I tend not to like the question “what went wrong?” It sends out a tendril of hope to the past with the expectation that said tendril will return as a fully-formed plan(t), a manifesto for the future. It also assumes, as several recent reports claim, that the “wrong” I occupy is the same “wrong” you occupy, or even that we both occupy “wrongs,” ignoring the possibility that some might be reveling in a “right” or be irritated by the “merely inconvenient.”

I am not interested, here, in mapping out gradations of how different citizens are experiencing the crisis, some as ghosts others, like myself, as virtual bodies. Nor am I interested in registering hurt, pain, loss, disappointment, or disillusionment. Others have done so far more effectively.

I am interesting in considering the complex question of what it means to be an agential citizenry. And I am interested in registering a sense of what, following Lauren Berlant, might be termed “stuckness.”

I will confess that “stuckness” describes, first and foremost, my inability to write and, perhaps worse, the absence of any desire to do so. But, for now, I will attempt to defer the psychic negotiations of the present.

Thanks to Mutumia (one of my favorite bad influences) I can’t get rid of the image of a Datsun stuck in the mud. I will confess that this is one of my “nostalgic” images of Kenya: a country where the drivers get stuck in the mud while pedestrians gawk, walk on by, or deign to help.

I have been thinking of “stuckness” as I read bloggers get entrenched in their positions—I make no distinctions here between political positions; as I read essays and blog posts from different constituencies that seem to repeat the same facts, use the same syntax, even have the same tone. This is not a simple matter of plagiarism, but a symptom of “stuckness.”

It is a particular stuckness in which, seemingly, there are no helpful pedestrians around, only people wanting to climb out of the mud and into the Datsun (let’s “move on,” “get beyond,” “go back to normal”). And the wheels spin frantically. We are all pretty sure that the driver, whose face, for some reason, remains hidden, “bought” his license. Still we pile on, hoping that the Datsun will fulfill its national promise. Kenya is my country, Datsun is my car.

To register stuckness through the metaphor of the Datsun, is also to say that the roads were never constructed, the river never dammed, and erosion never halted. We might also say the fields have not been fertilized, the farmers have not been paid, and the harvest rots in the granaries. More patient minds than mine can parse this.

I detect “stuckness” in frantic, even manic, turns toward this negotiator and that; in the continuation of hate speech via blogs and text messages; in our invocations of pasts that have never been, or have been occupied unevenly. Perhaps under VOK we were once one, but that supposed unity fractured a long time ago.

I think what is interesting, and simultaneously disabling, is how stuckness responds to revelation (assuming conditions respond). One would hope—I certainly do in my increasingly few utopic moments—that revelations about the past and the present, about electoral procedure and possible misconduct, would enable us to take different positions, would, somehow, cause a shift that might enable the Datsun to start moving (I will admit here, I take the car metaphor from Binyavanga, who uses it far more eloquently and to better purpose than I can muster). Yet, somehow, the shame-laced bravado of our strutting male leaders (we cannot and must not forget about the stakes of masculinity in all this) makes such re-thinking impossible.

To continue with the metaphor: each new revelation seems to be yet another weight added to the Datsun, another deepening of entrenchment, and the wheels spin frantically.

There is also another kind of stuckness in terms of what I have termed an agential citizenry. In a long-ago post (too lazy to search and link), I had mentioned that my legacy from the Moi years was a profound impotence, an inability to feel that I had or would ever have a voice or opinion that mattered. We are, I think, still laboring under this legacy, to the extent that we tie our political futures and identities to certain leaders who, quite often, do not have our best interests at heart. Justice has no other proper name. Neither does equality. But somehow, one could say because of a long process of acculturation, we seem to believe, too much, in the power of synonyms and less so in our own (impoverished) agency.

Put another way, we seem to believe that we can exercise our agency only through specific “anointed” leaders, leaders for whom we are willing to fracture the relationships we have spent lifetimes cultivating. Instead of looking to them to “save us” or give our choices validity, we might question our reliance on them as the only proxies for our desires. This, it seems to me, is one of the most tragic manifestations of our stuckness.

2 thoughts on “stuckness

  1. Oh dear. I’m getting goose bumps. Well put!
    “my legacy from the Moi years was a profound impotence, an inability to feel that I had or would ever have a voice or opinion that mattered. We are, I think, still laboring under this legacy, to the extent that we tie our political futures and identities to certain leaders who, quite often, do not have our best interests at heart.”

    This IS precisely what majority of Kenyans with a voice are suffering from at this time. We’re not looking outside the box and those two cockroaches MK and RO definitley dont want us to. The consensus is that, “well we voted and did our bit, now the leaders have to battle it out in our sitting rooms”, disrupting our lives and causing untold mayhem in the process. We dont have to participate in destruction demonstrations and we dont have to accept the doubtful results of the elections. All Kenyans can peacefully demand for a re-election regardless of who it is we are supporting. There is however no-one in power voicing this option because it empowers the people to demand something of their politicians. If we can figure out how to peacefully enforce our will with regards to the elections then we can definitely keep our politicians in check.

    Truth be told, Kenyans have forgotten what real leaders look like. Anyone exhibiting true leadership qualities in the Kenyans political history has been silenced in one way or another. We need a real leader…the likes of Tom Mboya and such. That’s what I’m praying for in these troubled times.

  2. In his book “Blind Faith: The Unholy Alliance of Religion and Medicine” Richard P. Sloan speaks on how it has become popular to believe that prayer can heal the sick and that attending religious services regularly can extend one’s life. But there is no evidence for a link between religion and health. He argues that the evidence is based on anecdotes rather than systematic data collection. For Sloan, attempts to connect religion and medicine can jeopardize patients’ lives by giving false hope.

    I see great parallels in our faith and hope in both the PNU and the ODM to deliver us to our share of the “national cake”. Like religion there is no empirical data to link the head of state and the overall well being of his tribe or the tribes that support him/her, using the general well being indicators of economic and social well being.

    The stickiness of this idea “our time to eat” in my opinion has been the failure of the modern state in Kenya to address the RATIONAL desires and aspirations of their citizens. The absence of an alternative and the high dividends the de-facto positions accords our elites ensures that it remains alive and well. Basically, it’s a recursive function that calls on its self and feeds its self getting stronger in the process. Like religion in Sloan case it gives the believer false hopes and in the absence of an alternative only strengthens the believers will and faith.

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