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The Era of Roadside Policy Declarations is Back

7 min read.

Domestic rice production has increased steadily in recent years due to an increase in acreage and improvements in yield, so what is ailing rice farming in Mwea? While farmers’ revenues have fallen sharply, prices have been relatively stable so, clearly, if there is a problem then it is one of production, and probably related to the recent massive expansion of the irrigation scheme.

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Memo to Uhuru Kenyatta: Finish up and Go
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“Government will no longer be ran on the whims of individuals. The era of roadside policy declarations is gone.” Mwai Kibaki, Inauguration Speech, 30 December 2002

During his recent visit to Mwea, the rice-growing region of Kirinyaga County, President Uhuru Kenyatta directed the Ministry of Agriculture to increase the price of rice paddy from Sh45 to Sh85. It is an intriguing directive. The Ministry of Agriculture does not have the authority to set prices. Although there is a state-linked mill, Mwea Rice Mills—jointly owned by a farmers’ cooperative and the National Irrigation Board—that could implement the order, the bulk of the paddy is sold to private millers. As it happens, the state-owned mill has been in limbo since November last year, when the management was sent packing on allegations of mismanagement and fraud. Moreover, farmers produce different varieties of rice, which command different prices in the market. It is not clear whether this price applies to all varieties, or even whether it applies to all rice-growing schemes in the country, or if it is exclusively for Mwea farmers.

Kenyatta also announced the establishment of a Sh500 million revolving fund for buying paddy from farmers. The most recent figures published by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistic’s Economic Survey s how that the country produced 112,000 tonnes of paddy in the 2017/18 season, of which 90,000 tonnes were produced in Mwea alone. At Kenyatta’s price of Sh85 per kilo, the fund would purchase 5,900 tonnes, just over 5 per cent of the harvest. Clearly, Sh500 million cannot even begin to finance the directive.

On the same occasion the Governor of Kirinyaga reportedly asked Kenyatta to ban rice imports because imported rice is creating unfair competition for Mwea’s rice farmers. We are currently importing 90 per cent of the rice we consume. This deficit has been growing steadily over the years (see chart) and this growth is not on account of imports stifling domestic production. On the contrary, domestic production has actually done better after liberalisation than before when domestic producers were protected. Rice production increased rapidly during the first decade of independence, from 8,000 to 20,000 tonnes, a growth rate of 9.7 per cent per year. During the seventies and eighties, production fluctuated between 20,000 and 30,000 tonnes, up until 1993 when the economy was liberalised. After liberalisation, production surged to a peak of 90,000 in 2012. Overall, domestic production has grown by 12 per cent per year on average after liberalisation.

In effect, the claim that imports are hurting rice farmers is populist political nonsense. To satisfy the current consumption, rice farmers would have to produce ten times what they are producing now. Not only is the Kirinyaga Governor an economist (with a master’s degree in policy analysis), she was previously the cabinet secretary for economic planning. One would expect someone with such credentials to have a good grasp of the rice sector given its importance in her county. Power does strange things to people.

What are the implications of buying paddy at Sh85? Paddy accounts for 64 per cent of the retail price of domestic rice. Milling accounts for 16 per cent and distribution (transport, storage and trade margins) for the remaining 20 per cent. This data is given in an academic paper published early last year. The study reports an ex-factory price of Sh102 per kilo, which is an average for all varieties, and Sh125 for the higher-priced aromatic basmati/pishori that Mwea is famous for, fairly close to today’s prices. Nice Millers, who describe themselves on their website as the largest miller of Mwea rice, quote Sh130 per kilo.

To satisfy the current consumption, rice farmers would have to produce ten times what they are producing now

Paddy is converted to rice at a ratio of 5:3, that is, five kilos of paddy produce three kilos of rice (or 1.67 kg of paddy to get 1 kg of rice). The Sh130 ex-factory price quoted by Nice Millers suggests a paddy price in the order of Sh54 per kilo or Sh90 for the 1.67 kg of paddy required to give one kilo of rice. The presidential decree price of Sh85 will increase the cost to Sh142 per kilo of rice, higher than the quoted price for milled rice. If the millers and traders pass this increase on to consumers, Mwea pishori rice will go up by Sh62 a kilo. Using Nice Millers advertised ex-factory price of Sh130, it will retail at Sh.192 per kilo.

Will it sell? My quick unscientific survey of rice prices on the internet suggests that there are three price bands: high, middle and low, which should not come as a surprise since markets respond to the different customer segments. The high-end rice is currently priced at Sh150-170. This consists of domestic aromatic rice and some premium imported products (e.g. Pakistani “super basmati parboiled Grade 1. Parboiled refers to rice that is partially boiled in the husk before it is milled, which makes processing and preservation easier, and is also said to improve nutritional value). Mwea pishori is the most expensive rice in the category. The middle market products are in the Sh120 to Sh140 range. These include Tanzanian pishori and other non-premium Asian imports, mostly Pakistani and Indian basmati varieties. The bottom end, currently retailing at an average of Sh100 per kilo is served by most non-aromatic local rice, such as the popular sindano variety. This also appears to be a segment that is served by regional trade, as it converges around the average retail prices of locally produced rice in Uganda and Tanzania.

If the millers and traders pass this increase on to consumers, Mwea pishori rice will go up by Sh62 a kilo

Whether the millers and traders will be able to pass on the cost to consumers depends on how price-elastic the variety is. Price elasticity means how demand varies with price. It is conceivable that the variety is price-inelastic, that is, the consumers will continue buying it, and not switch to other varieties. But that is tempting fate. If the higher price cannot be passed on to consumers, this would mean that millers and traders would have to absorb some of the cost. This in turn would make Mwea pishori (assuming that it is the only variety affected) less profitable to sell than competing products. Traders are not obliged to stock low-margin, slow moving products which tie up working capital. Instead of benefiting, Mwea pishori farmers may end up stuck with their paddy. But it is more likely that they will sell it below the government price.

Kenyatta seemed to have an inkling that his price is not tenable in the market for he is reported to have assured the farmers that the Kenya National Trading Corporation (KNTC) would buy their produce and distribute it to government institutions. KNTC is arguably the country’s most unnecessary and moribund parastatal. It loses money every year. From its 2017 audited accounts, the latest that I can find, it lost Sh12.8 million shillings, up from Sh8.5 million in 2016, bringing its accumulated losses to Sh227 million. If the directive sees the light of day, the cost will be borne by the public purse. I take it that the government institutions Kenyatta refers to will be education and health establishments, the military, prisons and such like. It is unlikely that the institutions forced to buy overpriced rice will be given an additional budget allocation, which will mean squeezing other items in the budget. This is how Moi ruined public institutions, one roadside declaration at a time.

What is ailing rice farming in Mwea? As noted, domestic rice production has increased steadily in recent years. In the 2017/18 season, the most recent published data, Mwea produced 90,000 tonnes of paddy, up from 32,400 tonnes a decade before. The increase is due to an increase in acreage, and improvements in yield (see chart). The irrigation scheme expanded by 40 per cent from 7,400 hectares (16,280 acres) to 10,500 ha (23 100 acres) a decade ago, and by another 12,450 ha (27,400 acres) in 2016/17 and 2017/18, bringing the total acreage to 23,000 ha (50,600 acres), more than three times the acreage a decade ago. Yields have also risen steadily from 4.4 tonnes a hectare (1.8t/acre or 20 90kg bags), reaching 6 tonnes a hectare in the 2012/13 season, to a peak of 8.6 tonnes a hectare in the 2014/15 season, although this peak appears to be an outlier bumper harvest. Still, 6t/ha (2.4t/acre or 27 90kg bags) is pretty good, well above the global average of 4.6t/ha (1.86t/acre or 21 90kg bags). Farmers’ revenues increased three-fold from Sh1.3 billion to Sh3.9 billion in total, and from Sh180,000 to Sh370,000 per acre.

This is how Moi ruined public institutions, one roadside declaration at a time

But something appears to be going wrong after the latest expansion. The data shows yields falling to below 4t/ha. The 2016/17 season appears to have been a particularly bad one, when production dropped by 25 per cent from 79,000 to 59,000 tonnes. It is possible that the reported increase in acreage may not all have been put under production. Still, it raises the question why the huge investment in irrigation is not reflected in production. Could it be another mega-infrastructure project gone wrong?

While farmers’ revenues have fallen sharply, from Sh370,000 per acre to Sh106,000 and Sh152,600 in the 2016/17 and 2017/18 respectively, price appears to have relatively little to do with it. Apart from the 2016/17 season when the price fell sharply to Sh30 per kg of paddy and the unusually high price of Sh50-52 in the preceding two years, prices have been relatively stable at around Sh40 per kilo. Clearly, if there is a problem then it is one of production, and probably related to the recent massive expansion of the irrigation scheme. Increasing the price by administrative fiat is not going to fix it. As I keep reminding these folks, they cannot rig the economy.

Clearly, if there is a problem then it is one of production, and probably related to the recent massive expansion of the irrigation scheme

Which brings us to an intriguing question. A few weeks ago, Kenyatta issued a similar edict, ordering the Kenya Co-operative Creameries to increase the farm-gate price of milk. This column wondered why Kenyatta would personally wade into the milk farmers’ woes, knowing that they are synonymous with his family’s cartelisation of the processed milk industry. Kenyatta is not running for re-election so why the charm offensive in his political backyard?

I see two possibilities. First, he could be succumbing to the temptation to hang on to power, and perhaps this BBI thing, whether from the outset or as an afterthought, is the Trojan horse for Kenyatta to succeed himself as some have suspected all along. Second, that he, like Moi, is a man out of his depth in matters economics. As the chronicler of seven years of non-stop mathogothanio* economics, I would submit that the latter is just as likely as the former.

*a child’s unintelligible scribblings

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David Ndii is a leading Kenyan economist and public intellectual.

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Educating the Native and the Ivy League Myth

Elite schools in the US continue to place a premium on institutions, not ideas. Where you went to school is what matters.

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As a young student, I was always fascinated by the “top” universities and the erudite people that emerged from those august institutions. My first contact with Ivy League people was when I arrived at Mpala Research Centre in Laikipia in 1999 to start my MSc research. I met students and faculty from Princeton University (which is a trustee of the research centre) and was reassured that they looked “normal”, given all the academic challenges and foibles that a Kenyatta University student like me had. After I finished my MSc, the administration was impressed enough with my work to offer me a job as resident scientist, which I took up with the alacrity of someone catching a big break through hard work (I got a rude awakening later, but that’s a story for another day). As part of my job, I was to supervise a group of Princeton undergraduates undertaking a senior field project and, wanting impress, I sharpened my ecologist brain, especially because I thought I would be instructing some of the world’s sharpest young minds. Now I laugh at my consternation when, after mapping out clear and easy ecological transects for them, they strayed off into a neighbouring ranch and I got a call from the security personnel there that they were sunbathing topless on the research vehicle (they were ladies) and that the boss might be offended.

Later on, I asked a postgraduate student from the same institution how these ladies could be so casual about their studies and she couldn’t hide her amusement at my ignorance. “Grad school is competitive. Undergrads get in because of money and name recognition.” I was stunned, but I remembered this when I saw the poor work they submitted at the end of their study. Being an aspiring lecturer (and a student of the late brilliant Prof R.O. Okelo) I marked them without fear or favour, assuming that they would be used to such standards at Princeton. I was told that I couldn’t give them such low marks because they were supposed to qualify for med school after their biology degrees.

They strayed off into a neighbouring ranch and I got a call from the security personnel there that they were sunbathing topless on the research vehicle.

The next cohort included one serious student who I actually enjoyed instructing and who finished her course successfully. By that time though, I was getting restless and had started writing an academic and financial proposal for my PhD, and I finished it about six months after my student had returned to the US to graduate. The then Director of Mpala, Dr Georgiadis, refused to let me do my PhD on the job, so I submitted my proposal to several conservation organizations, including the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society. I received a positive response from them (offering me a grant) which hit me with a strange mixture of feelings. First of all, I was elated at the prospect of starting my PhD, but I was completely baffled by the signature on the award letter. It was signed by the undergraduate student that I had supervised about eight months earlier. An American undergraduate who had spent two months in Africa was somehow qualified to assess a PhD proposal on the ecology of African wildlife written by an African MSc holder. It was my rude awakening to the racial prejudice that is de rigueur in African conservation practice. But I had to get my academic career moving, and indulge my first taste of the ultimate luxury that my competence and my work could afford me, which was the ability to say “NO”. It was with extreme pleasure that I wrote and signed my letter of resignation from my job at Mpala, leaving it on the Director’s desk.

Years later, after I finished my PhD and had a useful amount of conservation practice under my belt, I attended the Society for Conservation Biology conference in Sacramento, California, where there was a side event featuring publishers from several Ivy League universities. I excitedly engaged them because at the time Gatu Mbaria and I were in the middle of writing “The Big Conservation Lie”. I pointed out to all of them that there were no books about conservation in Africa written by indigenous Africans, but they were uniform in their refusal to even read the synopsis of what we had written. I later understood why when I learned that in US academia, African names — as authors or references — are generally viewed as devaluing to any literature.

An American undergraduate who had spent two months in Africa was somehow qualified to assess a PhD proposal on the ecology of African wildlife written by an African MSc holder.

From Sacramento, I made the short trip to Stanford University in Palo Alto, to give a seminar to an African Studies group. I felt honoured to be making an academic contribution at an Ivy League university and I prepared well. My assertions about the inherent prejudices in African conservation practice were met with stunned silence by the faculty, many of whom are involved with conservation research in Africa. One bright spot in that dour experience was the brilliant PhD student who echoed my views and pointed out that these prejudices existed within academia as well. I later found out that he was Kenyan — his name is Ken Opalo and he now teaches at Georgetown University.

Fast forward to today. The Big Conservation Lie was published, and after the initial wailing, breaking of wind, gnashing of teeth and accusations of racism, Mbaria and I are actually being acknowledged as significant thinkers in the conservation policy field and our literary input is being solicited by various publications around the world. Now, the cultural differences between how European and American institutions treat African knowledge are becoming clear (certainly in my experience). I have been approached by several European institutions to give talks (lectures), and have contributed articles and op-eds (to journals and magazines) and one book foreword. Generally, the approach is like this:

“Dear Dr Ogada, I am_______ and I am writing to you on behalf of________. We are impressed with what you wrote in _____ and would appreciate it if you would consider writing for us an article of (length) on (topic) in our publication. We will offer you an honorarium of (X Euros) for this work, and we would need to receive a draft from you by (date). . .” Looking forward to your positive response. . .”

When inviting me to speak, the letters are similarly respectful and appreciative of my time. The key thing is the focus on and respect for one’s intellectual contribution. Publications from American Ivy league schools typically say:

“Dear Dr Ogada, I am __________, the editor of __________. We find your thoughts on _______ very interesting and we are pleased to invite you to write an essay of________ (length) in our publication. Previous authors we have invited include (dropping about 6-8 names of prominent American scholars).

The entire tone of the letter implies that you are being offered a singular privilege to “appear” in the particular journal. It is even worse when being asked to give a lecture. No official communication, just a casual message from a young student saying that they would like you to come and talk to their class on__________ (time and date on the timetable). No official communication from faculty or the institution. After doing that a couple of times, I realized that the reason these kids are so keen to have an African scholar speak to them and answer all their questions is because they need his knowledge, but do not want to read his publications, or (God forbid) have an African name in the “references” section of their work.

The reason these kids are so keen to have an African scholar speak to them and answer all their questions is because they need his knowledge, but do not want to read his publications.

European intellectuals seem to be catching on to the fact that knowledge and intellect reside in people, not institutions. That is why they solicit intellectual contributions based on the source of an idea they find applicable in that space and time. Name recognition doesn’t matter to them, which is why they seek people like Ogada, who doesn’t even have that recognition in Kenya. The elite schools in US still place this premium on institutions, which is why whenever an African displays intellectual aptitude, those who are impressed don’t ask about him and his ideas, but where he went to school. They want to know which institution bestowed this gift upon him.

For the record, I usually wait about a week before saying “no” to the Ivy League schools. Hopefully, they read my blog and will improve the manner in which they approach me, or stop it altogether.

Aluta continua.

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Cuba Can Help Vaccinate the World

On 25 January, the Progressive International will host a special briefing live from Havana with Cuba’s leading scientists, government ministers and public health officials as part of its Union for Vaccine Internationalism.

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2022 began with a “tsunami” of new Covid-19 cases crashing over the world, according to the World Health Organization. Over 18 million cases have been recorded in the past week alone, a record number since the pandemic began two years ago. In the first 10 days of January, nearly 60,000 Covid-19 deaths have been recorded worldwide — though the total death count is far higher than the official statistics describe.

The Omicron variant is reported to have less “severe” implications among vaccinated patients. But the world remains perilously under-vaccinated: 92 of the WHO’s member countries missed the 2021 target of 40 percent vaccination; at the current pace of rollout, 109 of them will miss their 2022 targets by July.

These statistics tell a story of a persistent vaccine apartheid. Across the EU, 80 percent of all adults have been fully vaccinated against Covid-19. Meanwhile, only 9.5 percent of people in low-income countries have received a single dose. Omicron is a death sentence for thousands in these countries — and as the virus travels across the Global South, new variants will emerge that may be less “mild” for the vaccinated populations of the North.

But the governments of these Northern countries refuse to plan for global vaccination — or even meet their own pledges. By late last year, they had delivered only 14% of the vaccine doses that they had promised to poorer countries through COVAX, the UN vaccine-sharing initiative. Big pharmaceutical corporations are focused almost exclusively on production of boosters for the world’s rich countries, creating a shortfall of three billion doses in the first quarter of this year.

President Joe Biden could easily help fill this shortfall by compelling US pharmaceutical corporations to share their vaccine technology with poorer nations. But he has so far refused to do so. A new production hub in Africa — where only 3 percent of people are vaccinated — is now trying to replicate the Moderna vaccine. But without Moderna’s help, or Joe Biden’s executive action, production could take more than a year to begin.

Amidst this crisis of global solidarity, Cuba has emerged as a powerful engine of vaccine internationalism. Not only has the island nation successfully developed two Covid-19 vaccines with 90 percent effectiveness, and vaccinated more than 90 percent of its population with at least one dose of its homegrown vaccine, Cuba has also offered its vaccine technology to the world. “We are not a multinational where returns are the number one reason for existing,” said Vicente Vérez Bencomo of the Finlay Vaccines Institute in Cuba. “For us, it’s about achieving health.”

But the US and its allies continue to oppress and exclude Cuba from the global health system. The US blockade forced a shortage of syringes on the island that endangered its vaccine development and hindered mass production. US medical journals “marginalize scientific results that come from poor countries,” according to Vérez Bencomo. Meanwhile, the WHO refuses to accredit the Cuban vaccines, despite approval from regulators in countries like Argentina and Mexico.

That is why the Progressive International is sending a delegation to Havana: to combat misinformation, to defend Cuban sovereignty, and to help vaccinate the world.

Bringing delegates from the Union for Vaccine Internationalism, founded in June 2021 to fight the emerging apartheid, the Progressive International will convene Cuban scientists and government representatives to address international press and members of the scientific community in a showcase of the Cuban vaccine on 25 January.

The goals of the showcase are both local and global. Drawing attention to the promise of the Cuban vaccine and the perils of the US embargo against it, the showcase aims to forge connections between Cuba’s public biotech sector and manufacturers who might produce the vaccine and help the Cuban government recuperate the costs of its development.

In the process, the showcase aims to set an example of international solidarity in the face of the present global health crisis, advancing the cause of vaccine internationalism around the world.

This article was first published by Progressive International.

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DRC: Bring Patrice Lumumba Home

The return of Patrice Lumumba’s remains must not be an occasion for Belgium to congratulate itself, but for a full accounting of the colonial violence that led to the assassination and coverup.

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For much of the past year, there have been plans for the sacred human remains of the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s first post-independence prime minister, Patrice Émery Lumumba, to finally be returned to his children in Belgium, and then repatriated to the Congo. Originally scheduled for a ceremony on June 30, 2021, the 61st anniversary of the country’s independence passed with Lumumba’s remains still in the custody of Belgian authorities. The ceremony with Belgian King Philippe, current Prime Minister Alexander de Croo of Belgium, and Congo President Felix Tshisekedi, was then planned for January 17, 2022, the anniversary of the assassination. Last week, Tshisekedi announced another delay—this time until June 2022. The official reason for the delay was the rising number of COVID-19 cases in the Congo, but the pandemic crisis is deeply entangled with a series of other political maneuvers and other crises that are undoubtedly factors in the decision.

At the center of this story, Lumumba’s family continues to be victimized. As Nadeen Shaker recently reported, his children were forced to escape to Cairo during their father’s house arrest, never to see him again. The disturbing fact that the remains of Lumumba spent another Independence Day in Belgium may provide opportunities for metaphor and analogy, but, amid the widespread complicity in this ongoing desecration, the most important outcome must be to respect the ethical and legal claims of his children, which daughter Juliana Lumumba described in an open letter to the Belgian king last year.

The story of the execution and its aftermath is well told by Ludo de Witte in The Assassination of Patrice Lumumba. On January 17, 1961, Lumumba was killed along with comrades Maurice Mpolo and Joseph Okito by Belgian authorities, with the support of neocolonial Kantangan separatists and the US. Two days later, Gerard Soete, Belgian police commissioner of Katanga, and his brother exhumed the body to chemically eradicate all physical evidence of their crime in order to prevent the kind of mobilization which its identification would inspire. Though the execution was kept secret for nearly a month, its announcement inspired exactly what his executioners feared, as African people throughout the world engaged in protest and other revolutionary acts of remembrance—from the well-known demonstration at the United Nations, and other cities throughout the world to a legacy in a visual, musical, and literary culture that continues to this day.

In February 1961, while the Cultural Association of Women of African Heritage organized a major protest at UN headquarters in New York, Lumumba’s widow Pauline Opango Lumumba led a march of family and supporters to the UN offices of Rajeshawar Dayal in Kinshasa. There, she requested that the UN help her receive the remains of her husband for a proper burial. After Ralph Bunche offered “apologies” for the New York protest, Lorraine Hansberry “hasten[ed] publicly to apologize to Mme. Pauline Lumumba and the Congolese people for our Dr. Bunche.” Meanwhile, James M. Lawson of the United African Nationalist Movement and other Black activists organized a wake for Lumumba at Lewis Michaux’s Harlem bookstore. When Pauline died in Kinshasa in 2014, she was still waiting to bury her husband. She, and her iconic demonstration, are memorialized in Brenda Marie Osbey’s poem “On Contemplating the Breasts of Pauline Lumumba,” which is part of a long line of African American efforts to uplift the Lumumba family. The immediacy of Pauline’s demands remains after 6 years.

While Lumumba’s body was dissolved in sulphuric acid, Soete, like the US lynchers of Sam Hose and so many others, kept trophies of his victims as he traveled from the Congo to Belgium, often displaying them for friends and journalists. After Soete died, his daughter Godelieve continued her father’s tradition, culminating in a bizarre 2016 interview, during which a reporter found the remains in her possession. (In her efforts to defend her father, Godelieve further revealed that his brutality was visited upon his children.) The Belgian police intervened and, for the past five years, Lumumba’s remains have been held by the Belgian government responsible for his death. In September 2020, a court finally ruled they should be returned to the family.

These most recent delays are occurring at a time when the ongoing mistreatment of human remains is receiving public attention. The case of the Morton Collection at the University of Pennsylvania led activist Abdul-Aliy Muhammad to uncover the ongoing desecration of the remains of Tree and Delisha Africa, who were killed when the city of Philadelphia bombed their family’s home on May 13, 1985, leading to the discovery that the city held additional remains of the victims of its violence against the MOVE organization.

Since 2005, in South Africa, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) created the Missing Persons Task Team to identify the remains of the Black victims of the country’s apartheid era. Drawing on the expertise of researchers with experience in similar initiatives in Argentina and elsewhere, this government project has been deliberate in its efforts to include the families of the missing at all stages, while seeing their work as integral to the larger mission of the TRC, and further representative of a larger model of repatriation of human remains and possessions. As different as these cases of violence may be, government sanction—at multiple levels and taking different forms—remains constant.

In an October 2021 program hosted by Friends of the Congo, Juliana Lumumba explained that for her, as the daughter of a martyr, repatriation and memorialization of her father’s remains were not finite events to be completed like items checked off of a to-do list. Rather, the return must be part of a wider and ongoing process: “I told Belgium, that if we want a reconciliation we need reconciliation of memories because we can not make a reconciliation when our memories [are] so different and so contradictory.” Juliana’s words carry a particular weight at a time when the Special Parliamentary Commission on Belgian Colonial History has received a sharply critical historical report that may or may not lead to meaningful action of the sort that the family has demanded.

Lumumba’s son Guy-Patrice Lumumba opposes Tshisekedi’s efforts to exploit the repatriation for political gain. Tshisekedi himself is familiar with some of the political challenges of memorialization after the remains of his own father, longtime popular opposition leader Etienne Tshisekdi, spent more than two years in Europe before their return in 2019 after Felix’s election. Felix is quickly losing whatever claim he had on his own father’s mantle (see Bob Elvis’s song “Lettre à Ya Tshitshi for a recent indictment of the president’s abandonment of his father’s mantle). He may find value in an association with a revered nationalist icon amid political protests from opponents concerned about his overreaching efforts to control the country’s powerful electoral commission as the 2023 election cycle approaches.

Meanwhile, the younger Tshisekedi’s international standing has been consolidated through his position as head of the African Union, where his responsibilities include negotiating for the provision of COVID-19 vaccines for member states. He recently met with President Biden and made an official visit to Israel, the latter of particular concern given its historical involvement in mercenary efforts against pro-Lumumba rebels and its ongoing role in the plunder of the Congo’s resources (to say nothing of Tshisekedi’s support for Israel’s occupation of Jerusalem and its status as an observer at the African Union). Such actions highlight the extraordinary distance between Lumumba’s legacy and Tshisekedi’s leadership.

For decades, the Lumumba family has made a series of unanswered demands through formal inquiries and legal appeals. A group of scholars and activists have also asserted the return of Lumumba’s remains must not be an occasion for Belgium to congratulate itself, but rather an opportunity for a full accounting of the colonial violence that led to the assassination and its subsequent coverup.

Hopefully soon, Lumumba’s family can mourn on their own terms and have all of their demands for justice met immediately and without equivocation.

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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