BARUA YA BARAZA: Thinking about Gaza
From the Curator’s Desk
I’ve been struggling with this newsletter, overwhelmed by the horrors of what’s happening in Gaza. I’ve written and deleted many paragraphs, looking for the right words to capture the sheer terror and helplessness that I have felt every day since October 7, every time I glance at my Twitter timeline or Instagram feed. And if I am feeling this way, how much more for those who have lost entire families, for those in darkness, under siege and under constant bombardment in Gaza.
I don’t have clever words to say at this time. What comes to mind is Mahmood Mamdani’s book When Victims Become Killers, exploring the historical, geographical and political forces that came together in deadly synergy in Rwanda, culminating in the 1994 genocide. Mamdani’s crucial argument in that book is that there was “no mysterious evil force bizarrely unleashed” in Rwanda three decades ago. The genocide was not “unthinkable”, even if it felt that way. It was, in fact, the product of a series of decisions influenced by historical legacies, geographical factors, political dynamics, and social pressures, made by real people, from high-ranking state officials, local officials, community leaders, all the way down to ordinary villagers.
It may seem like a small point, but Mamdani’s argument is this, and applies especially in this moment to those making the first draft of history: many times, when we are reporting about atrocities, we cannot simply say that the violence is “unthinkable”. Doing so amounts to a convenient evasion, a way to avoid grappling with the why it is happening. In Mamdani’s words, “Atrocity cannot be its own explanation. Violence cannot be allowed to speak for itself, for violence is not its own meaning. To be made thinkable it needs to be historicized.”
Instead of fixating solely on the gruesome details of the genocide, as many other writers have done, Mamdani’s goal in the book is to place this tragic event within its broader historical context—to make it thinkable. The only way we can truly comprehend acts of violence, establish accountability and justice, and prevent future occurrences is by thinking about them. So, even in this brutal moment, remember that what is unfolding in Gaza is not so complex that it defies explanation. There are no mysterious, ancient, cryptic forces at play here.
In the meantime, here’s:
What We’re Reading: We Shall Overcome: this is one of those rare instances when I plug my own work! I just got published by Africa Is A Country, where I argue that one cannot fully appreciate Kenya’s normative Christianity and its particular obsession with public piety without appreciating the legacy of the East African revival. This is the first of my three-part series exploring the intersection of evangelical Christianity, youth, gender and politics in Kenya.
What We’re Watching: Title Deals, by Joy Kirigia at Africa Uncensored, delving into the intricate web of corrupt dealings within the very institutions responsible for safeguarding Kenyan land, ensuring just allocation, and accurate documentation. This pervasive corruption has resulted in numerous Kenyan citizens losing not only their land but also their life savings and cherished memories—a devastating blow to their entire livelihoods. Watch Episode 1 here, and then continue to Episodes 2 & 3.
Christine Mungai | Baraza Media Lab
Baraza and International Press Association of East Africa | Mixer
Mark your calendars for November 1st as we present an exciting opportunity in collaboration with the International Press Association of East Africa (IPAEA). Prepare for a night of mingling with media professionals from various corners of the region, where you can socialize and network. Engage in a captivating panel discussion where fellow journalists will offer their reflections on the year gone by, providing valuable insights and perspectives.
This event is your chance to become a part of the journalists’ community and immerse yourself in their intriguing experiences from the past year. Join us for an evening of connection and thought-provoking conversation.
Date: 1st November, 2023
Register to attend here.