Fear & Stuckness

I dream of your freedom
as my victory
– Audre Lorde, “For Assata”

The peculiar insistence that Kenyans move on diagnoses a state of stuckness, a leaning in and now digging into as trained dispositions return and words and actions we once thought banished recur with force and vigor. “Move on” also has a peculiar globalizing history, as a phrase associated with police procedurals: “move on, there’s nothing to see here.” Nothing to see, a demand that eyes be averted, minds be engaged elsewhere, the “here” made into the “not-here.” One notes the not-here to which we are directed: Vision2030, the glittering city on the hill, incarnated, partially, as the Konza Techno City, which will “create” and “provide” and “innovate” and “transform.”

Move on. Nothing to see “here.”

What would it mean to see “here”? This “here” is especially interesting given that the newly released TJRC report only goes up to 2008. Writing in the Nation, Kwendo Opanga warns,

My concern is that the possibility exists that if the truth is not handled properly it could become a monster that would burden and haunt us with the ghosts of the past forever or, worse, turn the present into a hell that consumes us all. We must be careful as a country not to expend a substantial part of our time and resources on excavating the past to the detriment of building the future.

Following Opanga’s logic, dwelling in the past might take up too much energy, even as remaining in this “here” seems impossible. We must be future-directed, but, curiously, in a way that does not account for the past or the present. How does one “move on” from a past deemed too impossible to encounter and from a present considered too impossible to inhabit?

As I keep thinking about these temporalities we are being told not to encounter, not to think about, not to act on, I’m struck by the rhetoric and experience of fear. Many accounts suggest that Kenyans voted as they did because they were “afraid” Kenya might not survive the elections. The banning of Shackles of Doom suggested that Ministry of Education officials were afraid that “certain communities,” might be upset by being depicted in unflattering ways. Euphemism is also about fear. The mysterious deaths of Saitoti and Kilonzo, powerful men, have ratcheted up fears that no one is safe. The word “disappeared” has returned with acute force. Ongoing efforts to silence activists on social media—on twitter and Facebook—have stifled possibilities for robust political engagements. And now, we who write monitor our words and sentences, afraid of ever-watching power and of each other.

Locked in our dark, unspoken, airless fears, we are urged to move on from a “here” that we are not allowed to acknowledge exists to a future blueprinted in “innovation” and “transformation.”

How does one move on from a not-here?

One symptom of our fear—and it must be called fear—is a persistent claim that we are “amnesiac” or “apathetic” or “indifferent.” This claim has been repeated with such force and persistence for so long that it now circulates as a kind of common sense.1 Kenyans are “amnesiac.” Kenyans “move on.” Kenyans are “apathetic.” The persistence of the repetition suggests that it can also be read as a symptom: who are these Kenyans who are “amnesiac”? Who are these Kenyans who have forgotten? Who are these Kenyans who are apathetic? Before names are named and fingers pointed, it might be worth thinking about how silence in public means.

Rather than ask why Kenyans are amnesiac, we might ask: what is said in public? What is not said in public? What might be said in private? How do we read those micro-confessions: “I can talk to you because you are not like the rest of them.” Where is talking happening? Where is silence happening? What are the conditions that permit talking and silence?

It might well be that many people are “amnesiac” and “apathetic,” but those claims can also be scrutinized for what they might miss about the shaping of publics and the circulation of sentiment. Where do we feel safe and with whom? How is that “we” shaped and fractured by our feelings of safety and danger, by our convictions of where we will be heard and not heard? How do we deal with what Audre Lorde describes as “the weight of hearing”?2

What would it mean to feel hearing? To encounter the selves and histories and presents given to us from within our fractures and secrets?

What is it to re-encounter fear as a condition of living and working? What is it to embrace familiar, if unused, dispositions and habits to manage such fear? To become exhausted by anger and rage? To worry about the fragility of coalition? To sustain hope in what feel like the ephemeralities of talking and writing and thinking? To build affective capacities for dwelling in a “here” that is “not-here”?

What is it to make demands on each other? What kind of demands can be made? What demands can be made in a climate dominated by fear? What demands placed on our time, our loyalties, our obligations, our fractured collectivities? What is it to know, also, that our silence will not protect us?

Lorde’s much-cited statement that silence will not protect us has been taken as a call for confession, a call to speak out. it’s also about the damage silence creates for collectivities and coalitions, about simmering, unspoken rage and envy, about living and working with people we cannot trust want freedom for all of us in the same way. It is about the fragility of an “us” sustained by a damaging silence. It’s about the risk of trying to be “together,” of building toward an us.

Loving in the war years
calls for this kind of risking
– Cherríe Moraga, “Loving in the War Years”


1. But, as Kara Keeling asks, “How can subaltern common senses that elude consent to domination and exploitation, that create an alternative to existing power relations be crafted?” (The Witches Flight: The Cinematic, the Black Femme, and the Image of Common Sense [Durham: Duke University Press, 2007], Kindle Edition).
2. Audre Lorde, “Outlines,” in Our Dead Behind Us (New York: W.W. Norton, 1986), 10.

dissent:censor

First, Rancière:

Politics is first of all a way of framing, among sensory data, a specific sphere of experience. It is a partition of the sensible, of the visible and the sayable, which allows (or does not allow) some specific data to appear; which allows or does not allow some specific subjects to designate them and speak about them. It is a specific intertwining of ways of being, ways of doing and ways of speaking. (Dissensus)

Second, Kenyan Drama:
Citing concerns over the threat of “hate speech,” Ministry of Education officials have banned Butere School Girls from performing a play at the National Drama Festival. The play, “Shackles of Doom,” addresses economic inequality and nepotism. Adjudicators who evaluated the play claimed the “script” should “use more imagery, allegory and metaphor to achieve some persuasion other than be intrusive.” Ministry of Education officials suggest “Art” should not be “Activist.”

Third: Context
In African Writes Back to Self, Professor Evan Mwangi of Northwestern University describes how East African writers have used innovative formal techniques—he focuses on “metafictional” strategies—to produce political art under repressive regimes. Professor Mwangi is interested in how those not permitted to write openly develop formal tactics to critique repression. I doubt that Professor Mwangi would go this far, but one might suggest that the demand by Ministry of Education officials that plays should have “more” art(ifice) and should not be “intrusive,” recognizes a shift in the political climate.

A “paranoid” reading might suggest that we are now in a “new” age of repression. An equally “paranoid” reading might suggest we need to pay attention to sites of pedagogy as places where specific forms of discipline are produced, specific types of bodies created, and specific modes of subjection perfected.

Fourth: Small Events
Tea leaves are very small. It seems silly to read tea leaves. We are past superstition and in a new age of facts. Big data. Even though Kenya’s electronic systems are notoriously unreliable. To read the Ministry of Education officials’ actions as anything other than a small event, something idiosyncratic rather than representative, seems very silly. Small events needs not signal anything significant. My training in literary studies does not help, precisely because I am trained to read for the small. As Eve Sedgwick notes, literary critics are trained to be paranoid readers: we see “insidious intent” everywhere.

Small events might be small events. Not all butterflies create typhoons.

Fifth: Discipline
The most powerful censorship is never explicit. Discipline, Foucault teaches me, is about producing habits and dispositions, knowing when and how to act and move and speak as though by instinct. Knowing, as well, when not to act and move and speak. Discipline is knowing when to be silent before silence is demanded.

Sixth: Precarity

Precarity is the embodied experience of the ambivalences of immaterial productivity in advanced post-Fordism. The embodied experience of precarity is characterised by: (a) vulnerability: the steadily experience of flexibility without any form of protection; (b) hyperactivity: the imperative to accommodate constant availability; (c) simultaneity: the ability to handle at the same the different tempi and velocities of multiple activities; (d) recombination: the crossings between various networks, social spaces, and available resources; (e) postsexuality: the other as dildo; (f) fluid intimacies: the bodily production of indeterminate gender relations; (g) restlessness: being exposed to and trying to cope with the overabundance of communication, cooperation and interactivity; (h) unsettledness: the continuous experience of mobility across different spaces and timelines; (i) affective exhaustion: emotional exploitation, or, emotion as an important element for the control of employability and multiple dependencies; (j) cunning: able to be deceitful, persistent, opportunistic, a trickster.
—Vassilis Tsianos & Dimitris Papadopoulos

Seventh: Dissent
I grew up in a country where dissent was criminalized. Silence was not a habit. Whispering was. Whispered fear. Whispered rage. Whispered promises. Whispered desires. Whispered dissent. Walls, doors, and windows could not be trusted. I knew how to feel the threat of the threat. Repression does not mind whispers. In fact, repression craves whispers and silence. Dissent was a dirty word. No. That’s not right. Dissent was impossible. No. Dissent was bad. To dissent was to un-love Kenya. To dissent was to betray our loving national father-president. We were free to love our father-president. Because the greatest love of all is the freedom to love the father-president.

Dissent: Promiscuity

Our American Now

England was rolling moss and gathering buds and saving nines, Princess Di in a long dress, and First Aid English to fix our broken tongues. BBC Shakespeare with dowdy sets and James Bond the glamor of attachment. Pictures in an album, the silence we misread as enchantment. Now, the smiles seem a little sadder. Stiff upper lips.

We are different now.

Then: the excitement of speaking English properly. To be Eliza Doolittle. The strangeness of the U.S. accent. Exotic. Kiswahili by Lionel Richie. My father said no to the U.S., convinced it was still barbaric. No fit place to acquire an education. A country squire trapped in his peasant past.

America offered amnesia, unending mobility, accumulation that was not unseemly.

We are ruder now.

Tavia Nyong’o has argued that Barack Obama is the first postcolonial president in the U.S. Uhuru Kenyatta is the first U.S.-educated president of Kenya. If, as so many writers have argued, the U.S. is the great nation founded on forgetting, president Kenyatta’s U.S.-style inauguration following a U.S.-style Bush v. Gore court case has implications for Kenyan memory-work and historical reconstruction. This is not a matter of documentation or truth, but about the urgency and importance attached to memory-work in our ongoing state of crisis. (To be “under-developed” or “developing” or “third world” is to be in a perpetual state of crisis, one intensified by the “global war on terror.”)

The almost ritual invocation of Bush v. Gore during the Supreme Court hearings on the presidential election suggests that we have entered a newly Americanized frame of reference. It marked, I think, a certain departure from the promiscuous cultural mixings we see in popular culture: the adoption of U.S. spelling by Kenyan publications, the presence of more U.S.-style eating establishments, even as our bookstores remain heavily British. Since 2003, when president Kibaki assumed office, many U.S.-trained professionals have “returned” to Kenya or have been instrumental in setting up and engaging with local institutions. One could argue this has been true since at least the late 1960s, but the invocation of Bush v. Gore during the televised Supreme Court hearing formalized a transition in how Kenya is to be thought. (We aspire to be “like” the U.S. as it has grown increasingly repressive, domestically and internationally; that requires a different writing occasion.)

I’m interested in what it means to be “like” the U.S. for memory-work. James Baldwin is my guide here.

Perhaps no country is as anxious about historical memory and memory-work as the U.S. History books are scrubbed clean, public memory denied, the thing happening at the moment described as not-happening, the known classified, the unknown classified, the previously known classified, and memory trained to anticipate the future. The now-here is to be forgotten for a tense predicated on an ever unfolding expansive future. Save room on your camera-phone for what will unfold. Erase the past if you need to. Memory is what is to happen. Memory is desire.

In “Autobiographical Notes,” Baldwin writes, “About my interests: I don’t know if I have any, unless the morbid desire to own a sixteen-millimeter camera and make experimental movies can be so classified.” An interest predicated on a not-here, not-now, anchored in a desire to own something not yet describable, something “experimental.” How to read Baldwin’s desire in this early writing?

Baldwin understands white America’s desire, a “we” he inhabits and makes thinkable and impossible:

Time has made some changes in the Negro face. Nothing has succeeded in making it exactly like our own, though the general desire seems to be to make it blank if one cannot make it white. When it has become blank, the past as thoroughly washed from the black face as it has been from ours, our guilt will be finished – at least it will have ceased to be visible, which we imagine to be much the same thing. (“Many Thousands Gone”)

Who is this writing “we”? What act of forgetting must be undertaken to blank it and accept it as “we”? I must struggle to remember the “I” who is writing the (im)possible we.

He adds,

The making of an American begins at that point where he himself rejects all other ties, any other history, and himself adopts the vesture of his adopted land. This problem has been faced by all Americans throughout our history – in a way it is our history – and it baffles the immigrant and sets on edge the second generation until today. (“Many Thousands Gone”)

Kenya’s American Now is about a relationship to history and to memory and to feeling. It is present in Vision2030, a collective vision predicated on eliminating the unsightly and the unproductive from public view and collective memory; it is present in many shiny plans to develop an educational system predicated on producing appropriate “skills” for new industries that will transform us; it is present in the current attempts to depict the ICC as an imperial invader that took over a Kenyan process and marginalized Kenyan voices; it is present in (successful) attempts to criminalize IDPs, the “welfare mothers” of Kenya; it is present in the new accents on TV that erase traces of other pasts, other affiliations; it is present in the desire for forgettability; it is there in the enforcement of that forgettability.

Kenya’s America Now is about desiring the memory of tomorrow: what is to be made and who we will be constantly overwrites the who and where we have been, those things that “hold us back in bondage.” Kenya’s America Now is being produced by our politicians, our religious leaders, our business leaders, our intellectuals, and our artists, all looking away from here-now and then-there, the Egypt we left and the desert we crossed. We are in a new land of free computes and free maternity care and free secondary education and it is bright and shiny and new and only fools would dare try to look back.

Remember Lot’s Wife.

Wailing

A man in Kisumu is wailing. He will have to be my proxy as it’s easier to write about someone else’s tears. He is not wailing because Raila Odinga lost this election. That is what a cynical, narrow view of Kenyan politics would say. He is crying because, along with all the other Kenyans who watched the proceedings of the Supreme Court, he saw compelling evidence that the elections lacked credibility. As Kethi Kilonzo argued in court, the process was flawed. Consequently, we cannot trust the results.

He remembers, I think, that the most damning claim from the Kriegler Report was that widespread rigging made it impossible to determine who had won the election. We needed this election to be credible. We needed to move on from the 2007 election by believing that our voices had been heard. That we could trust the electoral body and its processes. The IEBC might have been cleared by the Supreme Court, but they lost whatever trust we had in them. I do not trust their processes. I do not trust their results. I am not willing to entrust them with Kenya’s future.

This man is crying, also, because he believed in the Supreme Court. He believed that presented with compelling evidence that cast doubt on the credibility of the election, the justices would try to assuage our radical doubts, would try to reassure us that we could trust our electoral processes, no matter how long it took to get to the truth.

In their arguments before the court, the lawyers for Africog, of whom Kethi Kilonzo was one, argued that they were representing Wanjiku. Wanjiku represents the ordinary mwananchi, the one most vulnerable to fluctuations in power. Wanjiku is not protected by armed guards and fierce dogs and gated communities. When hell breaks loose, Wanjiku is caught in it: as the injured, the killed, the raped, the dispossessed, the disenfranchised. Wanjiku’s voice is rarely heard. And if it were, it’s not clear that it would be understood.

This man from Kisumu is Wanjiku. He saw evidence of a flawed process presented on television and wanted the court to know that he saw this evidence and he demanded an accounting. He wants the fragile faith he had invested in Kenyan institutions—the electoral body, the Supreme Court—to stay alive.

Instead, something was killed.

He was wailing—is still wailing, as long as that video clip exists—to mourn the death of something he needed to believe in: a process that made sense to him. A process that was not governed by an arcane maze of rules and processes, so arcane that Wanjiku can never negotiate it.

He is wailing because he discovered, as I did, that the law is not set up to give voice to the disenfranchised. The law is set up to follow rules.

And this is what I find most wounding.

I have no doubt that when the Supreme Court releases its judgment it will have followed all the rules. I have no doubt that it will be legally sound and might even become a famous case study for legal scholars across the world. I have no doubt that those invested in the minutiae of the law will find this case endlessly rewarding.

I simply can’t care about that.

I care because, along with many other Kenyans who followed the elections and monitored the results, I doubted the credibility of what was being announced. I care because, along with many other Kenyans who followed the case in court, I heard and saw compelling evidence that the elections were not credible. I care because, along with many other Kenyans who have invested their energy, their love, and their devotion to this country, I want to have institutions we can trust, and want to believe that after 50 years where Wanjiku has had no voice, she can finally be heard.

We wail because Wanjiku has been told what she sees, what she hears, what she feels is irrelevant. We wail because Wanjiku has been told that arcane rules trump the truth she knows. We wail because a faith we wanted to have has been decimated.

Something has died.

Public Space

Credit: William Oeri, DN, 3.30.13

Credit: William Oeri, DN, 3.30.13


On March 29, 2013, Inspector General of Kenyan Police David Kimaiyo “warned NGOs against engaging in demonstrations under the guise of practising their rights to congregate, saying they would be dealt with firmly.” Not only did he issue this warning, but he also directed how it should be understood: “This should not be construed as denial of the right to association but a precaution to ensure criminal elements do not hijack such demonstrations and engage in lawlessness.” The warning and Kimaiyo’s interpretation of it try to define how Kenyans should occupy public space, under what circumstances, and with what consequences.

If under President Daniel arap Moi the term “dissident” became a dirty word, then I would argue that two related terms have taken its place: activist and NGOs. As with dissidents, activists and NGOs are framed as being in league with “foreign” powers who “fund them” to undermine Kenyan sovereignty. Activists and NGOs are understood to threaten the “safety” of ordinary, peace-loving Kenyans, who believe in the wisdom and benevolence of elected leaders and the armed forces who protect them from “harm,” a harm that includes dangerous, violence-causing ideas.

Unlike the police who only seek to serve the common good—utumishi kwa wote—NGOs and activists attempt something more insidious. Their plans to “demonstrate” are really only a “guise” for something more disruptive, something that might open the door to “criminal elements” and risk “lawlessness.” The language slithers and coils, hinting but never saying. If, in fact, activists and NGOs have some other motive for planning demonstrations other than exercising their constitutionally guaranteed rights of association and to assemble, what is that motive? And what, in fact, is the relationship of “motive” to the right to assembly?

Section 36 of the constitution is explicit on this point:

Every person has the right, peaceably and unarmed, to assemble, to demonstrate, to picket, and to present petitions to public authorities.

Motive might be an issue if Mr. Kimaiyo could credibly demonstrate that the planned demonstrations will be violent and armed, in which case they are not protected. But Mr. Kimaiyo has no such evidence. Indeed, his claim is that “criminal elements” could “hijack” such demonstrations and cause “lawlessness.” All kinds of things “could” happen. But the right to assembly is not predicated on such speculation.

Mr. Kimaiyo is, perhaps, right to point out that his injunctions do not oppose the “right to association.” As laid out in section 35 of the Constitution, this right reads,

36. (1) Every person has the right to freedom of association, which includes the right to form, join or participate in the activities of an association of any kind.
(2) A person shall not be compelled to join an association of any kind.
(3) Any legislation that requires registration of an association of any kind shall provide that—
(a) registration may not be withheld or withdrawn unreasonably;
and
(b) there shall be a right to have a fair hearing before a registration is cancelled.

While the right of association and the right of assembly are related, they are not the same thing. Mr. Kimaiyo’s warnings might not affect the right to association, but they do affect the right to assembly.

Mr. Kimaiyo’s desire to control not only association and assembly but also interpretation are worrying. The bill of rights was crafted so that ordinary Kenyans could understand it and invoke its protections as needed. It was crafted in language that allowed shared interpretation without requiring the mediating figure of a highly trained professional. The bill of rights was designed to protect us from state excesses and state repression, both of which are part of our very recent history. In attempting to control the meaning of constitutionally granted rights, Mr. Kimaiyo wades into dangerous territory, and we who value those rights should be prepared to defend them.

This is not to say that rights are never subject to interpretation or debate: the relatively short history of legally guaranteed rights in the form of “bills of rights” or the “rights of man”—here, I’m lazily taking Lynn Hunt’s work as a convenient point of departure—illustrates that such “rights” are always subject to contestation. Such rights are never “beyond” interpretation. Yet, the claim that they are open to interpretation is really quite different from what Mr. Kimaiyo attempts when he tells us that his actions do not violate the spirit of the new constitution.

More to the point, while the day might come when we inhabit a world when potential crimes can be halted by arresting in the present those who might commit them in a possible future, that day has not yet arrived. Note, Mr. Kimaiyo does not say the NGOs and activists are themselves criminal, but that unknown, “criminal elements” might “hijack” demonstrations and create “lawlessness.” This is, actually, an absurd standard. Any situation can be hijacked: an armed gunman can choose to hold a primary school hostage. Does this mean that parents should never send their children to primary school at all because unknown things might happen?

We should be wary when repressive acts are framed as acts of care or benevolence. We do not need a paternalistic police force. Nor do we need a police force that limits how the constitution should be interpreted. Mr. Kimaiyo’s threats have no place in a Kenya that values freedom of association and freedom of assembly.

Speculations

A document issued in 2008 reads,

Recalling that the Parties have previously agreed to:

    Identify and agree on the modalities of implementation of immediate measures aimed at:

  1. Ensuring the impartial, effective and expeditious investigation of gross and systematic violations of human rights and that those found guilty are brought to justice.

And have expressed a commitment to:

  1. Identification and prosecution of perpetrators of violence, including State security agents
  2. Addressing issues of accountability and transparency

The Parties to the National Dialogue and Reconciliation, together with the Panel of Eminent African Personalities (The Panel), agree to the establishment of a Commission of Inquiry on Post-Election Violence (Commission of Inquiry).

This Commission of Inquiry will be a non-judicial body mandated (i) to investigate the facts and surrounding circumstances related to acts of violence that followed the 2007 Presidential Election, (ii) investigate the actions or omissions of State security agencies during the course of the violence, and make recommendation as necessary, and (iii) to recommend measures of a legal, political or administrative nature, as appropriate, including measures with regard to bringing to justice those persons responsible for criminal acts. The Commission of Inquiry aims to prevent any repetition of similar deeds and, in general, to eradicate impunity and promote national reconciliation in Kenya.

I believe this document helped to establish the Kriegler and Waki Commissions, though I’d have to look back at other documentation to be sure. I want to use it as a starting point to consider how we got “here.”

The here, at the moment, features two ICC indictees, Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto, who formed a coalition, ran a sophisticated election campaign, and were elected as president and vice president, respectively. While a petition before the Kenyan supreme court seeks to challenge this election, I am not inclined to believe it will be successful.

Note: I am speculating.

If we take the overall goal of forming the Commission of Inquiry, as specified in the final sentence—to prevent any repetition of similar deeds and, in general, to eradicate impunity and promote national reconciliation in Kenya—we might say that the Commission succeeded, to the extent that there has been no “repetition of similar deeds.” We will have to be generous with that “deeds”: this election opposed Uhuru and Raila, not Kibaki and Raila; while Uhuru appears to have unofficially taken over the presidency, as seen in a series of high-powered meetings, no formal, hurried swearing in has taken place; while rumors of armed militias are not absent, there are no stories of widespread ethnocidal violence directly resulting from this election or within this election period; while messages of ethnic-based violence are not absent, there are no (or few?) reported incidents of ethnocidal violence stemming directly from that violence, which does not mean it is not happening, but silence is another issue; perhaps most crucially, the two principals in this particular election cycle have not holed themselves up in bunkers, watching us kill each other, as they sulk and plan; likewise, Kenyans are not calling to them to “save us” from ourselves, at least I don’t think so. This is not 2007-2008.

It is not clear that something called “national reconciliation” has been achieved, though the extended vote tallying produced a sense of national exhaustion. We wanted it to end, regardless of how it ended. We were united in our affective exhaustion, our strained nerves, our jumpiness. A “we” emerged at the scene of the national marked by profound anxiety and restlessness. One might speak of an affect-nation.

I would like to proliferate the stories around this election, the narratives of how we got “here,” because I’m wary of single explanations. My understanding is partial, and I welcome further additions and complications. I’ll be very schematic.

1. This election had something to do with ethnic coalitions and ethnic fractures:

    It would be foolish to deny that this election was about strategic ethnic alliances, both at the level of those competing for office and, just as importantly, at the level of those voting. I leave it to others to parse in greater detail how voting patterns can be read, but I’m very interested in what happened at the Coast and in Western, and in a few other places where notions of election principals and major parties were challenged in intriguing ways.

2. This election had something to do with generational politics:

    Uhuru’s campaign was sleek and young. His St. Mary’s accent, his cosmopolitan polish, his ability to switch registers, from “deep” Gikuyu to flawless English, his ability to embody Vision 2030, played well, I suspect with voters who heard, in his accents, a vision of the future. His youth gestured toward Obama’s youth, for better or worse. Given that Kenya’s political and development language is so anchored in the youth, I think Uhuru embodied something, some kind of generational change that Raila simply could not.

3. This election had to do with a public, rhetorical shift away from the PEV to the ICC:

    Since 2008, those victims of the post-election violence, the dead and the displaced, have been increasingly marginalized within political discourse. Accusations have been leveled that opportunists are masquerading as IDPs, the more developmental minded have castigated IDPs as waiting for handouts, and those bound to Vision 2030 and its amnesiac foundations have urged IDPs to move on. Not to mention, the philanthropy directed toward IDPs by politicians and social groups has enabled us to group them as those who need philanthropy, a grouping that voids the specificity of how they came to be IDPs. This assault on the notion of the IDP has been accompanied by a shift in emphasis: whereas the Commission of Inquiry was set up to pursue justice for IDPs, the shift to the ICC as the site of justice has highlighted the “problem” of sovereignty.

    Should Kenyans be judged by “foreign” bodies?

    Deep memories of colonialism have been invoked as have been ongoing, if unspoken, resentments about the presence of exploitative and often racist foreigners in Kenya. My own rather nasty encounters with racist whites in Kenya make me froth at the mouth at the thought that similar people might judge black Kenyans. The politics of race and nation have complicated questions of justice: the necessary question of whether African countries are targeted by the ICC quickly supplanted the question of justice for PEV victims. Let me tread carefully: this supplanting is not an accident. Human agents directed thinking in this particular direction.

4. This election had something to do with political dynasties:

    To be honest, I’m not sure how to think about political dynasties. I’m interested in the tangles of loyalties and allegiances created over generations through all kinds of political and economic deals: Uhuru and Raila have vast resources and networks, complex lattice structures of support. Practically, I don’t think dynasties have anything to do with love and have everything to do with mutual obligations. But we’d need to trace the deep structures of obligation—affective, economic, political, cultural, intimate, intellectual—that make Uhuru and Raila privileged dynastic figures.

5. This election had something to do with fear and anxiety:

    We are scared of each other. Scared of how to deal with other. The humanist in me wants to say it’s because we have not been trained in how to think about reasoned debate and the use of passion in such debate. I must confess, I find many discussions with Kenyan thinkers simply exhausting, a game of “I know better.” I simply concede and move on to something else. It has something to do with an educational system rooted in test culture that rewards zero-sum competition. It breeds a particular mindset, a particular set of strategies that refuse intellectual generosity. It might seem like a leap to suggest that our test culture produces an affective orientation that marked these elections, but I want to hold on to the leap.

6. This election had something to do with optimism and faith:

    So many of us wanted to believe that if we set up the right procedures, purchased the right equipment, had the right number of observers, showed up and kept the peace, then things would work out. Frankly, I would rather have optimism and faith instead of resignation and apathy. Election day was filled with news of long lines, of waiting and voting, of pride in taking part in a process. It was a day of optimism and faith.

7.This election had something to do with greed and corruption:

    The massive expansion of bureaucracy created by the new constitution has created multiple new opportunities for power to be amassed and distributed. The simple fact of moving from 8 provinces to 47 counties has multiplied how power will be used, by whom, and for what purposes.

8. This election had something to do with profound gender anxieties:

    The 2/3 clause in the constitution that was supposed to guarantee women form at least 1/3 of all governing structures created massive anxieties around gender: claims that undeserving women were taking over proliferated, as did unrelenting misogyny and sexism.

9. This election had something to do with power:

    With its allocation, its distribution, its concentration, its dissemination, its force, and its deployment.

10. This election had something to do with the war on terror:

    More precisely, this election had something to with the normalization of securitization. It had to do with believing we need to be monitored because we cannot control ourselves. Binyavanga ends One Day, “We fail to trust that we knew ourselves to be possible from the beginning.” We failed to trust and we believed that the strategies developed to fight terror would control our “bad” impulses and guarantee “peace.”

All of these factors, and others, were in play over the long life of this election, a life that, I think, really started in 2008.

I should emphasize that this list is partial and speculative: different factors assumed different intensities and combined differently with other factors at disparate times. And it might be that the intensification of some factors depended on rejecting or contradicting others. Again, I don’t have all (or any) of this worked out, but I’m hoping that the stories we tell can attempt to grasp the complexities of writing a still unfolding present.

peace:militarization

If one browses #kenyadecides on twitter, one soon comes across photographs of military personnel driving fancy looking vehicles across Kenya, or at least Nairobi, accompanied by approving comments from the twitterati. Television coverage has emphasized, repeatedly, that over 90,000 military people have been “deployed” across the country to guarantee “peace.” Were we living in a different time, a less militarized time, a time when militarization was not considered part of everyday life, these images of military personnel deployed across the country might traffic under a different name: military coup, state repression, dictatorship.

Now, we call it “peace,” “security,” “necessary.”

Jomo Kenyatta’s short story, “Gentlemen of the Jungle,” ends with a man trapping repressive animals inside a hut, setting the hut on fire, watching them die, and then uttering, “Peace is costly, but it’s worth the expense.” Now, I can’t read this story without thinking of the men, women, and children set ablaze in a church in Kiambaa in 2008 during the post-election violence. I have to think about this killing act and to ask about the cost of “peace.”

Kenyans have been praised for their “order” and “restraint” and control during this election, but how could it be otherwise with such a heavy military presence? How could it be otherwise when the much-proclaimed “peace” is enabled by militarization? The militarization of everyday life tells us, should tell us, that this is not a peaceful election. This is an election conducted under conditions of ongoing war. That we cannot recognize this, that we dare not recognize this, should surely give us pause.

How have we so normalized militarization that we consider it essential to everyday life?

Here is what I wrote in 2011, when I was in Nairobi:

I remain interested in how the fact of being at war lodges itself in the quotidian: in the forms of freedom and practices of bodily integrity we have given up so readily and in the forms of surveillance that we now practice on each other.

Indeed, for all our declarations of “never again” after the PEV, we continue to inhabit its logic and practices of violence.

I asked,

What might it mean to share the banality of war as the basis for sociality?

And I noted,

I blunder into cobweb filaments, the sticky demands of then folded into emerging cavities of now. Time looms. Other intimacies suffuse once-familiar spaces.

Now, NTV is screening footage of a slightly rowdy voting crowd, understandable given long lines. I hear guns going off to “maintain order.” The guns going off elicit no comment. Because they are to maintain order.

How is the militarization of everyday life not a form of quotidian violence?

Can we distinguish between the militarization “required” to maintain peace during elections and that required to “maintain peace” in non-election years?

In 2011, I noticed the militarization of everyday life because of the war with Somalia—presumably, the war against Al-Shabaab. Because of my time in the U.S., because I had witnessed militarization become banal under ongoing war regimes, I worried that the same thing would happen in Kenya. I worried that militarization would be considered necessary. Now, it has been named as the condition of peace. Indeed, it has been named as “peace.”

There is NO commentary on any Kenyan site I have seen that discusses the militarization of this election. I have been corrected on twitter that Kenya has deployed “security,” not “military,” personnel. I’m honestly not smart enough to tell the difference. I heard gunshots on an NTV report. I have seen men in uniform controlling voters. I have seen a nation or at least a national media celebrate the militarization of the election. It would be a mistake to believe that the militarization of peace can be restricted to this election period. And the consequences of that understanding for Kenya should give us pause.

They frighten me.