How KANERE Free Press resists biopower.

Author:Deramo, Michele C.


How does a free press resist state biopower? This article studies the development and dissemination of KANERE Free Press, a refugee-run news source operating in the Kakuma Refugee Camp, that was founded to create "a more open society in refugee camps and to develop a platform for fair public debate on refugee affairs" ("KANERE Vision Statement). The analysis of KANERE and its impact on the political subjectivity of refugees living in Kakuma is framed by Foucault's theory of biopower, the state-sanctioned right to "make live or let die" in its management of human populations. The author demonstrates the force relations between KANERE, its host country of Kenya, and the UNHCR through two ongoing stories covered by KANERE: the broad rejection of the MixMe nutritional supplement and the expressed disdain for the camp's World Refugees Day celebration. Using ethnographic and decolonizing methodologies, the author privileges the voices and perspectives of the KANERE editors and the Kakuma residents they interviewed in order to provide a ground-level view of refugee's lived experiences in Kakuma. As KANERE records refugees' experiences of life in the camp, they construct a narrative community that is simultaneously produced by and resistant to the regulations and control of camp administration and state sovereignty. In doing so, KANERE creates a transgressive space that reaches beyond the confines of the camp.


Par quels moyens peut une presse libre resister au biopouvoir de l'etat? Cet article sepenche sur le developpement et la dissemination de la KANERE Free Press, une source d'actualites geree par les refugies qui opere dans le Kakuma Refugee Camp (camp des refugies de Kakuma) fonde dans l'intention de creer > (extrait de Venonce de vision KANEREJ. Cette analyse de la KANERE Free Press et de son impact sur la subjectivite politique des refugies installes a Kakuma sopere dans le contexte de la theorie de Foucault du biopouvoir, le droit detenu par 1'etat de > dans son administration des populations humaines. L'auteur demontre les relations de force qui existent entre KANERE et son etat hote du Kenya, ainsi que le HCR, par I'entremise de deux instances dactualites en corns qui ontfait I'objet d'un reportage par KANERE : le rejet generalise du complement alimentaire MixMe et le mepris manifeste a Vegard desfetes du camp pour la Journee mondiale des refugies. En se servant des methodologies ethnographiques et de aecolonisation, I'auteur place au premier plan les voix et perspectives des redacteurs de KANERE ainsi que les residents qui ont participe aux entrevues afin defournir un apercu intime des experiences vecues des refugies a Kakuma. En rapportant les experiences de la vie des refugies internes dans le camp, KANERE developpe une communaute liee par le recit qui est a la fois le produit des reglements et du systeme de controle de I'administration du camp et de la souverainete de l'etat, et un element de resistance a cellesci. KANERE cree ainsi un espace transgressif dont la portee setend au-dela des limites du camp.


Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights affirms that all persons have the inherent right to freedom of opinion and expression. This right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers. This article raises the question of how the exercise of free opinion and expression occurs for individuals living in conditions of liminality and subject to the regulations of state and international regimes. Specifically, this paper is about the Kakuma News Bulletin (hereafter KANERE), a free press founded and produced by exiled journalists living in the Kakuma Refugee Camp in Turkana County of the northwestern region of Kenya, KANERE's mission to "speak in respect of human rights and the rule of law in order to create a more open society in refugee camps and to develop a platform for fair public debate on refugee affairs" (KANERE Vision Statement) is fulfilled without editorial or financial intervention from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (hereafter UNHCR), the government of Kenya, or any non-governmental organization (NGO) or aid agency associated with the camp. As a result of its decision to operate independent of external intervention, KANERE performs its mission from a position of precarity without a secure funding base and vulnerable to bureaucratic regulations that attempt to control the message being disseminated.

The analysis of KANERE and its impact on the political subjectivity of refugees living in Kakuma is framed by the theory of biopower, defined by Foucault as the state-sanctioned right to "make live or let die" in its management of human populations. (1) Biopower describes the means by which modern nation-states regulate their subjects through "an explosion of numerous and diverse techniques for achieving the subjugations of bodies and the control of populations." (2) I argue that the refugee camp functions as a technology of power that manages the feeding, housing, and provision of emergency services to populations whose fate as displaced persons is determined by the state. This is especially true in places such as Kenya, where current refugee policy requires that all refugees be contained in camps until a resolution to their status is determined. The effects of encampment is the subjugation of the very individuals it is meant to serve and protect. At Kakuma, residents are wholly dependent upon aid agencies for their survival. They exist in a state of liminality, displaced from their homelands as the result of protracted civil conflicts and segregated from local economies. The level of dependency among Kakuma residents is not only material, but psychic as well. According to Rose Iajj of the Centre for Social Development in Africa, whose research examines the administration of refugee camps, the "efficacy of the social technology in the administration of Kakuma ... manifests itself in refugees' internalization of bureaucratic rules as their own norms and values." (3) Even the production and dissemination of information--whether it be opinion, personal expression, or fact--is subject to editorial oversight by camp administration. Within this context, KANERE's function as a free press produces a transgressive public sphere that is coterminous with yet also resistant to the operations of biopower.

My approach and analysis are influenced by decolonizing methodologies that privilege the perspectives and lived experiences of the KANERE journalists and the Kakuma residents they interview. Drawing upon the work of Linda Tuhiwai Smith, decolonizing methodologies is defined here as the discursive production of knowledge by "insiders" about themselves for the purpose of dismantling oppression. (4) Thus, at the centre of this investigation are the individuals who produce KANERE, whose commitment to conveying the experiences and opinions of refugees warehoused in one of the most dangerous camps in the world singles them out as troublemakers, placing their lives and their future prospects at even greater risk. Foremost among the KANERE journalists is its founding editor, Qaabata Boru, whose narrative of displacement and insider perspective as a resident of Kakuma is foundational to understanding KANERE's objectives as well as the challenges KANERE confronts in order to fulfill its mission. Boru is, first and foremost, a journalist, therefore his writing and editing are based on the standards of journalism acquired through academic training and professional experience. However, his approach is also influenced by his experience of exile and displacement that occurred as a result of his work as a journalist in Ethiopia. Thus, Boru and his colleagues write not only to convey information, but also to critique the regimes that control their lives and the lives of Kakuma residents--the state of Kenya, the UNHCR, and international aid organizations.

Kenyan Refugee Policy and Kakuma Refugee Camp

In order to understand the relations of force between KANERE and the agents of biopower, it is important to review the evolution of Kenyan refugee policy after 1990 and the subsequent creation of Kakuma refugee camp. According to Verdirame and Harrell-Bond, Kenya became a party to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees in 1966, and later to the 1967 Protocol, the 1969 OAU Convention, and main human rights treaties. (5) Until 1990, the Kenyan government handled refugee affairs and conducted status determination interviews with UNHCR advisory support. Because Kenya received minimal aid to support refugees, it exercised negligible oversight of asylees entering the country, allowing them to settle freely and find employment on their own. (6) A small reception centre in Thika provided for destitute asylees while they awaited determination on their status. (7) Those who were not granted asylum were allowed approximately three months to find another country. The government refrained from erecting obstacles to local integration, therefore it was likely that most asylees remained in Nairobi. (8) Some refugees managed to create secure livelihoods for themselves, despite the broader economic uncertainties facing the country. Others continued to live on the edge of survival, subject to economic insecurity and police harassment, although individual citizens, church leaders, and NGOS would take action on their behalf. (9) Kenyan refugee policy was forced to change after 1990 when more than 400,000 Somalis crossed into the country, fleeing violence and social upheaval, followed by the arrival of 7,000 Sudanese walking boys who were separated from their families when their villages were attacked. The reception centre in Thika, set up to house 350 individuals, was quickly overwhelmed with 8,000 refugees. (10) These inflows prompted the government to...

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