W(h)ither Kenyan Internationalism?

In November, the Kenyan government opposed a UN motion that sought to classify the execution of homosexuals as a human rights violation; in a subsequent vote, Kenya chose to “abstain”; and “breaking news” announces that parliament has approved a motion “to repeal [the] International Crimes Act and ask the government to withdraw Kenya from the Rome Statute.”

What is happening to Kenyan internationalism?

A friend sent me a paper written for a Kenyan publication that boldly announced that human rights conventions that emanate from global spaces beyond Kenya’s borders are “alien impositions.” I had a flashback to Moi’s many speeches condemning Amnesty International in the 1980s and early 1990s, those horrible internationalists who supported Kenyan dissidents.

Whither Kenyan internationalism?

All this at a point when new provisions in the Constitution make internationalism newly available as a category of thought: we have yet to understand how dual citizenship will modify Kenyan-ness as it is now experienced. And we have yet to theorize in any sustained way how new modes of technology are reshaping forms and practices of belonging, even as it is clear that something significant is happening when Kenyan grandmothers sent text messages as frequently as Kenyan teenagers. Something is changing. Something is happening. Something exciting.

I join, here, the vote against homosexual rights and the motion to withdraw from the Rome Statute to suggest that we need to think about both of these as key moments in Kenyan internationalism. The first rejects not simply the notion of “homosexual rights,” but the notion that a global human rights framework can expand; the second more emphatically and decidedly refuses to accept the notion that “crimes against humanity” can and should apply within the Kenyan space.

These two “actions” hinge on the question of “the human” and the relationship between the national and international in defining “the human.” The vote against recognizing homosexual execution as a human rights violation upholds the dehumanization of the homosexual. The homosexual is not yet human enough to merit protection. Homosexuality, whether understood as identity or condition, cannot be defended, so Kenya says. The vote to withdraw from the Rome Statute extends Kenya’s refusal to recognize the global as an appropriate stage to define and defend notions of the human.

Let me be very clear about this: the ICC has never been understood as the solution to problems arising from the PEV. It has always been understood as a first step, as something partial and inadequate. But it was a step that demonstrated some movement after parliament refused to establish a local tribunal. The ICC was invoked because parliament failed to act in time.

It might be, as some have argued, that a local tribunal is the best solution. It might be that we do have the legal minds and wills to investigate and try those responsible for the PEV. But those who have tried to investigate have been blocked at every turn, their accounts dismissed as partial fabrications.

In choosing to withdraw from the Rome Statute, parliament has not only indicated its willingness to shield impunity, no matter the cost to citizens, but it has also, more radically, indicated that it chooses not to be bound to any definition of human rights. The case cannot be over-stated. Already, in the Kibaki era, human rights violations have continued in numerous ways. This official move by parliament begins to license many other human rights violations, as Kenya seems all-too willing to withdraw from international conventions that hold it accountable.

W(h)ither Kenyan internationalism?

5 thoughts on “W(h)ither Kenyan Internationalism?

  1. Wow! Interesting. I will be reading more of this blog!!

    In response to what you wrote, I’d say whither africa. This is just another symptom of something larger. It’s not just Kenya is it. There are places throughout Africa struggling. Still shaking off colonial and post colonial legacies, both cultural and economic, and political. It seems like this is another example of an African country in the middle of a struggle to define what it believes in, and how it will move forward in the world but really still shrugging off the legacy of colonialism….all these years later.

    but then what would i know about africa.

  2. Andrea, thanks for visiting. As you say, what is happening is not simply about Kenya. “Internationalism” is a problem for many countries–the U.S., for instance, is not a party to the Rome Statute. And while, in general, I tend to agree that we cannot overlook the long legacy of colonialism, in this case that seems like too handy an excuse for what is self-protective cronyism. This is a moral and ethical failure anchored in the politics of greed and impunity. This is the day that the curtain was pulled back on Kenya’s government, and the wizard was revealed to be naked and petty and mean.

    • I just wonder though, in Kenya’s case whether the greed and impunity, as exists in other post colonial places, would be such an issue as it is now, if colonialism and post colonial years after that had played out differently.

      As for it being an excuse – that is the problem. It is still used as you say as a handy excuse. At some point countries must stand up and stop making excuses.

      Like abused children, at some point they must grow up. They will either grow up to be responsible and compassionate adults, or they will grow up to be abusers themselves.

      * For the record I am not implying that countries were children under colonialism to be groomed into adulthood, just making reference to the culture of abuse. We see the same problem with israel….with ethics and morality thrown out the window, and the culture of abuse.

  3. Kenya moved from ‘no’ to ‘abstention’ in a new vote to re-insert sexual orientation into the resolution. On the ICC issue, the vote was endosed and enacted by MPs allied to the KKK alliance who have a lot to lose if crucial pillar Uhuru and Ruto face trial in the Hague. While Kenya’s foreign policy/internationalism is a point of concern, the ICC pullout cannot go un-fixed with the ethnicity-endorsing nationalism being manufactured by our leaders and being pedalled en masse to society.

  4. Kenne, I’ll correct that. I was looking at the November 22 vote. Mixture of emails being sent late and not on time. While I agree that this vote may be part of the alliance, I worry about a kind of finger-pointing that misses the forest for the trees. Alliances are a problem, but as I try to suggest in my more recent post, we need to think more expansively about those alliances.

    Andrea, for me the Kenyan case is about the expansion of impunity in structural ways and what this means for the progress that has been made. When the new Constitution was passed, many of us worried about how it would be implemented and how its provisions would be enacted in a country without political will. This move to withdraw from the ICC offers one clue about the Constitution–it joins up with other actions over the past few months that suggest we are in a prolonged period of constitutional crisis.

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