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Uhuru at UNGA: Mortgaging the Anti-Corruption War?

7 min read.

The President’s unusual speech at the UN General Assembly, in which he declaimed against the culture of corruption within his own government, is an unprecedented escalation in defeatism. If Jubilee has thrown in the towel, what options does the citizenry have but to take matters into its own hands? By MIRIAM ABRAHAM  



Uhuru at UNGA: Mortgaging the Anti-Corruption War?
Photo: Flickr/UN Geneva
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I rarely watch television. But I could not help following President Uhuru Kenyatta’s address at the United Nations General Assembly in New York, and the Finance Bill 2018/19 proceedings at the National Assembly. At the world stage, I expected the bravado of a President with 98% “votes” under his belt. After all, had President Trump not taken to the same podium earlier to brag about leading the most successful administration in US history, provoking laughter at his own expense? Had King Mswati III, he with the fifteen wives and counting, not used the stage to brag about steps taken by his government to empower women? Instead, there stood a subdued leader, lamenting an enlightened citizenry that has lost trust in corrupted institutions corrupt that do not deliver for them.

It would have seemed a bit outrageous to play up the development record, as he has done in past meetings, when gains made in the past decades have been rolled back. Unemployment, especially among the youth, stands at about 47% of the population. The debt levels are now unsustainable with the country on the brink of mortgage to our Chinese benefactors. Crime rates are on the rise: young women are now being murdered without respite, young men victims of extra-judicial murders in the cities’ sprawling informal settlements. During the long flight to New York, Mr Kenyatta’s aides had probably checked his Facebook and Twitter accounts, where furious citizens, unhappy with the economic and social situation, were unleashing their anger.

As I listened to the President’s words, “… people observe the impunity of the corrupt, they increasingly feel that the economic systems are rigged against their hopes”, I was transported back to the events of the previous week. The well-orchestrated theatrics at the National Assembly with members of parliament playing to the gallery by claiming to oppose the Finance Bill, while allowing it to sail through, further burdening Kenyans with more taxes. (Director Wanuri Kahiu should consider auditioning from the National Assembly. The Bunge movie surely join Rafiki, in the list of Oscar nominees, without the complication of our holier-than-thou, Ezekiel Mutua, banning it. But then again, with the pace of repression, who knows, it may also be banned for ‘endangering national security’.)

As I listened to the President’s words, “… people observe the impunity of the corrupt, they increasingly feel that the economic systems are rigged against their hopes”, I was transported back to the theatrics at the National Assembly with members of parliament claiming to oppose the Finance Bill, while allowing it to sail through…

If Kenyans ever doubted that we are living in a period of complete State capture, the parliamentary charade and President Kenyatta’s speech confirmed it. In his own words, “when networks and cartels in government capture the state for their own selfish gain, and represent themselves as champions of an ethnic or religious group, the result is all too often civil strife and civil war”. This is not the first time that President Kenyatta has blamed cartels for controlling the State and sounding exasperated by his inability to deal with the cartels. But to take it to the global stage was a profound capitulation. To admit before the world that he was a leader whose government had been captured by cartels is a preserve of a few countries, mostly classified as failed states. Predictably, he tried to link state capture to broader international corporate and criminal networks.

The facts do not support the narrative he seems to be peddling, especially as we saw him whip the Jubilee MPs to impose more taxes on an already over-burdened population. He surely cannot dupe us into believing that his government has the goodwill to serve its people but is the victim of international networks beyond its reach. The political and economic situation that Kenya finds itself in is largely the result of the actions of President Kenyatta and his Jubilee regime. This fourth iteration of state capture follows in the footsteps of his father, Jomo Kenyatta, his mentor Daniel Arap Moi, and his former boss, Mwai Kibaki. The mismanagement of the economy, control of state institutions, corruption, tribalism, just to name a few, is of his own making, with the support of his cronies, national and international.

In the President’s speech, he mentioned that state capture could result in “civil strife and civil war”. There is vast empirical evidence to support his claim. A recently issued report jointly drafted by the United Nations and the World Bank, Pathways for Peace: Inclusive Approaches to Preventing Violent Conflict, provides numerous examples of how grievances around state capture and exclusion, among other injustices, would lead to violence. In the current situation, where there is barely any independent institution, where members of the National Assembly have completely forgotten that the Constitution bestows sovereign power to the people and only delegated it to him, to act on their behalf; where members of parliament take voting instructions from the Presidency or Rt. Hon. Raila Odinga and other opposition leaders, whose surrender and capitulation to the Jubilee regime, is complete; where there is no channel to air the grievances amassing from a high-tax regime, corruption and tough economic conditions. In short, Mr Kenyatta’s predictions of “civil strife and civil war” are not far-fetched.

But we also know that “civil strife and civil war” could be prevented by addressing the grievances so eloquently articulated by the President in New York. The same grievances that now dominate the social media platforms of the presidency. They are aired openly in beauty salons, social gatherings and pubs. They were passionately echoed at the recent Senate sitting in Eldoret with sentiments such as “heri kifo, kuliko kuishi Kenya” (it is better to die than live in Kenya). These are not things that should be taken lightly – the cameras in Eldoret showed some of the Senators chuckling. There needs to be much more serious thought placed on saving the country from the situation it finds itself. Dismantling the opposition coalition as a strategy has its limits. It may have been successful in legitimizing the Jubilee regime after the 26 October sham election last year, but on its own, it cannot solve the economic and social grievances raging across the country.

In many forums, whether online or in our local pubs, the question that lingers is: what next? In the absence of a credible opposition, how do we change our current situation? With a compromised media and retreating civil society, how do we organize ourselves? With a government, which is willing to use violence to suppress protests, what is left for us to do? There are no easy answers, but I believe that collectively, we can forge a path out of our current situation. It appears that we have four possible options, that we should seriously consider, in no specific order of preference.

In many forums…the question that lingers is: what next? In the absence of a credible opposition, how do we change our current situation? With a compromised media and retreating civil society, how do we organize ourselves? With a government, which is willing to use violence to suppress protests, what is left for us to do?

There is an option for Uhuru Kenyatta and his Deputy to acknowledge that they have failed to show leadership in their five years in power and honourably resign from office. The President said as much in his speech in New York and he has previously thrown his hands in the air in frustration at the runaway levels of corruption. The honourable step, when one is unable or unwilling to do his job, is to step aside and pass the baton to others. The resignation of Ethiopia’s former Prime Minister, Hailemariam Desalegn, in February this year set an example in our region.

There is a second option: civil strife triggering a social revolution that topples the regime and replaces it with a transitional authority that abides by the current constitutional arrangements. Africa has numerous examples of these revolutions, with Burkina Faso and The Gambia as recent notable cases, albeit with specificities unique to Kenya.

There is an option for Uhuru Kenyatta and his Deputy to acknowledge that they have failed to show leadership in their five years in power and honourably resign from office…The resignation of Ethiopia’s former Prime Minister, Hailemariam Desalegn, in February this year set an example in our region.

There is yet another option: to conduct a transparent and inclusive national dialogue to chart a way forward. To be clear, this is not the ‘Bridges to Nowhere’ initiative, nor the so-called National Dialogue Conference launched recently by a section of the religious community. Nor is it about the imprudent and selfish interests of the political elite demanding cosmetic constitutional changes to install their camp in power in the name of a parliamentary system of government. It is not the diversionary tactics of Jubilee regime puppets with the calls for a referendum (#WanjikuReferendum) that will probably roll back devolution in the guise of budgetary discipline.

Another option is to wait out the current regime. And in parallel, begin building a movement that is based on our core values and aspirations, with a new crop of leaders to participate in elective positions in 2022.

Another potential option is to wait out the current regime. And in parallel, begin building a movement that is based on our core values and aspirations, with a new crop of leaders to participate in elective positions in 2022. This is of course based on the wrong premise that we ever conduct elections in Kenya, rather than the reality of rampant electoral injustice. In democracies where elections actually take place, when out of power, political parties and social movements renew their focus and organize to win the next election. In the United States, this is the high-stakes game going on ahead of the midterm elections with the Democratic Party hoping to wrest control of the Senate and the House from the Republican Party. But again, they don’t have a nefarious IEBC overseeing their election under the tight control of the State.

Apathy cannot be an option. Hopelessness cannot be a choice. Fear cannot be an excuse. History has shown that it is the small acts of a few people that lead to real change.

Neither of these four options is without risks. Neither of them is easy and nor are the options mutually exclusive. The only option that we should not contemplate is that of sitting in our comfort zones and hoping and praying that our situation will change by itself. It will not. We have a civic responsibility to pick any of the four options above and run with them. When your President stands before the world and declares that cartels have taken over government, apathy cannot be an option. Hopelessness cannot be a choice. Fear cannot be an excuse. History has shown that it is the small acts of a few people that lead to real change. It is the courage of a few that would lead to the renewal we need and deserve as a country. Let’s arise from our slumber and do the right thing before we witness the total mortgaging of the country.

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Ms. Abraham is a governance and institutional development expert.

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Haiti: The Struggle for Democracy, Justice, Reparations and the Black Soul

Only the Haitian people can decide their own future. The dictatorship imposed by former president Jovenel Moïse and its imperialist enablers need to go – and make space for a people’s transition government.



Haiti: The Struggle for Democracy, Justice, Reparations and the Black Soul
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Haiti is once again going through a profound crisis. Central to this is the struggle against the dictatorship imposed by former president Jovenel Moïse. Since last year Mr. Moise, after decreeing the dismissal of Parliament, has been ruling through decrees, permanently violating Haiti’s constitution. He has refused to leave power after his mandate ended on February 7, 2021, claiming that it ends on February 7 of next year, without any legal basis.

This disregard of the constitution is taking place despite multiple statements by the country’s main judicial bodies, such as the CSPJ (Superior Council of Judicial Power) and the Association of Haitian Lawyers. Numerous religious groups and numerous institutions that are representative of society have also spoken. At this time, there is a strike by the judiciary, which leaves the country without any public body of political power.

At the same time, this institutional crisis is framed in the insecurity that affects practically all sectors of Haitian society. An insecurity expressed through savage repressions of popular mobilizations by the PNH (Haitian National Police), which at the service of the executive power. They have attacked journalists and committed various massacres in poor neighborhoods. Throughout the country, there have been assassinations and arbitrary arrests of opponents.

Most recently, a judge of the High Court was detained under the pretext of promoting an alleged plot against the security of the State and to assassinate the president leading to the illegal and arbitrary revocation of three judges of this Court. This last period has also seen the creation of hundreds of armed groups that spread terror over the entire country and that respond to power, transforming kidnapping into a fairly prosperous industry for these criminals.

The 13 years of military occupation by United Nations troops through MINUSTAH and the operations of prolongation of guardianship through MINUJUSTH and BINUH have aggravated the Haitian crisis. They supported retrograde and undemocratic sectors who, along with gangsters, committed serious crimes against the Haitian people and their fundamental rights.

For this, the people of Haiti deserve a process of justice and reparations. They have paid dearly for the intervention of MINUSTAH: 30 THOUSAND DEAD from cholera transmitted by the soldiers, thousands of women raped, who now raise orphaned children. Nothing has changed in 13 years, more social inequality, poverty, more difficulties for the people. The absence of democracy stays the same.

The poor’s living conditions have worsened dramatically as a result of more than 30 years of neoliberal policies imposed by the International Financial Institutions (IFIs), a severe exchange rate crisis, the freezing of the minimum wage, and inflation above 20% during the last three years.

It should be emphasized that, despite this dramatic situation, the Haitian people remain firm and are constantly mobilizing to prevent the consolidation of a dictatorship by demanding the immediate leave of office by former President Jovenel Moïse.

Taking into account the importance of this struggle and that this dictatorial regime still has the support of imperialist governments such as the United States of America, Canada, France, and international organizations such as the UN, the OAS, and the EU, the IPA calls its members to contribute their full and active solidarity to the struggle of the Haitian people, and to sign this Petition that demands the end of the dictatorship as well as respect for the sovereignty and self-determination of the Haitian people, the establishment of a transition government led by Haitians to launch a process of authentic national reconstruction.

In addition to expressing our solidarity with the Haitian people’s resistance, we call for our organisations to demonstrate in front of the embassies of the imperialist countries and before the United Nations. Only the Haitian people can decide their future. Down with Moise and yes to a people’s transition government, until a constituent is democratically elected.

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Deconstructing the Whiteness of Christ

While many African Christians can only imagine a white Jesus, others have actively promoted a vision of a brown or black Jesus, both in art and in ideology.



Deconstructing the Whiteness of Christ
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When images of a white preacher and actor going around Kenya playing Jesus turned up on social media in July 2019, people were rightly stunned by the white supremacist undertone of the images. They suggested that Africans were prone to seeing Jesus as white, promoting the white saviour narrative in the process. While it is true that the idea of a white Jesus has been prevalent in African Christianity even without a white actor, and many African Christians and churches still entertain images of Jesus as white because of the missionary legacy, many others have actively promoted a vision of Jesus as brown or black both in art an in ideology.

Images of a brown or black Jesus is as old as Christianity in Africa, especially finding a prominent place in Ethiopian Orthodox Church, which has been in existence for over sixteen hundred years. Eyob Derillo, a librarian at the British Library, recently brought up a steady diet of these images on Twitter. The image of Jesus as black has also been popularised through the artistic project known as Vie de Jesus Mafa (Life of Jesus Mafa) that was conducted in Cameroon.

The most radical expression of Jesus as a black person was however put forth by a young Kongolese woman called Kimpa Vita, who lived in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century. Through the missionary work of the Portuguese, Kimpa Vita, who was a nganga or medicine woman, became a Christian. She taught that Jesus and his apostles were black and were in fact born in São Salvador, which was the capital of the Kongo at the time. Not only was Jesus transposed from Palestine to São Salvador, Jerusalem, which is a holy site for Christians, was also transposed to São Salvador, so that São Salvador became a holy site. Kimpa Vita was accused of preaching heresy by Portuguese missionaries and burnt at the stake in 1706.

It was not until the 20th century that another movement similar to Vita’s emerged in the Kongo. This younger movement was led by Simon Kimbangu, a preacher who went about healing and raising the dead, portraying himself as an emissary of Jesus. His followers sometimes see him as the Holy Spirit who was to come after Jesus, as prophesied in John 14:16. Just as Kimpa Vita saw São Salvador as the new Jerusalem, Kimbangu’s village of Nkamba became, and still is known as, the new Jerusalem. His followers still flock there for pilgrimage. Kimbangu was accused of threatening Belgian colonial rule and thrown in jail, where he died. Some have complained that Kimbangu seems to have eclipsed Jesus in the imagination of his followers for he is said to have been resurrected from the dead, like Jesus.

Kimbangu’s status among his followers is however similar to that of some of the leaders of what has been described as African Independent Churches or African Initiated Churches (AICs). These churches include the Zionist churches of Southern Africa, among which is the amaNazaretha of Isaiah Shembe. Shembe’s followers see him as a divine figure, similar to Jesus, and rather than going to Jerusalem for pilgrimage, his followers go to the holy city of Ekuphakameni in South Africa. The Cameroonian theologian, Fabien Eboussi Boulaga, in his Christianity Without Fetish, see leaders like Kimbangu and Shembe as doing for their people in our own time what Jesus did for his people in their own time—providing means of healing and deliverance in contexts of grinding oppression. Thus, rather than replacing Jesus, as they are often accused of doing, they are making Jesus relevant to their people. For many Christians in Africa, therefore, Jesus is already brown or black. Other Christians still need to catch up with this development if we are to avoid painful spectacles like the one that took place Kenya.

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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In Magufuli’s Shadow: The Stark Choices Facing Tanzania’s New President

One immediate concern is what steps Hassan will take on the pandemic, and whether she will change direction.



In Magufuli’s Shadow: The Stark Choices Facing Tanzania’s New President
Photo: Flickr/Gospel Kitaa
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The sudden death of Tanzania’s President John Pombe Magufuli has thrown the East African nation into a period of political uncertainty.

Vice-president, Samia Suluhu Hassan, has been sworn in as his successor, making her Tanzania’s first woman president.

The transition is all the more challenging given the major rupture – both political and economic – caused by Magufuli’s presidency. Magufuli, who won a second term in October 2020, dramatically centralised power and pursued an interventionist economic policy agenda. He courted controversy on a number of fronts, most recently, by claiming that Tanzania – contrary to mounting evidence – was Covid-free.

Hassan has called for unity and counselled that now is not the time to look at what has passed but rather to look at what is to come.

Despite the 61-year-old leader’s forward-looking stance, questions remain about how Magufuli’s legacy will shape her time in office.

The authoritarian turn

Magufuli oversaw the marginalisation of opposition parties and a decline in civil liberties. His first term was defined by heightened intimidation and violence against opposition leaders, including disappearances and physical attacks.

Thanks to five years of repression, the October 2020 general elections saw the opposition all but wiped out of elected office. The ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi now controls all local government councils. It also holds 97% of directly elected legislative seats, up from 73% in 2015.

In addition, media freedom and civil liberties were also restricted. A law passed in 2018 imposed jail terms for questioning the accuracy of official statistics.

But Magufuli’s authoritarian tendencies were not unprecedented in Tanzania. For instance, the rule of his predecessor Jakaya Kikwete was also marred by human rights abuses as well civil society and media repression. Kikwete also cancelled Zanzibar’s 2015 election due to a likely opposition victory.

It remains to be seen whether Hassan will adopt a more liberal approach, loosening restrictions on opposition parties, the media and civil society. Even if she does, the damage will take time to repair. Opposition parties, for instance, may well struggle to regain their strength. Among other setbacks, they have lost almost all local elected representatives – a core element of their organisational infrastructure built up painstakingly over decades.

Centralising power in the party

Another key pillar to Magufuli’s legacy is the centralisation of power within the Chama Cha Mapinduzi.

In the early years under founding president Julius Nyerere, Tanzania’s ruling party was dominated by the president and a hierarchy of appointed state and party officials. But, following economic liberalisation in the 1980s and Nyerere’s retirement from politics, the party became steeped in factional rivalries. These were spurred by new political alliances and an emerging private sector business elite.

This factionalism reached its height under Kikwete amid accusations of widespread corruption. Magufuli’s nomination as party presidential candidate only occurred because the rivalry among these factions left him as the unexpected compromise candidate.

Once in office, though, Magufuli quickly signalled he would be nobody’s puppet. He used his position as ruling party chairman to create a “new” Chama Cha Mapinduzi. This involved breaking with party heavyweights, including Kikwete, suppressing factional organising, and consolidating his own support base.

Magufuli’s new base was a cohort of freshly appointed party officials as well as civil servants and cabinet ministers. His loyalists likened these changes to a revival of Nyerere’s Chama Cha Mapinduzi. But, in our view, the comparison is misleading.

Like Magufuli before her, Hassan will be taking office – and party leadership – without her own political base. She will also have to contend with revived factional manoeuvring as sidelined groups try to regain an upper hand.

Hassan could align with a loyal Magufuli faction, which includes influential figures within the party. But, early indications suggest she intends to follow the advice of “party elders”, notably Kikwete. The former president reportedly attended the party’s most recent central committee meeting on Hassan’s invitation.

Aligning herself with Kikwete will likely lead to the reemergence of the internal factional rivalries that characterised the former president’s tenure.

Implications for economic policy

If president Hassan does continue to take a political steer from Kikwete, one likely outcome is that there will be a change in economic policy. In particular, a return to growth that’s led by a more business-friendly approach to the private sector.

Calls are already being made for such a course of action..

The danger for Hassan, however, is that under Kikwete this model was associated with high levels of corruption and unproductive rent-seeking.

A careful reassessment of the Magufuli era is needed to guide future policymaking.

Magufuli used his control over the ruling party to pursue an ambitious policy agenda. This was also linked to his political project of centralising power.

Although this trend actually began under Kikwete, Magufuli accelelrated a move towards more state-led investment. Under his leadership, both state-owned and, increasingly, military-owned enterprises were offered strategic contracts.

This ambitious programme initially won him praise. But over time, his authoritarian decision-making, mismanagement, and lack of transparency prompted a more critical response.

Many state enterprises remained cash-starved, relied on government financial support, and registered losses.

When the government’s controller and auditor general called for more scrutiny of public finances, his budget was slashed. And he was ultimately forced to retire and replaced by a Magufuli loyalist.

Alongside state investment, the president also sought to discipline private sector actors. Some observers suggest that this led to more productive investment, notably by domestic investors. But others point to renewed crony capitalist ties.

Magufuli’s most high profile corporate battle was against Canadian-owned Barrick Gold and its former subsidiary, Acacia Mining. From the two, he demanded USD$190 billion in tax arrears and a renegotiation of operating terms.

Many saw this resource-nationalist approach as an inspiration and a model for African countries seeking to take greater control of their mineral wealth. But in the end – partly due to externally imposed legal and economic constraints – Magufuli walked back on some of his demands. Instead he opted for cooperation rather than confrontation.

He negotiated a joint venture in which Barrick took a majority stake of 84% and Tanzania the remaining 16%. Key elements of the nationalistic mining legislation passed in 2017 were also reversed.

On the plus side gold overtook tourism as Tanzania’s biggest foreign-exchange earner. In addition, some small-scale miners saw their livelihoods improve. Results were more mixed elsewhere, especially for Tanzanite miners in the country’s north.

Ultimately, Magufuli leaves behind a mixed economic legacy. It combines misdirected authoritarian decision-making with positive efforts to pursue an active industrial policy. Reining in unproductive domestic investors and renegotiating adverse contracts with foreign investors were part of this agenda.

There is a risk, given this complex mix, that Tanzania’s policymakers may learn the wrong lessons from his presidency, leading back to the flawed model existing before.

Significantly, neither Magufuli nor his predecessors managed to achieve more inclusive growth. For this reason poverty levels have remained stubbornly high.

The pandemic and beyond

One immediate concern is what steps Hassan will take on the pandemic, and whether she will change direction.

Whatever she does, the health emergency and associated economic crisis will likely define her presidency. It could indeed define the economic trajectory of the African region in years to come.

Both Kikwete and Magufuli ruled through an economic boom period. Commodity prices were high and access to international finance was fairly easy. This gave them latitude to choose between various development approaches.

If Tanzania reverts to the status quo of the Kikwete years, the risk is a reemergence of rent-seeking but without the same highly favourable economic growth conditions. Indeed, as external conditions worsen, Hassan may find her options far more limited.The Conversation

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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