On Kenya’s Security Act

In the middle of last month, the Kenyan government pushed through a new law that implements huge restrictions on just about everything, including increased securitization, heavier penalties for law-breaking, restrictions on free speech and movement and about every form of expression, with strong repercussions for refugees and other vulnerable populations especially, leading it to be called “Kenya’s PATRIOT Act.” Some of the provisions of the law have been temporarily suspended, but other provisions remain and such obstacles may not hold back the expanding security state.

Dissecting laws is never easy, especially when lawmakers don’t want it to be easy. But Keguro Macharia has produced a lesson in reading and critiquing very harmful laws, and I wanted to link to it for those interested in issues such as this. Macharia says that the law “transforms Kenya into a less free, less possible space” and dedicated numerous blog posts to studying the act. In addition to his notes, he also wrote a map of the laws amended, including amendments that target journalists and refugees, before writing five dedicated pieces about how the law will change the lives of those in Kenya. It’s all worth a read, but here I’ll quote three of his summaries and highlight some of the rest.

On police:

The Security Act vests more power in the president; gives the police more power; and substantially diminishes civilian scrutiny of police actions.

On refugees:

The amendments in the Security Act increase refugee vulnerability. They ignore international legal measures designed to help refugees have livable existences. They are anti-refugee and anti-human rights.

On citizen reporting:

Citizen reporting highlighted police extortion and violence during Operation Sanitization Eastleigh, and was crucial in highlighting the atrocity of #kasaraniconcentrationcamp. Valuable information about state-sponsored and state-facilitated violence and corruption comes to light because of citizen reporting. Restrictions in the Security Act attempt to silence independent media and citizen reporters. Silence has already started to fall.

On how Kenya’s new law constricts the definition of an acceptable “human,” a piece that moves in different directions on how “the human” has been broken apart by ethnicity, by perceived guilt, by complicity to the state, by the state’s security apparatus, and others:

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.

[…]

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

On how Kenya as a space is changing, how the new law will affect everyday life, and how those who accept the new law are already affected by the Kenyan state:

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… It is becoming increasingly difficult for Kenyans to remember that it was not always like this. Now, we hesitate to enter places that do not have such security checks. We have learned to expect them, to submit to them, to keep proving our innocence as we are all implicitly criminalized.

[…]

Kenyan everyday life is often understood through resilience: Kenyans are “tough,” Kenyans “survive,” Kenyans can “take a lot, and more.”

The repressive state relies on this resilience to increase repression: You can take it. Be proud of how well you can take it.

How to see this resilience as one of the conditions of our undoing? How to see what it licenses? How to distinguish between acts of resilience and everyday violations?

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