The Kenya election and the militarisation of ‘peace’

Saturday March 9 2013


By Keguro Macharia

Browsing #KenyaDecides on Twitter before the General Election, one soon came across photographs of military personnel driving fancy looking vehicles across Kenya, or at least Nairobi, accompanied by approving comments from the twitterati.

Television coverage emphasised, repeatedly, that over 90,000 military people had been “deployed” across the country to guarantee “peace.”

Were we living in a different time, a time when militarisation was not considered part of everyday life, these images of military personnel deployed across the country would traffic under a different name: military coup, state repression, dictatorship. Now, we call it “peace,” “security,” “necessary.”

Kenyans have been praised for their “order” and “restraint” and control during this election, but how could it be otherwise with such a heavy military presence?

How could it be otherwise when the much-proclaimed “peace” is enabled by militarisation? The militarisation of everyday life tells us, should tell us, that this is not a peaceful election.

This is an election conducted under conditions of ongoing war. That we cannot recognise this, that we dare not recognise this, should surely give us pause.

How have we so normalised militarisation that we consider it essential to everyday life?

Here is what I wrote in 2011, when I was in Nairobi:

“I remain interested in how the fact of being at war lodges itself in the quotidian: in the forms of freedom and practices of bodily integrity we have given up so readily; in the forms of surveillance that we now practice on each other; in the expressions of contempt toward Somalis that have moved from whispers among friends to openly hostile acts of spitting; in the forms of economic jealousy expressed against Somali-owned businesses and residential areas; in the re-consolidation of Christianity as a state religion… in the friendships that have been created and fissured by this war, or are now sustained (if tenuously) by not talking about this war; in state-sanctioned acts of violence — see, for instance, the residences demolished in the name of “safeguarding” Kenya.”

Indeed, for all our declarations of “never again” after the PEV, we continue to inhabit its logic and practices of violence. I asked, “What might it mean to share the banality of war as the basis for sociality?”

Last week, NTV was screening footage of a slightly rowdy voting crowd, understandable given long lines. I heard guns going off to “maintain order.” The guns going off elicited no comment. Because they are to maintain order.

How is the militarisation of everyday life not a form of quotidian violence? Can we distinguish between the militarisation “required” to maintain peace during elections and that required to “maintain peace” in non-election years?

In 2011, I noticed the militarisation of everyday life because of the war with Somalia — presumably, the war against Al Shabaab.

Because of my time in the US, because I had witnessed militarisation become banal under ongoing war regimes, I worried that the same thing would happen in Kenya.

I worried that militarisation would be considered necessary. Now, it has been named as the condition of peace. Indeed, it has been named as “peace.”

There is no commentary on any Kenyan site I have seen that discusses the militarisation of this election. I have been corrected on Twitter that Kenya has deployed “security,” not “military,” personnel.

I’m honestly not smart enough to tell the difference. I heard gunshots on an NTV report. I have seen men in uniform controlling voters.

I have seen a nation or at least a national media celebrate the militarisation of the election. It would be a mistake to believe that the militarisation of peace can be restricted to this election period. And the consequences of that understanding for Kenya should give us pause.

Keguro Macharia is an assistant professor of English and comparative literature at the University of Maryland, College Park, in the US