Citizen-Suspect: Transnational Policing in the East African Warscape

The UCLA Department of Anthropology Culture, Power, and Social Change Group presents a Zoom talk about Kenyan "citizen-suspects."

Thursday, January 14, 2021
12:15 PM - 1:45 PM (Pacific Time)

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This talk will privilege the grounded geographies of the so-called ‘war on terror,’ focusing on those who grapple with its everyday policing powers. Informed by ethnographic research in the cities of Nairobi and Mombasa, I will explore how Kenyan Muslim activists experience and make sense of the networked assemblages of police power that transform urban spaces into ‘gray zones’ that fall within the ambiguous spectrum between war and peace. As U.S.-trained Kenyan police employ military tactics of tracking and targeting potential terror suspects in quotidian urban spaces, they rely on abductions, house raids and make-shift checkpoints— flexible maneuvers designed to match the amorphousness of the so-called enemy. I introduce the term ‘citizen-suspect’ to capture both how transnational police power is produced, and how it is lived and contested by its targets. Citizen-suspects contend not simply with the fear and paranoia that come with subjection to surveillance and suspicion, but with the knowledge that is needed to navigate the shape-shifting geographies of transnational policing.

Dr. Samar Al-Bulushi is an assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology at UC Irvine. Her research and writing interests include surveillance, policing, and militarized urbanisms in the context of the so-called ‘War on Terror’ in East Africa. She has worked for various international human rights organizations and is a contributing editor for Africa is a Country. Her current book project explores Kenya’s entanglement in the ongoing war against the militant group Al-Shabaab.



African Studies Center323.335.9965

Sponsor(s): African Studies Center, Anthropology