Here, Have Your Safety.

Michael Onsando
10 June ,2014

The President made an infomercial for security.

This seems to be something we need to think about. What does it mean when safety is packaged and given to us in a 1 minute 45 seconds long clip? Morgan Bassichis writes:

“… we internalize and embody this understanding—“you make me feel unsafe, that’s an unsafe neighborhood, we need someone to keep us safe”—as if safety is something that is done to us.

We might instead think about “safety” as a self-generating process over time that is impacted by external conditions but not dictated by them. We will not look to people, spaces, policies, or institutions to “make us safe” but will instead look to the resources that rest in ourselves and our communities that can decrease our vulnerability to harm and increase our ability to make grounded choices that will foster our wellness.”

In the informercial, President Kenyatta tells “terrorists, criminals and thugs” to run and hide. He further backs this threats with “thousands of cameras and millions of pairs of eyes.” Yet, this is something we all know. The video wasn’t really meant for the bad guys. The video was meant to be seen as a consolation. Something is being done for our safety. Safety is being given to us – finally.

As if safety is a thing, like chocolate or a hug.

“Citizens and residents of Kenya, we are together in the fight against terror and, together, we will prevail.”

Usually, I’d ask who this “we” defines – but the President himself has already answered this question. He is talking about citizens and residents. This is a very important distinction to make, given recent “war on terror” tactics. Now, of course, the nationalists will come here and say that Uhuru Kenyatta only has a duty to the people who elected him. That, as the President of Kenya, he can only take care of “citizens and residents.”

That’s like saying you can only take care of family members in your home even when you have guests. And this is my answering a nationalist question within a nationalist framework. I’d much rather just people care for people without thinking about nationality.

“Ulinzi unaanza na mimi, ulinzi unaanza na wewe”

(protection begins with me, protection begins with you)

This rhetoric has been brought up by the government a few times in the last year. It echoes the Nyumba Kumi initiative almost verbatim. The idea that community policing is a good one. This is a very dangerous idea because community policing relies on the idea of the people within a community identifying a stranger. It then couples this with the idea that being a stranger is, in and of itself, a reason to be feared. This is a thing communities have been socialized into thinking. And, as Sara Ahmed reminds us constantly,

“Strangers are not simply those who are not known in this dwelling, but those who are, in their very proximity, already recognized as not belonging, as being out of place.”

It’s tricky.

How do we recognize someone as a stranger? The simplest explanation in this context is the Kenyan Somali who, even as we name them, we have only given half a foot it. Already, by the name, we refuse to let them fully into our space. We keep them in Somalia, even after they’ve been here for generations. And then, because of this “Somaliness” in them, we recognize them as strangers. As people we cannot trust.

This has been seen in instances where passengers alight from buses when a Kenya Somali comes on board. Or in the numerous instances Samira Sawlani recounted for us last week. The creation of stranger danger is very important in systematically dehumanizing. In 2007 the stranger we were afraid of was tribal. We fit people into the mold of a stranger – even people we knew like our friends, family etc. All became strangers. Aleya Kassam reminds us of a time before that when the stranger was the Kenyan Indian. She writes:

“What does it do to a community….to feel that they don’t belong?

I have given my whole heart. It lies nestled in Kenya’s mouth. I have nowhere else. I am alive nowhere else. But it is like having an abusive lover. One that beats you up, humiliates you, taunts you about whether you are worthy of belonging to them. But I love. And for that reason, I can never leave.

What does it mean to be Kenyan. For me right now, to be Kenyan is to feel helpless.”

This is important. It is important to know that the language and tactics used to manipulate us are largely the same. And they all centre around stranger danger.

They all assume that the leader was doing what was best for “citizens and residents.”

The worst part about all this is that, no, I don’t feel any safer. While the words of the informercial are meant to be comforting, all that I feel is wary. I’m wary about the idea of the state of Kenya implementing mass surveillance (although, now they might not because the contract wasn’t tendered). I’m worried about a president whose words are about bringing an end to terrorism but whose actions only seem to foster it. I’m worried about a government that is actively targeting its own citizens and, most of all, I’m worried about a society that celebrates all this.

At the end of the video the Kenyan flag fills the screen and the words “Tuwe tayari kuilinda” (Firm may we stand to defend) are sung out. It is important because these are the only actual words of the anthem we hear apart from the first line “Eh mungu nguvu yetu” which was translated to “Oh God of all creation” but directly means “Oh God, our strength.” The focus is, of course, on the production and distribution of safety. Which, as the video insists, can only be achieved through the providing of a military defence and mass surveillance. More guns can’t possibly be a solution to a gun problem. Violence only begets violence.

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