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Africa’s Land, the Final Frontier of Global Capital

10 min read.

If the designs of global big money are not stopped in their tracks, Africa is threatened with environmental degradation and nutritional poverty.

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Africa’s Land, the Final Frontier of Global Capital

Three great factors are coming together to constitute what may be a whole new, and final chapter in the book of horrors that have been visited on the African people since the birth of Western European capitalism.

If Native Africans do not begin to think very deeply about what this is going to mean for what is left of them, in terms of their livelihoods and ways of living, then the recent past will seem like a small piece of paradise.

Unlike our ancestors, who are often blamed — opportunistically — for the original conquest of Africa and the trade in enslaved Africans that came before it, this time round, there will be no excuses or debate. Africa now knows what colonial conquest is and what it does, in a way that our unfortunate ancestors could not.

The first factor is that capitalism is fast running out of things to destroy in order to make profits. The climate crisis is the best evidence of this. This has been a long-term trend, certainly since the 1960s. However, the most recent financial collapse of 2008 certainly intensified it. Of the grand things and sectors left for capitalism to ravage, there is the production of food for the masses of people crowded into the towns and cities of the West, with no space, time or fundamental skills to produce it for themselves from scratch.

The global corporate food industry is based on one key assumption: that the human race, as it continues to grow in number, will become less and less able to independently produce food for itself. These is because of embedded assumptions about the inevitability of intensive urbanization, as well as time and lifestyle choices, themselves often culturally encouraged, if not imposed, by the same industry.

Food, that indispensable need, is now recreated as a guaranteed industrial commodity.

And so, a lot of corporate interest and money has migrated into the corporate agriculture sector, globally. Global big money is now trying to colonise food production itself, on a global scale, in order to find new ways of keeping its money valuable. Writing in mod-2011, the late Dani Nabudere perceives a deeper conflict:

During the first three months of 2008-the year the global economic crisis intensified, international nominal prices of all major food commodities reached their highest levels for fifty years. The United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation-FAO reported that food price indices had risen, on the average, by 8% in 2006 compared with the previous year.  In 2007, the food index rose by 24% compared with 2006 and in the first three months of 2008, it rose by 53% compared with 2007. This sudden surge in prices was led by increases in vegetable oils, which on the average increased by 97%, followed by grains with an increase of 87%, dairy products with 58% and rice with 46%.

This means that investing in food, or the assumption of the future existence of food as a commodity to be traded. In short, what is known as the Futures market. But the problem with futures is that at some point, the commodity will have to come into existence.

The second thing native Africans need to be aware of, and arising from the first, is that African land is going to be in demand in a way not seen even at the height of the period of European colonial domination.

Most of the world’s arable land is now found somewhere in Africa. It is unclear if by this is meant arable land under use, or also land that can be put to agricultural use (but may be located under a forest, or something, at present).

The March 2012 issue of Finance & Development Magazine sheds some light on that equation:

Throughout the world, it is estimated that 445 million hectares of land are uncultivated and available for farming, compared with about 1.5 billion hectares already under cultivation. About 201 million hectares are in sub-Saharan Africa, 123 million in Latin America, and 52 million in eastern Europe. . .

The third factor is that arable land is only arable if it has fresh water near it. And it is only viable for corporate exploitation if it also has no people on it. Africa is therefore the prime target: plenty of fresh water, and very few real land rights.

In my estimation, the area of Africa between the Western and Eastern Rift Valleys running along the length of the Nile valley below the Sahel has been identified as on the last open, near-virgin territories, ripe for intensive mechanized agricultural exploitation.

That area’s human settlements have historically originated around the pattern of freshwater bodies. A lot of Uganda was once a wetland. As a result, the country will find itself located at the very epicentre of any such an enterprise.

Dr Mike Burry, a now legendary American stock market operator is reported in the Farmfolio website to have said, “I believe that agricultural land – productive agricultural land with water on site – will be very valuable in the future . . . . I’ve put a good amount of money into that.”

The website goes on to report quite sarcastically,

Over the next three decades, the UN forecasts the global population to increase to about 10 billion. How do you imagine farmland investments will benefit from an over 30% increase in mouths to feed? Good luck feeding two billion people with Bitcoin or gold nuggets.

In this sense, colonialism was just the attempted start, with the former white settler farm economies of Kenya and southern Africa as the increasingly decrepit leftovers. The goal now is African land in general, wherever land can be turned over to large-scale (and therefore mechanised, “scientised” and corporatized) production of the commodities needed to make factory food.

The implications are clear: the goal of the huge capitalist formations that dominate public and foreign policy in the industrial countries, and whose agribusiness interests have a global reach, is to turn Africa into a huge farm, both as an opportunity, and as a response to an internal crisis.

In a May 2017 opinion piece published in the UK Guardian newspaper, then United Nations Environment Programme Head Erich Solheim made a similar point:

Several scenarios for cropland expansion – many focusing on Africa’s so-called “spare land” – have already effectively written off its elephants from having a future in the wild. These projections have earmarked a huge swathe of land spanning from Nigeria to South Sudan for farming, or parts of West Africa for conversion to palm oil plantations.

All this speaks directly to the immediate future of the African people. Put bluntly, in order to put industrial agriculture in place here, there will have to be genocide, massive environmental damage, widespread human displacement, and therefore repression and conflict as the tools of implementation.

African land is going to be in demand in a way not seen even at the height of the period of European colonial domination.

The Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA), calls the bringing of the US agribusiness model to Africa “a grave mistake”. They describe the model as “the single largest cause of biodiversity loss worldwide,” that “also fails to solve hunger, negatively impacts small-scale farmers, and causes environmental harm.”

It is in this context that the debates in Uganda and Kenya, for example, about land use and policy, can then be appreciated.

In Uganda, President Yoweri Museveni has launched a political offensive (once again) against the Kingdom of Buganda, describing its neo-traditional land tenure system as “evil” and in desperate need of reform.

This should not come as a surprise to anyone. First of all, Mr Museveni has firmly established himself as the pre-eminent fixer for imperialist ambitions in the Great Lakes Region. Whatever the owners of Western capital want here is what he will always try to deliver, no matter the collateral damage. Secondly, whenever the Ugandan president hatches a plan targeting the wealth and resources of native Ugandans, he begins with an attack on Buganda. Not because there is anything more valuable there, but because it enables the ideological seduction of a useful section of Ugandan political society: Ugandan “patriotism” was built on the notion that native identities are a bad thing, and that the Ganda identity is the worst of all.

It worked in the process of marginalising native voices in the independence movement and replacing them with smooth-talking “pan-Africanists”.

It then worked again with the creation of the culture of dictatorship between 1966 and 1979. Voices raised in opposition were easily dismissed as “divisive”, or retrograde. The mission now, was to build the new non-ethnic nation.

More recently, it has been deployed again to justify global neo-liberal designs on African land, through dismissing native resistance to it as “backward” and “parochial”.

Once it has been politically established that the overriding of native objections to anything is an essential and desirable part of development, then the “principle” can be applied in practice, to all other parts of the country.

Through its loyal and devoted client, the National Resistance Movement regime, Western capitalism is targeting all Ugandan land, regardless of which natives own it and under what system.

The same principle works differently in Kenya, but towards the same end. Initial white settler-based agriculture was never successful. Part of the story of Kenyan independence is actually the story of the Empire at headquarters becoming increasingly unwilling to deploy the economic, political and military resources needed to maintain a colony largely for the benefit of a small group of unproductive, self-regarding “middle-class sluts”, as one of the British commanding officers is alleged to have described the settlers.

However, a legacy of that time is that unlike in Uganda, vast areas of Kenya’s potentially productive land are still in white and foreign ownership. And a lot of this is in areas historically within a pastoralist ecosystem.

A succession of Kenyan governments neglected to address this historical injustice. In fact, through corruption, key individuals in a number of those regimes actively took advantage of the situation and joined the white families in becoming big landholders themselves.

Put bluntly, in order to put industrial agriculture in place here, there will have to be genocide.

Today, the three-way contestation between native (often pastoralist) communities, dogged white and other land oligarchs, and a wavering, uncaring state, rumbles on.

Co-author of The Big Conservation Lie: The Untold Story of Wildlife Conservation in Kenya, longstanding Kenyan conservation biologist, and land rights activist, Mordecai Ogada, has long argued that the whole wildlife tourism-based “conservation” industry run off the vast settler-leased native landholdings is basically a landgrab. The question will be Is this just for tourism, or will it be open to other ventures, like industrial agriculture?

It could lead to something deeper. Arguments for “development” and “rangeland/wildlife conservation” will be mobilised as a cover to carry out large-scale land grabbing and the eviction of peasants and pastoralists from lands they have historically occupied. Not just for the parochial descendants of the original white settlers now turned “conservationists”, but the kind of mega-scale mechanised planting that has been so central (and destructive) to the American mid-west, the Amazon basin, and native Canada.

This was also partly how the war that eventually split Sudan played out in the now separated south, and still plays out in Darfur and the Nuba Mountains. A significant section of Arab-descended northern economic elites was centered on the production of wheat. According to the Sudanese intellectual Dr Fatimer Babiker Mahmoud, in the late 1980s, this sector was making millions of dollars annually from the large-scale planting, harvesting and export of the grain to Europe, Asia and the Arab world.

Sometimes this meant the clearing of the more fertile lands of the south, the Nuba mountain lowlands and the Darfur region – all largely inhabited by Black Africans –  for the mechanised growing of wheat. This is what gave the conflict its racial character, as Arab chauvinist arguments were used to justify this genocide.

But, as with the white settler projects, these should be seen as trial runs in the greater measurement of our economic history. There is a need to understand the sheer scale and scope of these operations.

What may be coming will be much grander in scale, out of both Western necessity and greed.

Of the top ten foods listed as traded the most within global trade by  the Just-Food Magazine website in 2014, (fish, soybean, wheat, palm oil, beef, soybean meal, corn, chicken meat, rice and coffee) there are five key items that drive the processed food industry: palm oil, wheat, soya and corn.  It seems sugar cannot be accurately measured because it features in just about anything processed.

In addition, meat production (chicken, beef and pork) is dependent on the others on the list. Cattle are fed on corn, and soya (and the soybean meal) comprises part of what is fed to chickens.

The scale of the operations means that huge sums of money are invested. In today’s world, this means money from banks and institutional investors (hedge funds, etc.) as shareholders in agribusiness corporations. Poultry factories can contain up to forty thousand chickens permanently locked in cages for laying, or just warehouses of several thousand square feet. In early 2020, some 20 million chickens were being slaughtered each week in the United Kingdom. Corn and other grain are usually planted on lots measuring thousands of hectares apiece.

When investing on this scale, certain guarantees must be put in place. These are not matters that are left to chance, or fortune. And the primary purpose of all capitalist economic activity, especially in the West, is to obtain the biggest private return possible on any investment. And also usually in the shortest possible turnaround time.

This is why “insurance” measures are locked in from the start. In particular, chemical-based fertilisers, pesticides and fungicides and also increasingly, the use of genetically modified seeds and livestock, as well as steroids and antibiotics to promote rapid growth and prevent sicknesses.

In fact, through corruption, key individuals in a number of those regimes actively took advantage of the situation and joined the white families in becoming big landholders themselves.

The goal is huge, regular volumes of uniform products to be processed and marketed to huge urbanized populations.

The whole commercialisation process begins in the West, where this industry is the most developed. The European conquest of the continents of north and South America, also mark the period when food production migrated from being a community-based activity, to an industry.

This led to the clearance of human settlement from large areas of land, as well as the destruction of forests and wetlands, all to make way for the animal ranches and very big plantations.

This way of life is now being increasingly imposed on all societies, as “the normal”.

The recent riots in the Republic of South Africa for example, are an illustration of the dangers of becoming prisoners of a privately owned, mechanised food supply system, and also an attempted repudiation of it.

The rest of Africa is quickly “catching up” to this advanced backwardness, with the increasing rate of unplanned migration to urban centers due to loss of opportunities in community-based agriculture.

In Uganda for example, this process was driven by the intentional Museveni-led neo-liberal disruptions to the adapted system of community-based agriculture that has been built up in the country over a period of nearly eight decades.

Agricultural production remains at the heart of this struggle. The Africans sought to ensure that they continued to produce their indigenous food crops so as to retain food sovereignty, while at the same time engaging in the new cash crop economy that was encroaching on their land and labour power.

Official African policy within each African state, as well as in the regional economic blocs and the various policy and finance bodies (such as the African Development Bank), remain uncritically in support (or at least not opposed) to this general strategic direction.

What may be coming will be much grander in scale, out of both Western necessity and greed.

“Africa must start by treating agriculture as a business,” wrote African Development Bank (AfDB) President Dr Akinwumi Adesina, in African Business magazine in 2017.  “It must learn fast from experiences elsewhere, for example in south east Asia, where agriculture has been the foundation for fast-paced economic growth, built on a strong food processing and agro-industrial manufacturing base.”

Our official planners suffer from a tragic tendency of conflating any activity involving money and machines, with “development”. The intention is to duplicate life as it is almost universally led in the Western-style countries. They think is will bring “industrialisation”, and through that, jobs.

There are four significant conflicts or budding conflicts on the continent right now, in which arable land for mechanisation will increasingly become a factor. These are in southern Ethiopia, Congo and the whole Sahel zone, anchored on Nigeria (and Sudan), and Kenya.

If these developments are not challenged and stopped, Africa can look forward to environmental degradation, and nutritional poverty.

We will all become Africans in South Africa, and poor people in the West.

Assuming the Western industrial system lasts much longer. And that the planet also does.

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Kalundi Serumaga is a social and political commentator based in Kampala.

Politics

The Ruto Roadshow: A Radical Attempt to Transform Kenyan Politics?

The Deputy President’s “hustler” narrative is less significant than the structure of his campaign that seeks to transform electoral competition.

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The Ruto Roadshow: A Radical Attempt to Transform Kenyan Politics?

Deputy President William Ruto is making waves in Kenya. His partnership with President Uhuru Kenyatta for the 2013 and 2017 elections rested on the understanding that Kenyatta would back him for the top post in 2022. During the 2017 election campaign, Kenyatta had publicly stated that he and Ruto would rule for a total 20 years.

Yet despite this, in March 2018 the president established a new partnership with his long-standing rival, Raila Odinga. The precise details of the agreement are unclear, but essentially the two leaders agreed to work together to end political instability and further their political interests. This new partnership confirmed widely held suspicions that Kenyatta might not live up to his end of the bargain to facilitate Ruto’s rise to the presidency. The Deputy President’s response was vigorous and revulsive: he began what is in effect his own presidential election campaign, and has been running it – complete with almost daily events at which he offers cutting critiques of his rivals – for the last two years.

Ruto himself is anxious to emphasise the novelty of his political offering. His pitch rests on a narrative about what he and his supporters call the “hustler”– that he himself began poor, and worked his way to wealth and status through determination, and that everybody should have that opportunity. This approach is often explicitly depicted as being, if not revolutionary, then transformative at the very least. In contrast to “old school” Kenyan politics that was based on ethnicity and clientelism, Ruto is speaking a more populist language that explicitly critiques political dynasties and promotes the idea of a more meritocratic model that would both respect and lift up the country’s toiling hustlers. In his speeches, he denounces the wadosi – the rich – who make deals in hotels and boardrooms and despise the poor.

Yet, in some ways, the Deputy President’s message may be less significant than the structure of his campaign.

Probing the populism

Those of a sceptical and/or historical inclination might question how novel Ruto’s narrative really is. The idea that self-advancement comes through hard work and that the task of government is to enable this, was a fairly strong motif in post-independence Kenya, when Uhuru’s father, Jomo Kenyatta, was president. Indeed, it was the concept at the heart of Kenyatta’s call to Harambee, a development policy in which it was made clear to citizens that they would only benefit from state support if they first pulled together to do something for themselves. Kenyatta was not the only one to inject an element of meritocracy into Kenya’s highly elitist and unequal political system. In the 1970s, JM Kariuki built on this appeal while explicitly critiquing the growing inequality that flourished after independence, famously arguing, “We do not want a Kenya of ten millionaires and ten million beggars.”

It is partly because it draws on this deeper history of politics that the language of the “hustle” has allowed Ruto to successfully recast himself as the foremost critic of inequality in Kenya. By adopting this language, the Deputy President hopes to present himself as the advocate of those excluded by a wealthy establishment that is out of touch. When Ruto works up the crowd with chants of Harambee, the deep roots of the “hustler” rhetoric are very apparent.

Nor is Ruto’s campaign blind to identity politics. His campaign itinerary suggests a belief that his best chance of winning the election is to swing the vote in the populous former Rift Valley and Central provinces.

Even some of the disingenuity and contradictions of Ruto’s campaign reflect long-standing patterns. His critics point out that he is part of the very establishment that he denounces – having come into politics in the 1990s as part of a movement that supported the then-incumbent president, Daniel arap Moi, support that involved both violence against the opposition and flagrant vote buying. Ruto has been prominent ever since, and has held the office of Deputy President since 2013. His wealth has grown remarkably through these years in politics, and he has never distanced himself from this past.

But personal wealth, however acquired, has never been a bar to populist politicking in Kenya – JM was also personally wealthy and well-connected, as were some of the leaders of the “second liberation” of the early 1990s. Being rich in Kenyan politics has never been perceived as bad – to be inaccessible or unresponsive to the ordinary person is the real offence. Ruto has not broken the mould in terms of political rhetoric – instead, he has drawn on a deeper history of Kenyan politics to achieve the remarkable feat of casting himself as the outsider. Against a backdrop of public anger at the combination of an economic downturn and government ineffectiveness, this has allowed him to emerge as a strong frontrunner.

The real transformation?

While the “hustler” narrative has attracted much comment, rather less has been said about the structure of Ruto’s campaign. Yet this is arguably more significant – both in terms of what it reveals about his overall strategy and aims, and what it may portend for the viability of his ambitions.

Since the 1990s, Kenyan electoral politics have come to revolve around the building of coalitions among groups of gatekeepers – “big men” (or, occasionally, women), each of whom claims to speak for a region of the country and promises to deliver the support of voters from that region. A classic example was the “pentagon” of five major regional leaders – including Ruto – that backed Raila Odinga’s presidential campaign in 2007.

Personal wealth, however acquired, has never been a bar to populist politicking in Kenya.

The 2010 constitution, with its requirement for an absolute majority in presidential elections, entrenched this pattern. Presidential campaigns have become bargaining processes amongst a relatively small number of leaders; the precise cast has changed a little from one poll to the next, but the assumption that support must be built through prominent gatekeepers has driven the behaviour of politicians, and the analyses of observers. But not in Ruto’s case.

Ruto has worked hard to build a network, of course, but it does not include any of the most prominent “big men”. There is no Moi, Musyoka or Mudavadi. His team is put together from politicians at a slightly lower level – mostly members of the National Assembly, with a few county governors. He is the centrepiece of his many public appearances. In other words, Ruto is not aiming for a coalition of distinct leaders each with their own group of voters to deliver, each bargaining for a place for themselves and a slice of the resources for “their” people.

This is the Ruto show.

From coalitions to parties

The absence of regional gatekeepers is partly a personal strategy to ensure his dominance – he is, incontrovertibly, the leader here. There is no other prominent leader – below him is a plateau of multiple local figures – each influential in a local area, but none with regional reach. That makes Ruto safe from challenge from within, and means that he is less vulnerable to late defections, something that has often characterised Kenyan elections.

This also fits well with the hustler narrative – one reason Ruto’s rhetoric plays well is that he has been consistent in the way he presents himself. By shunning the most obvious members of the country’s dynasties, he sustains the idea that he is an outsider and that he is eschewing Big Man politics: he is not making deals with wadosi in hotels. It also protects Ruto from embarrassment should he fail to persuade many big hitters to join his team – a real possibility given the likelihood that his allies and financiers will be targeted by the government with court cases and tax audits in the run-up to 2022.

This is opportunistic, of course. But it is not just opportunistic.  Ruto’s approach represents a genuine attempt to transform electoral competition and create a new kind of party. Kenya’s political parties are notoriously ephemeral, put together from multiple local networks in a chain of articulations – from national leader to regional big shots, and so on down to the local level. Ruto is one of a very small number of politicians to show an interest in attempting to change this.

A few years ago, Ruto to tried to turn the Jubilee Alliance that had brought him and President Kenyatta to power in 2013 into a political party with an actual presence and an organization of its own. He was motivated partly by the desire to strengthen Jubilee’s hold on power, but also by the recognition that his rivals within the alliance might seek to block his presidential ambitions, and a desire to build an institution that would protect his interests when the time came.

Ruto is not aiming for a coalition of distinct leaders each with their own group of voters to deliver.

That fizzled out, but Ruto is now making another attempt with his United Democratic Alliance (UDA). In contrast to the politics of past elections, Ruto wants one party that he controls, not a coalition of gatekeepers.

In many ways, this is a more radical ambition than the talk of hustlers. Coalition politics has been part and parcel of the claims-making that drives Kenyan politics: those elected are delegates, sent to ensure that those who voted for them receive a fair share of state resources. That is why parties have struggled – because since the end of one-party rule, no party has been able to establish itself as a mechanism for this politics of accountability, which has instead always relied on networks of individuals that tend to draw their moral force from shared ideas of ethnic or regional belonging.

Ruto wants to tame those networks and channel them into his party. It is a bold idea; apart from anything else, it threatens to cut the ground from under a cohort of “national” politicians whose status rests on their personal role as regional big shots. But because many commentators dislike and distrust Ruto – for good reason – they have not seen how potentially radical this is.

Can parties beat coalitions?

Will Ruto’s gambit work? The answer is probably not – at least when it comes to resisting coalition politics.

The Deputy President is already running into trouble with his attempts to establish a party structure. If producing a line-up of officials that doesn’t fracture the campaign is proving tricky, the task of nominating candidates in a few months will be a massive test. And when Ruto chooses his running mate he will come under intense pressure to pick a well-known figure that can be relied upon to deliver a good number of votes.

There are also likely to be challenges at other levels of political mobilization. To start with, some of the people he is trying to recast as party members are not necessarily content or comfortable in that role – partly because it diminishes their independence, but also because it pushes them into a different style of politics that foregrounds the party, not the personal role of the politician as an individual. That may not work.

Ruto has already been forced to make concessions, agreeing to grant smaller parties autonomy in local races rather than forcing them to disband and join UDA. He still maintains, however, that he will make no alliances or coalitions that include promises to other candidates and organizations ahead of the polls. According to UDA General Secretary Veronica Maina, “Our position has not changed as UDA. We are busy building our party and it’s still new. So the pressure for us to think about coalition partners [is not that strong] for now. We are looking at a national party where everyone feels they belong.”

Even this modified political model may be a hard sell to the many political intermediaries who do the crucial work of election winning – encouraging people to register, turning out the vote, serving as agents at polling stations. Nor will it necessarily persuade voters, who may ultimately care less about the party and more about whether “their” person is in an obviously powerful position that might guarantee them rewards. If this happens, the claim to be pursuing meritocracy as opposed to ethnic clientelism could backfire.

Even this modified political model may be a hard sell to the many political intermediaries who do the crucial work of election winning.

Ruto has so far been the one making the running in campaigning. But in the months to come, the “establishment candidate” – most likely Raila Odinga – will start to deploy regional Big Men to key voting grounds. It remains to be seen whether the less prominent figures that Ruto has recruited will be able to sustain his local presence and popularity when faced with the tidal wave of new projects and patronage that the government may unleash.

Ruto’s rivals will use every strategy at their disposal to prevent him from gaining power. His record gives ample reason for fear and distrust, of course, but this is also precisely because he is challenging an established model of politics and calling into question the position of a whole cohort of would-be gatekeepers. If momentum starts to move against him, the allure of boosting his chances by co-opting more prominent leaders may become too powerful to resist. And with it, the real radicalism of Ruto’s campaign would begin to fade.

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Politics

The Nakba, Israeli Apartheid and the Question of Palestine

South Africa is leading opposition to Israel’s observer status in the African Union because the country’s relations with the people of Palestine do not reflect the principles of the AU charter.

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The Nakba, Israeli Apartheid and the Question of Palestine

South Africa is leading a number of African countries in opposing Israel’s admission as an observer in the African Union. At a bilateral meeting on 8 October 2021, South Africa’s International Relations and Cooperation Minister, Naledi Pandor, and Palestinian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Riad Malki, agreed that Israel’s observer status at the African Union should be rescinded.

“There can be no justification for AU chairperson granting observer status to Israel. The decision was totally inexplicable and we will continue to argue that the decision should be rescinded,’’ Pandor said in the capital Pretoria. South Africa is backed by Namibia, Botswana, Tunisia, Eritrea, Senegal, Tanzania, Niger, ‌the Comoro Islands, Gabon, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Liberia, Algeria and Seychelles.

In an interview with CNN on 27 September 2021, Minister Pandor said all countries associated with the AU must reflect the co-values and principles of its charter. “They must be anti-colonial, they should not be occupiers of anyone’s land, they should not be oppressive in denial of human rights and democratic practice. All these principles in the charter are not reflected in Israel’s relations with the people of Palestine,” Pandor said.

Israel’s occupation of parts of Palestinian territory has been at the centre of a protracted conflict. On 2 August 2021, Israel’s Supreme Court ruled that Palestinians may continue living in their houses in Sheikh Jarrah, a disputed area of East Jerusalem, as “protected tenants” but they must pay an annual fee of NIS1,500 (about KSh51,500) to the Nahalat Shimon Company per home. This would mean that they accept the property effectively belongs to Nahalat Shimon, a Jewish settlement company, according to the Indian Express.

While the ruling was seen as a compromise to forestall evictions from the Palestinian neighbourhood in East Jerusalem, the Palestinians have not welcomed it. They argue that the court judgment ignores their own claims to the property.

The ownership of Jerusalem has been at the core of the conflict for decades and the families that were under threat of eviction — which triggered the 11-day bombardment in May 2021 —  have been living in Sheikh Jarrah since 1950, after they were forced to flee territories affected by the declaration of the establishment of the state of Israel. The would-be settlers cite an Israeli law that allows Jews to reclaim ownership of property lost before 1948.

So, what happened?

The State of Israel was proclaimed by David Ben-Gurion, the head of the Jewish Agency, on 14 May 1948. On the same day, US President Harry Truman, a close ally of Israel, recognized the new nation. This marked the start of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

How did this happen?

Formation of the Jewish state

In 135CE, the Roman Empire evicted Jews from Jerusalem and renamed it Judea, later changed to Palestine to dissociate the Jews from the land. As a result, Jews were scattered across Europe and persecuted wherever they went as they were considered the killers of Jesus Christ. The persecution continued well into the 19th Century when they came together under Zionism to protect themselves and their identity.

Encyclopaedia Britannica defines Zionism as a Jewish nationalist movement that had as its goal the creation and support of a Jewish national state in Palestine, the ancient homeland of the Jews. It has evolved to become a religious, political and ideological movement.

Zionism sought to stop the persecution of Jews and to push for their return to Palestine. “By 1903, at least 30,000 Jews had already re-established themselves inside Palestine. By 1914, 40,000 more Jews had returned and then the First World War started, the Ottoman Empire collapsed,” Palki Sharma of Wion News narrates.

The British took control of Palestine and as more Jews returned, tensions between them and the Arabs escalated, often resulting in violence, with each side playing victim. The British issued the Balfour Declaration in 1917 (which they would renounce in 1947), a statement that announced their support for the establishment of a “national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine.

The declaration came in the form of a letter from Britain’s then foreign secretary, Arthur Balfour, addressed to Lionel Walter Rothschild of the British Jewish community. The rise of Nazi Germany in the early 1930s worsened the situation, however, and left more than six million Jews dead in the Holocaust. Many sought refuge in neighbouring countries and in the US but were unwelcome. For instance, in June 1939, a ship carrying some 900 Jews to America was sent back to Europe because of “lack of necessary immigration documents”.

As the Jewish population in Palestine grew, around 1944, the West backed the establishment of a Jewish state. There had been earlier attempts, among them Ararat City in the US in 1820, the British Uganda Programme in 1903, the Jewish Autonomous Oblast in the former Soviet Union in 1928, the Madagascar Plan of 1940, the British Guiana plan in 1940 and the Ethiopia and Australia plans, all unsuccessful.

President Truman played a key role in the establishment of the State of Israel and this could explain the close relations between the US and Israel to date. Soon after taking office in April 1945, Truman appointed experts to study the Palestinian issue.  According to the US Office of the Historian, in May 1946, Truman approved a recommendation to admit 100,000 displaced persons into Palestine and in October declared support for the creation of a Jewish state.

Partition of Palestine 

The UN Special Commission on Palestine was established on 15 May 1947 following the UK’s request that the General Assembly make “recommendations under article 10 of the Charter, concerning the future government of Palestine”. This is after it renounced the Balfour Declaration of 1917.

Throughout 1947, UNSCOP examined the Palestinian question and recommended its partition into a Jewish and an Arab state. On 29 November 1947 the UN adopted Resolution 181 (also known as the Partition Resolution) that would divide Britain’s former Palestinian colony into Jewish and Arab states in May 1948, when the British mandate was scheduled to end.

President Truman played a key role in the establishment of the State of Israel and this could explain the close relations the US has with Israel to date.

The religious sites surrounding Jerusalem would remain a corpus separatum under international control administered by the UN. This meant that they had a special legal and political status without enjoying a sovereign, independent status.

Although the US backed Resolution 181, the Department of State recommended the creation of a UN trusteeship with limits on Jewish immigration and the division of Palestine into separate Jewish and Arab provinces but not states.

Truman ultimately decided to recognize the State of Israel despite the recommendation of the Department of State, which was based on fears of an increasing Soviet role in the Arab world, the potential for restriction of supplies to the US by Arab oil-producing nations, and the possibility of war in Palestine as Arab states threatened to attack almost as soon as the UN passed the partition resolution. The neighbouring Arab states declared they would prevent the creation of the Jewish state by all means and with that, a wave of violent attacks against Jews began.

Arab-Israeli Wars

When Israel declared independence on 14 May 1948, five Arab armies — Egypt, Transjordan (Jordan), Syria, Lebanon and Iraq — invaded Israel the same night, seeking to destroy it. Saudi Arabia and Yemen sent additional contingents. They maintained that the only solution to the problem of Palestine was the establishment of a unitary Palestinian state.

This became the Arab-Israeli War or the War of Independence for Israelis. At the end of the war in 1949, Egypt had control of the Gaza Strip and Jordan had annexed the West Bank.

More than 700,000 Palestinians were displaced from what is now Israel during what they call the Nakba, while at least 260,000 Jews in the Arab world were pushed into the new state. Israel lost about 6,000 people, 1 per cent of the population.

In December 1948, the UN General Assembly passed Resolution 194, establishing a UN Conciliation Commission to facilitate peace between Israel and the Arab states. It resolved that,

Refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property which, under principles of international law or equity, should be made good by the Governments or authorities responsible

Many of the articles of the resolution were not fulfilled as they were either opposed by Israel, rejected by the Arab states, or were overshadowed by war as the 1948 conflict continued.

The second Arab-Israeli war broke out on 29 October 1956 when Israel, Great Britain and France launched a joint attack against Egypt in an attempt to depose its leader, Gamal Abdel Nasser and regain control of the Suez Canal.

Why was Israel involved?

Since the establishment of the state of Israel, cargo shipments to and from Israel had been subject to Egyptian authorisation, search and seizure while passing through the Suez Canal. On 1 September 1951, UNSC Resolution 95 urged Egypt “To terminate the restrictions on the passage of international commercial ships and goods through the Suez Canal, wherever bound, and to cease all interference with such shipping.” This didn’t stop.

In 1954, President Nasser began sponsoring raids into Israel by Palestinian militias who often targeted civilians. Israel responded in kind. It was Nasser’s intention to gain recognition among the anti-Zionists as a way of establishing his leadership over the Arab world.

UNSCOP examined the Palestinian question and recommended its partition into a Jewish and an Arab state.

Then came the third Arab war or the Six-Day War of 1967 that involved Israel and Jordan, Syria, and Egypt. The conflict started over the Straits of Tiran, the sea passages between the Sinai and Arabian peninsulas that separate the Gulf of Aqaba from the Red Sea.

Israel had withdrawn from the second war on condition that the passages would remain open. However, in May 1967, a month before war broke out, Nasser announced that passage would be closed to Israeli vessels. Israel launched a series of airstrikes against Egyptian airfields on 5 June, initially claiming it was responding to Egyptian attacks but later admitting the airstrikes were “pre-emptive”.

The occupation

Who started the war remains a matter of debate and controversy but Israel won, seizing the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula from Egypt, the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, from Jordan and the Golan Heights from Syria. This marked the beginning of Israeli occupation of these regions and between 280,000 to 325,000 Palestinians fled or were expelled from the West Bank. On 22 November 1967, “in an effort to secure a just and lasting peace”, the Security Council adopted Resolution 242 calling for Israel to withdraw from “territories occupied in the recent conflict,” the basis of all subsequent peace initiatives.

Israel accepted the resolution, with its UN Permanent Representative saying on 1 May 1968, “My government has indicated its acceptance of the Security Council resolution for the promotion of agreement on the establishment of a just and lasting peace. I am also authorized to reaffirm that we are willing to seek agreement with each Arab State on all matters included in that resolution.” But the occupation continues to date.

The resolution was the basis for negotiations that led to Israel’s peace treaties with Egypt (1979), Jordan (1994) and the 1993 and 1995 agreements with the Palestinians. Up until 1988, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), which represented Palestinians at the UN, continued to reject the resolution “because it lacked explicit references to Palestinians”.

Then came the Security Council Resolution 338 (1973), which called for a ceasefire in the Middle East during the 1973 Arab-Israeli War or the Yom Kippur War involving Israel, Egypt and Syria.  Egypt’s objective was to seize control of the east bank of the Suez Canal and consequently negotiate the return of the rest of the Sinai.

The resolution called for a total ceasefire, the implementation of Resolution 242 in all of its parts immediately and concurrently with the ceasefire, and the start of negotiations with the aim of establishing a just and durable peace in the Middle East.

PLO Declaration

In 1974, the Arab League meeting in Tunisia declared the Palestine Liberation Organization as the legitimate representation of Palestinians based on Resolution 181. This was followed by the Camp David peace process or the Camp David Accords, signed between Egypt (President Anwar Sadat) and Israel (Prime Minister Menachem Begin) on 17 September 1978.

The Accords had three parts: (1) a process for Palestinian self-government in the West Bank and Gaza, (2) a framework for the conclusion of a peace treaty between Egypt and Israel, and (3) a similar framework for peace treaties between Israel and its other neighbours.

Prime Minister Begin and the Israeli Knesset (Parliament) agreed that a transitional self-governing Palestinian Authority be elected to replace the Israeli political and military forces in the Occupied Territories.

The second of these frameworks — Framework for the Conclusion of a Peace Treaty between Egypt and Israel — led directly to the 1979 Egypt–Israel peace treaty. The agreement, officially titled the “Framework for Peace in the Middle East”, won Sadat and Begin the Nobel Peace Prize in 1978.

More than 700,000 Palestinians were displaced from what is now Israel during what they call the Nakba.

However, the PLO rejected the Accords, as did its Arab friends. Egypt was ejected from the Arab League. The PLO objected to the lack of sovereignty and to the right of Israel to maintain Jewish neighbourhoods in East Jerusalem. The UN backed Palestine, saying the deal was a bilateral agreement between Israel and Egypt, without the participation of the PLO.

On 15 November 1998, the PLO declared the independence of Palestine with Yasser Arafat as the first President of the State of Palestine.

The next major development were the Oslo Accords signed by Israel and the PLO in 1993. They included provisions with regard to the West Bank and Gaza that were similar to those in the Camp David Accords. They also included a transitional period, an elected self-governing Palestinian Authority, withdrawal of the Israeli military government and redeployment of Israeli troops, the establishment of a local police force, and a plan to move ahead with negotiations on the final status of the Occupied Territories.

But they too collapsed.

Writing in The Atlantic, Einat Wilf, a former Israeli politician who served as a member of the Knesset for Independence and the Labor Party, observes that throughout the interim years of the Oslo Accords, Israeli settlement was allowed to continue unimpeded, with the number of settlers increasing from 110,000 on the eve of the Accords in 1993, to 185,000 in 2000 during the negotiations over a final status, to 430,000 today. “That increase seriously undermined the notion that Israel was sincere about making way for a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza,” she notes.

Einat, who worked with Yossi Beilin and Shimon Peres, and co-authored The War for Return with Adi Schwarz, adds that, meanwhile, Palestinian leaders continued to pursue what they referred to as the “Right of Return”, their demand that ever-growing numbers of Palestinians be allowed to settle within the territory of pre-1967 Israel, which would make Jews a minority in an Arab state.

There were nearly 3 million Palestinians registered with UNRWA as refugees in 1993, a number that increased to 3.8 million in 2000, and which stands at 5.3 million today. Palestinian leaders never dared face their people to tell them that as part of a final peace agreement, just as Jews would be expected to vacate their settlements east of the pre-1967 lines, Arab Palestinians would be expected to renounce their claim to settle west of those lines.

What doomed the Oslo Accords, she says, is also what made them possible in the first place: constructive ambiguity.

Einat recommends the two-state solution as the only option that recognizes the national rights of both peoples and provides a measure of justice to each. However, the approach needs to be different: “To get there, the parties need to approach the negotiations not as a marriage, but as a divorce”. “Serious peacemakers need to let go of vague and nebulous concepts such as ‘trust’ and ‘confidence building’, and behave more like harsh divorce attorneys who spell out every detail. In place of destructive ambiguity, we need constructive specificity.”

The UN backed Palestine, saying the deal was a bilateral agreement between Israel and Egypt, without the participation of the PLO.

Since then, there have been other attempts to broker a deal, among them the July 2000 Camp David Summit between US President Bill Clinton, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Yasser Arafat, president of the Palestinian National Authority,

The Summit collapsed after two weeks because of disagreements over territory, Jerusalem and the Temple Mount, refugees and Palestinian right of return, as well as security arrangements and settlements.

Palestine insisted on the implementation of Resolution 242, which calls for full Israeli withdrawal from the territories it captured in the Six-Day War, as part of a final peace settlement, maintaining, “There cannot be a compromise on a compromise”. This referred to the 78 per cent of the territory occupied by Israel and the 22 per cent that Palestine had been left with.

Who started the war remains a matter of debate and controversy but Israel won.

Israel had captured the Golan Heights, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula. With the exception of the Sinai, which Egypt regained as part of the 1979 Camp David Accords, Israel still holds all these territories and has indicated that it will not relinquish Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, thus contravening Resolution 242. Essentially, Palestine was pushing for a return to the 1967 borders, which Israel rejected saying that would endanger its security.

A major contention revolved around the final status of Jerusalem, which determined the fate of the talks. Another collapse. Palestinians demanded complete control over East Jerusalem and the holy sites of the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock. On the other hand, Israel proposed that the Palestinians be granted “custodianship” of the Temple Mount and not sovereignty. Palestine insisted that Israel had no right to maintain Jewish neighbourhoods in East Jerusalem.

It is, therefore, not surprising that the 11-day bombardment of Gaza by Israel in May and the rocket-firing were triggered by tensions around the Temple Mount or the Al-Aqsa Mosque. It boils down to the Israeli occupation of Gaza and the West Bank where, according to a Human Rights Watch report, Israeli authorities methodically privilege Israeli Jews and discriminate against Palestinians.

In a past interview with this writer, the Ambassador of Palestine to Kenya, Hazem Shabat, accused Israel of provoking East Jerusalem. “Israel is evicting people from Sheikh Jarrah, East Jerusalem, who had been living in their houses for over a century on the basis that there is suspicion that these plots or areas once belonged to a Jewish organization in 1870, which is preceding the existence of Israel by almost half a century,” Shabat said in May.

Shabat noted that the evictions failed to recognize that the people who were living there were driven out of their homes in other cities of what is now Israel, where they left houses and stretches of land they had owned before they took refuge in Jerusalem.

At the time, Oded Joseph, Israel’s ambassador to Kenya, admitted to an ownership row over the properties and said the matter was in court.

When provoked, Hamas, a militant group that controls Gaza, has often resorted to violence. The conviction that the conflict can only be solved violently, Ambassador Shabat says, is because after 30 years of negotiating with Israel, the situation has “deteriorated beyond redemption, beyond salvation”. “How come I have been negotiating for 30 years, accepting all international parameters? We had the Mitchell plan, we had the Tentative plan, we had the Roadmap, we had to have the international quartet overseeing the peace process. All which I have collaborated with, and fulfilled commitments but still the result is zero,” says Shabat, adding, “And when the peace process started, there were 200,000 settlers in the West Bank and Jerusalem. Today, as we speak, there are more than 700,000.”

“So basically, the signal that is given is that these negotiations or the political cause will not yield any results. And by doing so we’re just prolonging the misery of the Palestinian people as Israel only understands the language of power. And this is how we should speak to Israel,” Shabat says.

For honest negotiations, he says, the international community has the duty to force Israel into compliance with international law just as it does with any other country that breaks it.

This includes UN resolutions, including Resolution 242 that calls for the withdrawal of Israeli forces from the Occupied Territories and respect for territorial integrity.

What doomed the Oslo Accords is also what made them possible in the first place: constructive ambiguity.

Despite the blame game between the two envoys, which is essentially a reflection of the positions of their respective governments, they do have a common position — that the solution lies in honest negotiations.

Ambassador Oded says the solution is to go back to the negotiating table and reach a deal that allows Palestine and Israel to live side by side in dignity. But he argues this has not been possible because “the Palestine Authority has no control of the talks as Hamas has taken over”.

In all this, there is the significant influence of the various external forces in the Arab world and in the West who are remote-controlling the positions held. Given the various interests, and the fears and the mistrust between Israel and Palestine, a solution seems out of reach.

In May 2014, for instance, Martin Indyk, US Special Envoy for Israeli-Palestinian Negotiations, blamed the construction of Jewish settlements for the breakdown of peace-making with the Palestinians. Indyk said neither side had “the stomach to make the necessary compromises”, but singled out settlement-building on occupied territory as a particular obstacle. Israel fired back, accusing Indyk of hypocrisy, saying he had known construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem would continue during the discussions.

Palestinians continue to be on the receiving end.

In a report titled A Threshold Crossed: Israel Authorities and the Crimes of Apartheid and Persecution released in April, Human Rights Watch accused Israel of apartheid in the Occupied Territories. A summary of the reports reads in part,

Several widely held assumptions, including that the occupation is temporary, that the “peace process” will soon bring an end to Israeli abuses, that Palestinians have meaningful control over their lives in the West Bank and Gaza, and that Israel is an egalitarian democracy inside its borders, have obscured the reality of Israel’s entrenched discriminatory rule over Palestinians.

Human Rights Watch said that laws, policies, and statements by leading Israeli officials make plain that the objective of maintaining Jewish Israeli control over demographics, political power, and land has long guided government policy.

In pursuit of this goal, authorities have dispossessed, confined, forcibly separated, and subjugated Palestinians by virtue of their identity to varying degrees of intensity. In certain areas, as described in this report, these deprivations are so severe that they amount to the crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution.

This was not the first time such claims were being made.

In March 2017, the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia published a report accusing Israel of imposing an “apartheid regime” of racial discrimination on the Palestinian people.  It was the first time a UN agency had publicly made the accusation, said ESCWA Executive Secretary Rima Khalaf, a Jordan national.

Israel likened the report to Der Stürmer, an anti-Semitic Nazi propaganda publication. This remains Israel’s position. Ambassador Oded described the report as bad propaganda that should not be bought.

In a 2005 study, The Future of Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, the US Institute of Peace blamed the Israeli political system, saying it has become a serious obstacle to a solution. “Any likely governing coalition in the coming years will probably be unable to sustain more than a partial peace process before collapsing under the weight of internal coalition contradictions,” it said.

As predicted, things didn’t get any better under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s regime, going by the 2014 and 2021 bombardments, and according to experts, the new government will not be any different.

Palestine was pushing for a return to the 1967 borders, which Israel rejected saying that would endanger its security.

Writing for The Conversation, Ian Parmeter, Research Scholar at the Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies of the Australian National University, says the new government has “strange bedfellows”.

The eight parties in the coalition range from the right-wing nationalist Yamina party to social-democratic Labor and left-wing Meretz. And for the first time in Israeli history, the coalition includes an Arab-Israeli party, Ra’am, whose four Knesset (parliament) seats enable the coalition to reach a majority. Another oddity of the new government is that Yamina leader Naftali Bennett will have the first two-year turn of a rotating four-year prime ministership with Ya’ir Lapid, leader of centrist party Yesh Atid,” he writes.

The coalition’s fragile make-up will almost certainly eschew initiatives to advance negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority for a two-state solution as Bennett is in some ways more right-wing than Netanyahu.

Natan Sachs, Director of the Brookings Institution Center for Middle East Policy, corroborates this in a Twitter thread, ”Bennett is very (very) right-wing on the Palestinian issue. Much more so than Bibi . . . Bennett is ideologically opposed to a two-state solution.”

The continued occupation, the blame games, the domestic politics, the religious positions and the global politics paint a very grim picture of an unending conflict.

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How Capitalism Uses and Abuses the Arts

The arts business is a very flawed, archaic and extremely exploitative model but artists continue to rely on corporate sponsorship, without questioning the shrinking spaces and opportunities for the arts to thrive.

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How Capitalism Uses and Abuses the Arts

In my last piece, I talked about how our education system destroys the arts by corrupting the meaning of education, work and the arts. And I said that these lies that are perpetuated in the name of education come from the unholy and abusive marriage between education and business. (I have said elsewhere that this marriage should be annulled immediately.)

In this piece, I’m going to talk about how capitalist business is the prime beneficiary of the terrible state of the arts in Kenya.

​Businesses swing artists between two extremes. On one hand, which I already explained in my previous letter, the business (parasite) sector encourages the education system to degrade the arts, so that art does not look like real work that takes skill and resources. By doing that, the business sector justifies artists not being paid for their work. If you have noticed that you are not getting paid, or your payment is delayed, it is because of that madharau for the arts. The accountants cooking books look at you and think to themselves “Why should I pay someone for shaking around or singing for people? Even I could have done that work if I wasn’t here balancing books.”

On the other hand, capitalism does pay artists huge amounts of money, like we see in Hollywood where people like Oprah and Jay Z have become billionaires through entertainment.

In the end, artists are treated like battered spouses. One minute, a spouse is being abused and beaten, and the next minute, when the battered person has had enough, the abuser apologizes, swears how much they love the battered person and promises not to beat the spouse again. And the cycle starts again.

Art and wealth

The first thing to understand about the arts business is that it is a very flawed, archaic and extremely exploitative model. I will talk mainly about music, but book publishing and other types of art business work using the same principle.

Basically, the art business uses the rentier model, like a landlord. A landlord builds a house once but earns money on that house as long as he owns the right to that house. The “work” of living there, or the business carried out there, is done by other people, but the landlord earns a cut of that work despite doing no work. Simply because he owns the property in which the work was done.

And that is the same thing record labels and studios do. They provide initial capital and make the artist sign a 360-degree contract that allows the label to earn from everything the artist is involved in for the rest of the artist’s life: performance, recording, brand merchandise and even artistic license. An artist who is signed to a record label is an enslaved person. In the US, artists who are lucky earn 10 to 15 per cent of the revenues they generate for the music industry. The rest are unlucky and earn much less, if anything.

Imagine that. For every artist billionaire we know, their record label earns nine times more.

As an artist, you’re probably thinking, “Well, it may be exploitative but at least it works. Why can’t those exploiters come and work in Kenya?”

Actually, they are working here, and we know it. They have names like MCSK and Liberty Afrika. And the way these companies exploit artists is the same way other companies exploit everybody else in employment. The wages we earn are nothing compared to the profits that entitled, lazy and ignorant fat cats make from our work, and yet — as we see with the doctors — companies are constantly coming up with new schemes to avoid paying us for the work we do.

An artist who is signed to a record label is an enslaved person.

And we should not compare ourselves to the Queen Beys and Justin Beibers of the West; rather, we should be aware that even in the Westmany artists are exploited.

I tell my arts students that they should spend time in the university studying and imagining a different model for earning income from the arts. For instance, 360-degree contracts should be considered slavery and outlawed. Saying that every future income of an artist is tied to the initial capital invested in their recording is just as ridiculous as a food supplier to a restaurant saying that they should earn 90 per cent of every plate or meal served by the restaurant. Once the food is delivered and paid for, the contract should end there. Artists should pay studios, publishers and marketers separately as bills, not on promise of royalties.

But because my students have been told that education is only for jobs, none has ever taken up my challenge to think about this.

Virgin territory

There is another form of abuse and exploitation of artists that is less talked about because it is less easy to quantify. That is idea theft.

Through platforms like hubs, and through demanding proposals for shows and other performances, institutions exploits the artist’s energy and innovation, then pull the rug from under the artist and run off with the idea. That is why artists will start small concert gigs and before long, corporates, instead of sponsoring those gigs, create their own versions because they can pour in the money to make it big.

And these initially sustainable and indigenous ideas soon turn into monsters. These corporates invade natural parks like Hells Gate to sell even bigger than they should. Not only do they subvert eco-systems, they also crush their conservation opponents with media blitz and economic blackmail. What started as a Kenyan artistic initiative is not only hijacked but also turned into a short term, exploitative and destructive tsunami that dies almost as soon as it is born.

I tell my arts students that they should spend time in the university studying and imagining a different model for earning income from the arts.

Other artists report having given studios or media houses an idea for a show, leaving with a promise that they will hear from the producers. Within a few weeks, they see a bad version of the show they proposed. Is it a wonder that television entertainment is so unimaginative and poorly executed?

But this is the nature of capitalism: like a paedophile, it lets nothing mature and thrive. It instead derives a perverted sense of pleasure from exploiting the vulnerable and destroying budding ideas before the ideas develop to maturity.

Impunity and abuse

This paedophilia is replicated across all institutions. As someone recently said on Twitter, we are often employed on the promise of our ideas, upon which we are promptly frustrated and prevented from developing them.

No institution has escaped change and democratic supervision like the workplace. Workers around the world are succumbing to the abuse of the workplace, whether they are employed or not. Stress levels are high, and sexual bullying, mental illness, addiction and suicide are on the rise. The workplace has become a crime scene, where people get away with abuse and psychological torture.

But what is slightly unique about the arts is that when artists suffer from the same vices, the business world convinces us that this inhumanity is part of the artists’ creativity. That is why the high rate of depression and suicide among artists is not treated as a pandemic. When artists suffer violence such as being shot in clubs and being drugged and raped, we the abused and terrorized Kenyan public thinks that their abuse comes with the artistic territory.

In fact, we even accept that the business community does not treat artists as workers like other employees. Artists are not paid a salary, pension and benefits. They don’t go on leave. They are on the road all the time, or constantly searching for new gigs and new contracts, and never taking a break. The constant toil takes a toll on their minds and bodies and they start to use substances to stabilize their lives instead of getting some rest. Then there is the parasite industry of the paparazzi who make sales from intruding on artists’ lives and selling the details to the world.

The workplace has become a crime scene, where people get away with abuse and psychological torture.

But instead of us criminalizing these vices committed against artists, we let the business world convince us that this inhumanity is part of the artists’ creativity. That is utter nonsense.

Worse, the impunity also makes every new generation join the arts thinking that creativity requires criminality, substance abuse and insanity.

And the business sector has an evil, devilish interest in making literal murder and depravity acceptable for artists. Because of the power of the arts to free people, capitalism cannot let the arts thrive on their own, for the arts will inspire the people to challenge the tyranny of business by looking for alternative business models.

But at the same time, capitalism needs the power of the arts to manipulate people to behave in the interests of business. It puts the arts on a leash, so that the arts go only where capital wants the arts to go — to sedating the masses into accepting exploitation or into buying things.

And the artists, unfortunately, are joined to corporations at the hip and naively celebrate their reliance on corporate sponsorship, without questioning the shrinking spaces and opportunities for the arts to thrive.

And we artists need to understand that this abusive relationship is made possible by the hostility of the church. Instead of the church being our refuge in times of trouble, the clergy side with the state when the state crushes us through bans and censorship that are implemented in the name of morality.

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