Responsibility in Crisis: Knowledge Politics and Global Publics

Knowing Africa

There is a problem with knowing Africa, and it is not only one of stylistics, and it is not only one of risks, such as Robert Ouko seems to have taken on in trying to unveil corruption in high places in Kenya. Authorities, experts, and audiences have trained themselves, or been trained, to expect and to produce simple, general, and useable narratives about Africa, expositions that conform to already imagined and established scripts, narratives that may seek to privilege a certainty but hardly ever achieve that objective. There arePage  255 economies in these productions of knowledge of Africa, in the search for a privileging certainty, whether in the hands of Ouko as he sought information on corruption possibly to take to his President, or in the hands of international experts such as members of the New Scotland Yard team, or in the hands of a public Commission of Inquiry which met for thirteen months. In our Ouko project, the sustenance of a tension between the quest for Ouko's murderer/s and the quest for knowledge of Africa is an explicit act to force attention onto the naturalized or pre-scripted understandings or renderings of Africa's past or present. The quest for Ouko's murderers and the quest for a useable knowledge of Africa are projects of a similar cast, though of a very different scale. Our struggle to sustain attention to a wider array of processes surrounding the death of Robert Ouko is also a struggle for a more complex, and more appropriately complex, rendering of Africa's past/s and present/s. Africa must be understood in its specificity, not only in its generality. And, as hinted above, this program of complexity must involve an engagement with the contingencies of interest and risk that saturate such efforts as Ouko's to make a case and ours to produce a narrative on the Ouko saga. It will not, importantly, assume the frame of reference of the state or other relevant and investigative bodies in defining the protocol and scope of inquiry. As with the problem of audience that Ouko faced in constructing his account, it will not assume that there is one reader, with a restricted set of assumptions, but rather it will acknowledge the multiple, differently positioned, and pluriversal nature of the audiences attending to the question of Ouko's and Africa's fates.

The unfinished story of Ouko's demise, as the unfinished account of the Rwanda genocide, are in part the consequence of the still unfinished investigations, of evidence and knowledge still to be unearthed, still to be brought into public view and expert analysis. But it is inevitably also a consequence of a will to keep open important stories, to sustain the powers and poetics imparted by uncertainty, by narratives that will not or cannot be completed, narratives that work their powers in the absence of closure, in the unsettlements of knowing. [28] Here, uncertainty stands as an accessible and alternative political frame against the confidence underlying various development protocols, structural adjustment programs, population control campaigns, democratization and civil society initiatives, health interventions, and global campaigns against terrorism.