No Joshua, no Jesus, no joke

What a grand production these corruption scandals are turning out to be! I can’t remember a period in my lifetime when information flowed so freely from the vaults of Government. Because there is no doubt in my mind that the leakers have the full backing of some people at the highest levels of Government. There’s no way in hell we would have found out about it otherwise.
These are some psychological warfare tactics being deployed against millions of otherwise reasonable Kenyans. As soon as ‘NYS II: The Next Corruption Frontier’ was released, attention shifted from everything else that is wrong in this country. Our gaze is now trained on Uhuru Kenyatta, and we have hope in our eyes. The people are falling at the feet of the prince, beseeching him to ‘deal decisively’ with the bandits.
However, with the power at the President’s disposal, I find it hard to believe that Uhuru is completely clueless when he directs that investigations must take place so we can all know the truth. In fact, with his intelligence machinery running in full gear, he very likely has the whole picture, and so does ‘kijana wa kutangatanga’. Raila Odinga too, with his ‘networks’, likely has a pretty good idea that money is continuously being siphoned out of the Treasury. I’m willing to wager that the billions we’ve been hearing about lately are small change in the grand theft scheme of things.
Meanwhile, the band of brothers seem more concerned with handshakes and hugs. At the rate things are going, it won’t be long before we graduate to kisses and cuddles. But hey, we’re in the season of adding insult to injury. With one side of their mouths, they sanction the release of information that is intended to enrage an entire population, and with the other they say ‘let’s pray’. So you slap us in the face with one hand, and then rub our cheeks with the other.
But that’s not all. They then go ahead to hug it out, purporting to forgive each other, talking about ‘my brother this, and my brother that’, as if their brotherhood will bind the wounds they inflicted through a vicious campaign that left dozens dead and maimed in their names. These staged apologies and public shows of reconciliation are exactly what they look like: Fake. But perhaps we needed to witness the national prayer day and various other fences that were mended in its aftermath. Reason being that it is now clear for all to see that we are in a de facto single-party State.
All this talk about changing the 2010 Constitution could potentially lead to the re-introduction of Section 2A, the contentious one-party State provision in Kenya’s previous constitution that galvanised the struggle for Kenya’s second liberation.
So yes, as we are lulled into a state of mindless political entertainment, the powers bestowed upon us by Article One are steadily being usurped, and the crazy thing about all of it is that the plays are being made as we watch.  If you haven’t already, it’s time you snapped out of it and realised that you are now living in a country without an active opposition. Ekuru Aukot might be running his mouth making claims about being the leader of the ‘official Opposition’ but as things stand, his is still a voice calling out in the wilderness. No one knows from whence the Messiah will come.
In the absence of a Joshua, and with no signs of Jesus, Kenyans need to find a way to free themselves from slavery. Because what else can you call it when you break your back for a day’s wage, only to be taxed to your eyeballs, and then robbed of what remains?

How will this freedom come? I honestly couldn’t tell you. What I can say is that freedom only becomes a possibility once you realise that you have been enslaved, even by the people you trusted to shine a light in the darkness. One thing is now abundantly clear: Our needs, wants and desires are secondary to our leaders’ own interests. They are little more than a power-hungry, cash-grabbing lot. We would be wise to keep that in mind as we figure out how to dislodge the bulbous thumb of the State – and its freshly co-opted opposition – which will drive us into the ground if we offer no resistance.

ILLUSTRATION | www.laoblogger.com

Baby, you get no love

There’s a guy I often see at the neighbourhood gym, and I use the word ‘see’ with much consideration. I see him often, but I have never once spoken to him. Not because he’s an elderly gentleman – I’d say about 65 – but because I go to the gym to convince myself that I can outrun my bad diet. To feel like I’m killing the fat monster, not just feeding it. I’m not there trying to look cute.

There is nothing cute about exercising. Burpees are not pretty. Squats are downright ugly. And no man wants to see a woman’s face when she’s lifting weights. It’s not something that he will want to remember later. And let’s not even get into the uncontrollable breathlessness, outpouring of sweat, and less-than-floral scents that waft across gym floors when humans try to make fat a by-product of their over-indulgent lifestyles, rather than their only reason for living. So yeah, the story goes that working out is good for you, but let’s be honest, for most people it’s not a good look.

With that being said, I don’t hop on the treadmill expecting to make a love connection, which is why this gentleman caught me flat-footed with his advances. Sure, I’ve seen him sneaking a peek at my Luyhia assets when he thinks I’m not watching. And yes, sometimes he’ll enter into my line of site and begin to stretch his muscles with a flamboyance that should be reserved for a peacock fanning its feathers. I would even go so far as to say that he pushes himself to the physical extreme to get my attention.

Even with all that, I really didn’t expect him to make a move. But then, one day as I’m huffing and puffing on the cross-trainer, crying salty tears and cursing the exercise gods, he comes up to the machine right next to mine and begins to fiddle with it. I figure he’s up to his usual shenanigans so I level up and begin to step even faster, hoping that he’ll get the hint and leave me alone. Next thing I know he’s leaning in.

“Sweets,” he says. “You are so energetic, eh?”

For a second there I almost lose my balance. Ati sweets? Wow. What was it about my gapless thighs, stinky armpits and perpetual grimace that made him think of sweets? More than that, when did we graduate from zero communications to the language of lovers? The whole thing got me thinking about the future of male/female relations.

See, just because I had never said a word to him didn’t mean I hadn’t noticed him. I figured he’d look better in a suit than he did in stinky sweatpants and well-worn rubber shoes. Most likely he was some kind of boss. Most likely an industry big wig with a big job and a stash of cash. And yeah, had I been 20 years younger and dumber, I might have envisioned a prosperous future between this dude and my bank account.

But as things stood, I was in the gym to lose my love handles, not to get a handle on love. I wasn’t in the market for either romance or finance. I just wanted to keep fit, and ‘sweets’ were definitely not part of my diet.

So I mumbled something incoherent in response and jabbed at the arrow button so that it took me to level 12. After that I didn’t have enough oxygen to engage, and my would-be paramour slinked off to another piece of gym equipment from where he proceeded to work himself into a sulky frenzy. He hasn’t spoken to me since.

I observed two things from this event. One, there is little hope for mature relationships when a 65-year-old man can get mad because a girl in the gym was mean to him.  And two, I have become so disenfranchised with our current political leaders that I would rather write about my gym membership than our repulsive and premature pre-election machinations.

I refuse to be burdened with a 2022 state of mine while living in a 2018 world. It’s about time we all got weary of being manipulated by schemers who will only be satisfied by the sweet taste of conquest. These high-level power games that we continue to spectate upon from the stands will inevitably turn into hunger games where voters are habitually thrown to the lions. And while everything in life is political it’s time we rejected the advances of a toxic political leadership and focused on working out how to establish governance systems that put people first.

The world needs more Winnies

Women can be their own worst enemies. That’s a fact and it is indisputable. The good news is that rivalries in the sisterhood can be resolved. Life offers every individual the opportunity to grow and change, and any mature woman will tell you that grown women do not compete, they collaborate. They counsel each other in private and celebrate each other in public.

They push for progress because experience has taught them that while sisters can do it on their own, they can do better together. It is only those women who are still learning their lessons, or those who choose to ignore them, that cannot resist the temptation to hog the limelight hoping that their counterparts will shrink in the shadows.

With that being said, women face an even greater threat, and that is womanhood itself. When all other assaults on her character fail – usually for lack of evidence – a woman can still be dismissed on account of her gender. She will be held up against an impossible standard of ‘virtue’ and be found to be unworthy of all her other accomplishments.

Winnie Mandela was no exception. She should have been celebrated as the face of the struggle while she was still in the struggle. Instead, much of the focus was on her romantic trysts with younger men. The story is told about that day in February 1990 when Nelson Mandela was released from prison after 27 years behind bars. The image of the two of them holding hands as Nelson walked from prison to freedom will forever be remembered as one of the most iconic images in history. Winnie stood by him with her free fist raised in victory. Later that night, as the 72-year-old prepared for bed in his hotel room, Winnie left to be with her young lover – she did this in full glare of the world’s media, or so the story goes.

At that moment, her status as a ‘scarlet woman’ was confirmed, and the legacy of 27 years of struggle was nudged further into the shadows. The narrative that had consistently packaged her as a woman who couldn’t keep her legs together was entrenched, and that is how many chose to view her from then on. The irony is astounding when you think about it. That society would choose to sully a woman’s entire existence purely on the basis that she had sex with a man. It’s probably the most cliché thing in the world, but for a man sex is an achievement, be it illicit or otherwise. For a woman, it is a ball around her neck, weighing her down with the unmet expectations of a culture that objectifies women sexually but expects them to show no signs of having engaged in the act. Talk about a catch-22.

My heart grieves for Mam’ Winnie. She was more than a woman. More than any man. She was an institution. An institution that continued to push against an unjust system even as consistent and choreographed attacks reduced her to ruins. And yet by no means was she perfect. Many unsavoury things were done in the name of the struggle. But that is the nature of war. She was not perfect. She was human, and ultimately, that is anyone can ever hope to be.

Julius Malema, the outspoken and often controversial leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters, is now waiting in the wings, ready to receive a signal from Mama. If his impassioned speech at her memorial is anything to go by Julius could turn out to be the most suitable heir to the struggle throne. If he manages to keep that heart open to the cries of South Africa’s poor blacks, he might be the man who takes this great woman’s great work to a conclusion that is acceptable to the people she gave her life for.

His words at Mam’ Winnie’s home going were the true definition of speaking truth to power. He grabbed the South African establishment by the collar and shook it to its core. With that being said, people often say things at funerals that they have no intention of doing.  In Julius’s case, time will tell. Hopefully, the spirit of the Queen Mother – she who has multiplied into a million red flowers of love and freedom – will prevail. One thing is for sure, the world needs more Winnies.

IMAGE | HEADLOUNGE

Legalize FGM? #FOH

Warning: If you’re squeamish, conservative or non-progressive, look away now because this is going to be a discussion about the female anatomy; specifically, her genitalia. See, Dr (Ms) Tatu Kamau has petitioned a Machakos court to legalise female genital mutilation (FGM). She’s arguing that women should have the right to alter their bodies as they see fit. That FGM is a cultural practice that should be respected rather than criminalised. That even ‘westerners’ do it albeit under the fancier title of ‘female genital surgery’.

Listening to Dr Kamau it would seem like women are lining up to get their vagina’s surgically invaded, which is not the case. Culture demands that girls from certain ethnic communities must have their clitorises and/or labia snipped, and in some cases, their vaginas stitched together. They call it a rite of passage but it is really just a means to control women by removing the bits of their bodies that allow them to take pleasure in sexual acts.

If you look back far enough to the age when many communities in Africa were matrilineal you might find that women were complicit in their own disempowerment. Even in the throes of matriarchy, many women thought the clitoris to be ugly. Some believed that uncircumcised girls were incapable of bearing children.

And of course, then as is now, women were preoccupied with pleasing their men, hence the belief that a tightly sewn up vagina (with a tiny allowance for urine and blood to exit) would be more pleasurable for men during intercourse. The ultimate was that shaving the clitoris or lobbing it off completely, would dampen the desire in women to run around having sex with men who were not their husbands.

This state of affairs was most beneficial to men because women were – and still are – mutilating their own bodies so that men could have a better all-round human experience.

The beliefs that support FGM draw from the desire to situate men in a space where they are not challenged on any level by a woman’s sexuality.

If done with precision, FGM will turn a woman into a sexually desensitised, child-bearing automaton with eyes for no man but her husband – not because she’s faithful but because she can’t feel anything. On top of that, those women who suffer through and then are forced to live with infibulation (the narrowing of the vaginal opening through cutting and stitching) suffer all manner of reproductive health complications.

So while I agree with Dr Kamau that every woman has a right to decide what she does with her own body, I’m yet to meet a woman who would willingly, and with a full understanding of how her sexual organs work, decide to surgically diminish any part of her genitalia. Those women in the West that the good doctor speaks of are going through female genital surgery to enhance their vaginas. For sex to become better – not worse, or completely non-existent. They are also grown women with the legal agency to make these kinds of decisions on their own.

In our cultural context, young girls well below the age of majority are routinely forced to undergo a non-medical procedure that is not only an assault on their body’s but on their dignity and sense of self as well. Their journey to fulsome womanhood is quite literally cut short by older women who do the deed with the spectre of male domination looming over their bloodied hands.

Here’s the thing. Just like abortion, legalising FGM will lift the outlawed practice out of the shadows and make a way for women to have the procedure done in sterile medical environments, should they chose to go that route. But it must be made clear from the outset that mutilating their genitalia, or otherwise altering it, is a decision that only grown women should make on their own terms, and for their own purposes. Should those purposes include pleasing a man, that’s okay too. But this business of cutting young girls up and stitching them back together in unsterile and culturally stifling environments cannot be allowed to continue unfettered. As a moral people, and a country of laws, it is our duty to protect our children from practices that are non-beneficial at best, and in the worst case scenario, unquestionably harmful.

At the end of the day, children are children. It follows that young boys should also be protected from the cut until they are old enough to decide whether they want to be circumcised or not. Luckily for them, this is a procedure that can be performed medically, has health benefits and enhances sexual pleasure. Go figure.

ILLUSTRATION | Toronto Star

Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s

Sometimes you really don’t know whether to laugh or cry. Typically, when you are faced with this dilemma, the answer is to do both. Many things in this world are both happy and sad. Death for example. You cry because someone you loved is dead, but you laugh at all the happy memories, often at the same time. Anybody who’s lost somebody can relate. It sucks, and then it doesn’t.

That’s what makes it bearable. You’d think that if death is bearable, everything else would be a breeze. But as much as I hate to be cliché, you would have another think coming. Kenya Power is fixing to show you exactly what unbearable looks like.

If I may digress, it has been reported that 8,500 wealthy individuals now control more than two thirds of Kenya’s Sh6.2 trillion economy. It is no secret that the Kenyattas – in their various incarnations – are part of the ‘who-owns-Kenya’ club. As a matter of fact, as at 2013, Mama Ngina owned more than two million shares in Kenya Power.

That same utility company now wants you to pay back 8.1 billion in backdated bills. More accurately, that same utility company has already began billing you to pay back a ‘loan’ you neither asked for, nor approved.

See Kenya Power is claiming that for the past few months it has been paying part of your electricity for you. Out of the goodness of its corporate heart (more likely because the government wanted to borrow your vote using affordable utility bills as collateral) the company incurred extra fuel costs, but decided not to pass them on to the consumer.

It says that in the four months leading up to June 2017, despite an increase in diesel-generated power, it maintained your fuel-cost levy at Sh2.85 per kilowatt hour (kWh). This is curious because whenever there’s a spike in diesel-generated power, your fuel-cost levy should increase. This time around, however, the utility company decided to do you a solid by “passing on only a fraction of the cost”.

Who does that? Which business, State-owned or otherwise, wants its customers to make a profit at its expense?

None. Not a one. Business is all about making consumers pay. So this story, ati Kenya Power paid our bills for us, is a rumour.

And yet they are still going to recover 8.1 billion shillings from you whether you like it or not. 2 billion shillings has already been recovered. That’s why your power bill has seemed a bit high lately. If it hasn’t, be patient. It won’t be long until things begin to tilt towards the unbearable.

It’s probably just a coincidence that after the conclusion of our two elections, when the balance of political power had reverted to factory settings, the fuel levy began to rise like a sweet prayer in the nostrils of the gods who run this country. By December it was at a three-year high of Sh4.35 per kWh. Campaign season is over and now it’s payback time, and you will pay whether you’re a Jubilant or a Nasarite.

See, only 8,500 individuals control a 6.2 trillion-shilling economy. That’s less than 1 per cent of the population. It’s crazy when you really think about it. And what it means is that if you’re not a member of the 1 per cent club, your political leanings are largely inconsequential. You can support your candidate – or president – with as much fervour as a man on his wedding night, but when the cold light of reality bites, you are simply statistic in the national census. Just one among the masses. The masses who hold most of the debt, while the one percenters hold most of the wealth.

As I say, sometimes you really don’t know whether to laugh or cry. The natural thing is probably to do both, especially here in Kenya where tragi-comedies are a way of life. So I laugh because many of those who hailed the King are now complaining about their electricity bills. And I cry because many of those who thought that royalty could be unseated through the ballot are also complaining about their electricity bills.

Here’s the thing: At the end of the day, the only thing that truly separates us is wealth. There is only one authentic divide in this country, and it is the gap between the rich and the poor. The irony is that the poor can exercise the most effective tyranny of numbers. I would suggest that they take this power conversation off-grid. Kenya Power is an oppressive monopoly, and the future is solar.

Acknowledge, apologize and make amends

It doesn’t feel like Christmas. Despite the obligatory festive lighting that was draped around every mall as early as November, the mood is sombre. After more than a year of active electioneering, there’s a tangible lethargy that if left unchecked, could possibly drain all the joy from the season. Let’s face it, it’s near impossible to celebrate the birth of a saviour when the salvation of this nation remains elusive.

Kenyans have known much tragedy in the past few months.  It is disheartening that in just a few weeks, about 100 citizens have lost their lives on our roads. And downright chilling that many others were killed by the police as the tale of two elections unfolded. As if that was not enough, the 2017 elections saga was also punctuated by instances of systematic sexual violence against women, girls, and men.

A Human Rights Watch report exposes the unbridled terror that was unleashed on civilians by policemen, and men who wore uniform. The report notes that the physical and sexual violence occurred mainly in the opposition strongholds of Nairobi, Nyanza, Western Kenya and the Coast.

The report confirms that there was widespread sexual violence against women and girls – and sexual attacks on men as well. They documented cases of vaginal and anal rape, gang rape, mass rape, attempted rape, rape with an object, putting dirt into women’s private parts, and unwanted sexual touching. Some of these assaults were perpetrated by civilians, but about half the women interviewed by Human Rights Watch reported being violated by policemen or men in uniform. About half of the rapes reported were gang rapes.

By international human rights standards, and conventions endorsed by the United Nations and the global community at large, rape has long been recognised as a weapon of war. It is a tactic used to instil fear, humiliate, and dominate. Amnesty International has even gone so far as to define women’s bodies as part of the terrain of conflict. Rape, it says, is an orchestrated tool of combat often used by armed forces, State-backed troops and irregular militia to attack civilian women, children, and ever more commonly, men.  It is often used in ethnic conflicts as a way for attackers to perpetuate their social control.

So we can accurately establish that rape is weaponized in times of war and conflict to subdue specific populations. In Kenya, this Human Rights Watch report has confirmed what appears to have been a wave of pre-meditated sexual and gender-based attacks. This then begs the question:

Why was the State at war with a section of its citizens? While the answer to that question is obvious it doesn’t bear mentioning.

When a woman is raped by three policemen three days after having a baby, the answer to that question loses all relevance because there can be no reason, nor justification for such an atrocity.

I have said it before, and I will say it again: it will not be business-as-usual until our current leadership acknowledges, apologises and makes amends for the trauma that was visited on members of select communities in this country. Silence after the fact is just as much an affront to humanity as the crimes themselves. If this country intends to move forward as a unit, someone somewhere needs to step up and admit that a huge injustice has been committed, and in some way, offer a hand of healing.

Rather than hosting flamboyant Christmas parties, and attending overtly publicised football matches, Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto must begin to think deeply about truth, justice and reconciliation. Thanks to a fractious campaign period, and the pre and post-election violence that very often targeted women and children, the fabric of Kenyan society now hangs by a thread. While our nationhood is not completely broken, there is a trauma within certain communities that runs deep. That trauma cannot be wished away. There are wounds that cannot be papered over by the glib ‘accept and move on’ narrative. It might the hardest thing the Kenyan collective has ever been called upon to do, but the sins of the past must be confronted if there is any hope of changing the future.

So yes, the festivity of the season is somewhat lacklustre. Rightly so. This is not a joyful time for the families who were almost irreparably damaged by agents of a state that should have been protecting them. Rather than celebrate, every Kenyan should reflect on their own humanity. There is a dignity which must be accorded to every human being without question. ‘Irregardless’ of their tribe, socio-economic status, or political affiliation.

ILLUSTRATION | allAfrica.com

The boy child is being neglected, my foot

Sometimes I sit back and wonder what Father Patriarchy spent all his time doing. See, he created a system that was supposed to be ironclad. A system built to privilege boys over girls, and men over women. To his credit, for centuries that system worked.

It might be difficult to imagine in 2017, but there was a time when women couldn’t work outside the home, vote for leaders of their choice, or even speak out of turn. It was commonly understood that a woman’s role was to cook, clean and bear children. Her place was in the home. She was the server, and her husband was supposed to be the provider, the operative word here being ‘supposed’.

See, women didn’t get a pass; when hubby came home from work, the house had to be in working order, no exceptions. The kids had to be clean, fed and silent, no exceptions. Good food had to be prepared, no exceptions. And the Missus had to be ready to drop everything at a moment’s notice for a quick roll between the sheets … no exceptions.

Things were not quite as strict for men. They were expected to do all things to the best of their abilities. The assumption was that what a man did was all a man could; it is this allowance for mediocrity which created the double standard that is at the heart of the 21st Century gender wars. A man will be given props for trying, but a woman will consistently be under-marked for what she actually does.

Back in those days, the term ‘single woman’ was something of a misnomer. Girls were single, women were married. God forbid you became a single mother, worse still a divorcee – that was sacrilege. An abomination in the eyes of God and men. Respectable women only came with men attached.

And this was the way world for a very long time. It was only in the early 19th Century that things began to change, starting with universal suffrage, the right to take up gainful employment outside the home, and eventually the right for women to be viewed as equals. Many movements happened, and many laws were passed, creating the impression that when it came to citizenship, men and women were both first class.

But whenever it really mattered, whenever a man and a woman came head-to-head, there was a silent expectation that the woman would automatically take second place. Women either fell back willingly, or Father Patriarchy’s system made sure they did by constructing glass ceilings, paying them less for the same amount of work, denying them full access to birth control, and making sure that while they could have paying jobs, they were still working like slaves on the home front. This system was also fertile ground for gender-based discrimination, harassment, derision and assault.

It still is. And women are still trailing men in the critical areas of wealth creation, innovation, employment, governance, and leadership. However, thanks to a concerted effort to elevate the girl-child, and to place her at par with the boys, our fortunes as women have changed dramatically. The local girl-child movement has begun to bear real fruit, so much so that out of the 1.5 million students who registered for the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education exam, half of them (give or take 10,000) were girls. Of all those students, a girl scored the highest marks.

This is something that should be celebrated on its own merit. Instead, the young woman’s accomplishments risk being drowned out by the boy-child choir and its “aki woishe” song that has been playing on repeat.

This brings me back to Father Patriarchy, God bless his soul. He created a system to support male supremacy but neglected to teach men how to remain supreme. You would think that after centuries of being on top, boys and men would have the tools to redress the balance when it inevitably tipped in favour of women. But I suppose one of the unexpected side effects of privilege and entitlement is that those who have them very quickly begin to feel that they are innate and inalienable, forgetting that change is the only constant in human affairs.

Feminine energy is taking over the world, not because women were born with a superiority spoon their mouths, but because they burrowed their way to the top and used the displaced soil to level the field. Instead of crying foul, our menfolk need to gather their wits about them and fight for their own right to be equal. Playing the victim card won’t cut it.