Mixed migration and weak state structures
A review with comments of "Termites at Work: Transnational Organised Crime and State Erosion in Kenya"International Peace Institute 2011
Smuggling and trafficking; whether it be in humans, drugs, small arms or other illicit commodities including wildlife products as well as money laundering are identified as the six major types of organized crime in Kenya; Mombasa Port being a key entry and exit point for this illicit trade. However, the porous border between Kenya and its neighbouring countries of Somalia and Southern Sudan also plays a significant part as an ‘unguarded door’.
These are the bold findings of a new 2011 report by the International Peace Institute titled,"Termites at Work: Transnational Organized Crime and State Erosion in Kenya"
The report alarmingly concludes that the rise of organized crime in Kenya has reached such levels that the state no longer has the capacity to counter it, and is therefore under threat. Although on the surface the structure appears to function, the rot is inside the system where corruptionis likened to termites hollowing out the institutions of the State.Government institutions such as the police and judiciary are reportedly affected by this infestation, allowing organized crime to penetrate political institutions.
The study examines different aspects of organized crime in Kenya offering some analysis with direct relevance to mixed migration. The focus on smuggling/trafficking of persons into and through Kenya illustrates the trans-nationalnature and underground economy of these activities. The reportalleges that:
Kenya is a major regional hub of for smuggling and trafficking of migrants in East Africa especially in women and children for prostitution and other form of forced labour. It quotes a radio broadcast “Womankind Kenya” aired on Capital FM in 2009 that suggests an average of fifty girls mainly from Somalia being trafficked into Kenya every week.
Human smuggling and trafficking activities generate approximately $40 million annually – as reported by the International Organization for Migration -and are mostly co-ordinate and organized by some five to ten networks who collude with the immigration, police and high government and political figures who for a fee ‘turn a blind eye’.
United Nations staff based at the Dadaab refugee camps and some foreign embassies’ staff are also reportedly involved in the selling of refugee and third country resettlement slots and visas, facilitating onward movement of migrants from Kenya.
In stating the above, the author makes numerous references to reports in the media and by other United Nations (UN) and independent bodies.
Based on its findings, the report recommends reform and ensuring that steps are taken to restore confidence in the State and its institutions but cautions that this is likely to take some years to achieve.Further recommendations includethat information sharing and police cooperation at a regional level be strengthened citing the example of Eritrea, Sudan and Ethiopia and the impossibility of extraditing persons to neighboring countries due to lack of cooperation.
The effect of the environment of corruption, in which smugglers and other individuals operate with impunity, could potentially act as a ‘pull’ factor for migration flows into Kenya, either using it as a country of transit or a place of destination. In the same vein, the impunity fosters trafficking with the very institutions tasked with protecting victims ‘actively’ failing to do so, flouting international and national obligations and duties to uphold this fundamental human right against slavery – trafficking being a modern day version.
As regards smuggling of small arms and other illicit commodities, the report acknowledges the trans-national nature of this trade with bordering countries such as Somalia, Southern Sudan who have been plagued with protracted civil conflicts.
The scale on which corruption exists in Kenya and the levels to which it has infiltratedthe state and social system as discussed in ‘Termites at Work’ is corroborated by numerous other independent studies, investigations, institutional and media reports portrays an endemic picture with merely ‘air brushing’ attempts to check this disease. International reports such as the Kroll report (2004), details from Wikileaks (2011), and the exposure of embezzlement scandals involving government and public figures were detailed in Michela’s Wrong’s 2009‘It’s Our Time to Eat’ – a book based on the revelations of Kenyan Whistleblower and former czar of anti-corruption, John Githongo.
It is clear that trust in the system,by Kenyans themselves,has also been badly eroded. According to Transparency International corruption index 2011, 56.8% of Kenyans believing that the country is extremely corrupt with the police reported to be the most corrupt state intuition for the tenth year running (67% chance of having to pay a bribe) and the immigration department coming in sixth place (Aggregate Index).
Although the “Termites at Work” report focuses on Kenya, corruption and venality in public office (alongside capacity challenges) is recognized to be major governance challenge throughout the region. With reference to the movement of mixed migration it is clear that immigration officials, border and coast guards, police, prison officials, other local authorities including the judiciary are often found to be involved in different aspects of human smuggling and trafficking in East Africa and the Horn. To some extent their collusion with smugglers and traffickers, and lack of capacity to eliminate these activities, means the state becomes an important lubricant or facilitator of the irregular and illegal movement of migrants. But weak state implementation of refugee laws, immigration policy or prosecution of violations mean migrants operate in an environment of extra-legal opportunity (rules can be bent, officials may be bribed etc) but it also means there is restricted space for their human rights to be upheld. As long as the state is weak or corruptible, migrants, whether economic or forced, face a more precarious, arbitrary and uncertain future in the region.
 RMMS would question the voracity of this estimate. Other agencies working with commercial sex workers in Nairobi and along the coast have not indicated such high numbers of trafficked Somali women. Most trafficking related to the sex industry appears to be internal trafficking.
This estimate is based on the potential value of the smuggling business as estimated in 2008 from Nairobi to South Africa, ‘masterminded’ by smuggling gangs based out of Nairobi.
RMMS notes that while scandals involving embassies and visa issuing authorities happens periodically, the major scandal involving UNHCR referred to here actually happened in 2000 and repeated violations have not been reported since. Refugees themselves, reportedly,sometimes sell their ‘slots’ to other asylum seekers or assume false identities etc.