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Ethnic Barons, Handshake Politics and Raila’s Accidental Legacy

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Kenya’s history has, since KADU merged with KANU in 1964, been about elite pacts. Controlled behind the scenes by old and new imperial masters, these politics effectively came to an end on March 9, 2018 when Raila Odinga bequeathed Kenya with the last betrayal. Has a new leftist politics been birthed? By WILLY MUTUNGA. 

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Ethnic Barons, Handshake Politics and Raila’s Accidental Legacy
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The handshake between President Uhuru and Raila Odinga on March 09, 2018 was not the first of baronial handshakes we have seen nor will it be the last. But the last of them will be when an alternative political leadership that can imagine our freedom and emancipation takes the reins of political power in our country.

“When Baba told us he was leading us to Canaan we did not know he meant the Office of the President!” one Kenyan tweeted, expressing the views held by many including public intellectuals who did not see this turn of events coming.

Hitherto, the narrative had been that the National Super Alliance (NASA) was the lesser of the two political evils, but the truth is they are both pawns in the hands of the imperialisms of the West and East. Indeed, their shared vision of looting the country can never set them apart.

However, I believe the swearing-in of Raila Odinga as the People’s President on January 30, 2018, is the straw that broke the camel’s back.

The narrative had been that the National Super Alliance (NASA) was the lesser of the two political evils, but the truth is they are both pawns in the hands of the imperialisms of the West and East. Indeed, their shared vision of looting the country can never set them apart.

The ceremony confirmed Odinga as a leader of the new national opposition with a following to be reckoned with. Proving he had the capacity to mobilise millions could not be taken lightly or ignored.

I saw a clear parallel from the past when Jaramogi Odinga resurrected our hopes of fighting the Moi-KANU dictatorship and the heralding of the so-called second liberation. Speaking in Bondo in his trademark shrill voice he warned Moi: “Moi-i-i-i, you do not have the title deeds to Kenya.”

I believe the current Jubilee dictatorship saw this too and negotiations started soon after with meetings booked in order to “maintain the peace”. Apparently, the staff at the Office of the President who saw Odinga walk in feared he had decided to physically evict President Uhuru from his official seat!

My issue is how often we get bamboozled by day-to-day political distractions by the Kenyan elite!. Succession, political gossip and alliances for the 2022 elections are classic political diversions to distract the majority of Kenyans from demands of their basic necessities and material needs.

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With blessings bestowed by the British Empire to subvert the nationalist movement led by the Kenya African National Union (KANU) there were handshakes between British settlers and the Kenya African Democratic Union (KADU). One could argue these early political gestures were the alliance between the British Empire, the British settlers in Kenya, and the Kenyan Homeguards (those Kenyans with vested interests in the Empire and favoured its continuation) to subvert our freedom and independence.

Clearly, the celebrated handshake was when the conservative KADU joined KANU within a year of our 1963 independence. Ngugi wa Thiong’o is right in arguing that the effect of that handshake was to strengthen the conservative forces in KANU while isolating the nationalist forces in KANU. Two publications during this period tell this story: William Hollingworth Attwood’s, The Reds and the Blacks: A Personal Adventure and Jaramogi Oginga Odinga’s Not Yet Uhuru.

Attwood was the first American ambassador to Kenya. Odinga was the first Vice-President of the Kenyan Republic. The KANU-KADU handshake took place in the backdrop of the Cold War reflecting the truism that elite conflicts reflect foreign interests which these days is euphemistically called the “international community.” One can only imagine the role the international community played in forcing the March 9th handshake in the interests of “peace, stability and democracy”!

The KANU-KADU handshake clearly strengthened the KANU-Kenyatta dictatorship. As Attwood narrates that alliance weakened the Kenya People’s Union (KPU) led by Jaramogi Odinga, Bildad Kagia and other nationalists. Attwood in that book more or less celebrates the assassination of Pinto on February 24, 1965.

That handshake after independence was the political trajectory that led KANU to become a one-party dictatorship. In 1969 the Kenyatta-KANU dictatorship banned KPU and detained its leaders (except Kaggia). Kenya became a de facto one-party state becoming a de jure one through a constitutional amendment in 1982. The KANU-Kenyatta-Moi dictatorships had strong support from the West until the collapse of the Soviet Empire and of the Berlin Wall in 1989. The ethnic barons excluded from political participation by the KANU dictatorships were the force behind the so-called second liberation.

Forces from the international community supported the new political movement and in the case of Kenya, Smith Hempstone’s book, The Rogue Ambassador: An African Memoir gives a glimpse of the role played by them in support of multi-partyism. “The international community” has enhanced the stability of its interests by supporting the political narrative through baronial alliances they believe can keep Kenya stable, even supporting dictatorships in Kenya since independence.

The Forum for the Restoration of Democracy (FORD) movement as the political initiative that sparked agitation for multi-partyism, was merely a baronial alliance between the excluded elites from the Moi-KANU dictatorship. The FORD Party could have brought down that dictatorship in the 1992 elections if it were not for the divisions between the various barons. Odinga, Matiba, and Kibaki were at the centre of these divisions. Those divisions persisted and Moi won the 1997 elections yet again.

In 1997 there was yet another handshake, nay a stump shake, between the Social Democratic Party (SDP) led by the late Apollo Njonjo and now Governor Peter Anyang Nyong’o and Hon Charity Kaluki Ngilu who became the party’s presidential candidate. Ngilu lost the election, but SDP won some parliamentary seats. SDP, with some German support, mainly from the German Social Democratic Party, was successful in the creation of a baroness in the Kamba community setting up intra-baronial conflicts that continue in Ukambani until today.

By far the biggest handshake was in 1997 called the Inter-Parties Parliamentary Group (IPPG), between Moi’s KANU dictatorship and opposition political parties. Before this happened there was an alliance between civil society groups and the opposition political parties that had given birth to the National Convention Executive Council (NCEC) which pushed for a new constitution to reflect the democratic ideals of multi-partyism. The opposition found it difficult to organize and mobilize resistance because Moi/KANU refused a level playing field. However, the mass action in 1997 became a genuine threat to the dictatorship. When NCEC declared the formation of a constituent assembly in August 1997, the dictatorship quickly conceded some minimal electoral reforms to the opposition through the IPPG. Moi thereafter called an election that he won.

I tell this story in my book Constitution-Making from the Middle: Civil Society and Politics of Transition, 1992-1997. It is worth noting that IPPG was supported by foreign interests in Kenya. Grouped under Development Governance Group (DGG) these interests made it clear to the civil society leadership in NCEC that the IPPG reforms were adequate. They opposed further mass action. I remember I wrote an article in the Daily Nation describing the DGG position as racist, perfidious, and hypocritical. I was naive to expect the DGG’s position to be different. The DGG supported baronial alliances of the Kenyan elite and not the promise of democracy that the civil society advocated.

Grand handshakes necessarily involve political chicanery: betrayals and behind-the-scenes strategising, which should never be underestimated. Indeed, those who talk of alternative political leaderships must study these baronial alliances, conflicts, and the elite imperial masters behind them. For example, it is widely believed that Kibaki’s Democratic Party (DP) was Moi’s “project” in 1992 and in 2002 Kibaki once again was a continuation of that project. Kalonzo, it is believed, was Kibaki’s project in 2002 and the March 9th handshake must also be about the 2022 elections.

The drama of baronial handshakes and betrayals in 2002 was without parallel. The National Alliance for Change (NAC) was a coalition of civil society groups and three opposition political parties led by Mwai Kibaki, Charity Ngilu, and the late Michael Wamalwa Kijana. Out of this coalition the National Alliance Party of Kenya (NAK) was born in July 2002 that claimed Mwai Kibaki as its presidential party candidate in the 2002 elections. Meanwhile, what the late William Ole Ntimama called “Kisirani Kasarani” happened.

Raila’s National Development Party had merged with KANU forming New KANU. New KANU met at Kasarani Stadium to pick its presidential candidate for the 2002 presidential elections. Moi picked Uhuru as the candidate and New KANU imploded. Raila led the political orphans of Old KANU and New KANU to NAK and a new party, the National Rainbow Coalition (NARC), was born. The famous handshake then was “Kibaki Tosha”. These were Odinga’s words at Uhuru Park, and they gave rise to the first united opposition front in Kenya.

The drama of baronial handshakes and betrayals in 2002 was without parallel. The National Alliance for Change (NAC) was a coalition of civil society groups and three opposition political parties led by Mwai Kibaki, Charity Ngilu, and the late Michael Wamalwa Kijana. Out of this coalition the National Alliance Party of Kenya (NAK) was born in July 2002 that claimed Mwai Kibaki as its presidential party candidate in the 2002 elections. Meanwhile, what the late William Ole Ntimama called “Kisirani Kasarani” happened.

NARC won the 2002 elections and Mwai Kibaki became president. Conflicts within NARC did not end and a clear split between Odinga and Kibaki was reflected in the 2005 referendum over the draft constitution. Kibaki lost that referendum, a political curtain raiser for the 2007 elections and its murderous aftermath, followed by a bloody handshake that gave birth to the Grand Coalition. One can trace the invisible hand of interests, national and foreign, in these alliances and stabbings.

The 2013 and 2017 elections had two baronial alliances coalescing in the Coalition on Reform and Democracy (CORD that became NASA in 2017), and Jubilee. Jubilee won both elections. CORD and NASA “won” both elections. The barons won! Whatever political party is in power is a baronial alliance and that’s the extent of our democratic choices.That narrative as this article shows, has been in play for over five decades. That narrative has kept Kenya recolonized, dominated, oppressed and exploited by the baronial elites and their imperialist foreign masters. Everything is for sale in Kenya as long as the price is right!

But let us not forget that there has always been a cadre of authentic liberation forces in Kenya, primarily in the opposition, that has resisted this status quo from the underground and from the margins above ground.

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KPU can be said to have been part of this opposition in the sense of its vision of reimagining freedom and emancipation. KPU opposed what Odinga in his book, Not Yet Uhuru, called the “invisible government”. He was referring to the foreign interests that rule Kenya. The British never left, and to reinforce our recolonization other interests, American, Japanese and European came in. And now of course, we have the Chinese.

KPU opposed the land policies of KANU, and its political blueprint contained in Sessional Paper number 10 – ‘African Socialism and its Application to Kenya’. KPU was not socialist, but could be described as a liberal democratic party with some deep social democratic concerns. KPU was definitely the home of the Kenyan Left at that moment.

Upon KPU’s banning, other radical formations emerged: first, The December Twelfth Movement, later Mwakenya; and during the 1980s as leftist forces went into exile, other movements based abroad. In 1997, NCEC had some significant leftist thinkers. Some of them would unfortunately abandon those credentials in NARC and other political formations. In 1997, when the IPPG deal was underway, there was a serious discussion to completely delink leftist formations from opposition political parties. It was felt that such alliances would only be useful if there were alternative political movements and parties. Indeed, after the IPPG, there was a serious debate within the NCEC about starting an alternative movement that would nurture a radical political leadership that transcended baronial politics. Of course those who were behind that thinking lost out, but the idea did not die.

KPU opposed the land policies of KANU, and its political blueprint contained in Sessional Paper number 10 – ‘African Socialism and its Application to Kenya’. KPU was not socialist, but could be described as a liberal democratic party with some deep social democratic concerns. KPU was definitely the home of the Kenyan Left at that moment.

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I hope history will record that the fundamental political importance of the March 9th handshake marked the end of this politically naive position by the Kenyan left that radical political ideas can find a home in baronial opposition parties.

Raila has vacated his space in the national political opposition that he has occupied for decades. I believe the narrative of the “lesser of the two evils” is dead. I believe the imagination of alternative politics transcending baronial politics of division and polarization has deepened. I believe the decadence of baronial politics is now exposed. I believe baronial politics cannot claim to lead Kenya to a national, just, equitable, free, and prosperous society. I believe we have a great political opportunity to envision a new Kenya. The progressive pillars of our 2010 Constitution can be a great mobilisation force while rescuing it of its fundamental weakness: an inbuilt narrative that legitimises the status quo.

The material that will dismantle our dirty politics is within our grasp: corruption, looting, escalating national debt, poverty and stark inequalities, the destruction of public goods (education, health, housing, food, environment, the rights and freedoms, clothing etc). All that seems to be missing is a political home for an authentic opposition in Kenya. That home can never be in the houses of baronial political parties. After five decades the falseness of this narrative has been ruthlessly exposed.

Raila has vacated his space in the national political opposition that he has occupied for decades. I believe the narrative of the “lesser of the two evils” is dead. I believe the imagination of alternative politics transcending baronial politics of division and polarization has deepened. I believe the decadence of baronial politics is now exposed. I believe baronial politics cannot claim to lead Kenya to a national, just, equitable, free, and prosperous society. I believe we have a great political opportunity to envision a new Kenya.

The unintended result of the March 9th handshake might be that it has at last given birth to the consolidation of alternative politics in Kenya. Ironically, Raila’s legacy may end up being that, having played a major role in more political handshakes than any other Kenyan politician, he is the one who has now inadvertently bequeathed the mother of all handshakes – the one that signalled the end of baronial politics in Kenya – and birthed the dawn of alternative politics in Kenya that concretely imagines our freedom and emancipation.

What is to be done? Let us continue building patriotic, alternative politics for a free, just, equitable, democratic, united, and prosperous Kenya. We have nothing to lose but our oppression, poverty and exploitation at the hands of a baronial dominant elite. The handshake has given us a great political opportunity to build on this patriotic vision.

** The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

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Dr Willy Mutunga is a public intellectual and former Chief Justice of Kenya.

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Dark Money: Pandora Papers Show UK Must Tackle Its Corruption-Enabling Industry

As long as we have countries that are willing to receive these illicit monies, then it [corruption] will keep happening

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Dark Money: Pandora Papers Show UK Must Tackle Its Corruption-Enabling Industry
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The new head of the Word Trade Organization has delivered a damning critique of Britain’s supposed fight against international corruption, accusing the UK of harbouring a “cottage industry” of financial enablers who cater to corrupt public officials overseas.

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who was appointed WTO director-general in March and has twice served a Nigeria’s finance minister, said the Pandora Papers showed how UK bankers, lawyers and estate agents help corrupt officials and wealthy individuals in her home country — and in other graft-blighted nations — invest in expensive London real estate through anonymous offshore shell companies.

Delivering the 2021 anti-corruption lecture for Transparency International UK, Okonjo-Iweala earlier this week said: “When public monies are stolen, they are often sent abroad to countries not generally thought of as corrupt, where a cottage industry exists of bankers, lawyers, accountants and others, who launder and sequester the ill-gotten funds.”

She added: “The Pandora Papers — like the Panama Papers before them — shed light on this shadow economy of tax avoidance, luxury homes and shell companies.”

Okonjo-Iweala has for decades been a pioneering campaigner on anti-corruption and transparency issues, both in Nigeria and internationally. For her efforts, she has received death threats and, in 2012, her mother was briefly kidnapped.

In October, Finance Uncovered and Premium Times published the results of its investigation into wealthy Nigerians who anonymously owned UK property. The investigation was based on thousands of leaked shell company documents from the Pandora Papers, Panama Papers and other data sources.

It identified 233 houses and apartments in the UK — worth £350m at current property prices — which had been secretly bought by 137 wealthy Nigerians using 166 anonymous offshore shell companies.

Among those found to have invested in UK property were a senior manager at the Nigerian Ports Authority, one of the longest serving members of Nigeria’s House of Representatives, a former finance commissioner for Lagos State and a major government contractor in the power generation industry.

It is not illegal to secretly buy UK property through anonymous offshore shell companies and documents reviewed by Finance Uncovered found no evidence that funds used to buy UK property amounted to proceeds of corruption or other criminality. In fact, many UK enabler firms routinely advised their Nigerian clients to invest in UK property through offshore companies in order to legally avoid tax.

Also among the real estate identified by Pandora Papers journalists were five UK properties linked to Nigeria’s former aviation minister Stella Oduah — a onetime cabinet colleague of Okonjo-Iweala who is now the subject of corruption charges in Nigeria, which she has denied.

So too were several London properties that, according to U.S. court filings, were bought by oil tycoons allegedly as bribes for the benefit of Diezani Alison-Madueke, then Nigeria’s minister for petroleum resources and yet another former cabinet colleague of Okonjo-Iweala.

Alison-Madueke was arrested in London by UK law enforcement officers in 2015 but has denied wrong-doing. No charges have been brought but investigations into her affairs remain ongoing.

As well as naming several otherwise hidden property investors, Finance Uncovered and Premium Times published further details concerning Nigerians investing in UK real estate in the form of an interactive map.

One in six of the 233 UK properties identified by Finance Uncovered and Premium times were owned by anonymous offshore companies that were once the subject of law enforcement interest — including search warrants, freezing orders, money laundering investigations and suspicious activity reports.

Since 2016, the UK government has been promising to introduce a public register of who owns offshore companies that have bought residential property in Britain. However, ministers have failed to bring the necessary legislation before parliament.

Instead, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has fast-tracked other measures, such as the introduction of eight freeports, which many experts say could increase the flow of dark money to the United Kingdom.

Okonjo-Iweala said she was surprised that findings from the Pandora Papers had not yet generated more impact, suggesting the pandemic crisis may have drawn political attention away. However, she added: “Refusing corruption will be an important part of building back better our economies and societies, so it is an issue we cannot afford to neglect.”

In particular, she called on the UK and other countries that have become well-known destinations for corrupt and laundered funds to provide more efficient means for repatriating stolen assets.

She added: “I think real estate is really the key. There is a huge amount in the UK, in France, in Switzerland, all these countries. And not very much is being done about it, still today.”

In a further challenge to developed countries, she suggested one way to restrict corrupt money flows would be to outlaw anonymous shell companies. “You should challenge lawyers to stop all this helping tax evasion and shell companies. Why don’t we outlaw shell companies? If you want to put money or assets somewhere, put them under your name. Why do you create a shell company and hide all these things?”

Praising the work of Transparency International, Okonjo-Iweala also suggested NGO groups could do even more to help pressure developed countries into anti-corruption measures. Specifically, she suggested TI’s widely-cited Corruption Perceptions Index — which ranks countries in order of the perceived propensity for corruption — should be complemented by a second index that ranked the countries that received proceeds of corruption.

“As long as we have countries that are willing to receive these illicit monies, then it [corruption] will keep happening,” Okonjo-Iweala said. “So that’s why I have been pressing TI that, please, let’s start an index. We need an index of countries that receive corrupt funds. Let’s rank them, and see who is at the top, who is second, who is third. That will help us get a hold of all this because I’m sure no one will want to be listed like that.”

A long-standing campaigner on anti-corruption, Okonjo-Iweala used her time in a previous post at the World Bank, to help set up the Stolen Assets Recovery initiative (StAR), a measure designed to help developing countries retrieve funds stolen by kleptocratic regimes. That initiative followed on from her tireless pursuit through the courts of money looted from Nigeria by Sani Abacha, the country’s military dictator from 1993 to 1998.

Okonjo-Iweala, 67, was appointed as director-general of the WTO in March, becoming the first woman and first African to lead the organisation. Earlier, she had two spells as Nigerian finance minister, though most of her career was spent at the World Bank. She has also held board positions at Standard Chartered Bank and at Twitter.

The Pandora Papers is a leak of almost 12 million documents, largely made up of administrative paperwork from the archives of 14 law firms and agencies that specialise in offshore company formations.

The leak was obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and seen by more than 600 journalists, including reporters at Finance Uncovered and Premium Times, as part of an investigation that took many months and spanned 117 countries.

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Sino-African Relations: Cooperation or a New Imperialism?

The relationship between Africa and China hinges on the question of cooperation and development. Kristin Plys, Amenophis Lô and Abdulhamid Mohamed ask if we should celebrate this relationship as the South-South development that the Global South dreamed of in the mid-20th century, or are contemporary Africa-China relations a new imperialist dynamic?

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Sino-African Relations: Cooperation or a New Imperialism?
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Author and activist, Vijay Prashad elucidates in The Darker Nations, the ‘Third World’ is not a place, but a political project. In the mid-twentieth century, at the height of US hegemony, the Global South imagined political, economic, and social emancipation. One important incarnation of this was the Bandung Conference in 1955 where representatives of 29 newly independent Asian and African states met to promote what is now termed, South-South cooperation, in other words, the idea that African and Asian states could come together for economic and cultural cooperation and together oppose colonialism and imperialism.

Bandung was eventually institutionalized in the Non-Aligned movement, a forum that opposed US and Soviet intervention in the Global South. Non-alignment was not without its critics, however. Muammar Qaddafi of the non-aligned movement said, “The world is made up of two camps: the liberation camp and the imperialist one. There is no place for those who are non-aligned. We are not neutral and totally aligned against the aggressor… Long live the liberated. Down with imperialism.” As he saw it, the Global South was not comprised of states who were beholden to US imperialism, states who were beholden to Soviet imperialism and states that opposed either influence. For Qaddafi, there were only those states who are against imperialism and for liberation and those states that are imperialist.

Our understandings of contemporary imperialism, however, are shaped by the lived experiences of US hegemony and the particular way in which it supplanted European colonial rule with new dependent relationships of exploitation of the same character but through new forms of politico-economic relationships between the United States and the Global South. But with the crisis of US hegemony starting in the 1970s, and now with a more pronounced global crisis since 2008, of, perhaps, the capitalist world-system itself, imperialism as we know it will also necessarily change. Forms of power and hierarchy need to be remade so that they can continue as they lose moral authority.

The United States has lost its moral authority for global rule providing openings for a new hegemonic power to emerge and lead the world-economy in overcoming the current crisis. For example, in the transition from British hegemony in the 19th century to US hegemony in the 20th, imperialism persisted, but the form it took changed. Formal colonialism lost its moral authority leading to the important development of flag independence across much of the Global South. But in the absence of formal political rule through colonialism, the United States innovated new articulations of imperialism during the Cold War and beyond.

Any new hegemon, as part of its rule, must convince the rest of the world that it is acting in the best interests of the inter-state system. Part of the establishment of that consent to rule entails forming dependent relationships with the Global South that appear to be in the best interests of the Global South. With the rise of a new world-hegemon, imperialism must necessarily be remade to look like aid, cooperation, and solidarity. This helps the rising hegemon establish a global moral authority as it appears to be acting in the moral interests of the entire world economy. In these phases of world-history where a new hegemon is on the rise, it is critically important that we distinguish true South-South cooperation that has the potential for national liberation from a new incarnation of imperialism in its guise.

Authoritarianism and exploitation

When we examine this distinction between South-South cooperation and contemporary imperialism on the ground, it is essential to examine the local political conditions that create an imbalance of power. Therefore, we must better understand the contemporary dynamics of African sovereignty.

While the 21st century began with revolutions to oust decades of postcolonial authoritarian rule in Egypt, Tunisia, Sudan, and elsewhere, these efforts were short lived. Counter-revolutionary forces, particularly those led by right-wing nationalists and conservative religious leaders too often became the eventual beneficiaries of toppled authoritarian regimes. In recent years we have witnessed more counter-revolutions and coups across the continent, in Chad, for example. States succumbing to authoritarianism have become more prevalent and we seldom observe revolutions that have been successful at installing long lasting democratic states committed to promoting the interests of African people.

In this fraught context of authoritarian rule across the continent, it has been easier for imperialists to usurp African sovereignty. Just as European and North American states have found authoritarian rule in Africa more amenable to their politico-economic interests so too has the Chinese Communist Party. In Zambia, copper mining accounts for 65% of the country’s export earnings. Most of the mines are owned by the Chinese state, though a few are mining companies with headquarters in Canada. Foreign mining companies have been able to create pockets of Chinese state sovereignty within Zambia where labour laws are notoriously lax, wages low, accidents and deaths of workers, prevalent. When workers have combined and protested these conditions, they have been met with violence, not from the Zambian state, but from Chinese management who has met workers’ demands by deploying violence without consequence. In 2010, a manager at the Collum Mine shot and killed 13 workers who organised against poor safety standards.

The Lamu Project to build a deep-water port connecting East Africa to Asian export markets is another example of loss of sovereignty. Initially, the Lamu port was to be funded jointly by the Kenyan, Ethiopian and South Sudanese states but because of funding issues and occasional attacks on port construction by Al-Shabaab, Kenyan Defense Forces sought loans from China which were supported through the ‘Maritime Silk Road’ programme, a policy to not only aid China in gaining further access to African resources and markets but also enable the Peoples Liberation Army Navy to establish a counter-terrorism base in Northern Kenya. Ports are crucial to African development as 90% of East African exporters depend on seaports to remain viable, but if Kenya defaults on the debt they have incurred, which seems likely, the Lamu port will soon become yet another space of Chinese state sovereignty in sub-Saharan Africa.

Land grabbing through creating pockets of Chinese state sovereignty and through control of strategic assets has helped China obtain cheap natural resources needed for industrial production, while railroads, other infrastructure, along with access to seaports allows for the extraction of these resources from Africa. Regime change has not been successful in disrupting this dynamic because the movements for regime change have mostly focused on ousting political leaders, but as a result of European and North American imperialism and also through the support of the domestic bourgeoisie, sovereignty in most African states rests with the military. Recent revolutions have done little to disrupt that dynamic or to create states that will serve the interests of its people.

Return to a Pan-African internationalism

There is a difference between globalization done on the terms of more powerful states, and a horizontal internationalism based on solidarity. Africa-China relations in and of themselves could bring great benefit to both regions, but as long as there remains a power differential in African states’ individual dealings with China, it will remain a tie that will ultimately result in economic benefit for China and the exploitation of Africa. One possible solution could be to have negotiations around Chinese development projects in African states done as a regional bloc through a Pan-African union rather than country-by-country.

But beyond this, what we, as an internationalist left can do is decentre the role of the state in Africa-China relations. If civil society and leftist groups in both China and across the African continent could work together across borders it could put pressure on states to realise common social injustices in both China and various African contexts such as the importance of opposing authoritarian regimes that fail to serve the best interests of the people and promoting workers’ rights through a labour internationalism. We can also envision linkages between other Chinese and Pan-African civil society organizations around issues common to the African and Chinese contexts.

Frantz Fanon famously described the ‘Third World project’, as a rejection of the goal of ‘catching up’ to Europe and North America, and instead, saw as its primary goal to innovate a new way of thinking. Fanon believed in the creativity of revolutionary Pan-Africanism and the Global South, that new forms of politics could be envisioned and enacted that would provide solutions to the longstanding social problems.

Internationalism from below

There’s a tendency within the Global North left to see any political development that opposes Western dominance as something to celebrate. But in thinking through the complexity of contemporary Africa-China relations it is evident that we need to be more discerning about the dynamics of power involved in movements that may claim to be South-South cooperation and/or anti-Western. They may yet be an embodiment of the unequal power dynamics and politico-economic exploitation we stand firmly against.

Propaganda, both from the West, and from China, obscures the power dynamics at play on the ground in Sino-African relations. The ability of propaganda to muddy our understanding of the dynamics at play makes organizing around these issues particularly difficult and controversial. But we need to remember, as Pan-Africanists based in Canada or anywhere else for that matter, that just because something is anti-West doesn’t make it liberatory. We need to be thoughtful and discerning in how we think about power and history in our contemporary context.

The central issue facing us going forward with this conversation is how we can pay closer attention to the dynamics of power in politico-economic relations between states without falling into the Sinophobic tropes of most Western states, but also recognising that there is not an equal and symbiotic relationship between African states and Chinese developmentalism.

Perhaps the first step is, instead of celebrating the ties between an authoritarian Chinese state and non-democratic regimes across Africa, we should instead think creatively about what we can do to build more liberatory South-South cooperation between civil society and left movements in Africa and China. Through these common goals of fighting shared social struggles, a truly horizontal Afro-Asian solidarity can be envisioned and enacted.

This article was published in the Review of African political Economy (ROAPE).

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African Epistemic Self-Affirmation Is the Ultimate End of Decolonization

Islamic scholarship in Africa and the meaning and end of decolonization in the work of religious studies scholar, Ousmane Kane.

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During the 2018 Miriam Makeba keynote address to the General Assembly of the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA), the largest and oldest pan-African body of African scholars, Professor Ousmane Kane told his peers that they needed to take religion seriously. This entreaty expressed a basic idea and an urgent project. The idea was that social science, having been elaborated through the secular-modern separation of the spheres of life, has relegated “religion” to the domain of the marginalized specialist. In contrast to the political, the economic, and the sociocultural, religion has become a matter of individual belief and practice within the regime of expertise that governs life globally.

This regime has sometimes been called coloniality. Kane, who teaches at Harvard Divinity School, proposed, however, that all social science needs to consider religion if it is to truly understand contemporary Africa and its problems, implying that in Africa, religion is no private matter. “Religious developments in Africa deserve serious attention from African intellectuals, and especially pan-Africanists,” he said. The developments to which Kane referred might be summarized as the emergent publicity of religion, the decentralization (and/or erosion) of authority, and the integration into global networks throughout the African continent. This emergence has proven modernization and development theory to be patently false; religion has not eventually disappeared or become irrelevant for public life. In short, African theory needs to catch up to Africans in their decolonization of the mind and spirit.

The publication of Islamic Scholarship in Africa: New Directions and Global Contexts, edited by Kane, adds to a growing wave of academic work on the histories, cultures, and meanings of Islamic thought in Africa. It features established and emerging voices of the field that takes on the project of overturning many long-held fictions about Africa in the modern imagination. African historicity and mobility, dynamics of orality and literacy, evolving Islamic education, and popular vernacular poetic expression are themes that frame a diverse set of contributions that offer a fair representation of the major issues of the field.

Alongside recent monographs, edited volumes, and translations Islamic scholarship in Africa explores a robust and active field. It is a work that is current, forward-looking, engaged with global issues and directed to a general audience. The bibliography is broad and the glossary of terms are of benefit to the non-specialist. Given that the individual essays in this volume reflect many distinct research agendas, sites, and objects of inquiry, I will not attempt to summarize their contents. Instead, I focus on the broader issue of the decolonization of knowledge flagged for the reader’s attention in both Kane’s introduction and the conclusion by the former executive secretary of CODESRIA, Ebrima Sall.

Questions of decolonization

Sall situates the volume, along with the broader proliferation of academic works on the topic, within CODESRIA’s now decades-long project to bridge knowledge divides within Africa. These divisions are defined by differences in research language, intellectual training, and presumed racial identity. In particular, Kane’s research agenda to recognize the intellectual contributions of Muslim African scholars actualized many of the Pan-African principles of the organization. His Non-Europhone Intellectuals, published as a CODESRIA working paper in 2003, set forth the terms for a new field that would eventually come to be known as Timbuktu Studies. This field has solicited interest and support from international foundations, African governments, and a global network of university-based researchers.

We might ask, however, how does this interest in Islamic scholarship sit in relation to African studies more broadly? The objections that followed Kane’s keynote in 2018 highlight some common resistance to this work. The responses from the floor, as I recall them, were somewhat predictable. Some asserted that Islam was not modern. Others found that the neglect of African traditional religions by Kane was an inexcusable lapse. For them, if social science is to take religion seriously in Africa, it should be truly African religions upon which they must focus their seriousness. Islam and Christianity, they argued were either copies of originally African ideas or antagonistic to what was authentically African. “African” for them, it seems, meant autochthony. It meant differences from other geo-racial types and their specific religiosities that are ultimately products of colonization. These objections were predictable because they form opposing positions, based as much on epistemic commitments as points of view that frame the problem of religion in Africa. Kane and others have responded to such ideas exhaustively.

For example, Islam, from its origins, has been African, from the first hijra, or exodus, to Abyssinia through to the very rapid spread to Fustat, or what is now Cairo, and then with the history of the mostly peaceful and gradual spread of Islam in West Africa. And yet, the idea of Islam’s coloniality, if we can stretch the term so thin, persists. Much like the ideas about primordial African orality, they form discursive structures that seem impervious to empirical invalidation. It is indeed an old idea that West African Muslim scholars have been refuting since at least the 17th century Timbuktu scholar Ahmed Baba, and echoed in the 20th century by Senegalese polymath Shaykh Musa Kamara. Perhaps, that is a good thing for the future of the field.

All of this being said, one wonders beyond the scope of Islamic Scholarship in Africa, how might Timbuktu Studies deal with some of the thornier issues that have emerged in the long history of developing an epistemological alternative. Specifically, I am thinking here of the field’s relation to the older project of the Africanization of knowledge, which sought to consider Africa in indigenously African terms and the Islamization of knowledge/Islamic social sciences, which sought to establish modern social scientific method on Islamic foundations. Is the study of Islamic scholarship in Africa simply a continuation, an evolution of these two separate projects, or does their convergence make a qualitative leap that makes it distinct and uniquely promising? There might also be a generative encounter between Timbuktu Studies with Critical Muslim Studies such as that coming out of South Africa, emanating as it does from post-Rhodes debates on decoloniality.

Decolonization has become a big tent, a broad term enveloping many meanings, a concept that approaches protean status. Much like “religion” and “modernity” it bears different significations that correspond to conflicting epistemological, disciplinary, and political commitments—each one ultimately seeking different objectives. For a radical, anti-historical but utopian decolonial project, Islamic Scholarship in Africa might not satisfy the performance of rupture. However, this volume is vital if one is willing to agree with Sall and Kane, as I do, that African epistemic self-affirmation is the ultimate end of decolonization.

This post is from a partnership between Africa Is a Country and The Elephant. We will be publishing a series of posts from their site once a week.

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