The withdrawal of trust from normally functioning words constitute[s] a special vulnerability to the signifier, leading one to ways of acting over which all control seem[s] to have been lost.
—Veena Das, Life and Words
Kenya’s solicitor general appeared on national television to defend a rights-destroying document. “There are no absolute freedoms,” he intoned. “Especially not when those freedoms impinge on others’ rights.” I paraphrase. “All freedoms must be limited, to the extent that they infringe on other people’s freedom” he continues, “except for four: freedom from cruel and inhumane treatment, freedom from slavery, the right to a fair trial, and the right to habeas corpus”
He is the first Kenyan official I have heard use the word freedom over and over, and each time, he fractures its meaning a little more.
A rights-destroying document claims to be protecting Kenyan women.
Histories of domination are full of men saving women: white men saving brown women from brown men; white men saving African women from African men; white men saving indigenous women from indigenous men; white men saving native women from native men; white women joining white men in saving non-white women.
Kenyan women face an impossible choice: freedom or safety?
This is always a false choice—a killing choice.
Kenya’s solicitor general is correct: no truly ethical model of freedom based on expanding and extending freedom can be imagined by the Kenyan state.
15. The Penal Code is amended by inserting the following new section immediately after section 66─
66A. A person who publishes or causes to be published or distributed obscene, gory or offensive material which is likely to cause fear and alarm to the general public or disturb public peace is guilty of a felony and is liable, upon conviction, to a fine not exceeding one million shillings or imprisonment for a term not exceeding three years or both, or, where the offence is committed by a media enterprise, to a fine not exceeding five million shillings.
One looks at the National Police Service Act (2011) to find the police don’t share the rights and freedoms guaranteed to every Kenyan in the constitution.
47. Limitation of rights and fundamental freedoms of police officers
(1) Subject to Article 24, 25 and 35 of the Constitution, the rights and fundamental freedoms of an officer of the Service may be limited for the purposes, in the manner and to the extent set out by law.
(2) A limitation of a right or fundamental freedom under subsection (1) shall be reasonable and justifiable in an open and democratic society based on human dignity, equality and freedom and shall be limited only for purposes of ensuring—
(a) the protection of classified information;
(b) the maintenance and preservation of national security;
(c) the security and safety of officers of the Service;
(d) the independence and integrity of the Service; and
(e) the enjoyment of the rights and fundamental freedoms by any individual does not prejudice the rights and fundamental freedoms of others.
(3) A limitation of a right or fundamental freedom under this section shall relate to—
(a) the right to privacy to the extent of allowing—
(i) a person, home or property to be searched;
(ii) possessions to be seized;
(iii) information relating to a person’s family or private affairs to be required or revealed; or
(iv) the privacy of a person’s communications to be investigated;
(b) the freedom of expression to the extent of limiting the freedom to impart information for officers of the Service;
(c) the freedom of the media;
(d) the right to access to information to the extent of protecting the Service from—
(i) demands to furnish persons with information; and
(ii) publicizing information affecting the nation;
(e) the freedom of association to the extent of limiting the right of officers of the Service from joining or participating in the activities of any kind of association other than those authorized under this Act;
(f) the right to assemble, demonstrate, picket and petition public authorities to the extent of ensuring discipline in the Service; and
(g) the right to fair labour relations to the extent of prohibiting officers of the Service from joining and participating in the activities of a trade union and going on strike.
(4) An officer shall not be barred from voting at any election if, under the laws governing the said election, he or she has a right to vote.
Those who claim Kenya is being turned into a “police state” are more accurate than they know.
A law is proposed: it says the police cannot be questioned, the state cannot be questioned, the president cannot be questioned. It seeks control over digital communication. It pursues the “right” to prosecute those on digital media.
It expands fines:
3. Section 3 of the Public Order Act is amended—
(a) in subsection (1) by deleting the words “one thousand shillings or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months” and substituting therefor the term “one hundred thousand shillings or imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years”
7. Section 8 of the Public Order Act is amended—
(c) in subsection (6) by deleting the term “one thousand” and substituting therefor the term “ten thousand”.
12. Section 17 of the Public Order Act is amended by deleting the term “five thousand” and substituting therefor the term “fifty thousand”.
50. Section 118 of the Traffic Act is amended in subsection (2) by─
(a) deleting the words “ten thousand shillings” appearing in paragraph (a) and substituting therefor the words “one hundred thousand shillings”
Of the many complaints circulating about these “amendments,” I have yet to see one about the effects on refugees:
56. Section 12 of the Refugees Act is a amended by inserting the following new subsection immediately after subsection (2)—
(3) Every person who has applied for recognition of his status as a refugee and every member of his family shall remain in the designated refugee camp until the processing of their status is concluded.
57. Section 14 of the Refugees Act is amended by inserting the following new paragraph immediately after paragraph (b) —
(c) not leave the designated refugee camp without the permission of the Refugee Camp Officer.
58. The Refugees Act is amended by inserting the following new section immediately.
16A. (1) The number of refugees and asylum seekers permitted to stay in Kenya shall not exceed one hundred and fifty thousand persons.
(2) The National Assembly may vary the number of refugees or asylum seekers permitted to be in Kenya.
(3) Where the National Assembly varies the number of refugees or asylum seekers in Kenya, such a variation shall be applicable for a period not exceeding six months only.
(4) The National Assembly may review the period of variation for a further six months.
Freedom is to be limited:
62. The National Intelligence Service Act is amended by inserting the following new section immediately after section 6—
6A. (1) An officer of the Service may stop and detain any person whom the officer—
￼(a) witnesses engaging in a serious offence;
(b) finds in possession of any object or material that could be used for the commission of a serious offence; or
(c) suspects of engaging in any act or thing or being in possession of anything which poses a threat to national security.
One recalls that reading Karl Marx was once considered a serious threat to Kenyan security.
Revolution is made impossible to say or imagine in Kenya:
12D. A person who adopts or promotes an extreme belief system for the purpose of facilitating ideologically based violence to advance political, religious or social change commits an offence and is liable on conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding thirty years.
It becomes clear that those who critique the Kenyan state are “radicals.” Dissent becomes impossible. Yet, claiming “dissent” is impossible seems out of date, old fashioned.
In our neoliberal regime, we strike deals. Some deals fail. But money will be made.
Not dissent, deal.
I don’t know how much longer they can write.
(The freedom-destroying state will use their writing as evidence that it permits freedom of expression)
Freedom: a signifier trapped somewhere between the development imaginary and the security imaginary
Others pursue a different freedom: life-enhancing, possibility-multiplying, human-respecting, dignity-promoting, and world-sharing.