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BIEA Seminars: Imaging Social Justice

July 14, 2015

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

23 July 2015, 11:00 am - 12:30 pm

By Steve Ouma Akoth

23rd July 2015
BIEA, Laikipia road Seminar Room
11.00 am – 12.30pm

This project reveals how notions of inclusion and exclusion are mediated through the images of Barack Obama and the politics of patronage in K’Ogelo, Siaya County. It examines the happenings in K’Ogelo after Barack Obama becomes president of the United States as an illustration of how culture and patronage tend to be appropriated in contemporary Kenya to define the meanings and frame the subject of human rights. The Book project explores various spaces and conjunctures where the images of Obama continue to be used in K’Ogelo and among other actors who live on the social margins of Kenya’s cities to give a cogent and systematic reading of both the cultural context and human behavior.

In this endeavor, the research project and the Book explore performative cultural forms, including festivals, masquerades, social rituals, public spectacles, drama productions, music, pictorials, memory, and other forms of contemporary popular culture. K’Ogelo is used here to make a specific argument, but which has rich potentials for more general application. Put briefly, the argument is that the election of Barack Obama as president of the United States has been widely used by some residents of K’Ogelo to define the boundaries and meanings of being and becoming ‘Luo’ (read as being and becoming ‘authentic’). In terms of state relationships, this claim of Barack Obama’s belonging seems to offer the marginalized people of K’Ogelo leverage for finally realizing human rights that is expressed in the language of maendeleo.

The core research question investigates three interconnected aspects of culture, human rights and citizenship thus: (a) how do forms of production of culture mediate what it means to be a Kenyan in the contemporary era; (b) how are such productions of culture in the context of  claims of Obama’s belongingness in K’Ogelo connected with politics of belonging and the concomitant dynamics of inclusion and exclusion, and (c) what is the significance of  human rights strategies for the reconfiguration and authentication of citizenship in contemporary Kenya?

Steve  Ouma Akoth is an anthropologist and the Executive Director of Pamoja Trust. He is an ACLS Fellow 2015