Language in Conflict: Kiswahili Metaphors in the International Criminal Court Indictment Discourse in Kenya

Philip Visendi Lumwamu

Research output: Book/ReportPh.D. thesis


Metaphor is one of the most powerful linguistic devices that convey messages through expanding understanding by relating the unknown to the familiar. Through metaphors, complex issues and ideas can be simplified and therefore restructure concepts and opinions, create solidarity within a community and also be a vehicle to transmit/institutionalize ideology. Research has revealed that our conceptual system is largely metaphorical and what we do and experience every day are very much matters of metaphor. Metaphors shape the way we understand the world. Language is generally an important tool in conflict and conflict resolution. However, the role of metaphor in the same has not been given adequate attention in Kiswahili research. The indictment of some Kenyans at the International Criminal Court (ICC) generated conflicting debate on the role of the court in resolving disputes in Kenya. This study provides a comprehensive analysis of how Kiswahili metaphors have been used in the general debates about ICC in Kenya, and how issues of reconciliation and transitional justice have been addressed in such debates. The specific objectives are, first, to identify the types of Kiswahili linguistic metaphors used in the ICC discourse in Kenyan media. Second; to analyse the underlying conceptual metaphors that shape the thoughts and reasoning towards ICC discourse and, third, to examine how usage of Kiswahili metaphor in ICC discourse has been harnessed for either conflict escalation or conflict resolution and peace building. The study is anchored on the integration of Cognitive Metaphor Theory developed by Lakoff and Johnson, Critical Metaphor Analysis as defined by Charteris-Black and Communicative Action Theory by Jürgen Habermas. The study adopts an analytical research design. The study population includes texts on three genres of language use: political debates about ICC from public prayer meetings, political campaign rallies and post-election violence victim narrations. Purposive and theoretical sampling techniques are employed in the selection of texts from media houses archived from key events that involve ICC debates. The study limits its investigation to ICC discourse as exemplified in Kenyan media from January 2012 to March 2013. Content analysis and qualitative methods are employed to analyse the texts sampled for the study. The findings of the study reveal that metaphors are snapshots of the mental processes that are used to frame the ICC conflict in Kenya. The metaphors used in the discourse communicate bipolarized representations of ICC which is an impediment to peace and reconciliation. There emerged both positive and negative metaphor patterns regarding conflict. These results are expected to act as a point of reference on the general usage of Kiswahili metaphor as a major tool of conflict resolution within Kenya. In addition, it is hoped the results would assist language experts in developing Kiswahili as an appropriate language for sustainable peace in Kenya. The study recommends that if communication through metaphors is conceptualized as a process of negotiation about ICC based
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationKisumu
PublisherMaseno University
Publication statusPublished - 13 Dec 2019

Note re. dissertation

PhD dissertation completed with the support of Danida, the BSU programme, and the Department of Social Sciences and Business at Roskilde University (DSSB). The PhD degree has been conferred by Maseno University, but during his PhD research Philip Visendi Lumwamu was co-registered as a guest PhD student with the DSSB at Roskilde. In the process he has spent a number of long-term research periods in Denmark, has attended research training courses both at Roskilde and – facilitated through AEGIS - in Sardinia. Preben Kaarsholm – – has been the Danish PhD supervisor for Philip Lumwamu’s project since its beginning in 2013.

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