Letters from TZ

Women don’t do bad things

The other day, a public service announcement was pulled from Kenya television because it had caused outrage in church circles and some sections of the public. Predictably, it was a funded message about safe sex that came courtesy of USAID and UKAID.

To give a bit of background, safe sex messages in many parts of Africa will usually mirror the ideology of the donor du jour. In the Bush years, the gospel was ABC – abstain, be faithful and condomise. The idea was to promote fidelity and in that way, control the spread of HIV and Aids. That was the approach of the Republican Party. An approach that they foisted onto the third world to compensate for for the money they gave towards HIV and Aids prevention and treatment.

In this left-of-centre Obama era, USAID is taking an extremely liberal approach to matters sexual. This is the approach of the Democratic Party.

When it came to issues of relational fidelity, Kenyans were previously admonished to be faithful to their partners. The ‘don’t stray’ campaign rolled out a series of advertisements that featured a well-respected public figure, sternly cautioning men to ‘wacha mpango ya kando’. We all nodded in agreement because it is accepted that African men are wont to wander from their marital beds in search of sexual adventure.

But in this current donor dispensation, where the issues of the day have shifted from fidelity between a man and a woman to marriage between a man a man (or a woman and a woman), the approach to matters sexual seems to have been irretrievably liberalised. The focus is on the individual, who is encouraged to do what he will in the pursuit of his own, personal happiness. Perhaps it was with this in mind that the controversial ‘weka condom mpangoni’ campaign was put together.

Rather than focus on fidelity, the campaign acknowledges infidelity, going one step further to suggest that women are also in the ‘mpango wa kando’ business. The advert that was pulled off the air features two women discussing an extra-marital affair. One of the women asks about her married friend’s lover and then advises her to have safe sex by using a condom. The whole thing is quite casual as if it is accepted that African women are wont to wander from their marital beds in search of sexual adventure.

But of course it’s not. Hence, in my opinion, the outcry. There was quickly a long line of people – clergy and laymen alike – queuing to cast the first stone. The advert was roundly condemned for pushing an immoral agenda. “There are better ways of passing useful information to society. This one has certainly failed. It openly propagates immorality, especially when all family members are gathered before television sets, waiting to watch news,” said Bishop Kalu of the Anglican Church of Kenya.

I wonder if the immorality of the thing would have been so apparent if two men had been discussing their infidelity. Would they have been accused of promoting pre and extra-marital sex to schoolchildren? If memory serves, the ‘wacha mpango wa kando’ ads were also aired during prime time, as families were waiting to watch the evening news. The difference being that while the earlier ads acknowledged infidelity, they didn’t envision female perpetrators. They focused on infidelity as a male affair that needed to stop.

The ‘weka condom mpangoni’ ads focus on infidelity as a female affair that needs to be regulated. The campaign doesn’t require women to be faithful; it just requires them to be more careful. And that is something that most Africans – male or female, clergy or lay – cannot accept. Women do not have sex with men who are not their husbands or long-term partners. That’s the African story, and we sticking with it. Never mind the screaming hypocrisy.

Infidelity is a fact of life that is true of both sexes. Whether the ‘weka condom mpangoni’ goes beyond acknowledgment to promotion, is a matter of personal opinion. Nevertheless, Kenya’s National Aids Control Council has announced that the ad will be repackaged to better reflect the morals of the Kenyan people.

We’ve come along way since HIV and Aids was first discovered and taken great strides to speak openly about the sexual aspect of its transmission. Honesty played a huge role in the fight against the killer disease, and it came at the expense of our morals, or lack thereof. To shy away from the truth it at this stage in the game, might be a step in the wrong direction.