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Cyclical Drought in Northern Kenya Takes Toll on Women and Girls

6 min read.

Climate change is endangering the lives of millions of Kenyans in the northern counties and rendering them destitute. But indigenous and pastoralist women are the most marginalized and the most vulnerable to the climate crisis.



Cyclical Drought in Northern Kenya Takes Toll on Women and Girls

Even though Kenya accounts for less than 0.1 per cent of global emissions of greenhouse gases, pastoralist communities in the country have borne the brunt of the effects of climate change, facing increasingly frequent droughts every two years.

Drought disproportionately affects women and girls in northern Kenya. They spend much of their time looking for water, walking long distances to reach boreholes where they queue at water kiosks, competing for the precious commodity with large numbers of livestock. Mama Amina Mohamed, a 30-year-old who lives in Hadado, says, “My tedious routine is fetching water for household use for the 10 weak goats at home. I come here four times during the day.”

Asha Ali is 32 years old and a new mother. She lives with her family in Abaq Mathobe in Wajir West, 30 kilometres away from Wajir County headquarters. Asha gave birth on the 1st of November this year at home in her village which is not accessible by road, leaving her and her community without access to an ambulance service or emergency health services.

With the ongoing drought, there was no water available and so after giving birth, Asha Ali and her newborn baby were cleaned with coarse sand. Like thousands of other pregnant and lactating mothers in the northern counties that have been affected by the recent drought, Asha Ali was also severely malnourished. Due to existing gender disparities caused by illiteracy, poverty and traditional customs and beliefs, pastoralist women and girls tend to experience higher food insecurity and malnutrition in the northern counties.

As the drought ravaged the region, the task of moving the household and the weak livestock in search of pasture and water fell to the women. Thirty-five-year old Mama Fatuma Abey moved with her 12 children and her livestock from Welgaras, a conflict-prone area on the border between Wajir West sub-county and Isiolo, to Arbajahan. She and her children walked over 15 kilometres, spending two days on the road with no water and no food, fearful of being attacked by bandits along the way. The two donkeys that she had been using to carry her children died on the journey.

The family arrived in Arbajahan extenuated by hunger and fatigue and community elders helped to mobilise resources to come to their assistance. But Arbajahan is no better than Welgaras; women and girls are afraid to fetch firewood in the bush for fear of being raped and are forced to buy firewood for cooking.

Pastoralist women and girls tend to experience higher food insecurity and malnutrition in the northern counties.

Pastoralist women find that with drought their family responsibilities increase. The job of fetching weak livestock left behind in the old homestead falls to them; they must go back and forth, ferrying the weakened livestock on donkey carts, and must somehow find the means to feed the animals. Without pasture, the same grain that feeds their families is also used to feed the weak animals, further straining the household budget. To cope, the women skip meals, making do with a meal a day and sometimes none at all.

Drought also forces girls out of school. To help ease the burden at home, they forfeit their education for work as house-helps in urban areas such as Wajir town, sending their monthly earnings back home to support the mothers they have left behind.

The Integrated Food Security Phase Classification for Acute Malnutrition (IPC-AMN) and Acute Food Insecurity analyses for August to November 2021 projected that “an estimated 652,960 children aged between 6 and 59 months and 96,480 pregnant and lactating mothers [would] required treatment for acute malnutrition”. The nutrition situation was found to be critical (IPC-AMN Phase 4) in Garissa, Wajir, Mandera, Samburu, Turkana, North Horr and Laisamis sub-counties.

Wajir West was the county’s worst affected region and the children were the most affected. The proportion of children below the age of five years that were at risk of severe malnutrition had surpassed the emergency 15 per cent threshold (very high). In Wajir east, west  and south, the number of children under five years that were at risk of acute malnutrition had increased to 50 per cent in November 2021 due to reduced milk consumption. Milk production at the household level was affected by lack of pasture, distance to water sources, and the deteriorating condition of the livestock.

The climate crisis has led to dwindling resources and this is having an impact on the security situation in the northern counties. It has triggered conflicts between the communities of Hadado and Merti sub-counties leading to the deaths of more than 20 people in the last two years alone. Women and girls in these conflict-prone areas face more violence and insecurity and as the drought deteriorated, more women and girls were at risk of being killed, assaulted, and violated. Women and girls have also been displaced by climate change-induced conflicts and threats.

At the peak of the drought in October 2021, Abdullahi Mohamed, a community leader in Hadado, expressed the fears of the community. “If the rains fail in November and December, we are facing death as a result of no food and water. We are already too weak, I don’t know how many children and women can make it till it rains especially outside the inaccessible rural areas. We fear for our lives.”

Incidences of human-wildlife conflict due to severe drought also increased, especially in Wajir North, Balambala, and Ijara, where warthogs and monkeys were walking into people’s houses looking for food and water.

In July 2021, Devolution Cabinet Secretary Eugene Wamalwa and Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) Representative Carla Mucavi signed a Drought Action and Response Plan that requires KSh9.4 billion for drought mitigation for pastoral and agro-pastoral communities in the arid and semi-arid counties (ASALs).

Without pasture, the same grain that feeds their families is also used to feed the weak animals.

President Uhuru Kenyatta declared the drought a national disaster on 8 September 2021 and instructed the National Treasury and the Ministry of Interior and Coordination of National Government to spearhead government efforts to assist the effected communities including with water and relief food distribution as well as livestock uptake. The central government subsequently allocated KSh2 billion for drought mitigation measures in 10 northern counties including Wajir, Garissa, Mandera, and Turkana.

On 4 November 2021, the national government launched a food aid programme with the government spokesman, Col. (Rtd.) Cyrus Oguna, flagging off food relief for drought mitigation that included 6,000 bags of rice and 12 000 bags beans to 10 locations in Wajir East. Each location received 50 and 17 bags of rice and beans. The Wajir County Government’s allocation of KSh180 million to special programmes was used to purchase emergency livestock feeds and food aid to save lives and livelihoods at the sub-county level. This was not nearly enough according to humanitarian organizations operating in Wajir, because the county has more than 781,000 people and more than half of the population were facing acute food Insecurity and acute severe malnutrition.

The primary water sources for human and livestock use across the county are boreholes, shallow wells, and water trucking. And even though it is unsustainable and very expensive, as the drought conditions persisted, there was a significant upsurge in the number of centres and institutions depending on water trucking as their primary source of water.

All the water pans had entirely dried up, putting a strain on the twelve strategic boreholes in the sub-counties and leading to increasingly frequent breakdowns due to high concentrations of people and livestock. The 2021 budget allocation of KSh837 million for the water department was spent entirely on rehabilitating boreholes.

As the drought conditions persisted, there was a significant upsurge in the number of centres and institutions depending on water trucking as their primary source of water.

The county governments in northern Kenya are being forced to reallocate development resources to address climate-induced emergencies, even though they are poorly equipped to respond effectively to droughts and to build the pastoralist communities’ resilience and ability to bounce back better. The pastoralist communities have lost billions in the recent drought, and they must start rebuilding again from scratch since this is the only way of life they know and understand.

But indigenous and pastoralist women are the most marginalized and most vulnerable to the climate crisis. They are poorly represented at the decision-making levels in the counties and with little power and influence, they are not involved in contributing to climate change policies and decisions even though they rely mainly on natural resources for their livelihoods.

According to a government report sent to the UN Framework Convention on Climate change, Kenya currently needs over US$62 billion to adapt to the crisis in the ASAL regions over the next 10 years. With the pastoralist way of life now threatened by severe cyclic droughts, there is an urgent need to strengthen the role of indigenous pastoralist women as change agents in climate change adaptation and mitigation since they are the most affected by cyclical droughts.

The long awaited rains finally came in early December 2021. The water pans have filled up, the grass has grown back and with the availability of water and pasture, the condition of the surviving livestock has improved. But until when will the water and pasture last?

The short-term drought mitigation strategies applied during every period of drought are not effective. There is need to develop a long-term strategy to strengthen the capacities of the northern counties to respond to the increasingly frequent droughts. The northern counties should invest in livelihood diversification, rangeland management, lengthening water availability and sustainable peace for the areas susceptible to resource-based conflicts.

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Muna Ahmed works in the areas of food security, public health, peace-building, conflict mitigation and governance and security. She is also championing gender equality and promoting the participation of women in politics in North Eastern Kenya.


Battery Arms Race: Global Capital and the Scramble for Cobalt in the Congo

In the context of the climate emergency and the need for renewable energy sources, competition over the supply of cobalt is growing. This competition is most intense in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Nick Bernards argues that the scramble for cobalt is a capitalist scramble, and that there can be no ‘just’ transition without overthrowing capitalism on a global scale.



Battery Arms Race: Global Capital and the Scramble for Cobalt in the Congo

With growing attention to climate breakdown and the need for expanded use of renewable energy sources, the mineral resources needed to make batteries are emerging as a key site of conflict. In this context, cobalt – traditionally mined as a by-product of copper and nickel – has become a subject of major interest in its own right.

Competition over supplies of cobalt is intensifying. Some reports suggest that demand for cobalt is likely to exceed known reserves if projected shifts to renewable energy sources are realized. Much of this competition is playing out in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The south-eastern regions of the DRC hold about half of proven global cobalt reserves, and account for an even higher proportion of global cobalt production (roughly 70 percent) because known reserves in the DRC are relatively shallow and easier to extract.

Recent high profile articles in outlets including the New York Times and the Guardian have highlighted a growing ‘battery arms race’ supposedly playing out between the West (mostly the US) and China over battery metals, especially cobalt.

These pieces suggest, with some alarm, that China is ‘winning’ this race. They highlight how Chinese dominance in battery supply chains might inhibit energy transitions in the West. They also link growing Chinese mining operations to a range of labour and environmental abuses in the DRC, where the vast majority of the world’s available cobalt reserves are located.

Both articles are right that the hazards and costs of the cobalt boom have been disproportionately borne by Congolese people and landscapes, while few of the benefits have reached them. But by subsuming these problems into narratives of geopolitical competition between the US and China and zooming in on the supposedly pernicious effects of Chinese-owned operations in particular, the ‘arms race’ narrative ultimately obscures more than it reveals.

There is unquestionably a scramble for cobalt going on. It is centered in the DRC but spans much of the globe, working through tangled transnational networks of production and finance that link mines in the South-Eastern DRC to refiners and battery manufacturers scattered across China’s industrializing cities, to financiers in London, Toronto, and Hong Kong, to vast transnational corporations ranging from mineral rentiers (Glencore), to automotive companies (Volkswagen, Ford), to electronics and tech firms (Apple). This loose network is governed primarily through an increasingly amorphous and uneven patchwork of public and private ‘sustainability’ standards. And, it plays out against the backdrop of both long-running depredations of imperialism and the more recent devastation of structural adjustment.

In a word, the scramble for cobalt is a thoroughly capitalist scramble.


Chinese firms do unquestionably play a major role in global battery production in general and in cobalt extraction and refining in particular. Roughly 50 percent of global cobalt refining now takes place in China. The considerable majority of DRC cobalt exports do go to China, and Chinese firms have expanded interests in mining and trading ventures in the DRC.

However, although the Chinese state has certainly fostered the development of cobalt and other battery minerals, there is as much a scramble for control over cobalt going on within China as between China and the ‘west’. There has, notably, been a wave of concentration and consolidation among Chinese cobalt refiners since about 2010. The Chinese firms operating in the DRC are capitalist firms competing with each other in important ways. They often have radically different business models. Jinchuan Group Co. Ltd and China Molybdenum, for instance, are Hong Kong Stock Exchange-listed firms with ownership shares in scattered global refining and mining operations. Jinchuan’s major mine holdings in the DRC were acquired from South African miner Metorex in 2012; China Molybdenum recently acquired the DRC mines owned by US-based Freeport-McMoRan (as the New York Times article linked above notes with concern). A significant portion of both Jinchuan Group and China Molybdenum’s revenues, though, come from speculative metals trading rather than from production. Yantai Cash, on the other hand, is a specialized refiner which does not own mining operations. Yantai is likely the destination for a good deal of ‘artisanal’ mined cobalt via an elaborate network of traders and brokers.

These large Chinese firms also are thoroughly plugged in to global networks of battery production ultimately destined, in many cases, for widely known consumer brands. They are also able to take advantage of links to global marketing and financing operations. The four largest Chinese refiners, for instance, are all listed brands on the London Metal Exchange (LME).

In the midst of increased concentration at the refining stage and concerns over supplies, several major end users including Apple, Volkswagen, and BMW have sought to establish long-term contracts directly with mining operations since early 2018. Tesla signed a major agreement with Glencore to supply cobalt for its new battery ‘gigafactories’ in 2020. Not unrelatedly, they have also developed integrated supply chain tracing systems, often dressed up in the language of ‘sustainability’ and transparency. One notable example is the Responsible Sourcing Blockchain Initiative (RSBI). This initiative between the blockchain division of tech giant IBM, supply chain audit firm RCS Global, and several mining houses, mineral traders, and automotive end users of battery materials including Ford, Volvo, Volkswagen Group, and Fiat-Chrysler Automotive Group was announced in 2019. RSBI conducted a pilot test tracing 1.5 tons of Congolese cobalt across three different continents over five months of refinement.

Major end users including automotive and electronics brands have, in short, developed increasingly direct contacts extending across the whole battery production network.

There are also a range of financial actors trying to get in on the scramble (though, as both Jinchuan and China Molybdenum demonstrate, the line between ‘productive’ and ‘financial’ capital here can be blurry). Since 2010, benchmark cobalt prices are set through speculative trading on the LME. A number of specialized trading funds have been established in the last five years, seeking to profit from volatile prices for cobalt. One of the largest global stockpiles of cobalt in 2017, for instance, was held by Cobalt 27, a Canadian firm established expressly to buy and hold physical cobalt stocks. Cobalt 27 raised CAD 200 million through a public listing on the Toronto Stock Exchange in June of 2017, and subsequently purchased 2160.9 metric tons of cobalt held in LME warehouses. There are also a growing number of exchange traded funds (ETF) targeting cobalt. Most of these ETFs seek ‘exposure’ to cobalt and battery components more generally, for instance, through holding shares in mining houses or what are called ‘royalty bearing interests’ in specific mining operations rather than trading in physical cobalt or futures. Indeed, by mid-2019, Cobalt-27 was forced to sell off its cobalt stockpile at a loss. It was subsequently bought out by its largest shareholder (a Swiss-registered investment firm) and restructured into ‘Conic’, an investment fund holding a portfolio of royalty-bearing interests in battery metals operations rather than physical metals.

Or, to put it another way, there is as much competition going on within ‘China’ and the ‘West’ between different firms to establish control over limited supplies of cobalt, and to capture a share of the profits, as between China and the ‘West’ as unitary entities.


Thus far, workers and communities in the Congolese Copperbelt have suffered the consequences of this scramble. They have seen few of the benefits. Indeed, this is reflective of much longer-run processes, documented in ROAPE, wherein local capital formation and local development in Congolese mining have been systematically repressed on behalf of transnational capital for decades.

The current boom takes place against the backdrop of the collapse, and subsequent privatization, of the copper mining industry in the 1990s and 2000s. In 1988, state-owned copper mining firm Gécamines produced roughly 450 000 tons of copper, and employed 30 000 people, by 2003, production had fallen to 8 000 tons and workers were owed up to 36 months of back pay. As part of the restructuring and privatization of the company, more than 10 000 workers were offered severance payments financed by the World Bank, the company was privatized, and mining rights were increasingly marketized. By most measures, mining communities in the Congolese Copperbelt are marked by widespread poverty. A 2017 survey found mean and median monthly household incomes of $USD 34.50 and $USD 14, respectively, in the region.

In the context of widespread dispossession, the DRC’s relatively shallow cobalt deposits have been an important source of livelihood activities. Estimates based on survey research suggest that roughly 60 percent of households in the region derived some income from mining, of which 90 percent worked in some form of artisanal mining. Recent research has linked the rise of industrial mining installations owned by multinational conglomerates to deepening inequality, driven in no small part by those firms’ preference for expatriate workers in higher paid roles. Where Congolese workers are employed, this is often through abusive systems of outsourcing through labour brokers.

Cobalt mining has also been linked to substantial forms of social and ecological degradation in surrounding areas, including significant health risks from breathing dust (not only to miners but also to local communities), ecological disruption and pollution from acid, dust, and tailings, and violent displacement of local communities.

The limited benefits and high costs of the cobalt boom for local people in the Congolese copperbelt, in short, are linked to conditions of widespread dispossession predating the arrival of Chinese firms and are certainly not limited to Chinese firms.

To be clear, none of this is to deny that Chinese firms have been implicated in abuses of labour rights and ecologically destructive practices in the DRC, nor that the Chinese state has clearly made strategic priorities of cobalt mining, refining, and battery manufacturing. It does not excuse the very real abuses linked to Chinese firms that European-owned ones have done many of the same things. Nor does the fact that those Chinese firms are often ultimately vendors to major US and European auto and electronic brands.

However, all of this does suggest that any diagnosis of the developmental ills, violence, ecological damage and labour abuses surrounding cobalt in the DRC that focuses specifically on the character of Chinese firms or on inter-state competition is limited at best. It gets Glencore, Apple, Tesla, and myriad financial speculators, to say nothing of capitalist relations of production generally, off the hook.

If we want to get to grips with the unfolding scramble for cobalt and its consequences for the people in the south-east DRC, we need to keep in view how the present-day scramble reflects wider patterns of uneven development under capitalist relations of production.

We should note that such narratives of a ‘new scramble for Africa’ prompted by a rapacious Chinese appetite for natural resources are not new. As Alison Ayers argued nearly a decade ago of narratives about the role of China in a ‘new scramble for Africa’, a focus on Chinese abuses means that ‘the West’s relations with Africa are construed as essentially beneficent, in contrast to the putatively opportunistic, exploitative and deleterious role of the emerging powers, thereby obfuscating the West’s ongoing neocolonial relationship with Africa’. Likewise, such accounts neglect ‘profound changes in the global political economy within which the “new scramble for Africa” is to be more adequately located’. These interventions are profoundly political, providing important forms of ideological cover for both neoliberal capitalism and for longer-run structures of imperialism.

In short, the barrier to a just transition to sustainable energy sources is not a unitary ‘China’ bent on the domination of emerging industries as a means to global hegemony. It is capitalism. Or, more precisely, it is the fact that responses to the climate crisis have thus far worked through and exacerbated the contradictions of existing imperialism and capitalist relations of production. The scramble for cobalt is a capitalist scramble, and one of many signs that there can be no ‘just’ transition without overturning capitalism and imperialism on a global scale.

This article was published in the Review of African political Economy (ROAPE).

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Kenya’s Battle with COVID-19: The Highs and Lows

The country has faced a myriad challenges in combating the pandemic and has not attained its target of fully inoculating 10 million people by the end of December 2021.



Kenya’s Battle with COVID-19: The Highs and Lows

On the 12th of March 2020, the Ministry of Health (MoH) announced that a deadly, silent enemy had shown up at Kenya’s door. This would be the country’s first COVID-19 case since the beginning of the outbreak in China in December 2019.

With little information about exactly what the country was going to be up against, Health Cabinet Secretary (CS) Mutahi Kagwe addressed the nation flanked by top government officials.

“The case is a Kenyan citizen who travelled back to Nairobi returning from the United States of America via London, United Kingdom on the 5th March 2020. She was confirmed positive by the National Influenza Centre Laboratory at the National Public Health Laboratories of the Ministry of Health. The patient is clinically stable, and is being managed at the Infectious Diseases Unit at the Kenyatta National Hospital. The lady is now stable and behaving quite normally,” CS Kagwe confidently stated in his official address.

Explaining that COVID-19 had been declared a global pandemic, the government announced precautionary measures that included directives on hygiene and social distancing. Normal life was turned topsy-turvy as Kenya suspended all public gatherings, meetings, religious crusades, games events, etc. Normal church services could go on provided sanitizing and hand-washing facilities were provided to the congregation. Schools remained open but inter-school events were suspended. Public transport providers were to avail hand sanitizers to their passengers. Prison visits were temporarily suspended. Kenyans were to desist from abusing social media platforms or indulging in spreading misinformation that could cause fear and panic. Travel outside the country was restricted.

Fifteen days before the first case of COVID-19 was reported in the country, on 28 February, President Uhuru Kenyatta had issued Executive Order No. 2 of 2020 establishing the National Emergency Response Committee on Coronavirus (NERCC) to coordinate the country’s response to the pandemic.

Kenyans were to desist from abusing social media platforms or indulging in spreading misinformation that could cause fear and panic. Travel outside the country was restricted.

A month later CS Kagwe gave a briefing on recoveries from COVID-19, saying, “In the last 24 hours, an additional eight COVID-19 patients have been discharged from hospital, bringing the total number of recoveries to 114,” he said. “In this same period, however, we have confirmed 8 new cases of coronavirus in the country bringing to total 363. Four of these are from Mombasa and three from Nairobi, and one from Kwale,” he said.

Kenya’s new normal would now include daily COVID-19 briefings to update on the death toll, recoveries, positivity rates and precautionary measures.

The war room

Meanwhile, for a group of computer scientists at Qhala, a Nairobi-based tech company that had been developing a digital contact tracing tool to help the government to respond to the rising cases of cholera in the country, the coronavirus pandemic would come to be the defining moment.

With the arrival of COVID-19 in the country, Dr Shikoh Gitau (a University of Cape Town Computer Science graduate who was born and bred in Mathare Slums) and her team turned their research and development to the pandemic. Their research culminated in the opening of the Centre for Epidemiological Modelling and Analysis (CEMA), a national data centre to support the control, elimination, and eradication of infectious diseases in Eastern and Central Africa.

Dr Gitau believes in the democratization of access to data and explains that, “If data is just in the hands of a few people, they can use it to tell us what they want or feel like. But if everyone is looking at the same data set, we will have more enriching interpretations of that particular set. The way a data scientist will look at the set is not the same way a journalist, economist or epidemiologist will look at the same set and this is why even in our own team we countercheck our biases by ensuring that many sets of eyes look at the same data.”

The NERCC is using the tool developed by Dr Gitau and her team as the basis of the COVID-19 briefs Kenya receives on a daily basis.

The country also embarked on the hunt for a vaccine. “Kenya has joined the global efforts in search of an effective vaccine for COVID-19 with the start of a trial evaluating the ChAdOx1 nCoV-2019 Oxford coronavirus vaccine,” Oxford University announced in an official statement. Specifically, the country had joined the United Kingdom, South Africa and Brazil in running trials to evaluate the ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 vaccine.

The trials were run by the Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI) at the Kilifi-based KEMRI-Welcome Trust Research Programme under which, following approvals from regulators, Kenyans volunteered for AstraZeneca vaccine trials.

“We’re excited to see our colleagues in Kenya today joining those around the world in helping us to evaluate the ChAdOx1 nCov-2019 Oxford coronavirus vaccine, as it is important to evaluate the vaccine in as many different populations as possible,” said Professor Andy Pollard, the Director of the Oxford Vaccine Group and Chief Investigator of the Oxford Vaccine Trial.

The trials involved 40 frontline workers in Kilifi County, with a further 360 volunteers recruited once the safety of the vaccine was confirmed. The volunteers were monitored over a period of 12 months after immunization to assess their health, the vaccine side effects and how their bodies were developing immunity in response to the vaccine.

However, once the vaccines came into production, Kenya was sidelined and reduced to a “beggar”; the country is now depending on donations from the same UK government with which it had partnered to run the trials.

To steer Kenya through the global vaccine supply and administration mess, President Kenyatta appointed his advisor on malaria, Dr Willis Akhwale, to lead the COVID-19 Vaccine Taskforce and make recommendations to the government. “As you know we actually sit every Wednesday; the CS and President Kenyatta have taken personal interest on this matter,” Dr Akhwale explained in an interview.

The trials involved 40 frontline workers in Kilifi County, with a further 360 volunteers recruited once the safety of the vaccine was confirmed.

The taskforce developed the country’s vaccine roadmap regarding vaccine hesitancy, county engagements, vaccine depots, cold chain storage and logistics, digital vaccine and immunisation records as well donor interests, among other issues surrounding Kenya’s COVID-19 vaccine preparedness.

A COVID-19 vaccine deployment plan was released in December 2020. The deployment plan was put in place after Kenya ordered 13 million Johnson & Johnson (J&J) vaccines through the African Union (AU). However, due to manufacturing constraints, only about one million doses have been delivered

Data from Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) shows that there is a huge interest in vaccines among Africans. “Vaccine hesitancy in Africa is not an issue. There’s 75 per cent acceptance in Africa, apart from Burkina Faso, compared with the US where acceptance is 60 per cent,” Africa CDC Director, Dr John Nkengasong has said.

In total, AU member states, of which Kenya is a part, have ordered 56.9 million Johnson & Johnson (J&J) doses over and above the 220 million doses they had planned for under the advance purchase agreement (APA) with J&J.

The total number of vaccines committed to AU member states by manufacturers is 205.4 million doses, worth about US$130 million. CS Kagwe has confirmed that Kenya will begin to manufacture COVID-19 vaccines by April 2022 to mitigate against supply hitches that are frustrating efforts to vaccinate the entire adult population.

“As of December 13th 2021, a total of 8,223,238 vaccines had so far been administered across the country out of the 23,279,820 doses Kenya has received. Of these, 4,947,002 were partially vaccinated while those fully vaccinated were 3,276,236. The uptake of the second dose among those who received their first dose was at 57.2%.  Proportion of adults fully vaccinated was 12.0%. The Government is working towards vaccinating a targeted population of 27,246,033” the MoH announced.

Kenya has faced a myriad of challenges as it navigates the pandemic, including a major corruption scandal at the Kenya Medical Supplies Authority (KEMSA).

In September 2020, investigators recommended the prosecution of at least 15 top government officials and business people over the alleged misuse of millions of dollars meant for the purchase of COVID-19 medical supplies but to date nothing has been done, with a number of the suspects employed by KEMSA still on half pay.

Earlier investigations found misuse of US$7.8 million meant for the purchase of emergency personal protective equipment (PPE) for healthcare workers and hospitals across the country. Health workers in many of the counties continue to complain about the shortage of PPE and poor or delayed pay.

With the emergence of the Omicron variant, there is a shortage of testing kits across the country. The mechanism for testing at points of entry and for those in quarantine is flawed. The cost of COVID-19 treatment and the lack of availability of medical oxygen and drugs is also a major issue, with insurance companies jumping ship on coronavirus.

The country still has other major gaps that need to be addressed. These include public access to COVID-19 information, especially concerning vaccines, as low vaccine uptake is a major problem.

Kenya has faced a myriad of challenges as it navigates the pandemic, including a major corruption scandal at the Kenya Medical Supplies Authority.

According to Dr Richard Mihigo, the Immunization and Vaccines Development Programme Coordinator at WHO Africa Region, compared to other African countries like Morocco, Seychelles, Mauritius, Tunisia, Cape Verde and Botswana that have reached the global target of vaccinating 40 per cent of their population, Kenya has not attained its target of fully inoculating 10 million people by the end of December 2021 and has so far only managed to administer COVID-19 vaccines to 3.3 million people.

Medical facilities are overwhelmed and there is a lack of medical equipment and mismanagement in most public hospitals. Vaccine wastage by some of the people conducting the rollout is rife in the country. According to WHO, vaccine wastage is the sum of vaccines discarded, lost, damaged or destroyed. Since vaccines account for a significant portion of immunization programme costs, ensuring that wastage is minimized without jeopardizing vaccination coverage is key.

There is a lot of laxity in the delivery of health services to Kenyans who live in rural areas, especially in the country’s northern region. The communities in this region have difficulties accessing health facilities and many are not receiving the COVID-19 vaccine because of the hundreds of kilometres they have to travel to be vaccinated.

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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?



Mozambique: The State Has Lost Trust and Remains Unaccountable
Photo: Flickr/F Mira

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?

This post is from a partnership between Africa Is a Country and The Elephant. We will be publishing a series of posts from their site once a week.

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