Making Sense of Violence in the “Badlands” of Kenya



In this article, I situate violent conflict affecting pastoralists in northern Kenya in the context of media representations of violent incidents and the relationship that many Kenyans perceive between such incidents and election politics. I argue that media representations are implicated in cycles of violent conflict through erasure and misrecognition. Most crucially, media representations tend to focus on cultural stereotypes that tacitly legitimate ongoing violence by explaining it away as timeless and cultural. These unidimensional representations can distract from the culpability of political elites and from the role of economic and political disenfranchisement in sustaining violence. They can also mask the ways in which some elites benefit from the propagation of cultural stereotypes even while deliberately engaging in manipulation of ethnic fault lines. Finally, I argue that these already ubiquitous representations hinging on cultural stereotypes contribute to a global politics of marginalization, within which so-called indigenous violence is simultaneously politically expedient, routine, and forgettable.