Kenya has set its sights on joining the club of commercial nuclear power users. The country’s Nuclear Power and Energy Agency has submitted an environmental and social assessment report for a proposed US$5 billion nuclear power plant, which it says is on track to be completed in about seven years. A preferred site has been chosen near the coast in Tana River County, halfway between Mombasa and the Somalian border.
The document is available for public comment before the National Environment Management Authority can issue a license for construction to start.
Studies based on the Kenya Vision 2030development blueprint, introduced in 2008, show that the country will have to generate about eight times as much electricity by 2031 as it currently does to meet the expected energy demand.
With this proposal, Kenya joins nine other sub-Saharan African countries—Ethiopia, Ghana, Namibia, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia—that are considering or planning nuclear power programs.
Ninety-six Ugandan women, mostly children and youth, were stopped at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi in January en route to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for work opportunities. The girls, who lacked proper employment papers, were victims of a well-established human trafficking ring in East Africa, headquartered in Kenya and operating under the guise of employment agencies.
This wasn’t the first such interception. Almost every month, Kenya’s Directorate of Criminal Investigations reports at least one interception involving victims not only from Uganda but also from Burundi, Rwanda, and to a lesser extent Tanzania. Most of East Africa’s trafficking takes place in and through Kenya.
Human trafficking routes from East Africa to the Middle East
The Trafficking Value Chain
Traditionally, the value chain of this criminal network has comprised three links. First are regionally based recruitment brokers who ferry people from their respective countries to Kenya. Second are the Kenyan-based links who “receive” the people and act as the country’s employment agencies. They move victims from Kenya to the host country. Third are the counterparts who often pose as foreign employment agencies. They are stationed in the host country and “receive” people sent from Kenya.
Recent cases and new research by the ENACT organized crime project suggest a shift in the workings of the trafficking value chain as far as the third “link” is concerned. There is evidence that the trafficking of women and girls from East Africa to the Middle East is now being carried out entirely by East Africans.
Interviews with victims revealed that they were received in the foreign country by “familiar faces”. In February 2020, fifty Kenyans, each of whom paid about US$2,000 to supposed employment agencies, were trafficked to the UAE and enslaved in a house by a “Mombasa agent” who has operations in Mombasa and Dubai. The victims said there were many such trafficking houses run by Kenyans in Dubai, housing other East African nationals such as Ugandans and Tanzanians. Most of East Africa’s trafficking takes place in and through Kenya.
A specific case revealed to Lucia Bird, senior analyst at the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime, highlights the multinational and regional interconnections. A Ugandan girl was trafficked to Kenya by a Ugandan family friend. A Kenyan national then flew with her to Oman, where she was collected at the airport by an Ethiopian national before being driven to her Omani employers.
Similarly, Angelo Izama, a human trafficking consultant who volunteers on a project for trafficked victims at a church in the UAE, told ENACT of a Ugandan girl recruited to be a receptionist. She was received by a Ugandan in Dubai and forced into sex work.
Regional trafficking networks appear to want to control the entire value chain
While the links in a criminal value chain work together, there is also competition, with operators vying for a greater share of the more profitable elements in the chain. Regional trafficking networks appear to want to control the entire value chain, from sourcing to recruiting victims, trafficking them out of East Africa and receiving them in the foreign country. This well-coordinated and continually shifting transnational crime process is difficult to police and prosecute.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, a police officer specializing in human trafficking in East Africa told ENACT that the problem has engulfed the region. This affirms a 2018 United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) assessment report that shows an increase in human trafficking in East African countries.
The officer also notes that policing the crime is becoming more difficult. As an example, the officer referred to a joint initiative in 2017 between the Kenyan and Ugandan governments that appeared promising in its anti-trafficking measures. It failed, however, due to a lack of proper intelligence on the criminal value chain and inconsistent engagement between the two countries.
Better Migration Management
Regulating the labor exporting sector is also complicated. As with Kenya, Uganda imposed a ban on labor emigration to the Middle East in 2016, and then lifted it a year later. Ugandan civil society organizations working to counter human trafficking said the ban and its lifting had little impact on trafficking dynamics. They questioned the benefits of exporting labor and highlighted the failure to safeguard those undertaking labor migration.
Regional bodies such as the International Organization for Migration, UNODC, and the European Union have often called for a stronger regional approach to trafficking. The latest is the Better Migration Management program, which advocates for the prevention, protection, and prosecution of human trafficking in East Africa and the Horn of Africa.
East African countries appear to lack power in negotiations with Middle Eastern countries on trafficking issues. This is because of gaps in their domestic legislation and regional trafficking strategies. Yet other regions that export labor to the Middle East have shown that this can be done.
The Philippines, for example, has twenty-three bilateral agreements with seven countries, most of which are in the Middle East. This allows authorities to oversee the protection and safety of workers and prevent them being exploited by trafficking networks and employers in destination countries. The labor export sector makes up a significant portion of the Philippines’ gross domestic product, yet it also comes with challenges and is not an economic cure-all.
East Africa needs to learn from approaches elsewhere that prevent trafficking and protect workers. Until more robust responses are in place, trafficking and exploitation are likely to grow in the region. This perpetuates the vulnerability of poor women and girls, and undermines the prospects of labor exportation as a livelihoods option.
Mohamed Daghar is a researcher with the ENACT project in Nairobi.
This article was first published by the ENACT project. ENACT is funded by the European Union (EU). The content of this article is the sole responsibility of the author and can under no circumstances be regarded as reflecting the position of the EU.
As access to Internet services grows across Africa, the continent is realizing the potential economic benefit from taxing the multinational tech companies that provide digital services. The only problem is that there is very little existing legislative framework to do so.
Although Africa remains a very small slice of the total market that technology-based service providers cater to, companies like Uber, WhatsApp, Spotify, and Facebook are positioning themselves to capitalize on Africa’s expected population boom and rapidly growing youth population. Recognizing this trend, Kenya and Nigeria have begun to take steps to put legislation in place that would allow them to earn tax revenue from digital services.
On June 30, Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta enacted the Finance Act 2020, which introduced a tax of 1.5 percent on the gross transactional value of income derived from digital trade and services, set to go into effect in January 2021.
And the Nigerian Finance Act 2019 that passed into law earlier this year makes provision for taxing non-resident companies with a “significant economic presence”, which includes businesses using digital transactions or providing local services without a bricks-and-mortar address in the country.
An aggressive tax policy could ultimately prove to be counterproductive
A potential downside to these laws is the prohibitive restraints it places on African tech start-ups, as some face the risk of being doubly taxed or unable to compete against Silicon Valley juggernauts that can weather such tax policies. And although Africa is in dire need of increasing its tax collection capabilities, an aggressive tax policy could ultimately prove to be counterproductive. It could be a disincentive to investment by global tech companies, which might prefer to rather invest in countries with much more favorable tax laws or those that lack any such legislation.
Before being struck by a once-in-a-generation global pandemic, the Horn of Africa was already contending with a locust plague the likes of which hadn’t been experienced in several generations. A second, larger wave of the destructive desert locusts has been making its way across Somalia, Kenya, Eritrea, and Ethiopia, threatening food security for millions of people and costing the region (along with Yemen) up to US$8.5 billion according to the World Bank.
The fungus has proven to be deadly to locusts while not harming other insects
The effectiveness of chemical pesticides to control locust swarms has been limited, at best, due to the swarms’ quick pace and size, along with limited resources as these nations and foreign donors focus on COVID-19. Thus, it fell to the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE), an international research institute housed in Nairobi, Kenya, to devise more innovative and environmentally friendly means of tackling the locust problem.
One approach has been the use of a biopesticide developed from the Metarhizium acridum fungus, which has proven to be deadly to locusts while not harming other insects.
Commercial brands use this kind of fungus in their powder products. Such powders are mixed with oil and sprayed onto fields from planes or trucks. The fungus then penetrates the locust’s hard outer layer and starts feeding on the insect, sapping away
Another tactic homes in on locust pheromones, disrupting their biochemistry to break up swarms before they form and encouraging cannibalization among immature locusts before they gain the ability to fly.
A third approach is to introduce the protein-rich locusts as a foodstuff—either cooked or crushed—for people and animals. ICIPE is developing nets and backpack-vacuums to capture large numbers of locusts.
The murder of George Floyd, an African American man, by police officer Derek Chauvin for the alleged crime of spending a $20 counterfeit note has resulted in widespread anti-racism protests under the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement across the United States and the globe. One aspect of this movement has been the reconsideration of public monuments to historical figures connected to the trans-Atlantic slave trade.
In Bristol, England, BLM protesters brought down a statue of slave trader Edward Colston and dumped it in the nearby harbor. In Oxford, calls to remove a statue of colonialist Cecil John Rhodes have gained renewed interest, reviving a 2015 campaign modeled on the #RhodesMustFall student movement in South Africa.
Newer memorials dedicated to Kenyans include a monument in honor of Tom Mboya
Similar sentiments have bubbled over in Kenya, which is dotted with its own assortment of statues, hotels, parks, and street names honoring former colonial figures such as Queen Victoria and Hugh Cholmondeley, an influential British settler and landowner in then British East Africa Protectorate, now Kenya.
Newer memorials dedicated to Kenyans include a monument in honor of Tom Mboya, one of the founding fathers of the independent Republic of Kenya, in the Nairobi CBD; a UK-funded memorial to Kenyans killed by British forces during the Mau Mau Uprising in the 1950s in Uhuru Park in Nairobi; and a recently unveiled statue of Dedan Kimathi, the spiritual leader of the Mau Mau Uprising, in Nyeri.
Peter Munya, Kenya’s agriculture cabinet secretary, confirmed that the national government is not importing maize at the present time, pursuant to a ruling by the High Court of Kenya on April 17 that suspended the government’s plan to import 4 million bags of maize to avert a food crisis caused by COVID-19 prevention measures. Munya insisted there was no need to worry over food shortages, pointing to fortuitous rains that helped crop growth and regeneration in some of Kenya’s most food insecure regions.
Kenya is still battling a second, larger locust infestation
The secretary also assured reporters and the Kenyan people that the government will be monitoring the price of maize to prevent exploitation during the pandemic. Munya’s claims that there is minimal risk of food shortages beggars belief, as farmers in the North Rift province had filed a lawsuit on March 30 to protect the local market, after the Strategic Food Reserve announced it had exhausted its stock of emergency provisions. This while Kenya is still battling a second, larger locust infestation that has devastated some of this year’s harvest.
Alongside the economic concerns of domestic millers, the High Court intervened against the subsidized maize import scheme following a challenge by human rights activist Okiya Omtatah, noting that the government’s plan allowed for the import of dry maize that does not meet standard set by the East African Community, of which Kenya is a member.
In mid-March, the United Nations’ International Organization for Migration (IOM) suspended all resettlements of refugees and displaced peoples due to COVID-19, leaving thousands stranded in countries that were only supposed to be throughways to their final destination.
For many, the added months aren’t too much of a burden, having spent years waiting for their resettlement applications to be processed after waiting long stretches in refugee camps. But in Kenya, hundreds of LGBTQ refugees fleeing homophobic persecution from neighboring Uganda are now stuck in a torturous limbo, under a constant threat of being deported or unable to support themselves as they wait for flights to resume.
It's a holdover from British colonial-era laws reinforced by homegrown evangelical Christian movements
Homosexuality is still considered a criminal offense in both Kenya and Uganda, a holdover from British colonial-era laws reinforced by homegrown evangelical Christian movements. While LGBTQ people face police harassment and the threat of imprisonment in Kenya, it pales in comparison to the aggressive homophobia that characterizes Ugandan political and civil life.
Lydia Boyd, an anthropologists studying Ugandan attitudes towards homosexuality, has observed that the animosity is characterized by a belief that non-hetero sexual identities are an imposition by Western influences, at odds with Ugandan culture and familial bonds that are central to social networks. In recent months, LGBTQ activists have faced threats of violence, one being murdered in his own home, while others have been arrested on suspicion of homosexuality alone.
Rumors began to spread in late 2019 that Uganda was looking to reintroduce an anti-homosexuality bill from 2013, whose original draft included the death penalty for violators but was changed to life imprisonment. Though it was passed by President Yoweri Museveni, it was ultimately overturned by the constitutional court over legal technicalities, following months of international condemnation.
Palace intrigue grips Kenya’s ruling Jubilee party, as President Uhuru Kenyatta continues to undermine Deputy President William Ruto. Key allies of Ruto’s—senate majority leader Kipchumba Murkomen, majority whip Susan Kihika, and senate deputy speaker Kindiki Kithure—have been relieved of their positions along with agriculture cabinet secretary Mwangi Kiunjuri.
Kiunjuri and Kithure had both been pegged as potential running mates for Ruto in the 2022 presidential election.
The past two years has seen a widening rift between the two.
Kenyatta’s about-face towards his deputy president would have been inconceivable a decade ago, when the two seemed to be in accord regarding governance of the country and while they both faced charges at the International Criminal Court for post-election violence in 2007. Yet the past two years has seen a widening rift between the two, who have frequently butted heads over major government projects such as the Building Bridges Initiative (Kenyatta’s effort to reform the national legislature) and management of the COVID-19 pandemic.
A secret electoral pact made between Jubilee and the Kenya African National Union party, opposed by the Jubilee faction aligned with Ruto, along with Kenyatta’s reconciliation with his bitter presidential rival Raila Odinga solidified the split between the president and his deputy.
While the situation may look dire for Ruto’s political prospects, frustration among the Kikuyu in Kenya’s Rift Valley, a voting bloc critical for Kenyatta’s victory in the 2017 repeat election, may see this group vote for Ruto in 2022. The Kikuyu tend to vote for candidates from their ethnic group—Ruto belongs to the Kipsigis tribe of the Kalenjin people—but their dissatisfaction with Kenyatta’s performance may cause a political upset down the line.
A multinational consortium of telecommunications companies—including Facebook, China Mobile International, MTN Global Connect, Telecom Egypt, and Vodafone—announced the construction of a new undersea fiber-optic cable that will connect sixteen African countries, Europe, and the Middle East. Named 2Africa, the 37,000 kilometer-long communications cable is scheduled to go live in 2023 or 2024.
Africans pay some of the highest data rates in the world.
In March, two undersea cables serving Africa experienced breakages that drastically reduced Internet connectivity for days as repairs were made. The addition of 2Africa will help improve Internet access for millions of Africans, and mitigate disruptions should other cables experience failures in the future. Such disruptions are not only frustrating for Africans, who pay some of the highest data rates in the world, but also have a negative impact on the African economy.
A 2017 report by the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) concluded that intentional Internet shutdowns in twelve countries between 2015 and 2017 cost sub-Saharan Africa more than US$237 million. Unforeseen connectivity disruptions naturally can have far greater negative impact on national and regional economies.
Conventional reporting on the United States military’s presence in Africa has suggested a potential troop drawdown, an option that has been floated for months now by US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper. But internal documents of the United States Africa Command (AFRICOM) obtained by the Mail & Guardian indicate planned upgrades to and renovations of American bases in the Horn of Africa and the Sahel, worth hundreds of millions of dollars, all of which are expected to be carried out between 2021 and 2025.
The documents, formally issued in October 2018, discuss twelve construction projects for American bases in Kenya, Niger, and Djibouti. All told, this construction is slated to cost upwards of US$330 million, the majority of which has been set aside for seven projects specifically for Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti. Formerly a French Foreign Legion outpost, Camp Lemonnier is the headquarters of the United States’ Combined Joint Task Force—Horn of Africa; it is also the central node in AFRICOM’s counterterrorism operations in neighboring Somalia and Yemen, and hosts 4,000 of the 6,000 American troops stationed in Africa.
The uncertainty posed by the COVID-19 pandemic could change how future operations are handled.
At the very least, it appears that US troop presence in Africa will remain for the foreseeable future, though the uncertainty posed by the COVID-19 pandemic could change how future operations are handled. Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti recently went into lockdown after two contractors working on-site were diagnosed with COVID-19.