As the two East African countries heighten competition against each other in providing transshipment logistics for the region’s landlocked countries, how the one-year-old Kenya Kwanza government employs its diplomatic tact to navigate a costly non-tariff barrier erected by Tanzania to deny Mombasa Port transit business will put Kenya in the spotlight.
Although the two countries can be applauded for tackling a significant number of Non-Tariff Barriers (NTBs) between them since President Samia Suluhu came to power – more than any previous administration – Tanzania has scored poorly on a single – sinister – NTB; the country has consistently failed to create a geofence on a 15-kilometre stretch of road past the Taveta-Holili One-Stop Border Post that would allow Kenya to use the new Voi-Taveta-Singida-Kobero link road to serve Burundi, Rwanda and some parts of Tanzania instead of the longer Central Corridor Road that connects them to the port of Dar es Salaam.
For a road section to be considered geofenced, it is supposed to have inspection points and cargo passing through it can be tracked electronically for taxation and avoidance of dumping of goods in a country. Geofencing also guards against cargo theft or loss while in transit.
The East African region has embraced this concept for a number of years now. The Northern Corridor route from Mombasa Port to Malaba and onward to Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi has been fully geofenced and the movement of cargo is monitored through a Regional Electronic Cargo Tracking System (ECTS) system operated by the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA). Any slight movement of the goods outside the geofence sends a red alert for immediate action.
The absence of geofencing on that section of the Voi-Taveta-Singida-Kobero road has worked against Rwanda and Burundi, in particular, as they now use the much longer route to import through the port of Dar es Salaam.
To use the Taveta route, which was tarmacked in 2018, importers are forced to use the traditional bonds system that has been abandoned by the region, a tedious manual process that causes costly delays that surpass any benefit that would accrue from using the shortened distance.
Bilateral trade between Kenya and Tanzania was expected to get a major boost when the road was constructed and a One Stop Border Post (OSBP) at Taveta and Holili, hosting government agencies on either side of the border, was opened.
In Kenya, the new road deviates from the Northern Corridor at Voi town, making it the most important link between Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi, especially for imports and exports. It was estimated that the OSBP would reduce transit time at the two border posts by 30 per cent.
“It’s a demonstration of the trust between the two countries and that the One People, One Destiny dream is slowly being realised through various East Africa Community initiatives,” Tanzania Authorities put it during the OSBP launch.
The Kenyan section of the Holili-Taveta-Mwatate Road is 135 km long. The section between Voi and Mwatate was not under the project since it was in good condition.
Up to 2003, at least 60 per cent of the cargo destined for Rwanda and Burundi passed through Mombasa and the Northern Corridor before traders began to shun the Kenyan facilities citing congestion at the port and insecurity and corruption on the roads, which Kenya comprehensively addressed in 2007 when it introduced Container Freight Stations (CFSs) that gave the port breathing space to tackle its perennial congestion problem by expanding port facilities.
According to Justus Nyarandi, the Executive Secretary of the Northern Corridor Transit Transport Coordination Authority (NCTTCA) headquartered in Mombasa, there is a great need to agree to geofence the Taveta Road section, which would allow the use of the single customs facility that allows some goods to be cleared and taxed at the points of entry.
Up to 2003, at least 60 per cent of the cargo destined for Rwanda and Burundi passed through Mombasa and the Northern Corridor.
NCTTCA has already presented this geofencing case to the East African Community Council of Ministers and is now roping in the Commissioners of Customs to compel Tanzania to geofence so that transporters can use Regional Electronic Cargo Tracking Seals (RECTS) instead of the tedious bond application and cancellation processes.
The NCTTCA’s annual Northern Corridor Transport Observatory Report for 2022 indicates that the port of Mombasa handled only 977 tonnes of cargo destined for Burundi, constituting 0.1 per cent of the transit market, and 181,286 tonnes of cargo for Rwanda, representing 4.2 per cent of the market. At over 75 per cent and 12 per cent for Uganda and South Sudan, respectively, these two countries are the biggest transit markets for Mombasa Port.
“The volume of the Burundi cargo passing through the port of Mombasa is too low. If the geofencing is implemented, the volume would go up to 30–40 per cent,” Nyarandi said, adding that by using the port of Mombasa, Rwanda and Burundi would cut the transit distance by between 300 and 400 kilometres, translating to a significant drop in the cost of fuel and reducing the cost of transport, the crossing of two border points notwithstanding.
The new route was expected to open up fresh competition between Kenya and Tanzania, especially for transit cargo. For over a decade now, the two countries have strived to outsmart each other to become the preferred hub for the East African regional transit market. Rwanda and Burundi prefer to use Dar es Salaam Port while South Sudan prefers Mombasa Port.
Due to the emerging strength of the port of Dar es Salaam in recent years, the Kenyan government has initiated a number of reforms to cement its position as the gateway to East and Central Africa. For instance, it has now increased the free storage days before the return of empty containers to the shipping lines from 9 to 15 days.
The Intergovernmental Steering Committee on Ease of Doing Business through the Port Reforms Working Group High-Level Consultative Forum recently made a raft of recommendations that, once fully implemented, will make the Northern Corridor more competitive.
The conveners of the forum were led by the Head of State, President William Ruto, the Council of Governors Chairperson Ann Waiguru, the Cabinet Secretary in charge of the Ministry of Investments, Trade and Industry Moses Kuria, Roads and Transport Cabinet Secretary Kipchumba Murkomen, and Salim Mvurya, Cabinet Secretary in charge of Mining, Blue Economy, and Maritime Affairs.
In a report released in July 2023, the forum tasked all the Partner Government Agencies (PGA) involved in cargo clearance and the private sector to embrace round-the-clock work including weekends to ensure faster clearance of goods and improve cargo dwell time and ship turnaround.
The county governments through which the corridor traverses were asked to stop levying cess or any fees on transit trucks to facilitate international trade and improve the competitiveness of the Northern Corridor.
The report noted that there is a need to review and harmonise the charges levied by various shipping lines and to regulate the arbitrary charges introduced by other cargo interveners that have made Mombasa Port more expensive by up to US$500 per container, the report noted.
“Shipping lines operating in Mombasa Port grant 9 days free period for the return of the empty containers for local imports, 30 days for Uganda, and 15 days for Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and South Sudan cargo. The ports of Dar es Salaam, Durban, and Egypt grant more days. This makes the port of Mombasa non-competitive and discourages customers from using the facility since they incur demurrage charges due to the shorter free period by shipping lines taking into account the transit distance for DRC and South Sudan,” the report said.
Dar es Salaam Port does not charge shippers Terminal Handling Charges and Lift-on/Lift-off (LoLo) while Mombasa Port charges US$99 and US$148 for a 20ft and a 40ft container, respectively, for the former, and US$30 and US$40 for a 20ft and a 40ft container, respectively, for the latter.
Other unique charges levied by the shipping lines in Mombasa Port include Container Cleaning Charges, Container Management Fees, Logistics Management Fees and Equipment Management Fees.
KRA was also asked to acquire additional drive-through scanners. This will minimise scanning delays and result in efficient cargo offtake at the port of Mombasa, with the task force recommending fast-tracking of the Customs Agents and Freight Forwarders’ Bill that has been developed by the Federation of East African Freight Forwarders Associations (FEAFFA) to professionalise the sector.
Compared to Mombasa Port, Dar es Salaam Port is rapidly closing existing infrastructural gaps and it has gone up in World Bank rankings. Kenya now ranks below both the port of Dar Salaam and Port Berbera in Somaliland.
Of a total of 348 ports surveyed in 2022, the World Bank’s annual Container Port Performance Index (CPPI) ranked Mombasa – the largest port in East Africa – at position 326; Dar es Salaam, its main regional competitor, was ranked at 312.
This compares poorly with the 2021 CPPI report that ranked the port of Mombasa at 296 and Dar es Salaam Port at 316. In the 2022 CPPI report, Kenya also compares poorly with both Djibouti Port and Port Berbera – the two biggest competitors for Lamu Port – which were ranked at 26 and 144, respectively.
Dar Port ranking has been boosted by new infrastructure projects; Tanzania Ports Authority (TPA) projects currently at different stages of implementation include the expansion and modernisation of the Indian Ocean ports of Dar es Salaam, Tanga and Mtwara, as well as the lake ports of Mwanza and Kigoma.
Dar es Salaam port is rapidly closing existing infrastructural gaps and it has gone up in World Bank rankings.
Other projects in the pipeline include the establishment of Kwala Dry Port, the construction of a Standard Gauge Railway, paving trunk roads and overhauling the operations of the Tanzania-Zambia Railways Authority (Tazara).
The expansion and modernisation of the port under the Dar es Salaam Maritime Gateway Project (DMGP) includes strengthening and deepening of berths 1 to 7 and the Roll-on/Roll-off terminal (berth 0) at Gerezani Creek; dredging of the entrance channel, turning circle and harbour basin; strengthening and deepening berths 8–11. The Roll-on/Roll-off (Ro-Ro) terminal, which has a capacity of 600,000 vehicles annually, has already been completed. Last year, the new 320-meter berth broke both its own handling capacity record and those of all other Eastern and Southern African ports – except South Africa – by accommodating the cargo ship MOL Tranquil Ace to discharge 3,743 cars.
Dar es Salaam Port is contributing US$357 million to the DMGP, a World Bank project financed through an International Development Association Scale-up Facility credit. The project, which was initiated in 2017 and will be finalised 2024, will support the financing of crucial investments in the Port of Dar es Salaam with the aim of improving its effectiveness and efficiency for the benefit of public and private stakeholders.
The DMGP will increase Dar es Salaam Port’s capacity from the current 15 million metric tonnes annually to 28 million tonnes.
For the port of Mombasa to remain competitive, maritime experts propose that the government cede its development to the private sector. It took about ten years to construct three berths at Lamu Port with Kenya government funding, a luxury the port of Mombasa may not enjoy owing to the growth in cargo volumes, which almost surpassed 34 million metric tonnes of total throughput last year. Studies show that the port will surpass its maximum capacity by 2028.
Privatising the port would require political goodwill. Efforts to have the port operations privatised have always faced resistance from the region’s politicians and the giant Dock Workers Union (DWU) that has successfully prosecuted the matter in the courts. Privatisation has been wrongly perceived as a strategy to cut down the workforce.
With the lack of capacity at the state-run KPA, Dubai Port World (DP World) has already expressed interest in managing Lamu Port. It has also expressed interest in running other Kenyan ports. Located in Dubai, DP World UAE is at the heart of DP World. It is home to the flagship Jebel Ali Port, the premier maritime commercial gateway and hub to a region of more than 3.5 billion people. It has a huge portfolio managing many ports globally, including in Africa.
For the port of Mombasa to remain competitive, maritime experts propose that the government cede its development to the private sector.
This year, President William Ruto’s administration said Kenya will lease the operations and management of five critical ports through an ambitious KSh1.4 trillion public-private partnership (PPP) aimed at revitalising the country’s maritime industry.
Efforts to increase the port infrastructure at the port of Mombasa have in the past maintained a good pace, however. KPA has completed the construction of Phase 2 of the Second Container Terminal (CT2) and brought on board an additional capacity of 450,000 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs). The new facility increased the Mombasa port capacity to 2.1 million TEUs. It acquired modern cargo handling equipment this year, which has enhanced its capacity to go into the transshipment business should the KRA reduce the customs procedures that have caused shipping lines to shy away from using Kenya’s ports.
KPA recently commissioned the Kipevu Oil Terminal (KOT) which will have four berths capable of handling the import and export of five different hydrocarbon products including crude oil, heavy fuel oil, LPG and three types of white oil products. The KSh40 billion KOT facility will enable Kenya to double its capacity to handle transit products related to energy and petroleum.
The construction of the Standard Gauge Railway connecting Mombasa Port to Naivasha has already been completed. Kenya has also constructed the Inland Container Depot in Naivasha that is serving its Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) transit markets. It has also rehabilitated the MGR line to Malaba, where an ICD is to be constructed.
Last year, the KRA launched the Integrated Customs Management System (iCMS) which has reduced the paperwork cargo clearance period from 24 hours to under 10 minutes. The system was also integrated into the National Open Electrical Single Window System, which is operated by KenTrade, and has fully automated the cargo clearance processes.
As Mombasa Port moves towards maximum utilisation, there is a great need to also focus on Lamu as an alternative port and how it can be connected to the existing corridors by seeking private partnerships. The enthusiasm with which the government has rolled out infrastructure development at Mombasa Port should be replicated in Lamu Port.
Tanzanian has proposed to construct the biggest port in the region at Bagamoyo. President Samia Suluhu last year hinted that she would revive the construction of the Bagamoyo port project that was initiated by the former Tanzanian head of state Jakaya Kikwete, who is now an advisor to the current president. The project was blocked by the late President John Magufuli when he took power. If it intends to remain the regional transshipment hub, Kenya needs to keep its own eyes wide open, considering that other competing ports – Djibouti and Berbera – are rapidly expanding.
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Changes in Suicide Reporting Welcome, but Slow
Without a deeper understanding of the harm insensitive reporting on suicide causes, attempts to change may be wrongly deemed as political correctness.
Earlier this year, the Baraza Media Lab and the Centre on Suicide Research and Intervention published a report that looked at how broadcasting stations report on suicide on social media. Its contents were sobering. Many leading media houses were found to report suicide as a criminal act. Reports also contained harmful elements such as descriptions of suicide methods and imagery of suicide and did not provide helpful information for readers who may be thinking of suicide.
So how have journalists been reporting on suicide since the data was collected? A very cursory survey of news outlets on social media shows reasons for both optimism and worry. Over the course of 2023, media outlets have published more stories about mental health, indicating an increasing awareness of it. This year has also seen an increased number of responsibly written social media posts that take into account the need for sensitivity on suicide.
Now, the negatives. Knowledge on responsible reporting of suicide, while improved, remains inconsistent across news operations. Real progress will require further integrating social media into editorial processes, subjecting its copy to as much rigour as the stories themselves to ensure errors are not introduced once stories are completed. Also, many insensitive references to suicide on social media were accurately reproduced from news stories.
The term “committed suicide” continues to appear on news websites, even in stories where responsible reporting would be expected, such as those that explore the risk factors of suicide. Stories use the insensitive word “suicidal” in phrases like “treating suicidal people as criminals” and “people who are suicidal”. The same insensitivity is also observed in the phrase “mentally ill” – ironically in stories that call for acts of suicide to be decriminalised.
It’s not clear that all journalists understand why respectful reporting on suicide is necessary. It was interesting – and revealing – to see a media outlet’s official X account, formerly known as Twitter, include both the terms “died by suicide” and “committed suicide” in the same tweet.
News websites continue to narrate morbid details about the manner of death by suicide. You are still likely to find phrases like “the body was found hanging in his room”, a man “who set himself ablaze” and “doused himself in a flammable substance before setting himself ablaze while carrying the Kenyan flag”. The imagery of suicide, with the noose particularly prominent, continues to be used in stories, inadvertently advertising hanging as a suitable method.
It’s not clear that all journalists understand why respectful reporting on suicide is necessary.
Media outlets aired insensitive footage. One camera focused on a woman overcome with emotion, who understood she was being filmed. One story goes as far as to narrate that instead of dissuading the deceased from taking his own life, a bystander handed him a lighted match and taunted him over unsuccessful attempts to light himself on fire, displaying the contempt people have for people thinking of suicide and inviting viewers to agree with those ideas.
The approach to reporting suicide varies depending on whether the person who died by suicide had committed a violent crime just prior, usually another killing. Reports are more likely to use “died by suicide” where the only death reported is by suicide. On the other hand, when person who died by suicide had killed another person, the phrase “committed suicide” is used freely.
The approach to reporting suicide varies depending on whether the person who died by suicide had committed a violent crime just prior, usually another killing.
Yet the same responsibility to reduce the prominence of suicide applies even in the context of crime reporting, and steps that broadcasters take to make footage of murders acceptable, such as using trigger warnings and black and white for bloodstains, may still be unacceptable in the context of suicide prevention. According to a 2021 brief by the University College Cork, Ireland, no graphic footage should be used in reporting murder-suicides, and care should be taken to discourage copycats, or position murder-suicide as a solution to anything.
Without a deeper understanding of the harm insensitive reporting on suicide causes, attempts to change may be wrongly deemed as political correctness, resulting in disrespectful coverage that tries to “say it as it is” and neglects to include sources of help for people who may be thinking of suicide.
Why President Kagame Should Not Run for a Fourth Term
The 2024 elections in Rwanda are an opportunity for the country to move away from strongman leadership to enable the emergence of strong institutions and a governance that is more tolerant of critics.
The constitution of Rwanda was amended in 2015 to allow President Paul Kagame to stand for a third term of seven years. Kagame was re-elected in 2017 and his term ends in 2024. The change in the constitution also allows him to stand for a fourth and a fifth five-year term. In my view, President Kagame should not run for a fourth presidential term in the 2024 elections.
President Paul Kagame was appointed Vice President and Minister for Defence on 19 July 1994, immediately after the end of the war and the Rwanda genocide. When President Pasteur Bizimungu resigned in 2000, Kagame was elected by the Transitional National Assembly to replace him. Three years later, in 2003, Kagame was elected president and has been president of Rwanda for over two decades. He has, therefore, risen to higher levels of decision-making over three decades, a sufficient period of time during which to oversee the implementation of policies he thought would advance the betterment of Rwandans. Kagame should, therefore, consider letting another willing and capable Rwandan build upon his achievements and continue to advance Rwanda’s interests. Indeed, under Kagame’s leadership, Rwanda has made some achievements but there are also shortcomings.
First, from a war-torn country, Rwanda has emerged to become a state with well-defined and functioning structures and institutions supported by fairly clear legislations. In my opinion, this has been achieved thanks to Kagame’s administration’s commitment to bring about change in Rwanda manifested immediately after the end of the war and the genocide against the Tutsi.
Second, Rwanda has also made some economic gains even though these can be challenged in many aspects. In 2000, Kagame made a pledge to transform Rwanda from a low- to a middle-income country driven by a knowledge economy by 2020. Since then, the Rwandan economy has grown significantly and its GDP per capita has increased from USD304 in 1995 to USD940 in 2022. The country’s human development index has soared and Rwanda has been recognised by the World Health Organization as one of the countries that are performing well on the goal of achieving universal health coverage. The country’s life expectancy has increased significantly, from 47 years in 2000 to 67 years in 2020. Moreover, according to UNICEF, the government has made some improvements in expanding education for all across Rwanda.
Lastly, through a meticulously executed campaign of communication, compelling narratives have been disseminated across the world that speak well of Rwanda. This along with the country’s commitment to deploy its soldiers to multinational peacekeeping missions across the world (Rwanda ranks fourth on the list of countries that contribute in peacekeeping in the world) has enabled Rwanda to strengthen its foreign relations with other countries and project its image as a development success story.
There are certainly more achievements that President Kagame has made during his 30 years in leadership that his replacement can learn from and retain to move Rwanda forward. However there are shortcomings. Kagame managed to put the country back on the world map but failed to create an environment for the country’s citizens to exercise their fundamental rights and freedoms.
Upon taking power following a military victory, his political party, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), pledged a consensual democracy to Rwandans. But over time this democracy has transformed into a political system that suppresses political dissent, restricts pluralism and curtails liberty in Rwanda. Most affected are those who dare or are perceived to challenge his government’s narrative in Rwanda and abroad. In many instances, Kagame’s government has abused its power, colluding with the judicial system to criminalise his critics. As a result, Rwanda has repeatedly been categorised as not a free country by Freedom House.
This has led to independent and inter-governmental human rights organisations and representatives of developed countries that financially support Rwanda to publicly criticise his leadership for lack of political inclusion, human rights violations and the overall democracy deficit in Rwanda. This situation continues to tarnish Rwanda’s reputation that Kagame’s leadership has been working hard to restore.
Furthermore, independent reports on the development of democracy and governance throughout the world – and in Africa in particular – all point out that citizen participation in Rwanda remains limited, as do local NGOs.
Political participation in Rwanda is limited only to those who adhere or are willing to be affiliated to his political party, the RPF. This has prevented the emergence of a genuine opposition that could have provided checks and balances across institutions in Rwanda. The repercussions are that lack of accountability within public institutions is rampant and Kagame has many times publicly criticised officials in his administration for not delivering as they should. In fact, the pledge he made in 2000 to transform Rwanda into a middle-income country driven by a knowledge economy has not materialised and Rwanda remains a low-income country to date.
Failure to effectively engage citizens in decision-making has also resulted in the implementation of development policies that do not meet the immediate needs of the population. Hence, the economic gains made by Kagame’s administration can be challenged in many aspects as previously pointed out. For instance, substantial public funds have been invested in the development of the Meetings, Incentives, Conferences, and Exhibitions (MICE) sector while less has been allocated to education, agriculture, and rural infrastructure development. Thus, despite remarkable economic growth and a significant improvement in the human development index registered by Rwanda since 1994, these achievements are tarnished by high inequalities in income, health and education. Furthermore, they are characterised by economic injustices such as unfair land expropriation and the uprooting of farmers’ crops. Rwanda’s human capital development remains below the average for African countries due to a lack of quality education and high levels of malnutrition among children below five years. Only 41 per cent of households in Rwanda are considered to be substantially food secure. The private sector’s contribution to growth has remained small and growth is predominantly led by state-owned enterprises and those belonging to the ruling party. Overall, Rwandans have been consecutively ranked among the bottom five least happy populations on the global happiness index.
Failure to effectively engage citizens in decision-making has also resulted in the implementation of development policies that do not meet the immediate needs of the population.
Over the past three decades, curtailed civil liberties and mounting social inequalities have seen Rwandans seek refuge abroad and prevented from returning to their homeland those who had fled Rwanda after the RPF took power in 1994. This situation has exacerbated the issue of Rwandan refugees that has persisted since Rwanda’s independence.
In particular, under President Kagame, the unresolved issue of Rwandan refugees settled in Rwanda’s neighbouring countries has been a source of political tensions between Rwanda and its neighbours. The Rwandan government has maintained that there are negative forces resident in eastern DRC that are out to destabilise Rwanda, a reference to the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR). The FDLR is an armed group formed by Rwandan refugees in DRC who, following their forcible eviction from Rwanda during the genocide, resorted to armed struggle as a means of retaking power in Rwanda. Despite Rwanda’s armed forces launching military operations against the FDLR on numerous occasions on Congolese soil in collaboration with the Congolese army, the Rwandan government continues to insist that the FDLR is a threat to Rwanda’s security.
The United Nations has twice – in 2012 and 2022 – accused Rwanda of supporting the M23, an armed group that is fighting in the eastern DRC. This conflict has displaced populations and led to the death of millions of African civilian lives. In 2016, the UN Security Council accused Rwanda of recruiting and training Burundian refugees with the aim of ousting the then Burundian president Pierre Nkurunziza. Western countries have suspended or withheld aid to Rwanda over allegations that it supported the M23 in 2012 and some of Rwanda’s donors have recently publicly called on the Rwandan government to stop supporting the M23 and remove its troops from eastern DRC. The European Union and United States of America have sanctioned Rwandan military officials for backing the M23. The US has placed Rwanda on the Child Soldiers Prevention Act List and suspended its military aid to the country due to Rwanda’s support of the M23, which the US says recruits and uses child soldiers. Not only do these allegations of Rwanda’s involvement in the regional conflict further tarnish the country’s image that Kagame’s administration has worked hard to restore, but the tensions with neighbouring states have also prevented Rwanda from maximising the benefits of regional integration and trade for its development.
President Kagame should not run for a fourth term as the governance of Rwanda needs to be reformed so that it becomes more tolerant of critics, democratic and inclusive. To successfully implement such reforms in governance requires a new leadership with fresh perspectives and approaches that will be able to build on Kagame’s achievements in order to address unresolved historical grievances of Rwandans and at the same time enable Rwanda to maximise its potential in the region and experience genuine development.
President Kagame should not run for a fourth term as the governance of Rwanda needs to be reformed so that it becomes more tolerant of critics, democratic and inclusive.
Considering Rwanda’s history of long-serving strongmen who have taken power, retained it and lost it through violence, the 2024 presidential election is an opportunity for Rwandans to experience the transfer of power in a peaceful and transparent manner as has been the case in neighbouring countries including Burundi, DRC and Tanzania. It is an opportunity for Rwanda to move away from strongman leadership to enable the emergence of strong institutions to take the lead instead. This can be achieved by building on the legislations that have been reviewed and implemented under Kagame’s leadership. Therefore, while recognising with gratitude the achievements that he has made over the past three decades, Kagame’s greatest achievement yet would be to step away from power at the end of his term in 2024. In so doing, Kagame will have paved the way for better leadership in Rwanda and opened the door to future generations of Rwandans aspiring to become leaders in Rwanda.
Why Kenyans Demanded an Apology from King Charles
The traumatic legacy of British colonialism lingers in Kenya to this day, and this is why Kenyans were demanding an apology from King Charles.
Many British people are surprised that King Charles’s visit to Kenya was not welcomed by many Kenyans and human rights organisations. People whose families had suffered at the hands of British colonialists during his mother’s reign demanded an apology for crimes committed. Although the British monarch expressed “deepest regret” for the atrocities committed by the British in Kenya, he fell short of making a public apology.
However, many Brits believe that there is nothing the king needed to apologise for. One presenter on Sky News even wondered why Kenyans were calling for an apology from the king given that Britain had done much “good” in the country. After all, he said, without any hint of irony, the British Empire had brought democracy to Kenya (how he equated imperialism with democracy beats me) and given Kenyans “the gift of the English language”.
It was obvious that the presenter had been taught British imperial history that has whitewashed the atrocities that the British Empire committed in its colonies around the world. British children are to this day taught that British colonialism was a “civilising mission” that brought modern education and infrastructure, in addition to Christianity, to regions that were steeped in ignorance and backwardness. Apologists for the British Empire, such as the historian Niall Ferguson, author of Empire: How Britain Made the Modern World, argue that Britain should be congratulated for conquering the world because British civilisation brought science and technology to people who held superstitious beliefs, and injected a “work ethic” in populations that were lazy and lacking in imagination. This is sort of like saying that slave owners did slaves a favour by shipping them to the Americas and forcing them to work for free because these slaves are now US citizens and enjoy all that America has to offer (even though it took them four centuries to gain rights as equal citizens).
A few months ago, the editor of a German magazine contacted me to ask whether I could submit an article on the atrocities the British had committed in Kenya during colonialism. He told me that while his magazine had documented human rights violations by German and Belgian colonialists in places like Namibia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, it had largely ignored the violations committed by Britain in places like Kenya because the majority of Germans believe that British colonialism was not as brutal as that of other European powers, and that its net impact on its colonies in Africa had been positive. It dawned on me that perhaps Europeans are not being told the true story about colonialism and its horrific impact on Africans. So, here’s primer.
Erasure of memory
Kenya officially became a British colony in 1920, but prior to that, from 1895, it was deemed a “protectorate” – a term suggesting that the colonisers who grabbed the land were there to protect the interests of the “natives” who would benefit from being colonised. A widely held belief is that because Britain spearheaded the abolition of slavery, the British were “benevolent” colonisers, unlike the French and the Belgians who plundered and looted their African colonies. (In addition to extracting raw materials and exporting items such as ivory and rubber, the French and the Belgians also stole invaluable artefacts from their colonies in West and Central Africa, which today are displayed in museums across Europe, including in Britain, despite efforts by African governments to have these artefacts returned to where they were stolen from.)
Yet, those who care to join the dots between the anti-slavery movement and the colonisation of Africa are acutely aware of the fact that the Berlin Conference of 1884-85 (dubbed the “Scramble for Africa”) that carved up Africa among European nations, including Britain, took place just a few years after slavery ended. Because slavery was no longer legal and was costly to maintain, the only other way Europeans could extract cheap labour and highly profitable resources from Africa was by colonising the continent.
In order to justify colonisation in settler colonies like Kenya and Zimbabwe (formerly known as Rhodesia), it was necessary to erase evidence of atrocities committed by the Europeans. Many of these atrocities remained unacknowledged and unreported for decades because archival documents were either destroyed or deliberately concealed. British historian David M. Anderson, author of Histories of the Hanged: The Dirty War in Kenya, discovered that thousands of documents belonging to the British colonial administration were flown to London in 1963 on the eve of Kenya’s independence and remained hidden from the public for decades, despite attempts by successive post-independence Kenyan governments to have these “stolen papers” returned to Kenya.
The magnitude of these atrocities was finally revealed in 2005 when the Harvard historian Caroline Elkins’ book, Britain’s Gulag: The Brutal End of Empire in Kenya, was published. The book documents the many crimes that British colonial officers committed in Kenya in their relentless pursuit of wealth, land and power for themselves and in the name of the British Empire. Mau Mau fighters and their supporters were subjected to extreme forms of torture, including castration, whipping, waterboarding and electric shocks.
The areas where these Mau Mau revolutionaries were arrested, detained, tortured or killed in the 1950s were in and around the Aberdares mountain range in Central Kenya where Queen Elizabeth, during an official visit to Kenya, ascended to the throne after the death of her father, King George VI, in February 1952. Eight months after she became Queen of England and head of the British Empire, a state of emergency was declared in Kenya that allowed the British Colonial Office to detain people without trial. Many freedom fighters languished in camps or jails where they were subjected to torture.
Mau Mau fighters and their supporters were subjected to extreme forms of torture, including castration, whipping, waterboarding and electric shocks.
The Mau Mau rebellion was a reaction to the expropriation of some 7 million acres of the most fertile land in Central Kenya and the Rift Valley – dubbed the White Highlands – in the early part of the 20th century after the building of the Uganda Railway, which opened up the interior of East Africa for British colonisation and settlement. The indigenous population was pushed into so-called reserves while others became squatters on land that was once theirs, working for white farmers for very little wages.
Elkins estimates that between 160,000 and 320,000 detainees, mostly from the Kikuyu, Meru and Embu ethnic groups, were tortured or maimed by the British at the height of the Mau Mau rebellion in the 1950s, although official figures state that the number of detainees was no more than 80,000. It is estimated that more than 20,000 Mau Mau militants were killed. Further, more than a million people, mainly in central Kenya, were detained in camps or confined in villages known as “reserves” (which have been described as “concentration camps”) surrounded by barbed wire. Tens of thousands of people held in these dense and unsanitary guarded camps and villages died from hunger or disease.
To justify these atrocities, British officials painted the Mau Mau as savage “terrorists” because of the violent and brutal methods they used to hunt down and kill white settlers and local informers. Official figures show that Mau Mau fighters killed 32 British settlers and 1,819 indigenous people whom they believed to be spies for the British.
Today what the British Empire did in Kenya might be perceived as a form of ethnic cleansing, but because colonisation was not unfashionable then, the atrocities were not condemned, nor was anyone tried. It was only in 2011, during a landmark court case brought against the British by a group of Mau Mau veterans, that the British government, under legal pressure, admitted that the documents were in a high-security facility that also contained files from 36 other former British colonies. (In 2013, 5,228 Mau Mau veterans were awarded £20 million in compensation by a UK court, which amounts to roughly £3,000 per victim, a paltry sum given the suffering they endured.) One of these documents contained details of eight colonial officers stationed in Kenya “roasting detainees alive”. All of the accused officers were granted amnesty.
Official amnesia and disinformation were not just part of a deliberate campaign by the British Empire to whitewash the crimes it committed in its colonies in Africa and elsewhere, but also a strategy employed by post-colonial governments in Kenya to cloak their own complicity in ensuring that British interests in the country were preserved.
Post-independence Kenyan elites benefitted from colonial policies that alienated Africans from their own land and became the biggest beneficiaries of post-independence land grabs disguised as land redistribution or adjudication. After independence, the so-called home guards or loyalists became the biggest beneficiaries of land and political power. According to Kenya’s 2013 Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission report, “Rich businessmen and businesswomen, rich and powerful politicians who were loyal to the colonial administration, managed to acquire thousands of acres at the expense of the poor and the landless.” Hence, “instead of redressing land-related injustices perpetrated by the colonialists on Africans, the resettlement process created a privileged class of African elites, leaving those who had suffered land alienation either on tiny unproductive pieces of land or landless.” Even today in Kenya, members of freedom fighting movements like the Mau Mau remain landless and poverty-stricken while those who sided with the colonialists are among the richest people in the land.
After independence, the so-called home guards or loyalists became the biggest beneficiaries of land and political power.
The Mau Mau remained a proscribed organisation for four decades after independence. It was only in 2003, when Mwai Kibaki became president, that the Mau Mau were recognised for the role they had played in Kenya’s struggle for independence. Kenyatta Day on 20 October was renamed Mashujaa Day (Heroes Day) to commemorate all those who died while fighting for freedom. In 2007, a statue of Dedan Kimathi was erected in Nairobi’s central business district, and in 2015, following the 2013 UK court decision to compensate Mau Mau veterans, the British government put up a Mau Mau memorial sculpture in Nairobi’s Uhuru Park “as a symbol of reconciliation between the British government, the Mau Mau and all those who suffered”.
Despite these symbols of reconciliation and healing, the traumatic legacy of British colonialism lingers in Kenya to this day. This is why Kenyans were demanding an apology from the King – because the wounds have not yet healed. While a public apology might not have been enough to completely heal the wounds and traumas of the past, it would have been an important first step.
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