Joe, a popular Kenyan magazine that ran from 1973 to 1979, occupies an interesting space in the history of popular African culture. Though the magazine claims to speak for “the common man” of Kenya, thereby contesting the corruption of class-based denigration from Kenya’s economic upper echelon, the magazine often relies on problematic depictions of women and the lower class. In effect, Joe manages to embody and enact the same sort of hierarchizing practices that they seek to critique. Achille Mbembe, in his recent essay “Decolonizing Knowledge and the Question of the Archive,” notes this same concern in the management of South African universities, and understands that modern knowledge production is more than just the vestiges of a colonial or imperialistic discursive legacy—he paints this entity as a moving target, one which shifts its focus and adapts an intangible slipperiness because it melds contemporary liberatory ideals with discourse and schema “inherited from an entirely different age and epoch.” But it’s important to note that it’s never enough to merely reveal the ways in which archives reinstitute colonizing practices while attempting to escape from them; these kinds of revelations can never be a drop the mic moment—they’re a given. Instead, this paper will explore how hierarchy manages to lure Joe, as a producer of knowledge, back to systems of domination and control, and more broadly, the specific ways in which African-produced archives emulate Western ideals.
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