Africans Not Welcome: The Punitive US Visa Application Process7 min read.
After 9/11, the focus of US policy towards immigrants and visitors turned sharply against Africans even though to date no African has been implicated in a terrorist attack on US soil.
Despite all its claims of being a nation that welcomes immigrants, a melting pot that embraces diversity, the United States has been anything but for the vast majority of non-white populations, especially Africans, who seek to enter the country either as visitors, students, temporary residents or as immigrants. I didn’t know just how unwelcoming the US was to Africans until I recently applied for a US visa. This was not the first time I had applied for this visa; I studied in the United States, and have been back several times since I graduated in the 1980s. I am not among those Kenyan students who went to the US and never came back home. I have never been refused a US visa and am not a member of any terrorist or criminal organisation.
Even so, I was given an interview date of 21 March 2024, which is almost two years after I sent in my application online. This after I had already parted with a 19,200-shilling non-refundable visa application fee, which in itself is an abomination. (Note that US citizens simply have to apply and pay US$50 for a Kenyan visa online that they are assured of getting within five days.) You could say that this highly unequal relationship is because we are a poor country with little international clout while the US is a rich superpower. And we need their dollars more than they need anything from us. However, in foreign relations, reciprocity is an accepted tenet. Not any more, it would appear.
It is estimated that the US embassy in Nairobi collects millions (if not billions) of shillings every year in visa fees from thousands of applicants who may never get a visa or who don’t need a visa anymore because the event they were supposed to attend in the US has already taken place. Basically, this means that Kenyans are subsidising the operating costs of US consular services. Why don’t they collect the fee when they are issuing the visa? This way, unsuccessful applicants would not feel cheated of their money. As one of my Twitter followers stated after I posted my frustration about my visa application, the process is a scam because it collects the money before any visa is issued or any interview date is scheduled, which means you cannot even change your mind about applying for the visa because the fee has already been paid in advance and there is no chance of getting it back. In fact, you have no chance of getting an interview date unless you have paid the fee. And even if you wait patiently for two years and do arrive at the US embassy for the interview on the scheduled date and time, you are not likely to get the visa because the interviewer will probably ask you why you need a visa to attend an event that has already taken place.
In its defence, the US Embassy posted on Twitter that these delays are occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic, which I find hard to believe because visa and travel restrictions during the first two years of the pandemic made it less, not more, likely for Kenyans to travel abroad. Kenya was the target of travel bans by many Western nations during the early months of the pandemic. Despite having the among the lowest infection rates in the world, Kenya was among a list of African countries whose citizens were denied entry into the UK and other European countries where infection rates were skyrocketing. You could say that at the time, an African travelling to European countries and the United States was more in danger of being infected with the coronavirus than if he or she had stayed home.
I didn’t apply for a US visa because I suddenly felt an urge to visit America. I have been officially invited to an academic conference on African cities in New York convened by an international organisation that has relations with a university in New York that has provided academic input to the conference’s various papers. The organisers have sent me a letter stating that that they will pay for my travel and accommodation. The conference was originally scheduled for June this year, but realising that many of the Kenyan participants would not get their visas on time, the organisers had to postpone the conference to sometime next year. But it looks likely that the conference will be postponed yet again or cancelled because it might take the majority of African participants at least two years to obtain a US visa.
Delegitimising African scholarship
When I tweeted about my predicament, some of my followers suggested that I attend the conference via Zoom. Others said I should not travel to the US at all, and should look for more Kenya-friendly places to visit. One follower even sent me a list of 70 countries where Kenyans do not require a visa or where they can apply for visas on arrival. (I have added Nepal to the list of countries I will be visiting.)
These sentiments have also been echoed by academics like Haythem Guesmi. In an article titled “The gentrification of African studies”, he wondered why the African Studies Association’s annual meeting and the annual conference of the African Literature Association are routinely held in North American cities. Guesmi, who was a PhD candidate in English Studies at the University of Montreal when the article was published, was commenting on the absurdity of situations where conferences focusing on African issues are held in Europe or North America and have panellists exclusively from the Western world – people who by virtue of their skin colour or citizenship have easy access to these venues, a privilege that citizens of African, Asian or Latin American countries do not have.
But it looks likely that the conference will be postponed yet again or cancelled because it might take the majority of African participants at least two years to obtain a US visa.
“This reality,” wrote Guesmi, “has generated numerous difficulties for Africa-based academics and scholars who are now forced to pay exorbitant, non-refundable visa fees in foreign currencies not always available to them and struggle to secure international travel funding. The resulting displacement and exclusion of continent-based Africanists have undermined the true purpose and identity of African studies; a pathological process commonly identified as gentrification.”
The marginalisation, or what Guesmi calls “gentrification” of African scholars from the field of African studies has led to an absence of Africans from public discussions and intellectual debates. “In the news or in public venues, there is an embarrassing preference to invite white Africanists to comment on every single topic, ranging from women’s oral culture all the way to electoral violence, and anything in between,” noted Guesmi.
Guesmi made a valid point – why should a conference about Africa be held outside the continent? Wouldn’t it be preferable if the conference to which I have been invited was held in Kenya, which would ensure maximum participation of Kenyan and African academics and professionals? Moreover, by holding these events in the West, are we not contributing to delegitimising home-grown African scholarship? Do Africans have to travel to the West to gain acceptance in the world of academia?
But both Guesmi and my Twitter followers have missed an essential point, which is that travelling abroad has become almost impossible for Africans, and this is simply unfair. Why do we have to go through torturous visa application processes? Why are we being denied an opportunity to mingle and network in person with our peers from the West, a penalty that is not imposed on people with more “acceptable” passports? Why is Africans’ participation at these events viewed with such suspicion by visa-issuing authorities? Why are we being denied the right to travel to whichever country we want yet an American or a Brit can waltz into this country without ever experiencing the kind of humiliation that Kenyans and other Africans are subjected to?
9/11 and its aftermath
How did we get to this ridiculous place? You could say that while the US has generally been hostile to non-white people entering its borders, this sentiment intensified after the September 2001 terror attacks on New York and Washington that injected a feeling of paranoia and xenophobia among US citizens and the US administrations that became wary of foreigners on their soils. Yet even though the terrorists who blew up the World Trade Centre were Saudis, no visa penalties were placed on Saudi nationals wishing to visit the US. Instead, the focus of US policy towards immigrants and visitors turned sharply against Africans even though to date no African has been implicated in a terrorist attack on US soil. Yet citizens of Saudi Arabia, a key US ally, can travel freely to the United States.
Kenya, or rather, the US embassy in Nairobi, was the target of the first major terrorist attack by Al Qaeda in 1997, but instead of extending a hand of compassion to Kenyans, who bore the brunt of that attack, with some 200 Kenyans losing their lives, Kenya was punished. (Osama bin Laden, the leader of Al Qaeda, was a Saudi national.) Al Shabaab’s terror attacks on Kenyan soil made it even harder for Kenyans to travel, as radicalised Kenyans, both Somali and non-Somali, were viewed as a potential security threat.
Why are we being denied an opportunity to mingle and network in person with our peers from the West, a penalty that is not imposed on people with more “acceptable” passports?
Yet, Kenya does not produce refugees as do neighbouring countries like Somalia, South Sudan and Eritrea. The dinghies carrying migrants and refugees across the Mediterranean to Europe are not full of Kenyans. We tend to travel legally to other countries (even when we over-stay our visas). But with this punitive visa regime, is it surprising that an increasing number of Africans are using human traffickers to gain access to Western nations? There is no doubt that some Kenyans who travel to the US never come back to Kenya and choose to remain illegal immigrants, but the same could be said of many Americans who decide to make Kenya their home yet are not subjected to punitive visa requirements. On the contrary, I know of many Westerners who have lived in Kenya as “tourists” for decades. Yet, despite following the rules, Kenyans are heavily penalised.
How can we continue viewing the US as the land of the free when that freedom is only accorded to people of one race? Has America’s “caste system” (as author Isabel Wilkerson defines it in her book Caste) once again relegated Africans to the bottom of the pile, as it did for four centuries when African slaves were defined as cargo or property, not as humans? During the transatlantic slave trade, Africans were forcibly taken to the US against their will. Now Africans are denied access to a country that their ancestors built with their sweat and tears, and for no pay. The war In Ukraine has showed us that this caste system also extends to refugees. While African, Syrian, Afghan and other non-white refugees and asylum seekers trying to get to Europe are generally vilified, European countries have opened their arms to the white refugees fleeing Ukraine.
Now Africans are denied access to a country that their ancestors built with their sweat and tears, and for no pay.
President Donald Trump did not hide his contempt for immigrants and non-white people, so Africans could expect to be treated badly at US embassies during his administration’s tenure. But under the more tolerant Biden administration, this kind of attitude is not just counter-productive, but also reflects badly on a government that is trying to clean up the carnage that Trump left behind. America’s superpower status may make it feel like it can treat citizens of poor African countries badly without suffering any consequences. But in a world as polarised as ours, it would be prudent for the US to show a kinder, more welcoming face to the rest of the world.
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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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