Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Euro-centric Reads: What to Read on Kenyan Politics by Prof. Joel D. Barkan

Prof. Joel D. Barkan presents a commentary on Kenya’s foreign affairs syllabus reads in the Council of Foreign Relations hosted publication Foreign Affairs. When I read the article I noticed some glaring omissions and deliberate characterization of Kenya’s history. First, to come to my eye was the division of Kenyan history into three epochs.
Its [Kenya’s] history can be divided into three eras: the late colonial period and the transition to independence in 1963; the post-independent period from 1963 to 1990; and the country’s two-decade-plus struggle since to become a modern democratic state. - Joel D. Barkan
In my opinion the post 1990’s period cannot be balked into one set and as much as the Kenyan state has had its struggles in transforming to become a modern democratic state. The new millennium should have merited an era by itself so that in the least we had at least four eras. The most notable and significant events in the Kenyan state have happened in the new millennium. The most notable being the smooth transition of power in 2002 from the then monolith KANU to the opposition party NARC. The election period and coming into force of a coalition government in 2008 after a bundled general election in 2007 and almost eventual collapse of the state. Then there is the coming into force of a new constitution in 2010 and challenges thereafter and problems within the framework of the coalition. Throughout the period of 2008 to 2012 Kenya has had its fair share of influence and interventions by international actors. Also, it’s during this period is when the ICC court came calling with significant consequences in the long haul.
My second problem with Prof. Joel’s piece is his collection of publications which he curates. The readers of this piece are typically non-Kenyans and they might not have the local knowledge we possess and thus they might miss some quintessential narratives. A good example is his analysis below that follow the era one reads.
Like most African countries, Kenya is a multiethnic society created by European colonialism. Unlike most former colonies, though, its territory was extensively settled by Europeans. That process resulted in a system of racial domination similar to those that emerged in Zimbabwe and South Africa. - Joel D. Barkan
While it is true Kenya is a multiethnic society with its fair share of problems tribalism being one of them. The settlement by Europeans could be considered extensive however this settlement happened in the fertile areas within the country. This resulted in the phrase ‘white highlands’ being coined .  
My bone of contention with Prof. Joel is in analyzing the present day contemporary politics he did not branch out of academic circles to explore modern day contemporary literature. Kwani? Publications offer insights into the contemporary political landscape. Also, his curated list lacks some African voices especially the pre-independence era. Facing Mount Kenya by Jomo Kenyatta is a book he ought to have considered for inclusion plus Not Yet Uhuru by Jaramogi Oginga for the second era.
In the same breath I must say I agree with most of the assertions presented in the article especially concerning few publications covering the present day contemporary politics.
Regrettably -- and somewhat surprisingly -- no concise overviews of contemporary Kenyan politics have been published in recent years. - Joel D. Barkan

Perhaps this could be explained by the mere fact that unlike the West where there are foundations which support such endeavors. Plus, universities which have a strict tenure system where a professor’s tenure is based on the number of publications and research projects they have done. In Kenya there are very few foundations which engage in supporting universities to conduct and publish this kind of research. This has lead to a phenomenon where you have researchers from the north jetting in to southern countries and conducting research funded by foundations from the northern.

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