security & development

President Uhuru Kenyatta has outlined a “10-point security plan for Kenya.” As reported by Capital FM, the 10 points are:

  • Legitimate monopoly on the means of violence
  • Effective administrative control
  • Management of public finances
  • Investment in human capital
  • Delineation of citizenship rights and duties
  • Provision of infrastructure services
  • Formation of the market
  • Management of the state’s assets
  • International relations
  • The rule of law

I have no idea if this is the order in which the points were presented—sequence can matter. If so, one notes that the Kenya that emerges is governed by state violence—the state has a “monopoly on violence” and that violence is to be understood as “the rule of law.” In between, the language of neoliberalism—management, investment, assets, capital, administration—takes hold. Those in Kenya—those with access to Kenyan-ness—are defined, first, as “human capital,” and only, belatedly, as bearers of “rights and duties,” to a state that has a “monopoly on violence.”

These are initial notes.
Some framing gestures:

Governmentality moves away from sovereign and state-centered notions of political power (though it does not eschew the state as a site of governmentality), from the division between violence and law, and from a distinction between ideological and material power. [It also] features state formations of subjects rather than state control of subjects; put slightly differently, it emphasizes control achieved through formation rather than through repression or punishment.
—Wendy Brown, Edgwork

The modern state exercises moral and educative leadership—it “plans, urges, incites, solicits, punishes.” It is where the bloc of social forces which dominates over it not only justifies and maintains its domination but wins by leadership and authority the active consent of those over whom it rules. Thus it plays a pivotal role in the construction of hegemony. In this reading, it becomes, not a thing to be seized, overthrown or “smashed” with a single blow, but a complex formation in modern societies which must become the focus of a number of different strategies and struggles because it is an arena of different social contestations.
—Stuart Hall, “Gramsci’s Relevance for the Study of Race and Ethnicity”

In popular usage, neoliberalism is equated with a radically free market: maximized competition and free trade achieved through economic deregulation, elimination of tariffs, and a range of monetary and social policies favorable to business and indifferent toward poverty, social deracination, cultural decimation, long-term resource depletion, and environmental destruction.
—Wendy Brown, Edgework

[However], neoliberalism is not simply a set of economic polices . . . Rather neoliberalism carries a social analysis that, when deployed as a form of governmentality, reaches from the soul of the citizen-subject to education policy to practices of empire. Neoliberal rationality, while foregrounding the market, is not only or even primarily focused on the economy it involves extending and disseminating market values to all institutions and social action, even as the market itself remains a distinctive player.
—Wendy Brown, Edgework

neoliberalism entails the erosion of oppositional political, moral, or subjective claims located outside capitalist rationality
—Wendy Brown, Edgework

What, then, are the leading ideas of the neoliberal model? We can only pull at one thread here. However anachronistic it may seem, neoliberalism is grounded in the ‘free, possessive individual’, with the state cast as tyrannical and oppressive. The welfare state, in particular, is the arch enemy of freedom. The state must never govern society, dictate to free individuals how to dispose of their private property, regulate a free-market economy or interfere with the God-given right to make profits and amass personal wealth.
—Stuart Hall, “The Neoliberal Revolution”

Neoliberalism is not one thing. It evolves and diversifies. Nevertheless, geopolitically, neoliberal ideas, policies and strategies are incrementally gaining ground, re-defining the political, social and economic model, governing the strategies and setting the pace.
—Stuart Hall, “The Neoliberal Revolution”

few strategies are so successful at winning consent as those which root themselves in the contradictory elements of common sense, popular life and consciousness
—Stuart Hall, “The Neoliberal Revolution”

Hegemony is a tricky concept and provokes muddled thinking. No project achieves ‘hegemony’ as a completed project. It is a process, not a state of being. No victories are permanent or final. Hegemony has constantly to be ‘worked on’, maintained, renewed, revised. Excluded social forces, whose consent has not been won, whose interests have not been taken into account, form the basis of counter- movements, resistance, alternative strategies and visions … and the struggle over a hegemonic system starts anew. They constitute what Raymond Williams called ‘the emergent’ – and are the reason why history is never closed but maintains an open horizon towards the future.
—Stuart Hall, “The Neoliberal Revolution”
In what scholars term “the literature,” Kenya’s entry into neoliberal logics dates to the early 1980s, when Structural Adjustment Programs were introduced—the line between imposed and adopted is shaky. A more precise date is given as the 1986 publication of Sessional Paper No. 1. I’ll turn to that in a moment.

However, Stuart Hall teaches me to ask about the “terrain,” or, were I to adapt him in more Kenyan terms, the ground on which these ideas fell. And, for that, I turn to an old favorite, Sessional Paper 10 of 1965: African Socialism and its Application to Planning in Kenya.

First, the banal observation that the Session Paper is dedicated to planning; to use a Kenyan vernacular, I do not claim that the term “development” is used with any mischief.

The Paper opens with a Statement By The President:

    Since attainment of our independence just over eighteen months ago, the Government has been deciding the measures that will ensure rapid economic development and social progress for all our citizens.

Much of what follows is administrative boilerplate. I am arrested, as always, by the final paragraph of the Statement:

    To the nation I have but one message. When all is said and done, we must settle down to the job of building the Kenyan nation. To do this we need an atmosphere of political stability and an atmosphere of confidence and faith at home. We cannot establish these if we continue with debates on theories and doubts about our society. Let this paper be used from now as the unifying voice of our people and let us all settle down to build our nation. Let all the people of our country roll up their sleeves in a spirit of self-help to create the true fruits of UHURU.

Building consent requires formal labor. Some of that labor happens as Kenyatta repeats (with a slight variation): “building the nation.” This becomes the work. What is to be accomplished. What pulls people together. Building the nation must take priority and it should not be halted, arrested, or delayed by “debates on theories and doubts” about “our society.” The question of what Kenya is, of who Kenyans are, will emerge as Kenyans “build the nation.” Development will provide identity—it will give shape and meaning to “our society.”

We are on dangerous, dissent-killing ground. We are on dangerous anti-intellectual ground. 50 years later—note that consent takes a long time to build and sustain and become dominant—this ground has won.

Even those who claim to be “progressives” and “radicals” frame their vision of Kenya within the paradigm of “development.” Corruption is bad because it stunts development. Impunity is bad because it delays development. Sexual violence is bad because it arrests development. Evil is bad because it hurts development.

Something curious has happened. And, we can better see what that something curious is by returning to the Sessional Paper. Tom Mboya, author of the Paper, defines what he terms “Objectives of Societies”:

The ultimate objectives of all societies are remarkably similar and have a universal character suggesting that present conflicts need not be enduring. These objectives typically include:

  1. political equality;
  2. social justice;
  3. human dignity including freedom of conscience;
  4. freedom from want, disease, and exploitation;
  5. equal opportunities; and
  6. high and growing per capita incomes, equitably distributed

In Mboya’s Sessional Paper, freedom and justice could still be imagined. (Many aspects of the Paper are troubling, but let me defer that discussion.)

To make a polemical point about where we are now, let me leapfrog to the very long Sessional Paper No 12 of 2012: On Kenya Vision 2030. A few long, blocky paragraphs follow.

    Kenya Vision 2030 is the new long-term development blueprint for the country. It is motivated by a collective aspiration for a better society by the year 2030. The aim of Kenya Vision 2030 is to create “a globally competitive and prosperous country with a high quality of life by 2030”. It aims to transform Kenya into “a newly-industrialising, middle-income country providing a high quality of life to all its citizens in a clean and secure environment”.
    The Vision is anchored on three key pillars: economic; social; and political governance. The economic pillar aims to achieve an average economic growth rate of 10 per cent per annum and sustaining the same till 2030 in order to generate more resources to meet the MDGs and vision goals. The Vision has identified a number of flagship projects in every sector to be implemented over the Vision period and to facilitate the desired growth rate. The identified flagship projects directly address priorities in key sectors such as agriculture, education, health, water and the environment. The social pillar seeks to create a just, cohesive and equitable social development in a clean and secure environment. The political pillar aims to realise an issue-based, people-centered, result-oriented and accountable democratic system.

To the extent that form matters, note that the social and political pillars get one sentence each.

    The economic, social and political pillars of Kenya Vision 2030 will be anchored on the following foundations: macroeconomic stability; continuity in governance reforms; enhanced equity and wealth creation opportunities for the poor; infrastructure; energy; science, technology and innovation (STI); land reform; human resources development; security; and public sector reforms.

One notes that “people-centered” translates into “human resources development,” and the “human resources development” paragraph reads,

    Human Resource Development: Kenya intends to create a globally competitive and adaptive human resource base to meet the requirements of a rapidly industrialising economy. This will be done through life-long training and education. As a priority, a human resource database will be established to facilitate better planning of human resources requirements in the country. Furthermore, steps will be taken to raise labour productivity to international levels. Other steps will include the establishment of new technical training institutions, as well as the enhancement of closer collaboration between industry and training institutions.

What happens when “the people” of a place are framed through “human resources”? What has been prioritized? While the latter sections of the Sessional Paper make some gratuitous noise about rights, the phrases “political equality” and “social justice” are absent from the Sessional Paper.

Market rationalities infiltrate all the ways Kenya and Kenyan-ness can be envisioned.
Little of what I’ve claimed above is new or original. I simply want to mark where we are.
I had imagined spending some time on Sessional Paper No. 1 from 1986, but I can’t find a handy pdf online, and, frankly, I’m tired of trying to think with Sessional Papers.

Call this a broken promise.
Let me return, finally, to the peculiar structure of the president’s “security agenda.” The figure of the citizen appears as one threatened by the state’s “monopoly of violence,” as one “managed” and “administered,” as one framed, primarily, as “human capital.” “Human capital” precedes citizenship, which is, primarily about “rights and duties.” One might argue that one’s “rights and duties” are subordinate to one’s status as “human capital”: one’s being is assessed as a measure of one’s ability to incarnate and produce capital.

We need, here, to think through histories of slavery and the role of fungibility in producing our modern world. To value “humans” as “capital” is precisely to live within slavery’s logics of unhumaning and exchange.

“Life is cheap” becomes more than a metaphor within such logics and practices.

In the president’s vision, security is about fostering development and managing assets, not about “securing” freedom or increasing justice or imagining possibility. Indeed, the imagination must be “managed” and “administered,” kept anxious and paranoid, forced to prove that it participates in “development” and “security.” Kenya has no space for questioning imaginations, for imaginations that pursue freedom and justice and equality.

To read the president’s agenda as a threat—and I read it as such—means refusing to consent to its premises and promises. But this stance, I fear, is a minority one.

Security & Development discourses and practices have so taken hold of the popular imagination that it’s difficult to critique how they proliferate unfreedom. Progressive forces critique the government not for its security imaginary, but because it has “failed” to “secure properly.” The same voices critique the government not for its development imaginary, but because it has “failed” to “develop properly.”

In conference rooms and seminars and forums across Kenya, we sit and nod at our ongoing unhumaning in the name of security and development.

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