Female activists and politicians in Kenya say misogyny and violence against women are an all-too familiar aspect of political campaign periods
“They threw raw eggs at me as they abused me, saying I am a woman and therefore not fit to be their leader. At a shopping centre, where I was holding my final campaigns before the voting in the 2017 elections, an elderly man stood up and angrily shouted at me: ‘So you want to be a member of parliament? Who will take care of your family? Your place is to bear children and cook for the family.’ Then he sat down amid cheering from the crowd.”
Janepher Wanyonyi, who ran for a parliamentary seat in western Kenya in 2017, is describing just one of the interactions she faced every day during her eight-month campaign; none of them attracted the condemnation of the authorities. In Wanyonyi’s view, the old man’s statement is typical of a view of women that is common in Kenyan society. Women should be seen and not heard, she says; they are not expected to lead. Their place is on the periphery – mainly in the kitchen and on the farm.
“Women are not only discriminated against, they are beaten by their husbands, while some are denied education,” says Wanyonyi, who has since started the process of registering a non-governmental organisation, Sauti Ya Mama (The Voice of Women) to help tackle violence against women.
The organisation aims to champion the rights of Kenyan women, particularly in remote areas where violence against them is prevalent. The plan is to train women to know their rights, and the organisation will also act as an SOS centre that offers women help, including counselling in cases of sexual violence, while also seeking to empower them economically. Sauti Ya Mama plans to have regional offices in all 47 of Kenya’s counties, making it easy for women to access its services.
Entrepreneur and politician Esther Passaris, who won the women’s representative seat for Nairobi county in 2017, says political campaign periods appear to offer men the opportunity to display overt misogyny. The 2013 general election in Kenya, in which she unsuccessfully contested for the same seat, provided her with first-hand knowledge of this. She was faced with physical attacks and attempts at sexual assault, as well as attacks against her on social media, which, Passaris says, women in politics constantly have to endure.
“There were thousands of fake Twitter and Facebook accounts assigned to attack me,” she told Africa in Fact. “The accounts would carry feminine names so as to give the public the impression that it was a women-women affair. Despite the attacks, I did not give up. Neither did I respond to their abuse. You fight your enemy with love. That is how I won the seat last year.”
A December 2017 Human Rights Watch (HRW) report observed that widespread sexual violence against women and girls was a feature of the 2017 elections and the post-election violence that followed. According to the report, the violence involved rape (including vaginal and anal rape), gang rape involving two or more perpetrators, mass rape, attempted rape, rape with an object, putting dirt into a woman’s private parts, unwanted sexual touching, forced nudity and beatings on genitals.
Many of the affected women, HRW said, reported that their rapists were policemen or members of Kenya’s security forces and militia groups. About half of the assaults, HRW said, involved gang rapes, with the majority of the victims contracting sexually transmitted diseases as well. “Many women and girls said they suffered incapacitating physical injury or experienced other health consequences that left some unable to work or care for their families,” according to the HRW report. “Most had not received post-rape medical or psychological care, including medication to prevent HIV and other sexually transmitted infections and unwanted pregnancy.”
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), about 35% of women globally have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence. Violence against women is a major public health problem and a violation of women’s human rights, it argues. In Kenya, meanwhile, cases of physical violence such as wife battering have declined, but intimate partner violence and sexual violence are on the rise.
The causes of violence against women are many and complex, according to WHO. But its research shows that men are more likely to perpetrate violence if they have low literacy levels, a history of maltreatment and neglect as children, were exposed to domestic violence against their mothers, are subject to alcoholism and exposed to gender norms that tolerate violence and a sense of entitlement over women.
“Dress nicely and just walk around the streets of Nairobi or any other major town – men will give you funny looks,” says Dr Joyce Laboso, the governor of Bomet county. “They will attack your modesty. Sometimes they will ask, not politely, for sex. To them, there should never be a ‘no’ from a woman.” Whereas domestic violence against women mainly involved physical beatings, more recently it had increasingly involved intimate and sexual violence, she says.
This is something that Suzie Kimeu, a mother of five in Nanyuki, central Kenya, experienced for herself in 2013. “(That day), I had just come from a farm, where I worked as a casual labourer, when my husband asked for food,” Kimeu told Africa in Fact. “I said I had not prepared anything because there had been no food at home. He slapped and kicked me while my children wailed, and then he ordered me to go the kitchen and prepare the food that I had brought from the farm.”
Later that evening, Kimeu says, her husband, who was drunk by then, asked for sex. “I told him I was tired, having been in the fields for more than eight hours, but he did not listen. He forced me to have sex. I remember bleeding a lot. He threatened to chase me from our matrimonial home and said that he would marry another woman if I did not sleep with him.” After a series of similar attacks, Kimeu says she divorced her husband three years ago and is now “happily single”.
Women governors, MPs and senators are now partnering with non-governmental organisations to deal with the increase in cases of intimate partner sexual violence, says Laboso. “From past experience, we know that sexual assault in a relationship does not occur in a vacuum,” she says. “It often occurs alongside other abusive behaviours. For instance, the majority of women who are physically assaulted by an intimate partner have also been sexually assaulted by that partner.”
One of the non-governmental organisations addressing sexual assault and other abuses against women in Kenya is the Coalition on Violence Against Women (COVAW), which was founded in 1995 to respond to “the silence of Kenyan society” regarding violence against women and girls. COVAW chair Carolyne Odula-Obonyo says the organisation supports research on gender-progressive policies and legal and institutional frameworks, as well as their implementation, besides providing input on critical social themes relating to gender.
“We generate and share new knowledge relating to the development and well-being of girls and women, as well as solutions to the problems they face,” says Odula-Obonyo, a gynaecologist and obstetrician by profession, who works at the University of Nairobi’s College of Health Sciences. She notes that the biggest challenge in the fight against men’s violence are deeply ingrained cultural practices, which forbid women from revealing what they go through (such as being beaten by their husbands) in public.
Kenya’s global scores on gender-related violence paint a gloomy picture. Some 43% of married women have experienced sexual violence, while 32% of young women aged between 18 and 24 have experienced sexual violence and an estimated 23% of girls are married before their 18th birthday. Violence against women and girls, UN Women says, can be arrested by expanding women’s access to services that deal with their sexual and reproductive health needs – including post-rape care and counselling if needed – and facilitating their access to the justice system and safe-house networks.
The UN Women’s Safe Cities Initiative is an example of how this can be achieved. The project, which the global body conducts in partnership with other UN agencies, local and national governments and community groups, works to create safe public spaces for women and girls. It has been established in 21 cities across the globe so far, including Cairo, Cape Town, Kigali, Maputo, Marrakech and Rabat, and that number is growing. These include environments that are sexual harassment-free and safe public spaces.
But Odula-Obonyo says there is still much more to be done. As the late UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan observed in a speech to the Inter-Agency Video conference for a World Free of Violence against Women in New York on 8 March, 1999: “Violence against women … knows no boundaries of geography, culture, or wealth. As long as it continues, we cannot claim to be making real progress towards equality, development and peace.”
In this Africa in Fact edition dedicated to culture, Fred Khumalo paraphrases our mutual friend Mondli Makhanya who, in the midst of a debate with a right-of-centre interlocutor, asserted that, “I am a South African and that’s where it ends”. Much as this position is apt within a national discourse on identity politics, if we zoom out to the continent, Africanness has to be our departure point; for in one simple sense, culture is the outwardly radiating manifestation of our being in the world.
To elaborate, Max, a cab driver in DC who hails from Ghana, shares the following insight, “African culture teaches us from the earliest days to have respect for other people; you would think that with money and technology we would be happy and content but we have lost that culture. There is no respect for other people.” Culture often portrays more than a colourful aesthetic or funky tone, instead promoting a value base to what we represent, what we do, and who we are in the world. Hence the lament when culture loses its charge.
As our readers will appreciate from our zesty cover, however, the manifestation of culture on the African continent, as we have presented it, is all-embracing and flies effortlessly across the spectrum from food to fashion, soccer to the sounds of Afrobeat, religion to the Congolese rumba and beyond. Challenges may abound, but it’s an exciting time to be African.
Recent work events confirm the current fuss over all things African. At the Africa Transformation Forum in Accra, dazzling shades of Kente cloth were proudly worn by overseas delegates, while a more recent event at Ikoyi in St James, London, verified the hype associated with this West African inspired menu of plantains, jollof rice, efo, suya and other culinary treats, with cuisine fit for a lady and a lord; literally. South African wines are increasingly fêted in North America, as confirmed by Cape Classic wines recently wining a prestigious award in the US.
In short, there is increasing traction for Africa’s cultural sharing and export. With this comes the tension of protecting local intellectual property rights and balancing this with an expanding global market of incremental consumers. Nicky B highlights this in a poignant piece on African music, with respect to songs such as Wimoweh and Soul Makossa. Charmain Naidoo picks up on the issue of cultural contestation in her presentation on African fashion, while Anna Trapido suggests that on the foodie savoir-faire front, pitted against the EU’s 837 Geographical Indicator (GI) protected goods, Africa has only four. These inequalities are palpable.
Yet, as Andrew Panton recognises, in Africa the beat goes on, at least in the DRC where music sustains society. And it is not only melodies, food and fashion that take to the stage; African film is a niche market in the industry that holds much potential for development. Verónica Pamoukaghlián tells us that Nigeria and South Africa contribute $1 billion to the continent’s annual GDP. Whereas the former’s production dwarfs the latter’s, in box office revenue the southerners pull in 7.5 times as much, at $90 million.
Analytically, the very notion of culture, which John Kakonge engages in detail in his piece, needs to be retraced back to its beginnings and this necessitates some attention to history. This, coupled to the mantra that “Africa is not a country”, leads Luke Mulunda to suggest that we refer to “cultures of Africa” instead of “African culture” to promote an appreciation of the diversity and magnitude of the phenomena at hand.
Taking history at its broadest reach, we present an article by Delme Cupido on the plight of Africa’s “first peoples” with notable challenges and significant advances to recognise their human dignity before focusing more specifically on the San in Zimbabwe in a provocative piece by Owen Gagare that exposes their difficulties. Keeping with the theme of migrant peoples, Ini Ekott dives into the lives of Fulani pastoralists who since time immemorial have been nomadic and who now face major adaptive pressure in an existential threat to their culture.
In terms of concomitant diversity, we see Khumalo’s “Afropolitan” squaring off with so-called “white” Africans, who are, according to Kevin Bloom, still in the process of negotiating the identity of their Africanness. Meanwhile, Terence Corrigan and Vaughan Dutton find no evidence of a consistent religion-governance nexus, which flies somewhat in the face of intuition given the significance of faith-based traditions proselytised onto the continent and their cultural richness.
Ronak Gopaldas unpacks the “reverse flow” migration of sporting Africans onto the terroir of old colonial masters, with reference to France’s recent victory in the FIFA World Cup, using this as an exemplification of the outflux of some of Africa’s best and brightest human and cultural capital. Tom Osanjo provides the flipside of this coin, discussing the success of ex-pat sports stars back in their home countries, such as footballer Dennis Oliech from Kenya.
After all, our African identity is only the beginning, the rest is what we choose to retain, create, inspire. In January, the world lost one of its most talented sons, the late, great, Hugh Ramapolo Masekela. I still remember him turning to me during a live performance of The Boy’s Doin’ It in England, pointing and belting out “and this Durban boy’s doing it here in Cambridge”. I felt proud of being African and proud of the funky Africa Bra’ Hugh was representing on the global stage. In the face of adversity, racism and inequality, those warm, colourful, cultural strains of Africa streamed out sweetly through his lyrical trumpet on that cold, frosty, northern night. “Africa’s century is only just beginning,” I thought to myself, as I smiled infectiously.
The beautiful game has transformed the lives of many African football stars, but maladministration at home means these players have to go overseas to shine
Like many visitors before him, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg did the tour of Mama Oliech’s, a “must visit” restaurant in Nairobi, when he came to Kenya last year. The eatery is the epitome of how football can change the fortunes of a family.
“I had lunch in Nairobi with Joseph Mucheru, the Kenyan Cabinet Secretary of Information and Communications… we ate at Mama Oliech’s Restaurant – a local place everyone recommended. One of my favourite parts of travelling to a new country is trying the food. I enjoyed ugali and a whole fried tilapia for the first time and loved them both!” Zuckerberg gushed.
The restaurant, located in the upmarket Hurlingham area of Nairobi is owned by Mary Oliech, whose son Dennis is one of Kenya’s best-known professional footballers. Owing to Dennis’s fame and fortune, the restaurant not only got a facelift but receives unquantifiable visibility, thus attracting more customers.
Dennis Oliech awarded best player at the LG Cup Africa. Photo: LG Electronics
Dennis is a legend of Kenyan football, barrelling his way into the national psyche when still a schoolboy. He later joined the paid ranks, playing for Al Arabi in Qatar. Holding the record for the highest number of goals scored for the national team – 34 – Oliech was later to ply his trade in France playing for Nantes, Auxerre and Ajaccio.
Dennis’s story mirrors many others across the African continent, where football has lifted entire families out of poverty to better lives. George Bwana is an agent whose charges play in Kenya, Zambia and Europe. The former secretary general of Kenya’s Gor Mahia Football Club says he is impressed with the economic progress some of the players in his stable are making.
“I have seen them buy flats or build flats for rental purposes. What most of these players need is good financial advice because their time as players is fleeting. It is my duty as their manager to give them sound financial advice,” says Bwana, who is currently undertaking a Masters in sports management from South Africa’s Nelson Mandela University.
Meddie Kagere exemplifies the current crop of African players – borderless people who move to where the money is. Born in Uganda of parents from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Kagere has played in Uganda, Rwanda, Kenya, Albania, and is now with Tanzanian champions Simba SC.
In an earlier interview with this writer, Kagere said that footballers’ careers had a short life span, which they must make the best of when they can. “I know in a few years’ time I will be over the hill and I must always look for what is best for me and my family,” he said.
Unfortunately, this strong urge to succeed has seen some players and their managers cut corners. This is rampant among African players, especially as regards age. It is an article of faith that most African players have two ages – their real age and their playing age; the latter can, at times, be as much as five years lower.
In 2016, Nigeria’s 2015 Fifa U-17 World Cup-winning squad had almost half of its 60 tested players reportedly fail a mandatory MRI screening that establishes the age of squad members. This faux pas was to continue at this year’s World Cup, when Nigerian goalkeeper Francis Uzoho fired off a tweet celebrating his son’s 17th birthday.
“Wow, my second son, Michael, is 17 today. I seek God’s blessings for him. Daddy loves you, boy,” he posted. Which any normal dad would do. However, the matter gets a bit complicated when you consider that Uzoho’s official papers show that he is only 19 years old. So, we have a 19-year-old with a 17-year-old son. The tweet was quickly pulled down when it went viral.
Then there is the issue of corruption. This June, the Ghanaian government dissolved the country’s football association after its president, Kwesi Nyantakyi, was pictured taking $65,000 from an undercover reporter pretending to be a businessman keen to invest in Ghanaian football.
Also netted in the operation was Kenyan Adan Marwa, who was set to officiate as an assistant referee at the World Cup in Russia this year. He was caught on film taking a $600 bribe from the same undercover reporter. The continent’s football body, CAF, immediately swung into action, banning Marwa from football activities for life.
The other cheating area is highly debatable. It is a matter of fact that many players and their teams believe in the power of black magic. There have been cases where teams refused to use official entrances, believing that the designated entries had been “treated”.
Agent George Bwana confesses there was a season when his club, Gor Mahia, was doing badly in the Kenya Premier League. “The league was well under way and here we were lying in position 13 out of 18. Some elderly supporters came to my office and ordered me to look for a powerful witch doctor to straighten things out. Being a staunch Christian, I refused. All I asked was for more money to sign quality strikers, to which they agreed. At the end of the day, we missed winning the league by a whisker, finishing second,” he says.
Bwana says that having healthy account books will fix most of a club’s problems. In comes sports betting giant SportPesa. According to the CEO, Captain Ronald Karauri, the firm came into football to help raise the standards. Currently, the company sponsors the Kenyan premier league as well as the two leading clubs, Gor Mahia and AFC Leopards; together, the sponsorships amount to $3 million annually. “In Tanzania we sponsor Yanga and Simba, while in the UK we sponsor Hull City and Everton. Southampton is our official betting partner, while Arsenal is our African betting partner,” he says.
Such sponsorship has seen some people accumulate a lot of clout that others have used to propel themselves into politics. The most famous in Africa is Congolese politician Moise Katumbi, who is one of the continent’s richest men. Katumbi – who owns TP Mazembe, which has won the CAF Champions League – is seen as a front-runner in the DRC’s presidential polls on December 23, this year.
In Liberia, George Weah, riding more on his exploits in football than his political abilities, won that country’s presidential elections in December last year, beating more seasoned politicians.
So, what does the future hold for Africa’s football? As Karauri of SportPesa says: “Africa is full of talent and what we lack are structures to nurture this talent. We need to identify young talent, but unfortunately even the federations seem to have lost focus. If African governments make sports a priority, which they should, African teams can dominate the world.”
But not everyone shares Karauri’s view. Roy Gachuhi is a veteran football journalist with over 40 years in the trade and an elephantine memory of regional football events. Roy, who has just written a book, Kickoff, that focuses on the beautiful game, argues that African football has been internationally influential for some time, pointing out Weah’s winning of the World Player of the Year in 1995.
He agrees with Karauri that mismanagement is the bane of African football. “The problem is with our management,” he told Africa in Fact. “It is still in the stone age. Its main hallmarks are mind-boggling greed and incompetence. This is the challenge of the future.”
Perceptions that ethnic African cultures are primitive as measured against a western way of life are not supported by modern anthropology
Recently in Kenya, in a remote village deep in the western part of this East African nation, a young man aged 23 was discovered to have secretly married his teenage cousin.
In the Luhya community, where cousin is synonymous with sister, alarm bells went off immediately and the “couple” was subjected to a bizarre cleansing ritual that involved, among other things, stripping naked in public, sitting in a sheep’s punctured intestines and having a tortoise walk on their backs as they mocked a sexual act. The event received a lot of media attention; the ritual was the community’s cultural way of punishing and cleansing incestuous members.
According to Gregory Shaku, a village elder and custodian of culture among the Kabras people, a sub-clan of the larger Luhya tribe, incest – or sex between close relatives – is taboo. “If they are not cleansed through the tortoise ritual,” he said in a phone interview, “they will carry a generational curse and their lineage will not survive it. Their children will be dying or will turn out abnormal.”
The ritual, according to traditionalists, is part of this community’s norms and values, and would generally be referred to as a characteristic of African culture. But different communities across the continent have their own ways of dealing with incest and other vices.
Opinion is divided over whether indeed there is an African culture. As some argue, Africa is a collection of hundreds, if not thousands, of communities with their own unique cultures. So a more politically correct phrase, “cultures of Africa”, has emerged.
The diverse African cultures vary from one country to another, and also within countries. For instance, you could say that there is a Kenyan or a Nigerian culture or a South African culture. But within the various communities/tribes in each of these countries, you have the Maasai (Kenya), the Ibo (Nigeria) and the Zulu (South Africa), each living according to their culture. The culture of each ethnic group centres on its social setting and is depicted through a number of identities such as food, marriage, dress, art, music and oral literature.
Talk about African culture needs qualification, says Tom Odhiambo, a literature lecturer at the University of Nairobi. Basically, this means you have to specify the “Africanism” in it. “It’s pretty much the same way you would talk about the Kenyan culture to mean the Kenyan way of doing things. Yet Kenya has 42 tribes and 85 speech communities, each with their respective unique cultures,” Odhiambo told Africa in Fact. “African culture”, in his view, is a generic term representing the various landscapes of African experience.
Throughout Africa, people speak a variety of languages, practise numerous religions, dress differently, have unique cuisine and live in various types of dwellings. The unique customs of African ethnic groups are woven into their cultures in a tapestry that’s every bit as colourful and diverse as the people themselves. It is this conglomeration that many call African culture.
Africa is inhabited by various ethnic nationalities with different languages, modes of dressing, eating, dancing and even greeting habits, agrees Gabriel E. Idang of the department of philosophy at the University of Uyo in Nigeria. “But in spite of their various cultures, Africans do share some dominant traits in their belief systems and have similar values that mark them out from other peoples of the world,” he wrote in a 2015 paper on African cultures, African Culture and Values. “A Nigerian culture, for instance, would be closer to, say, a Ghanaian culture on certain cultural parameters than it would be to the oriental culture of the eastern world, or the western culture of Europe.”
These dominant traits could be said to form a continental culture, or as Odhiambo says, an “Africanist” culture. Anthropologists also say the different cultures found among people living on the continent have some Africanness about them that qualifies them together and separately as African culture. The trick is turning this diversity into a strength, says Godfrey Kipsisei, an authoritative voice on Kenyan culture, who teaches at the University of Nairobi’s Institute of Anthropology and African studies.
He points out that perceptions that ethnic African cultures are primitive as measured against a western way of life are not supported by modern anthropology. But Africa’s rich tapestry of cultures is being eroded by the influence of the West, which kills local languages and destroys political systems. This annihilation is based on the belief perpetuated by western powers that African cultures are primitive and thus need civilisation.
“Primitive on which basis? Africans have been served by their cultures effectively for centuries.” In Uganda, for instance, Kipsisei says, traditional doctors were performing surgeries way before so-called modern European medicine arrived there through Egypt.
But scholars and traditionalists can also agree that change is as inevitable as it is in the natural world. As Idang also wrote in African Culture and Values: “Many cultures around the continent are now taking on a more western feel. Indeed, culture needs to change; (that) which wants to remain static and resistant to change would not be a living culture.” All cultures, he says, are carried by people, and people do change their social patterns and institutions, beliefs and values and even skills and tools of work. “A culture cannot but be an adaptive system,” he concludes.
Globalisation and the rise of Internet technology and mobile communication are forcing African cultures to adopt new lifestyles, even when it hasn’t been easy to do. “The flag follows the cross,” says Kipsisei. “Cultures with stronger political and economic muscle have obviously heavily influenced African cultures since colonial times, while Africa has influenced them in a very small way.”
Over the centuries, African cultural systems have encountered different cultures from around the world. Arabs crossed into North Africa from the Middle East during the 7th century AD, bringing with them the religion of Islam. Europeans began settling in the southern portion of the continent in the mid-17th century. So did South Asians at a somewhat later date; they settled mainly in the areas of Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania and South Africa.
Nevertheless, despite these arrivals – or incursions, depending on how you see them – African cultures and traditional African customs remain mostly intact around the continent. In Africa, cultures have been closely tied to their languages, but even this is changing. “The Suba in western Kenya speak Dholuo language after being assimilated by the Luos, but they still identify themselves as Suba,” says Kipsisei. “Even Africans who speak only foreign languages will retain their ancestral identities.”
Modernity is seen to be more influential in Africa’s urban centres, while people in rural areas still hold on to their cultures, though with some losses and gains. In outline, the pattern here is that they adopt certain values and norms from other societies while dropping parts of their own cultures that have outlived their usefulness. Female circumcision as practised by a number of tribes in Kenya has “dropped off naturally”, for instance, Kipsisei says. Other aspects of culture that are being abandoned include child marriage, nomadism and the inheritance of a wife from a dead male relative.
The persistence of Africa’s many local or ethnic cultures can contribute both to their internal cohesion and to their capacity to integrate with the wider world. “These different cultures tend to create a balance in social, economic and even political spheres,” says Kipsisei. The existence of a range of ethnic groups in African countries “encourages negotiation and building of coalitions or alliances,” he argues. “Countries with fewer tribes always have issues. In Rwanda, where there are two dominant groups – Hutu and Tutsi – the divide was so huge that it led to the genocide. The Somali speak more or less the same language, yet they have been fighting for years.”
All said, the positive dimensions of Africa’s cultures – from unity and nature conservation to arts, dance and activities that inspire happiness – show that they can be innovative and instrumentally beneficial by stimulating development in society.
African governments and their formal business sectors often hold up the informal sector as the nemesis of formalised growth and organised development – yet for many citizens on the continent (and elsewhere), informality is a lifeboat in increasingly challenging economic seas. This edition of Africa in Fact explores this phenomenon, which is more complex than it might seem.