As Uhuru Kenyatta mounted a political comeback by campaigning against corruption, his family’s secret fortune was growing offshore, a massive new leak shows.
At his annual State of the Nation address last fall, President Uhuru Kenyatta mounted the podium at Kenya’s Parliament to acknowledge that too many Kenyans live in poverty and too many officials loot the country’s public resources.
The son of Kenya’s first president and leader of one of Africa’s largest economies, the 59-year-old Kenyatta urged lawmakers to join him in fighting corruption and yet again declared “the centrality of transparency, accountability and good governance as the anchors of sustainable development.”
But a massive cache of newly leaked documents show that Kenyatta’s family has for years been secretly accumulating a personal fortune behind offshore corporate veils.
Kenyatta, along with his mother, sisters and brother, have for decades shielded wealth from public scrutiny through foundations and companies in tax havens, including Panama, with assets worth more than $30 million, according to records obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and shared with more than 600 reporters and media organizations around the world.
The records – from the Panamanian law firm Aleman, Cordero, Galindo & Lee (Alcogal) – show that the family owned at least seven such entities, two registered anonymously in Panama and five in the British Virgin Islands. One BVI company owned a home in central London, according to the records, and two other companies held investment portfolios worth tens of millions of dollars. The Kenyattas’ offshore wealth, revealed here for the first time, represents part of an estimated half-billion-dollar family fortune amassed in a country where the average annual salary is less than $8,000 a year.
The family began to accumulate much of its offshore wealth while Uhuru Kenyatta was a rising political star. Two offshore companies were created during an investigation into alleged looting of the public treasury during the watch of President Daniel arap Moi, Kenyatta’s former political patron.
Under Kenyan law, the president must provide a list of financial interests to the Ministry of Finance each year. Kenyatta and his family members did not respond to requests for comment, including whether he declared any offshore interests or was required to do so.
Details of the Kenyatta family’s offshore wealth have been brought to light by the Pandora Papers, a collection of more than 11.9 million records from 14 law firms and other service providers based in the United Arab Emirates, the Seychelles, Panama, Singapore and other tax havens.
The investigation has revealed assets of 35 current or former world leaders, including the king of Jordan, the prime minister of the Czech Republic, and Kenyatta’s fellow African leaders Ali Bongo Ondimba of Gabon and Denis Sassou-Nguesso of the Republic of Congo.
The discovery that Kenyatta and his family owned Panamanian foundations and a string of shell companies provides a jarring contrast to Kenyatta’s projected image as a transparency advocate. Documents show that the expansion of the Kenyattas’ offshore holdings coincided with Uhuru Kenyatta’s political rise, with increasing the layers of secrecy to shield the family’s wealth from scrutiny even as Uhuru solidified his role as a man of the people.
The ‘burning spear’
The story of the Kenyatta family fortune, with its various companies and foundations in tax havens, begins with an ambitious tribal scion who would become one of post-colonial Africa’s most iconic leaders: Jomo Kenyatta.
Uhuru Kenyatta’s father was born Kamau Ngengi circa 1894 in the fertile Central Highlands of what was then known as British East Africa. Kamau’s father was a village chief in the powerful Kikuyu tribe, in a country where tribal affiliation often determines the outcome of elections. Educated at a Christian mission school, the young Kamau signaled his ambitions by taking the name Jomo Kenyatta, a local word for “burning spear.”
At the start of the 20th century, a British colonial government tightened its grip on the region’s non-white population. A “hut tax” was imposed on people with little or no money, many of whom depended on their crops and livestock for survival. Some were driven to prostitution or consigned to forced labor.
Like many of his contemporaries, Jomo Kenyatta rebelled.
“Nothing is more important than a correct grasp of the question of land tenure,” Kenyatta wrote in 1938, while attending university in London. “For it is the key to the people’s life.”
Jomo Kenyatta returned home to lead a pro-independence party and was quickly imprisoned by the British on unfounded and politically motivated charges that he led the nationwide rebellion then underway. When he left prison nearly nine years later, Jomo took charge of independence negotiations, and, in 1963, Kenya gained independence, with Kenyatta as prime minister. In 1964, he became the country’s first president, and he presided over an economic boom that burnished the country’s reputation as a post-colonial model.
But instead of building democracy, Kenyatta turned the fledgling nation into a one-party state marked by arbitrary detention, torture and political assassination. Promised land reform became a land grab: Kenyans found that property had simply changed hands from European elites to Kenyatta cronies.
A United Nations-backed commission would later find that in two years, one-sixth of all properties previously held by Europeans, including “vast farms” and valuable coastal real estate, were “cheaply sold” to Kenyatta, his family and his allies. According to the final 2013 report of Kenya’s Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission, beneficiaries included Kenyatta’s fourth and most influential wife, Ngina, their children, including Uhuru, and Moi, Kenya’s vice president at the time.
“Throughout the years of his administration, both land grabbing and irregular land allocations were perpetrated by and for the benefit of the president himself, members of his immediate family, his relatives and friends,” the report declared.
Following Jomo Kenyatta’s death in 1978, in his 80s (his date of birth is unknown), Moi took over as president, as a result of complex negotiations designed to head off tribal feuds.
After an attempted 1982 military coup, Moi plunged Kenya deeper into authoritarianism, and over more than two decades, he looted more than $2 billion, a government-commissioned investigation would find.
Protected by their ties to Moi and by Jomo Kenyatta’s aura as father of the nation, the Kenyattas thrived.
Uhuru’s mother, Ngina, popularly known as “Mama Ngina,” was given 264 acres over decades, according to a later government probe, which recommended that the landholdings be revoked.
With vast landholdings and backing from international investors, the family built a business empire, acquiring large stakes in well-known Kenyan enterprises, including a media conglomerate,a major bank and upscale hotels.
In 1993, the family founded Brookside Dairy, which expanded across East Africa and is now Kenya’s largest milk producer. One of Jomo and Ngina’s daughters, Kristina Wambui-Pratt, became a shareholder in a company that builds housing from polystyrene panels. Another, Anna Nyokabi Muthama Kenyatta, married a gem-mining magnate and managed the Kenyatta family’s beachfront hotel. A discreet and camera-shy son, Muhoho, now controls the family’s finances, according to local media reports.
But none of Jomo and Ngina Kenyatta’s children rose faster or farther than Uhuru.
Named after the Swahili word for freedom, Uhuru played rugby (and socialized with Moi’s eldest son, Gideon) at a Nairobi private school. He graduated from Amherst College, an elite U.S. liberal arts institution, in 1985 and returned home to launch an agricultural business and enter politics. He became the chairman of a local political party in 1997, and Moi named him to lead the country’s tourist board.
Uhuru burnished his everyman bona fides by dancing in public, while managing to indulge an equally public taste for expensive watches.
In 2001, Moi appointed Uhuru Kenyatta to a vacant seat in Parliament and, a month later, to the cabinet. Under increasing internal and international pressure to retire at the end of his second term, as required by the Kenyan constitution, Moi tapped Kenyatta to run as his successor in the 2002 election, betting on the Kenyatta name and tribal connections. But a coalition of reformist opposition parties crushed the Moi-Kenyatta alliance, relegating the 41-year-old Kenyatta and his party to the opposition .
The new president, Mwai Kibaki, ordered a probe of the Moi administration and the insiders who had helped spirit money out of East Africa. He appointed Kroll Inc. – the private investigation firm that had unearthed the financial secrets of Iraq’s Saddam Hussein and Haiti’s Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier, among others – to lead the inquiry.
Kenyatta was on the front lines of those who rallied to Moi’s defense.”The government should stop digging into the past,” Kenyatta told a rally of Moi supporters in western Kenya’s verdant Rift Valley near Lake Victoria.
But within a year, a leaked version of the Kroll report spilled into the headlines with blockbuster allegations: Moi and his inner circle had embezzled as much as $2 billion – more than twice what Kenya was receiving in foreign aid in a year — and stashed hundreds of millions of dollars in bank accounts overseas. The report alleged that Moi and his associates “laundered” and “parked” perhaps $400 million in accounts at Geneva’s Union Bancaire Privée and elsewhere. Kenyatta was not named in the report.
According to the report, the looting peaked in late 2003 after the new government took power. “A marked flurry of activity has been reported among ex-President Moi’s family and their close associates to pre-empt any possibility of losing their wealth to the government,” Kroll reported.
Moi denied wrongdoing and officials quickly announced that he would face no charges in exchange for a smooth transition of power. But the Kroll investigation’s linking ill-gotten wealth to Switzerland and Panama devastated his political legacy, and it raised questions about who else may have benefited from the regime’s looting.
One of the largest private banks in Switzerland, Union Bancaire Privée advises some of the world’s wealthiest people on how to manage their money. Its eight-story glass headquarters overlooks Lake Geneva and the nearby Prada, Versace and Mont Blanc storefronts.
Like other private banks, Union Bancaire Privée often works with law firms in the British Virgin Islands, the Seychelles and other secrecy jurisdictions to create, register and maintain shell companies – which are without real operations and which list paid stand-ins as corporate officers on official paperwork – and similar entities that help clients conceal their ownership and wealth.
Some “offshore” clients are private citizens seeking to avoid taxes in the country where they live or acquire their wealth. Other clients are politicians and public officials, who are called “politically exposed persons” in the trade, because their wealth is deemed more likely to stem from bribery or other forms of corruption.
In July 2003, the same month that Kenyatta defended Moi in public, records show that a Union Bancaire Privée lawyer, Othmane Naïm, asked Panama offshore specialists to help register a new foundation, to be known as the Varies Foundation. The foundation, like a trust, was designed to manage and shelter wealth for its beneficiaries.
Draft bylaws, also from July 2003, name the foundation’s beneficiaries: Uhuru Kenyatta and his mother. Later, records show, Union Bancaire Privée helped manage a foundation for Uhuru’s brother, Muhoho.
Invoices from Alcogal in Panama to the bank show that the Swiss advisers referred to the Kenyattas with a code: “client 13173.”
As with trusts and foundations offered elsewhere, including Belize (also South Dakota and Nevada), Panama foundations can be designed to allow families to transfer wealth from one generation to another, tax free. Typically, an individual, or “founder,” transfers assets, such as a bank account or real estate, to the foundation, which becomes the assets’ legal owner.
Panamanian foundations are prized, like trusts, because those who create them, the true owners of the assets, are not required to register their names with the Panamanian government. That secret remains with their lawyers. Any breach of confidentiality laws carries a jail sentence of up to six months, the same sentence imposed in Panama for certain categories of child abuse.
According to a World Bank study, foundations are a common tool to mask dirty money. Ferdinand Marcos, autocratic president of the Philippines, is alleged to have stolen billions of dollars while he ruled the country from 1966 to 1986, funneling millions through a Panamanian foundation.
Alcogal said that it complies with requirements where it operates and “performs enhanced due diligence on a client who is determined to be a high-risk customer.” It told ICIJ’s media partner, Finance Uncovered, that it has not provided services to the Kenyattas’ foundations since 2014.The foundations were eligible for suspension under Panamanian law for failing to pay annual taxes, Algocal said.
Naim told ICIJ that he could not respond to specific questions, but said “we always complied with all applicable legislations and regulations.”
The Pandora Papers reveal the Kenyattas also secretly owned offshore shell companies.
Muhoho Kenyatta owned three registered in the BVI, according to records: One had a bank account that held an investment portfolio worth $31.6 million in 2016; another had unspecified investments at a bank in London.
From 1999 to 2004, Ngina Kenyatta and her two daughters held shares in a BVI company, Milrun International Ltd. The sisters used the company to buy a London apartment in the upscale Westminster neighborhood, according to records.
Similar apartments in the modern brick building now sell for more than $1 million. The apartment was rented until July by an English member of parliament, Emma Hardy, according to public records. Hardy’s attorney said that she signed an ordinary rental agreement and had never heard of the company involved.
Return to power
Following elections in 2007, a sharply divided Kenya was under another coalition government, and, with part of the family fortune secreted offshore, Uhuru Kenyatta mounted a comeback, assuming a new political persona. The populist had become an anti-corruption reformer.
In public, Kenyatta vigorously espoused transparency, and anti-corruption activists praised him for his fight against graft.
When he ran for president a second time, in 2013, he toured the country, repeating seven “key pledges,” including food, water and electricity for all. He also promised security on the nation’s restive border with Somalia and stringent anti-corruption measures, including new laws and agencies to probe and punish wrongdoers.
“It is time to get tough on those who seek to use their positions of power for their own personal gain,” a coalition of four political parties, including Kenyatta’s, declared in their coalition manifesto.
That year, at the age of 51 and after decades of grooming, Uhuru Kenyatta was elected president.
In his first State of the Nation address, Kenyatta promised honest government and offered to forgo 20% of his salary.
Meanwhile, Forbes magazine, in 2011, ranked Kenyatta as Kenya’s richest person and the 26th wealthiest in Africa, estimating the family fortune at about half a billion dollars. And Kenyatta, as president, fought to keep some things secret.
Two months after Uhuru Kenyatta won the 2013 election, the same commission that examined corruption as far back as his father’s presidency reported testimony that Jomo Kenyatta had acquired vast tracts of land through illegal means. The commission also found that the elder Kenyatta had “interfered in the investigation” of the assassination of a political rival.
A furious Uhuru Kenyatta demanded a retraction, albeit only about land deals that cast suspicion on the origins of the family’s empire. After a heated debate, in which several commissioners refused to comply with Kenyatta’s demand, the majority retracted references to the deals and issued a revised report.
“Protecting the wealth and economic power of the family today seemed more important to the Kenyatta family than the implication than their father was involved in the cover-up of a murder,” Ronald Slye, one of the dissenting commissioners, recalled in an interview with ICIJ.
As Kenyatta approaches his constitutional two-term limit next year, He increasingly has staked his legacy on transparency.
“What we own, what we have, is open to the public,” Kenyatta told the BBC in 2018, referring to his family’s wealth. “If there is an instance where somebody can say that what we have done has not been legitimate – say so.”
He continued: “Every public servant’s assets must be declared publicly so that people can question and ask, what is legitimate? If you can’t explain yourself, including myself, then I have a case to answer. If you want to continue serving, you must make it public. Period.”
This article was first published by ICIJ.
Contributors: John-Allan Namu (Africa Uncensored), Purity Mukami and Simon Bowers (Finance Uncovered)
Support The Elephant.
The Elephant is helping to build a truly public platform, while producing consistent, quality investigations, opinions and analysis. The Elephant cannot survive and grow without your participation. Now, more than ever, it is vital for The Elephant to reach as many people as possible.
Your support helps protect The Elephant's independence and it means we can continue keeping the democratic space free, open and robust. Every contribution, however big or small, is so valuable for our collective future.
Dadaab: Playing Politics With the Lives of Somali Refugees in Kenya
Somali refugees in Kenya should not be held hostage by political disagreements between Mogadishu and Nairobi but must continue to enjoy Kenya’s protection as provided for under international law.
For several years now, Kenya has been demanding that the UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, close the expansive Dadaab refugee complex in north-eastern Kenya, citing “national security threats”. Kenya has argued, without providing sufficient proof, that Dadaab, currently home to a population of 218,000 registered refugees who are mostly from Somalia, provides a “safe haven” and a recruitment ground for al-Shabaab, the al-Qaeda affiliate in Somalia that constantly carries out attacks inside Kenya. Threats to shut down have escalated each time the group has carried out attacks inside Kenya, such as following the Westgate Mall attack in 2013 and the Garissa University attack in 2015.
However, unlike previous calls, the latest call to close Dadaab that came in March 2021, was not triggered by any major security lapse but, rather, was politically motivated. It came at a time of strained relations between Kenya and Somalia. Kakuma refugee camp in Turkana County in north-western Kenya, is mostly home to South Sudanese refugees but also hosts a significant number of Somali refugees. Kakuma has not been included in previous calls for closure but now finds itself targeted for political expediency—to show that the process of closing the camps is above board and targets all refugees in Kenya and not only those from Somalia.
That the call is politically motivated can be deduced from the agreement reached between the UNHCR and the Kenyan government last April where alternative arrangements are foreseen that will enable refugees from the East African Community (EAC) to stay. This means that the South Sudanese will be able to remain while the Somali must leave.
Accusing refugees of being a security threat and Dadaab the operational base from which the al-Shabaab launches its attacks inside Kenya is not based on any evidence. Or if there is any concrete evidence, the Kenyan government has not provided it.
Some observers accuse Kenyan leaders of scapegoating refugees even though it is the Kenyan government that has failed to come up with an effective and workable national security system. The government has also over the years failed to win over and build trust with its Muslim communities. Its counterterrorism campaign has been abusive, indiscriminately targeting and persecuting the Muslim population. Al-Shabab has used the anti-Muslim sentiment to whip up support inside Kenya.
Moreover, if indeed Dadaab is the problem, it is Kenya as the host nation, and not the UNHCR, that oversees security in the three camps that make up the Dadaab complex. The camps fall fully under the jurisdiction and laws of Kenya and, therefore, if the camps are insecure, it is because the Kenyan security apparatus has failed in its mission to securitise them.
The terrorist threat that Kenya faces is not a refugee problem — it is homegrown. Attacks inside Kenya have been carried out by Kenyan nationals, who make up the largest foreign group among al-Shabaab fighters. The Mpeketoni attacks of 2014 in Lamu County and the Dusit D2 attack of 2019 are a testament to the involvement of Kenyan nationals. In the Mpeketoni massacre, al-Shabaab exploited local politics and grievances to deploy both Somali and Kenyan fighters, the latter being recruited primarily from coastal communities. The terrorist cell that conducted the assault on Dusit D2 comprised Kenyan nationals recruited from across Kenya.
Jubaland and the maritime border dispute
This latest demand by the Kenyan government to close Dadaab by June 2022 is politically motivated. Strained relations between Kenya and Somalia over the years have significantly deteriorated in the past year.
Mogadishu cut diplomatic ties with Nairobi in December 2020, accusing Kenya of interfering in Somalia’s internal affairs. The contention is over Kenya’s unwavering support for the Federal Member State of Jubaland — one of Somalia’s five semi-autonomous states — and its leader Ahmed “Madobe” Mohamed Islam. The Jubaland leadership is at loggerheads with the centre in Mogadishu, in particular over the control of the Gedo region of Somalia.
Kenya has supported Jubaland in this dispute, allegedly hosting Jubaland militias inside its territory in Mandera County that which have been carrying out attacks on federal government of Somalia troop positions in the Gedo town of Beled Hawa on the Kenya-Somalia border. Dozens of people including many civilians have been killed in clashes between Jubaland-backed forces and the federal government troops.
Relations between the two countries have been worsened by the bitter maritime boundary dispute that has played out at the International Court of Justice (ICJ).
The latest call to close Dadaab is believed to have been largely triggered by the case at the Hague-based court, whose judgement was delivered on 12 October. The court ruled largely in favour of Somalia, awarding it most of the disputed territory. In a statement, Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta said, “At the outset, Kenya wishes to indicate that it rejects in totality and does not recognize the findings in the decision.” The dispute stems from a disagreement over the trajectory to be taken in the delimitation of the two countries’ maritime border in the Indian Ocean. Somalia filed the case at the Hague in 2014. However, Kenya has from the beginning preferred and actively pushed for the matter to be settled out of court, either through bilateral negotiations with Somalia or through third-party mediation such as the African Union.
Kenya views Somalia as an ungrateful neighbour given all the support it has received in the many years the country has been in turmoil. Kenya has hosted hundreds of thousands of Somali refugees for three decades, played a leading role in numerous efforts to bring peace in Somalia by hosting peace talks to reconcile Somalis, and the Kenyan military, as part of the African Union Mission in Somalia, AMISOM, has sacrificed a lot and helped liberate towns and cities. Kenya feels all these efforts have not been appreciated by Somalia, which in the spirit of good neighbourliness should have given negotiation more time instead of going to court. In March, on the day of the hearing, when both sides were due to present their arguments, Kenya boycotted the court proceedings at the 11th hour. The court ruled that in determining the case, it would use prior submissions and written evidence provided by Kenya. Thus, the Kenyan government’s latest demand to close Dadaab is seen as retaliation against Somalia for insisting on pursuing the case at the International Court of Justice (ICJ).
Nowhere safe to return to
Closing Dadaab by June 2022 as Kenya has insisted to the UNHCR, is not practical and will not allow the dignified return of refugees. Three decades after the total collapse of the state in Somalia, conditions have not changed much, war is still raging, the country is still in turmoil and many parts of Somalia are still unsafe. Much of the south of the country, where most of the refugees in Dadaab come from, remains chronically insecure and is largely under the control of al-Shabaab. Furthermore, the risk of some of the returning youth being recruited into al-Shabaab is real.
A programme of assisted voluntary repatriation has been underway in Dadaab since 2014, after the governments of Kenya and Somalia signed a tripartite agreement together with the UNHCR in 2013. By June 2021, around 85,000 refugees had returned to Somalia under the programme, mainly to major cities in southern Somalia such as Kismayo, Mogadishu and Baidoa. However, the programme has turned out to be complicated; human rights groups have termed it as far from voluntary, saying that return is fuelled by fear and misinformation.
Many refugees living in Dadaab who were interviewed by Human Rights Watch said that they had agreed to return because they feared Kenya would force them out if they stayed. Most of those who were repatriated returned in 2016 at a time when pressure from the Kenyan government was at its highest, with uncertainty surrounding the future of Dadaab after Kenya disbanded its Department of Refugee Affairs (DRA) and halted the registration of new refugees.
Many of the repatriated ended up in camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs) within Somalia, with access to fewer resources and a more dangerous security situation. Somalia has a large population of 2.9 million IDPs scattered across hundreds of camps in major towns and cities who have been displaced by conflict, violence and natural disasters. The IDPs are not well catered for. They live in precarious conditions, crowded in slums in temporary or sub-standard housing with very limited or no access to basic services such as education, basic healthcare, clean water and sanitation. Thousands of those who were assisted to return through the voluntary repatriation programme have since returned to Dadaab after they found conditions in Somalia unbearable. They have ended up undocumented in Dadaab after losing their refugee status in Kenya.
Many refugees living in Dadaab who were interviewed by Human Rights Watch said that they had agreed to return because they feared Kenya would force them out if they stayed.
Camps cannot be a permanent settlement for refugees. Dadaab was opened 30 years ago as a temporary solution for those fleeing the war in Somalia. Unfortunately, the situation in Somalia is not changing. It is time the Kenyan government, in partnership with members of the international community, finds a sustainable, long-term solution for Somali refugees in Kenya, including considering pathways towards integrating the refugees into Kenyan society. Dadaab could then be shut down and the refugees would be able to lead dignified lives, to work and to enjoy freedom of movement unlike today where their lives are in limbo, living in prison-like conditions inside the camps.
The proposal to allow refugees from the East African Community to remain after the closure of the camps — which will mainly affect the 130,000 South Sudanese refugees in Kakuma — is a good gesture and a major opportunity for refugees to become self-reliant and contribute to the local economy.
Announcing the scheme, Kenya said that refugees from the EAC who are willing to stay on would be issued with work permits for free. Unfortunately, this option was not made available to refugees from Somalia even though close to 60 per cent of the residents of Dadaab are under the age of 18, have lived in Kenya their entire lives and have little connection with a country their parents escaped from three decades ago.
Many in Dadaab are also third generation refugees, the grandchildren of the first wave of refugees. Many have also integrated fully into Kenyan society, intermarried, learnt to speak fluent Swahili and identify more with Kenya than with their country of origin.
The numbers that need to be integrated are not huge. There are around 269,000 Somali refugees in Dadaab and Kakuma. When you subtract the estimated 40,000 Kenyan nationals included in refugee data, the figure comes down to around 230,000 people. This is not a large population that would alter Kenya’s demography in any signific ant way, if indeed this isis the fear in some quarters. If politics were to be left out of the question, integration would be a viable option.
Many in Dadaab are also third generation refugees, the grandchildren of the first wave of refugees.
For decades, Kenya has shown immense generosity by hosting hundreds of thousands of refugees, and it is important that the country continues to show this solidarity. Whatever the circumstances and the diplomatic difficulties with its neighbour Somalia, Kenya should respect its legal obligations under international law to provide protection to those seeking sanctuary inside its borders. Refugees should only return to their country when the conditions are conducive, and Somalia is ready to receive them. To forcibly truck people to the border, as Kenya has threatened in the past, is not a solution. If the process of returning refugees to Somalia is not well thought out, a hasty decision will have devastating consequences for their security and well-being.
The Assassination of President Jovenel Moïse and the Haitian Imbroglio
As CARICOM countries call for more profound changes that would empower the Haitian population, Western powers offer plans for “consensual and inclusive” government that will continue to exclude the majority of the citizens of Haiti from participating in the running of their country.
On Wednesday 7 July 2021, the President of Haiti, Jovenel Moïse, was assassinated in his home. His wife was injured in the attack. That the president’s assassins were able to access his home posing as agents of the Drug Enforcement Agency of the United States (DEA) brought to the fore the intricate relationship between drugs, money laundering and mercenary activities in Haiti. Two days later, the government of Haiti reported that the attack had been carried out by a team of assailants, 26 of whom were Colombian. This information that ex-soldiers from Colombia were involved brought to the spotlight the ways in which Haiti society has been enmeshed in the world of the international mercenary market and instability since the overthrow of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and the Lavalas movement in 2004.
When the French Newspaper Le Monde recently stated that Haiti was one of the four drug hubs of the Caribbean region, the paper neglected to add the reality that as a drug hub, Haiti had become an important base for US imperial activities, including imperial money laundering, intelligence, and criminal networks. No institution in Haiti can escape this web and Haitian society is currently reeling from this ecosystem of exploitation, repression, and manipulation. Under President Donald Trump, the US heightened its opposition to the governments of Venezuela and Cuba. The mercenary market in Florida became interwoven with the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and the financial institutions that profited from crime syndicates that thrive on anti-communist and anti-Cuba ideas.
But even as Haitian society is reeling from intensified destabilization, the so-called Core Group (comprising of the Organization of American States (OAS), the European Union, the United States, France, Spain, Canada, Germany, and Brazil) offers plans for “consensual and inclusive” government that will continue to exclude the majority of the citizens of Haiti from participating in the running of their country. Elsewhere in the Caribbean, CARICOM countries are calling for more profound changes that would empower the population while mobilizing international resources to neutralize the social power of the money launderers and oligarchs in Haitian society.
Haiti since the Duvaliers
For the past thirty-five years, the people of Haiti have yearned for a new mode of politics to transcend the dictatorship of the Duvaliers (Papa Doc and Baby Doc). The Haitian independence struggles at the start of the 19th century had registered one of the most fundamental blows to the institutions of chattel slavery and colonial domination. Since that revolution, France and the US have cooperated to punish Haiti for daring to resist white supremacy. An onerous payment of reparations to France was compounded by US military occupation after 1915.
Under President Woodrow Wilson, the racist ideals of the US imperial interests were reinforced in Haiti in a nineteen-year military occupation that was promoted by American business interests in the country. Genocidal violence from the Dominican Republic in 1937 strengthened the bonds between militarism and extreme violence in the society. Martial law, forced labour, racism and extreme repression were cemented in the society. Duvalierism in the form of the medical doctor François Duvalier mobilized a variant of Negritude in the 50s to cement a regime of thuggery, aligned with the Cold War goals of the United States in the Caribbean. The record of the Duvalier regime was reprehensible in every form, but this kind of government received military and intelligence assistance from the United States in a region where the Cuban revolution offered an alternative. Francois Duvalier died in 1971 and was succeeded by his son, Jean-Claude Duvalier, who continued the tradition of rule by violence (the notorious Tonton Macoute) until this system was overthrown by popular uprisings in 1986.
The Haitian independence struggles at the start of the 19th century had registered one of the most fundamental blows to the institutions of chattel slavery and colonial domination.
On 16 December 1990, Jean-Bertrand Aristide won the presidency by a landslide in what were widely reported to be the first free elections in Haiti’s history. Legislative elections in January 1991 gave Aristide supporters a plurality in Haiti’s parliament. The Lavalas movement of the Aristide leadership was the first major antidote to the historical culture of repression and violence. The United States and France opposed this new opening of popular expression such that military intervention, supported by external forces in North America and the Organization of American States, brought militarists and drug dealers under General Joseph Raoul Cédras to the forefront of the society. The working peoples of Haiti were crushed by an alliance of local militarists, external military peacekeepers and drug dealers. The noted Haitian writer, Edwidge Danticat, has written extensively on the consequences of repeated military interventions, genocide and occupation in the society while the population sought avenues to escape these repressive orders. After the removal of the Aristide government in 2004, it was the expressed plan of the local elites and the external forces that the majority of the Haitian population should be excluded from genuine forms of participatory democracy, including elections.
Repression, imperial NGOs and humanitarian domination
The devastating earthquake of January 2010 further deepened the tragic socio-economic situation in Haiti. An estimated 230,000 Haitians lost their lives, 300,000 were injured, and more than 1.5 million were displaced as a result of collapsed buildings and infrastructure. External military interventions by the United Nations, humanitarian workers and international foundations joined in the corruption to strengthen the anti-democratic forces in Haitian society. The Clinton Foundation of the United States was complicit in imposing the disastrous presidency of Michel Martelly on Haitian society after the earthquake. The book by Jonathan Katz, The Big Truck That Went By: How the World Came to Save Haiti and Left Behind a Disaster, provides a gripping account of the corruption in Haiti. So involved were the Clintons in the rot in Haiti that Politico Magazine dubbed Bill and Hilary, The King and Queen of Haiti.
In 2015, Jovenel Moïse was elected president in a very flawed process, but was only able to take office in 2017. From the moment he entered the presidency, his administration became immersed in the anti-people traditions that had kept the ruling elites together with the more than 10,000 international NGOs that excluded Haitians from participating in the projects for their own recovery. President Moïse carved out political space in Haiti with the support of armed groups who were deployed as death squads with the mission of terrorizing popular spaces and repressing supporters of the Haitian social movement. In a society where the head of state did not have a monopoly over armed gangs, kidnappings, murder (including the killing of schoolchildren) and assassinations got out of control. Under Moïse, Haiti had become an imbroglio where the government and allied gangs organized a series of massacres in poor neighbourhoods known to host anti-government organizing, killing dozens at a time.
Moïse and the extension of repression in Haiti
Moïse remained president with the connivance of diplomats and foundations from Canada, France and the United States. These countries and their leaders ignored the reality that the Haitian elections of 2017 were so deeply flawed and violent that almost 80 per cent of Haitian voters did not, or could not, vote. Moïse, with the support of one section of the Haitian power brokers, avoided having any more elections, and so parliament became inoperative in January 2020, when the terms of most legislators expired. When mayors’ terms expired in July 2020, Moïse personally appointed their replacements. This accumulation of power by the president deepened the divisions within the capitalist classes in Haiti. Long-simmering tensions between the mulatto and black capitalists were exacerbated under Moïse who mobilized his own faction on the fact that he was seeking to empower and enrich the black majority. Thugs and armed gangs were integrated into the drug hub and money laundering architecture that came to dominate Haiti after 2004.
After the Trump administration intensified its opposition to the Venezuelan government, the political and commercial leadership in Haiti became suborned to the international mercenary and drug systems that were being mobilized in conjunction with the military intelligence elements in Florida and Colombia. President Jovenel Moïse’s term, fed by spectacular and intense struggles between factions of the looters, was scheduled to come to a legal end in February 2021. Moïse sought to remain in power, notwithstanding the Haitian constitution, the electoral law, or the will of the Haitian people.
So involved were the Clintons in the rot in Haiti that Politico Magazine dubbed Bill and Hilary, The King and Queen of Haiti.
Since the removal of Aristide and the marginalization of the Lavalas forces from the political arena in Haiti, the US has been more focused on strengthening the linkages between the Haitian drug lords and the money launderers in Colombia, Florida, Dominican Republic, and Venezuelan exiles. It was therefore not surprising that the mercenary industry, with its linkages to financial forces in Florida, has been implicated in the assassination of President Moïse. The Core Group of Canada, France and the US has not once sought to deploy the resources of the international Financial Action Task Force (FATF) to penetrate the interconnections between politicians in Haiti and the international money laundering and mercenary market.
Working for democratic transition in Haiti
The usual handlers of Haitian repression created the Core Group within one month of Moïse’s assassination. Canada, France and the United States had historically been implicated in the mismanaging of Haiti along with the United Nations. Now, the three countries have mobilized the OAS (with its checkered history), Brazil and the European Union to add their weight to a new transition that will continue to exclude the majority of the people of Haiti. It has been clear that under the current system of destabilization and violence, social peace will be necessary before elections can take place in Haiti.
Moïse sought to remain in power, notwithstanding the Haitian constitution, the electoral law, or the will of the Haitian people.
The continuous infighting among the Haitian ruling elements after the assassination was temporarily resolved at the end of July when Ariel Henry was confirmed by the US and France as Prime Minister. Henry had been designated as prime minister by Moïse days before his assassination. The popular groups in Haiti that had opposed Moïse considered the confirmation of Ariel Henry as a slap in the face because they had been demonstrating for the past four years for a more robust change to the political landscape. These organizations mobilized in what they called the Commission, (a gathering of civil society groups and political parties with more than 150 members), and had been holding marathon meetings to publicly work out what kind of transitional government they would want to see. According to the New York Times, rather than a consensus, the Core Group of international actors imposed a “unilateral proposal” on the people of Haiti.
Haiti is a member of CARICOM. The Caribbean community has proposed a longer transition period overseen by CARICOM for the return of Haiti to democracy. With the experience of the UN in Haiti, the Caribbean community has, through its representative on the UN Security Council, proposed the mobilization of the peacekeeping resources and capabilities of the UN to be deployed to CARICOM in order to organize a credible transition to democracy in Haiti. The nature and manner of the assassination of President Moïse has made more urgent the need for genuine reconstruction and support for democratic transition in Haiti.
How Dadaab Has Changed the Fortunes of North-Eastern Kenya
Despite the hostile rhetoric and threats of closure, the presence of refugees in the camps in northern-eastern Kenyan has benefited the host communities.
In the 1960s, Kenya had a progressive refugee policy that allowed refugees to settle anywhere in the country and to access education. This approach created in Kenya a cadre of skilled and professional refugees. However, the policy changed in the 1990s due to an overwhelming influx of refugees and asylum seekers escaping conflict in Somalia, Ethiopia and South Sudan. Kenya switched to an encampment policy for refugees, who were mainly confined to camps.
Although there are refugees living in urban and peri-urban areas elsewhere in the country, for over two decades, northern Kenya has hosted a disproportionate number of the refugees living in Kenya. The region has been home to one of the world’s largest refugee camps, with generations of lineage having an impact on the economic, social, cultural, and ecological situation of the region because of the support provided by the government and by non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in education, health and security services.
Mandera and Marsabit counties, both of which boarder with Ethiopia, Wajir County which borders with both Ethiopia and Somalia and, Garissa County which borders with Somalia, have hosted refugees and migrants displaced from their countries of origin for various reasons. In 2018, the town of Moyale, which is on the Ethiopian boarder in Marsabit County, temporarily hosted over 10,000 Ethiopians escaping military operations in Ethiopia’s Moyale District.
Elwak town in Wajir County occasionally hosts pastoralist communities from Somalia who cross into Kenya seeking pasture for their livestock. While the movement of refugees into Marsabit and Wajir counties has been of a temporary nature, Garissa County has hosted refugees for decades.
Located 70 kilometres from the border with Somalia, the Dadaab refugee complex was established in the 1990s and has three main camps: Dagahaley, Ifo, and Hagadera. Due to an increase in refugee numbers around 2011, the Kambioos refugee camp in Fafi sub-county was established to host new arrivals from Somalia and to ease pressure on the overcrowded Hagadera refugee camp. The Kambioos camp was closed in 2019 as the refugee population fell.
According to the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, and the Refugee Affairs Secretariat (RAS), the Dadaab refugee complex currently hosts over 226, 689 refugees, 98 per cent of whom are from Somalia. In 2015, the refugee population in the Dadaab refugee complex was over 300,000, larger than that of the host community. In 2012, the camp held over 400,000 refugees leading to overstretched and insufficient resources for the growing population.
Under international refugee and human rights law, the government has the sole responsibility of hosting and caring for refugees. However, there is little information regarding the investments made by the Kenyan government in the refugee sector in the north-eastern region over time. Moreover, the government’s investment in the sector is debatable since there was no proper legal framework to guide refugee operations in the early 1990s. It was only in 2006 that the government enacted the Refugee Act that formally set up the Refugee Affairs Secretariat mandated to guide and manage the refugee process in Kenya.
While the Refugee Act of 2006 places the management of refugee affairs in the hands of the national government, devolved county governments play a significant role in refugee operations. With the 2010 constitution, the devolution of social functions such as health and education has extended into refugee-hosting regions and into refugee camps. While devolution in this new and more inclusive system of governance has benefited the previously highly marginalised north-eastern region through a fairer distribution of economic and political resources, there is however little literature on how the refugees benefit directly from the county government resource allocations.
The three north-eastern counties are ranked among the leading recipients of devolved funds: Mandera County alone received US$88 million in the 2015/2016 financial year, the highest allocation of funds after Nairobi and Turkana, leading to developmental improvements.
However, it can be argued that the allocation of funds from the national government to the northern frontier counties by the Kenya Commission on Revenue Allocation—which is always based on the Revenue Allocation table that prioritizes population, poverty index, land area, basic equal share and fiscal responsibility—may not have been taking the refugee population into account. According to the 2019 census, the population of Dadaab sub-county is 185,252, a figure that is well below the actual refugee population. The increase in population in the north-eastern region that is due to an increase in the refugee population calls for an increase in the allocation of devolved funds.
The three north-eastern counties are ranked among the leading recipients of devolved funds.
Dadaab refugee camp has been in the news for the wrong reasons. Security agencies blame the refugees for the increased Al Shabaab activity in Kenya, and even though these claims are disputed, the government has made moves to close down the camp. In 2016, plans to close Dadaab were blocked by the High Court which declared the proposed closure unconstitutional. In 2021, Kenya was at it again when Ministry of Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’I tweeted that he had given the UNHCR 14 days to draw up a plan for the closure of the camp. The UNHCR and the government issued a joint statement agreeing to close the camp in June 2022.
The security rhetoric is not new. There has been a sustained campaign by Kenya to portray Dadaab as a security risk on national, regional and international platforms. During the 554th meeting of the African Union Peace and Security Forum held in November 2015, it was concluded that the humanitarian character of the Dadaab refugee camp had been compromised. The AU statements, which may have been drafted by Kenya, claimed that the attacks on Westgate Mall and Garissa University were planned and launched from within the refugee camps. These security incidents are an indication of the challenges Kenya has been facing in managing security. For example, between 2010 and 2011, there were several IED (Improvised Explosive Devices) incidents targeting police vehicles in and around Dadaab where a dozen officers were injured or killed. In October 2012, two people working for the medical charity Médicins Sans Frontières (MSF) were kidnapped in Dadaab. Local television network NTV has described the camp as “a womb of terror” and “a home for al-Shabaab operations”.
There has been a sustained campaign by Kenya to portray Dadaab as a security risk on national, regional and international platforms.
Security restrictions and violent incidents have created a challenging operational environment for NGOs, leading to the relocation of several non-local NGO staff as well as contributing to a shrinking humanitarian space. Some teachers and health workers from outside the region have refused to return to the area following terrorist attacks by Al-Shabaab, leaving behind large gaps in the health, education, and nutrition sectors.
However, despite the challenging situation, the refugee camps have also brought many benefits, not only to Kenya as a country but also to the county governments and the local host communities.
According to the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) half the refugee population in the IGAD member states are children of school-going age, between 4 and 18 years.
In Garissa, the education sector is one of the areas that has benefited from the hosting of refugees in the county because the host community has access to schools in the refugee camps. Windle Trust, an organisation that offers scholarships to students in secondary schools and in vocational training institutes, has been offering scholarships to both the refugees and the host communities. In July 2021, over 70 students benefited from a project run by International Labour Organisations (ILO) in partnership with Garissa county governments, the East African Institute of Welding (EAIW) and the Kenya Association of Manufacturers (KAM) to give industrial welding skills to refugees and host communities.
However, despite the measures taken by the Kenyan government to enrol refugees in Kenyan schools, there is a notable gap that widens as students go through the different levels of education. Statistics show that of the school-going refugee population, only a third get access to secondary education of which a sixth get to join tertiary institutions. This is well below the government’s Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4 target that seeks to ensure that all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education. This also reflects the situation of the host community’s education uptake. Other investments in the education sector that have targeted the host communities include recruitment and deployment of early childhood education teachers to schools in the host community by UNHCR and other non-governmental organizations (NGOs).
The presence of refugees has led to NGOs setting up and running projects in the camps. According to Garissa County’s Integrated Development Plan, there are over 70 non-governmental organisations present, with the majority operating around the Dadaab refugee complex and within the host communities. The UNHCR estimates that it will require about US$149.6 million to run its operations in Dadaab Camp this year. However, as of May 2021, only US$45.6 million—31 per cent of the total amount required—had been received.
The decrease in humanitarian funding has had an impact on the livelihoods of refugees and host communities in north-eastern Kenya. According to the World Bank, 73 per cent of the population of Garissa County live below the poverty line. In the absence of social safety nets, locals have benefited from the humanitarian operations in and around the camp. The UNHCR reports that about 40,000 Kenyan nationals within a 50km radius of the Dadaab refugee camp ended up enrolling as refugees in order to access food and other basic services in the camps.
In 2014, the UNHCR reported that it had supported the Kenyan community residing in the wider Daadab region in establishing over US$5 million worth of community assets since 2011. The presence of refugees has also increased remittances from the diaspora, and there are over 50 remittance outlets operating in the Dadaab camp, increasing economic opportunities and improving services. Using 2010 as the reference year, researchers have found that the economic benefits of the Dadaab camp to the host community amount to approximately US$14 million annually.
The UNHCR reported that it had supported the Kenyan community residing in the wider Daadab region in establishing over US$5 million of community assets since 2011 since 2011.
To reduce overdependence on aid and humanitarian funding in running refugee operations, the County Government of Garissa developed a Garissa Integrated Socio-Economic Development Plan (GISEDP) in 2019 that provided ways of integrating refugees into the socio-economic life of the community to enhance their self-reliance. The European Union announced a Euro 5 million funding programme to support the socio-economic development plan, thus opening up opportunities for development initiatives including income generating activities such as the flourishing businesses at Hagadera market. The recent announcement of the planned closure of the camp has put these plans at risk.
The host community is increasingly involved in issues that affect both the locals living around the Dadaab refugee complex and the refugees themselves, with the voice of the community gaining prominence in decision-making regarding the county budget and sometimes even regarding NGO operations. NGOs periodically conduct needs assessments in and around the camp to guide the budgeting and planning process for subsequent years and the host community is always consulted.
Interest in governance issues has also increased. For example, between 2010 and 2015 the host community successfully lobbied for increased employment opportunities for locals in the UNHCR operations. With experience in the humanitarian field, some from within the host communities have secured positions as expatriates in international organizations across the globe, adding to increased international remittances to Garissa County.
Research reveals that, compared to other pastoralist areas, health services for host communities have improved because of the presence of aid agencies in Dadaab. Hospitals managed by Médicins Sans Frontières and the International Red Cross in Dagahaley and Hagadera respectively are said to be offering better services than the sub-county hospital in Dadaab town. The two hospitals are Ministry of Health-approved vaccination centres in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.
Despite the massive investments made in the health sector by humanitarian organisations in and around Dadaab, both UNICEF and the World Health Organisation have identified the camp as an entry point for infectious diseases like polio and measles into Kenya. There was a confirmed case of WPV1 (wild poliovirus) in a 4-month-old girl from the Dadaab refugee camp in May 2013. This is a clear indication of the health risks associated with the situation.
Researchers have found that the economic benefits of the Dadaab camp to the host community amount to approximately US$14 million annually.
Other problems associated with the presence of the camps include encroachment of the refugee population on local land, leading to crime and hostility between the two communities. These conflicts are aggravated by the scramble for the little arable land available in this semi-arid region that makes it difficult to grow food and rear farm animals, leading to food shortages.
While it is important to acknowledge that progress has been made in integrating refugees into the north-eastern region, and that some development has taken place in the region, more needs to be done to realise the full potential of the region and its communities. Kenya’s security sector should ensure that proper measures are put in place to enhance security right from the border entry point in order to weed out criminals who take advantage of Kenya’s acceptance of refugees. The country should not expel those who have crossed borders in search of refuge but should tap fully into the benefits that come with hosting refugees.
Politics2 weeks ago
Client 13173: The Secret Offshore World of the Kenyatta Family
Op-Eds1 week ago
Burying the Lede: Kenyan Media Smothers Pandora Papers Story
Op-Eds1 week ago
Kenyan Media and the War in Somalia: In Bed With the Troops
Op-Eds1 week ago
Open Letter to Kenyans Who Do Not Behave Like Jonah
Op-Eds2 weeks ago
The Pandora Papers Explained
Op-Eds1 week ago
‘Sifanyi Kazi’: The importance of the MW v AN Case in Support of Care Work
Op-Eds1 week ago
Undaunted Father Dolan: Missionary or Rebel With a Cause?
Politics1 week ago
Kulipa Ushuru Si Kujitegemea: Tax Avoidance and Evasion in Africa