ELIUD KIBII – Kenyan Diaspora Vote: Unfulfilled Constitutional Right – The Elephant

The electoral commission’s bid to have the diaspora vote in the 9 August 2022 elections is facing headwinds as voter registration fails to kick off on time.
In December 2021, Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission Chairman Wafula Chebukati announced the Commission’s plans for mass voter registration in the diaspora. According to the IEBC boss, Kenyans living in the United Kingdom, Canada, the United States of America, South Sudan, Qatar, United Arab Emirates and Germany will have an opportunity to participate in the 9 August 2022 polls. The new centres were in addition to East African Community countries  (Tanzania, Uganda, Burundi, and Rwanda) and South Africa, where Kenyans were able to cast their votes in the 2017 general election.
Regulation 34(2) of the Elections (Registration of Voters) Regulations 2012 provides that: “A decision by the Commission to register Kenyan citizens residing outside Kenya or to conduct elections outside Kenya shall be based on the presence of [a] Kenyan Embassy, High Commission or Consulate.” The IEBC was to undertake a 15-day voter registration exercise for the diaspora from 21 January to 6 February 2022.
Chebukati said that additional Biometric Voter Registration (BVR) kits would be made available in countries with multiple registration centres (US, Canada, UAE and Tanzania). A BVR kit was also to be installed in the Huduma Centre at the General Post Office in downtown Nairobi for the registration of Kenyans who would have travelled to Kenya during the registration period.
Voter registration did not kick off on schedule.
In a statement dated 21 January, the Commission gave COVID-19 travel restrictions and logistical challenges as the reasons behind the failure to begin the registration. “The commission regrets the delay in rolling out the voter registration exercise in the affected countries and is closely working with the relevant authorities to ensure it kicks off,” the statement said. The Commission said that the period of registration would be prolonged to compensate for the time lost. 
Registration in London started on 24 January, on 1 February in Ottawa, Vancouver and Toronto and on 31 January in the UAE.
By February 6, the IEBC had enrolled only 2,959 new voters in 12 countries: Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, South Africa, South Sudan, the US, the UK, UAE, Qatar, Germany and Canada.
The failure to start registering Kenyans in the diaspora on time, and the low numbers registered, is indicative of the mess that has been the bid to ensure that Kenyans in the diaspora can vote.
After years of lobbying for their right to dual citizenship and the right to participate in Kenyan elections in their countries of residence, the Constitution of Kenya 2010 extended voting rights to at least three million Kenyans living abroad. However, only about 4,000 Kenyans in the diaspora were able to vote in the 2013 and 2017 presidential elections (in its communication on voter registration in the diaspora, the IEBC has stated that Kenyans living abroad can only participate in presidential elections and referendums).
Section 109 (1) (a) and (b) of the Elections Act gives the IEBC the power to make regulations to prescribe the manner in which registers of voters shall be compiled, the manner in which they shall be revised and the procedure for the progressive registration of Kenyans living abroad.
Article 82 (1) provides that Parliament shall enact a law that shall provide for “the progressive registration of citizens residing outside Kenya, and the progressive realisation of their right to vote”. Further, Article 83 (3) provides that “administrative arrangements for the registration of voters and the conduct of elections shall be designed to facilitate, and shall not deny, an eligible citizen the right to vote or stand for election”.
The Kenyan diaspora does not think the IEBC has complied with the constitution. With their billions of shillings in remittances, Kenyans living abroad rightfully argue they should participate in the election of the country’s leadership and have felt cheated ever since only a very small minority were allowed to participate in the 2013 and 2017 elections.
In November 2012, the government had announced that the diaspora would not be able to vote because of “logistical and financial constraints”. Then Justice and Constitutional Affairs Minister Eugene Wamalwa told Parliament at the time that voting outside of Kenya was “not practical” as the electoral commission was already facing challenges in enrolling voters at home.
With their billions of shillings in remittances, Kenyans living abroad rightfully argue they should participate in the election of the country’s leadership.
“Kenyans in the Diaspora will not vote in the 2013 elections. It is not practical to have them take part now. I am appealing to those who can come home to register to do so,” Wamalwa said, adding that the matter had been discussed at cabinet level.
Martha Karua, who had resigned as Justice Minister, accused the cabinet of interfering with the independence of the IEBC, which she said had set aside 47 BVR kits to register Kenyans living abroad.
Angered by the decision, Kenyans living abroad moved to court, calling Wamalwa’s pronouncement illegal, ill-conceived and ill-timed. However, High Court Judge David Majanja ruled that although the right to vote is guaranteed constitutionally, it is not absolute and cannot be realised instantaneously but only progressively.
At the centre of the issue is also the actual number of Kenyans living abroad. At the time, Wamalwa said that only 152,000 Kenyans were registered with Kenyan missions abroad, adding that the three million figure was an exaggeration; the ministry of Foreign Affairs put the number at 700,000.
Agnes Gitau, who lives in the UK and is the Kenya Diaspora Alliance representative for London, said the process was flawed and would exclude many people due to logistics, and the short registration period of 15 days. “There has also been confusion on required documents. We believe it’s a deliberate attempt to exclude many,” Gitau said.
The IEBC chairman had said Kenyans abroad must “produce evidence of citizenship which is a valid Kenyan passport”, yet Kenyans residing in the other countries of the East African Community could use their identity card as proof of citizenship.
However, following a High Court decision, in a memo to registering missions the Commission announced that Kenyans in the diaspora could register as voters using either an Identity card or a valid passport. In the memo dated February 1, acting CEO Marjan Hussein said the directive was issued on 31 January pending determination of a petition filed by Okiya Omtatah against the IEBC and the Attorney General.
Omtatah had challenged the provisions of the Elections (Registration of Voters) Regulations, (2012), particularly Regulation No.37, which prohibit the use of national identity cards to register citizens in the diaspora as voters.
On 20 January, the Kenya Diaspora Alliance (KDA) released a statement in which it welcomed the IEBC’s decision to add eight more countries to the list of countries where the Kenyan diaspora could vote but also raised various concerns about the registration process. The lobby group, which said it represents 46 Kenya diaspora organisations, took issue with the 15 days allocated to the registration exercise. Kenyans within the country were given three weeks to register but, beyond that deadline, IEBC offices remain open for continuous registration until February 28. This option is not available to Kenyans in the diaspora.
“This discrepancy in the time limits seems to deny the Kenyans in the diaspora a fair opportunity to register in their numbers by having less time to register,” KDA said in the statement. The KDA also raised concerns regarding the vast areas—spanning countries and continents—covered by the missions that act as voting centres.
“This means that the Kenyans who wish to vote must travel over long distances and often expensively to register as voters. The Kenyan Embassies and High Commissions earmarked as registration centres are inadequate and logistically challenging for Kenyans who have to travel far and wide to register. That in itself negates the spirit and objective of the exercise,” KDA said. The KDA also does not think that Kenyans in the diaspora have been adequately consulted and involved in the process. “There also seems to be a selective partnership and collaboration between IEBC and some Kenyan diaspora organizations in supporting the exercise.”
Consequently the KDA has, among other things, demanded that more registration and voting stations be provided in order to improve access. It has also demanded that the use of technology, including registration through e-Citizen and other suitable online platforms, be explored. The Alliance has also called for more time (six weeks) for registration and that the IEBC consults with the organisation and with other credible diaspora groups so that the right to vote is enjoyed by all Kenyans living abroad.
In a letter to Chebukati dated 27 September 2021, the Kenya Qatar Diaspora Sacco took issue with the low number of diaspora voters.
“Despite the political engagement of the diaspora, intensive government outreach to emigrants, and high-stakes electoral competition, fewer than 3,000 Kenyans were permitted to vote from abroad in the year 2013 and 2017 presidential elections,” said Engineer Maxwell Odhiambo, chairman of the Kenya Qatar Diaspora Sacco Ltd. and KDA representative in Qatar. He said that the registration of Kenyans in the diaspora requires a strategic and organised approach, with the IEBC, the embassy and the local diaspora organizations working together.
African countries whose constitutions provide for diaspora voting include Algeria, Angola, Benin, Botswana, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, Djibouti, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Lesotho, Mali, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Rwanda, São Tomé and Principe, Senegal, South Africa, Sudan, Togo, Tunisia and Zimbabwe.
Despite this provision, however, many of these countries have yet to make the diaspora vote a reality. This, according to Voting from Abroad: The International IDEA Handbook is due to lack of the political, legislative, financial or administrative agreements necessary for the regulation and organisation of the diaspora vote.
When South Africa became a democracy following the end of apartheid, citizens in the diaspora were able to participate in the watershed 1994 election. However, diaspora voting was abolished soon thereafter until its reinstatement following a 2009 ruling of the Constitutional Court.
In Diaspora Voting in South Africa: Perceptions, Partisanship and Policy Reversal, Elizabeth Iams Wellman observes that the details of the South African case reveal an intensely partisan divide over the inclusion of South Africans abroad.
“Perceptions of the diaspora by the major political parties shaped both policy provision and implementation. With its two policy reversals, the case of South Africa also suggests a number of broader theoretical implications, including the critical variable of how diaspora voting becomes law, as well as the centrality of the political party as a key locus of analysis,” Wellman writes.
Wellman notes that nearly 100,000 South Africans voted in 78 countries in the 1994 election. However, the ANC government went on to ban external voting in 1998, effectively denying “the estimated 1-2 million South Africans living outside of the country” the right to vote. The ban was triggered by a dispute over the registration of voters for the 1999 elections.
Moreover, voter turnout in the 1994 elections was also much lower than anticipated and the electoral commission said it did not make a lot of logistical sense to send teams to register South Africans in the diaspora.
The registration of Kenyans in the diaspora requires a strategic and organised approach, with the IEBC, the embassy and the local diaspora organizations working together.
“Everybody saw 100,000 [votes] which probably was divided among 10 or 13 parties to a greater or lesser extent, and that 5,000 or 10,000 more or less wouldn’t make a difference”.
The IEC had argued that the 1994 decision was to give those who had left the country temporarily the opportunity to vote, questioning why those who had left the country permanently would you still want to vote.
In 2009, however, the Constitutional Court forced the government to reinstate the diaspora vote—all South Africans living abroad could once again participate in national elections. Wellman argues that in South Africa’s case, emigrant enfranchisement—or their exclusion from electoral politics—depends on the ruling party’s perception of the diaspora.
And unlike Kenya’s case where diaspora voting is enshrined in the constitution and other electoral laws and regulations, external balloting in South Africa was reintroduced through the courts and not through legislation. There is thus not much political goodwill to implement it.
For its part, the IEBC has cited logistical and financial challenges in rolling out the diaspora registration. To be sure, diaspora voting is disproportionately expensive while political parties have limited resources; mobilizing potential supporters around the world is far more costly than campaigning back at home. There is therefore no incentive to push for the diaspora vote.
“Uncertainty over the diaspora population and their political leanings (or political interest) suggests that positions on diaspora voting may be driven more by perceptions than accurate information,” Willman writes.
Angolans living abroad are likely to vote for the first time this year. In September last year, Marcy Lopes, the Minister of Territory Administration, said registration of diaspora voters would start in January 2022. The exercise will last three months.
The Institute of Angolan Communities Abroad estimates that at least 400,000 Angolans live abroad, 47 per cent in Africa, 24 per cent in Portugal and a substantial number in France.
The move to have Angolans abroad vote is part of the constitutional changes proposed by President João Lourenço to the National Assembly. The Constitutional Law of 1992 provided for the diaspora vote but lack of logistical capacity to undertake voter registration abroad has meant that Angolans living abroad have not enjoyed the right.
Angola’s missions abroad started registering citizens on January 17. Angola’s Ambassador to Portugal, Carlos Alberto Paz Fonseca, estimates that about 30,000 nationals who have attained the voting age will register.
America’s system appears well organized. US citizens resident abroad are eligible to vote in all presidential and congressional elections.
According to American Citizens Abroad, in order to register as a voter a US citizen only needs to visit www.fvap.gov and follow the procedure. However, unlike for African countries for instance, where embassies act as polling stations, this is not the case for the US. This is because embassies are federal entities, whereas it is the states, rather than the federal government, that run elections.
According to Richard Johnson, there are 5.5 million American citizens, including military personnel, living abroad. If Americans abroad were a state, they would be the 23rd largest.
External balloting in South Africa was reintroduced through the courts and not through legislation.
“About 3 million of these Americans abroad can vote — the rest are children. The countries with the highest numbers of adult Americans are Canada (622,000), the UK (329,000), Mexico (201,000), France (169,000), and Japan (125,000). London is the largest ‘American’ city in the world outside of the US, with more than 100,000 Americans living in or around the capital,” the lecturer in US Politics and Policy at Queen Mary University of London, writes.
Johnson notes that in 2009 the US passed the National Defence Authorization Act that requires states to offer overseas voters the option to return their ballot electronically. In practice, this means voters can email or even fax their ballots back to their county superintendent of elections, Johnson explains.
The steps the IEBC has taken since 2017 — including the increase in the number of foreign countries where Kenyans can register to vote — point to an agency committed to having the Kenyan diaspora participate in presidential elections. But this is not enough.
The IEBC should prepare early enough to have as many Kenyans abroad register. The Commission, for instance, should have election attachés in embassies abroad to facilitate continuous registration of Kenyans as voters. Should this option prove expensive, the IEBC could explore with the embassies how best to ensure the continuous registration of voters.
But the easiest solution would be to adopt the use of technology. As the Kenya Diaspora Alliance has recommended, the IEBC needs to explore registration through e-Citizen and other acceptable online registration platforms as this option would address the IEBC’s logistical challenges and be convenient for Kenyan voters wherever in the world they may be.
It would, in fact, offer an opportunity to test e-voting for future use domestically.
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Eliud Kibii is a sub-editor with The Star newspaper and writes on international relations, security and electoral processes.
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Ruud Gullit’s Barber
Rather that jumping from project to project in search of a short-term response, there is a need to embrace practical and proactive long-term solutions to the challenges of recurring drought in the ASALs.
Kenya’s arid and semi-arid lands (ASALs) occupy 80 per cent of the country’s landmass and are inhabited by nearly ten million people who rely on livestock rearing and seasonal small-scale farming for their livelihoods. ASALs are known for the variable environmental conditions that result in periodic drought, floods, animal disease outbreaks, and social instability due to conflict and historical marginalisation.
In the 1970s, ASALs experienced periods of prolonged drought nearly every four years, with the government and donor agencies developing various programmes through international and local NGOs to address the crises. The focus was on humanitarian aid to enhance food security through food relief aid to vulnerable populations. But due to the temporality and inefficiency of food aid, these agencies promoted farming as an alternative to livestock production and as a means of ensuring food security.
In Isiolo County, irrigation schemes were introduced along the Waso River and in other small centres such as Malka Daka and Rapsu. However, the projects failed largely due to flooding, and also because pastoralists re-invested the proceeds from farming in livestock and abandoned farming altogether.
Irrigation scheme at Rapsu
Humanitarian interventions and the food security approach were dropped in favour of livestock development projects in the 1990s. These involved the development of water infrastructure such as boreholes and water pans, the establishment of grazing blocks and the implementation of livestock restocking programmes following periods of severe drought.
Between 1990 and 2000, the Arid Lands Resource Management Projects (ALRMP) emerged as the scaffold for the management and development of the drylands. The projects ranged from water infrastructure development and rehabilitation, to early warning bulletins, contingency planning, range re-seeding, livestock feeds, and vaccination.
The National Drought Management Authority (NDMA) took over from Arid Lands Development Projects in 2005. The NDMA’s focus is predominantly on the early warning bulletin, drought intervention, contingency policies, and capacity building. Although the NDMA is not oriented towards development projects, key policies such as Ending Drought Emergencies (EDE) form a significant segment of the NDMA’s work.
Drought Response Program in Isiolo
Between 2009 and 2019, social protection programmes based on cash transfers—such as the Hunger Safety Net Programme (HSNP) and livestock insurance—made their appearance. The HSNP was initially implemented in Marsabit, Mandera, Turkana, and Wajir. In 2019, the programme was upscaled to include four other pastoral counties: Isiolo, Samburu, Garissa and Tana River.
In 2010, Kenya became the first African country to implement KLIP, an index-based livestock insurance programme where the government purchases the policy on behalf of the beneficiary and disburses the pay-out as a safety net to cushion against drought events. The government first piloted the programme in Marsabit County and by 2016 had expanded the scheme to Isiolo, Mandera, Wajir, Garissa, Kajiado, Turkana, Tana River and Samburu counties.
The paradigm shifted from livestock development to enhancing “resilience” through programmes such as the Drought Resilience and Sustainable Livelihoods Programme (DRSLP), the Regional Pastoral Livelihoods Resilience Project (RPLRP) and the Resilience and Economic Growth in Arid Lands (REGAL-AG) project. “Resilience” projects aimed to accelerate economic growth by promoting the development of livestock market facilities and regulatory frameworks, developing the capacities of individual and community enterprises and promoting investments in livestock value chains in five pastoral counties (Marsabit, Isiolo, Garissa, Wajir and Turkana).
Finally, the Kenya Climate-Smart Agriculture Project (KCSAP, 2017-2026) has recently taken the lead. The implementation of KCSAP in ASAL counties enmeshes improving water systems (boreholes), livelihood support, contingency emergency response, and value addition in agriculture.
Cattle watering at Dogogicha borehole (Range water infrastructure development project)
In the period between 1970 and 2020, massive investments were made to mitigate the effects of drought in Kenya’s ASALs. What I have presented here is simply a snapshot of the billion-dollar investments made in drought management. Although some of these projects have contributed to improving the resilience of pastoralist communities, others have increased their vulnerability and inequality because of the manner in which droughts and related catastrophes are handled. Following the severe drought that affected the entire Horn of Africa, including Kenya, in 2011 a policy framework was developed to end drought emergencies. But can these continuous policy shifts and the massive investments in drought management end drought emergencies in Kenya?
Ending Drought Emergencies (EDE) is a policy framework developed to strengthen drought management institutions and infrastructure. It emerged from the regional drought and disaster resilience summit held in Nairobi by IGAD member states and regional actors. The conference aimed to respond to the drought cataclysm that had affected the entire region resulting in an estimated US$12.1 billion in drought-related losses between 2008 and 2011.
Although some of these projects have contributed to improving the resilience of pastoralist communities, others have increased their vulnerability and inequality.
In Kenya, EDE is a distinct part of the Vision 2030 sector plan for drought risk management with the stated aim of ending drought emergencies by 2022 (MTP III). EDE aims to prioritise inclusive economic growth and reduce poverty by integrating various pillars of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Regional Drought Disaster Resilience and Sustainability Initiative (IDIRSI). However, in September 2021, Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta declared the ongoing drought a national disaster and called for local and international interventions.
Is Kenya’s roadmap for ending drought emergencies realistic? Can Kenya achieve its vision of ending drought emergencies by 2022? The same development visions and plans that aim to integrate ASAL areas into the broader economic transformation continue to push pastoralism to the periphery. Mobility is central to how pastoralists exploit variable range resources. However, insecurity, restricted park and conservancy enclosures, and mega-development infrastructures impede pastoral mobility, fostering vulnerability among the pastoralist communities rather than enhancing their resilience.
Despite the massive investments in humanitarian aid, pastoral development projects, resilience building and “climate-smart” approaches to drought mitigation, pastoralists remain susceptible to shocks and stresses brought on by droughts. There are remarkable discrepancies between the value of the investments made and the results achieved in attempting to end the drought emergency.
The same development visions and plans that aim to integrate ASAL areas into the broader economic transformation continue to push pastoralism to the periphery.
Both failures and successes are evident, but there is an urgent need to close the gap between the levels of investments in drought management and the impact on vulnerability and resilience. As one research participant commented, “stop subsidising failures” and instead focus on supporting the existing institutions and infrastructures that have been put in place to counter drought events. One example is the livestock market facilities and abattoirs in the rangelands, which, according to some of my research respondents, have created “drought millionaires” but have had a limited impact on the lives of pastoralists. These failures are due to a lack of a sustainable and favourable framework. To foster resilience—the ability to withstand climatic shocks and bounce back better—there is a need for a collaborative effort by all the actors, including the state, Civil Society Organisations, international actors and the pastoralists themselves. In summary, three points are essential to reflect upon.
The government and humanitarian organisations have developed numerous drought management policies, programmes and projects. Handling drought emergencies requires a process of un-learning, learning, and re-learning by revisiting historical interventions and policies. This will help to uncover successes, the ramifications of drought responses, and the unintended structural conditions created by such interventions. Drought response must include considering other factors such as seasonal stress, access to resource infrastructures, and the population’s social-economic dynamics that influence how drought is perceived and managed—all these help in recognising and embracing drought as a management failure rather than as a cyclical absence of rain.
Pastoralists are “reliability” professionals acting in “real time” by galvanising different networks, solidarities and resources. Sometimes, reliability is generated by negotiated access to restricted areas such as parks and conservancy areas and through adaptive mobilities and collective solidarities in the form of a moral economy. Collective solidarities help pastoralists to deal with labour deficit, insecurity, and access to resources. Although these practices of collective solidarity are sometimes stratified between people with networks, wealth, and other resources, they remain central to how diverse livestock owners navigate dry periods. External projects that aim to enhance pastoral resilience must recognise the existence of reliable institutions that help pastoralists to manage precarious conditions such as drought. Recognising pastoralists as active managers of drought crises and real-time coordination between pastoralists, state and development NGOs will enhance reliability and adaptive containment of drought emergencies.
Policies that deal with drought management—such as early warning and contingency planning—are sometimes linear, progressive, and reactive. In contrast, drought events are very much unpredictable and require considerable multiple knowledge and open-ended approaches.
To contain drought emergencies, there is a need to embrace the participatory, relational, and open-ended perspective. In the words of one of my research respondents, “there is a need to move from the ‘policy’ classroom to the ‘field’ classrooms”. For instance, livestock market infrastructure is in place in most parts of the rangelands, but unfortunately, some of it is derelict. Instead of jumping from project to project in search of a short-term response, there is a need to embrace practical and proactive long-term solutions. These could provide stability in the rangelands, especially during dry periods, to help pastoralists exploit unevenly distributed resources. One suggestion could be integrating pastoralists’ safety net and the moral economy with the social protection projects in pastoral areas.
There should be a “pause” moment to rethink and reflect on how to embrace the drought emergencies and build forward better by turning the drought crisis into an opportunity for sustainable and reliable livelihoods in the ASALs and beyond.
South Sudan remains heavily reliant on oil revenues but the extraction of this resource has resulted in major environmental damage and great human suffering.
South Sudan is caught between a rock and a hard place, heavily dependent on the revenues generated by a resource whose extraction is having a negative impact on the country.
China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) operates the Dar Petroleum Operating Company (DPOC) and Greater Petroleum Operating Company (GPOC) consortia that produce all of the country’s oil. CNPC started operating in Sudan in 1996, long before South Sudan became an independent state in 2011, without putting in place proper waste management systems and undertaking environmental audits.
While oil production generates over 90 per cent of the government’s budget, the issue of waste management and accountability has been a continuing challenge. Major environmental damage has been reported in the oil fields, jeopardising the lives of those who live in the oil producing states.
“They don’t care about waste management and environmental protection. They want it cheaper, and the agreements are opaque so I don’t know what they signed, in terms of service delivery and environmental care,” said an analyst who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The source also claimed that DPOC and GPOC are “sabotaging” the regulations developed by the Ministry of Petroleum to avoid their corporate social responsibilities towards the communities and the country. “They [DPOC and GPOC] don’t want the implementation of these policies and recently rejected a comprehensive environmental audit saying they are Western ideas, American ideas.”
In the 90s, aware of the impact that oil extraction would have on local communities, the Sudanese government took the draconian measure of ordering the Sudanese Army to evict the civilian population to make way for exploration and production.
“When South Sudan gained independence it was a new responsibility. The whole point of fighting was to do things differently from the old Sudan. The first thing would have been to change things, but the country couldn’t stop oil production. It was young and needed money to continue running its business, to provide basic services and continue with developmental projects,” said Dr Bior Kwer Bior, founding Executive Director for Nile Initiative for Health and Environment, a member of South Sudan’s Civil Society Coalition on Natural Resources.
Today, the decision to continue with oil production has come to haunt the country in terms of the impact on the environment and on the health of local populations.
“Whenever there’s oil extraction obviously there will be impact on the environment. Normally there are safeguards that are put in place to protect the environment. There should be a plan for protecting the environment, an accurate environmental management system, baseline assessment before you start production, and good ways of waste management,” noted Dr Kwer.
According to article 28 of the South Sudan Petroleum Act, contractors must submit an application to the Ministry of Petroleum for a permit to undertake exploratory drilling. The application must include an environmental and social impact assessment. Regarding transportation, treatment and storage, the Act requires that “detailed information on all relevant issues [. . .] including economic, technical, operational, safety related, commercial, local content, land use and environmental aspects of the project” be provided. The Act further clarifies that “The Ministry shall grant a license on the basis of an evaluation of the application, including the environmental and social impact assessment, and the technical competence, experience, history of compliance and ethical conduct and financial capacity of the applicant and the contractor, as well as safety related aspects.”
However, since its enactment in 2012, the provisions of the Act have not been fully implemented and the country continues to engage with the oil companies without proper environmental and social impact assessments having been undertaken.
A report released by the Nile Initiative for Health and Environment, recorded that over 218 children were born with deformities as a result of oil pollution in the oil-producing states of Unity and Upper Nile.
The organization says it collected the data from the birth registries of the health facilities in Pariang, Unity State, and from media reports of cases in Upper Nile State. Its tally may undercount the true figure because of the absence of health facilities and road networks in the areas where oil fields are located.
Local populations lack awareness of the dangers of the chemicals and waste materials dumped on their doorsteps, which contaminate the water in the wells and ponds that are used by the communities.
“The topography of Pariang in Unity State is a low land. The water from the crude oil, the waste water, is dumped in local ponds, flows all the way to local streams and this is what is causing diseases,” Dr Kwer said. “As a consequence of oil production, waste is hazardously dumped in the areas, and the containers that used to contain the chemicals are in the hands of the communities being used for drinking water,” he continued.
The water discharged with minimal treatment contains toxins such as hydrocarbons that have had a negative impact on communities in the oil producing regions of Upper Nile State, Unity State, and the Ruweng Administrative Area, which by itself produces over 80 per cent of South Sudanese oil. “The impact is huge and negative, towards the communities, and the land, animals and the air. The processes were not satisfactory to us. First of all, the level of oil spills, in which pipe breaks spill crude oil into the soil [and] the containers of chemical materials which find their way to communities and are being used for domestic activities,” Charles Judo, Chairperson of the Civil Society Coalition on Natural Resources (CSCNR), said in an interview.
Judo observed that although oil production in South Sudan started on the wrong footing, “The government has now agreed to conduct an environmental audit, not only to assess the environment but the social impact of the oil activities. And as a member of the civil society I want to see in the future that all the processes are open and transparent to the public.”
At its meeting in May 2021, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), renewed for another year the arms embargo, travel ban and assets freeze imposed on South Sudan in 2018. The UNSC also extended for a further 13 months the mandate of the panel of experts tasked with overseeing those measures. The arms embargo prohibits the supply, sale or transfer of weapons, as well as the provision of technical assistance, training and other military assistance to the territory of South Sudan.
Having previously abstained, this time the Chinese government voted for the arms embargo. Economic analysts said that China’s vote was in retaliation against the decision taken by the government of South Sudan to put in place restrictive measures to improve accountability and transparency in the oil sector, in particular the undertaking of an environmental audit and the implementation of the human resource policies developed by the South Sudan Ministry of Petroleum.
The Chinese government had previously abstained but for the first time voted for the arms embargo.
“The Chinese companies recently have seen some line ministries as a threat, and there have been debates with the Ministry of Petroleum, saying they are not happy with the policies the government is trying to impose on the oil companies and that they should be treated exceptionally because they were supporting South Sudan even during the dark days,” said a source who requested anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter. “They said the environmental audit is expensive. They want samples only taken in one area while others should be skipped.” It is deeply concerning that the Chinese want to dictate what the country should do with its resources.
The role of civil society is to amplify advocacy efforts and share information to ensure that accountability and transparency are priorities.  “Issues to do with monitoring and evaluation of whatever is related to oil, starting from the signing of the contracts, starting [upstream] to downstream. Whatever agreements are about to be reached, civil society ensures there’s transparency,” Judo said.
Some of the concerns raised by citizens include lack of access to timely and reliable information. “The civil society should be empowered to create awareness about agreements reached by the government and other stakeholders, from exploration, production and selling. The role is to ensure the process is flexible and known to all the South Sudanese citizens,” Judo added.
It is deeply concerning that the Chinese want to dictate what the country should do with its resources.
The National Audit Chamber of South Sudan recently issued a report indicating that the 2 per cent share of net petroleum revenues have not been transferred to the oil producing states to finance service delivery and development projects as foreseen in the Petroleum Revenue Management Act 2013 and the Transitional Constitution 2011. The central government has instead reallocated the funds for other use.
“As civil society we are aware and concerned about all these issues. So far, we have been hearing about the processes of signing the agreements but we have never been involved, not only at the signing but also starting from the initial processes and negotiations. There was no transparency and we never had access to contracts to see and compare with other companies. We have never seen the contracts, but from the output, we are not happy about the agreements with the Chinese companies,” said Judo.
Outbreaks of unknown diseases, stillbirths, deformities in new-borns, miscarriages and infertility have been recorded among populations living in oil producing regions yet there is little awareness within these communities of the dangers they face.
The oil companies support development projects such as schools and hospitals but this is part of their corporate social responsibility and not enough. Communities in Pariang County in Unity State and in Paloich in Upper Nile State have held several demonstrations, accusing the oil companies of making empty promises. In August 2020, there was a demonstration over the lack of employment opportunities for local people that had been promised in the Memorandum of Understanding between the government and the oil companies. “They don’t keep their promises but only concede and don’t deliver. Communities need services to be provided to them and this remains key,” said a concerned citizen.
The reconstituted government of National Unity is tasked with the responsibility of reforming the sector and eventually joining the Extractive Industry and Transparency Initiative (EITI) to help the country control and manage well the revenues generated from its natural resources. In so doing, the needs of the communities living in and around the oil producing areas must be prioritised to ensure a do-no-harm approach. In particular, it is crucial that the issue of waste management is addressed as a matter of urgency. The government must also ensure that environmental audits are undertaken before production begins in new oil fields to avoid further environmental degradation.
Outbreaks of unknown diseases, stillbirths, deformities in new-borns, miscarriages and infertility have been recorded among populations living in oil producing regions.
There is also a need to establish accountability mechanisms to ensure that resources are used properly and that the communities in the oil producing regions receive their share of the oil revenues as stipulated in the law.
Further, the government and civil society organizations must educate the communities concerned about the benefits and the challenges that come with oil production activities in their regions, including how relocating to other regions can help them escape the health ordeals that they are currently facing.
It will not be easy to bring order to the sector, especially after more than three decades during which the oil companies explored and produced crude oil without proper government oversight. However, environmental degradation and human suffering must be put to an end as they negate the whole idea of producing oil to fuel development and render the resource a curse rather than a blessing for South Sudan.
A lengthy destabilization of Ethiopia’s regime reverse the gains made by security partners and countries in the fight against Al-Shabaab, and create a crisis that Kenya is ill-prepared to face.
From southern Ethiopia to northern Kenya, scenes of euphoria broke out after the swearing in of Abiy Ahmed as Ethiopia’s new prime minister on 2 April 2018, when the incumbent Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn resigned unexpectedly. Abiy came to power as the country faced civil unrest, particularly in the Oromia region. In his maiden speech, Abiy promised sweeping changes, from judicial reforms, to the establishment of high-level structured bilateral cooperation with Kenya to the signing of a peace accord with Eritrea to end 20 years of a frozen conflict. Eighteen years after its closure, the border between Eritrea and Ethiopia was reopened and siblings were reunited with parents and grandparents for the first time in almost a decade. Phone links were re-established.
A new era seemed to have emerged in the Horn of Africa’s most populous country and largest economy following decades of civil wars, drought and famine. Ethiopian youths had high expectations of an improved economy and better working conditions under Abiy’s leadership. In particular, for the larger Oromo population, which had never had one of its own as head of government, the coronation of Abiy was laden with tremendous hope for this historically marginalized majority group. Abiy won the Nobel Peace Prize after the peace settlement with Eritrea, electrifying the country and the region. Yet amid all the positive reforms, tensions were brewing within and outside Abiy’s administration as the northern Tigrinya region went to the polls against the federal government’s directives. Dissenting Oromo voices and opposition leaders were detained. Vocal local musician Hachalu Handessa was assassinated in broad daylight.
All these events happened in the blink of an eye, jeopardizing the developments initiated by Abiy in fewer than two years. Slightly over one year into the conflict with Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) insurgents, the intensifying hostility between the federal government forces and the Tigrinya political leadership has produced a dire humanitarian crisis, from malnutrition and food insecurity, the displacement of populations, disease outbreaks to restrictions in the delivery of food aid. The current volatile situation in Ethiopia will have a devastating ripple effect on the neighbouring countries, particularly Kenya, which borders Ethiopia to the south.
From the Italo-Ethiopia war, through the persecution of the TPLF to Ethiopia’s security operation in early 2018 targeting civilians, the ensuing refugee crises have been felt in the Moyale region of Marsabit County. The movement of people from Ethiopia to the Kenyan side of the border takes different forms, from human trafficking, displacement of people due to ethnic conflict or targeted government operations, to “flushing out” of local militia affiliated to Oromo in Ethiopia. The Moyale-Nairobi road has been the route for human trafficking and a smuggling hotspot for those seeking “greener pastures” abroad and those running away from political persecution.
Of the other countries that share a border with Ethiopia, the influx of refugees into Sudan has been the largest, with arrivals into countries like Somalia being modest. Conversely, with the escalation of ethnic fighting and the federal government fighting different factions in new fronts, the situation is fluid, and there is the possibility of people fleeing to Kenya to escape the growing conflicts. Northern Kenya already hosts two of the world’s largest refugee settlements, Kakuma to the northwest and Dadaab to the northeast. A protracted and bloody ethnic conflict causing a steady flow of displaced populations would likely have severe impacts on Marsabit County. The porous borders with Kenya would enable displaced populations to cross into Moyale Sub-County, putting pressure on a region that is already facing drought and resource problems. An influx of refugees from Ethiopia could increase pressure on the county’s scarce resources and provoke a humanitarian crisis that local authorities are not equipped to handle. This would put colossal pressure on public utilities like hospitals, increase food insecurity, cause disease outbreaks and a surge in COVID-19 infections.
The current volatile situation in Ethiopia will have a devastating ripple effect on the neighbouring countries, particularly Kenya, which borders Ethiopia to the south.
Kenya being the passage for Ethiopians seeking a better life abroad—in South Africa and elsewhere—the influx of people running away from the crisis will increase human trafficking, which will have a devastating impact on the rights of refugees. The people being trafficked usually pay colossal amounts of money to traffickers to get into Nairobi, transported either by lorry or by van like sacks of potatoes. Immigrants risk their lives in search of better lives and livelihoods and the influx of refugees might affect the rights of refugees as the human traffickers may take advantage of the vulnerable displaced populations. Additionally, the crisis has potentially serious effects on Kenya’s stability and security as it could weaken counterinsurgency efforts against the potent Al-Shabaab jihadist group. Kenya has taken a number of initiatives against terrorism and terror-related activities including security and political measures, and creating awareness and sensitization among the locals. These initiatives could be derailed if the militant group makes a comeback into the border counties.
The intensification of conflict and spill-over into Ethiopia’s other regions like Oromia and Ogaden may oblige Abiy’s government to withdraw Ethiopian forces from Somalia, severely weakening the AMISOM forces. This would splinter the containment model put in place by the Ethiopian government against Al-Shabaab. The security vacuum created will allow the infiltration of Al-Shabaab and other militant groups, and create conditions favouring local recruitment.  AMISON was officially scheduled to wind up its operations by the end of the 2021 but the international community has requested an extension of the term from the European Union. The deployment of Ethiopian military personnel remains a lynchpin of the AMISON mission in Somalia; retracting Ethiopia’s contingent could erase the gains made over the years in the fight against the terrorist group. The withdrawal of Ethiopian troops would also bolster the Al-Shabaab, enabling militants to spread their tentacles into the vast and volatile parts of Marsabit County.
An influx of refugees from Ethiopia could increase pressure on the county’s scarce resources and provoke a humanitarian crisis that local authorities are not equipped to handle.
The political crisis will exacerbate the ethnic and political situation in border counties like Marsabit, Mandera, Wajir and Garissa, among others. Marsabit County has in the past experienced severe ethnic conflict, from the Forolle massacre, the Turbi bloodbath, the Moyale clashes to the current ethnic clashes in Saku Sub-County. The primary triggers of the ethnic conflict revolve around land and boundary issues exacerbated by the influx of small arms and light weapons through the porous Kenya-Ethiopian border. The ease of access to light weapons will be further accelerated by the Ethiopian crisis, enabling a steady flow of guns and other armaments. This could inflame the already fragile situation in Marsabit County. Considering that electioneering in this region instigates ethnic conflict, the infiltration of light weapons might aggravate these ethnic clashes.
Given that Kenya and Ethiopia have several bilateral trade agreements and other trade arrangements at various levels, the crisis in Ethiopia is likely to affect trade between the two countries. Private firms and local traders on the Kenyan side of the border are likely to re-evaluate their business operations, which will affect income tax and cause layoffs. This will have direct bearing on the revenues generated by the state from the export and import of goods. On the flipside, there will be an inflow of illegal goods and products into Kenya, finding their way into the local markets and thus affecting the business environment in Kenya. Such a shadow market system distorts the local market and trade flows, and results in low sales as people shift to cheaper goods. An intensification of ethnic conflict implies disruption of transportation of goods along the Lamu Port-South Sudan-Ethiopia corridor. Similarly, hard drugs like cannabis sativa could find their way into the lucrative drug market in Kenya.
In brief, a rapid de-escalation in the complex ethnic conflict is vital not just for reinstating equilibrium in Ethiopia, but also to ensure that Kenya is not destabilised. A lengthy destabilization of Ethiopia’s regime will reverse the gains made by security partners and countries in the fight against Al Shabaab, the most lethal terrorist group in the Horn of Africa as well as the economic achievements and bilateral cooperation between these two countries.  Should the de-escalation emerge as a result of political diplomacy leading to equitable power sharing, Kenya will not have to deal with a crisis it has not prepared for.
A Dagger to the Heart: The Killing of Indigenous Oromo Leaders
South Africa: Corruption Is a Class Project
Land, Rights and the Struggles of the Ngorongoro Maasai
The World Seen Anew Through Dani Nabudere’s Eyes
China, Oil and the South Sudan Resource Curse
Between a Rock and a Hard Place: Somaliland’s Elections in Limbo
The Evolving Nature of Marsabit Conflict
The Crisis in Ethiopia and its Implication for Marsabit County
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By Kwetu Buzz

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