For the first two weeks in November, world leaders and diplomats gathered in Glasgow, Scotland, for The COP26 Climate Summit. Superpowers like the United States, Russia, China, and Brazil discussed reaching net-zero carbon emissions, curtailing deforestation, and successfully adapting to new energy sources away from coal production.
Recognizing that climate change will bring about catastrophic effects if we do not act globally, the COP26 goals are undoubtedly long overdue.
Addressing climate change requires significant commitments from powerful governments – the most egregious polluters. Once leaders have made their pledges and leave the implementation to their diplomatic teams, it will follow classic top-down models of imposing the majority’s will without adequate input from those local communities which may be most affected by the proposed interventions.
While indigenous members worldwide went to COP26 to denounce the ravages of climate change on their traditional ways of life, they also reminded policy architects that implementation without acknowledging local peoples’ rights to self-determination over their land and resources is violence perpetrated by global powers.
Though small strides have been made in countries like Australia and Canada, which have legislated for increased indigenous empowerment, a vast gulf still excludes local communities from decision-making that affects their landscapes, natural resources, culture, and livelihoods.
Over the last five years in Kenya, we have witnessed local communities displaced and disenfranchised through hydroelectric production at the Gibe Dam project, clean energy production at the Turkana Wind Power Project, and community conservation. This has led to anxieties about what is to come with the 30 by 30 Plan (i.e., 30 percent global land and sea conservation by 2030).
And yet, we know that empowering local communities as the rightful and autonomous land stewards has massive environmental benefits worldwide, as seen in places like the United States, the Amazon, and Kenya. So why does this power gap exist, and what steps must international institutions take to bridge the power divide that leaves local communities out of the decision-making process?
As a white, British-born anthropologist working within the pastoral populations of northern Kenya for more than 15 years, my relationship with these communities has continued to evolve and deepen over time. Before embarking on almost two years of doctoral fieldwork studying resource conflict and cooperation among three pastoral ethnic groups, one of my supervisors advised me to “be friends with everyone but have alliances with no one.”
A vast gulf still excludes local communities from decision-making that affects their landscapes, natural resources, culture, and livelihoods.
At the time, his wisdom served me well as I found my footing navigating contested landscapes, managing local distrust, and maintaining my researcher’s “objectivity” in faithfully recording these pastoral groups’ daily lives and activities. My mission at the time was to witness, record, understand and explain.
Since then, I have transitioned from doctoral student to postdoctoral researcher, independent researcher, and consultant researcher working with multiple universities and INGOs.
As I have become intimately involved with so many friends and families in northern Kenya, my supervisor’s words echo in my ears, and I wonder if they still have meaning for me and what I represent to these communities. The reality of the situation is that I will always be white. I will always be from a colonial power. I will likely be comparatively wealthy and educated. And, for the foreseeable future, I will have more significant opportunities and larger platforms from which to potentially effect change – even in communities that are not my own. It shames me to acknowledge this, and it should shame any majority group working on global issues at the community level.
There are well-documented criticisms regarding the neo-extractive and colonial nature of international development, scientific research, biodiversity conservation, and humanitarian aid within Kenya, particularly at the local community level. Again, one of the fundamental reasons why the power gulf exists is that the system is designed to function precisely in this manner.
The seats of financial power like those at USAID, World Wildlife Fund, or the World Food Programme, reside in the Global North, administrated regionally by white faces and, on the ground, relying on expatriate staff and specialists with the support of a handful of local people to carry out projects on the ground. Given this imbalance in structure, can we really expect anything to change?
And yet, change must come.
Globally, calls for change are reaching a fever pitch among minority groups demanding that the majority recognize gender inequalities, LGBTQ+ protections, social, racial, and environmental injustices, and formalize indigenous rights to self-governance and self-actualization over their lands, livelihoods, and natural resources.
International institutions are feeling pressure to raise critical questions about how they operate in local communities and the impact of their work on these populations. While this realization is an important first step in decolonizing and de-centring the role of top-down institutions, I ask: Are these same institutions prepared to listen?
Listening is a simple act, yet it requires critical self-reflection. Listening requires a compassionate mind-set to understand people where they are. Listening also presupposes that the listener considers the potential for a systemic overhaul of institutional structures that have historically maintained the status quo.
One of the fundamental reasons why the power gulf exists is that the system is designed to function precisely in this manner.
Global institutions are just starting to ask these questions. Unfortunately, they may not yet be prepared to listen to the responses as they challenge an entrenched system and an intransigent worldview. Listening confronts our concepts of self, acknowledging our relation to others and the potential hierarchies we have ascribed to our value systems. Listening can also shine a light on our failures, missteps, and ignorance that can be painful to acknowledge and may cause frustrations if we cannot see a future where we can fix them.
The terminology used to describe northern Kenya’s local conservation and development projects is starting to change, with “community-led” initiatives and “participatory” methods being emphasized. However, these programmes must be examined critically to ensure that community engagement is not mere tokenism, but instead that the centres of power reside with communities writ large to design initiatives, carry out programmes, and wholly benefit from outcomes as they themselves see fit.
This transformation will be a long and arduous process, and often, global funders do not operate on sympatric timescales, while metrics of success can differ between communities and funders. Systemic change will require that funders first listen rather than dictate, support rather than demand.
At the heart of a listening first approach is the humility to know that we, the global majority, cannot understand the complexity of local issues. As outsiders, we do not possess the silver bullet of progress. Simply driving through northern Kenya and passing a series of abandoned electricity poles, broken water tanks, and unstaffed medical clinics bearing the faded names of international funding bodies speaks to this point. Within these local landscapes, precarity exists and interacts at every level, making it impossible to understand outside of the lived experience.
I have been fortunate to form a deep, lifelong friendship with a Borana family in northern Kenya with whom I live when I am in their village, who offer their exceptional research skills, who teach me the value of their rich culture, who named me in their local custom, and most important to me, who share their stories that make us laugh and trust me to share those that also make us cry.
These programmes must be examined critically to ensure that community engagement is not mere tokenism,
I am forever grateful for their friendship. In the last 18 months, one tragedy after the next has befallen this family: inadequate medical attention leading to the death of a new-born, the amputation of a young mother’s leg due to an untreated infection, the family compound burning down from open-flame cooking, the sudden death of a brother who shouldered much of the family’s financial responsibilities from a manageable condition, livestock death brought on by a locust infestation, and an unsupported mental health disorder compounding economic and personal insecurity, made worse by an irregular pharmaceutical supply chain. Indeed, most families in northern Kenya can likely speak of similar tragedies.
These are the lived realities, unseen, unrealized, and unfelt by decision-makers in Nairobi, London, and New York who will decree what is best for these communities’ lands, resources, and families in the coming months and years.
Yes, we must indeed all band together to tackle global-scale issues like COVID-19 and climate change. However, implementation at the local level must start with global powers devoting resources towards truly listening to local communities, recognizing the diversity of their needs and concerns, and pledging to upend traditional power dynamics by de-centring their agendas. Local peoples understand their precarity, as their cultural institutions and customs have been forged to adapt appropriately and to meet challenges as they are faced.
International entities often undermine these institutions by privileging their values and superimposing their systems on the local context. It is time for these seats of power to start listening. For the rest of us, I feel it is time to put alliance neutrality aside – for as allies, we may begin to amplify the voices and concerns of indigenous peoples to be heard around the world.
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Mozambique: The State Has Lost Trust and Remains Unaccountable
A new and different state is necessary to manage the complex problems in the region, but is it possible under the current regime that has fed the conflict?
It’s been four years now since a small group of armed men targeted a police post in Mocímboa da Praia in northern Mozambique, a small act that grew into a major insurgency targeting civilians, occupying territory and forcing out a major energy company preparing to extract gas offshore in the province of Cabo Delgado. To date, 3500 people have been killed in the armed conflict and 745,000 displaced. The insurgency came to an apparent halt this summer after Rwandan armed forces, and then the SADC mission to Mozambique (SAMIM), arrived in Mozambique to fight it. The current relative calm on the battlefield has invited reflections on whether the military approach is working and what should come next. How could the insurgency in Mozambique grow in this way, and is an international military intervention the right response to stop it?
Much of the current debate among policy makers and analysts makes important assumptions about why and how insurgency begins, pointing to either external influences, such as transnational Islamist terrorism, or the long-term lack of development and marginalization of people in the northern region of Mozambique, leading to grievances that motivate the young and poor to join the insurgency. While these aspects certainly have played a role in Mozambique, we need to take into account the government’s response and how it has helped escalate the conflict and strengthened the insurgency. Ignorance and denial have been core government attitudes that left the party in power, Frelimo, with little understanding and capacity to respond to the growing unrest in Cabo Delgado. Instead, the response of choice—severe repression and a lack of respect for human rights—has nurtured the rebellion. The current stability is therefore, in all likelihood, temporary.
A slowly growing insurgency
The conflict began with the formation of a religious Islamic sect in 2007, which sought to withdraw its members from the state. The first confrontations with the local police took place in 2015-2016, but armed violence only began in October 2017. The group is known as Al-Shabaab (“youth” in Arabic) or Ahlu Sunnah Wal-Jamâa. It pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in 2018 and was recognized as a wing of Islamic State’s “Central African Province” in July 2019, but it remains unclear what the implications of this relationship are. Although violence initially was small-scale and directed at state armed forces, the insurgency began to target more civilians in 2019 and perpetrated severe forms of violence, such as beheadings, against them throughout 2020 and beyond.
In 2020, the nature of the war changed completely when the armed group managed to occupy district towns in March for a few days, and then captured and occupied the town of Moçímboa da Praia in August for a year. International attention to the conflict suddenly skyrocketed in March 2021, when the armed group conducted the most sophisticated operation yet, an attack on the city of Palma, with several dozen people dead, including expatriate workers on the liquified natural gas processing plant owned by TotalEnergies. This led to a major evacuation mission conducted mainly by helicopters operated by the Dyck Advisory Group (DAG), a private military company supporting the Mozambican government, and triggered a regional impetus to help Mozambique manage the crisis. TotalEnergies saw the events in Palma as a reason to temporarily halt its gas exploration project on the coast in April.
An inadequate government response
Early analyses of the conflict pointed to the fact that initial repressive actions by the local government and security forces were a contributing factor in the radicalization of the conflict to armed violence in October 2017. Until early this year, the police forces were in charge of responding to the insurgency, with their infamous Rapid Intervention Unit (RIU), which allegedly committed indiscriminate violence against civilians. In January, the government assigned the task to the military and appointed a new military commander, who, however, shortly afterwards died of COVID-19.
Up until the spring of 2021, the government resisted inviting international military deployments and relied on private companies for military and logistical support and bilateral training missions. Officially, President Nyusi was eager to protect “Mozambique’s sovereignty,” in an apparent reference to a history of foreign meddling when Rhodesia and Apartheid South Africa supported the rebel group Renamo on Mozambican soil. Nyusi, instead, relied on old and trusted international partners, but the results were mixed. The Russian Wagner group didn’t stay long, leaving Mozambique in November 2019 after a two-month deployment and conflicts with the Mozambican authorities about the counterinsurgent strategy. In April 2020, the Mozambican government hired DAG, led by Colonel Lionel Dyck who helped Frelimo fight the Renamo rebels in the 1980s. After a year of activity, the Mozambican government let the contract with DAG expire.
Only after the traumatic attack on Palma in March 2021 did the Mozambican government change course and accept international military deployments to fight the insurgency. In July, the Rwandans sent troops to northern Mozambique. The SADC mission was launched in August. In a militarily and symbolically significant operation early August, Rwandan and Mozambican armed forces retook Mocímboa da Praia from the insurgents. However, many analysts agree that the success of the international forces is only temporary, as the root causes of the conflict have been left unaddressed, and the insurgents—in typical guerrilla style—have dispersed to regroup and attack elsewhere. Refugees have begun to return to their areas of origin, and international aid organizations have promised to support them with aid and projects so that socio-economic reasons to support the insurgency could disappear. But will this work?
From the beginning, the Mozambican government did not seem interested in any of the many theories that scholars developed about the origins of the insurgency. The government actively hindered scholars and analysts’ efforts to speak to officials, militants and the displaced in the region, and even detained local journalists and expelled a British journalist covering the insurgency. After blaming various illegitimate groups in society and foreigners, in his statements on the conflict, President Nyusi has largely settled on the perspective that the insurgency has external origins and transnational terrorism is responsible for the violence. This is a perspective that Rwanda supports, as it helps justify why Rwanda is militarily active in Mozambique—an issue that has raised a lot of suspicions. And it has triggered US interest in the conflict; the US designated the armed group an affiliate of ISIS and a foreign terrorist organization in March 2021, an action many observers say will not necessarily help solve the conflict.
Mozambique’s counterinsurgency response has also raised a lot of criticism, as it failed to protect civilians. Problems of coordination between DAG and Mozambican ground forces lead to civilian casualties and friendly fire casualties among the Mozambican security forces. When the government forces took back Palma in March, they looted and vandalized private businesses, including banks, and residences. Amnesty International accused private contractors, such as the DAG, as well as state armed forces of human rights abuses, and the police of harassment and extortion. As a result, the civilian population does not trust the state and its (hired) armed forces to protect them.
The government recognizes that the armed conflict is not over yet. But it does not recognize its own role in escalating the conflict and its comprehensive responsibility in solving it. Joseph Hanlon, long-term observer of Mozambique, inspired by the failures in Afghanistan, frequently cites in his newsletter those voices that warn of military solutions to armed rebellion, emphasizing instead long-term development efforts. But much of the government response is shaped by catering to the oil and gas firms, as a recent reshuffle of ministers after a meeting with Exxon executives—who underlined the importance of further security improvements before their activities could continue—shows. In remarks on Armed Forces Day in September, President Nyusi stated that the main priority is improving security for the gas projects.
Overall, the government has not only obscured the origins of, but also the response to the Cabo Delgado insurgency. Transparency around the government’s counterinsurgency strategy is lacking. Contracts with private security companies are not made public, and Parliament has not had any say in the deployment of foreign troops. It’s no accident then that a recent ISS policy brief recommends completely rebuilding state institutions in the region and freeing them of corruption to build “islands of integrity.” A new and different state is necessary to manage the complex problems in the region, but is it possible under the current regime that has fed the conflict?
Shambolic Migration to New Kenyan E-Passport
The introduction of the biometric e-passport has been beset by delays that have seen the government push forward its own deadlines several times.
For the third time, Kenya has postponed the deadline for phasing out the old generation passport and the introduction of the biometric e-passport.
Kenya, together with its East African Community (EAC) partners, is doing away with the “analogue” passport and replacing it with an electronic document. The new document has a chip that, according Immigration officials, stores the passport holder’s information and travel history, thus conforming to international passport security standards that require passports to contain a tamper-proof electronic chip.
The rollout, however, has been shambolic, with various deadlines extended since 2018. Immigration Director General said that the latest extension is a result of the East African Community having changed the deadline for all member states to November 2022.
On 4 February 2021, Interior and Government Coordination Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i, under whom the Immigration Department falls, announced a 10-month extension of the deadline for the voiding of the old generation travel documents. CS Matiang’i said the Covid-19 pandemic had forced the Immigration Department to scale down operations. The new deadline was set as at December 31, 2021.
“Barring any unforeseen circumstances, this is the last extension and Kenyans are advised to make the necessary arrangements and acquire the electronic passports at the earliest opportunity possible to avoid travelling inconveniences,” the Cabinet Secretary said.
“For the avoidance of doubt, starting January 1, 2022, the old dark blue passport will be null and void and no Kenyan will be able to travel internationally without a valid East African Community biometric e-passport,” he added.
The e-passport journey
The decision to phase out the old generation passport was first made public in April 2015 and the electronic passport was to be launched in December 2016. However, then Immigration Director Major (Rtd) Gordon Kihalangwa later announced that the e-passport launch would be pushed to April 2017. This date was moved to September of that year due to “unforeseen circumstances”.
“Due to circumstances beyond our control, the launch will now not happen as stated,” Kihalangwa said in a statement at the time, noting however that he was confident that the new deadline would be met.
It was said in some quarters that the postponement was to allow other EAC member states to be ready for a simultaneous rollout as spelt out in a directive of the Heads of State Summit in March 2016.
Deals within EAC
The 17th Ordinary Summit of the EAC Heads of State had directed the partner states to commence issuance of the e-passport by 1 January 2017 and to phase out the current machine-readable East African and national passports from 1 January 2017 to 31 December 2018.
When this failed, the 35th EAC Council of Ministers meeting directed member states to commence issuance of the e-passport by 31 January 2018. This, the EAC said in a statement, was in consideration of the different levels of preparedness of the member states.
During the Council of Ministers Summit, Burundi, Kenya and Rwanda said they were ready to start rolling out the document, but Tanzania and Uganda asked for more time to finalise preparations.
Tanzania said it was upgrading its systems and was sourcing for a contractor to install the additional infrastructure, while Uganda said it was planning a public-private mode of financing for the production of the booklets.
“Burundi reported that through Public Private Partnership arrangement, it had completed the process of procuring the EA e-passport booklets and was ready to commence issuance by 3rd April 2017. Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda reported to commence issuance of the new international EA e-passport not later than April 2017, while the United Republic of Tanzania would be ready to commence the issuance of the e–Passport by 1st January 2018,” the EAC brief on 7 April 2017 said.
According to the EAC, the e-passport is expected to boost the free movement of people across the region and it will be in line with the implementation of the Common Market Protocol, which guarantees the right to move freely between EAC member countries.
Article 9 of the protocol on travel documents provides, “A citizen of a Partner State who wishes to travel to another Partner State shall use a valid common standard travel document. 2. The Partner States which have agreed to use machine‐readable and electronic national identity cards as travel documents may do so. 3. The Partner States which have agreed to use machine‐readable and electronic national identity cards shall work out modalities for the implementation of paragraph 2.”
Among the challenges member states are facing in the rollout is the cost and controversies surrounding the tendering process.
For instance, the EastAfrican has reported that the installation of new technology to print the e-passport and the phasing out of the old generation passports will cost the Kenyan government about US$5 million.
Among the challenges member states are facing in the rollout is the cost and controversies surrounding the tendering process.
“The technology installed by the Pakistani government will print a maximum of 2,000 passports per day, up from the current 800,” the Kenyan daily covering regional affairs said in a September 2017 report.
However, as early as 2015, there were reports of tender concerns in connection with the e-passport. The Daily Nation of 9 May 2015 reported concerns “over a Sh1.5 billion e-passport tender after officials directly engaged British firm De La Rue and Pakistani government agency Nadra to do the work”.
According to the Nation, the projected budget to buy the e-passport booklets and production software was likely to shoot up from KSh1.5 billion in the first year to KSh5 billion in the third year.
There were concerns as to whether Kenyans would get value for their money.
In the arrangement, De La Rue, which also prints Kenyan currency, was to manufacture the 145,000 booklets, while the National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra) was to develop the software.
On its website, Nadra confirms it undertook the job, enabling Kenya to issue machine-readable passports.
“The implemented technology and business logic has enabled Kenya with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) compliant data acquisition software for passports. Passport data is synchronized with their identity system,” it says.
There were concerns as to whether Kenyans would get value for their money.
Nadra further says that a total of 775,000 machine-readable passports have been issued to Kenyans, and that it provides technical support and software upgrades when required.
The company does not indicate the timeframe within which the passports were issued but in May 2019, Kihalangwa, then Immigration Principal Secretary, told Parliament that the department had issued 800,000 passports ahead of the then August 31 deadline.
Kihalangwa said the department was serving an average of 4,000 passport applicants daily, with Nyayo House centre in Nairobi handling 2,000 applicants a day, while the Kisumu and Mombasa centres were processing 1,000 each.
“So far, we have issued almost 800,000 passports and we expect a very good number will have been done by 31st August,” he told the National Assembly Committee on Administration and National Security. In June of that year, Matiang’i said one million Kenyans had transitioned to the electronic passport but 1.5 million Kenyans were still holding the old generation document.
Kenyans in the diaspora, however, have complained of the limited number of centres at which they can renew their passports. This is despite President Uhuru Kenyatta directing in March 2019 that Kenyans living abroad be issued with the e-passport in their countries of residence.
It is estimated that 3 million Kenyan nationals live and work abroad.
Speaking during his state visit to Namibia, President Kenyatta said he saw no reason why Kenyans living outside the country should incur huge financial costs to travel back home to Nairobi to acquire the new passports.
“Why should these people be made to pay money to fly to Kenya just to get a passport and go back to work? Form a team that will go from country to country to register Kenyans in the diaspora,” President Kenyatta said in Windhoek, responding to complaints from Kenyans living there.
Nairobi, Mombasa and Kisumu were the only centres issuing the document at the time but in June 2019, the government opened other centres in Nakuru, Eldoret, Embu and Kisii to complement those in the three cities.
Abroad, Kenya launched centres in Pretoria, Washington DC, Los Angeles, London, Paris, Beijing and the United Arab Emirates.
Operations in London, however, delayed, as the systems and infrastructure had not been set up.
“We are aware of the complaints [from Kenyans in the UK]. The Immigration Department has said infrastructure will be in place by August 10 so we expect to be at full steam around August 15,” Kenya’s High Commissioner to the United Kingdom Manoah Esipisu said at the time.
However, the deadline to migrate to the e-passport was again pushed by six months to 1 March 2020.
Agnes Gitau, Managing Partner at GBS Africa in London, said that while extending the deadline gave Kenyans living abroad time to apply for the e-passport, it was imperative to communicate the new dates and the process with clarity to the over 3 million Kenyans living abroad.
“Communication has to be targeted to Kenyans through their local communities, churches, universities as there are thousands of Kenyans studying abroad and the easiest way to reach them is via their institutions.
“The Kenyan students abroad is at least one source of data governments through their embassies have. Posting on embassies website or twitter is not enough. They have to do more to reach as many Kenyans as possible,” Gitau, who also works with the Kenyan diaspora in the UK, said.
Gitau also attributed the extension to the pressure from the Kenyan diaspora.
“Though the process is still bureaucratic and unnecessarily lengthy, by extending the dates, [. . .] for once the department for Migration has responded positively. I am aware the process is so cumbersome that some Kenyans opt to travel to Kenya to apply for the e-passport there rather than at embassies,” she added.
To process more Kenyans, Gitau proposes mobile registration/renewal booths during events whenever there is a large gathering of Kenyans as it would be a logistical nightmare to establish centres in all the cities where Kenyans live.
“The only sensible place would be perhaps in Scotland and Ireland, again depending on the numbers of Kenyans there,” she adds.
Confusion in foreign missions
In December 2018, Deputy President William Ruto had issued a statement that exposed the confusion and the government’s disjointed approach.
Speaking to Kenyans living in Italy on 2 December 2018, Deputy President Ruto announced a new deadline of 2020, noting that the initial deadline of 31 August 2019 was impractical.
“The deadline is soon approaching and only a small fraction has managed to upgrade their passports to the new e-passport. The backlog at the immigration will not allow us to achieve this,” Ruto said.
This caused confusion in the consular offices of foreign embassies in Nairobi, with some maintaining that the initial deadline stood.
For instance, the Embassy of Belgium tweeted on May 2019: “#ConsularAffairs – Please note that according to the announcement of the Kenyan Government, the old Kenyan passports will expire on 01.09.2019. The Embassy of Belgium in Nairobi will ONLY accept the new East African Community biometric e-Passports for Schengen visa applications”. The US embassy had made a similar announcement on 30 April 2019, which was however retracted on 1 May 2019.
In the initial communication, the US Embassy said, “All travelers to the United States from Kenya must have a passport valid for at least six months from date of entry. Therefore, U.S. Embassy Nairobi can no longer place U.S. visas in the previously issued non-digital passport expiring August 31, 2019.”
It then sent another statement saying, “Visa applicants may apply for a US visa with a non-digital Kenyan passport. We will place a US visa in a non-digital passport until further notice. Holders of current US visas do not need to take any action.”
That the US — one of the countries that have very strict immigration rules and requirements — flip-flopped on the issue in such a short time shows the level of confusion among the foreign missions.
This caused confusion in the consular offices of foreign embassies in Nairobi.
Officials of various embassies who did not want to go on record said at the time that they were yet to receive any communication concerning the extension. Some said they would continue issuing visas on the old passports.
Foreign Affairs Principal Secretary Macharia Kamau downplayed the issue at the time, saying only, “It’s not a worry. We shall cross that bridge in August ”.
Two years later, another deadline has been issued.
Speaking with nationals of other EAC countries (Tanzania, Uganda and Burundi) it is clear that although their governments have started rolling out the e-passport, they have not set deadlines within which the exercise should be completed.
In Kenya, even as the government rolls out the e-passport, it is also upgrading the driving licence to a digital one as well as implementing the National Integrated identity Management System, popularly known as Huduma Namba, which was declared illegal by the courts in October last year for contravening the Data Protection Act. The digital driving licence rollout was to start in 2017 after a failed attempt in 2008.
It remains to be seen whether the November 2022 e-passport deadline will be met this time round and the measures the government will put in place to ensure that the rollout is completed.
All We Want for Christmas: The 2022 Manifesto Shopping List
The ethno-cronyism that has dominated past elections is giving way to issue-based electoral competition and the only way for presidential candidates to signal their competence to govern is through the quality of their manifesto.
The campaign season is once again upon us and the political class is charged with a renewed sense of purpose during this unusual time of COVID-19 uncertainty. As we are inundated with campaign headline after campaign headline, Kenyans are once more captivated by the “telenovela” quality of the shifting political alliances and sensational back-stabbings. We love it. Not only is scheduled gladiatorial combat a welcome reprieve from the tedium of life post-COVID, we will also not begrudge ourselves the pleasure of watching the political elite fight to the reputational death for their (allegedly) ill-gotten gains.
With government spending estimated at a quarter of total Gross Domestic Product in Kenya, the politician’s interest in the presidency is clear. These heavily invested candidates jostling to direct the state’s monopoly power, however, are forced to contend with a new normal in the rhythm and flow of this campaign election cycle. While previous cycles were characterized by mobilization around ethnic cleavages, there is a national fatigue, a marked reluctance to demonize the “other” tribe. Moreover, the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic and the uncertainty caused by emerging variants has catalysed the calcification of the economy as the core electoral concern.
There is a shift in Kenya’s political taste-palette from the half-hearted ethno-cronyism that has dominated past elections to issue-based electoral competition. The 2022 elections provide the clearest opportunity yet to place the presidential candidate’s competence in governance at the centre of all political discourse. This intangible shift may seem like an inconsequential wave against the tsunami of 60 years of “tupatie mtu wetu” (ethno-cronystic) momentum, but the choices we make during these elections will have incalculable ramifications.
Disrupting the mechanics of mediocrity
As a wide-eyed, enthusiastic attaché in a heavily wood panelled, dusty government office, I had the pleasure to meet a newly employed crop of “Job Group J” civil servants (the J group). I was captivated by their energy and drawn into their excitement of being part of the select few. They represented what I wanted to become after graduation – they had big dreams, high energy and noble intent. I am still haunted by what I witnessed, but could not articulate, during my time with the J group. In hindsight, I now understand that as I watched, they became conditioned by a pervasive and insidious system with Pavlovian efficiency. With helpless horror, I observed as those who left their integrity at home, questioned nothing, signed where they were told, and did what they were asked, were rewarded with the opportunity to supplement their income, travel and move up the ranks. This is the unacknowledged reason why all civil servants you have engaged with have the same characteristics.
The 2022 election provides the clearest opportunity yet to place the presidential candidate’s competence in governance at the centre of all political discourse.
The exceptional, the visionaries, the agitators and change makers who could not successfully graduate from the behaviour modification programme were pushed out or left behind. I have seen this sequence of system self-selection and reinforcement replicated with soul-crushing consistency. This system of mediocre, sycophantic governance is what has been propagated, protected and encouraged when the product of each electoral cycle is a charismatic figurehead of the “right” ethnicity who still takes instruction on where to append his signature.
As the incentives we create at the ballot are what invariably play out across all configurations of government, changing the distorted incentives that create poor governance outcomes means being intentional about what we reward and what we punish. If economic outcomes form the bulk of our policy concerns, then the candidate that demonstrates an ability to secure positive socio-economic outcomes is the “right” candidate.
Manifesto shopping list essentials
At the ballot, the only way for presidential candidates to signal their technical competence, commitment to the public interest and understanding of the complexity of governance is the quality of their manifesto. Below are some of the bare-minimum indicators of manifesto quality to help you make sense of the relentless campaign rhetoric:
- Documented manifesto — The lack of a documented and widely available manifesto is a red flag. It signals a candidate who will promise anything and not be held to account. You know this person; he likely owes you money, should you vote for him/her?
- Points of accountability — Beware of candidates who are unwilling to burden Wanjiku with the details of their plans. To clarify, each campaign promise should be accompanied by the policies, policy instruments (laws and regulations) and indicators of progress. The thing to look for here is manifesto structural integrity.
- Scapegoat-free rhetoric — Learn to recognise the use of loaded language. A candidate that uses the passive voice to shift responsibility from themselves to a mysterious outside force is only out for their own best interests. If he/she has a singular person, group or circumstance to blame for the current state of affairs he/she is stoking emotions because they have no technical competence.
- No meaningless platitudes — Reject loose pronouncements of desirable outcomes such as “Increase youth employment” or “eradicate corruption”. These are the descriptive equivalent of “niko kwa jam nakam” (a Kenyan idiom that wastes your time and means nothing).
- Straightforward approach to corruption — Look out for avoidance or minimalization of the core electoral concern, corruption. Reframing discussions around corruption as “integrity” or “transparency” issues or challenges is a clear indication of a “corrupt status quo” beneficiary.
- No divide-and-rule rhetoric — The application of the “vote for me and I will give you, my voters, x” is a hangover from the colonial tactics of division. It is an indicator that the candidate is unwilling or unable to engage in the policy process. He/she is signalling their inability to produce an integrated development strategy for the whole country and must resort to taking the divisive shortcut of “in-group” favouritism.
- Coherence checks—Curate your consumption of candidates’ claims by subscribing to analysts who conduct a thorough issue-based investigation. Shun the rickety sensationalism of pundits, for clear evaluations of the effectiveness, efficiency and efficacy of policy and its instruments. Here, at The Elephant, we are committed to providing timely, informative and objective analysis and we will continue to do so during this campaign period.
Happy bargain hunting!!!
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