Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Lockdown in Lagos

25 million people are placed on a two-week lockdown in parts of Nigeria in a bid to curtail the spread of coronavirus, poor people in congested neighbourhoods are worried about how they will cope. A lockdown in Lagos - the commercial hub of Nigeria, as well as the neighbouring state of Ogun and the capital Abuja - came into force on Monday night.

"From where do we get the extra water to wash the hands you are talking about," asked Debby Ogunsola. For Ms Ogunsula it will be difficult to remain indoors. She and her family live in one room in a block of 20, locally called Face-me-I-face-you because of their close proximity to each other. There is no electricity. Outside there were two toilets and bathrooms shared by all the families living in the 20 rooms. There is no pipe-borne water either in Alapere, and Ms Ogunsola is forced to walk more than 50 metres to a broken public water pipe for her supply.

"It's my children I am worried about," she said. "If I am not able to go out and sell, how will they survive?'' asked Ms Ogunsola, who earns money by selling fruit and vegetables by the roadside. "It is hunger I am worried about, not a virus."
But many Nigerians live hand-to-mouth, often on less than $1 (£0.80) and they cannot stock up on food or other essentials. Many workers are also yet to be paid their wages for March so there are deep concerns about the financial implications of a lockdown.
President Muhammadu Buhari outlined some measures to ease the hardship, including a one-month advance payment of the monthly $13 given to the poorest of the poor, but most people feel that millions of self-employed Nigerians have been left without financial aid.
"It's only those who have money that can buy now. If you do not have what can you do?" said a taxi driver parked outside a supermarket.

Monday, March 30, 2020

Covid-19 and Kenya

In Kenya coronavirus containment measures are expected to bring additional economic hardship in a country where only 17.9 percent of households have an internet connection and informal labourers account for 83.6 per cent of the total workforce.

These are mainly rate workers, day labourers and informal traders - and many of them are under heavy pressure to keep working in order to be able to put food on the table. While urged to maintain physical distancing, the majority of Kenyans live hand to mouth and have barely been able to stock up on food and other items. Health experts recommend frequent and thorough washing of hands with clean running water and soap as an important control measure to slow the spread of the disease, but nearly 80 percent of households in the country have no place for hand-washing in or near the toilet
These are hard times for many Kenyans - not least because of the fear of contracting the new coronavirus. Kenya has shut borders and suspended most air travel, except cargo flights. Kenya also asked government institutions, businesses and companies to allow staff to work from home, "with the exception of employees working in critical or essential services".

"There are businesses that have placed employees on standby; some on half pay, others with no pay," said Kwame Owino, chief executive officer of the Institute of Economic Affairs in Kenya. "Whole sectors of businesses are down."

In a country where labour laws are as weak as they are unheeded, many workers have either been let go or sent on unpaid leave as nearly all sectors of the economy - including tourism and flower and horticultural exports, Kenya's key foreign exchange earners - have taken a beating. The crisis hit Kenya at a turbulent time, further exposing an economy already weighed down by rising public debt - standing at $60bn as of September 2019 - years of missed revenue collection targets and a budget deficit hovering at more than six percent of GDP.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Coronavirus Crackdown

Police fired tear gas at a crowd of Kenyan ferry commuters as the country’s first day of a coronavirus curfew slid into chaos. Elsewhere, officers were captured in mobile phone footage whacking people with batons.

Virus prevention measures have taken a violent turn in parts of Africa as countries impose lockdowns and curfews or seal off major cities. Health experts say the virus’ spread, though still at an early stage, resembles the arc seen in Europe, adding to widespread anxiety. Cases across Africa were set to climb above 4,000 late Saturday.

Abuses of the new measures by authorities are an immediate concern. 
Minutes after South Africa’s three-week lockdown began Friday, police screamed at homeless people in downtown Johannesburg and went after some with batons. Some citizens reported the police use of rubber bullets. Fifty-five people across the country were arrested. The country leads Africa with more than 1,000 cases.
In an apparent show of force on Saturday, South Africa's military raided a large workers' hostel in the Alexandra township where some residents had defied the lockdown.
In Rwanda, the first country in sub-Saharan Africa to impose a lockdown, police have denied that two civilians shot dead Monday were killed for defying the new measures, saying the men attacked an officer after being stopped.
And Zimbabwe, where police are widely criticized by human rights groups for deadly crackdowns, is set to enter a three-week lockdown on Monday. The country's handful of virus cases already threatens to overwhelm one of the world's most fragile health systems.
In Kenya, outrage over the the actions of police was swift.
“We were horrified by excessive use of police force” ahead of the curfew that began Friday night, Amnesty International Kenya and 19 other human rights groups said in a statement issued Saturday. “We continue to receive testimonies from victims, eyewitnesses and video footage showing police gleefully assaulting members of the public in other parts of the country.”
 The tear gas caused hundreds of people trying to reach a ferry in the port city of Mombasa ahead of the overnight curfew to touch their faces as they vomited, spat and wiped away tears, increasing the chance of the virus’ spread, the rights groups said. Even some health workers reported being intimidated as they tried to provide services after the 7 p.m. curfew.
'People must be treated humanely'
The police actions were unacceptable and “brutal,” the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops' Justice and Peace Commission said in a separate statement.
“I am appealing to our people to make it very unnecessary for them to engage with police by staying at home,” Kenya's Cabinet secretary for health, Mutahi Kagwe, said. “I am also urging the police that people must be treated humanely.” The country has 38 virus cases. 
Kenya’s interior ministry on Saturday replied to criticism in a statement saying the curfew "is meant to guard against an apparent threat to public health. Breaking it is not only irresponsible but also puts others in harm’s way.”
Kenya's government has not said how many people have been arrested. Because courts are also affected by virus prevention measures, all but serious cases will now be dealt with at police stations, the government has said. That means anyone detained for violating curfew faces time in crowded cells.
The Law Society of Kenya will go to court to challenge the curfew on the grounds that it is unconstitutional and has been abused by police, president Nelson Havi said in a statement. The penalty for breaking a curfew is not corporal punishment, he added.
“It is evident that COVID-19 will be spread more by actions of police than of those claimed to have contravened the curfew,” Havi said.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.
If Kenya goes further and imposes a lockdown, “there is bound to be violence,” said James Shikwati, an economist. People in poor neighborhoods of cities like the capital, Nairobi, will need a way to access food, water and sanitation. 
“It will mean for the first day, maybe, they stay indoors," he said. “Then the second day, when they are hungry, they will move out.”

Friday, March 27, 2020

South Africa's Inequality

Just 3,500 people – 0.01% of the adult population – own 15% of total wealth in South Africa, according to a new study. 

And, there has been no decrease in wealth inequality in the 26 years since democracy.

  • The top 10% (3.5 million people) control 86% of all wealth
  • The top 1% (350,000 people) control 55% of all wealth
  • The top 0.1% (35,000 people) control 29% of all wealth
  • The top 0.01% (3,540 people) control 15% of all wealth
  • The bottom 90% (31,8 million people) control 14% of all wealth
By contrast, due to their debt, the bottom 50%, or 17.7 million people, have an average negative net wealth of -R16,000.
A 2016 study by Anna Orthofer suggested that 1% of the South African population owns at least half of all wealth, and the top 10% owned up to 99% of all wealth. 

By comparison, Victor Sulla and Precious Zikhali’s 2018 World Bank report “Overcoming Poverty and Inequality in South Africa”, suggests that the top 10% of households account for 71% of household net wealth.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

The fifth wife

In Niger where traditional forms of slavery still exist. One of them is a practice called "fifth wife," which means that for wealthy men, in addition to four wives permitted by Islam, they take on an additional wife — fifth wives — who are essentially treated as slaves and they just serve their masters, in both domestic and sexual ways.

We had a woman called Hadijatou Mani who ran away from this kind of situation and built her life in freedom and married another man she freely chose. But she was thrown in jail after her former master denounced her as breaching the rules of what he called marriage.
We took that case on and we took that to an international court and we won that case. She was amazingly brave to testify against her former master and against her own government for failing to protect her from slavery.
She won that case and then 10 years later her marriage not only was finally cancelled, but the whole practice was ruled unlawful, so her own personal fight ended in actually criminalizing the practice that has persisted in the country for hundreds of years. And hundreds of women and girls will be protected from that form of slavery from now on.

Monday, March 23, 2020

A Triple Whammy

The IMF has not yet announced that any country will qualify for debt cancellation, but the JDC said there were examples of countries – such as copper-rich Zambia and oil-exporting Chad – facing severe problems.

The leading ratings agencies have started to flag up the problems that Covid-19 will pose to Africa.
Standard & Poor said around half the 54 countries in the world’s poorest continent had confirmed cases of the coronavirus and warned that Africa could find itself among the regions hardest hit.
An S&P report said African economies and the banking sector were particularly vulnerable to the spread of Covid-19 because of the region’s weak public health systems and reliance on commodity exports, tourism, and remittances sent home from abroad. It also highlighted high levels of foreign debt and the low creditworthiness of most African countries.
“The pronounced deterioration of financing conditions could hurt African countries with a high current account deficit and dependence on external capital flows for financing,” said S&P global ratings credit analyst Mohamed Damak.
Interest rates had spiked on average by 3.5 percentage points for low- and middle-income countries since the mid-February and that costs for new borrowing stood at 10%.

At the same time, commodity prices have plunged, with the price of copper down by 21% since the start of 2020, oil 61% lower, and coffee falling by 15%. The Bloomberg commodity price index – which measures a basket of oil, metals and food prices – has dropped 27% since the start of the year and is now at its lowest level since 1986.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Are we surprised?

South Sudan, Zimbabwe, Rwanda and the Central African Republic (CAR) are amongst the unhappiest countries in the world. 

Only Afghanistan beats them to bottom place of the 153 countries listed.

Friday, March 20, 2020

The Slums and Covid-19

Residents of Kibera, Nairobi's vast informal settlement, prepare for coronavirus but still need to work to put food on the table.

The Kenyan government has already taken a series of strict measures, including closing schools, banning major public events and barring entry to the country to everyone except citizens, in an attempt to curb the outbreak, which has been declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization.

Following the official announcement of the drastic measures by President Uhuru Kenyatta on March 15, Kenyans have begun to take the virus seriously. Hand washing is being carried out more frequently and the government is reducing the cost of water for those who cannot afford it. However, despite calls for social distancing and quarantining, residents of poorer areas of the city continue to go outside, interacting with others and working to support their families.
Many residents of Kibera, home to hundreds of thousands of people, are aware of the risks coronavirus poses, especially in a crowded and underserved neighbourhood such as their own, which could be devastated should the outbreak sweep through and overwhelm already strained healthcare and social safety nets.

Santos, is a community leader in the Silanga neighbourhood of Kibera. He runs the Kibera Seven Kids group, which provides discount schooling, free meals for children and promotes a wide range of outreach activities in the area. Like schools around the country, his group has closed and the children have been told to stay at home, though many continue to come by for weekly distribution of staple foods such as maize, which he has continued to offer despite the crisis. For Santos, the primary issue in Kibera is that people simply cannot stop working because of the pandemic.
"People are scared, but here in the slum we work hand-to-mouth. If you don't work you don't eat. If you earn one dollar you can't save it, you must feed your whole family."

Asked whether social distancing is being practised, Santos laughed. "That’s not possible in the slums, when we are getting water it's one metre apart. We live room to room, we are sharing one wall. To work we must board the boda bodas [motorbikes], we must board the matatus [minibuses]. In the slum we must interact with other people."

Being able to practise actions such as social distancing is a privilege for those who can afford the space and time off work. Residents of Kibera simply lack the resources to prepare for the virus. While people living in Nairobi's leafy suburbs and high-rise apartments stock up on food and prepare for a lengthy quarantine, the city's poorer residents get by day-to-day. Even getting more water for hand washing is an extra expense and requires a trip to a vendor when it is not pumped to your house.

Kenya lacks an effective public health system. Those with money and private health insurance take comfort in the fact that should they fall sick, treatment at one of the capital's private hospitals will be an option.

Meanwhile, the clinics that serve neighbourhoods such as Kibera, which are understaffed and underequipped, fear being overwhelmed by coronavirus patients should the virus get out of hand. If the virus spreads, the current system will almost certainly be unable to handle it.

Despite the risks, most of the working class have no choice but to remain there.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Poverty in Africa

Many African countries have been recording high economic growth rates for years. However, a recent study showed that poverty on the continent has increased again.

The absolute number of poor people in Africa, has increased from 278 million to 413 million.

According to World Bank estimates, 20% of all people in sub-Saharan Africa will still be living in poverty in 2030 

 According to the study, between 2014 and 2018, lived poverty rose slightly in Africa for the first time in more than a decade. In some countries - including South Africa, Niger and Uganda - it even rose considerably.

Henry Ushie of Oxfam Nigeria has an explanation for the sometimes huge discrepancy: "If we want to fight poverty, we must first fight inequality. Inequality is the biggest driver of poverty in the world." Economic growth, largely due to the sale of commodities, simply does not reach ordinary people. Inequality is particularly high in Nigeria, Africa's largest economy. "Governments in the region are not particularly committed, and unfortunately Nigeria is even ranked at the very bottom," said Ushie.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020


Doctors in Nigeria's capital, Abuja, have gone on an "indefinite strike" over delayed pay and unsafe working conditions.
The announcement came just after Nigeria, Africa's most populous nation, confirmed a third case of Covid-19.
The president of the Abuja branch of the doctor's association, Roland Aigbovo, said it was a "difficult decision".
But members had not been paid their salary for two months despite repeated "warnings and ultimatums", he said.
The problems stem from a new payroll system introduced by the authorities in Abuja.
Other health workers at government-run hospitals in the city were also affected by the pay dispute and would be joining the strike in 48 hours if their demands were not met, Mr Aigbovo said.

Coronavirus and Africa

Celestine Adhiambo, 43, lives in the Mukuru slum in Nairobi with her husband and six children. The family's one-room house has no running water or electricity. She says her children can't move around much without banging into each other.
"It is not possible for us to separate a child from another in case of any infection. We don't have any space. No rooms here. The government should take the infected people to hospitals," she told the BBC.
Her husband works as a carpenter and on the days he works, he earns about 400 Kenyan Shillings (£3.15, $4) and every day the family spends about 50 shillings on buying 10 buckets of water.
But the water supply is erratic and on days when there is no water, the family has to forgo the quick bath they are accustomed to. 
Celestine Adhiambo, 43, lives in the Mukuru slum in Nairobi with her husband and six children. The family's one-room house has no running water or electricity. She says her children can't move around much without banging into each other.
"It is not possible for us to separate a child from another in case of any infection. We don't have any space. No rooms here. The government should take the infected people to hospitals," she told the BBC.
Her husband works as a carpenter and on the days he works, he earns about 400 Kenyan Shillings (£3.15, $4) and every day the family spends about 50 shillings on buying 10 buckets of water.
But the water supply is erratic and on days when there is no water, the family has to forgo the quick bath they are accustomed to.
 It's not just slums that are struggling with the availability of water. Johannesburg almost ran out of water last year. 
Over half-a-million people live in Mukuru. The houses are made from cardboard or plastic material while those who are better off have houses made from corrugated iron sheets. There is no waste collection, with most of it going directly into the river.
Local NGO Mercy Mukuru runs four primary schools in the area with a total of around 7,000 students. About half of the students cannot afford soap, according to its head, Mary Killeen.
"I am worried. If the virus spreads in our locality it will be terrible," Ms Adhiambo said.
Dr Pierre Mpele, a former WHO representative who has worked in many countries in central and West Africa says African households can be more crowded and in some cases, up to 12 people will share a small house. "Self-quarantine is not possible in many places," he says.
The WHO says it is working to support governments manage their response to the pandemic, but Dr Mpele wants it to come up with a guide which will work in the developing world.
He is also calling for greater efforts to engage with community leaders before a full-blown crisis occurs in Africa.
"The silver lining is the virus is not spreading fast in Africa. Most cases that have been reported came from people who travelled back from China or Europe. We don't know why it is not spreading fast," he said.
The WHO says local transmission - people with no travel history - remains low in the African continent and containment is the most appropriate strategy.
Back in Mukuru, nothing seems to have changed in recent weeks.  Ms Adhiambo says she feels defenceless and is doing the only thing she can do.
"I am praying to god to save us and our neighbourhood from this virus," she said. 
South Africa has recorded 23 new cases of coronavirus in one day, the highest increase of any 24-hour period since the country confirmed its first case. Of the new cases, four are children aged under five years. The country now has 85 confirmed cases of coronavirus - the highest in sub-Saharan Africa,
Tanzania has announced the closure of all schools as part of measures to curb the spread of coronavirus in the East African nation. They will be shut from Wednesday for 30 days, Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa said. All public gatherings, including sports events, were also to be suspended, he said.

Thursday, March 12, 2020

The Looting of Kenya

Politics in Kenya is dominated by rapacious elites consumed with the looting of state resources. Elections serve as key points of entry and consolidation in this system for both ruling and competing elites, and are manifestations of corruption, fraud, and repression. When so much flows from winning elections, the costs, financial and otherwise, are extremely high. The ruling elite protects its position in part by extending the spoils system to all MPs. The 500 or so parliamentarians (National Assembly and Senate) are among the highest paid in the world, enjoying a monthly salary in 2013 of about $10,000, plus generous perks and benefits. For those lucky enough to be employed, the average incomes were below $2,000 a year. And it deploys violence on a wide, regular and variegated scale. In Kenya, as in many other African countries, power is highly centralised in the presidency, facilitating the execution of violence. During the two-stage 2017 presidential elections, in August and the re-run on 26 October, severe assault was directed at women and girls. Rape by state security agents occurred. As before, the state deployed large numbers of well-equipped paramilitary units in opposition areas in anticipation of violence, and to mete it out themselves, as deterrent and punishment: they carried guns, batons, tear gas cannisters, and often wore helmets and body armour. High-level politicians from all sides mobilised ethnic militias for violence. Corruption, elitist tribalism and electoral turmoil are here interlinked and regularised.

Impunity accompanies the looting of the state, and according to Human Rights Watch (HRW), lies ‘at the heart’ of Kenya’s governance. Impunity for politicians suspected of state plunder, was a ‘national tradition’ in the country, which both ‘raised the stakes’ for incumbents and, as transgressors went unpunished, ‘contributed to its continued use’: politicians who have been publicly named for their role in political violence remained in parliament and were appointed to cabinet, notably said HRW, in the cabinet of President Mwai Kibaki. Some of those named for fomenting violence through the 1990s and in 2002, continued in parliament in 2007-2008 (‘Ballots to Bullets’, March 2008). Daniel arap Moi, president 1978-2002, died on 4 February, aged 95, was ‘one of Africa’s most ruthless autocrats’, wrote Adekeye Adebajo (Business Live, 9 February 2020). Before he finished as much as $4 billion went to his family and allies (The Economist 8 February 2020) Both President Uhuru Kenyatta, and his deputy William Ruto, were indicted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity, for organising and supporting the huge violence that occurred during elections in 2007-2008.  The case collapsed as witnesses absconded or died.

Violence takes many forms. The manipulation of the poor and unemployed was a common initiator. As Daniel Howden instanced in 2013: ‘political barons marshalled armies drawn from the young and unemployed’ and set them against their rivals with guns and machetes. In Central province then, politicians incited militias to attack supporters of rivals and populations unlikely to vote for them. It also took the flagrant form of planned, organised direct brutality by police. Killings totalled some 1,300 people in 2013, with reputable groups reporting that police had directly targeted people uninvolved in demonstrations, firing live rounds and gas canisters into the flimsy shacks of the poor.

The accumulation of great wealth in conditions of wide and deep poverty was a form of violence in itself. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) assessed Kenya’s Inequality-adjusted Human Development Index (IHDI) around 2016 at .377 (below highly inequitable South Africa on .428 and Botswana on .431, not to say very equitable Iceland on .846). It also found that 36% of Kenya’s population experienced ‘multidimensional poverty’, and 46% of those people suffered ‘intense deprivation’, according to its Human Development Report 2016. Kenya’s gross national income (GNI) per capita was $2,881 at purchasing power parity. President Uhuru Kenyatta stood at or near the country’s pinnacle. He had acquired what was termed the ‘fabulous wealth’ of his father, founding President Jomo Kenyatta, and regularly features on the lists of the wealthiest Africans. His family was said to own half a million acres of land, and has interests in banking, property, an airline and a television network, according to The Economist in 2013.

Organised, unscrupulous accumulation has raged. After independence in 1963, according to John Githongo, Kenyatta and his Kikuyu inner circle, ‘steadily plundered the country’. His death in 1978 was followed by the rule of Daniel arap Moi, who declared that his philosophy was walking in the “Footsteps”. When he stood down at the end of 2002, he and his cronies had then looted some $3 billion. His successor, Mwai Kibaki, ‘pledged to root out corruption’, but his ‘Mount Kenya mafia’ of Kikuyu politicians simply replaced Moi’s Kalenjin syndicate.

While the ruling elite enjoyed access to state resources and foreign aid, the poor had grown into ‘an army of discontent’: most survived on a dollar a day, and the bulk of Nairobi’s population ‘lived in fetid slums.’ The Luo of western Kenya ‘felt especially aggrieved’, from exclusion from power for forty years and long government neglect. In the approach to national elections at the end of 2007, ‘a tidal wave of resentment [arose] against the Mount Kenya mafia,’ according to Martin Meredith in 2011. Raila Odinga, son of Oginga Odinga, stood as a candidate in a Nairobi constituency that included the large Kibera slum, and could credibly appear as a champion of the poor and marginalised.
Particular forms of violence target specific individuals and groups. One such is extrajudicial killings. Mathare is a low-income district of Nairobi, and the Mathare Social Justice Centre (MSJC) issued a report in mid-August 2017 ‘documenting dozens of extrajudicial killings by police over the past two years.’ The Centre said there had been a ‘normalization’ of these actions, as ‘entrenched impunity continues’ (as noted by Maria Burnett, HRW Africa in August 2017).

Killings are sometimes flagrant. The shooting of Oscar Kingara and John Oulo came in a car on a busy street in central Nairobi in March 2009: ‘the assailants kept firing into the air to keep bystanders away until they were sure both men were dead’. Kingara was the founder and director of the Oscar Foundation, and Oulo was its programme coordinator. The Foundation provided free legal aid clinics, and it had ‘made its name investigating police abuses’: since 2007 it had reported 1,721 extrajudicial killings, and 6,452 enforced disappearances by police. Many of these killings were allegedly by members of the shadowy Mungiki gang, which Xan Rice said had been used by President Kibaki’s party during the 2007 electoral violence. Kingara and Oulo had briefed Philip Alston, a UN special rapporteur, during his investigations in Kenya in February 2009. Alston found strong evidence of ‘systematic, widespread and carefully planned extrajudicial executions undertaken on a regular basis.’ He noted that the Mungiki gang were actually police acting on the explicit orders of their superiors. And he praised the analyses done by the Oscar Foundation (Rice, Guardian Online, 6 March 2009).

Political assassinations are another area where Kenyan state agencies excel. One of the first killings in independent Kenya occurred on 24 February 1965, when Pio Gama Pinto, a left-wing journalist and associate of Vice President Oginga Odinga, was shot dead in his Nairobi home: this was a time of rising Cold War tensions in the country, and increasing pressures on Odinga from within the ruling party (Odinga, Not Yet Uhuru, 1965, 250-300). Tom Mboya, shot on 5 July 1969, and J.M. Kariuki, murdered in March 1975, were two others.

A recent killing was Chris Msando, one of the most senior officials of the Independent Election and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), who had a key role developing a new electronic ballot and voter registration system. He was one of only ‘a handful of people in Kenya who knew both the login information and the physical location of the servers that w[ould] run the highly digetised 2017 election.’ He was kidnapped, tortured and murdered, and his mutilated body abandoned in a forest outside Nairobi, just before the polls opened. Msando had received death threats, had reported them to the police, but had no security protection. His body was reportedly missing an arm and was still bleeding at the morgue, as reported by Naniala Nyabola and Jason Burke in Aljazeera and Guardian, 1 August 2017.

And there is the violence directed at the people en masse as voters and citizens. Late in the 2007-2008 election, it appeared that change unanticipated by the incumbents was occurring: Kibaki’s cronies were being thrown out in the parliamentary polling, Odinga’s party was capturing 95 out of a total of 210 seats, and winning in six out of eight provinces. The old guard around President Kibaki set about rigging the result in the presidential race. By 30 December glaring disparities were evident in the voting figures released at constituency level and those presented by the electoral commission in Nairobi. Kibaki was declared winner by only 232,000 votes (enough to avoid a second round) and hurriedly sworn in. According to John Githongo (quoted by Michela Wrong 2009 and by Meredith), the Mount Kenya mafia possessed ‘a huge network of civil servants, intelligence agents, generals and police chiefs to do their bidding.’

Over thirty days, more than 1,000 people were killed and 3,000 injured. In protracted talks, Kibaki and Odinga reached a settlement where the former remained president and the latter would be prime minister in a coalition government. Adekeye Adebajo said that the country ‘came within a whisker’ of being plunged into civil war (Business Live, 9 February 2020). From within a wider pool, the looting continued.
Donors had given some $24 million to a new electronic voting system for 2017. On 11 August the IEBC announced that Kenyatta had won another five-year term with over 54% of the vote. Observer groups, including the Carter Centre, led by ex-State Secretary John Kerry, rushed to endorse the results, and declared they had no evidence of significant fraud. Departing soon after, Kerry praised the IEBC for “an extraordinary job”, and even felt able to admonish the opposition to “get over it and move on.”
On 18 August Odinga, leader of the opposition National Super Alliance (NASA), petitioned the Supreme Court to annul the vote. He claimed that nearly half of all votes cast had been tampered with: secret, unofficial polling stations had transmitted false votes to the IEBC; NASA’s official observers had been expelled from polling stations in Kenyatta’s strongholds. On 29 August, the registrar of the Supreme Court reported that some five million votes were unverified.
Soon after, the six-judge bench of the Supreme Court, in a four-two decision, ruled that the vote had been hacked and manipulated in favour of the incumbent. The electoral commission had committed “illegalities and irregularities”. The election was invalid, and they ordered a new vote within 60 days (Jason Burke, 2 September 2017).
Many noted that the courts in Kenya had long been subservient to the executive. Odinga accurately hailed an “exceptional example for all of Africa”: it would certainly be impossible to imagine a similar decision being made, for instance, in Botswana, where the judiciary regularly defers to presidential power (When the present writer was declared a prohibited immigrant in Kenya in 2005, he appealed on the grounds of freedom of speech enshrined in the constitution, but the High Court determined that the President had the power to do what he did, and nothing more was to be said.) There were many “fundamental decisions” that now had to be made, including “who will conduct the next election?’ It was clear, Odinga said, that “the entire electoral commission is rotten,” quoted by Burke 2 September 2017.
In Kenya, as in many other African countries, power is highly centralised in the presidency, facilitating the execution of violence. During the two-stage 2017 presidential elections, in August and the re-run on 26 October, severe assault was directed at women and girls. Rape by state security agents occurred. As before, the state deployed large numbers of well-equipped paramilitary units in opposition areas in anticipation of violence, and to mete it out themselves, as deterrent and punishment: they carried guns, batons, tear gas cannisters, and often wore helmets and body armour.
In a report of 14 December that year, ‘They Were Men in Uniform’, HRW identified the police as perpetrators. In investigations carried out between September and November 2017, HRW reported widespread violence directed at the vulnerable both for their gender and their ethnicity: to ‘punish the individual and their communities for the way they voted’ and their suspected allegiances. They documented cases of vaginal and anal rape, gang rape, mass rape, and rape with an object. ‘About half’ of their reported cases were gang rapes. Sexual violence was intended to have, a wide and ‘devastating impact’: many experienced injuries and other consequences leaving some unable to work, care for themselves and for families, or handle schooling. ‘Profound mental trauma’ was common. With their history of human rights abuses, contacting the police was not a viable option for most victims.
The Report provides graphic details of the assaults endured by the victims, and makes clear that the rapist police aimed at political repression. This was what Josephine Anyango experienced in Nairobi on 5 October 2017: “It was the Saturday after Uhuru was announced the winner. Guns were ringing all over. There was tear gas all over. They broke the gate to our plot. They were men dressed in uniform. They were just beating people…They were saying, ‘Come out now and throw stones.’ I heard women crying, saying, ‘Don’t rape me’. Three came to my house, beat me seriously, and raped me.”
Rose Otieno, 37, was in her house with her five children on the night of 11 August. She said that two men dressed in green and black uniforms, boots and helmets, broke into my house. “One asked me to say, ‘I don’t support Raila, I support Uhuru’. I refused. The one with the gun slapped me and told me to shut up. The other said, ‘Let’s teach her a lesson.’ He raped me in the presence of my children.”
Georgina Musa went to buy groceries on Saturday afternoon 12 August, when she “saw three policemen. They wore helmets, had guns and teargas. I started running…One ripped off my clothes. I told him, ‘I could be your mother.’ He slapped me, kicked me, and raped me as the others were watching. They took 200 shillings ($2) from me. One told me, ‘Go and tell Baba [Odinga]’”
Doris Syombua was at her bar on the night of 11 August, and she was trembling with fear. Three policemen in uniform broke the door and entered. “One raped me in the front [vaginally] and the other at the back [anally].”
In about one-third of the cases documented by HRW, women and girls were raped in the presence of other family members including young children.
Jackline Mkamburi was at home with her three children and husband on the night of 11 August. Three men wearing police uniforms burst in. They raped her before her husband and children. They said, “This is our government and there is nothing you can do to us.”
Several women in Dandora in Nairobi told HRW that their rapists threatened, ‘We will come back in the night to rape and kill’.
The assaults were devastating. Most survivors experienced heavy pains and aches. On 11 August at about 11 a.m., Gladys Moraa went to help her neighbour’s young child who had been hit with a teargas cannister. Amid confusion, she tripped and fell. “A police officer kicked me on my upper back with his booted feet. I couldn’t move. He raped me and left. Another one came, kicked me on the stomach and back, and raped me. I thought I would die.” Grace Kungu was raped on 12 August on her way from work. “They took me to an unfinished building and all four raped me in front and behind. Since that day…I take pain killers all the time.”
Many of the women and girls interviewed by HRW spoke of ‘feelings of shame, anger, hopelessness, self-hatred, fear and anxiety, sleeplessness, and suicidal thoughts.’ Janet Kiptoo, 16 years, and her 15-year-old cousin, Darlene Chemutai, were raped by two men at gunpoint. The men beat, harassed, and tortured them for almost two hours. She told HRW: “I don’t know if it will ever end. I have no peace…I should just die.”
‘Almost all survivors’ worry if their rapists had infected them with HIV, and that ‘their families will find out that they are rape victims. The women were particularly concerned ‘about the emotional state of children who had witnessed the sexual violence.’ Their traumas were compounded by the fact that ‘many of them suffer alone in silence’.
Pamela Wambua was raped by four GSU men at gunpoint on 11 August. She said: “I remember the rape all the time. It disturbs my mind…It’s like you are in a different world”.
The country’s history of impunity negates people’s confidence in the police. Grace Kungu did not report her assault to the police because “They are the same people who rape us.” Neema Abdul never went to the police. “The men who raped me wore green uniform. They stole my phone and 15,000 shillings” ($146). Purity Onyancha went to the police to report her daughter’s rape. “The police said if I don’t know the rapist, they won’t open a file… I realised we were not going to get help, so I told my daughter we leave.”
The denial and the immunity continued. HRW launched their report, ‘They Were Men in Uniform’, in Nairobi in mid-December 2017, and Senior Researcher, Agnes Odhiambo, detailed their findings. The Inspector General of Police, Joseph Boinnet, stated that the organisation had fabricated their evidence, and rejected the report out of hand.
But the evidence came from disparate sources and was huge. Mathare was a district of densely packed shacks, home to some 250,000 poor people. The MSJC ‘counted 803 reports’ of police killings in the community between 2013-2015, and had ‘documented dozens of these’. A survey by the International Police Association, an American group, ranked the Kenyan police as the third worst in Africa, after those in Congo DRC and Nigeria, The Economist, 10 March 2018.
HRW’s study of police violence in the August stage of the 2017 elections estimated that some 67 people had probably been killed then nationally, 33 killed in Nairobi alone. Most shot or beaten to death, others killed by teargas and pepper-spray fired at close range. The government’s so-called ‘Contingency Plan’ had identified ‘hotspots’, where violence was most likely: these were ‘all opposition strongholds in ethnic majority Luo and Luhya areas.’ Police and paramilitaries were deployed ‘in large numbers…ahead of the polling.’ Such deployments, HRW said, fuelled political tensions, and ‘exacerbated the unrest that followed the announcement of the results’. The protests which resulted faced shootings and people being ‘beaten to death on the street and in house-to-house searches’. The ‘hotspots’ were actually the informal settlements or shanty towns, among them Mathare, Kibera, Dandora, where 2.5 million of Nairobi’s 3 million population, lived: heavily deprived communities, where typhoid and cholera were common, and unemployment was around 50%. HRW reported that police destroyed cameras and phones, beat photographers, and arrested journalists. ‘In many cases,’ victims and family members did not report violations and deaths ‘because they feared retribution from police’ (‘“Kill Those Criminals”: Kenya’s August 2017 Elections’, (n.d.) 2-4 and 12.
Legally and politically, nothing improved following the annulment. On the account of two senior American diplomats, in the approach to the second round of the presidential election at the end of October, and its aftermath, the Kenyatta government and its supporters ‘waged an onslaught against both the courts and the IEBC. Judges were threatened, with one surviving an assassination attempt. IEBC commissioners were menaced or offered bribes’. Kenyatta won the re-run, but the diplomats felt that Kenyatta and Odinga each commanded roughly half the electorate. Turnout was only 38%, partly because Odinga had withdrawn in protest against the absence of change in the IEBC which he had previously identified as essential. He concentrated on staging a swearing-in of himself as a so-called ‘People’s President’. The government reacted with ‘fury’, said the diplomats, to these theatricals: NASA officials were ‘harassed, threatened, detained, and deported’. Nairobi’s three main TV stations were taken off the air when they attempted to broadcast Odinga’s event. The Inspector General of Police repeatedly refused to comply with orders to release detainees and cease all unconstitutional actions. Kenyatta and Ruto, they said, were challenging the rule of law and embracing dictatorial rule. Mark Bellamy and Johnnie Carson (Guest Column, allAfrica.com 27 February 2018).
The roots of conflict lie decades deep in Kenyan society: stemming most actively from the ascendancy of a Kikuyu landed, ‘Loyalist’ elite in the last decades of settler colonialism, and the associated uprising of landless Kikuyu striving for ‘Land and Freedom’, the Mau Mau movement. But it had deeper origins much earlier, in the beginnings of Kenya colony. The conquest and control of Kenya was brutal, characterised by systematic killing and destruction, and the seizure of crops and stock. By the late 1920s, government and settlers in Kenya had forced the African population to play its assigned role as a cheap wage-labour force. By 1952 some 9,000 settlers had exclusive rights to 16,700 square miles of land, while several million Africans tried to exist on congested reserves, as contract labourers on white farms, and as un- and semi-skilled labourers in the towns.
The former were largely the constitutional-nationalists in the Kenya African Union (KAU), formed in 1945, while the latter were a disparate formation of Kikuyu ex-servicemen some of whom had close trade union connections: Fred Kubai and Makhan Singh of the East African Trade Union Congress held an 18-day general strike in Nairobi in May 1950. A polarisation grew between the moderate nationalist KAU, and the young militants, particularly over secretive political mobilisation. Kenyatta had returned home in 1946 after 13 years absence, and assumed the presidency of KAU: he believed that politics was for elders and that the young militants endangered society.
At midnight on 20-21 October 1952 a State of Emergency was declared by Governor Evelyn Baring. It was intended to decapitate Mau Mau, but Kenyatta, deeply opposed to militancy, was an immediate detainee. Not for the last time, colonialism got it badly wrong: Kenyatta was far from being “the leader to darkness and death”. Arrested too were Bildad Kaggia, Fred Kubai and Achieng Oneko. Of the five members of KAU’s national executive arrested then, three were trade union leaders, and further arrests followed of many lower-level organisers in Nairobi. The effects of these losses were to deprive the Mau Mau movement of skilled personnel with experience in modern political organisation, and to narrow the composition of the insurgents: to poor peasants, unskilled workers, and people with only basic primary education. (The historical material here builds on ‘Kenya’ ch.2 in Good, The Struggle of Democratisation Against Authoritarianism in Contemporary Africa, 2019.) By the end of 1952, 121 loyalist Kikuyu had been murdered (David Anderson, Histories of the Hanged, 2005, 70). Fearful and outraged, well-armed settlers initiated a wide-scale, extra-judicial open season against Kikuyu.
But it was an unplanned uprising, and Britain had taken the militants by surprise. They had few weapons and no established lines of supply. They had a strong network of support among the Kikuyu, but no military structures, no initial strategy, and no established forest bases (Anderson, 68). Britain’s imperial military power was overwhelming. When the Emergency was declared, Britain had a cruiser stationed off Mombasa. As of June 1953, it had deployed a squadron of Lincoln heavy bombers, an armoured car division, eleven battalions of British, East African and Kenyan troops, totalling over 10,000 soldiers; a police force of 21,000, and the paramilitary Kikuyu Home Guard: the British and Kenyan governments were utilising ‘a force of well over 50,000 against the insurgents’ (Barnett and Njama, Mau Mau From Within, 1966, 312). Yet Dedan Kimathi, a leading Mau Mau commander, was not captured until October 1956.
An aggressive colonial strategy followed the arrival of a new Commander-in-Chief, General Sir George Erskine, in June 1953. Five tracks were cut into the Aberdares by Royal Engineers and forced Kikuyu labour, and battalion-strength bases were established within the forest fringe from which sweeps and cordon operations were launched. Military power was only part of the offensive. The oppression of the general population was deepened. The Kikuyu reserve became a Special Area where anyone failing to halt when challenged could be shot, and in the forests of Mt Kenya and Nyandarua, all unauthorised Africans were to be shot on sight. In addition, in ‘a 100-mile strip of land, from one to three miles in width, lying between the forests and the reserve, huts and granaries were burned, peasants evicted and crops slashed.
After almost a year and a half of fighting, with vastly superior power and extreme political ruthlessness, the government had not defeated the guerrillas (Barnett and Njama, 225, 330). But by the last half of 1954, the forest fighters were increasingly isolated and divided. They were critically short of arms. Importantly, they were being alienated from the Kikuyu peasantry, enduring the full weight of colonial repression (Barnett and Njama, 375). By the end of 1955 only some 1,500 fighters remained in the Aberdares. Kimathi was captured in October 1956, after which he was tried, hanged and buried in an unmarked grave in quick succession.
Britain’s anti-colonial war took place on many inter-related fronts. Caroline Elkins believes that in total some 320,000 people were detained (Britain’s Gulag, 2005, xi). A massive Villagization of the Kikuyu was enforced. 800 enclosed villages were established throughout Kikuyu territory, controlled by a Home Guard of 15,000 in early 1953, cutting off the Mau Mau-fish from the water of a supportive free peasantry. A Loyalist was then a Kikuyu who served on the British side against Mau Mau, and received in return ‘the best of everything’, in grants of large and fertile land, trading licences, tax exemptions and, not least, ‘carte blanche to settle old scores with Mau Mau neighbours’ (Elkins, 72).
The creation of Britain’s Loyalists dove-tailed with the programme to promote a class of rich peasants and aspirant rural capitalists as long-term social bulwark against the landless peasantry in the central highlands. This programme took full shape in the Swynnerton Plan for African commercial agriculture in December 1953. It consolidated land and conferred legal ownership on recipients, and poorer Kikuyu ‘knew full well’ that this would ‘benefit their wealthier, loyalist neighbours and lead inevitably to their own further impoverishment.’ Colonialism was creating ‘permanent socioeconomic divisions within Kikuyu society…along the fault line between loyalist and Mau Mau’ (Elkins, 127). Divisions not absent today between Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga and their respective supporters.
Still the defeat of Mau Mau did not come quickly or easily. Operation Anvil on 24 April 1954 detained Nairobi’s entire African population, and screened all Kikuyu, Embu and Meru. This was the start of Britain’s Gulag, a complex process built on brainwashing and torture, with a pipeline of screening and classification, parts of it manned by life-determining hooded loyalist invigilators (Elkins, ch.5). Yet even ‘behind the wire’, Mau Mau tried to maintain their political consciousness and their organisation, within a system where violence was ‘intrinsic’ (Anderson, 2005, 316). ‘Humiliation, concentrated, continuous and consistent’ was the principal operational element (words of Kaggia, Kubai, Joseph Murumbi and Oneko, Barnett and Njama, 9). In the course of the Emergency, 1,090 Kikuyu were sent to the gallows, double the number of insurgent executions in French Algeria then, and ‘many more than in all the other British colonial emergencies’, Malaya, Cyprus, et.al, at this time (Anderson, 7). Additionally, Britain claimed to have killed 11,000 Mau Mau in action: measures of their great capacity to endure and resist. By October 1956 they had lost 17,000, most killed in action, casualties ‘heavier than any regular army could have sustained’ (Julie Macarthur, Dedan Kimathi on Trial, 2017, 275). Altogether, Elkins suggests that ‘perhaps hundreds of thousands’ of Kikuyu were killed (xiv).
The price of the repression was huge, especially through the socio-political costs of the elevation of the loyalists, and the gulf created between them and the militants. Timing was still critical before Britain could confidently devolve power to the moderate/constitutional nationalists. The State of Emergency remained in force until January 1960. Only in June 1955 were political parties permitted, then only at district level. No parties at all were allowed in Central province. British colonial policy was to ‘prolong the State of Emergency in Kenya and to delay the release of some of us until long after the Emergency ended.’ The Restriction Order imposed on Kaggia was not revoked until 17 November 1961. A collaborative leadership was given priority to establish its social base, and it would ensure that ‘none of the ex-detainees had any chance of coming to the top’ (Kaggia, Roots of Freedom, 1975, 120-182).
Kenyatta was brought home by slow stages. From Lokitaung, in the far north, he was moved to Lodwar, then to Maralal. On 14 August 1961 he arrived home in Gatundu in Kiambu. The cadre of colleagues assembled around Kenyatta at the top of the (now) Kenyan African National Union (KANU), formed 27 March 1960, were solidly moderate and anti-militant. Former rebels like Kaggia, Kubai and Waruhiu Itote (ex-General China) were briefly accorded junior ministries in Kenyatta’s first government. But the gulf between them and him was total. After earlier declaring that his would not be ‘a gangster government’, in September 1962 he affirmed: “Mau Mau was a disease which had been eradicated, and must never be remembered again” (Kenyatta, Suffering Without Bitterness, 1968, 147,189). General elections next year swept Kenyatta into high office. Britain’s aim of handing power to constitutional nationalists had finally been achieved.
Kenya remained tied to Britain by many economic, military and strategic arrangements. Whites did not flee from Kenya as the colons did then from Algeria: about 400,000 settlers left Algeria between March and June 1962, and eventually out of a colon population of one million, about 900,000 departed. The numbers of settlers in Kenya initially dropped from some 61,000 in 1960, but remained at 42,000 in 1965. Britain retained influence.
But the militants did not easily forget the price paid by ordinary people. Kaggia soon resigned as parliamentary secretary in education, saying he “found it very difficult to forget the freedom fighters who gave all they had, including their land, for the independence we are enjoying.” Kaggia, Odinga, and Pinto were all critical of Kenyatta’s own acquisition of large farms. Kenyatta both endorsed the normality of naked self-interest and publicly ridiculed Kaggia’s militant principles and solidarity with the poor: speaking with him before a large meeting in Murang’a in April 1965: “We were together with Paul Ngei in jail. If you go to Ngei’s home, he has planted a lot of coffee and other crops—what have you done for yourself? If you go to Kubai’s home, he has a big house and a nice shamba—Kaggia what have you done for yourself?” (quoted in Good, 1968, ‘Kenyatta and the De-Organisation of KANU’, 132-133). Pinto was killed in Nairobi on 24 February just two months earlier. In the middle of the year, Odinga finally broke with Kenyatta and the ruling party, resigned as Vice President, and helped form the Kenya People’s Union (KPU).
It remains difficult for Raila Odinga, NASA and their supporters to follow John Kerry’s uninformed advice of 2017 to ‘move on’. The past is not really passed. Thousands of survivors of the forest fighting and the detention camps were then pressing claims for compensation from Britain for what they had endured: 5,000 of them were awarded 20 million British pounds in 2013, and 40,000 others were claiming 200 million more (Cahal Milmo, Independent Online, 23 November, 2014).
There was no letup in the killing of the poor in Nairobi at the end of 2019 and early 2020. Since Christmas Day police shot dead at least eight people in Mathare, Kasarani and Majengo, as they ‘continued to kill crime suspects and protesters in cold blood’. As HRW showed, there was ‘a longstanding pattern of excessive force and unlawful killings in Nairobi’s low-income neighbourhoods.’ Legitimate protest at lamentable living conditions and against authority’s brutality was suppressed. Among the eight victims were Peter Irungu, 19, and Brian Mung’aru, 20, both shot dead while kneeling and pleading with police. Then on 26 December police attacked a protest over the young men’s killing, using live ammunition, tear gas and beatings. In a protest on 15 January in Kasarani over bad road conditions, police fired on protesters and residents, and shot dead Stephen Machurusi, 19, while kneeling and pleading for his life. He was trying to get to work, uninvolved in the demonstration, but according to a witness, one officer “just shot him at close range in the chest”. The Independent Policing Oversight Authority (IPOA) announced on 24 January that they had recorded abuses and killings by police numbering 3,200 in 2019. This was being done in the name of ‘maintaining law and order in Nairobi’s informal settlements’ (HRW, ‘No Letup in Killings by Nairobi Police’, 20 February 2020).
Prominent among their number, not just for his longevity, was the recently deceased Daniel arap Moi. He made his mark quickly. He pushed through a one-party state in 1982, and when a coup attempt followed by air-force personnel, he arrested the entire 2,000-strong force: some ‘were never seen again’. Ruthlessness prevailed. Thousands of activists were consigned to underground torture chambers in Nyayo House in central Nairobi, and a popular foreign minister, Robert Ouko, ‘was killed in one of Moi’s residencies in 1990.’ He acquired large tracts of farmland in the Rift Valley. The West tolerated his repression as ‘a bulwark against communism’. When the Soviet Union collapsed, he restored multipartyism, and won elections in 1992 and 1997. His legacy will persist beyond 4 February: corruption, tribalism and, as noted, the unrelenting repression of the poor. ‘Most of today’s top politicians served under him’, including Uhuru Kenyatta since 2013 (The Economist, 8 February 2020 and Reuters, Guardian Online, 4 February 2020).