On 4 July, the leadership of Somalia’s Federal Electoral Implementation Team (FEIT), was elected through a disturbingly opaque process that produced a close Farmaajo associate, Mohamed Hassan ‘Irro’, as Chairman and Mawlid Mataan Salaad, a proxy of NISA chief Fahad Yasin, as Vice Chairman. Their appointment was orchestrated by an interim electoral body chaired by a prominent member of the Islamist organisation, Al-I’tisaam. These latest developments confirm what many have long suspected: Somalia’s upcoming election is being – and arguably already has been – rigged.
The incremental changes to the electoral model have consistently favoured Farmaajo, with each modification taking the process further away from the election that brought him to power. Since Farmaajo won the 2017 contest, it begs the question why he now demands significant changes to the electoral model. The answer is self-evident: he knows that he cannot win with a level playing field – even with Fahad Yasin’s money and Islamist networks behind him – and is adamant that the outcome must be pre-determined.
It may now be stated with confidence that he has succeeded in rigging the poll, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that he will be the beneficiary. Somali electoral politics are far more complex and treacherous than that.
To date, rigging the election has involved the following elements:
- Imposing two voting venues per state, when most FMS leaders favour just one
- Deployment of politicised security forces to polling venues, while these units have previously been deployed to impose electoral outcomes
- Maintenance of FEIT and SEIT members associated with the FGS over the objections of the opposition
- Involvement of the DPM in the selection of Somaliland electors, even though he is patently representing Villa Somalia’s interests
- Insisting that Somaliland and minority seats be elected from Mogadishu, although members of these groups wish to be able to choose their own polling venues
- Appointment of a pro-Farmaajo FEIT Chairman
Each of these measures is intended to nudge upwards the number of future MPs beholden to Villa Somalia. Although it’s highly unlikely that this will achieve the majority of votes required to secure victory in the first round of the presidential election, it is intended to produce the largest single block of votes for any given candidate, moving into the second round. Fahad’s associates from the post-jihadist Islamist movement, Al-I’tisaam, are all working towards the same end.
Farmaajo currently stands to be the main beneficiary of this ongoing electoral manipulation. Close observers estimate that he will be able to muster roughly 70 votes going into the first round of the presidential election – probably the largest single block, without obtaining the simple majority needed to win outright. This potentially gives him an advantage going into the second round, where the losers typically pledge their voting blocks in support of one of the four remaining candidates in exchange for political favour.
Opposition candidates are well aware of these machinations but are reluctant to cry foul, accuse acting PM Roble of serving as a dupe, or be labelled by international partners as ‘spoilers.’ Moreover, some leading candidates have begun flirting with Fahad Yasin, hoping to win his favour as an alternative to Farmaajo. Instead of challenging the integrity of the electoral process, they seek to disqualify Farmaajo by accusing him of trafficking Somali youths to Eritrea for military training and concealing their participation in the Tigrayan conflict: actions they contend make him unfit to hold future public office.
Opposition collusion with Fahad Yasin is opportunistic and misguided. It was at this stage, in 2017, that Fahad’s cunning betrayal of incumbent President Hassan Sheikh, produced a stunning electoral upset. Having served as Hassan’s campaign manager in 2012, Fahad penetrated his 2017 campaign team and swung the incumbent’s votes behind Farmaajo. In so doing, he secured victory for his chosen candidate and earning himself the role of power behind the throne or — in the words of some foreign diplomats — “puppet-master.”
The question now is not whether the upcoming electoral process has been rigged, but whether Fahad has rigged it to Farmaajo’s advantage or, recognising that the ex-president is damaged goods, has another flunky in mind.
Somalia desperately needs new leadership to restore constitutional rule and to set its teetering political transition back on track. Farmaajo’s removal would therefore be a welcome step. But if Fahad and Al- I’tisaam continue to hold the levers of power, then Somalia will remain on its current ruinous course.
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Hilary Ng’weno: Apostle of Press freedom and Pro-establishment Figure
Hilary Ng’weno was the founder of the respected Weekly Review which became the standard-bearer for political news reporting in Kenya and the region.
In the space of two months, Kenya has lost two of the better-known pioneering newspapermen in post-independent Kenya: Philip Ochieng and Hilary Ng’weno. They were contemporaries who died within weeks of each other aged 83. Both were archetypal print journalists – with a distinctive editorial style and intelligent and passionate about how they presented the news.
Both had a flair for the English language, both were pro-establishment journalists and both largely made their imprimatur during the one-party state of Daniel arap Moi. Both were stylish in their attires: one favoured Saville Row-type suits, the other preferred free-style dressing, almost informal, and spotted a scraggly beard that grew white with the years.
As talented print journalists, both were naturally inclined to the literary word – one even penned fiction, the other wrote a journalistic treatise, examining and locating the pitfalls of the Kenyan media scene in a specified time-span. Both cherished their private spaces and both could have been described as loners.
Hilary Ng’weno came back to Kenya from studies in the US at an exciting time in Africa. More than 15 countries attained their independence in 1960 alone. In East Africa, Tanzania and Uganda became independent in 1961 and 1962 respectively, to be followed by Kenya in 1963. Pan-Africanism. A little utopia. Five-year development plans were ambitiously written. With the newly independent African states bubbling with enthusiasm, nationalism and optimism the 1960s were an interesting time to be in Africa
In Kenya, Paa ya Paa (The Antelope Rising), the oldest Pan-Africanist Arts Centre, was established just after independence in 1965. In the many years that were to follow, it became a place of pilgrimage for art lovers stopping in Nairobi for whatever reason. The Pan-Africanist Art Gallery was the Mecca of cultural re-connection for performing artists, painters, writers, journalists, publishers and Africanists from Africa and the Diaspora.
The Paa ya Paa gallery was founded by a group of young, ambitious, artistic and creative men and women. On Fridays, Hilary Ng’weno and his wife Fleur, Mr and Mrs Pheroze Nowrojee, Terry Hirst, Jonathan Kariara, James Kangwana, Dr Josephat Karanja, and Elimu and Rebecca Njau, would meet at Rebecca’s house to discuss the one thing that was common to them all: media and artistic expression.
It is Kangwana (the unsung poet) who came up with the name Paa ya Paa at one of those Friday meetings. The young men and women were already established in life: Rebecca, who would later become an acclaimed author, was the first African headmistress of (Moi) Nairobi Girls.
Paa ya Paa gallery at Sadler House on Koinange Street was officially opened by Prof Bethwell Ogot.
Elimu, the Tanzanian-born Pan-Africanist painter and sculptor from Moshi had already shot to fame in 1959, when he became the first African artist to paint the mural of a Black Jesus that today adorns the Anglican Cathedral in Murang’a (then Fort Hall).
Kangwana was the first African Director of Kenya Broadcasting Corporation (KBC) and the Harvard-educated Hilary had just become the youngest ever editor-in-chief of the Daily Nation, the Aga Khan’s flagship daily in East Africa that styled itself as a nationalist newspaper that had championed Kenya’s independence from British rule in its editorials and news gathering.
Kariara, one of the finest poets to come from this part of the world, was just emerging as a poet of note. With a PhD in History Dr Karanja was soon to serve as the first Kenyan High Commissioner in London. He was later to become the first Vice-Chancellor of the University of Nairobi.
Pheroze was a radical young Pan-Africanist lawyer scaling the legal heights as a human rights lawyer and political activist.
Terry Hirst, the illustrator-intellectual, had just landed from England to find Kenya savouring its new status as a newly independent state.
Before moving on to Rebecca’s, the group’s Friday meetings had been taking place at Elimu’s House at Maua Close in Parklands when he served as the Director of the (Captain Marlin) Sorsbie Art gallery.
Elimu put up a temporary studio at the back of the house in Parklands where he remembers inviting Ng’weno and Karanja to discuss art and even paint. “Hilary would do landscape painting and occasionally strum the guitar,” said Elimu nostalgically, recalling those heady and exciting days.
When the Sorsbie gallery closed in 1965, the Friday group finally found a permanent home in September of the same year: Paa ya Paa gallery at Sadler House on Koinange Street was officially opened by Prof Bethwell Ogot who was then Director of the East African Institute of Socio-Cultural Affairs based at Uniafric House. Paa ya Paa was domiciled in the city centre until the late 1970s when it moved to a five-acre piece of land in the Ridgeways residential area off Kiambu Road.
It was at this time that Ng’weno started his flagship weekly political magazine, the Weekly Review. By sheer coincidence, the launch of the weekly coincided with the announcement of the murder of JM Kariuki on 5 March 1975. The mutilated remains of the populist Nyandarua North MP had been “discovered” in Ngong Forest.
From then on, The Weekly Review became the standard-bearer for political news reporting in Kenya and the region. If you didn’t read the Weekly Review every Friday, you didn’t know what was happening in the country politically. So much so that a retired Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) official — now a mzee in his 80s who started working for the bank in 1966 when Duncan Ndegwa was appointed the first African governor — told me that senior staff were provided with the magazine so that they could keep abreast of political developments in the country. So important was the Weekly Review that it was considered the country’s political barometer.
So when Ngugi wa Thiong’o, a contemporary of Ng’weno and Ochieng, accused Ng’weno and The Weekly Review of “malicious” and “speculative” reporting on his detention in 1977, it provided Kenyans who read the weekly with a viewpoint that had not revealed itself before.
“I might here also as well mention the press hostility led by the Hilary Ng’weno group of newspapers and especially The Weekly Review,” wrote Ngugi in his prison memoir: Detained A Writer’s Prison Diary. “I was hardly out of prison when Hilary Ng’weno sent one of his reporters to interview me. But he had given her suspiciously leading questions and also instructions on how to go about it.”
If you didn’t read The Weekly Review every Friday, you didn’t know what was happening in the country politically.
Apparently, Ng’weno had written questions for the female reporter to raise with the author. “I looked at the questions and asked the reporter why her employers were interviewing me by proxy. I refused to be interviewed by proxy. She there and then conducted her own interview.” But Ng’weno was not yet done with Ngugi: “And when at long last, the whole interview was published, it was accompanied by the astonishing accusation that I was the only detainee who had not said thank you to the President for releasing me.”
Ngugi said, he “could not understand the source of this post-detention hostility, especially coming from a group of newspapers I had always supported because, despite their pro-imperialist line, I saw them as a hopeful assertion of a national initiative.”
In the diary, Ngugi accused Ng’weno of pursuing a speculative agenda on him: “What’s surprising is that The Weekly Review saw it fit to repeat the speculation even after my release!” The speculation being referred to here is that Ngugi had been detained because “of the Chinese and other literature found in his possession at that time of the police search in his study.”
“The aim of such speculative journalism as in Newsweek and Time magazines,” wrote Ngugi, “is to shift the debate from the issue of suppression of democratic rights and the freedom of expression, to a bold discussion and literary posturing about problems of other countries.” Ngugi said Ng’weno described him as an “ideologue” rather than a “writer”.
The Weekly Review of 9 January 1978 published that:
During the past year or so, Ngugi has acted the part of an ideologue rather than a writer. And has done so with increasing inability to relate in the limits of the sphere of an author’s operation which is possible in a developing country in areas where ideas, however noble, can be translated into actions which have far-reaching implications to the general pattern of law and order.
In the years that Ng’weno practiced newspaper journalism he styled himself as an apostle of press freedom and even though he was pro-establishment, he still got into trouble with Moi’s government.
In a memo he wrote to his staff on 19 October 1979, Ng’weno stated:
As we all know, we are having problems with the government at the moment. Most parastatal organisations have been instructed not to advertise with us anymore. As a result, a lot of advertising has been cancelled. We have not been told why this is being done and all efforts by me to get an explanation have failed so far. I do not know what the intentions of the government actually are, whether they want to kill our newspapers, or simply punishing us for something we have published.
The memo went on to say, “What I do know is that we cannot continue operating as we are now without advertising. Advertising is what makes it possible for a newspaper to survive or grow, without money from advertising, we cannot make ends meet.”
In the years that Ng’weno practiced newspaper journalism he styled himself as an apostle of press freedom.
Although The Weekly Review was supposed to be Kenya’s Newsweek, Ng’weno nonetheless styled the political magazine on the quintessential British magazine – the Economist. Just like at the Economist, writers at the Weekly Review did not have by-lines. To the great credit of Ng’weno and his team, it was impossible to tell who wrote what story from the names of the writers on the magazine’s masthead. Again, just like in the Economist, the writing styles were synchronised to present a uniform, distinctive style.
The Weekly Review had another distinctive feature: the editorial, which was written by Ng’weno until he ceded the space, was a short, pointed and punchy 500-word opinion written with candour and panache. Ng’weno used the same style that in his one-page Newsweek columns, in which he broached global topics as diverse as the Cold War, bilateralism and internationalism, neo-colonialism and patrimonialism. Ng’weno was possibly Newsweek’s only African columnist south of the Sahara.
The urbane, cosmopolitan Ng’weno walked with a swagger that told all and sundry that he was an Eastlando guy through and through. Kenyans who have interacted with Nairobians who grew up in the south-east of Nairobi where life, in Hobbesian maxim, is poor, nasty, brutish and short, know that they are street smart, witty, great seductors, agile, multilingual and multitalented, traits that the cool Ng’weno exhibited throughout his life.
Deconstructing Race and Gender for the African Traveller
Nanjala Nyabola’s new book reflects on Africans’ experiences of dislocation, exile, belonging and not belonging.
The news that European Union countries could deny visas to Africans, the majority (90 per cent of those vaccinated) who have received the Covishield vaccine produced by the Serum Institute in India has once again highlighted how disadvantaged Africans are when it comes to travelling abroad. I don’t want to go into the intricacies of why the EU has made this decision, which you can read about here, but I would like us to explore what travelling abroad will mean for Africans during and after the COVID-19 pandemic. Will vaccinations determine who can and cannot travel? Given that less than 2 per cent of the African population is currently fully vaccinated, will this mean that the majority of Africans wishing to travel abroad will have to wait at least a year or two before they can do so? And if Covishield is not approved by the EU, does this mean that those who like me received two doses of the vaccine will be permanently barred from entering Europe?
Believing that the pandemic would not negatively impact Africa was just wishful thinking. While the number of infections and fatalities have been low compared to other regions, the economic shock has been equally – if not more – devastating. Loss of incomes has already impoverished millions of Africans as lockdowns continue with new waves of the pandemic. Moreover, we are – and have always been – at the receiving end of decisions made in other continents (the decision to colonise Africa was taken in Berlin by European powers) – decisions that determine what Africans should or should not do. We are not allowed to make decisions on our own behalf. African countries, including Kenya, for example, did not stop flights from Europe or North America – the epicentres of the pandemic in the first and second waves – but these regions were quick to stop flights from African countries. Nor did we impose “vaccine passports” on citizens of these regions that would allow them to gain entry into our countries. As one of my Twitter followers explained, this should not surprise us because it is the mighty dollar and the euro that determine how Africans treat those who control both currencies.
How could it be any other way? Citizens of African countries are subjected to the most stringent visa conditions for entry into Europe or North America. Those of us who have applied for a visa to a European country, the United States or Canada know how painful and humiliating the process can be. From providing mountains of documentation, including bank statements, to show that one is not a potential illegal immigrant, to bearing the cost of exorbitant non-refundable visa fees, the visa application process is designed to deter Africans from travelling to these countries. This has significantly diminished the travel experience of Africans.
In her book, Travelling While Black: Essays Inspired by a Life on the Move, the Kenyan writer Nanjala Nyabola describes visas as “a cruel and unusual invention” and “a power play, a cash grab, and a half-assed invitation to enter but not belong”. Nyabola not only unravels the experiences of Africans travelling abroad and within the continent but also exposes the “insidious racisms that shape the politics of human mobility”. As she emphasises in her foreword, the book is not a travel memoir, but essays inspired by travel – a book that tells uncomfortable stories that make us think about why they make us uncomfortable. As she so eloquently puts it: “In this book I want to sit in the discomfort of being a black woman and having our intersectional pain ignored . . . I want to reflect on what it means to be at home, and to be un-homed.”
The book begins with her experiences as a humanitarian worker in Haiti, the first black republic and one of the world’s poorest countries, where she learned about “the cultural construction of race”. In a country where NGOs managed mostly by white people practically run the country, she questions why she had to bend and adapt to their whims. Why were the Haitians not running the show?
Much has been written about the inadequacies of aid to Haiti, also known as “Republic of NGOs” (more on this in my forthcoming book), but not quite with the insider-outsider perspective of Nyabola, a black humanitarian worker in a non-African black country where white foreigners have more say than the locals. She concludes that those claiming to help impoverished Haitians should do so not because they feel bad for them, but “because we want them to experience the same fullness of life that we ourselves aspire to”.
Many of the essays in the book focus on another type of traveller – the African refugee or migrant who risks all by making the perilous journey across the Mediterranean in the hopes of reaching Europe. She questions the absurd practice of placing refugees in camps where they are denied freedom of movement and are not allowed to earn an income or to work. Most refugees seeking asylum before the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees came into effect, she notes, were not crammed into camps. Jews seeking asylum in Europe and North America during World War II were allowed to integrate socially and economically into the societies that accepted them. Why and how did this change? And why are an increasing number of Africans and Asians entering Europe illegally when there are legal ways to do so? Well, says Nyabola, it’s because “legal and safe passage to Europe has disappeared, for all but a small sliver of the world’s population”.
Jews seeking asylum in Europe and North America during World War II were allowed to integrate socially and economically into the societies that accepted them.
Travelling while black also proves to be a challenge in Asia. On a physically demanding hike on Mount Everest, Nyabola encountered “being raced” by her Nepali guide, who refused to attend to her even when she fell dangerously ill simply because she was black. How can people who themselves do not enjoy white privilege become racist? Is the racism of white people different from that of those who also experience white racism? Nyabola tries to explain the difference by making a distinction between “racism” and “being raced”, the latter a phenomenon that black Africans who visit Asian countries often experience. She explains:
I think there is a qualitative difference between racism and being raced. Racism, I think, is more sinister and deliberate. But being raced or racing other people is something that people do because they aren’t paying attention. It’s cultural laziness: we create all these shorthands that allow us to process difference. . . . They have raced me – decided, based on cultural generalisations, who they think I am – in order to process my presence; and, because of the way popular culture from the West especially projects and processes black women, a lot of that is negative.
She is equally critical of Africans who treat other Africans badly. Her discomfiting experiences in South Africa, where xenophobic attacks against Somalis, Zimbabweans and other Africans have been rising in recent years, are telling, and reflective of a country that has not completely disengaged from the clutches of apartheid. South Africa challenges her belief that Africans can be at home anywhere on the continent – a belief advocated by the leading Pan-Africanists of yesteryear who envisioned independence from colonial rule as the basis for building an inclusive Africa for all Africans. “The truth is that millions of Africans are foreigners and migrants in Africa, un-homed by power and abandoned to physical or structural violence,” she admits.
There are some uplifting chapters in the book that hold out the promise of Pan-Africanism, like her trip to Gorom Gorom in Burkina Faso where she observed “regal families undulating on their camels” and her foray into rural Botswana where she goes to trace the life of Bessie Head, the mixed-race South African writer who Nyabola admires deeply. As an outsider in both the white literary world and in Bostwana, Head suffered loneliness and rejection. The black American literary crowd in the United States had no time for an African woman writer. When she reached out to fellow African writers like Ngugi wa Thiong’o and Chinua Achebe, who were beginning to be recognised in the West as African literary giants, “their responses were curt and perfunctory”. The chapter on Bessie Head’s life will no doubt resonate with female African writers for whom the doors of big established publishing houses are permanently closed.
Nanjala Nyabola’s book does, however, open new worlds to African women travellers like her who are reflecting on how their race and gender have shaped their experiences of dislocation, exile, belonging and not belonging.
Kenneth Kaunda: One Zambia, One Nation
How Kenneth Kaunda was instrumental in guiding Zambia through its formative years in the absence of war or mass atrocities that blighted many of its neighbors.
Zambia’s inaugural president, Kenneth Kaunda, died on June 17, 2021, at the age of 97. From the early 1950s onwards, he led a nonviolent liberation struggle against British rule, eventually forging independence in 1964. In power for the first twenty-seven years of Zambia’s independent statehood, Kaunda leaves a controversial legacy. He abandoned multiparty elections in 1973, ruled as an authoritarian leader for the next eighteen years, and was the architect of disastrous economic policies that compounded the already significant levels of poverty in the country. However, Kaunda should also be remembered as a leader who was instrumental in guiding Zambia through its formative years, doing so in the absence of the wars or mass atrocities that blighted many of its neighbors.
Kaunda’s role in steering his country away from instability and mass violence—especially in the first decade of independence—is particularly noteworthy given the challenges at the time. His own stamp on state building helped to navigate these tensions: he shaped a new national identity that transcended ethnic or tribal affiliations, neither favoring nor scapegoating any group. Kaunda was acutely aware that the new state—with its borders artificially and arbitrarily constructed by its former colonial occupiers—was in peril of fragmenting through power struggles along tribal and ethnic lines. Referring to the dominant language groups, he reiterated the gravity of this new national identity in his 1967 memoir: “with any luck,” he wrote, “this generation will think of itself not in tribal terms as Bemba, Lozi or Tonga, but as Zambians. This is the only guarantee of future stability.” Kaunda thus seemed to be keenly aware that ideology can act as a catalyst as well as one of the most important restraints on mass atrocities; his humanist perspective fostered the latter while other leaders in the region chose the former.
Kaunda backed this principled stance with action during the first decade of independence, when his governing party, the United National Independence Party, began to fragment into factions based on ethnolinguistic differences. Kaunda frequently shuffled ministerial portfolios between factions and often changed personnel in all departments of the public sector—all in an effort to prevent the possibility of ethnolinguistic differences and tensions becoming formally entrenched within the new state. Throughout the 1960s, this constant reshuffling was effective in maintaining a power balance between the country’s different groups; but by the end of the decade, escalating tensions between these factions led to some forming breakaway parties on the basis of ethnolinguistic differences. This prompted Kaunda to centralize power and ban opposition political parties, forging a regime that was increasingly intolerant of opposition voices. Zambia, however, avoided the large-scale violence that some of its neighbors experienced. Although populations in dictatorial regimes are more at risk for mass atrocities than populations in democracies, Kaunda’s decision to centralize power and prohibit opposition parties was motivated—at least in part—by a desire to avoid the formal entrenchment of Zambia’s ethnolinguistic tensions.
In making this decision, however, Kaunda provoked a whole new set of challenges as an authoritarian leader. It wasn’t until 1991 that he lifted the ban on opposition parties, ushering in a transition toward a new phase of democratization. This was done under duress in the context of long-term economic decline, IMF-imposed economic reforms, and increasing dissatisfaction with his regime. Yet even this transition was largely restrained. The opposition movement itself (the Movement for Multiparty Democracy, or MMD) was a broad coalition that embodied Kaunda’s own vision of a Zambia that transcended ethnic and tribal difference. When the MMD registered as a political party and won the 1991 election, Kaunda conceded defeat and transferred power without contestation. While so many other authoritarian leaders opted for a violent response to the contestation of their power, Kaunda chose not to cling to power at all costs.
Even during Zambia’s phase of one-party rule from 1973 to 1991, Kaunda’s legacy of state building stands in contrast to the violent exclusionary tendencies of many regimes in the region. Although he centralized power, this was in part a response to a belief—shared by many leaders across the African continent in the 1960s and 1970s—that multiparty elections were divisive. So while research has shown repeatedly that established democracies tend to be safer for their inhabitants than democratizing or dictatorial countries, Kaunda actually seems to have used his dictatorial rule to steer the country away from the preconditions of mass violence.
Kaunda was able to shape the nation’s identity because dictatorial leaders, through their sway over the dominant narrative of their societies, can be particularly influential and shape how a population may think or act. The way in which Kaunda chose to do so was, however, extraordinary. Oftentimes, dictatorial regimes will use a destructive and exclusionary ideology, as it is through the definition of the “other” that the in-group can be defined and united. Creating such a cohesive in-group can have positive effects for leaders who tend to be more respected, but it can also enhance schisms and cause polarization or, even dehumanization, which can be conducive to massive violence. Populations are particularly likely to turn to leaders with such destructive ideologies when their life conditions are difficult; as people look for ways to understand their reality and search for someone to blame. Kaunda’s feat of uniting the nation, without exploiting ethno-linguistic tensions, is, therefore, even more noteworthy given the real and many risks for identity-based divisions to become entrenched in the first three decades of independence. Though far from perfect, Kaunda’s repeated call of “One Zambia, One Nation” resonated strongly, and established a precedent of stability and inclusion when so many other post-colonial African states went down more violent and exclusionary paths.
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