Negotiating ‘Kenyanness’: Public discourses and Private realities
Most current debates on the Kenyan nation revolve around the unfortunate events that followed the disputed 2007 presidential elections. The resultant post-election violence claimed over 1,200 lives and left thousands injured, displaced and billions worth of property destroyed. The nation is still currently agonizing over the resettlement of thousands of people evicted from their homes after the violence. Food prices and other essential commodities have skyrocketed and social inequality is threatening the social fabric of the nation. More disturbing has been the rise of several militia gangs including Mungiki, Sungusungu, Saboat Land Defence Force, Taliban among many others. The key question that most analysts of the Kenyan scene have been grappling with is not just the impact of the post-election violence but more specifically the reasons that led to the violence and how a repeat of these unfortunate events in future could be avoided. In this paper, we examine the public and private discourses that have come to inform the debates around ‘Kenyanness’ as a concept. We argue that, if ‘Kenyanness’ is an ethical and philosophical doctrine, then it should relate to the broader context of Kenyan nationhood whose object is to aspire or inspire the Kenyan people into the love for their country, Kenya. Our basic argument is that the post-election violence in Kenya provided a key test to the more often projected Kenyan collective spirit. While questioning the public discourses around the Kenyan collective spirit, the paper raises pertinent issues on the concealed private realities that continue to inform the country’s social, economic and political developments. ‘Kenyanness’, as we suggest, ought to recognize the two levels of similarity and difference as strong building blocs for the Kenyan nationhood that is peaceful and prosperous.