Kenya’s Security Act: The Human

Image | Wambui Mwangi
Image | Wambui Mwangi

I had planned to write this post on how the Security Act restricts upon human rights. Instead, I will focus on the human. Kenya has many human rights experts who can write with far more authority about the effects of the Security Act on human rights. Moreover, the institutional culture around human rights in Kenya—its status as industry and profession, as world framing and world constricting—makes me very uneasy. It’s not clear that professional activists speak the same language or have the same aims as grassroots activists—I know the problem of this opposition, but it might still be useful. So, the human.

Kenya’s disappeared Report of the Trust, Justice and Reconciliation Commission identifies the following groups as “vulnerable”: minorities, indigenous people, persons with disabilities, persons living with HIV/AIDS, refugees, prisoners, the poor, women and children.

To this list, I would add “the youth,” an amorphous category that includes anyone from 16-35 who is not considered “productive,” or recognized as an adult citizen.

The term “vulnerable” is accurate, but it does not go far enough. These groups are not considered fully human in Kenya. Many of them are unhumaned.

As I’ve been reading a lot of Kenyan legislation, it has become clear that Kenya’s imagined citizen is a heterosexual man; has a stable, well-paying job or is self-employed; owns property; is married and has children or is planning to marry and have children. As imagined, the ideal citizen also belongs to one of the dominant ethnic and racial groups. While dominant refers to numbers, it also refers, more specifically, to power: those who because of or despite their numbers hold power.


Kenya’s Security Act explicitly curtails freedoms and rights for refugees, criminals, and suspected terrorists. The punitive fines envisioned for ID card and traffic violations implicitly limit rights for the working class and poor, including many so-called “youths.” The gender of legislative activity—the proliferation of male pronouns in legal and policy documents—imagines that Kenya’s leaders, citizens, and residents are all men.


Legislation that increases disposability also holds out an impossible promise: join the select few. This seduction is rarely theorized well, if at all, and almost never in Kenyan thinking. Belonging is seductive.

A chorus of voices harmonize: “we are patriots—we love Kenya—we belong—Kenya loves us”

A chorus of voices harmonize: “we are Kenyans—we love Kenya”

During #kasaraniconcentrationcamp—whose afterlife we still occupy—fractures happened: “I am Kenyan Somali, not ethnic Somali”; “I am Kenyan Somali not Somalia Somali”; “I am a Kenya-loving Somali, not a Kenya-destroying Somali”; “I am a Kenya-building Somali, not a Kenya-undoing Somali”

The chorus of voices pledging loyalty to Kenya drown out much-needed critique. The state cultivates this chorus of voices. Sometimes, it rewards some in the chorus. Most often, it holds out an impossible promise that those who dance to its tune might remain unharmed.


“This legislation only threatens terrorists,” the state intones

Meanwhile: more police are recruited, more young people are folded into the state’s military apparatus via the National Youth Service, more security guards patrol everything, more public spaces become unavailable, security checks proliferate

“This will only affect terrorists,” insist Kenyan residents who deem themselves innocent

“I have nothing to hide,” insist Kenyan residents who will not protest violations of privacy and freedom

“Everything must be done to keep Kenya secure,” a harmony in five parts

“we are the innocent—the innocent must be defended”


Kenya’s vision of the human becomes smaller—human-recognizing filaments snap

Frames that might expand our notions of the human, that might make more lives possible, are devalued and discarded

We continue to use paradigms that have not worked to create a world where thriving is impossible


Safety is now an impossible word, a concept that does not exist. We say, “I feel secure,” which means the state’s agents surround us, constrict us, suffocate us. Hear the fear. Hear the paranoia. Hear the canned responses.

We respond as we must: “I feel secure”


Those not in power want to seize power

It’s not clear that they have a more expansive vision of the human—and what they might risk to seize power may further diminish what the human might be


It becomes difficult to imagine the human beyond state definitions, beyond human rights frameworks, beyond narrow boxes all marked “he,” “him,” and “his”

Against the human-limiting, human-unimagining Security Act, a different human must be imagined, a different world made possible, a world that is livable and sharable.