I have a column on tweetdeck to monitor #kasaraniconcentrationcamp. It has been empty for at least a week.

Screenshot 2014-10-21 00.00.33

The “passing” or “voiding” of a hashtag is part of the twitter cycle, especially if that hashtag is so event-specific and location-bound that it does not come readily to mind.

We return again, perhaps inevitably, to the relationship between the “particular” and the “universal,” to which places or events or histories can claim the “stage” of the “global,” which have the power—might matters here—to frame themselves as “representative” and “relevant.” We are on the familiar grounds of how minoritization happens.

I continue to find invaluable Eve Sedgwick’s distinction between a “minoritizing” and “universalizing” view:

    [One might see] homo/heterosexual definition on the one hand as an issue of active importance primarily for a small, distinct, relatively fixed homosexual minority (what I refer to as a minoritizing view), and seeing it on the other hand as an issue of continuing, determinative importance in the lives of people across the spectrum of sexualities (what I refer to as a universalizing view).

In Kenya, the vernacular for “minoritizing” and “universalizing” is “major issue” and “minor issue.”

At independence, the “major” issues were identified as “ignorance,” “poverty,” and “disease.” To combat all of these, Kenya needed “development.” And the chief opponent to development was soon identified as “corruption.” So powerful has been the connection between “development” and “corruption” that other “vices” (morality as law) and “ills” (disease as unruliness) were soon understood as subordinate to these two: “tribalism” hinders development; “nepotism” facilitates corruption; “land grabs” hinder development; “droughts” and “famines” facilitate corruption; “lazinesss” (an ethno-geohistorical category) hinders development and facilitates corruption.

To get a hearing, one has to frame one’s discourse within the terms of “development” and “corruption,” or, within the logics through which both of these can be measured: ignorance, poverty, and disease.

Thus, to take two sites I follow: cultural workers have insisted that their labor fights ignorance, poverty, and disease. They spread useful information in ways that aid development. What is known as “creative economies” in Kenya lives within a narrow set of parameters. To be heard, one must speak in these frames. Within what is now known as sexual minority work, the emphasis on fighting HIV/AIDS falls within fighting disease, ignorance, and, sometimes, poverty. HIV/AIDS is framed within economic terms, as a problem for development. Queer bodies are pro-development.

Broadly, I term the emphasis on fighting ignorance, poverty, and disease in the name of development the “development imaginary.”

As a universalizing logic and practice, the development imaginary swallows all the air in the room. It composes and interpellates a “we” and “us” known as “Kenyans”: it makes us, makes us act, and acts on us.

It makes Kenya, acts on Kenya: Kenya is divided into “developed” and “undeveloped” regions, a geography from the development imaginary. Kenyans include those industrious ones who aid development and those lazy ones who retard development (the language of ability is key here—recall, “ignorance,” “poverty,” and “disease.” While I cannot pull this particular thread here, it’s possible to track the logics of ableism at the heart of Kenya’s self-imagining).

The development imaginary assigns value to bodies and geographies, racial and ethnic groups, issues and causes.

The development imaginary swallows all the air in the room.

To arrest (the metaphor is deliberate) demands for justice and freedom, the development imaginary demands an accounting. How will “justice” and “freedom” help to fight ignorance, poverty, and disease? To stifle imaginations, the development imaginary demands an audit. How will cultural production help to fight ignorance, poverty, and disease? To promote “rights,” the development imaginary requires projected outcomes that demonstrate how rights will contribute to development.

The development imaginary provides powerful, dissent-killing tools.

While I cannot develop this point right now, the major achievement of president Kibaki’s regime was to intensify the hold of the development imaginary to the point where freedom, liberation, and justice became unimaginable, as every claim had to be justified within a narrow template. Above all, the administrative logics governing the development imaginary had to be supported—and, here, a much-overdue conversation is needed on the relationship between the freedom dreams imagined in the constitution and the administrative logics bound to a development imaginary.

Thus far, I have been trying to develop a frame within which to place Somali disposability as instantiated in #kasaraniconcentrationcamp.

Why didn’t #kasaraniconcentrationcamp become an “issue” of national concern and outrage?

How might “minoritizing” and “universalizing” help us understand #kasaraniconcentrationcamp within a Kenyan imagination?

How do we understand the contradictions within the development imaginary and their implications for Somali lifeworlds in Kenya?

The few voices protesting raids in Eastleigh and South C insisted that Kenya recognize Somali economic contributions. Somalis, so the logic went, were part of the development imaginary. This claim traveled in peculiar ways.

  • To justify extractive processes: Somalis had resources that could be extracted (through extortion and bribes). Minoritizing logics are always extractive logics—the history of slavery teaches this lesson over and over again. One’s ability to produce labor and profit is weighed against one’s standing within a scale of the full human, the not-quite-human, and the non-human (language courtesy of Alex Weheliye)
  • A minoritizing logic was used to frame Somali economic practices: the “monies” produced through such practices were understood to circulate narrowly, among Somali communities (at the most benign) and to support terrorism (at the most insidious). Somalis in Eastleigh were, thus, understood to be participating in extractive, development-destroying acts.
  • Within the peculiar body-geography suture—bodies travel with their geographies and geo-histories, as Katherine McKittrick taught me—Somali claims and lives had to be evaluated against Kenya’s fraught relationship to Northern Kenya, a site of policing and massacre, a “border region” of unruliness, opposed to the state’s unhumaning administrative practices. This unruly geography of dissent traveled with/as Somali-ness, and it had to be contained.

The so-called Northern region of Kenya is a continually-evolving geography: place and space travel across and remake borders, refuse administrative practices of belonging. Bodies that carry this geo-graphy, this writing and unwriting of s/place, unsettle the development imaginary that centers itself as the place that elicits desire, provides identity, and produces possibility.

Perhaps #kasaraniconcentrationcamp, gazetted by the Inspector General of the Police as a “prison,” could never become a “Kenyan” issue precisely because the geographies it attempted to contain contested the logics and practices of an unhumaning Kenyan-ness.

Perhaps #kasaraniconcentrationcamp could never matter to those so ensnared by a development imaginary that freedom and justice have become impossible words, and the fate of the human has become unthinkable.

(What “human” is imagined in “human rights”? And is it a human that can see a freedom-seeking “us”?)

Perhaps #kasaraniconcentrationcamp could never become a Kenyan “issue” because it was understood in minoritizing terms: as a problem for Somalis about Somali-ness, and we lacked the frames and tools to protest it, to see it as a freedom issue, as a human-making, livability-enhancing issue.

As Sofia Samatar argued, #kasaraniconcentrationcamp existed online, in one of the few small spaces of dissent and expression not bound by Kenya’s development imaginary. Its life was never robust—it was kept alive by a handful of voices. And to mourn its passing seems premature, even unwarranted. Indeed, to mourn the passing of a twitter hashtag seems silly, especially one that struggled to exist within Kenya.

At this point, it’s not clear what kind of Kenya this is: the president’s approval rating has never been higher; our comfortable vernaculars of “corruption” and “tribalism” (or negative ethnicity) continue to make freedom and justice unthinkable; ethnopatriarchy continues to extend its hold on our imaginations and practices; trapped within the development imaginary, we are unable to imagine other ways of organizing life or promoting thriving.

And #kasaraniconcentrationcamp–as absence, as void, as non-event, as minoritized–has been normalized in our unspeaking now.

2 thoughts on “#kasaraniconcentrationcamp

  1. Great writing Keguro. As someone who was pursuing a career in “development” and committed to the promotion of the protection of “human rights” for all, justice, freedom, equality for all, and necessarily the fight against poverty (I know better than to demonise corruption and highlight it as one of the core “development” hindering factors, and I don’t know enough about “disease” to focus on its eradication) this article really made me stop and think about what I do, and what I hope to keep doing on a daily basis (well at least from 9-5 on weekdays).
    I think ignorance is definitely one that needs attention in the sense that people don’t really “think” about things in the way they should. More often than not there is this blanket, unchallenging, unquestioning acceptance of the way things are, the way they have always been, and consequently the way they will most probably always be…the “this is Kenya” rhetoric you referred to in a separate blog post.
    I think more actors and stakeholders concerned with “development” should pause and question their concerns, pursuits, and ambitions within the context of the “development imaginary”. It is frightening to contemplate and own up to the incompatibility of the fight as it is currently being waged against ignorance, poverty and disease and justice, freedom and liberation within the development imaginary. But nevertheless it is a fear that must be confronted…One cannot help but think “isn’t it better to live in a space where there is justice, freedom and liberation as well as ignorance, poverty and disease…that space at least implies a “livability”, in direct contrast to a space where there is neither ignorance, nor poverty, nor disease but justice, freedom and liberation are impossible”? The latter definitely seems less livable than the former, because at least in the former there is room for thought, hope, action… Thank you for writing…you have certainly provoked thought at least in my mind about why some issues are not concerned “major”, “central”, “urgent”. I work with urban refugees and of course to me kasaraniconcentrationcamp was a major, central and urgent issue within my line of work. But this article helps explain the life, times and death of #kasaraniconcentrationcamp and other “minor” issues that exist, and others that are lurking in dark corners waiting for their 5 minutes of fame in a dim spotlight with a limited and ever decreasing audience whose attention fades with the dimming of the spotlight.

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