The Silent Undertones of Unending Conflict in Marsabit8 min read.
Historically, drivers of conflict in Marsabit County have been competition for land and water resources but the violence increasingly appears to be politically instigated.
Northern Kenya has long been associated with marginalization, inter-communal conflict and underdevelopment. The region shares a vast porous border with Ethiopia and Somalia, making it a suitable corridor for the unimpeded flow of illegal immigrants, illicit arms and drugs originating from neighbouring conflict zones.
Marsabit County, which borders Ethiopia to the north, is home to some 14 ethnic communities: Borana, Gabbra, Rendille, Garreh, Burji, Daasanach, Somali, Sakuye, Turkana, Ameru, Samburu, Konso, Watta and Elmolo. The Rendille, Gabbra and Borana are the dominant communities in terms of population and areas settled. These three communities together influence and drive the social, political and economic agendas. The contemporary political importance of the ethnic group is primarily a function of its size. However, the Burji – a relatively wealthy community concentrated around Mount Marsabit – arguably punch above their weight and have joined the powerful Borana, Gabbra and Rendille to become the fourth most influential force in the county’s ethnic politics.
Marsabit County continues to feature in the news constantly for the wrong reasons: insecurity and killings. It is a matter of grave concern that security in the county is going from bad to worse. Political leaders, faith-based groups and non-state actors have repeatedly sought protection from the government and the security agencies without success.
In January 2014, war broke out between the Borana and Gabbra communities in Moyale, leading to Deputy President William Ruto threatening to suspend the county government unless then Governor Ukur Yatani took responsibility for the insecurity in his area. But Raila Odinga accused Ruto and the Jubilee party of targeting Yatani, now National Treasury Cabinet Secretary, for being an Orange Democratic Movement governor.
The November 23 2018 issue of the Indian Ocean newsletter reported that Governor Mohamud Mohamed Ali had appealed to Nairobi over Yatani’s role in the escalating conflict between the Borana and Gabbra and communities. The paper claimed that Yatani had influenced the government to stop issuing national identity cards to members of the Borana community.
Borana and Gabbra rivalry
The rivalry between the Borana and the Gabbra dates back to the late 1990s and escalated in July 2005 with the Turbi Massacre in which more than 60 people, the majority of them schoolchildren, were killed. Ever since then, peace in Marsabit has remained elusive. On 10 April 2006, a plane carrying four area representatives and security officials from Nairobi to Marsabit on a peace and security mission crashed, killing everyone on board. For a short period, the deaths brought a hiatus to the fighting as the warring communities retreated into introspection; that incident left many wondering if the Borana-Gabbra conflict is stoked by competition for water and pasture or is fuelled by politics.
Traditional drivers of conflict
The historical stress factors leading to conflict have been studied and documented. They include climate change and environmental degradation; drought, famine and other natural catastrophes; resource and land-related conflicts (some relating to administrative and electoral boundaries); the proliferation of small arms and light weapons; and human-wildlife conflicts aggravated by the competing use of land for wildlife conservation in private conservancies.
Traditional security measures — disarmament and emergency deployments of security forces — only serve as a temporary measure. This is because the communities feel that the national government has been ambiguous in its response to the conflict, with some believing that the national authorities have failed to act decisively and impartially to negotiate a lasting solution to the crisis. Communities in remote areas have suffered the worst consequences of the insecurity because of the inhibiting context — a permissive environment and ungovernable spaces where these vulnerable communities live.
For years now, the planned killings of livestock herders, the calculated raids on rural settlements, the brutal murders of innocent women and poor quarry workers and the indiscriminate massacre of Boda Boda riders and commuters, including children on their way to school, have continued unabated, especially in Saku and Moyale constituencies. Attacks and killings in settlements and at water points occur two to three times a week. In the last two months, there have been clashes and killings in Funan Qumbi, Funan Idha, Elle-Borr and Elle-Dimtu. With the historical injustices not addressed and the “our man” syndrome taking root, the mistrust between the two communities is growing by the day.
The violence involving the Borana and Gabbra has steadily moved away from traditional resource-based conflicts to more sinister criminal acts fuelled by efforts to sustain economic and political gains.
Ukur Yatani’s efforts to rebrand the Watta community were seen as politically motivated to reduce the numerical strength of the Borana to which his political nemesis Governor Ali belongs. The Watta had decided to shed off their name — which they said was disparaging and meant to portray them as wanderers or beggars — to become the Wayyu. It is reported that Yatani had stood with them in their efforts to seek their own identity as a distinct ethnic group while he was governor. Critics accuse Yatani of using state resources to build his support base and engage in sowing discord.
Historically, the conflict between the two pastoralist communities has been over water and pasture but more than a decade and a half of countless peace meetings have borne no fruit. However, the dynamics have now shifted to the control of a KSh7 billion annual fund which points to a fight for political supremacy.
With the historical injustices not addressed, and the “our man” syndrome taking root, the mistrust between the two communities is growing by the day.
Security pundits have repeatedly claimed that the clashes and conflicts in Marsabit are also schemed by political forces who are determined to keep the county destabilised and to derail the development agenda of the elected leaders. Even though the responsibility of the attackers cannot be ignored, it is also becoming increasingly clear that there are conflict entrepreneurs and activists in the county who are involved in fomenting inter-ethnic conflicts and planning violent attacks. Communities that have co-existed peacefully for years and have a history of voting together are being turned against each other in order to cause political disunity.
Ethnic conflicts and killings cannot be planned or sanctioned by the entire community. It is often groups of individuals — working for themselves and advancing interests that are against the wellbeing of the community — who plan and cause bloodshed in the name of their community. No community should be branded as criminal. Appeals have been made to the security organs to cease placing the blame on all the elected leaders and elders of the warring communities because that approach has been counterproductive in the past; they should instead focus on apprehending the real planners and perpetrators of the violence.
The County Action Plan for integrating the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 and the National Strategy for Countering Violent Extremism (NSCVE) has not been implemented for more than two years now. The project partners include CIFA (Community Initiative Facilitation and Assistance), MWADO (Marsabit Women and Development Organisation), and SND (Strategies for Northern Development). The Saku Accountability Forum (SAF) is also involved in the project with funding from UN Women (Kenya).
The dawn of devolution
Historically, drivers of conflict in Marsabit County were competition for grazing lands and watering points. But not anymore. Today’s conflict is a result of scheming by groups intent on exploiting ethnic vulnerabilities and fears for political and economic gain.
Devolved politics is one factor exacerbating the conflict as it defines the economic and social realities of communities in unforeseen ways. The question of who makes executive decisions regarding the allocation of resources for development programmes that have the potential to change the lives of these previously marginalised people is the elephant in the room.
Devolution is the contextual background behind a ruthless competition for power and economic dominance that has spawned a new “tenderpreneur” class that is wreaking havoc in the region. Devolution has brought with it erosion of trust and intolerance amongst these groups. Visionless politics of ethnic supremacy, the politics around land and development projects, coupled with weak land tenure rights and the chronic failures of policing and justice, form the bedrock of militia activities under the guise of inter-communal violence.
There are conflict entrepreneurs and activists in the county who are involved in fomenting inter-ethnic conflicts and planning violent attacks.
The link between the conflict and elections was clear during the last two polls held in 2013 and 2017 under the devolved system of government. During these elections, the Gabbra community was pitted against the dominant Borana, and both formed alliances with minority ethnic groups. Simultaneously, the sophisticated weapons used by community members rendered local security forces helpless, and the Kenya Defence Forces had to use air power to stop the fighting.
Every electioneering period is followed by a cycle of ethnic violence in Marsabit. Yet many, including the media, continue to attribute the reason for the conflicts to fighting over resources.
Violent conflicts have also occurred between the Gabbra and Daasanach in the lower part of Marsabit County. Knee-jerk decisions by the national government such as disarming local police reservists have done little to calm the situation. Now the violence threatens to spiral out of control in an environment marred by mutual mistrust and suspicion.
Politicians and those who finance the conflicts use ethnicity and identity to mobilise and engage young illiterate people in violence to achieve their ego-fuelled personal political and economic goals. Every human life is sacred and special, but losing the young to this kind of evil violence is particularly heart-rending, and such cases are becoming far too frequent and almost normal. The injured are hospitalised, the dead are buried, politicians issue the same hollow, platitudinous statements and the police promise investigations, and that is where it all ends.
Laxity of security agencies
No arrests are made and when they are, no successful prosecutions follow. Too many grieving families are left traumatised and permanently scarred, with no real closure. And the cycle continues.
But while the incidents of violence could be politically motivated, no high-level national government official has visited the area; it would appear that the warring communities have been left to their own devices to make war or broker peace. There had been hope that the government’s June 26 statement would quell the violence but it has continued unabated.
Devolution is the contextual background behind a ruthless competition for power and economic dominance that has spawned a new “tenderpreneur” class that is wreaking havoc in the region.
Although local politicians have been arrested for political incitement, and meetings have been held between local leaders, interfaith groups and Kenyan and Ethiopian government officials, peace remains elusive. However, a cross-border peace initiative launched on 1 July 2019 with financial support from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) does signal hope and the decision to set up a community-based peace committee is encouraging although it will need full government support to work.
Peace and security are two sides of the same coin – they always walk together. It is the responsibility of the national government to guarantee the safety and security of all citizens, as enshrined in the constitution. However, all the available anecdotal evidence points to severe gaps in the capacity and willingness of the government’s various security and administrative branches to play this role effectively and fairly. The bottom line is that any government that consistently fails to safeguard the security of its citizens and their property has no legitimacy to govern.
The unspoken reality
The conflict appears increasingly driven by politically instigated ethnic territorial expansion (illegal settlements) and competition to increase voter numbers for the 2022 elections. The county’s last two polls stand out for the enmity and ethnic hatred that were manifested and which have grown to untenable levels.
This is the unspoken reality but when peace meetings are called, all speakers use code words, phrases and innuendos to spin and sidestep the truth, declare a fake ceasefire, pray for rain and peace, and disperse. This charade of duplicitous interactions followed by inaction must stop. First, we need to frame the challenge and articulate it clearly and truthfully. If our moral compass is pointing in the right direction, we must speak up; we cannot and should no longer remain silent.
Any government that consistently fails to safeguard the security of its citizens and their property has no legitimacy to govern.
A practical solution to the Marsabit conflict is to find the strategies needed to eliminate the reasons that fuel divisive politics among the resident communities. A long-term solution for sustainable peace in Marsabit requires a means of reconstitution and a process of empowerment, of an inclusive and equitable political system; the kind of peace that will make life in that the county worth living, the type that enables parents, families and communities to hope and build a better life for their children.
If Marsabit voters do not collectively reject those politicians who do not seem to value human life, who lie to them repeatedly and disastrously, who waste or misuse their resources with impunity, then they deserve their fate.
The fact of the matter is that conflict in Marsabit is local and manufactured. Therefore, the solution can only come from the communities themselves, and it is not beyond them. Accepting death, suffering, and pain is not an option anymore.
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Unpacking the Disinformation Landscape in Kenya
How the misinformation community came together to collaborate and tackle the false information around the last general election.
In April 2022, I stepped up to lead the collective project, a collaborative journalism project that brought together fact-checkers, journalists, podcasters, digital media influencers, cartoonists, and the tech community to fight false information in Kenya. The year-long project changed the way countries prepare to deal with false information around elections.
The immense opportunity to lead the collective in the fight against election mis-/disinformation in Kenya in 2022 exposed both the players and the layered gaps within our sense-making processes as a country. I did end up in the mis-dis-mal-information space partly as a result of my training as a lawyer, a podcaster (by choice), and a feminist (by necessity), all of which have been crucial tools as we set our eyes on information pollution. I eventually ended up in the information integrity space through the work I was doing with the Mine is a Comment Podcast, a platform that brings minorities together to talk about how social, political and economic decisions affect their lives.
Tackling misinformation was a fortuitous experiment to fight fake news not only around elections but also in the prevalent everyday narratives. For the first time, the misinformation community came together to collaborate and tackle the false information around elections. The community has everyone in it–journalists from independent, mainstream and community media; fact-checkers; content creators like me who were doing amazing podcasts at the time; digital media influencers; cartoonists; journalism students, and even state regulators.
Mal-mis-dis-information issues in Kenya
The desire to bring all on board and address the various strands of misinformation meant we were all coming together with the lessons learned from previous elections about how false information polluted public debate in the 2013 and 2017 elections. We wanted to create public awareness about information pollution, its effect on elections and on our country’s political hygiene, and to teach people how to spot false information, how to debunk it, and how to disrupt the networks that spread these falsehoods. Besides, we needed to be creative about engagement with the media, the public, online storytellers, the government, and social media platforms. Coming together to do these things just made sense. In short, that’s how the collective came about.
We saw Fumbua (the collective) partner with organisations such as Africa Check, Google News Initiative, and the Media Council of Kenya to offer training, including digital literacy training workshops, to the general public. What the collective did was to get the players to offer joint training, not just to media professionals and journalism practitioners, but to anyone interested in fighting false information. We needed to scale that fight, recruit more people to the cause, so that we would have a reasonable number of people pushing back against false information online.
We had targeted to reach 60 people based on our budget, but we received nearly 300 applications. In the end, we retained just over 100, but many of those who applied are still on the waiting list. We hope that when funding allows, we will give them those important digital literacy skills to navigate the information ecosystem, not just during elections, but even right now, in-between elections when false information is still spreading.
The quality of false information during the elections had several waves depending on the phase of the electoral process. With the general election set to take place on 9 August 2022, from April to July, at the height of the campaign period, a lot of the false information centred on the candidates, their qualifications and their track record. The next wave of false information came very close to the elections and seemed to cast doubt on key institutions like the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission and the police, and in a way targeted the credibility of the process. The thing with this kind of dis-information is the lack of public awareness about what government institutions are doing, thus creating an information vacuum that is easily filled with false information, wild theories and dangerously unhinged opinions presented as facts.
When the results were trickling in, the electoral commission did something unprecedented. It released all the result forms from all the polling stations in the country. Anyone with an internet connection, a calculator and the patience to go through the forms, could sit down and tally the results. It is at this point that there was a surge of false information as some people declared the winners, claiming they had done a tally, even while the electoral commission was still doing the maths.
We saw verified accounts spread false information about the leading candidate. It didn’t help that media houses were doing the tallying based on their individual criteria, and so one media house would show one candidate leading, and the next media house would show the other. There was a running joke at the time that people tuned in to the station that showed that their “fifth president” was ahead.
Then, there came the useful but really ineffective advisories that social media platforms Twitter and Facebook put on posts declaring the results—they merely added a disclaimer that the official results hadn’t yet been declared. But that advisory didn’t disrupt the cycle. The falsehoods kept spreading.
We saw verified accounts spread false information about the leading candidate.
As I conclude, I must point out that what stood out for me was the relentless and consistent gender disinformation against women running for office and women with public-facing accounts like activists, political commentators and journalists. They were attacked just because of their political views. Our colleagues at Africa Check wrote about it.
How big tech handles misinformation
The collaboration with social media platforms was made possible by several of our collective members who were working with and researching the role and impact of social media platforms during the elections. These activities raised similar concerns that needed to be addressed collectively.
Meta worked with fact-checkers such as PesaCheck and Africa Check, who were part of the collective, to clean up false information on Facebook. Twitter had a partnership with Africa Check, as did Tiktok which worked with other collective members to deal with false information.
We had a lot more expectations from the platforms with regard to content moderation and taking down content spreading false information. We still need to talk.
Then we had influencers and other content creators put together very engaging content to educate the public about the risks and dangers of false information during elections. These included WOWZI, a digital marketing company and also a member of the collective. We also worked with Esther Kazungu, Njugush, Abel Mutua and Wixx Mangutha. The reason we used influencers was because, as we neared elections, politicians had recruited their army of influencers to spread false information. We had to fight fire with fire, to get influencers who were passionate about facts to help us to spread accurate information and tell the public about the dangers of false information. Our campaign with influencers was important to amplify our message about verifying messages received before sharing them.
Working collaboratively in a space such as this has its own challenges because when you work collaboratively, you have to be clear about expectations and what you bring to the table. When that is not clear, there is the risk of a member feeling underutilised. The election was also a busy period for everyone and so availability was a bit of a challenge which was understandable. There were also challenges in the form of donor funding. Donors are known to fund a lot of electoral work and this could lead to a sense of competition among members of the collective. Collaboration cures this but not with every member given that the collective was young at that point. The way forward is to cultivate trust and really build on a collaborative way to fundraise together.
As we neared elections, politicians had recruited their army of influencers to spread false information.
But to be honest, I don’t really consider these challenges as such, they are opportunities for coming up with better communication with regard to availability, expectations on both ends and how to engage with each other to build a stronger collective for the work ahead. The challenge of false information is not going away soon; we just have to be smarter about how we fight back. We are happy to see that the collaborative model is being adopted in countries where one of our partners, Africa Check, is working in Nigeria which held elections last February.
The future of combating misinformation
There is going to be a lot more training, dialogue and creative ways to tackle the information pollution we are experiencing. We will have media and digital literacy programs, campaigns against gender(ed) disinformation, and we want to also focus on holding our leaders accountable for the promises they made, not just in the counties, but also at the national government level. There’s a lot of work to be done, and I am excited about being part of it.
The challenge of misinformation and disinformation will be around for a long time. As the economy in Kenya goes through its current challenges, more people will get desperate and anxious about the future. That fear will be preyed upon by the merchants of false information, this time in rip-offs, usually phoney investment opportunities, fake property sales, and outright scams.
As the economy in Kenya goes through its current challenges, more people will get desperate and anxious about the future.
People must always remember that not all publicly available information is accurate. They must be very cautious when consuming it. It is also possible for false information to be amplified by trusted and verified sources like the media so don’t beat yourself up when you believe the information. Don’t judge yourself too harshly. Being deceived happens even to the best of our institutions because mis/dis-information is a problem across all sectors. To be safe, just stay alert.
The Blind Spot: A Graphic Novel on Food Security and Farmers’ Rights
Chief Nyamweya shines a light on the central issues of food security and the welfare of smallholder farmers in Kenya.
Some time back in May 2020, an incident occurred in Mombasa that stunned the nation. The Daily Nation reported a story of a Kisauni widow who was forced to boil stones to give her children false hope that she had some food for them. The story sent shockwaves across the country and ignited a conversation about the magnitude of the hunger plaguing Kenyan households.
The story of Peninah Kitsao is not an isolated incident. All over the country, ordinary Kenyans are struggling to put food on the table due to biting inflation that has seen commodity prices soar to nearly unaffordable levels. Failed rains and a drought of a severity never witnessed before in the history of the country, especially in northern Kenya, have worsened a dire situation.
Interventions by state and non-state actors have arguably not been enough as there have been reports from certain parts, such as Samburu, of people drinking dirty water and eating dog meat to survive. The country is essentially in a deep hole. Coupled with the drying up of the rivers and lakes that used to serve vulnerable communities, it is safe to say that the government and other agencies have had blind spots in dealing with the situation.
Route to Food Initiative’s graphic novel The Blind Spot, which is written and illustrated by Chief Nyamweya, should be read against the backdrop of some of these startling developments. The work of committed art is to expose the ills in society, not just by dropping popular catchphrases and revolutionary slogans, but by disturbing the conscience of the nation. Such works of art are expected to put us on track for what needs to be done to set things right.
That’s exactly what Nyamweya’s comic offering is all about.
Worrying policy gaps
The central issues of food security and the welfare of smallholder farmers shine throughout the slim graphic novel, bringing into sharp focus policy gaps and a lack of commitment from leaders to correct the mistakes of the past.
The visual narrative opens with a protest by Kajibora residents and farmers at the Kajibora County Hall. Chanting outside the county governor’s residence, the agitated crowd demands justice for one of their own, Karisa, who has committed suicide after auctioneers sell his land to recover an unpaid debt.
The protest also provides the space and opportunity for the residents and farmers to demand “lower prices on food, better quality food and enhanced protection of Kenya’s ecosystems [and] land reforms.” Demonstrations are not new in the country; with livelihoods threatened by forces beyond their control even as the national and county governments drag their feet to alleviate the suffering, it is inevitable that ordinary people would take such drastic measures.
The Mzee Maona-led Jembe Revolution calls on Governor Nyoni to deal with food insecurity as a human rights issue and to protect smallholder farmers from predatory multinationals. The corporations are often accused of exploitation through the introduction of harmful production methods and industrial processes that threaten biodiversity.
The fictionalised revolution echoes the vigorous pushback by various stakeholders, including farmers, politicians and ordinary Kenyans, who have questioned the government’s proposal to introduce genetically modified foods.
While those in support of the introduction of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) into the country have a valid argument that Kenya and the continent at large are dealing with a serious food crisis that needs never-before-tested solutions, those against them argue that farmers and consumers are likely to suffer. This is because there are growing fears that the multinationals that distribute GM seeds will have the monopoly to dictate to farmers which seeds to use, and the scenario is likely to deny them the agency to produce food on their own terms and according to their preferences.
Putting Western interests first
In other words, the prioritisation of Western interests, as it often emerges in Nyamweya’s narrative, where the governor is accused of focusing on “the large scale production of a few food crops and protecting the interests of big agribusiness”, is a reality that policymakers will have to contend with to effectively address the issue of food security in the country.
A DW documentary titled Africa, GMOs and Western Interests, which aired two months ago, revealed the hidden hand of philanthropists such as Bill Gates, through the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, in pushing for the introduction of GMOs in select African countries to benefit private businesses in the West. Therefore, when Kajibora farmers and residents, through their Chama cha Wakulima (CCW) party, wave a placard reading SAVE OUR SEEDS, they are not expressing a grievance coming from without but a genuine fear born out of the reality that, on the one hand, the forces of globalisation are unavoidable (food production systems and the overall supply chain can never only be local) and on the other, the reality of the weak political system that hardly prioritises the interests of its citizens, least of all smallholder farmers.
To give credit where it is due, President William Ruto’s introduction of the fertiliser subsidy is likely to be a game changer for a majority of farmers who are unable to afford the essential commodity. The subsidised fertiliser is retailing at KSh3,500 for a 50kg bag, down from KSh6,000. The use of technology for registration (farmers use their phones) will also help eliminate red tape and corruption and thus improve efficiency in distribution, which is key to the timely use of the fertiliser to boost yields.
The cries and anxieties of the Kajibora farmers take a dramatic twist following the death of Mzee Maona when CCW is wracked by fissures as various members pull in different directions. As is characteristic of Kenyan political parties not founded on a solid vision and ideology, the core issues—such as sustainable agriculture for the farmers—that define the party’s agenda become a footnote. Instead, the so-called ideological differences (a euphemism for selfish interests) erupt during the requiem mass for Maona when party members engage in a vicious fistfight before the bereaved mourners.
Enter the scions of Mzee Maona, Sifa and Yona—highly educated, exposed and polished but with contrastingly opposing views on how to reimagine the patriarch’s vision of putting the farmers’ agenda first—and the narrative is set for a fascinating climax.
What emerges from the troubled relationship between Sifa, a professor, and Yona, now an aspiring Kajibora governor, are the intra-generational tensions of how to approach the pressures and complicated issues that have become synonymous with modern living. This is especially true when it comes to championing the rights of ordinary people such as farmers.
As is characteristic of Kenyan political parties not founded on a solid vision and ideology, the core issues that defined the party’s agenda become a footnote.
Sifa is distrustful of the political process for fixing societal issues. She is an advocate of fighting for human rights from outside the political process since, in politics, you “promise the people paradise while only delivering paperwork”. While her worldview is sometimes abstract and detached and elitist, she deserves credit for not losing focus on the immediate priorities that should be urgently addressed to make life better for small-scale farmers.
Yona, on the other hand, styles himself as a pragmatist and realist who is in touch with what is happening on the ground but comes across as vain, selfish and arrogant. He is a perfect representative of Kenya’s political class for whom governance is about foreign investment, rather than the people. He says that “a key part [of his] job as governor will be to attract investment to Kajibora”. This includes doing the bidding of multinationals like Green Shots Corporation, which is accused of controlling the food prices and the supply chains that are vital to farmers and consumers.
The role of the youth
However, what is poignant in the clash between Mzee Maona’s two grandchildren is the involvement of the youth—whether for good or bad—in debating the issues of food security and fair agricultural policies. While their approaches are often different, there is a genuine concern and passion that, in real life, should be encouraged and even rewarded.
Statistics indicate that the average age of the Kenyan farmer is 61 years. A revival of the 4K Clubs that were the craze in the 1990s under the 8-4-4 education system has been mooted as a way to entice young people to return to the soil. These are noble interventions that are likely to boost agricultural output since the youthful population is not just energetic enough to take up the challenge but also because modern farming involves access to the right information which a tech-savvy generation can exploit in this digital age.
When Dalili, a member of the CCW and a former close ally of Mzee Maona, encourages Sifa to join them on the anniversary of Jembe Day commemorating the revolt of Kajibora farmers and residents, she is essentially signalling a new way of addressing food insecurity. She tells Sifa that “our youth need to see where it all started”. The statement is profound because it acknowledges both the complexity and enormity of the task of streamlining food systems and the urgent need to bring diverse groups of people on board.
More importantly, sustainable agriculture has the potential to create jobs for thousands of jobless youth unable to secure the increasingly elusive white-collar jobs. According to the November 2022 Agriculture Sector Survey, the industry “employs over 40 percent of the total population and more than 70 percent of the rural populace”. This is a significant figure that is likely to increase even more if the youth are given the incentive to join forces in the overall agricultural production process.
Nyamweya’s only shortcoming is the exclusion of the voices of ordinary farmers from the entire narrative. As is characteristic of top-down policies, and unlike the bottom-up approach, there is a tendency to speak on behalf of the masses, to pretend to know what is best for them. A majority of the characters in the text speak of the “right” agricultural policies and approaches that need to be adopted to boost yields and food security. However, ironically, they behave like the multinationals that often impose their decisions on farmers without taking their views.
The approach is fraught with its own blind spots, not just because it is condescending to the farmers—those who are directly affected—but also because it poses the risk of aggravating an already bad situation. Talking about revolutions and uprisings is not enough to effectively transform the agricultural sector, even if the calls are to rid it of the cartels and the brokers present along the production chain.
Also, an erudite knowledge of the politics of food and the manipulation by multinationals cannot replace the basic principle that the farmer has to, first and foremost, speak for himself or herself. Does the farmer want to experiment with other seeds? Is the farmer only interested in the large-scale cultivation of staple foods? Is the farmer comfortable with the multinationals? What exactly is in the farmer’s mind? It is not always necessary that all foreign players that intervene in formulating agricultural policies have ulterior motives. One Acre Fund, an organisation founded by a non-Kenyan, has significantly helped smallholder farmers in western Kenya boost their farm output through the use of the right seeds and agricultural techniques and methods. I have seen this first-hand.
The statement is profound because it acknowledges both the complexity and enormity of the task of streamlining food systems and the urgent need to bring diverse groups of people on board.
However, despite the aforementioned shortcomings, Nyamweya’s artistic intervention cannot be downplayed. The issue of food security cannot be left to politicians and policymakers alone. This is not just because food is a basic need, but because a healthy and productive nation has the potential to improve the life expectancy and of children afflicted by malnutrition.
More importantly, a visual narrative approach is a welcome addition to a radical way of acknowledging the enormous capacity of art to surprise and reimagine how to deal with the existential anxieties of our time, such as food insecurity, climate change-induced drought and destruction of biodiversity. It is also a wake-up call to leaders, policymakers and other stakeholders that the conventional way of dealing with the challenges affecting farmers might have to change. Nyamweya’s book is a must-read for everyone who cares deeply about the future of our country and the coming generations.
Queer Lawfare in Africa – Legal Strategies in Contexts of LGBTIQ+ Criminalisation and Politicisation
The concept of lawfare, describes long-term battles over heated social and political issues, where actors on different sides employ strategies using rights, law and courts as tools and arenas.
The Supreme Court of India is anticipated to conduct hearings and deliver judgments in some important issues concerning the LGBTQIA+ community- ranging from the constitutionality of the blood donation guidelines that discriminate persons based on sexual orientation and gender identity to petitions on marriage equality (under both the Special Marriage Act and the Hindu Marriage Act). In this context, the book Queer Lawfare in Africa, edited by Adrian Jjuuko, Siri Gloppen, Alan Msosa and Frans Viljoen makes for a relevant and compelling read.
Queer Lawfare, according to the authors, is a strategy where rights and/ or laws are tactically employed to advance politically contested goals with regards to the rights of the LGBTQIA+ community. In the words of Siri Gloppen, Adrian Jjuuko, Frans Viljoen, Alan Msosa, the term “lawfare” used in the book describes the following:
The concept of lawfare, as used in this book, describes long-term battles over heated social and political issues, where actors on different sides employ strategies using rights, law and courts as tools and arenas. While sometimes associated with the misuse of law for political ends, ‘lawfare’ is here used as a descriptive, analytical term, de-linked from (the perceived) worthy-ness of the goal. The association with warfare is intentional and important: these are ongoing ‘wars’, with hard ideological cleavages and iterative battles. They are typically fought on several fronts and the contestants on each side have long term goals that they seek to advance by way of incremental tactics, often responding to, or anticipating their opponents’ moves, as well as other aspects of their (always potentially shifting) opportunity structure.
The book looks into queer lawfare in thirteen African nations- South Africa, Mozambique, Kenya, Botswana, Uganda, Malawi, Nigeria, Zambia, Ghana, Senegal, Gambia, Ethiopia and Sudan. Much like India, a lot of the nations discussed in the book had a criminal provision very similar to section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (before it was read down by the Supreme Court in Navtej Johar v. Union of India). Thereby, in many of these nations decriminalisation of sexual intercourse between consenting adults- irrespective of their sexual orientation or gender identity became (and in some countries still is) one of the first major goals of queer lawfare.
In some of the countries discussed in the book (particularly in those where queer lawfare has led to realisation of substantial legal gains for the LGBTQIA+ community), the movement started with seemingly neutral rights battles which intersected with discrimination law for instance, the right to association. The right to association cases in queer lawfare majorly consist of organisations or coalitions- established with the aim of further LGBTQIA+ rights- challenging the decision of the government to disallow their registration (set in a legal context where homosexuality is criminalised). In Botswana, such a challenge was decided in favour of the LGBT organisation, Lesbians, Gays and Bisexuals of Botswana (LEGABIBO) by the Court of Appeal (see also, the recent judgment of the Supreme Court of Kenya). In Mozambique on the other hand, the Mozambican Association for the Defence of Sexual Minorities (LAMBDA) operates under a feminist umbrella organisation since it is not legally registered and as a natural corollary, the queer lawfare is influenced much by the strategies used by the feminist movement.
The book also refreshingly looks into the social contexts of each nation and discusses how despite LGBTQ+ movements sharing the same vision of emancipation, the means employed to achieve the end varies depending on social and political contexts in different countries. It also subtly gets across the point that there is ‘no one size fits all’ solution when it comes to queer lawfare. It discusses the different stages at which queer lawfare is in and how it varies from country to country- from South Africa where giant strides have been made in the judicial sphere to Ethiopia where ‘online lawfare’ is more prevalent due to which there is an absence of a significant progressive legal change.
As the marriage equality petition is listed for hearing before the Supreme Court of India is being heard by the Supreme Court of India, the chapter on queer lawfare in South Africa becomes particularly relevant. The landmark judgment of the Constitutional Court of South Africa in Minister of Home Affairs v. Fourie that recognised marriage equality notably held that the constitutional rights of persons cannot be undermined or be determined by the religious beliefs of some persons. In this judgment, Justice Albie Sachs read the words “or spouse” after the words “husband” and “wife”, into certain provisions of the Marriage Equality Act, 1961. As has been articulated by Jayna Kothari in this piece, the adoption of a similar strategy in the marriage equality proceedings before the Supreme Court of India is central to making the provisions of the Special Marriage Act (“SMA”) more inclusive. Reading in the words “of spouse” after the words “wife” and “husband” used in various provisions of the Special Marriage Act in India would allow persons irrespective of their sexual orientation or gender identity to get the reliefs conferred by the SMA ranging from solemnization of marriage to provision of alimony.
The chapter also confronts the challenge of limited judicial imagination while dealing with marriage equality and states that the judgment delivered by the Constitutional Court of South Africa (which was hailed as progressive) still caters to the gender binary vision- one where the institution of marriage is valourised and idea of a ‘permanent same-sex life partnership’ essentially contains the characteristics of a typical heterosexual marriage. The chapter also highlights how the ‘good homosexual’ visualised by the Constitutional Court is generally ‘a partnered middle class, if not upper middle class, man or woman who, in a country like South Africa where class continues to follow race, is almost invariably white’ thereby bringing to light the class and racial undertones underlying the legal recognition of such unions. In India, given that the institution of marriage is intrinsically tied into caste, property and patriarchy, it will remain to be seen how the Supreme Court will navigate through complex questions of intersectionality while adjudicating this case.
The book also makes a passing reference to the transnational impact of judgments on queer rights delivered by the Indian Supreme Court. For example, where submissions made before the Kenyan High Court in EG v. Attorney General and the high court decision in Botswana in Letsweletse Motshidiemang v Attorney General were influenced by the judgment of the Supreme Court of India in Navtej Johar v. Union of India. This also points out to the butterfly effect in progressive queer jurisprudence and the important role the constitutional courts in India have to fulfill in the days ahead.
Another important feature is that none of the chapters miss an opportunity to inform the readers about the perseverance and resilience of LGBTQIA+ organizations, coalitions and activists. It does the important work of documenting their role in shaping the legal destiny despite facing legal setbacks and risks of coercive action by the state. It is a fitting tribute to the indomitable spirit of the queer rights movement across the said nations in Africa to challenge the legal and political system, despite it being designed to fail them.
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