Operation Linda Nchi

Sorry for the belatedness of this post, and that it doesn’t have any links.

The word “nchi” operates diversely in the current discourses on the army operation in Somalia which is ostensibly aimed at counteracting the security threat of Al-Shabab to not only Kenya’s coastline, a hub for tourism which contributes much to Kenya’s annual overall revenue but also Kenya’s interior territory. We are continually hearing about the presence of Al-Shabab members and “sympathisers” in refugee camps like Dadaab and in areas on Nairobi like Eastleigh, areas where members of various ethnic communities of Somalia and Northern Kenya are found.

Kabla ya kuendelea, ingekuwa vyema kujaribu kupeleleza maana ya neno “nchi” inavyotumiwa “nchini” katika maandishi na mazungumzo ya rejesta mbalimbali. Neno “nchi” lina maana gani, linatumiwa vipi na kwa njia gani? Katika kupa operesheni ya jeshi jina la “Linda Nchi”, serikali inataka tuchukulie operesheni hii vipi?

Whereas the definition of the Kiswahili word “taifa” is clearly, “nation” or “state” or an interplay of both, the word “nchi” has an ambiguity, I think, that enables it to be defined in a diverse set of ways, ways in which one cannot exactly, most of the time, point out. When thinking about Operation “Linda Nchi”, I find myself asking if it is really Kenya that is being protected and what this “protection” really means. “Nchi” can mean country but the ideological frameworks set up denote a mixing on territorial being and identifying and shared nationhood, a uniform nationalism in “supporting our boys” (though, I have heard, the troops sent to Somalia include both men and women but the phantasm of masculinity and the phallus in war and blood and violence and the sexual virility of men in uniform persists).

“Nchi” becomes a nation-space but, ingeniously, the whole logic of entering one’s other “nchi” to protects one’s own “nchi” does not pay attention to what meaning of “nchi” Somalis within and outside the Somali nation-space have. A while back, I came across a Somali LGBTI blog that covered issues of rights, the compatibility of homosexuality and religion and supporting each other as second generation immigrants within a foreign country. In an issue of The Hayly Telegraph, a daily literary magazine that ran during the Storymoja Hay Festival, Ellah Allfrey introduces us to Diriye Osman who brings in a queer side to Somali occupation of non-nation-spaces from a lesbian in south east London to a queer pre-adolescent in a refugee camp. Keguro writes, “I am surrounded by the dailyness of Islam. It feels nice, comforting” when he was recently in Nairobi. Visionary thinking and imagining abound in every direction.

All this is to say that I do not support militarism, it is sometimes a convenient sidestep of diplomatic channels, intellectual and public influences on thinking about security and ideologies with a certain space that impede peace and secure coexistence within another. For instance, I am continually shocked by the fact that while American and European weapons fuel Africa’s bloodiest wars and clashes, there exists strict weapon possession laws within America and Europe.

Which leads me to:

Kama sisi kweli ni “wananchi”, watu wanaoishi na wanaojenga na ambao ni nchi, ni njia zipi ambazo twaweza kutumia u-anainchi wetu katika kuimarisha hali ya nchi yetu?

Because I do not really believe in the project of defending nation-spaces without the input of those within these nation spaces and I want to think about how we can expand this input to thinking and acting. In fact, I think this operation is merely a ploy, a coercion on the part of Kenya to “do something” about the Al-Shabab threat and I continually question my role as a citizen when my right to “protection” which dangles between the nation-space I occupy and the nation-spaces that must be occupied for my “protection”. How does my identification with a singular nation-space, implied or not, function in a unilateral decision to carry out operations in another country without my express thinking or permission?

I get to finish up on this post on a day that has seen two explosions and the nerves of the nation has been deadened with paranoia, that liminal space before full swing patriotism and the unrepentant blood letting that comes soon after.

Even as the initial reasons for the military intervention unravel and we are left with a sense of raw and unsubstantiated patriotism and thirst for the Other’s blood, we have a choice on which way we can take. We can continue the military intervention, fighting a mysterious and not fully known entity that can disappear now and there only to re-emerge in the future here or we can pull out now and ensure that we have a working internal security mechanism that is sensitive to refugees (not what Rasnah Warah has been saying) and the “wananchi”, constantly bringing to the fore the humanity of all of us.

I hope not a lot of people will die as we make this choice.


  1. You are on to something here with the slippage of the meaning of the word “nchi”. Your words remind me of Bush’s convoluted logic that bombing the Torabora mountains in Afghanistan was somehow related to keeping America safe. Likewise, occupying Somalia, nchi geni, becomes overly invested with protecting nchi yetu.

  2. I think the word also calls out to a lot of other stuff about what is going on right now. “Taifa”, for me and possibly a lot others, is a very scary word, nchi is far more inclusive, calling out to the work of citizens in making a nation-space or even a state-space.

    People are continually justifying their grounds for this war not on Kenyanness (though it has a crucial part in all this) but on Kenyan citizenship, something that we have only been sure of recently but is “under threat” as it were, because of the recognition of Asian Kenyans as full Kenyan citizens. (More and more, this seems appropriate for the comment on your blog http://kweligee.wordpress.com/2011/10/23/utumishi-kwa-wote-kenya-slips-into-paranoia/ which rocked as always)

    We could even say that ethnic communities from the North Eastern Province are not Kenyan precisely because of the disavowed sense of tribal living implied in the profiling that I am seeing more and more in this war. I am even becoming sensitive about calling people subjected to this kind of profiling “Somali” and I falter at the kind of naming and categorisation that is contingent on a unitary One and which we as bloggers and lefties are sometimes dependent on. Tutawaitaje?

    Finally, we could also decide to say that nation building is most of the time a state project that is uncharacteristically taken up by a large number of hyper-identifying citizens. That is to say, in vague terms, that I don’t trust it.

    It feels good to be blogging again.

  3. The function of this word “Somali” is something I was mulling over in my sleep last night. Allow me, Kenne, to steal that idea and blog on it later — while avoiding homework and my essay that is due too soon and I haven’t even worked on it.

    I get into trouble for my distrusts of the nation state project. Most people are so ideological about they see no other alternative outside of the nation, outside of knee-jerk patriotism. There is a part of me that believes that the process of nation building usually involves one or another kind of ethnic cleansing, and that is why it scares me.

    1. ALLOWED!

      Do you know the Southern Sudanese government has a basic penal code in place that criminalises gay sex and is silent on same gender sex in women, very British! I was very disappointed by that, by the fact that they started of with legislation and thinking that is on its way to impose a heterosexual side to nation building and starting. To many people, S Sudan got off relatively clean.

  4. […] it. We know this much: it’s hot. Two-suns too hot. And what of the people who live there? Kenne Mwikya writes of how those in North Eastern are Othered: We could even say that ethnic communities from […]

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