Electoral intrigue, ethnic politics and the vibrancy of the Kenyan public sphere
Postcolonial politics in Kenya has been dominated by protracted and tense ethnic, religious and regional divisions, brought to the fore with the contentious presidential elections in August and October 2017. Dominant discourses within the country present politics as a zero sum game, in which the same individuals and ethnic groups continually benefit. Equally, while politics appears as a zero sum and predicable game, Kenya espouses a vibrant and engaged citizenry that is knowledgeable and interested in public affairs. Debates over electoral politics and the actions of elected leaders unfold, within and outside of elections, in diverse and informal spaces in everyday life, from street corners and markets, to illicit drinking dens, to online forums such as social media groups. Thus, on one side, there appears to be an active, engaged and critical public sphere in Kenya. On the other side, these active discussions seem to do little to alter the overriding interpretation of politics along ethnic lines. Why does Kenya’s public sphere seem unable to alter the terms of political debate, despite its vibrancy and diversity across physical and online spaces? This seminar examines the nature, rhythm and people involved in daily public discussion across different media, interrogating how they relate to the potential for continuity and change in the terms of political debate. It argues for very different reasons, the features of debate in physical spaces and on social media have both developed in ways that frustrate the emergence of new and shared ideas.