NOT DRESS! IT’S MISOGYNY, SEXISM AND LAWLESSNESS

From verbal and physical attacks on girls and women in my life, it is clear to me that the stripping of women by some male scoundrels as recently witnessed in Nairobi, Bungoma and Mombasa had nothing to do with the dressing of those women.

These attacks are outward projections of a society drenched in misogyny, sexism and lawlessness. The attacks confirm that there exist pig-headed natives clinging to Stone Age ideas of masculinity and conceptualisation of women that make nonsense of Kenya’s post-modernist posture and dreams.

An unsustainably large proportion of Kenyan men are marinated with the lie that they own women’s bodies. They disrespect women and the laws that protect them. It takes simple listening to conversations of male relatives or colleagues to realise this.

These men arrogate themselves fake licence to women’s bodies. They even believe they can prescribe what girls and women they know nothing about should wear. I am a witness to this psychosis:

Once, at an upmarket Nairobi restaurant for lunch with my then pre-teen daughters, three older men who spoke my first language started talking about my daughters in most disrespectful terms. When I turned to confront them, they stared blankly and left without ordering lunch.

Now my daughters are in their early and mid-teens. Grown men on their way to work have catcalled at them almost every time we have gone out for a jog or walk.

A few years back, my cousin was molested at a bus stop in the city as she waited to board a matatu back to college. She had just come from a job interview with a bank. Two men out of the crowd pinned her to a wall as a third one reached under her bra and fondled her breasts.

More recently, a man brazenly groped my friend’s buttocks as she walked towards Yaya Centre on her way home from work. Police officers who witnessed the abuse laughed about it before driving off.

Many more of my female friends have been insulted, force-kissed and forcefully hugged by strangers. Not that it would have been any acceptable had they known their attackers. In all instances, wananchi who witnessed didn’t intervene.

All these abuses against girls and women are connected and they have nothing to do with the manner of dressing. Nor had they anything to do with place and time. They are sustained by law enforcement failure in Kenya.

There appears to be an epidemic of chauvinists in Kenya. They drive or tout matatus. Some dash by on boda bodas as others idle their time away at bus stops, malls and kiosks. Others haunt entertainment places. Many of them mimic civility as they walk or drive by residential areas.

Sexists and misogynists are as likely to be highflying professionals as they could be unemployed youth, schoolboys and illiterates. They are a colossus that straddles all faiths, classes, races, ethnicities, generations and occupations.

An even greater heartbreak is that institutions of public service delivery, including government technocracy, the National Police Service, Legislature and the Judiciary are habitats to some of the most decorated misogynists.

All this explains why sex offenders in Kenya are more likely to go scot-free than face justice. Fortunately, those Kenyans that believe in the non-negotiable equality of men and women; girls and boys in rights, worth and dignity are refusing to be cowed.

The #MyDressMyChoice street and media protests are a welcome first step in the right direction to deactivate sexism and misogyny in Kenya. This serious national task cannot be left to the police and politicians.

Organisers and protestors of the #MyDressMyChoice campaign must view this week’s activism as a first in many actions needed to address a systemic problem rooted in patriarchy – the worst, most lethal and persistent of all the ancestors of chauvinists.

The voices of those Kenyan women and men that stand for human rights, gender justice and the rule of law must not go silent. Miscreants like those filmed stripping women are doomed cowards. When challenged, even with simple questioning, they scamper for their temporary cover in anonymity.

The solidarity shown between activists and the media in recent weeks in defence of personal freedoms and gender justice need to be fostered and sustained into a strong movement against all forms of gender-based prejudices and crimes in Kenya.

It takes an unwavering stance by ordinary Kenyans, women and men, individually and in their organisations like the brave Kilimani Mums to start rolling back impunity and transform our country.

Only when we deactivate all forms of misogyny, sexism and lawlessness can we as citizens begin to experience true safety, security and progress.

Nduko o’Matigere

Nairobi, Kenya

29.11.2014

WESTGATE: WHY NO ONE WILL BE HELD ACCOUNTABLE

Failure by government and state agencies at Westgate last year is no longer a matter of debate. Kenya’s political leadership, security and defence organs all failed, square. There is consensus about this across the political divide.

Yet no one will be held accountable. This is the outstanding matter that festers one year on after September 21. Without full accountability for the failings at Westgate, there is no reason why it cannot happen again.

Right from the top: the Presidency, cabinet, the police and Kenya Defence Forces – all these organs acted like hapless novices throughout the siege and terror at Westgate. They all failed without exception.

By virtue of the authority conferred them and job descriptions, Kenyans expected and deserved leadership, truthfulness, intelligence and effectiveness from these officials in their response to the terrorist attack.

Instead, the men responsible for national security resorted to blunt deception and ego flapping.

The military and police commands competed to outdo each other before the cameras, often giving unverifiable, conflicting information. For both commands, response was late, confused and ineffective. It got even worse and dangerous for first responders and those still trapped in the mall the moment KDF units got in.

President Uhuru Kenyatta promised Kenyans an inquiry but that still remains a promise, even a mirage one year later. I think no one will be held accountable over Westgate any time soon. There are simple, entirely personal reasons for this.

The most obvious reason is that all those that failed at Westgate are tightly connected individuals. Their ties to one another are not about their political nor professional duties to serve the Kenyan public but personal loyalty as bosom friends.

Their mosaic is that of a team of happy go lucky flops who can only lie to the nation to survive another day on the public pay roll. No single section of these public officers has moral command to hold the other accountable. They failed as friends and not as public officers. So no friend will get fired.

Secondly, it is highly likely that the National Security Council (NSC) already knew something about September 21 before it happened. But they failed to act. This will be too damning if let out in a public inquiry like the one promised by the president. The presidency is a part of NSC. So there will be no public inquiry. This is exactly how impunity looks.

Without a serious independent public inquiry on Westgate, we will never get to know, for example what the Presidency knew about September 21, when, and what the Commander-in-Chief did about the information. Kenyans will never know what the Inspector General of Police knew, when he got to know it and what he did with the information. We might never get to know what exactly led to the kind of operational and command irresponsibility witnessed at Westgate.

The last, and perhaps more worrying reason why we should not expect anyone to be held accountable for the failings at Westgate has something to do with the sex of the people in charge of our national security and defence. Retrogressive masculinity is a dangerous thing.

As devotees of outmoded masculinity, the men of power that failed at Westgate will never take responsibility for their failings. They won’t even apologize for letting Kenya down. That would be a sign of weakness and a betrayal to their medieval notions about manliness. They would rather die than own up.

So for these bunch of official flops, a cocktail of shameless deception, self-congratulation and arrogance are a suitable substitute for accountability.

I honestly do not see anyone among the Presidency, Cabinet Secretary Joseph Ole Lenku, Inspector General David Kimaiyo, Chief of Kenya Defence Forces Julius Karangi and even other back room operatives like Mutea Iringo or Francis Kimemia stepping forward and admitting failure at Westgate; make a public apology; outline lessons and new measures to ensure September 21 does not happen again.

Accountability for Westgate will remain buried in the codes of private loyalties and friendships; the dark rooms of unprofessional conduct by those entrusted with the security and defence of Kenya and in backward masculinity that appears to be the credo of government and state officials in charge of national security and defence.

Without full accountability over September 21, there is nothing indicative that more Westgates cannot happen to us again.

 By Nduko o’Matigere