From Algeria to Zimbabwe and the countries in between, a weekly round-up of the most important news and analysis from Africa. Delivery on Wednesday.
May 19, 2021, 4:33 a.m.
Welcome to the Africa Foreign Policy Letter.
The highlights of this week: Kenyans Judges deal a blow to the political elite Mozambique Rescue efforts from racism and the controversial expansion of Amazon to indigenous land in South Africa.
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A victory for Kenya's constitution
On the evening of May 13, five high court judges in Kenya read a ruling that would take four hours to change the country's political landscape. In a devastating opinion, the judges overturned a bill amending the country's constitution and dealt a blow to President Uhuru Kenyatta and his rival Raila Odinga.
To build bridges. The 2020 Constitution Amendment Act, known as the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI), was spearheaded by Kenyatta himself and billed as a solution to the violence that has marred elections every five years. Kenyans experienced post-election violence in 1992, 1997 and 2007.
In 2017, the presidential race between Kenyatta and Odinga led to deep divisions. The bill is the result of the famous handshake between the two leaders in 2018, an rapprochement that would supposedly lead to national reconciliation through a constitutional amendment.
The bill proposed changes to more than a dozen chapters of the current constitution, which included a reorganization of parliament that would create the positions of prime minister, deputy prime minister, an official position for runner-up in the presidential election, and a judicial ombudsman. Kenyatta and supporters of the law argued that it would empower voters by creating new counties that would also receive development funds.
Despite Kenyatta's selling points, the judges ruled that he exceeded his powers by launching such sweeping reforms of the country's laws.
“(H) He cannot take any action to change the Constitution against the Constitution. It is not in his power ”, it says in the judgment. The ruling also makes Kenyatta, whose second term ends next year, sued in his personal capacity. The task force set up to steer the amendments was unconstitutional and therefore illegal, and the judges warned the president that he might be guilty of a conflict of interest.
Old enemies, new alliances. Critics saw in the BBI brotherhood of Kenyatta and Odinga a way to get the deputy president and the most important opposition figure William Ruto out of the way.
Since the Jubilee Party was founded in 2016 and its electoral alliance formalized in 2013, Kenyatta and Ruto have publicly fallen apart, and many of Ruto's allies have been expelled from the Jubilee Party. The BBI changes would have ruined Ruto's plans to replace Kenyatta as an anniversary candidate in the 2022 presidential election, a ticket that was already in doubt.
"There is God in heaven who loves Kenya immeasurably," tweeted Ruto as the verdict was read. But there are no heroes and villains in Kenyan politics – only coalitions, alliances and dynasties. Ruto, Odinga and others will no doubt continue to battle for their position as Kenyatta secures his retirement. The verdict is about much more than party politics. It's a victory for the Kenyan judiciary and the country's hard-won constitution.
The people's constitution. The current constitution of Kenya was approved by two-thirds of the citizens who voted in a 2010 referendum for the introduction of a civil rights law, a clear separation between the executive and the judiciary, and increased parliamentary scrutiny.
Solving these and other problems was seen as the solution to ending the cycle of violence that arose from Kenya's national policy. And as Carey Baraka emphasized in Foreign Policy in 2020, a lack of accountability to perpetrators is a driver of political violence in Kenya.
Critics of the law say that if they uphold the 2010 Constitution and defy the executive branch, it is the citizens who will ultimately benefit in the long term.
"For this reason we must constantly remember that this constitution was negotiated over a period of two decades by Kenyans in order to transform Kenya through the constitutional overthrow of the old order, which is a parasitic model of government," wrote Martha Karua, a former Minister of Justice and member of the Linda Katiba group.
The group founded in February this year, whose name means Guard the Constitution, has spoken out vehemently against the law through a public campaign.
"At its core, the BBI initiative is about defending this untenable parasitic model," Karua argued before the verdict.
Nobody is above the law. The group sees the bill as a gateway to a bloated parliament and executive. The question also arises as to how the BBI would ever keep its promise to distribute funds to counties if it already has the authority to do so but has failed. What is a matter of political will and administrative struggle between the Nairobi elites means bread and butter to ordinary Kenyans who decide on issues of whether clean water and sanitation will finally be delivered.
While Kenyatta plans to appeal the ruling, the ruling remains a lesson for Kenyan politicians – that they are not above the law even if they try to change it.
Thursday May 20th: Regional guides meet in Somalia to discuss Election crisis.
Friday, May 21st: The United Nations Security Council meets at the Crisis in Libya.
Monday May 24th: The International Criminal Court will begin its work Ali Kushayb's trial, alleged leader of the Janjaweed militia who committed the Darfur genocide in Sudan.
Wednesday May 26th: The Corruption trial against Jacob Zuma and the French arms dealer Thales continues in South Africa.
Racism during the rescue of Mozambique. More than a month after the March 24 attacks in Palma, Mozambique, Amnesty International claims the rescue mission has been infected with racism. The international human rights organization has recorded nearly a dozen interviews showing that in the chaos of the rescue mission, white foreigners took precedence over black locals.
About 200 blacks and 20 whites were hidden in the Amarula Hotel when insurgents fired at will. When help arrived in the form of private security companies like the Dyck Advisory Group, respondents said racial discrimination was clear and some feared that once all whites were rescued they would be forgotten and left behind among the dozen who died from the siege.
The Dyck Advisory Group has denied the allegations, stating that Amnesty International's report was factually incorrect.
Xenophobia in Zambia. Ahead of the August elections, foreigners in Zambia say they fear for their lives. Shopkeepers in the country's townships report frequent threats or actual crimes. Many of them are Rwandan nationals who fled Rwanda and then the refugee camps of the Democratic Republic of the Congo in search of a better life in a historically stable state.
Zambia has taken in refugees from the region in the past and, shortly after independence, actively supported measures to combat xenophobia. However, the reports of fearful foreigners show that the country's stalled economy has undermined this. Foreigners are blamed for increasing crime and job theft, a common refrain that often leads to violent setbacks against immigrants.
Sexual exploitation in the Congo. The humanitarian response to the Ebola outbreak in the Eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo has been marred by incidents of sexual exploitation.
A New Humanitarian and Thompson Reuters Foundation research interviewed 22 women in Butembo, eastern Congo, which became a center of relief during the outbreak. Many of the women worked as cleaners for the aid organizations and stated that they were offered jobs in exchange for sex. At least one says she was raped by a helper.
The alleged perpetrators worked for the World Health Organization and other United Nations organizations, including UNICEF and the International Rescue Committee. The investigation follows similar revelations at Beni, another aid center about 40 miles away, where a 2020 investigation found that 51 women were also sexually abused by aid workers.
COVID-19 tests lagging behind in Africa. As some countries on the continent, such as Angola and South Africa, appear to be heading for a new wave of COVID-19 infections, testing for the coronavirus is key to determining the extent of the resurgence. Despite efforts such as the creation of regional test centers, Africa is lagging behind at the rate of testing per day.
Global technology versus local tribe. Amazon plans to solidify its expansion into Africa with an impressive new regional headquarters in Cape Town, South Africa, where the global tech giant already has a web services hub.
The site would include 7 million square feet of office space, as well as residential space, a hotel, and a gym in a $ 283 million complex. But the marginalized First Nations in South Africa say they are the stewards of the conspiracy and that development would desecrate their ancestral lands.
Land, and who owns it, is a controversial issue in South Africa. During apartheid, the proposed Amazon site was owned by the state railroad company and was intended as a leisure resort for their white employees. It was then sold to the current developers. Years earlier, the site was the site of resistance by the indigenous Khoi to Dutch colonialism in the 17th century. Critics say the development of the 21st century is another example of the persistent inequality and legacy of colonialism in South Africa.
As a result of this story, activists from the Khoi and San ethnic groups claim to be the legal administrators of the Planned Development Area, but even among the groups there are divisions. Some have welcomed the developer's compromise with a heritage center within the complex and the promise of jobs, but another group says the complex will bring environmental and cultural destruction.
The residents 'association has written to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos' ex-wife MacKenzie Scott in hopes that it will stop the development. Amazon has not commented on the matter. On the flip side, city authorities say the biennial heritage designation has expired and has reallocated the land for commercial use in a process that consulted local traditional guides.
Somalia's president is making his case. "Why do some select elders and state leaders have to take the Somali people hostage every four years?" Somalia's President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed asks foreign policy this week.
He argues that his continued presidency is not about a person trying to hold onto power, but rather how elites have thwarted his efforts to ditch indirect elections and establish universal suffrage that could threaten their dominance.
Call on the AU to get involved in the Sahel. Prominent African intellectuals and activists Patrick Lumumba, Alioune Tine and Kumi Naidoo have issued a public letter urging the African Union to urgently appoint a senior representative for Mali and the Sahel region who will in fact lead an African response to the deepening crisis.