Visiting Africa: A Short Guide for Researchers

You are not coming to teach the natives.
1. Prepare. Prepare as you would for an important job interview. If a formal institution has invited you, read about the institution. If a department has invited you, read about the department. If specific scholars have invited you, read their work. Know it well. Have something to say about it. 2. You’re coming to co-create knowledge. Co-create. 3. Map the intellectual terrain. African intellectual work happens across multiple spaces, not simply in North American or European peer-reviewed journals and monographs. Look for exciting intellectual work on Facebook, Twitter, blogs, YouTube. Figure out how to engage that work. If you’re a very traditional scholar, get digital. And quickly. 4. You have been invited to share your research AND to speak to particular audiences. Do not forget your audience. Make your audience a priority. If no one tries to engage you, you… Read More...

#mybodymyhome (iv)

What happens when Kenyan women say that we want to stop being hurt again and again and again?
What happens when Kenyan women say that we want to stop being hurt again and again and again? Ideally, we would be taken seriously: victim naming-and-shaming would not happen; sexual violence apologia would not surface; perpetrators would be held accountable; and men would finally stop hurting us. One would hope. But our upbringing is fraught with stories about the consequences that un-silent women faced. On Monday, 22nd September, Professor Wambui Mwangi announced on Twitter that Kenyan writer Tony Mochama had entered her home and allegedly sexually assaulted another writer and a good friend of Prof. Mwangi’s. The backlash was immediate. Kenyans on Twitter and Facebook wanted to know who the victim was, where she was touched, why she was staying silent about it, and why the accusation had been brought to social media instead of being taken to the police.… Read More...

Reading Sofia Samatar: Vallon

Angels uproot us. Their rage is terrifying. Their demands impossible. Their words unbearable. And then they leave.
The word for “book” in all the known languages of the earth is vallon, “chamber of words,” the Olondrian name for that tool of enchantment and art. --Jevick of Tyom Write me a vallon. Put my voice inside it. Let me live. --Jissavet Already I’m arrested. Jevick of Tyom needs to learn how to write Jissavet’s story before he can write his own—he needs to unlearn what he believes about knowledge, what he embraces about writing, so that he can learn to submit to writing’s demands. Jissavet, the angel, haunts Jevick, demanding that he write her vallon. When he finally agrees, he does so as the subject who knows, as the one who will shape a world to contain her: Come, I said, and I will show you magic from the north, your own words conjured into a vallon. A… Read More...

Reading Sofia Samatar: Indwelling

Our two worlds scrape together like the two halves of a broken bone.--Sofia Samatar
Our two worlds scrape together like the two halves of a broken bone --A Stranger in Olondria Perhaps the word is possession—to be “taken by” a place or person. Perhaps it’s empathy— to “feel” another’s position. Perhaps it’s simply imagination—the leap that places us into another body. Habitation is one word: an attempt to register the forms of indwelling central to A Stranger in Olondria. Indwelling: dwelling with Three figures lie at the heart of this indwelling—three figures who “indwell” with/in Jevick of Tyom: Jom, his elder brother; Bain, the city that populates his dreams; and Jissavet, the angel who brings him closer to Jom. Jevick and Jom’s mother, Kiavet, explains that Jom, who “wander[s] in the courtyard underneath the orange trees, exchanging pleasantries with the birds,” is “a child of the wild pig”: the souls of the children of… Read More...

Reading Sofia Samatar: Introduction

Over the next month, I’ll be blogging on Sofia Samatar’s A Stranger in Olondria
I failed geography through primary and high school. It was always the map section. I could not identify places on maps—rivers, lakes, towns, natural resources. They asked for abstractions that I could not master. Places could not—would not—stay in place. They traveled and roamed: nomad geographies. This inability translates into other fields. I am not very good at “traditional” literary criticism. I am unable to “map” novels and poems, to make decisive statements about this or that. I tend to fall into works, to become lost in detail, enraptured by minutia. And then I get distracted and fail to “make connections.” Perhaps this is a preemptive apology? Over the next month, I’ll be blogging on Sofia Samatar’s A Stranger in Olondria. Following this week, I’ll be posting once a week for three weeks. I’m not yet sure what I’ll write.… Read More...

Kenya’s Security Act: Everyday Life

It might be, as some suggest, that the Security Act will change little about everyday Kenyan life.
It might be, as some suggest, that the Security Act will change little about everyday Kenyan life. It might be, as some are claiming, that loud shouts of “draconian,” “repressive,” and “regressive” are premature, if not unwarranted. It might be that intensified securitization and enhanced surveillance is inevitable, a sign of “development,” and a pragmatic approach to old and emergent terrors. Instead of dismissing these ideas—many of which are circulating as common sense—let me attempt to map the terrain through which they circulate. Securitization Everyday Kenyan life is heavily securitized. To enter into any public space—a supermarket, a mall, a church, a public gathering, a bookstore—one must undergo a range of security checks. Cars will be inspected, sometimes thoroughly, sometime cursorily; bodies will go through metal detectors; bags will be opened. Depending on where one is going, multiple security procedures… Read More...

Kenya’s Security Act: The Human

Kenya’s vision of the human becomes smaller—human-recognizing filaments snap
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… Read More...

Kenya’s Security Act: Citizen Reporting

Restrictions in the Security Act attempt to silence independent media and citizen reporters.
For most of Kenya’s history, Kenya’s mainstream media, represented by the Nation Media Group and the Standard Media Group, has served state and elite interests. Even after the so-called second revolution, when the dictator Moi was sent into a dignified retirement and Kenya ostensibly entered a new progressive age, the mainstream media continued to promote these interests. Citizen reporting has been greatly facilitated by digital media: news circulates rapidly via twitter, Whatsapp, Facebook, email groups, and blogs. Sites such as Mzalendo have made important legal documents available, and the award-winning Ushahidi, developed to crowd source information during the 2007-8 post-election violence, gave citizens a voice and platform when the mainstream media stayed silent. Citizen reporting remains key to finding out the truth in Kenya and trying to hold the state accountable. Key Changes in the Security Bill Kenya’s mainstream media… Read More...

Kenya’s Security Act: Refugees

The amendments in the Security Act increase refugee vulnerability. They are anti-refugee and anti-human rights.
According to the United Nations Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, a refugee is “someone who is unable or unwilling to return to their country of origin owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion.” The African Union Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa borrows from and expands the UN definition. 1. For the purposes of this Convention, the term "refugee" shall mean every person who, owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country, or who, not having… Read More...

Kenya’s Security Act: Police

Kenya’s recently passed Security Act substantially increases police power while reducing civilian scrutiny of police actions.
Kenya’s recently passed Security Act substantially increases police power while reducing civilian oversight. Background The Kenyan police are governed by the National Police Service Act, 2011. The head of the police, the Inspector-General, is a position created by Article 245 of Kenya’s constitution. The Independent Policing Oversight Authority Act, 2011, created the Independent Policing Oversight Authority, a board of civilians charged with monitoring the police. According to Transparency International: The institution seen as the most corrupt is the police, which an overwhelming 95 per cent of respondents perceive as corrupt or extremely corrupt.   Political interference, a lack of proper police oversight and high levels of corruption, combined with technical deficiencies have resulted in major weaknesses in the country’s police and security apparatus.   The police are the public institution with the highest prevalence of bribery.   Business executives interviewed… Read More...

Kenya’s Security Act: A Map

A brief map of the laws amended by Kenya's Security Laws (Amendments) Act, 2014.
Kenya’s Security (Amendments) Act, 2014, contains a total of 98 clauses, most of which have extended sections and subsections. Here is a brief map of the laws they amend. Public Order Act Clauses 2-11 amend the Public Order Act. A few highlights: Clause 2 (a) amends Section 3 of the Public Order Act, by raising the fine for “usurping the functions of the police” from KES 1,000/- to KES 100,000/-. In the Public Order Act, this clause targets Quasi-Military Organizations. It can be used to target any group understood to be organized in a way that threatens public order. Clause 4 (c) amends Section 8 (6) of the Public Order Act, by raising the fine for contravening curfew from KES 1,000/- to KES 10,000/-. Clause 5 (c) amends Section 9 (6) of the Public Order Act, by raising the fine… Read More...

Kenya’s Security Act: Introduction

I write these posts because I am dedicated to pursuing freedom, to making lives less disposable, and to making futures more imaginable.
On December 19, 2014, Kenya’s president, former ICC indictee Uhuru Kenyatta, signed a very bad piece of legislation into law. Rushed through the National Assembly, the legislation was not subjected to much, if any, public scrutiny. Kenya’s opposition, the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM), failed to establish why the legislation should be opposed. ODM’s strategy was to ask that Kenyans trust its good intentions. The Jubilee majority replicated this strategy. Clearly, Kenya is far from any kind of democracy that depends on persuading others through convincing arguments, the kind of democracy that is much theorized, but nowhere practiced. The president has asked Kenyans to read the legislation. Following his advice, I will post five blogs on different aspects of the legislation: The Police Refugees Citizen Reporting Human Rights Everyday Life   Each post will tackle how this new legislation transforms Kenya… Read More...

Kenya’s Security Act: Notes

Kenya’s president, former ICC indictee Uhuru Kenyatta, assented to a very bad law on December 19, 2014.
Kenya’s president, former ICC indictee Uhuru Kenyatta, assented to a very bad law on December 19, 2014. The Security Laws (Amendment) Act, 2014 was rammed through the National Assembly by the House Speaker, Mr. Muturi, and the Jubilee coalition majority. It is not enough to say that this is a very bad law and that it was passed in a terrible manner. I’m going to demonstrate why this Act is very bad law by focusing on three aspects: implications for working class and poor activists and residents of Kenya; implications for refugees; and implications for rights and freedoms. Even though I’m not a political strategist, afterwards, I’ll suggest what might be the long game in play. In short, I believe the Jubilee coalition would like to amend the constitution, and passing this Act—how it was passed and that it passed—is… Read More...

echoes of loss

we gather for the ungeographies of slow death, fast death, silent death, unseen death, unbearable death: Mpeketoni, Gaza, Ferguson, Peshawar, Mandera
another geography, another stretch, another gathering, another call, another re-call we gather for Peshawar we gather for Mpeketoni we gather for Ferguson we gather for Mandera we gather for Gaza we gather for the ungeographies of slow death, fast death, silent death, unseen death, unbearable death we gather names, ages, faces, occupations, dreams, we gather loss, desperation, anger, we truncate we gather in prayer we gather in song we gather in silence we gather in defiance we call and re-call, as each geography calls out to another, each death resounds in another, each loss echoes another these are the echoes of loss Peshawar Mpeketoni Mandera Ferguson Gaza Read More...

radical queer africa

What would queer Africa look like detached from racist developmental logics?
i. Many of us continue to search for a new political direction and agenda, one that does not focus on integration into dominant structures but instead seeks to transform the basic fabrics and hierarchies that allow systems of oppression to persist and operate efficiently. --Cathy Cohen, “Punks, Bulldaggers, and Welfare Queens” ii. The best phrase G.W. Bush’s speechwriters wrote: “the soft bigotry of low expectations” iiii. What would queer Africa look like detached from racist developmental logics? iv. While histories of African resistance are cited and celebrated, the idea that Africans might know how to imagine freedom seems inconceivable, not only in a missionary global north, but, increasingly, within Africa itself. v. In this moment, what are we willing to do to be free? --Cathy Cohen, Kessler Lecture vi. I have been thinking about how little is expected of African… Read More...

Reading the U.S. Torture Footnotes

How might we understand mourning, when the event has yet to end? When the injuries not only perdure, but are inflicted anew?—Saidiya Hartman
Following September 11, 2001, I returned to Edmond Jabès. At an earlier period, he had provided me with the language of the void, the necessity of the scream: “What is the story of the book?” “Becoming aware of a scream.” An attack on U.S. soil, as the headlines screamed, threatened all those aliens—legal and illegal—present in the U.S. A Kenyan friend had to escort her brown colleagues in upstart New York to the supermarket. My university sent concerned emails to all international students: to have an un-American name or accent was newly dangerous. “Our ties to beings and things are so fragile they often break without noticing.” I needed Jabès to map a social that was rapidly changing: I started watching congress proceedings on TV. I parsed political speeches for the words “American citizen” and “American soil,” for the protections… Read More...