War as “Viagla”

We inhabit a moment of profound gender anxieties in Kenya: the 2/3 gender rule in the constitution has produced discomfitures; our Chief Justice sports an earring and has a record of supporting queer and trans activism; 6 leading Kenyan men representing such robust male institutions as the Ministry of Finance, the Kenya Police, the Civil Service, and Kenyan Politics as Male Spectacle in general have been rendered vulnerable by the ICC court; and daily our media is flooded with stories of Kenyan cougars and cheating wives and wives who beat their husbands.

Kenyan men are cowering.

But. Not. For. Long.

Enter WAR!

Listen to Mutuma Mathiu beat the war drum:

Armies don’t go to war, countries do. So Kenya is at war with al Shabaab. I tend to be a little hot-headed and a bit of a war-monger, I fear.

But I am very pleased and very proud of our armed forces and their conduct of this war so far.

We had been led to believe that our army is a career army, which can’t fight. There was also the fear that we had nothing to go to war with, all our defence budget, according to whistleblowers, having been wasted on Anglo Leasing-type SPVS.

I am absolutely delighted to see that our guys have some serious kit. Some of it might be Chinese, but it seems to work so far. They are handling their weapons like fighting men and their logistics like a properly functioning army.

I have very old fashioned views about this business of war, informed on the main by growing up in a community that had actively fought in one.

There is no man like one who has taken up arms in defence of his farm, his village and its right to chart its own destiny.

Listen to Machario Gaitho beat the war drum:

In the wake of the Migingo Island dispute with Uganda, repeated forays into Kenya by Ethiopian and Sudanese bandits and cattle-rustlers, and the latest incursions and abductions by the Somali Al Shabaab group, there was plenty of frustration expressed all round about the seeming impotence of our security organs.

Now the authorities have decided enough is enough. Kenya has declared war on Al Shabaab, an extremist groups that controls large swathes of Somalia and boasts links with the face of global terrorism, the Afghan-based al Qaeda movement of the late and dearly unlamented Osama bin Laden.

For Kenyans fed up with being shooting ducks in regional skirmishes, the call to war might resonate pretty strongly.

It is a demonstration that a sleeping lion will only take so much provocation, and no doubt it will be a source of pride that Kenya can hit back at a bunch of extremist crazies who have made out border security something of an embarrassment.

Kenyans are “sleeping lion[s],” newly awakened.

No. Longer. Impotent.

Our boys in uniform will prove they are MEN!

No. Longer. Impotent.

Beat the war drum!

Let the women talk about politics—the men are going out to secure our borders. Kill the terrorists. Make Kenya Safe. New blood is pumping into our national erections. We are pointing proud and straight.

Even the notoriously quiet Kibaki, the man overshadowed by Lucy and Wambui, has spoken out. He has “vowed to defend Kenya’s territorial integrity.” Kenya must be defended.

Kamau! Otieno! Musa! Mutua!
Get your gun, get your gun,
Take it on the run,
On the run, on the run.
Hear them calling, you and me,
Every son of liberty.
Hurry right away,
No delay, go today,
Make your daddy glad
To have had such a lad.
Tell your sweetheart not to pine,
To be proud her boy’s in line.

Kenyan men are men again!
One wishes for more Wilfred Owen. For more voices opposed to the nation-consolidating project of war. For fewer consolidations of hetero-masculinities (the metaphors are overwhelming) around violence and death, as though it’s better to kill them “over there” than “in here.”

“In here” is not safe. We are sounding very PEV-like: ethnic cleansing as a national(ist) project, because Somalia=Somalis=Al Shabaab.

This war is “good” for Kenya. Wars stitch together patchy countries. And Kenya’s holes are gaping.

This war is bad for Kenya. One might believe in primal scenes and founding ruptures, but to repeat these gestures as deliberate acts of self-making and self-consolidation. . . .

Words fail me.

I’m grateful others have them.

9 thoughts on “War as “Viagla”

  1. I think all Kenyans need to pose and ask: ‘whose war is this anyway? The President did not wage it, he merely assented to it. Parliament did not approve it, it merely endorsed it. Citizens did not court it, they are trying to understand it. So whose war is it?

  2. It strikes me as … that… the men’s war is fought over the abduction of foreigners. Beat the drum. When Kenyans were in self destruct mode, during the PEV, this noble army was nowhere to be seen. Beat the drum. Mashujaa day was awash with military displays and spendour, although the commander looked a bit chubby. This can only happen in my wonderous land, or is it a wonderland where fiction and fact collide like neutrinos, leaving us in a cloud like gaddo’s little character, scratching its head, thinking: what happened there? Now I am thinking…. would I go to war when the shilling is in freefall? Beat the drum.

    I hear that the minister in question is standing for president. It will be a tough old world if he wins. We will all be masculated (is that a word?) Beat the drum.

  3. How can a whole ‘Commander in Chief’ declare war before making a formal announcement to the nation. And what does our new Constitution say? Does he/she not have to seek consensus first from across society before deciding to go on war. And in whose interests? Why are we being used in the proxy war of America versus the rest of the world?
    And we are going to have an onslaught on our civil liberties as well. It would be great to hear a stiff statement from Civil Society. It seems we have become the bastion of any reasoning to keep this nation together while the politicians play dominoes with our lives. Zahid

  4. Keguro and all, I hope that you will allow me to post this here:

    Dear All, a poem, which you may Share, and Like (or not):

    ‘Waking to News of Our Incursion into Somalia’
    (Stephen Derwent Partington)

    Facebook posts another dissertation,
    ‘Kill Shabab!’, and it is Liked.

    So many Friends you have
    with blood upon their mice.

    Another screen, another office:
    holy crosshairs hover low above a desert

    where a man (his nose
    too aquiline for Kenyan?) walks in white.

    His bloodstained turban
    will be Shared, like loot, and Liked.

  5. A la Lacan, these multiple phalluses we are projecting at the moment can only mean on thing: castration. The phallus multiplied becomes a symbol of its own absence/castration, a(n) (in)security that seeks to doubly/triply/quadruply reinforce itself to signal its potency — which, in the end, is an empty pose.

    I’ve been thinking about Kenyan masculinity in some of the very terms and ways you write here. We seem to have those moments when the repressed returns, moments when we yearn for those times when supposedly men were men. Before the cougars started running amok. Before “our wives” (I put this in quotes because of the discourse of possession in “our” and subordination in “wives”) started cheating on us (a major conversation on Kenyan talk radio, TV, and even among ourselves) and at times beating us.

    And maybe here lies something akin to reflexive(?) sexism: the kind that actually attributes sexism to the Other/Woman. Are these tropes of Kenyan cougars, cheating or abusive wives supposed to cast men as the victims of women?

    Also, isn’t it strange how we’re claiming to be war virgins when we fought the Shifta War against Greater Somalia? Didn’t we turn all of North Eastern province into a concentration camp back then? Yes, WE DID.

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