PEV: From Event to Era III

We can learn to work and speak
when we are afraid
in the same way
we have learned to work and speak
when we are tired.
–Audre Lorde, Sister Outsider

At the end of 2008 and the beginning of 2009, I wondered if the PEV signaled the “loss of cosmopolitanism.” I also thought about its temporal irruption, its dailyness, evidenced in the still-unsettled IDPS who, as the years have passed, have been increasingly criminalized. This criminalization—they are lazy, are cheating the government, are anonymous people, not Kenyans—has been accompanied by a strategic forgetting, a making them strange, that licenses impunity. The biggest question at the time was whether the post-election violence had ushered in a new era, something “beyond” what Ngugi wa Thiong’o calls “Moi-ism,” though still tethered to the founding principles of Nyayoism: intimidation, terror, impunity.

As 2010 closes, the Kenyan parliament has chosen to support a motion to withdraw from the Rome Statute. In what seems to be too parodic to be true, this international convention established, in part, to protect citizens from their governments, has been dismissed as an imperialist plot, an attempt to rob Kenya of precious sovereignty. Parody it might be, but we would do well to recognize a powerful structure that Lisa Duggan describes. Neoliberalism, Duggan argues, “was constructed in and through cultural and identity politics and cannot be undone by a movement without constituencies and analyses that respond directly to that fact” (3). The language of anti-imperialism, so central to progressive Kenyan resistance from the 1970s through the early 2000s, has been co-opted by newly repressive forces.

Kenya must be defended.

We need to be clear about the claim that Kenya needs to be defended. It has always been complicated, avowed by progressives and their others (conservatives is not quite the word—what does one call those who inhabit impunity? Impugners? Impuniéres?).

Here, one resorts to a fable about body parts fighting each other.

If the PEV era—because we are clearly in for a long haul, despite our shiny new already-compromised Constitution—signals a new fight, and I believe it does, then we would do well to trace the contours of that fight, to understand its battles, its strategists, its aims, and, most importantly, its beneficiaries. About this last category, I cannot say much, except to indicate, without “real” evidence, that Moi’s Kenya was corrupt, but the “new era of prosperity” under Kibaki has forged more powerful alliances than could have been envisioned under Moi. It is not that there is more money, though that might be true, but that it circulates differently, creating strange bedfellows. Our “crisis economy” creates massive profits and is one of the foundations of a “new” middle class. There are massive investments in “not fixing Kenya” yet.

As might be clear in these tentative (rage-filled) speculations, while I indict the so-called political class, I am after much bigger fish: the crisis infrastructure that undergirds and directs our political imaginations and actions. Indeed, to speculate even more wildly, the impunity that we condemn in the political class rests on a massive financial foundation that supports so-called progressives and impuniéres.

The PEV era is best described as an elaborately choreographed dance between these two groups who are equally dedicated to sustaining the wealth-generating crisis business. In other words, we need IDPs. We need political crises. We need power and food crises. These “losses” and “lacks” are part of a sick big complex on which “so much depends.” And the decision to shield the ICC six is about defending this complex.

In the next few hours, if not days, conferences will be convened, meetings held, press conferences announced—the crisis-management class will profit from this “new” crisis, as they always do. Anger will be expressed over expensive luncheons. Rage will be uttered in overly-priced conference rooms. And the most eloquent at expressing their rage will forge new connections, find new backers, thrust their roots even deeper into the well-fertilized soil of crisis management.

Motive is difficult to parse, but this much can be said. With the exception of the too-obvious impuniéres, those in the crisis-management class might be driven by altruism, by a deep belief in justice. Their hearts might be safi. But they are invested in a vampiric system. To blend metaphors: frogs can only trust scorpions for so long.

It is this vampiric system of crisis management that is “new” in the PEV era. Its novelty rests less on its complete break from the Moi era which, of course, was also constituted through perpetual crises. Instead, it is the networks of alliance and exchange it has created, the vast underground roots that now join the most civic-minded idealists to the most debauched politicians.

The ICC case is no longer about the PEV, if ever it was. It is about this network and the era that supports it. Now, any good conspiracy theorist knows that systems take hits all the time. It is possible that the ICC six could be given up—were that to happen, it would not necessarily signify the “death” of the crisis network, but, rather, strategic re-routings of power and money. Some among the six will be sacrificed.

As 2010 ends, we enter into an even more intensified crisis: the decision to shield Bashir signaled the first salvo in what is an attempt to make meaningless two clauses in the new Constitution:

2: (5) The general rules of international law shall form part of the law of Kenya.
2: (6) Any treaty or convention ratified by Kenya shall form part of the law of Kenya under this Constitution.

Calls to defend Kenyan sovereignty against “imperial” and “alien” impositions seek to disembed Kenya from moral and ethical forms and norms of internationalism.

A lot is at stake right now. Much more than we realize. With this “new turn,” the PEV era has become even more monstrous.