Multi-party Democracy and Political Mobilisation in Kenya – the View from Political Anthropology
24 January 2017, 11:00 am – 1:00 pm
Nairobi: British Institute in Eastern Africa, Laikipia Road, Kileleshwa, Nairobi
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For the last two decades, and increasingly so since the 2007-8 post-election violence, scholarship on Kenyan politics has largely dedicated itself to explaining the phenomenon of what John Lonsdale has called ‘political tribalism’ – the mobilisation of ethnic identities in political competition. For some scholars, ethnicity in this politicised manifestation seems utterly opposed to the workings of a democracy as it ought to be, itself contingent upon an arena of debate in which other kinds of political affiliations, such as class-consciousness, can come to the fore. But whilst providing a central concern for scholars, when it comes to mainstream political discourse what democracy stands for is hardly a self-evident. How, for instance, should an anthropologist treat calls for democracy voiced by Luo supporters of Raila Odinga? This paper draws upon ethnographic data on the discourse of down-town political debates in Nairobi to reflect on the multivalent properties of democracy, and its use as a receptacle for a range of political sentiments. This data provides an opportunity to reflect on the capacity of authority figures to animate groups of opposition party supporters through oratory performances that frequently deploy concepts such as ‘democracy’, concepts that convince precisely because of their ‘open’ capacity to encompass a range of sentiments and experiences. Ultimately, this paper finds a role for a Durkheimian perspective on authority in the analysis of Kenyan politics. Pete Lockwood is a PhD student in Social Anthropology at the University of Cambridge.