Kenya recently celebrated the one-year anniversary of promulgating a new constitution. It is a strange thing to celebrate the one-year anniversary of a “word” or “act” that few of us can pronounce. And an even stranger thing, I thought, to say that what had been achieved was what had been fought for—that the promulgated constitution represented our best interests and thinking. It is, I am constantly told, the “most progressive” constitution in Africa. The readiness with which this mantra is repeated is, I think, a symptom of something else. As though enough repetitions will enact something, as though the constitution is a performative of the “I now pronounce you man and wife” type rather than an ongoing promissory note for a debt that we barely understand.
Over the past few years, I have been collecting documents from Kenya’s left, this inspired, in part, by Andia Kisia’s truly important essay on the Kenyan left in Kwani?. As I read these documents, I think about the distance between what might be called the revolutionary-nationalist imagination they represent and what I have taken to calling the development imaginary. (Rasna Warah’s important anthology maps some features of the development imaginary, as does her recent column. A friend and I are working toward describing this development imaginary—in Kenya, it leads to Vision 2030.)
Take, for instance, these goals from the UKENYA Manifesto (1987) (taken from different sections):
1. The development of a national economy free from foreign domination and which is geared first and foremost to meeting the needs of Kenyan people.
2. The development of a truly national industrial base which will lead to self sufficiency and cater for local needs instead of the present situation where our industries are mere extensions of Western transnationals. We shall struggle for an integrated economy where industry and agriculture will support one another. For instance, food production to meet the needs of all Kenyans must be our priority in land usage and planning.
3. The right of workers to gainful employment and the right of workers to a fair return for their labour. Therefore we support the workers’ struggle for higher wages, decent housing, adequate medical care, education and other basic social necessities. We support the workers in their struggle for the right to strike and picket, and for their right to engage in any forms of political struggle necessary to achieve the above and to liberate their labour from internal and external exploitation.
4. The right of peasants, pastoralists, and fisherpeople to own adequate and productive land and other natural resources and to a fair return for their produce. We therefore reject the present situation whereby the most productive land and other resources are concentrated in the hands of a few big landowners, both Kenyan and foreign.
7. The dismantling of the present military and armed police system used for the maintenance of neo-colonial structures, for the defence of the propertied few, and against the majority of the people. We believe in the creation of a genuine People’s Defence Force.
5. The development of a national democratic culture rooted in our traditions of struggle and resistance to oppression and foreign domination. We support all patriotic movements in the areas of creative and performing arts, for instance in theatre, music, and literature.
1. The immediate removal of all USA military facilities and all other foreign military presence from our soil. We reaffirm the sanctity of Kenya’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
3. The realignment of Kenya’s international links so as to establish and strengthen our support and solidarity with [other] liberation movements.
Of course, in the more than twenty years since this Manifesto was written dreams have changed, but we remain in thrall to many of the forces UKENYA wrote against. And while measures taken since 2003 have addressed some of UKENYA’s concerns—we now have free primary education, for instance, even as the curriculum continues to mute the importance of radical thought and action—we remain far from achieving what the Manifesto envisioned.
The more general point is that all the rhetoric of “mission accomplished” that accompanied the anniversary of the promulgation relied on many erasures of many alternative visions for Kenya. The repeated mantras of “most progressive constitution” name, in some way, these erasures.
Thinking about anniversaries: who was the first person killed during the PEV?
What was this person’s name? Favorite color? Favorite food? Dreams and hopes? What anniversaries might this person have been celebrating this year?
I know that over 1,000 people died and many thousands more remain displaced.
How did the first person die? Was it a panga? Fire? A bullet? An arrow? Stoning? A mob attack?
Even though many official and non-official documents discuss the PEV and even though it has become our 9/11—the threat used to control us, to stifle dissent, to advocate “reform” rather than “revolution”—it has also been one of our most powerful sites of un-remembering. A sustained campaign over the past few years has criminalized internally displaced Kenyans, who are now understood as stains on our democracy, parasites on the Kenyans who actually work and have their shit together. For many of us, the PEV is an occasion to discuss politics as usual—which politicians will run for president, hold office, promote corruption?
Kenya’s new Big Brother Reality TV: Who Will Go Down?
The question of “Who Will Go Down” depends on forgetting the first person who died during the PEV.
Someone already went down. First. And then someone else. And then someone else. And then someone else. And then someone else. And they kept going down. While our official records tell us that “sanity” was restored when a peace accord was signed, Kenya remains uneasy, manic in its intensity, too intent on un-remembering.
Articles are being written on the Hague Spectacle. They talk about “tough judges” and “eloquent lawyers” and “teary defendants” and “countries on trial” and “masterminds” and “collaborators” and “foot soldiers” and “secret meetings.”
I know these things must be said. I know that law courts have rules and procedures. I know that what I perceive to be “urgencies” and “necessities” have no legal standing. I know these things.
I want to know the name of the first person who died in the PEV.
Before we get to competing eloquences, I’d like the names of the named and the unnamed dead to be read, one after the other, slowly. Carefully. I’d like their ghosts to materialize. For us to remember, no matter how briefly, that their lives mattered and that their deaths matter.