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Locusts swarm from ground vegetation as people approach at Lerata village, near Archers Post in Samburu county, approximately 300 kilomters (186 miles) north of kenyan capital, Nairobi on January 22, 2020. "Ravenous swarms" of desert locusts in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia, already unprecedented in their size and destructive potential, threaten to ravage the entire East Africa subregion, the UN warned on January 20, 2020. The outbreak of desert locusts, considered the most dangerous locust species, is “significant and extremely dangerous” warned the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation, describing the infestation as an eminent threat to food security in months to come” if control measures are not taken. TONY KARUMBA / AFP
Locusts swarm from ground vegetation as people approach at Lerata village, about 300 kilometers north of Nairobi, Kenya, on January 22, 2020. (Tony Karumba/AFP)

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. 

 

A man rests on the octagon surrounding the destroyed plinth upon which a colonial era statue of H.M. Queen Victoria had stood in memoria since it's unveiling in 1906, at the Jevanjee gardens in Nairobi on June 13, 2020. The statue was removed following a vandalism incident a few years ago.  Statues of controversial historical and political figures are under scrutiny worldwide. TONY KARUMBA / AFP
A statue of Queen Victoria stood on this plinth in Jevanjee Gardens in Nairobi, Kenya, from 1906 to 2015, when it was removed after it had been vandalised. (Tony Karumba/ AFP)

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.

 

Locusts Kenya
Locusts fly over a scrub at Larisoro village near Archers Post, Kenya, on January 21, 2020. (Tony Karumba/AFP)

 

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.

 

LGBTQ Uganda
Members of the LGBTQ community take part in a Transgender Day of Remembrance vigil to pay tribute to victims of hate crimes in Kampala, Uganda, on November 23, 2019.

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.

 

 

Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta (R) and Vice President William Ruto walk for the arrival of the British Prime Minister at the State House in Nairobi on August 30, 2018.
Tensions have been rising between Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta (R) and his Deputy President William Ruto ever since Kenyatta declared a war against corruption 

 

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.

 

 

Undersea Cable

 

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.

 

 

Africom General
General Thomas Waldhauser was the commander of the United States Africa Command until his retirement in July 2019, when General Stephen J. Townsend assumed the command.

 

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.

 

Workers move a track at the construction site of Standard Gauge Railway near Nairobi, Kenya
Workers laying track for the new standard-gauge railway line near Nairobi, Kenya.

 

China is seeking to play a leading role in the global economic recovery in Africa after the COVID-19 pandemic, but its approach to economic recovery may come packaged with corruption and political manipulation, risks that have not dissuaded China’s African partners in the past a new report warns.

The report “Below the Belt and Road: Corruption and Illicit Dealings in China’s Global Infrastructure” by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), based in the United States, provides an in-depth analysis of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), its program for international investment, and looks at how Chinese corruption affects the development of infrastructure globally. Though the report uses Sri Lanka and Malaysia as case studies, a focus on Kenya is included in order to illustrate China's impact on African infrastructure.

A separate 2015 report from consulting firm McKinsey details China's involvement in African infrastructure goes back several decades. In 1976, construction of the 1,710 kilometer Tanzania-Zambia railway was completed, helping to link landlocked and mineral-rich Zambia to the Indian Ocean. Zambia's first post-independence president, Kenneth Kaunda, praised China for their support, describing the project as "a model for south-south cooperation."

The same McKinsey report found that Chinese loans for infrastructure projects tripled within the 2012-2015 period, arriving at a level of $5 to $6 billion each year. More than half of all Chinese investment for infrastructure, around 52.7 percent, has gone specifically towards shipping and port construction. In Kenya, Chinese loans helped pay for the construction of the Nairobi-Mombasa Standard Gauge Railway (SGR), but in the two years that it has been operational its revenue has failed to break even with operating costs.

It is foolish to believe mega-projects like the Nairobi-Mombasa SGR will turn an immediate profit. Nonetheless, Kenya cannot afford to suffer losses year on year, especially when its public debt makes up 61 percent of its GDP. As the third-largest recipient of Chinese loans, Kenya's ailing economic woes - compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic and a historically unprecedented locust swarm - places it in a precarious position that could force it into debt repayment schemes towards China that trap it in a state of financial serfdom.

“There is little risk for Beijing. Chinese influence is still near its high-water mark […] and BRI recipients may be even more dependent on Beijing as they grapple with post-pandemic economic recovery,” Dezenski, author of the FDD report, writes. “The eventual exposure of systemic corruption, paired with a lack of accountability, is bound to generate a stronger public backlash."

As more African leaders call for debt relief, China's ambivalence on providing full debt forgiveness for its African partners seems to validate Dezenski's analysis. On its end, Chinese authorities have rejected accusations that it has created "debt traps" for African nations, and has warned against using Africa's sovereign debt to China as a political cudgel.

Special Envoy of the People Republic of China, Wang Yong (C) and Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure, Housing, Urband Development and Public Works, James Macharia(R), arrives at the Nairobi Terminus during the commissioning of the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) Freight Operations to the Naivasha Inland Container Depot in Nairobi, on December 17, 2019.
Wang Yong (center), special envoy of Chinese president Xi Jinping, and Kenyan transport cabinet secretary James Macharia (right) arrive at the Nairobi Terminus for the launch of the standard-gauge railway freight service on December 17, 2019.

 

 

 

Inmates stand in a queue as they are served tea and fried dough bread (locally known as mandazi) during a talent show at the medium security section of Kodiaga Prison in the lakeside city of Kisumu on March 31, 2019.
Inmates stand in a queue as they are served tea and fried dough bread (locally known as mandazi) during a talent show at the medium security section of Kodiaga Prison in the lakeside city of Kisumu

 

In late 2018, the Kenyan government established the Kenya Prison Enterprise Corporation with the aim of eventually turning the prison system into a “financially self-sustaining entity," an attempt by President Uhuru Kenyatta and the ruling Jubilee Party to rectify the nation’s precarious financial situation.

The problem, writes Christine Mungai for Africa Is a Country, is that not only is privatization not a guarantee of greater revenue, but it also fundamentally infringes on the rights of Kenyans and undermines the rehabilitative purpose behind imprisonment. A 2016 report by the California-based In the Public Interest research and policy center found that American inmates incarcerated in private prisons experienced higher rates of habitual relapse into crime than their public-prison counterparts.

 

There were more awaiting-trial detainees than convicted prisoners in Kenya.

 

A few years prior to that report, the government of South Africa had to take over a maximum-security prison managed by private company G4S due to “a worrying deterioration of safety and security at the center”.

Anti-vagrancy and loitering laws from Kenya’s colonial past regularly trap impoverished young men in the criminal justice system, clogging courts with minor-offense caseloads, overcrowding prisons, and elevating the risk of police brutality and abuses of detainees. Investigative reporting by The Daily Nation found that there were more detainees awaiting-trial than convicted prisoners in Kenya, 90 percent of these detainees could not afford bail.

 

 

Ethiopian Soldier in Somalia
An Ethiopian soldier with the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) on night patrol in the city of Baidoa, Somalia.

 

A leaked report from the office of the force commander of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), Lieutenant General Tigabu Yima, suggests that Ethiopian troops shot down the Kenyan-registered cargo plane carrying medical supplies to address the COVID-19 pandemic. The plane crashed as it was approaching the airfield in the southern Somali city of Bardale on May 6, resulting in the death of all six people on board.

 

The downing of the plane has led to heightened tensions among Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia.

 

A peacekeeping mission comprised of Ethiopian and Somalian troops is stationed in Bardale, but the leaked report alleges that Ethiopian troops not affiliated with the mission were responsible for shooting down the cargo plane, mistakenly believing it was about to carry out a suicide attack due to its irregular flight path. The downing of the plane has led to heightened tensions among Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia, the former two having several thousand troops deployed in Somalia to combat the al-Shabab jihadist group.

This latest incident has particularly unnerved Somali officials, who have openly wondered why Ethiopian troops not affiliated with peacekeeping missions are actively engaged in Somalia. A joint investigation involving officials from Kenya and Somalia is currently under way, with a preliminary report expected to be released within forty-five days. Analysis of the aircraft’s black box could take up to three months.

 

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