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?