous search for truth. The “posts” and the movement for decolonising knowledge has vigorously and rightly contested the epistemic architecture and metanarratives of the Eurocentric academy and its hegemonic knowledges. However, as we pluralise knowledges and universalisms, remake intellectual cultures, and transform our universities, we must resist the relativism of alternative facts, the nihilism of anti-science, and the solipsism of self-referentiality beloved by populist demagogues, many of them products of the world’s leading universities, as some critics noted with the neo-fascist Trumpists in the United States who live in a world of alternative facts.
Sixth, effective communication is essential for building cohesive communities out of the university’s disparate constituencies that have divergent interests, priorities, and preferences. Internally, there are students, faculty, staff, administrators and governing boards, and externally prospective students and employees, alumni, parents, government, regulatory agencies, competitors, institutional partners, donors, the media and general public. This requires developing multiple communication channels, messages, and styles tailored for different audiences to create dialogue and understanding. Good, transparent, and regular internal communication fosters a sense of community, efficiency, and the collective pursuit of th institutional mission, vision, and goals.
Seventh, embracing social responsibility is vital for universities to eschew institutional naval gazing for the higher purpose of social impact that can mobilise internal and external stakeholders. Universities are well placed to provide evidence-based knowledge, solutions and innovations for society. Socially responsible universities need to embed public service in their missions, experiential learning in their curricula, and research that is responsive to pressing local, national, regional and global problems. They need to enhance their social ownership as public goods, in tackling social inequities, and embrace research-sharing with their communities.
Financial sustainability requires pursuing seven strategies as well. The low financial capacities of many African universities is sobering. The FY21 budget of the University of Illinois system, where I spent the longest time in my academic career, is US$6.7 billion, which is probably more than the combined budgets of public universities in several East African countries. In Kenya, in 2020-2021 the government allocated the equivalent of US$1.13 billion for all public higher education institutions, down from US$1.53 billion in the previous year, of which US$1.06 billion was for salaries and only US$70 million was for infrastructural development. Research hardly features.
We must resist the relativism of alternative facts, the nihilism of anti-science, and the solipsism of self-referentiality beloved by populist demagogues.
First, public funding for higher education needs to be raised substantially if African countries are serious about improving the quality of human capital so essential for integrated and innovative sustainable development, and for them to turn the demographic explosion into a dividend rather than a disaster. The burial of the ghosts of structural adjustment programmes is long overdue. African governments need to develop innovative allocation mechanisms to universities encompassing clear funding formulas, performance contracts, and competitive grants. The latter two should be open to both public and private universities.
Second, there is a need to establish differentiated tuition pricing and targeted student aid. Besides increasing spending per student, which is the lowest in the world, African governments and universities must develop targeted free or low tuition for the neediest students who qualify for university studies, improve student loan recovery schemes, and make them income-contingent. Private universities can do this through effective and sustainable internal student aid policies and external scholarships.
Third is exercising prudent financial management. As I noted in the Framing Paper for the 1st Higher Education Summit held in Dakar in March 2015, the financial challenges facing higher education institutions require the adoption of more sophisticated and transparent budgeting models to ensure efficient utilisation of limited resources. The spectre of corruption that undermines the finances of some universities should also be ruthlessly tackled.
Fourth is diversifying revenue streams. Universities tend to have seven major sources of funding, namely, government subventions, student tuition, auxiliary services, income-generating activities, research grants, philanthropic donations, and loans. African universities could increase income from auxiliary services by providing better accommodation for their students rather than leaving them captive to shoddy and dangerous neighbourhoods as has become the case on many campuses; undertaking entrepreneurial activities including consultancies, offering executive programs, and establishing enterprises that leverage their expertise and innovations; consistently bringing in large research grants; and raising philanthropic donations from Africa’s rapidly expanding middle classes and high-net-worth individuals (with assets of more than US$1 million).
According to Frank Knight’s The Wealth Report 2021, in 2020 their numbers reached 231,000 (down from 251,511 in 2019), representing 0.48 per cent of the world’s total, while those of ultrahigh-net-worth individuals (with assets of more than US$30 million) reached 3,270 (up from 3,127 in 2019) accounting for 0.63 per cent of the world’s total. Collectively, the African HNWIs own nearly US$2 trillion. The few that give to universities prefer to donate to renowned universities in the global North than in their own countries. Indeed, the African elites prefer to educate their children abroad rather than at home, just like they trek overseas for medical care.
The national bourgeoisies of African countries tend to be among the least patriotic in the world in terms of building or supporting national high quality educational and healthcare facilities because they can readily access them in the wealthy countries. This is one of the unintended benefits of COVID-19: it underscored the importance of building such facilities and services at home as the elites and their children who are socialised and pampered to be as un-African as possible could no longer freely travel overseas.
African elites prefer to educate their children abroad rather than at home, just like they trek overseas for medical care.
Fifth is creating institutional mergers. There is no doubt that Africa needs more universities, but they must be financially sustainable. Many of the public and private universities that have mushroomed in the last two decades are simply glorified high schools. For economies of scale in the higher education sector, mergers are imperative even for the fiercely independent and often thinly disguised for-profit private universities. This has to be part of a strategic agenda for diversification and differentiation, accompanied by horizontal and vertical articulation of higher education institutions at national, regional, and continental levels.
Sixth is forging robust inter-institutional collaborations. University consortia will become increasingly necessary to promote quality education, facilitate cost sharing and bargaining in the procurement of expensive technological infrastructures, instructional materials, talent development, and to facilitate the mobility of students, faculty, credit transfer, and the development of inter-institutional innovative programmes and practices.
Seventh is strengthening external partnerships with other higher education institutions and non-academic sectors and organisations. Old patterns of asymmetrical internationalisation under which Africa was subordinated to Euroamerican institutional and epistemological systems must be replaced by strategic inclusion, mutuality, and co-creation of activities and initiatives, and humanising internationalisation by abandoning exploitation of international students who tend to be treated as “cash cows”.
Also important are partnerships with the private sector which under-invests in skills and needs to complement government funding in promoting high-quality education and reducing the much-bemoaned skills gap that employers often complain about. However, universities have to be discerning in establishing public-private partnerships to ensure they are not exploited as has happened to some universities. Critical players also include African international and intergovernmental agencies that often play second fiddle to their foreign counterparts in funding university activities and formulating policies.
Many of the public and private universities that have mushroomed in the last two decades are simply glorified high schools.
In this presentation I have tried to share ideas on the nature, dynamics and possible futures of African higher education. Some of the data might be disconcerting, but it is not meant to disempower us, rather to enrage and energise us. I come from the radical tradition of the 1970s and 1980s, honed in Southern Africa’s experiences of liberation struggles, that as we strive for better futures we must combine the pessimism of the intellect and the optimism of the will, that is, there is need for a cold-hearted analysis of conditions as they are, and ironclad conviction of the agency we possess as human beings and social actors to bring about change. That is why I am neither an Afro-pessimist, nor an Afro-optimist, but an Afro-realist.
Higher education is too important for Africa’s future to be held captive to haphazard interventions and superficial reforms. What is needed is fundamental transformation thanks, in part, to the massive disruptions of COVID-19. Studies show that the returns on investment for education are much higher for society and individuals than any other form of investment. This applies to all levels including tertiary, and not just to primary education as we were told by the misguided missionaries who propagated the neo-liberal assault on universities during Africa’s “lost decades” of the 1980s and 1990s with the connivance of the anti-intellectualist and anti-developmentalist political classes of many African states. I believe we—governments, the private sector, civil society and the universities working together—can remake the future of African higher education.
Bring Back the Herder Conservationist
An alternative herder-driven approach is more adapted since most conservancies in northern Kenya cannot be self-sustaining without the donor funding they currently receive.
As the world’s biodiversity continues to decline, there is a race to conserve the fauna and flora which is vital for the continued survival of humans. Yet, despite concerted global efforts through frameworks such as the Convention on Biological Diversity, the IUCN red list of species threatened with extinction continues to grow.
Conservation efforts by nation-states and non-state actors have been ongoing for decades, with mixed outcomes. Of particular concern have been the projected benefits to the local communities and the sustainability of conservation efforts. These concerns are particularly pronounced in the case of wildlife conservation in the African Savannah, where local communities — which have been the custodians of the wildlife for centuries — often get the short end of the stick.
While most of the wildlife conservation areas were established by the colonialists, the expansion of conservancies into communal rangelands in Kenya has mainly been driven by non-state actors, gaining praise and condemnation in equal measure.
Wildlife conservation challenges
The early conception of wildlife conservation was one whose objective was to preserve nature in its pristine state, void of human interference — commonly referred to as the “fortress” approach that used fences, boots, and guns to keep human disturbance off the conservation areas. This concept was first applied to the Yellowstone National Park, which was established in the United States in the 1870s, and it soon spread to the rest of the world, reaching Africa mainly through colonial governments.
With its scenic beauty and abundant wildlife, Kenya was among the first countries in Africa to establish wildlife conservation areas on large expanses of land. From their inception, these conservation areas were the preserve of the white foreign tourist, while the communities on whose lands these parks were established were viewed as a threat to their existence. They had no role in the management of the parks and nor did they share in the accrued benefits. Thus, a significant task of the conservation agents was to guard against the community’s interference in the pristine conservation area.
Ironically, these communities had to put up with the damage caused to their farms and livestock by marauding wild animals as the needs and value of wildlife took precedence over the needs and livelihoods of the people. Human-wildlife conflict was the order of the day for the communities living adjacent to protected areas.
Change in perception only came in the 1980s with the advent of participatory approaches and the “bottom up” development discourse. Acknowledgement of the importance of involving communities in conservation efforts led to the adoption of community-based natural resource management approaches that were initially applied in Southern Africa and later in East African countries, including Kenya.
In principle, the community-based conservation approach placed communities at the centre of decision-making in the conservation areas and included them in sharing the benefits as a form of compensation conservation that evolved following the establishment of conservancies in communally managed areas.
“Community” wildlife conservancies?
In Kenya, the establishment of community conservancies was not primarily motivated by the potential benefits to the communities but rather by the fact that over 65 per cent of the wildlife is on communal lands outside the designated national parks and reserves.
While conservancies were initially established in the areas of southern Kenya where wildlife density was relatively greater, they have now spread across the country. It is presumed that income-generating alternatives for the marginalised and poverty-stricken pastoralists who mainly inhabit these areas have fueled the growth.
In some quarters, the income from conservation is regarded as a substitute to livestock production, and therefore a possible alternative to pastoralism. Moreover, conservancies are regarded as a panacea to poaching, human-wildlife conflict and land degradation. These assumptions have created a fertile ground for the exponential growth of community conservancies, particularly in northern Kenya.
According to the Kenya Wildlife Conservancy Association, 160 conservancies cover approximately 15 million acres of mainly communal rangelands. This expansion has mainly been fueled by the very substantial technical and financial support provided by the Northern Rangelands Trust (NRT). The growth has also been buoyed by the Wildlife Management and Conservation Act of 2013 that provides the legal framework for the establishment of conservancies.
Conservancies are regarded as a panacea to poaching, human-wildlife conflict and land degradation.
With the influence and support of the NRT, certain county governments are currently developing county conservancy laws to provide an additional layer of legal entrenchment. Coming at a time when communities are struggling to register their land, the timing for enacting this law has cast doubts about the proponents’ motives.
The laws being proposed by the counties provide a new institutional framework for the management of conservancies, bringing them directly under the control of the county governments. Some observers say that such legislation is at cross-purposes with the community land management mandate as enshrined in the Community Land Act (CLA) 2016.
Moreover, the new legislation advances the NRT’s community conservancy model which extends the role of conservancy management to the management of the land, thereby overstepping the conservancy mandate as defined by the Wildlife Management Act of 2013. This act defines a conservancy as set aside for “wildlife conservation purposes”, a clear recognition that a conservancy is a form of land use. And as the Community Land Act 2016 mandates the community with developing and managing its land use, the establishment of a conservancy is therefore squarely a community land-use decision.
Conservancy management thus falls under the mandate of the community assembly and community land management committees, contrary to what is envisioned in the NRT model. Indeed, current conservancy management practices empower the conservancy committee to usurp the role of local community land management institutions and destabilise this long-standing institutional framework.
Moreover, while conservancies are typically established on designated sections of communal lands, in the NRT model, in the north, the conservancies cover entire areas such as a whole ward, taking up large expanses of land that are also intended for various other uses.
COVID and conservancies
Wildlife conservation is heavily dependent on tourism dollars and with the COVID-19 pandemic persisting, it has come under unprecedented financial strain. According to the Kenya Wildlife Conservancy Association (KWCA), “the collapse of the tourism industry has left parks, reserves, and wildlife conservancies stripped off the vital funding needed to manage land and reward communities”.
Already it is being reported that conservancies in high potential areas such as the Mara are unable to pay their leases, a clear indication that the current conservancy approach is far from sustainable. The near complete collapse of the tourism sector has exposed the fault lines in the high-maintenance conservation models and put into question the achievability of the projected earnings that have been used to justify their establishment.
Running a community conservancy is an expensive affair. For instance, the operational costs of the NRT-initiated and supported conservancies run to a minimum of KSh4 to 6 million per year. According to the NRT’s 2019 annual report, only a few conservancies can raise their own operational costs, let alone generate additional income for the communities.
The near complete collapse of the tourism sector has exposed the fault lines in the high-maintenance conservation models.
In 2019, the conservancies under the NRT had a combined running costs deficit of KSh129 million, a gap currently bridged with donor funds. In a bid to cover the shortfall, the NRT has been lobbying county governments to support the conservancies with Samburu County being the first county to develop a legal framework to provide mechanisms for channeling county funds to the conservancies.
Isiolo County has a draft conservancy bill pending in the County Assembly. But passing the bill is not a guarantee that conservancies will be directly funded from the county coffers as they will be competing for resources with other needs. Turning the bill into a reality will therefore depend on the willingness and the interest of the County Assembly.
Kenya’s experiences mirror those of Zimbabwe, where the CAMPFIRE project, a world-acclaimed conservation success, stalled immediately donor funding was withdrawn after almost 15 years of operation. The Zimbabwe example of community engagement was based on benefit-sharing from nationalised and well-established parks.
Only a few conservancies can raise their own operational costs, let alone generate additional income for the communities.
One wonders how the Kenyan model, which is based on community conservancies outside government-run conservation areas, can be profitable. Furthermore, trophy hunting and the sale of wildlife hides and ivory were a major income stream in Zimbabwe whereas in Kenya these activities are banned, making it more difficult to generate substantial revenue for a conservancy to be self-sufficient.
It is therefore easy to conclude that most of the conservancies in northern Kenya cannot be self-sustaining without the donor funding they currently receive.
Herder conservationist model
For conservation to be sustainable within the pastoral livestock production system, an alternative herder-driven approach is more adapted. The method enables the reconciliation of conservation objectives with the livestock and land management objectives of the pastoral communities.
Instead of the armed ranger model, which is expensive and a colonial relic, active herders who are in any case out in the rangelands take up the role of the “herder conservationist”. This approach would involve identifying experienced herders from the various settlements who actively herd livestock in the rangelands. The herder conservationists would be appointed from multiple settlements distributed across the rangelands to cover this large expanse of land which, in essence, conservancy rangers have not been able to cover. This approach would extend wildlife protection to areas beyond the current conservancy precincts at a minimal cost.
The main advantage of this approach is that the herders constantly traverse the grazing landscapes and the rangelands used by wildlife, most of which are not accessible even by the four-wheel drive vehicles used by the ranger scouts. This capacity, coupled with the provision of essential communication and surveillance equipment, is crucial in wildlife conservation.
For conservation to be sustainable within the pastoral livestock production system, an alternative herder-driven approach is more adapted.
The herders do not need to be armed but should be properly incentivised and supervised, reporting to a central command which will in turn work with the Kenya Wildlife Service — the body that is mandated with the protection and conservation of Kenya’s wildlife — to resolve arising problems
The basics of this approach mimic the wildlife protection methods that pastoralist communities employed well before the emergence of the current conservation approach. It also presents another advantage in that it is based on the values that the communities themselves attach to wildlife. Moreover, the use of boots and guns is reminiscent of the largely failed fortress approach to wildlife conservation.
A key lesson deriving from the COVID-19 pandemic is the need to stop putting a value on wildlife based on the tourism numbers it attracts and the income it generates. The value of wildlife as a function of the communities’ social-cultural systems needs to be strengthened and the communities’ appreciation of the intrinsic value of wildlife enhanced. Already, where the community has been sensitized to the need for wildlife conservation, one can spot wildlife browsing alongside livestock in areas where the wildlife is not under protection, for example in Wajir and Garissa counties. In most pastoralist areas, the wildlife drinks water from the same watering points used by the community.
If established, therefore, a herder conservationist system would provide a sustainable way of ensuring that even with minimal incentives communities will protect wildlife. Moreover, the approach significantly reduces the overheads, thereby ensuring long-term sustainability.
The use of boots and guns is reminiscent of the largely failed fortress approach to wildlife conservation.
Furthermore, the conservation approach must take advantage of the ongoing changes in communal land governance which will mean that the community cannot register the conservancies in their current form but must do so through a proxy community-based organisation or wildlife association.
This is because, whereas the community is not a legal entity recognised as such in law, the Community Land Act now allows the community to be registered as a legal entity with an established decision-making organ (the community assembly) and a management committee. The proposed model will be a good fit with this land governance system as herders who are members of the community report to the management committee.
The management committee spearheads land use planning and has oversight in the use of the land. Conservation of the unique fauna and flora of the drylands must feature strongly as one of the land uses in the community plans.
These suggestions are not the ultimate silver bullet for solving the challenges faced by community-based conservation. However, if these and other views are given consideration in the ongoing legal and policy conversations, sustainable conservation approaches are attainable.
The Wildlife Conservation and Management Act of 2013, currently under review, provides an opportunity to embrace alternative views. Also, the county level legislations on conservancies need to consider strengthening the community structures that are already mandated with the management of land and other natural resources on communal lands rather than establishing additional institutional layers, which might be counterproductive. Most importantly, the community’s decision needs to be considered and respected in order to arrive at a sustainable community conservation model.
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