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How Not to Run a Country: Further Reflections on Moi’s Presidency

11 min read.

Moi’s misrule neutered parliament, turned the courts into his puppets, and the bureaucracy into his handmaid but if his life leaves behind a lesson, it is in the codification of the Kenyan constitution so that the country need never again be subject to the whims of one person.

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How Not to Run a Country: Further Reflections on Moi’s Presidency
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Once the flood of sanctimonious tributes ebbs after Daniel arap Moi’s burial, his true legacy will remain in the 205-page manual on how not to rule a country. Chapter and verse of the Constitution of Kenya, 2010, responds to what Moi put the country through in the 24 years he was president: it disperses power, secures human rights, shares resources, protects the environment and guarantees independent institutions. And it says unequivocally, “Never again”.

Moi’s misrule neutered parliament, turned the courts into his puppets, and the bureaucracy into his handmaid. With just a little tinkering – ironically by the man who had been his vice president and minister for finance as well as by Moi’s erstwhile lieutenants – the system he used did put Kenya on the mend, thus confirming the hypothesis that the dictator had been the problem all along.

The sense of relief at Moi’s departure from office was captured in the cartoon by Godfrey Mwampembwa, aka Gado, depicting a public notice with the former president’s caricature announcing that he was no longer authorised to transact any business on behalf of the people of Kenya. But the place of honour for first caricaturing Moi in 1990 belongs to Paul Kelemba, aka Maddo.

Moi’s narcissism drove him to flatter himself into believing that there would come a time when Kenyans would pine for his return to power. Clearly, that did not come to pass in the 18 years he was in retirement – despite the upheavals of two electoral crises that bordered on civil war and secession.

Aware of his limitations in filling founding president Jomo Kenyatta’s shoes, Moi elected instead to follow in his footsteps – the irony of following a dead man’s footsteps backwards was completely lost on him. Greatly buoyed up by the sycophancy of choristers, Moi began to demand flattery as a right; returning from a foreign trip early in his presidency, Moi demanded that everyone sing his tune “like parrots” – just as he had done while serving as Jomo Kenyatta’s vice president for 15 years.

Yet, Moi’s ascendancy to the presidency was not so much a product of his loyalty to founding President Jomo Kenyatta as it was a years-long cloak and dagger scheme choreographed by the Machiavellian Attorney General, Charles Njonjo, to manipulate the Kenyatta succession in the event of his death.

Moi’s narcissism drove him to flatter himself into believing that there would come a time when Kenyans would pine for his return to power

As it happened, the numerous attempts to stop Moi from holding office in an acting capacity for 90 days were rendered moot. Duncan Ndegwa, former Central Bank of Kenya governor, writes in his autobiography that in September 1978 there was a disagreement between Njonjo and the Secretary to the Cabinet concerning Moi’s swearing in — in the presence of the Chief Justice and Moi. In the end, Moi was sworn in as President — and not in an acting capacity as provided for in the Constitution. Within two weeks of Kenyatta’s death, the entire Cabinet pledged loyalty to Moi and endorsed his candidature. He would take oath publicly as President on 14 October 1978, nearly a full month before the 90 days transition period lapsed. Moi, with Njonjo’s help, had just executed the first coup against the Constitution. Njonjo continued to employ Edgar Hoover-style tactics to build files on public figures, which information he would use to blackmail them into silence.

Moi’s presidency started as a collegial affair between himself, State Security minister Godfrey Gitahi Kariuki and Njonjo, with the trio riding together in the presidential limousine – but some say the new boss insisted on this arrangement to avoid assassination.

Njonjo’s error of judgment – hoisting into the presidency someone he considered unfit for the office in an attempt to use him to accede to power – would come back to bury the former AG’s political ambitions. Seduced by Moi into resigning from his position as AG to join Parliament in order to assist him, Njonjo betrayed his hunger for political power and was scalped for it. Within a year, he would be ready for the big fall resulting from the 1982 failed coup d’etat, and be publicly humiliated through a judicial commission of inquiry. Although the commission found Njonjo guilty, Moi pardoned him instantly, so that he could retire to minding businesses in which the president continued to hold shares, and attending the annual dog show. Some speculate that Moi and Njonjo had a gentleman’s pact in which the former would serve as president for five years before handing over to the latter.

Analyses of the pathology of Moi’s dictatorship often identify the failed coup d’état of 1 August 1982 as the turning point in his personality. The evidence points to the contrary.

Although in 1978 Moi had freed political prisoners detained under his watch as Home Affairs minister and ostensibly on Kenyatta’s authority, he returned to the default settings when university students held demonstrations to demand that one-time vice president Jaramogi Oginga Odinga be allowed to contest the 1979 elections from which he had been barred. The following year, Moi banned the Academic Staff Union, barred external speakers from the university, and seized the passports of eight lecturers (Micere Mugo, Oki Ooko Ombaka, Michael Chege, Mukaru Ng’ang’a, Okoth Ogendo, Atieno Odhiambo, Peter Anyang-Nyong’o and Shadrack Gutto).

Moi’s ascendancy to the presidency was a years-long cloak and dagger scheme choreographed by the Machiavellian Attorney General, Charles Njonjo

The open-air theatre at Kamirithu in Limuru was banned, together with the play Ngugi wa Thiong’o and Micere Mugo were staging, Ngaahika Ndeenda. Ngugi and Micere fled into exile.

Later, Moi publicly excoriated linguist Al Amin Mazrui, educational psychologist Edward Oyugi, sociologist George Katama Mkangi, lawyer Willy Mutunga and historians Mukaru Ng’ang’a and Maina wa Kinyatti for teaching “bad ideas”. They were all either arrested, jailed or detained without trial, or forced into exile. It would mark the beginning of the formal decline of the university as a centre of learning and ideas.

The roll of those arrested, convicted and jailed on trumped up charges, or detained without trial, included writers, journalists and thinkers like Wahome Mutahi, Njuguna Mutonya, Paul Amina and Otieno MakOnyango.

In 1980, the army interned the local population in a school field resulting in the death of 3,000 people in what came to be known as the Garissa Massacre. A repeat performance at the Wajir Airstrip resulted in the Wagalla Massacre with 5,000 casualties.

By the end of June 1982, Parliament had removed the security of tenure for judges and the Attorney General, leading to the resignation of two Commonwealth judges — and the country legally became a one-party state. It was believed that at least three coups d’état had been planned for August 1982. By then, Moi already fit the textbook definition of a dictator.

Published memoirs by five people at the centre of government – deputy spy chief Bart Joseph Kibathi, politician Njenga Karume and heads of civil service Jeremiah Kiereini, Simeon Nyachae and Duncan Ndegwa – suggest that Moi knew about the planned August 1, 1982 coup attempt but allowed it to go ahead in order to strengthen his hand in changing leadership in the armed services. Subsequently, Moi disbanded the air force and changed the leadership of the army and the police, stocking them with his co-ethnics. It is ironical that some of the co-ethnics whom he appointed to critical institutions had the most progressive effect on them: General Daudi Tonje, whose regulations continue to guide military service; Brigadier Wilson Boinnet, who rebranded the National Security Intelligence Service; and Micah Cheserem, who led reform at the Central Bank of Kenya in the aftermath of the export compensation scandal.

Moi, with Njonjo’s help, had just executed the first coup against the Constitution

Moi was easily threatened by ideas, and was loath to engage what he termed as “foreign ideologies”. He was mortally afraid of political challenge and competition. Since the 1960 pre-independence election in which he defeated his brother-in-law Eric Bomet in Baringo with 5,225 votes to Bomet’s 503, Moi had dodged every opportunity to obtain a popular mandate, contenting himself with being “elected” unopposed until he was forced to confront his opponents in the 1992 and 1997 elections. In both instances, he slipped through to the presidency with only a third of the vote, even after committing a host of election irregularities.

Notwithstanding Moi’s aversion to new ideas and intellectuals generally, he surrounded himself with pliable intellectuals and left a large imprint on Kenya’s education sector. He appropriated the choral music genre, infiltrated universities through the establishment of district students’ associations, introduced a quota system in admissions to secondary schools and banned the umbrella students’ body, thus entrenching tribalism.

His bold education investment through the Kabarak schools and university, and the change in the education system to respond to the country’s needs as well as expanding higher learning by opening up universities, have all had mixed results. For example, the free milk programme that encouraged school attendance and retention was also used to brainwash children into reciting a loyalty pledge, and collapsed the Kenya Co-operative Creameries.

His undertaking of huge infrastructure projects to expand air transport, increase electricity generation, and his commitment to environmental conservation through tree planting and building gabions is counterbalanced by massive corruption, the proliferation of white elephants, and land grabbing in the country’s water towers.

In 1980, the army interned the local population in a school field resulting in the death of 3,000 people in what came to be known as the Garissa Massacre

A man who never enjoyed a popular mandate outside his Baringo birthplace where his original name – Kapkorios – was lost, Moi seemed easily threatened and reacted by capturing, personalising and predating on the instruments of state – the courts, the police service, the academy, the military, the bureaucracy, the political party.

Significantly, Moi appropriated the treasury and converted it to his personal use to buy and maintain political loyalties or to punish those he perceived as dissenters. Underneath the façade of churchgoer piety, public generosity and the common touch, lurked a cold and vindictive megalomaniac fueled by an insatiable hunger for power.

The assassinations of Foreign minister Robert Ouko, Catholic priest Fr Anthony Kaiser and student leader Solomon Muruli are often laid at Moi’s doorstep, and few others. Yet, many watchers of Jomo Kenyatta’s last years acknowledge his frailty and unavailability, but stop short of assigning blame for the muscular actions that took place in that time, such as the assassinations of Pio Gama Pinto, Tom Joseph Mboya and Josiah Mwangi Kariuki. These deaths were conveniently laid at Kenyatta’s feet when it was Moi who was Home Affairs Minister and the greatest beneficiary of the victims’ absence from the political arena.

Four years before Mboya’s death, when Kenyatta suffered a mild stroke, and there was great concern about his succession, Moi and Njonjo schemed to create a constitutional amendment to raise the age of presidential eligibility to 40 years, up from 35. Mboya was 37.

Published memoirs by five people at the centre of government suggest that Moi knew about the August 1 1982 coup attempt

Mboya’s assassination in 1969 was believed to have been orchestrated by a “big man”, whom everyone assumed was Kenyatta. No one has explored whether anybody else might have been the “big man”. Moi’s car was stoned when he attempted to pay his respects to Mboya’s widow two days later. Two days after that incident, Moi issued an incongruous statement blaming the death on the Chinese working in concert with “a local party”, meaning the Kenya People’s Union.

In the case of popular legislator Josiah Mwangi Kariuki’s death, Moi issued a statement in Parliament claiming that the politician was in Zambia when in fact his post-mortem examination had already been concluded. Kenyatta took much heat for the killing of Pinto, Mboya and JM Kariuki, but the greatest beneficiary of Kenya losing three leading political giants is not too difficult to imagine.

Under Moi, security services normalised the use of torture and other human rights abuses. The highrise Nyayo House in Nairobi was constructed in 1979 with custom-made torture chambers in the basement, which would be put to chilling use during the years of Moi’s untrammelled power. Numerous families were torn apart by the effects of detention without trial, enforced disappearances and torture.

Handpicked by colonial authorities in 1950 for civics training to become a moderate leader, Moi initially declined to represent Rift Valley in the Legislative Council but later accepted after Moses Mudavadi and Enock Kiprotich Ngulat turned down nominations for the job. In the first electoral contest to represent Rift Valley in the Legislative Council, Moi won 4,000 votes against John ole Tameno (750) and Justus ole Tipis (1,500).

Moi appropriated the treasury and converted it to his personal use to buy and maintain political loyalties

Moi had started out as founder of the regionalist party, the Kenya African Democratic Union, which placed emphasis on human rights. His defection to the centralist Kenya African National Union when Kadu dissolved exposed his commitment as only skin-deep. The defection earned him the plush position of Home Affairs minister, previously held by Vice President Oginga Odinga, from where he harassed his predecessor into resignation.

Some have claimed that Moi sold out on claims for community lands in the Rift Valley in exchange for power. Settlement in the Rift Valley would reemerge as a sticking point, leading to the ethnic and political clashes that marked the darkest periods in Moi’s reign, and the Moi who had warned non-Kalenjin against buying land in Rift Valley would oppose devolution, saying it was a recipe for breaking up the country. His political scions continued the animus through micro-aggressions against the new order.

Moi defenders shy away from interrogating his nationalism but never question his patriotism in the plunder and pilferage of public resources that led to the near-collapse of the economy. Curiously, audit firm Kroll Associates, commissioned by Moi’s successor Mwai Kibaki to investigate corruption in Kenya, found that Moi and his acolytes had stashed Sh140 billion outside the country. A significant amount of money and assets was reportedly surrendered to the government when Moi left power in December 2002.

Since the 1960 pre-independence election in which he defeated his brother-in-law Eric Bomet in Baringo, Moi had dodged every opportunity to obtain a popular mandate

In the 40 years of mediocrity that Moi gave Kenya in service as a member of the Legislative Council, vice president and president, he erected monuments to prop up his fragile ego and gave his name to numerous institutions, but none was large enough to fill the void his rule had created in the nation’s psyche.

Moi considered himself a peacemaker, and intervened in conflicts from Angola and Mozambique to Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi, Somalia, Ethiopia and Sudan. His greatest achievement in the field of diplomacy remains the revival of the East African Community, and the creation of the Inter-Governmental Authority on Drought and Desertification, but even here, he had less than stellar results in countries where his personal loyalties clashed with his role as mediator. Moi’s friendship with Juvenal Habiryamana is believed to have influenced his suggestion of a two-state solution for the Hutu and Tutsi in Rwanda and Burundi.

His paternalism in Uganda soured relations with Yoweri Museveni when the latter deposed General Tito Okello despite a signed peace agreement and his sheltering of Somalia’s Mohamed Siad Barre complicated peacemaking in the neighbouring nation.

South Sudan, which was to be the jewel in Moi’s crown of peacemaking efforts, has come apart at the seams. Moi adopted a problematic posture with regard to apartheid South Africa. He received Frederick de Klerk and broke sanctions to allow South African Airways flights to Nairobi, prompting African National Congress’s Nelson Mandela to fly in and seek him out at his Kabarak home.

Under Moi, security services normalised the use of torture and other human rights abuses

Moi’s reentry into Kenyan politics to endorse Kibaki in the 2007 election despite legal bars to his participation from retirement resulted in political rapture that precluded him as peacemaker and mediator when Kenya went bust.

His departure from power opened a floodgate of legal suits for torture and other human rights abuses, land seizures and dispossession, but there has been no formal accounting for economic crimes after the judicial commission of inquiry into the Goldenberg export compensation scandal. It is speculated that when Moi visited Kibaki in a London hospital following the latter’s accident on the campaign trail in 2002, a pact was struck to not prosecute Moi if he allowed free elections that year.

Credit is due to Moi, though, for his ability to adapt to change. Here was a Cold War politician who found his footing in the new world order confronting terrorism and plural politics. The self-styled professor of politics found himself out of his depth in the global arena, and was at the mercy of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank at the end of his rule. It is a tragedy that in spite of his deeply felt anti-imperialist sentiment, he mortgaged the country and left it at the mercy of the IMF and the World Bank on his way out.

Even the worst dictators have a human side to them – they love music, play with grandchildren, eat roast maize by the roadside — but it is hardly enough to humanise the evil that they commit.

Moi separated from his wife, Lena, in 1975 and lived as a bachelor until his death, but had reportedly reconciled with her before she died. His biographer, Andrew Morton writes that, with the exception of Gideon, he was disappointed in his children and it is remarkable that he did not attend the burial of his eldest son, ace rally driver Jonathan Toroitich.

South Sudan, which was to be the jewel in Moi’s crown of peacemaking efforts, has come apart at the seams

Books on Moi reveal little of the man, but Wanjiru Waithaka’s fictional account, Duel in the Savanna, portrays a man not too dissimilar to Moi in the character of Zack Dwanje. It is so far the only known speculation on Moi’s personal life. He is survived by his children, Doris, Jennifer, Raymond, Philip, John Mark, Gideon and June.

Kanu, the party Moi took over, is in a shambles, with 13 legislators out of 349 in the national leadership. The country is on a trajectory opposite to where he had been taking it. The harambee, his channel for generosity, has become a conduit for corruption.

A man of numerous contradictions, Moi thrived in randomness – hiring and firing people over the radio, making policy pronouncements by the roadside, and creating the appearance of popular participation in an administration he ran on a very tight leash. If his life leaves behind a lesson, it is in the codification of the Kenyan constitution so that the country need never again be subject to the whims of one person.

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Kwamchetsi Makokha is a journalist with over two decades on the frontline of the struggle for human dignity. Co-editor (with Arthur Luvai) of the East African poetry anthology, 'Echoes across the Valley', he escapes into literature, the performing arts and agriculture. He is currently Programme Advisor at Journalists For Justice.

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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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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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African Epistemic Self-Affirmation Is the Ultimate End of Decolonization
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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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