If one browses #kenyadecides on twitter, one soon comes across photographs of military personnel driving fancy looking vehicles across Kenya, or at least Nairobi, accompanied by approving comments from the twitterati. Television coverage has emphasized, repeatedly, that over 90,000 military people have been “deployed” across the country to guarantee “peace.” Were we living in a different time, a less militarized time, a time when militarization was not considered part of everyday life, these images of military personnel deployed across the country might traffic under a different name: military coup, state repression, dictatorship.
Now, we call it “peace,” “security,” “necessary.”
Jomo Kenyatta’s short story, “Gentlemen of the Jungle,” ends with a man trapping repressive animals inside a hut, setting the hut on fire, watching them die, and then uttering, “Peace is costly, but it’s worth the expense.” Now, I can’t read this story without thinking of the men, women, and children set ablaze in a church in Kiambaa in 2008 during the post-election violence. I have to think about this killing act and to ask about the cost of “peace.”
Kenyans have been praised for their “order” and “restraint” and control during this election, but how could it be otherwise with such a heavy military presence? How could it be otherwise when the much-proclaimed “peace” is enabled by militarization? The militarization of everyday life tells us, should tell us, that this is not a peaceful election. This is an election conducted under conditions of ongoing war. That we cannot recognize this, that we dare not recognize this, should surely give us pause.
How have we so normalized militarization that we consider it essential to everyday life?
Here is what I wrote in 2011, when I was in Nairobi:
I remain interested in how the fact of being at war lodges itself in the quotidian: in the forms of freedom and practices of bodily integrity we have given up so readily and in the forms of surveillance that we now practice on each other.
Indeed, for all our declarations of “never again” after the PEV, we continue to inhabit its logic and practices of violence.
What might it mean to share the banality of war as the basis for sociality?
And I noted,
I blunder into cobweb filaments, the sticky demands of then folded into emerging cavities of now. Time looms. Other intimacies suffuse once-familiar spaces.
Now, NTV is screening footage of a slightly rowdy voting crowd, understandable given long lines. I hear guns going off to “maintain order.” The guns going off elicit no comment. Because they are to maintain order.
How is the militarization of everyday life not a form of quotidian violence?
Can we distinguish between the militarization “required” to maintain peace during elections and that required to “maintain peace” in non-election years?
In 2011, I noticed the militarization of everyday life because of the war with Somalia—presumably, the war against Al-Shabaab. Because of my time in the U.S., because I had witnessed militarization become banal under ongoing war regimes, I worried that the same thing would happen in Kenya. I worried that militarization would be considered necessary. Now, it has been named as the condition of peace. Indeed, it has been named as “peace.”
There is NO commentary on any Kenyan site I have seen that discusses the militarization of this election. I have been corrected on twitter that Kenya has deployed “security,” not “military,” personnel. I’m honestly not smart enough to tell the difference. I heard gunshots on an NTV report. I have seen men in uniform controlling voters. I have seen a nation or at least a national media celebrate the militarization of the election. It would be a mistake to believe that the militarization of peace can be restricted to this election period. And the consequences of that understanding for Kenya should give us pause.
They frighten me.