Credible Threat

“ . . . the U.S. Embassy in Kenya has received credible information of an imminent threat of terrorist attacks.”—Front Page of Daily Nation, October 24, 2011

I linger over death, funeral, and memorial announcements in the Daily Nation. “Gone too Soon,” “In Loving Memory,” “Celebration of Life,” “Celebration of a Life Well Lived.” Deaths are “untimely,” “sudden,” loved ones at the mercy of “God’s will,” even as they are “Promoted to Glory.” Announcements are webs of connection: one worked at, was related to, accomplished. One received feeling—love, gratitude, even rage, if one reads between the lines. Accompanied by pictures—I am entranced by the blurry out of focus ones—these announcements make life matter. As we gaze upon their very public appearance, strangers in photographs acquire histories; their lives accrue meaning; they become legible. If only for a moment, the announcements of grief create powerful sites of identification, rich moments of stranger sociality. The dead speak to and with the living.
An image from Thomas Glave’s “The Torturer’s Wife”:

There are thousands and thousands and thousands of hands all over the garden . . . Hands all over the place . . . They all fell down last night in the rainstorm . . . A rainstorm of hands clattering all over the roof and keeping me up last night. Some of them are already . . . are already becoming, becoming – Becoming skeletal.

At JKIA, a Somali woman sees me, smiles at her companion, identifies me as family, begins to ask me a question, but not in English. I smile regretfully, cursing my limited languages, confess that I am not Somali: I just look like one. She smiles again and agrees that I look like one.

I recount this incident to my mother: she tells me to start speaking Gikuyu loudly in public. I have no way to respond. And certainly no smiles to share.
Ethnic chauvinism is being fed and strengthened. A stream of stories begin to coalesce, to justify this war, because Al Shabaab-Somalis are threatening.

They steal birth certificates from legitimate Kenyan children.
Living in Eastleigh, in a “nation within a nation,” they refuse to assimilate.
They skirt immigration laws and threaten belonging.
They have too much money, probably from selling weapons.
They are threatening our tourist industry.

Never subtle anti-Somali sentiment is getting bolder, even as our leaders tell us that this is a war against Al Shabaab, not Somalia or Somalis. I wonder if the bombs being dropped are as discriminating in their tastes.
We seem to have one color code and it’s green: go and kill, is the command.
As I read the language of “credible threat,” my worlds collapse and coalesce, sutured by the U.S. and its desires. What has the U.S. taught Kenya to desire? How have we taken up that desire and acted on it? I say this not to blame the U.S.—it is the Kenyan army running around Somalia. But one cannot ignore the shape and sound of our war-advancing rhetoric: Made in the U.S., circulated globally, consumed locally.
Grenades are exploding in Nairobi.

U.S. citizens have been warned to stay away from malls and similar public places. The U.S. Embassy has said Al Shabaab will target foreigners, that is, not Kenyans.
Comments in the newspapers are advocating profiling. The enemy is being compared to dogs. Learn from the U.S., some are saying. Secure the Border.

Sample comments:

Govt needs to implement an address system. Your ID should show your address which is your street and house number. –Refugee camps should be guarded like military barracks (More soldiers) –Security guards should be given guns. –Build NYS camps along our borders-make students do border patrol(teach them military skills + IT, Programming, Engineering, nursing and Medicine).

kenya needs a patriotic act, just like the one of u.s. its time for this somalis to go back to there country.immigration department should also be held accountable .Any documentation issued to somalis after 2007 should be repealed.

Kenyans why are we beating about the bush? The fact remain that all Somailis in Kenya are al-shaabab. The only language they understand best is for them to be driven back Somalia. Kenyans, we need peace and this is the time we all need to be in solidarity, join hands, support our brilliant and brave soldiers to protect our boundaries with Somilia and also with Migingo Islands. Enough of our neighbours invading our motherland with impunity.

In the cause of national defense, there is no such thing as hate speech or incitement to violence. The newspapers are fueling paranoia and hatred. Kenyans are being called to be Kenyans: support the war, be a real Kenyan.

Dispatch, 1897, from Commander / Jackson, British
Army in Kenya. On resistance of Nandi people / to British
invasion: “ . . . the ignorance / of the people is so extreme / that
it is impossible to convey / to such savages that the occupation
of their country / is not harmful to them . . .” (Shailja Patel, “Notes from a Lost Country”)

A world of shared banalities can be a basis for sociality, or an exhausting undertow, or just something to do.—Kathleen Stewart, Ordinary Affects
What might it mean to share the banality of war as the basis for sociality?

12 thoughts on “Credible Threat

  1. There is a certain glorification or rather glossification of death in Kenyan culture (“gone to glory” or “in God’s hands” or “God took you too soon” etc) that just nicks me in the jugular. I wonder if it comes from our newly acquired evangelical charismatic faiths?

    That bit about your mum telling you to speak Gikuyu loudly made me laugh out loud. Then I sensed the sadness/tragedy. (Most of the great comedies are tragedies, anyway).

    I am also keenly away of American narratives of war being redeployed in Kenya (both by diasporic comments left on the Daily Nation and by our government).

    This war has left me shamed. It is really a shameful time to be Kenyan (not that there was a time when it was jolly handsome, anyway). I just feel this overwhelming shame at our racism.

    I’m sitting here thinking of how to organize this shame, this anti-war sentiment, because writing over there on the BMAG blog is not enough. I’m sure you’re wondering about the same thing.

    How do we roll the conversation down the hill and not get jaded, because that’s what the political class in Kenya thrives on: our jadedness.

  2. Writing is always an act of hope–I really hold on to that. And what we write and how we feel does circulate in ways that we cannot anticipate. There’s a chorus of voices against this war, against ethno-religious profiling, for diverse forms and practices of belonging, for something better.

    Your latest post is heartbreaking.

  3. I’m depressed by it all. It’s getting mixed up with everything going on here in my life in America and it’s not good.

    Racism against Somalis (and also Wa-Nubi/Nobi, of which I am part) is something i have spoken about for a while now. I just never thought it would go down this road.

    You are right: the way I am feeling and writing and talking about it is spreading to my close friends who are also becoming or are already antiwar.

  4. I wondered last night why I was so drawn to the Kathleen Stewart quote: this morning, I’m struck by the banal as “something to do.” That, while I have been thinking about the war cheerleading as part of national/ist sentiment, the circulation of rumor and vitriol is also “something to do,” something to pass the time, to feel part of what is going on. She writes, devastatingly, “The experience of being in the ‘mainstream’ is a concrete sensory experience of literally being in tune with a ‘something’ that’s happening.”

    Rumors swirl of Somalis being denied access to matatus in town, of violence being meted out by ethnic profilers. A friend tells me we are in the ugliness of the PEV, certainly in its logic of ethnic hatred. This morning, Gitau Warigi writes, “Whether Kenya can expect to enjoy goodwill from the prickly Somali people wherever they are will depend on if we are perceived as part of the solution rather than the problem.”

    Those terribly “prickly Somali people.” As though Kenya’s sustained internal war against Somalis has nothing to do with what is going on? As though what we are seeing now is not simply a more public intensification of something ugly.

  5. beautiful writing…what a great article…keep it up maybe those called policy makers with enough influence will hear you…but where do they live who are they? somewhere (-Nairobi, Washington or Kingdom of blood- i don’t know where “the lovers of war’ live)..

    I hope Kenyans and Somalians are all ready for the scars of war that will take forever to heal…Anyone looking to start a regional business-Starts running event management of funerals…etc..I smell blood here..


  6. kenyans should not ground their deduction on the attacks on somalis and most importantly we shouldn wound that which cant be killed.The al-shabaa threats are general irrespective of you religion,gender or nationality.As long as we are ascripted by the kenyan boundary,we are at risk of the attack.Bad blood is going round and before we know it ,we’ll be at war with they that we are not after.

    Ethnic comments on facebook:

    mama z a bitch u mungiki! Ur own brada wl kil u
    trust me alshabab c wa2 wa kuchezea nd btw ta 2
    blast sidhani ni alshabab ni wale wezi wenzako hu
    r tekin advntage may b u ta one hu did dat hu noz?
    umechotewa ngapi? U knw nthng abt alshabab so
    u bera shut yo ass”

    do we seriously want this again. .
    Kenyans,be wise.

  7. Thanks for pointing out that these moments of national/ist consolidation are also moments of rupture and fissure. I think it’s already too late to worry about “this again,” because we are already in it. As Kweli points out on his blog (a must read), we are precisely at the 2007/8 point when we deemed some of us not to be Kenyan enough, which is to say, not deserving to inhabit Kenya.

    Increasingly, I am concerned that we do not know how to think about or even live with strangers, unless they are tourists who bring us money. Yet, how we treat those we deem strangers leaks into how we treat each other as we become estranged, usually because of economic competition and ethnic rivalry. We have worried that the election cycle will bring new violence: the sad truth is that it never left, it is here, and it is intensifying.

  8. [b]Yet, how we treat those we deem strangers leaks into how we treat each other as we become estranged, usually because of economic competition and ethnic rivalry. We have worried that the election cycle will bring new violence: the sad truth is that it never left, it is here, and it is intensifying.[/b]

    I really feel this is important.

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