Imagining Social Justice: Images of Obama, Culture and Human Rights in Kenya

My colleague Steve Ouma Akoth, one of the consultants on the project, is organising a seminar at the BIEA this Thursday which relates to another project he’s working on.  It promises to be a really interesting event, below Steve explains a little more about this project.

The election of Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States of America was entangled with the much longer quest for political and legal reforms in Kenya.  More so the very moment of Barack Obama’s inauguration in January 20, 2008 occurred against the shadows of post-election violence in Kenya.  Amidst the numerous interpretations of the violence, there is no doubt that it was fermented by the many years of authoritarian presidency that came to a head following the bungled elections on December 2007.  The various conjunctures in this violence are explored in my research project and the book project that proceeded from it.

First and foremost is the coinciding and coincidence of the electioneering periods in Kenya and United States of America. Both elections coincided around the year 2007 and 2008. Then there was the coincidence that the major contenders in both elections in Kenya and the USA made claims to Luo parentage. In Kenya, the elections were contested chiefly between Mwai Kibaki and Raila Odinga, the latter having largely positioned himself as the embodiment of social transformation. Under the rubric of Kazi ianze sasa (‘Let the work (of transformation) begin’), he promised to reverse the entrenched socio-economic inequalities and usher in the era of a new constitutional order. On his part, Mwai Kibaki epitomized the forces of the status quo as aptly captured in his campaign slogan, Kazi iendelee (Continuity or ‘Let the work continue’). In the United States, Barack Obama positioned himself as a possible first black president of the United States who would embody the dream of Martin Luther King.

Second was the widely held perception that both Raila Odinga in Kenya and Barack Obama in the USA represented choices that would somehow change the politics and design of their respective societies. In the United States, it was expected that a Barack Obama victory would see more attention paid to addressing the social exclusion of the people of color and other minorities and disadvantaged peoples while, in Kenya, a Raila Odinga presidency would significantly disrupt the country’s politics of ethnicity and patron-clientelism. It is in this context that I have undertaken fieldwork since 2008 paying attention not at what Barack Obama is doing in the United States, but how his attempts to authenticate himself by creating links with Kenya and more specifically K’Ogelo is a subject of politics and realization of human rights.

BIEA_Seminar invitation_2015

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