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We Will Revisit: Philomena Mwilu, the Sept 1 Ruling and the Noordin Haji Show

7 min read. One year after Deputy Chief Justice, Philomena Mwilu led her colleagues in a historic ruling that nullified the August presidential election, is her arrest part of the Kenyatta State’s vendetta against a judiciary his regime still cannot control? By MIRIAM ABRAHAM

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We Will Revisit: Philomena Mwilu, the Sept 1 Ruling and the Noordin Haji Show
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It is the one-year anniversary of the Supreme Court of Kenya’s historic ruling, nullifying the 2017 presidential election. We probably would have completely forgotten the day, but the arrest and prosecution of Deputy Chief Justice Philomena Mwilu, on corruption charges, a few days ago, rudely thrust us right back to that dark period last year.  It brought back memories of the day the President of the Republic of Kenya and his Deputy, openly insulted the Supreme Court Judges calling them wakora (Kenyan president, election overturned by court, attacks judiciary) and threatened that the State would ‘revisit’ the judges who had ruled in favour of the petition.

Although it may not be directly connected to the anniversary of the ruling of the Supreme Court, the Mwilu arrest has brought flashbacks of the mud-slinging that followed the Court’s verdict, not least, the persistent online bullying, probably led by Cambridge Analytica, with that memorable hashtag, #WakoraNetwork. The four Judges must have lived through a year of terror, the magnitude of which we we will only fully understand when they write their memoirs. As a victim of State terror myself, I can only imagine what their lives have been like. We should brace ourselves for more.

As I watched the news of the arrest of Lady Justice Mwilu, the events of last year flashed through my mind. I remembered clearly a telephone call on the morning of September 1, from a prominent politician. The call was to give me a heads-up on the decision of the Supreme Court,  which was set to be announced in four hours. I remember the words so clearly – “we tried everything to change the minds of the Judges, without success.” Lady Justice Mwilu was blamed by my caller for corralling her colleagues around their oath to protect and respect the Constitution. Chief Justice David Maraga was accused of being too much of a Seventh Day Adventist, quoting biblical verses to nudge the consciences of  those Judges that were still keen to serve the interests of their benefactors. The two were singled out as the ‘worst’, a term with which I was familiar: it had once been used to describe me, in a different context.

The four Judges must have lived through a year of terror, the magnitude of which we we will only fully understand when they write their memoirs. As a victim of State terror myself, I can only imagine what their lives have been like. We should brace ourselves for more.

And yet, a year after the sham 2017 elections, not a single individual has been prosecuted for the lives lost or the billions stolen. Instead, those that wilfully put the Supreme Court in a position to annul the result of the presidential vote continue to regale us with side-shows of ‘un-resigning’ and changing office locks to keep off opposing political camps from returning to work.  And then comes Mr. Noordin Haji, the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), to further insult our intelligence by explaining to us in a sanctimonious statement, his reasons for going after the Deputy Chief Justice. We are now told that the Director of Criminal Investigations  (DCI) has suddenly discovered files from 2013, wherein Lady Justice Mwilu is accused of corruption, abuse office  and other offences. It begs the question of why she was cleared by the same agency that the DPP heads and by the DCI, for vetting for the highest Court in the land. And no, before you go there, it is not because we have the newly minted Mr. Noordin Haji, at the helm of the ODPP.  The reasons appear to be insidious.

Mr. Haji probably thinks that one year is enough for us to forget the words of President Uhuru Kenyatta of ‘revisiting’ the Judiciary after the elections. He must think that we have forgotten the chills we had as we watched the president, dishevelled, with bags under his eyes, angrily threaten the four Judges.  That we have forgotten the DCJ herself saying,  “we were threatened, that is for sure because I don’t know how to clothe a lie”, last month in Mombasa].Mr Haji forgets that we saw the engineered tabloid stories that were meant to embarrass the DCJ. He must think that we have forgotten that on October 24, 2017 the DCJ’s official driver was shot, a naked attempt to intimidate her from attending a Supreme Court session the following day, which would have likely postponed the sham October 26 presidential election.Or it could be that Mr Haji is merely confident that we have ‘moved-on’ in light of the muzzling of the media, restricted space for civil society and the Kenyatta-Odinga handshake.

I remembered clearly a telephone call on the morning of September 1, 2017 from a prominent politician. The call was to give me a heads-up on the decision of the Supreme Court,  which was set to be announced in four hours. I remember the words so clearly. We tried everything to change the minds of the Judges, without success. Lady Justice Mwilu was blamed by my caller for corralling her colleagues around their oath to protect and respect the Constitution.

This is by no means a defence of the integrity of Ms. Mwilu. Rather, it is questioning the real motive behind the charges against her and the timing. Having served in a Constitutional body, I know first-hand that our institutions are the epitome of cronyism and corruption. That is why they cannot possibly be independent. Despite the academic and professional credentials of the office holders, their selection, ultimately, is a product of high-level cronyism and corruption. This makes the office bearers vulnerable and prone to blackmail and all sorts of shenanigans. The Supreme Court has not been spared.

Stories abound of  delegations led by politicians to State House to ensure that “one of their own” is  appointed to the highest Court in the land, despite the fact that an ‘independent body’ is in charge of the process.  I know for a fact, that for each senior official appointed to sensitive institutions, there are persons assigned to “manage” him or her. These persons could range from close friends, family members – including what Americans would call Baby Mamas and Baby Daddies – politicians, ambassadors, members of the security institutions, name them. It is their job to make the difficult calls and visits, deliver ‘envelopes’, as well as threats, when the cajoling fails to work. Theirs is an unenviable situation, depending on their assigned target. They often end up being politically ostracized and on the ‘chopping board’, to use one political operator’s words, when the State Officer fails to ‘deliver’. But they are richly rewarded when they succeed.

Mr Haji must think that we have forgotten the chills we had as we watched the president, dishevelled, with bags under his eyes, angrily threaten the four Judges.  That we have forgotten the DCJ herself saying just last month in Mombasa:  “We were threatened, that is for sure because I don’t know how to clothe a lie.”

With this knowledge, I find it difficult to accept the arguments put forward by Mr. Haji, who owes his current position to cronyism. We have been through this before, we can see where it is headed. The ground has been softened in the past few months in the purported fight against corruption. A narrative has been created, consent has been sought and tacitly accepted by Kenyans. We have been made to believe that we are in Season Two of the fight against corruption. We have been reminded that both the big and the small fish will be fried. Why should we decry the arrest of the Deputy Chief Justice? Is she untouchable? Those are the questions that the regime will pose as they go after those that humiliated them last September by “taking away” their victory. It is the narrative that they will use as they prepare the ground for the 2022 presidential race or, if the Kenyatta-Odinga marriage works, a Putin-esque amendment of the Constitution to maintain both men in leadership positions nullifying the promise made to William Ruto in 2013.

And in this pursuit, the regime has found a new face in Mr. Noordin. With his previous service with ‘the men from the shadows’, as John Githongo calls them, he has a lot of political capital to leverage. Over the past few weeks he has been able to pull off fantastic public relations stunts. He has obviously mastered  the art of crisis management, by responding quickly, through a detailed written statement  , to control the story. As expected, the media reported verbatim from his statement, which was also carefully crafted to exploit the anger that Kenyans feel towards the difficult economic situation,  and to lay blame squarely on the doorstep of the DCJ – not the regime’s reckless economic policies of the past six years. He also made every effort to use the statement to portray ordinary Kenyans as victims of corruption, and his office as the long-awaited messiah.

The arrest and prosecution of Justice Mwilu was not presented in the same politically crude manner as  President Abdulla Yameen of the Maldives did in February when he ordered the arrest and indefinite detention of the Chief Justice and a judge of the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court had dismissed cases against opposition leaders, including former President Mohamed Nasheed.

The arrest and prosecution of Justice Mwilu was not presented in the same politically crude manner as  President Abdulla Yameen of the Maldives did in February when he ordered the arrest and indefinite detention of the Chief Justice and a judge of the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court had dismissed cases against opposition leaders, including former President Mohamed Nasheed.

Washington and London condemned President Yameen; the Maldives is not of sufficient strategic importance to Western interests for its leadership to get away with high authoritarian crimes. In President Kenyatta’s case, the new East-West global power contest will ensure that he will get a pat on the back and probably more State invitations to Western capitals. The President will brag to his benefactors, as he has done quite recently in a BBC Hardtalk interview, of the success of his “war on corruption”. He will evoke visions of a youthful President who has big dreams for his country – who is focused on his legacy and fixing the economy. Of a government that has taken charge of its domestic issues, including through the Kenyatta-Odinga marriage, and is destined for greater things, including a coveted seat at the United Nations Security Council. Bretton Woods will be fed reports of a government that has pulled all the stops to fight corruption without fear or favour, and is thus deserving of their assistance to fix the economic distress it finds itself in.To use the DPP’s  words, it is a government that is “prioritizing and being strategic in our actions so as to achieve the maximum possible impact in the shortest possible period”.

For now, the show continues.

Related Links

  1. Deputy Chief Justice Philomena Mwilu arrested over alleged graft
  2. Kenyan president, election overturned by court, attacks judiciary
  3. Maldives orders army to resist any Supreme Court impeachment order
  4. JSC meets in Nairobi over top judge’s graft case
  5. Supreme Court judge targeted in corruption purge
  6. Deputy CJ Philomena Mwilu’s driver shot in an attack along Ngong Road
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Ms. Abraham is a governance and institutional development expert.

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South Africa: Xenophobia Is in Fact Afrophobia, Call It What It Is

5 min read. Anti-African violence in South Africa is fuelled by exclusion, poverty and rampant unemployment. This isn’t black-on-black violence. This is poor-on-poor violence.

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South Africa: Xenophobia Is in Fact Afrophobia, Call It What It Is
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Written in May 2008, as African bodies burned on the streets of South Africa, Ingrid De Kok’s throbbing poem Today I Do Not Love My Country poignantly captures the mood of an Afrophobic nation fluent in the language of violence and name-calling.  (I say Afrophobic because South Africa does not have a xenophobia problem. We don’t rage against all foreigners—just the poor, black ones from Africa.)

The irony of South Africa’s most recent attacks on African immigrants is that they happened in the wake of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement which positions the country as an economic gateway to the continent. As the debris is cleared off the streets of Johannesburg after a week of violent looting and attacks against African migrant-owned businesses that saw eleven people killed and almost 500 arrested, Pretoria now faces calls to boycott South African-owned businesses on the continent.

Zambia and Madagascar cancelled football matches. Air Tanzania has suspended flights to South Africa. African artists are boycotting South Africa. Should an Afrophobic South Africa lead the African Union next year?

The irony of South Africa’s most recent attacks on African immigrants is that they happened in the wake of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement which positions the country as an economic gateway to the continent

The South African government has remained steadfast in its denial of Afrophobia, opting instead to condemn “violent attacks” and highlight the criminal elements involved in looting African-owned businesses. The police attributed the attacks to “opportunistic criminality”. By denying that these are Afrophobic attacks, everyone can deny the role of South Africa’s political leadership in fomenting the hatred.

The Afrophobic attacks are not spontaneous criminal mobs preying on foreigners. They are the result of an orchestrated, planned campaign that has been fuelled by the ongoing anti-immigrant rhetoric of South African politicians.

The All Truck Drivers Forum (ATDF), Sisonke People’s Forum and Respect SA stand accused of orchestrating last week’s violence. ATDF spokesperson, Sipho Zungu, denied that his group had instigated the violent looting, saying that “the nation is being misled here.” Zungu did stress, however, that South African truck drivers “no longer have jobs” and the government “must get rid of foreign truck drivers.”

Zungu echoes the sentiments of many poor South Africans, and their views are the end result of a drip-feed of anti-immigrant messages from South African politicians, particularly in the run-up to this year’s elections.

Anti-African violence in South Africa is fuelled by exclusion, poverty and rampant unemployment. This isn’t black-on-black violence. This is poor-on-poor violence.

One-third of South Africans are unemployed. Thirteen per cent of South Africans live in informal settlements, and a third of South Africans don’t have access to running water. The problems are a combination of the country’s apartheid past and rampant corruption and mismanagement within the ANC-led government. Crime is climbing, mainly due to corrupt and dysfunctional policing services, high unemployment and systemic poverty.

By denying that these are Afrophobic attacks, everyone can deny the role of South Africa’s political leadership in fomenting the hatred.

South African politicians from across the spectrum have blamed immigrants for the hardships experienced by poor South Africans. Political parties tell voters that foreigners are criminals flooding South Africa, stealing their jobs, homes and social services, undermining their security and prosperity.

Even the government sees poor and unskilled African migrants and asylum seekers as a threat to the country’s security and prosperity. Approved in March 2017, its White Paper on International Migration, separates immigrants into “worthy” and “unworthy” individuals. Poor and unskilled immigrants, predominantly from Africa, will be prevented from staying in South Africa by any means, “even if this is labelled anti-African behaviour” as the former Minister of Home Affairs, Hlengiwe Mkhize, pointed out in June 2017. The message is simple: there is no place for black Africans in South Africa’s Rainbow Nation.

In November 2018, Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi claimed in a speech at a nurses summit that undocumented immigrants were flooding South Africa and overburdening clinics and hospitals. When immigrants “get admitted in large numbers, they cause overcrowding, infection control starts failing”, he said.

Johannesburg—the epicentre of the anti-African violence—is run by the Democratic Alliance (DA), the second-largest political party in South Africa after the ruling African National Congress (ANC). DA mayor, Herman Mashaba, has been leading the war against African immigrants.

In a bid to attract more support, Mashaba and the DA have adopted an immigrant-baiting approach straight out of Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro’s playbooks.

Mashaba has described black African migrants as criminals and has spoken of the need for a “shock-and-awe” campaign to drive them out.

In February 2019, Mashaba diverted attention away from protests against his administration’s poor service delivery in Johannesburg’s Alexandra township by tweeting that foreigners had made it difficult to provide basic services.

On August 1, police operations in Johannesburg to find counterfeit goods were thwarted by traders who pelted law-enforcement authorities with rocks, forcing the police to retreat. Social media went into overdrive, with many accusing the police of being cowards running away from illegal immigrants. Mashaba was “devastated” by the police’s restraint. A week later over 500 African immigrants were arrested after a humiliating raid, even though many said they showed police valid papers.

In 2017, South Africa’s deputy police minister claimed that the city of Johannesburg had been taken over by foreigners, with 80% of the city controlled by them. If this is not urgently stopped, he added, the entire country “could be 80% dominated by foreign nationals and the future president of South Africa could be a foreign national.”

None of this anti-immigrant rhetoric is based on fact. Constituting just 3% of the South African population, statistics show that immigrants are not “flooding” South Africa. They aren’t stealing jobs from South Africans and nor are they responsible for the high crime rate. South Africa’s crime problem has little to do with migration, and everything to do with the country’s dysfunctional policing services, unemployment and poverty.

Johannesburg—the epicentre of the anti-African violence—is run by the Democratic Alliance (DA), the second-largest political party in South Africa after the ruling African National Congress (ANC). DA mayor, Herman Mashaba, has been leading the war against African immigrants.

But South African politicians don’t let facts get in the way.  After all, it’s easier to blame African immigrants rather than face your own citizens and admit that you’ve chosen to line your own pockets instead of doing your job. If you can get others to shoulder the blame for the hopeless situation that many South Africans find themselves in, then why not?

South Africans are rightfully angry at the high levels of unemployment, poverty, lack of services and opportunities. But rather than blame African immigrants, frustration must be directed at the source of the crisis: a South African political leadership steeped in corruption that has largely failed its people.

The African Diaspora Forum, the representative body of the largest group of migrant traders, claimed that the police failed to act on intelligence that it had provided warning of the impending attacks. It took almost three days before Cyril Ramaphosa finally issued weak words of condemnation and for his security cluster to meet and strategise.  All of this points to a government refusing to own its complicity and deal with the consequences of its words.

South Africa has fallen far and hard from the lofty Mandela era and Thabo Mbeki’s soaring “I am an African” declaration.

Senior political leaders in South Africa are blaming vulnerable Africans for their failure to adequately provide a dignified life for all South Africans. Until this scapegoating stops, violent anti-African sentiment will continue to thrive, and South Africa will entrench its growing pariah status on the continent.

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A New Despotism in the Era of Surveillance Capitalism: A Reflection on Census 2019

6 min read. In the creeping securocratisation of every sphere of the State, the incessant threats and arbitrary orders, the renewed quest for that elusive all-encompassing kipande, and even the arbitrary assignment of identity on citizens, Montesquieu would see a marked deficiency of love for virtue, the requisite principle for a democratic republic.

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A New Despotism in the Era of Surveillance Capitalism: A Reflection on Census 2019
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The just concluded census 2019 brought with it many strange occurrences including the official classification of my good friend Rasna Warah as a Mtaita, a community to which she is only very remotely connected by virtue of being married to a husband whose mother is a Mtaveta. The Taita and Taveta, who give their home county Taita-Taveta its name, are two related but distinct ethnic groups. Rasna’s ethnicity is unambiguous, she is a Kenyan Asian, which should be one of the ethnicities available on the census questionnaire.

In standard statistical practice, people’s racial and ethnic identity are self-declared and the identity questions usually have options such as “other” and “mixed” as well as the choice not to disclose. But Rasna was not given a choice, as she recounts here. While this may seem like a trivial matter, the undercurrents of racism and patriarchy in this action are disturbing. It is, I think, even more alarming that the enumerators, given a little authority, felt that they had the power to exercise discretion on the matter.

Past censuses have been rather uneventful statistical exercises. This one had the aura of a security operation. In the run-up, we were treated to all manner of threats and arbitrary orders from the Internal Security Cabinet Secretary, the Jubilee administration’s energetic and increasingly facile enforcer. On the eve of the census, the government spokesman added to the melodrama by issuing a statement informing the public that census enumerators would be asking for personal identification details, including national ID and passport numbers and, ominously, huduma namba registration status. There are few issues as controversial right now as huduma namba and to introduce that question was a sure way of heightening suspicion and undermining the credibility of the census.

More fundamentally, anonymity is a canon of statistical survey work. In fact, the law prohibits dissemination of any information which can be identified with a particular respondent without the respondent’s consent. For this reason, censuses and statistical surveys are usually designed and the data maintained in such a way as to ensure that the respondents remain anonymous.

In October last year, the Government gazetted the census regulations that include a schedule of the information that would be collected. Identity information is not listed in the schedule. In January this year, the Keya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) issued a media briefing, still on their website, that also listed the information that would be collected. It too does not mention identity information. That it was the Government spokesman—and not the KNBS—who appraised the public, and only on the eve of the census, is telling.

The response to the protestations that met the disclosure was vintage Jubilee—dishonest and inept. The spokesman explained that the personal identity information would be removed to restore the anonymity of the data. If indeed the purpose was to establish registration coverage, the professional statisticians would have asked respondents to state their registration status. Moreover, for planning purposes, professional statisticians would have designed a comprehensive module that would have included other critical information such as birth registration status.

The draconian zeal with which huduma namba is being pursued—including the proposed legislation—is all the more perplexing because, since all the functions listed are those that are currently served by the national ID, the sensible thing to do would be to upgrade the national ID. Seeing as we have already had three national ID upgrades since independence, it seems to me unlikely that a fourth upgrade would have generated the heat that the huduma namba has.

In The Spirit of the Laws, Montesquieu classified political systems into three categories, namely republican, monarchical and despotic. He defined a republican system as characterised by citizenship rights. A republican system is democratic if political equality is universal, and aristocratic if the rights are a privilege that is denied to some members (e.g. slaves). In monarchical systems, the rulers have absolute authority governed by established rules. In a despotic system, the ruler is the law.

Montesquieu postulated for each system a driving principle, ethos if you like, on which its survival depends. The driving principle of a democratic republic is love of virtue— a willingness to put the public good ahead of private interests. He opined that a republican government failed to take root in England after the Civil War (1642-1651) because English society lacked the required principle, namely the love of virtue. The short-lived English republic, known as the Commonwealth of England, lasted a decade, from the beheading of Charles I in 1649 to shortly after the death Oliver Cromwell in 1659. The driving principle of monarchical systems is love of honour and the quest for higher social rank and privilege. For despotism it is fear of the ruler. The rulers are the law, and they rule by fear.

In The Spirit of the Laws, Montesquieu classified political systems into three categories, namely republican, monarchical and despotic. He defined a republican system as characterised by citizenship rights.

Identity documents are a key element of the apparatus of despotism. Our own identity card has its origins in the colonial kipande (passbook). As Juliet Atellah narrates in Toa Kitambulisho! Evolution of Registration of Persons in Kenya,

“The Kipande was worn around the neck like a dog collar. The Kipande contained the wearer’s tribe, their strengths and weaknesses and comments from his employer on his competence, therefore, determining his pay or whether or not he would be employed. The government used the Kipande to curtail freedom of Africans and monitor labour supply. It also empowered the police to stop a native anywhere and demand to be shown the document. For Africans, the Kipande was like a badge of slavery and sparked bitter protests.”

In essence, the kipande was a surveillance tool for an indentured labour system which enabled the settler economy to suppress wages. But it was not perfect. Keren Weitzberg, a migration scholar and author of We Do Not Have Borders: Greater Somalia and the Predicaments of Belonging in Kenya, makes an interesting and insightful contextual link between huduma namba and the colonial quest to better the kipande revealed in a recommendation that appears in a 1956 government document:

“Consideration should be given to the provision of a comprehensive document for Africans, as is done in the Union of South Africa and the Belgian Congo. This should incorporate Registration particulars, payment of Poll Tax, and such other papers as the African is required to carry or are envisaged for him, e.g. Domestic Service record and permit to reside in urban areas. Eligibility under the Coutts proposals for voting might also be included in the document. The document would then become of value to the holder and there would be less likelihood of its becoming lost or transferred, as is the case with the present Identity document.” 

The purpose of the huduma namba is the same as that of the “comprehensive document for Africans”—to instill in people the sense that Big Brother is watching. But despotism is not an end in itself. The raison d’être of the colonial enterprise was economic exploitation. This has not changed.

The 2001 Nobel Prize for Economics was shared by George Akerlof, Michael Spence and Joseph Stiglitz for their analysis of markets with asymmetric information. A market with asymmetric information is one where material attributes of a good or service are private information known only to the seller and not observable by the buyer; the seller has an incentive to conceal the attributes. In essence, it is a market where the buyer cannot be sure that they will get what they pay for. Asymmetric information problems are pervasive in labour and credit markets.

Identity documents are a key element of the apparatus of despotism. Our own identity card has its origins in the colonial kipande (passbook). As Juliet Atellah narrates in Toa Kitambulisho! Evolution of Registration of Persons in Kenya

A potential employer cannot tell in advance whether a worker is a performer or not, or even whether he or she is dishonest—they only get to know that after hiring the worker, and at considerable cost if they get it wrong. We know that job seekers go out of their way to misrepresent themselves, including faking qualifications and references, and concealing adverse information such as previous dismissals and criminal records. To mitigate the problem, employers go out of their way to obtain and check out references including certificates of good conduct from the police.

The original kipande, as Atellah notes, included information on the bearers “strengths and weaknesses and comments from his employer on his competence.” It does not require too much imagination to see how errant natives would have made for a severe labour market information asymmetry problem, motivating the settler economy to invent this seemingly innocuous but probably effective labour market information system.

Similarly, a potential borrower’s creditworthiness is not observable to lenders. Lenders only get to sort out good and bad borrowers from experience. A customer’s credit history is a lender’s most valuable asset. A public credit reference system, such as the Credit Reference Bureaus, is a device for mitigating credit market information asymmetry. The parallel with the kipande character reference is readily apparent.

In essence, the kipande was a surveillance tool for an indentured labour system which enabled the settler economy to suppress wages.

As a credit information system, the digital panopticon envisaged by huduma namba is priceless, and as one of the country’s leading mobile lenders, the Kenyatta family-owned Commercial Bank of Africa (CBA) is the primary beneficiary. Indeed, well before the public was informed about it, huduma namba featured prominently in a CBA-led mobile lending platform project called Wezeshafeatured in this column—that was subsequently rebranded and launched as Stawi.

Nine years ago this week, we promulgated a new constitution. Since its enactment the political and bureaucratic establishment has spared no effort to restore the unfettered discretion and apparatus of rule by fear that the new constitutional dispensation is meant to dismantle. Early in its term, the Jubilee administration sought to pass a raft of security-related legislation that would have clawed back most of the civil liberties enshrined in the Bill of Rights. Uhuru Kenyatta is on record, in one of the pre-election TV interviews, attributing his underwhelming performance to the constraints on his authority by the 2010 Constitution. He went on to express nostalgia for the old one.

In the creeping securocratisation of every sphere of the State, the incessant threats and arbitrary orders, the renewed quest for that elusive all-encompassing kipande, and even the arbitrary assignment of identity on citizens, Montesquieu would see a marked deficiency of love for virtue, the requisite principle for a democratic republic.

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Africa and Palestine: A Noble Legacy That Must Never Be Forgotten

4 min read. Today’s generation of African leaders should not deviate from that the solidarity between Africa and Palestine. Indeed, writes RAMZY BAROUD If they betray it, they betray themselves, along with the righteous struggles of their own peoples.

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Africa and Palestine: A Noble Legacy That Must Never Be Forgotten
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Europe’s “Scramble for Africa” began in earnest in 1881 but never ended. The attempt at dominating the continent using old and new strategies continues to define the Western relationship with this rich continent. This reality was very apparent when I arrived in Nairobi on June 23. Although I had come to address various Kenyan audiences at universities, public forums and the media, I had also to learn. Kenya, like the rest of Africa, is a source of inspiration for all anti-colonial liberation movements around the world. We Palestinians can learn a great deal from the Kenyan struggle.

Although African countries have fought valiant battles for their freedom against their Western colonisers, neocolonialism now defines the relationship between many independent African countries and their former occupiers. Political meddling, economic control and, at times, military interventions – as in the recent cases of Libya and Mali – point to the unfortunate reality that Africa remains, in myriad ways, hostage to Western priorities, interests and dictates.

In the infamous Berlin Conference of 1884, Western colonial regimes attempted to mediate between the various powers that were competing over Africa’s riches. It apportioned to each a share of the African continent, as if Africa were the property of the West and its white colonists. Millions of Africans died in that protracted, bloody episode unleashed by the West, which shamelessly promoted its genocidal oppression as a civilisational project.

Like most colonised peoples in the southern hemisphere, Africans fought disproportionate battles to gain their precious freedom. Here in Kenya, which became an official British colony in the 1920s, Kenya’s freedom fighters rose in rebellion against the brutality of their oppressors. Most notable among the various resistance campaigns, the Mau Mau rebellion of the 1950s remains a stark example of the courage of Kenyans and the cruelty of colonial Britain. Thousands of people were killed, wounded, disappeared or were imprisoned under the harshest of conditions.

Palestine fell under British occupation, the so-called British Mandate, around the same period that Kenya also became a British colony. Palestinians, too, fought and fell in their thousands as they employed various methods of collective resistance, including the legendary strike and rebellion of 1936. The same British killing machine that operated in Palestine and Kenya around that time, also operated, with the same degree of senseless violence, against numerous other nations around the world.

While Palestine was handed over to the Zionist movement to establish the state of Israel in May 1948, Kenya achieved its independence in December 1963.

At one of my recent talks in Nairobi, I was asked by a young participant about “Palestinian terrorism”. I told her that Palestinian fighters of today are Kenya’s Mau Mau rebels of yesteryear. That if we allow Western and Israeli propaganda to define Paestine’s national liberation discourse, then we condemn all national liberation movements throughout the southern hemisphere, including Kenya’s own freedom fighters.

We Palestinians must however shoulder part of the blame that our narrative as an oppressed, colonised and resisting nation is now misunderstood in parts of Africa.

When the Palestine Liberation Organisation committed its historical blunder by signing off Palestinian rights in Oslo in 1993, it abandoned a decades-long Palestinian discourse of resistance and liberation. Instead, it subscribed to a whole new discourse, riddled with carefully-worded language sanctioned by Washington and its European allies. Whenever Palestinians dared to deviate from their assigned role, the West would decree that they must return to the negotiating table, as the latter became a metaphor of obedience and submission.

Throughout these years, Palestinians mostly abandoned their far more meaningful alliances in Africa. Instead, they endlessly appealed to the goodwill of the West, hoping that the very colonial powers that have primarily created, sustained and armed Israel, would miraculously become more balanced and humane.

When the Palestine Liberation Organisation committed its historical blunder by signing off Palestinian rights in Oslo in 1993, it abandoned a decades-long Palestinian discourse of resistance and liberation.

However, Washington, London, Paris, Berlin, etc., remained committed to Israel and, despite occasional polite criticism of the Israeli government, continued to channel their weapons, warplanes and submarines to every Israeli government that has ruled over Palestinians for the last seven decades. Alas, while Palestinians were learning their painful lesson, betrayed repeatedly by those who had vowed to respect democracy and human rights, many African nations began seeing in Israel a possible ally. Kenya is, sadly, one of those countries.

Understanding the significance of Africa in terms of its economic and political potential, and its support for Israel at the UN General Assembly, right-wing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has launched his own “Scramble for Africa”. Netanyahu’s diplomatic conquests on the continent have been celebrated by Israeli media as “historic”, while the Palestinian leadership remains oblivious to the rapidly changing political landscape.

Kenya is one of Israel’s success stories. In November 2017, Netanyahu attended the inauguration of President Uhuru Kenyatta. Netanyahu was seen embracing Kenyatta as a dear friend and ally even as Kenyans rose in rebellion against their corrupt ruling classes. Tel Aviv had hoped that the first-ever Israel-Africa summit in Togo would usher in a complete paradigm shift in Israeli-African relations. However, the October 2017 conference never took place due to pressure by various African countries, including South Africa. There is still enough support for Palestine on the continent to defeat the Israeli stratagem. But that could change soon in favour of Israel if Palestinians and their allies do not wake up to the alarming reality.

The Palestinian leadership, intellectuals, artists and civil society ambassadors must shift their attention back to the southern hemisphere, to Africa in particular, rediscovering the untapped wealth of true, unconditional human solidarity offered by the peoples of this ever-generous continent.

Kenya is one of Israel’s success stories. In November 2017, Netanyahu attended the inauguration of President Uhuru Kenyatta. Netanyahu was seen embracing Kenyatta as a dear friend and ally even as Kenyans rose in rebellion against their corrupt ruling classes

The legendary Tanzanian freedom fighter, Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, who is also celebrated in Kenya, knew very well where his solidarity lay. “We have never hesitated in our support for the right of the people of Palestine to have their own land,” he once said, a sentiment that was repeated by the iconic South African leader Nelson Mandela, and by many other African liberation leaders. Today’s generation of African leaders should not deviate from that noble legacy. If they betray it, they betray themselves, along with the righteous struggles of their own peoples.

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