A document issued in 2008 reads,

Recalling that the Parties have previously agreed to:

    Identify and agree on the modalities of implementation of immediate measures aimed at:

  1. Ensuring the impartial, effective and expeditious investigation of gross and systematic violations of human rights and that those found guilty are brought to justice.

And have expressed a commitment to:

  1. Identification and prosecution of perpetrators of violence, including State security agents
  2. Addressing issues of accountability and transparency

The Parties to the National Dialogue and Reconciliation, together with the Panel of Eminent African Personalities (The Panel), agree to the establishment of a Commission of Inquiry on Post-Election Violence (Commission of Inquiry).

This Commission of Inquiry will be a non-judicial body mandated (i) to investigate the facts and surrounding circumstances related to acts of violence that followed the 2007 Presidential Election, (ii) investigate the actions or omissions of State security agencies during the course of the violence, and make recommendation as necessary, and (iii) to recommend measures of a legal, political or administrative nature, as appropriate, including measures with regard to bringing to justice those persons responsible for criminal acts. The Commission of Inquiry aims to prevent any repetition of similar deeds and, in general, to eradicate impunity and promote national reconciliation in Kenya.

I believe this document helped to establish the Kriegler and Waki Commissions, though I’d have to look back at other documentation to be sure. I want to use it as a starting point to consider how we got “here.”

The here, at the moment, features two ICC indictees, Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto, who formed a coalition, ran a sophisticated election campaign, and were elected as president and vice president, respectively. While a petition before the Kenyan supreme court seeks to challenge this election, I am not inclined to believe it will be successful.

Note: I am speculating.

If we take the overall goal of forming the Commission of Inquiry, as specified in the final sentence—to prevent any repetition of similar deeds and, in general, to eradicate impunity and promote national reconciliation in Kenya—we might say that the Commission succeeded, to the extent that there has been no “repetition of similar deeds.” We will have to be generous with that “deeds”: this election opposed Uhuru and Raila, not Kibaki and Raila; while Uhuru appears to have unofficially taken over the presidency, as seen in a series of high-powered meetings, no formal, hurried swearing in has taken place; while rumors of armed militias are not absent, there are no stories of widespread ethnocidal violence directly resulting from this election or within this election period; while messages of ethnic-based violence are not absent, there are no (or few?) reported incidents of ethnocidal violence stemming directly from that violence, which does not mean it is not happening, but silence is another issue; perhaps most crucially, the two principals in this particular election cycle have not holed themselves up in bunkers, watching us kill each other, as they sulk and plan; likewise, Kenyans are not calling to them to “save us” from ourselves, at least I don’t think so. This is not 2007-2008.

It is not clear that something called “national reconciliation” has been achieved, though the extended vote tallying produced a sense of national exhaustion. We wanted it to end, regardless of how it ended. We were united in our affective exhaustion, our strained nerves, our jumpiness. A “we” emerged at the scene of the national marked by profound anxiety and restlessness. One might speak of an affect-nation.

I would like to proliferate the stories around this election, the narratives of how we got “here,” because I’m wary of single explanations. My understanding is partial, and I welcome further additions and complications. I’ll be very schematic.

1. This election had something to do with ethnic coalitions and ethnic fractures:

    It would be foolish to deny that this election was about strategic ethnic alliances, both at the level of those competing for office and, just as importantly, at the level of those voting. I leave it to others to parse in greater detail how voting patterns can be read, but I’m very interested in what happened at the Coast and in Western, and in a few other places where notions of election principals and major parties were challenged in intriguing ways.

2. This election had something to do with generational politics:

    Uhuru’s campaign was sleek and young. His St. Mary’s accent, his cosmopolitan polish, his ability to switch registers, from “deep” Gikuyu to flawless English, his ability to embody Vision 2030, played well, I suspect with voters who heard, in his accents, a vision of the future. His youth gestured toward Obama’s youth, for better or worse. Given that Kenya’s political and development language is so anchored in the youth, I think Uhuru embodied something, some kind of generational change that Raila simply could not.

3. This election had to do with a public, rhetorical shift away from the PEV to the ICC:

    Since 2008, those victims of the post-election violence, the dead and the displaced, have been increasingly marginalized within political discourse. Accusations have been leveled that opportunists are masquerading as IDPs, the more developmental minded have castigated IDPs as waiting for handouts, and those bound to Vision 2030 and its amnesiac foundations have urged IDPs to move on. Not to mention, the philanthropy directed toward IDPs by politicians and social groups has enabled us to group them as those who need philanthropy, a grouping that voids the specificity of how they came to be IDPs. This assault on the notion of the IDP has been accompanied by a shift in emphasis: whereas the Commission of Inquiry was set up to pursue justice for IDPs, the shift to the ICC as the site of justice has highlighted the “problem” of sovereignty.

    Should Kenyans be judged by “foreign” bodies?

    Deep memories of colonialism have been invoked as have been ongoing, if unspoken, resentments about the presence of exploitative and often racist foreigners in Kenya. My own rather nasty encounters with racist whites in Kenya make me froth at the mouth at the thought that similar people might judge black Kenyans. The politics of race and nation have complicated questions of justice: the necessary question of whether African countries are targeted by the ICC quickly supplanted the question of justice for PEV victims. Let me tread carefully: this supplanting is not an accident. Human agents directed thinking in this particular direction.

4. This election had something to do with political dynasties:

    To be honest, I’m not sure how to think about political dynasties. I’m interested in the tangles of loyalties and allegiances created over generations through all kinds of political and economic deals: Uhuru and Raila have vast resources and networks, complex lattice structures of support. Practically, I don’t think dynasties have anything to do with love and have everything to do with mutual obligations. But we’d need to trace the deep structures of obligation—affective, economic, political, cultural, intimate, intellectual—that make Uhuru and Raila privileged dynastic figures.

5. This election had something to do with fear and anxiety:

    We are scared of each other. Scared of how to deal with other. The humanist in me wants to say it’s because we have not been trained in how to think about reasoned debate and the use of passion in such debate. I must confess, I find many discussions with Kenyan thinkers simply exhausting, a game of “I know better.” I simply concede and move on to something else. It has something to do with an educational system rooted in test culture that rewards zero-sum competition. It breeds a particular mindset, a particular set of strategies that refuse intellectual generosity. It might seem like a leap to suggest that our test culture produces an affective orientation that marked these elections, but I want to hold on to the leap.

6. This election had something to do with optimism and faith:

    So many of us wanted to believe that if we set up the right procedures, purchased the right equipment, had the right number of observers, showed up and kept the peace, then things would work out. Frankly, I would rather have optimism and faith instead of resignation and apathy. Election day was filled with news of long lines, of waiting and voting, of pride in taking part in a process. It was a day of optimism and faith.

7.This election had something to do with greed and corruption:

    The massive expansion of bureaucracy created by the new constitution has created multiple new opportunities for power to be amassed and distributed. The simple fact of moving from 8 provinces to 47 counties has multiplied how power will be used, by whom, and for what purposes.

8. This election had something to do with profound gender anxieties:

    The 2/3 clause in the constitution that was supposed to guarantee women form at least 1/3 of all governing structures created massive anxieties around gender: claims that undeserving women were taking over proliferated, as did unrelenting misogyny and sexism.

9. This election had something to do with power:

    With its allocation, its distribution, its concentration, its dissemination, its force, and its deployment.

10. This election had something to do with the war on terror:

    More precisely, this election had something to with the normalization of securitization. It had to do with believing we need to be monitored because we cannot control ourselves. Binyavanga ends One Day, “We fail to trust that we knew ourselves to be possible from the beginning.” We failed to trust and we believed that the strategies developed to fight terror would control our “bad” impulses and guarantee “peace.”

All of these factors, and others, were in play over the long life of this election, a life that, I think, really started in 2008.

I should emphasize that this list is partial and speculative: different factors assumed different intensities and combined differently with other factors at disparate times. And it might be that the intensification of some factors depended on rejecting or contradicting others. Again, I don’t have all (or any) of this worked out, but I’m hoping that the stories we tell can attempt to grasp the complexities of writing a still unfolding present.

One thought on “Speculations

  1. As always, I truly appreciate your timely writing, to see all the ways there is no single “here” in Kenya at the moment, even if collective exhaustion and disenchantment with constant refrains of “hope” and “peace” brought everyone to apparently similar outward positions in the immediate wake of the end-of-counting. It will be interesting in a week or two to see which of the narratives you list take on new legs or meanings, and whether the seemingly unwoven conversations I see in mostly vernacular vs. mostly English-language social media come together as something relieved or congratulatory as I think we saw after the 2010 referendum…
    On the ICC discourse, your comments make me reflect that there’s also seems to have been an important shift in register since Bensouda replaced Ocampo, a sort of more vehement confidence in a local ability to overcome the ICC’s supposed neo-colonialism that is certainly linked to a gendered belief that an African woman is more easily derailed by Kenyan lawyers (or is being manipulated by the Western interests) than the wily Argentine…

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