Wangari Maathai, in her own words – Freedom turns a corner: Part 4

Mothers in war

Continuing from the previous excerpt of Wangari Maathai’s autobiography, Unbowed: One woman’s story, the mothers wait for their sons. But as they continue their peaceful and contained vigil, the government does not leave them alone. So, the unarmed and defenceless elderly women – in their 60s, 70s, and 80s –  face the full and unbridled police brutality and beatings meted on them with the only and most potent weapon they have – a physical manifestation of the courage, conviction and outrage that only a mother can have, deeply and firmly rooted in African tradition and symbolism.

Wangari Maathai

Prof Maathai writes (abridged and adapted: buy the book):

EXCERPT

“Throughout Monday, there was still no sign of the sons. by this time, there were several hundred of us at Freedom Corner. The next day, March 3 [a day after 'JM Day' on March 2, for those that still remember], we saw groups of paramilitary police, batons and guns at the ready, cordoning off the area to prevent anyone else from reaching us.

Around 3:00 pm that afternoon, the police ordered a member of the Release Political Prisoners campaign to tell us to disperse. There wasn’t enough time to do anything before the police beagn firing tear gas into the camp and charging us from behind and in front, beating us with their batons. Some of the young men who had joined us fought back as the police chased them across the road to Nyayo House and down city streets, as well as through the park.

As the battle continued throughout the afternoon, tear gas and gunshots filled the air. Police reinforcement stormed the tent where I was singing and praying with the mothers. When the police arrived in the tent, the fifty or so people inside were initially defiant, not believing the police would attack them. The protestors linked arms, which meant that when the police began their assault they could not easily take one without taking many. I saw people rise up in groups as police batons rained down… I was knocked unconscious and rushed to hospital with two other women who were badly hurt.

The mothers in the tent refused to be intimidated and they did not run. Instead, they did something very brave. Several of them stripped, some of them completely naked, and showed the police their breasts. One of the most powerful of African traditions concerns the relationship between a woman and a man who could be her son. Every woman old enough to be your mother is considered like your own mother and expects to be treated with considerable respect. As they bared their breasts, what the mothers were saying to the policemen in their anger and frustration as they were being beaten was “By showing you my nakedness, I curse you as I would my son for the way you are abusing me.”

When I was sufficiently recovered, I called a press conference. I was told that the police claimed I had incited them to beat me unconscious and that I had asked to be given a black eye and a ball-sized lump on my head. I informed the press that although after what had happened to me I would stay away from “dangerous ground”, I wouldn’t be silenced or deterred from telling the truth and I wouldn’t go away. “The mothers,” I emphasised “had a right to seek the freedom of their sons.”

The evening of March 3, the police forcibly removed all the women who were still in the park and took them to their homes. As they were being removed, the women cried, “We will only move from this place when the government brings our sons here!” The authorities ordered the women to end their hunger strike and told them not to return to Nairobi. Freedom Corner was cordoned off and we were unable to get to it again. By the time the police left, all our bedding and personal effects, including blankets, lamps and the tent, had disappeared with the Nairobi City Council, never to be seen again.

When I think of what happened, I believe that it was the stories of torture that made the government decide that what we were doing was dangerous. Perhaps we had a false sense of security. We thought that even this government wouldn’t hurt old women – mothers who simply wanted their sons to be released from prisons where they were being held for their political consience(s). But the regime knew neither mercy nor justice and we were accused of threatening “the security of citizens and the nation”. The government had decided that a revolt was brewing and that it could unleash as much venom and violence as it wanted to stop it.

END OF EXCERPT

What happened next? Did the mothers retreat or hold their ground? How long would it be, and what would it take, before their sons tasted freedom? For answers, and the pivotal and pro-freedom role the church would play in concert with the pro-democracy movement and its leaders, buy the book.

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Wangari Maathai, in her own words – Freedom turns a corner: Part 3

Wangari Maathai

Mothers petition, pray and fast; and the birthing, naming and living spirit of Freedom Corner

The adapted excerpt below from Wangari Maathai’s autobiography, Unbowed: One woman’s story (buy the book), tells of how a slice of Uhuru Park – Freedom Corner – came to carve itself out, taking for its first name the English translation of the park’s name, and of how elderly mothers decamped their upcountry homes and came to camp in Nairobi, finding themselves unwittingly sucked into the vortex of the struggle and taking the danger-fraught frontline in the fight for political freedom that characterised the early 1990s.

EXCERPT

In Kenya in the early 1990s, outrages and abuses happened wherever you looked, and often simultaneously. Many young men landed in prison for [so-called] political agitation. In January 1992, as I was still in the hospital recovering from my time in a police cell, Terry Kariuki, widow of murdered politician JM Kariuki, acting as a firend of the mothers of these political prisoners brought the mother of one of the several dozen political prisoners then held by the regime to the hospital to visit me. The mother, Monica Wamwere, told me that she and a few relatives and friends had formed a group called Release Political Prisoners to appeal to the government to release their sons from detention, all detained for advocating for greater democratic space.

The mothers hoped, they said, that I would join them and put pressure on the government to have these men released now that it was no longer a crime to advocate for multipartism.  Some of the women were members of the Green Belt Movement, and I knew that the Release Political Prisoners campaign was an issue Green Belt was concerned about and was part of the movement’s mandate to promote democracy and respect for human rights. As I listened to these women, I felt compassion for them. As a mother myself, I wondered what it would be like to have your child thrown into a cell with no sense of when he might be tried or released. I thought of my own sons and brothers: what wouldn’t I do for them?

We met at Uhuru Park and walked together to the office of the Attorney General (AG) on Friday, February 28, with our beddings. “When we see him, we’ll tell him, ‘We will wait in Uhuru Park for three days for all the sons to be released. During that time we’ll go on a hunger strike and pray.'” We were prepared to sleep in Uhuru Park while they [the mothers] waited. The AG was taken aback. “Don’t go to the park,” he said. “Go home. We’ve received your petition and we’ll review the cases and we will take action.” But we knew all about the government, how it never really listened or did what it promised.

We returned to the park and lit 52 candles, one for each mean we knew was in prison. We almost caused a traffic jam  as people slowed down to look at the flickering lights in the park.

The mothers had many supporters in ordinary people. An Indian man gave us a huge tent because he was worried it might rain and several of the mothers, who were between 60 and 80 were frail. Some donated money, while others brought water, juice or glucose to keep the mothers healthy since they were not eating. Still others joined us as we sang freedom songs and hymns to keep our spirits up.

On Sunday, we decided to hold a church service which Rev Njoya and other clergy conducted for us in the park. As people left their own churches after Sunday services, many joined us and the gathering swelled. We decided to erect a sign, so I asked my friends to prepare a large board and write FREEDOM CORNER on it and bring it to us. We planted it where our encampment was, so the spirit of the corner matched the spirit in which the park had been named. That section of Uhuru Park has been called Freedom Corner ever since.

Many people who had been victims of torture came to Freedom Corner and began to tell their stories. “What you do not know,” they said, pointing to to Nyayo House, a government building opposite the Nyayo Monument in Uhuru Park and immediately across the road from Freedom Corner, “is that underneath that house are torture chambers. Men have been maimed. Some of them have died after what they have gone through.”

As the victims related their horrific experiences, others, including grown men in their forties, embraced the freedom of that corner and found the courage to speak up. “Let me tell you my story,” “I have never spoken of this before. I’ve been out of prison now for 10 years, and this is the first time I have told anyone that I was tortued.” Some related that they had been abused and beaten to the point where they would never be able to father children. While we listened to the men, we prayed and sang for comfort and courage.

Lay people and the clergy bore living witness to what the government had been doing to its citizens behind closed doors. While some of us knew, or at least suspected, that such things were happening, it was nevertheless shocking to hear the details. However, some were hearing this information for the first time, and people could hardly believe the horrific sotires that were being told by fellow citizens.

END OF EXCERPT

Twenty-one years and two presidents later, Uhuru Park and Freedom Corner are both back in the news this month, for the same wrong reasons revolving around free speech and good governance.

  • It is at Uhuru Park that Boniface Mwangi was recently roughly manhandled, beaten and arrested in front of the President (Uhuru Kenyatta), while exercising his freedom of speech on Labour Day, May 1 (see story and video here; another story here; and photos here). EXCERPT: “There is fire in my belly, but my feet are trembling….My feet can shake all they want, but all I need is my voice.”
  • And it is at Freedom Corner that patriots will be gathering in two days’ time (May 14) to protest the runaway greed of overpaid elected public servants pushing for ever higher pay (see tweet below).

Meantime, the unbelievably steadfast and courageous Boniface Mwangi is continues his one-man-army constant crusade against corruption, even if he’ll be the last one standing. See video below related to this outrage.

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Mothers’ Day 2013

https://twitter.com/bettymurungi/status/333503700448452608

The month of May – Mama, Mother, Mummy, Mum

While every day is indeed a day to honour our mothers (as in Betty Murungi’s tweet above), on Mothers’ Day, we do it collectively, and perhaps more formally, in the various ways and days that this day is observed across today’s world. And for different people for different reasons, it’s a time to celebrate and toast, just as it is to commemorate… and to mourn.

In this 2013 season of Mothers’ Day, let’s remember mothers and motherhood in the broadest  sense, and not limit ourselves to the biological function. A toast then to our mothers, and to our mothers’ mothers, and to all the mothers that have gone before them.

But extra-special toasts….:

  • To Mother Earth, who in the month of May in the temperate world casts off her drab winter cloak as she springs back to to life, and decks herself with gay irredescent colours and fresh, new, nurturing growth.
  • To Africa, the Mother Continent and all her mother–daughters near and far.
  • To Wangari Muta Maathai, who devoted her life to re-robing Mother Earth in her rightful forest-green and emeralds, and what one group – Mothers in Action – meant for her at what was one of the lowest and most trying moments in her mission-driven life: “[It] warmed my heart and helped me realise that no matter what happened to me, there were people who cared, who wished me well, and who understood what it meant to be a woman fighting for the future of her country.”  (Autobiography: Unbowed: One woman’s story)

    Wangari Maathai

  • To Kenyan freedom fighters:
  • To the mothers of Moi’s political prisoners – the elderly mothers who stripped in protest over police brutality and an uncaring regime that persecuted their children.
  • To Nomzamo Winifred Madikizela-Mandela, who, when she and Nelson Mandela visited Kenya in July 1990, was approached by the wives and families of the political prisoners above, and at Kasarani Stadium made a public and direct appeal to Daniel Moi to release political prisoners. Winnie courageously spoke truth to power, speaking, as she said, as a woman whose husband was held behind bars for 27 years, and speaking, in her words “on behalf of the women who waited.” (Autobiography – Part of my soul went with him)
  • To Miriam Makeba, who refused to curl up and be vanquished when racist South Africa  exiled her and declared her a ‘non-person’ stripping her of her passport while she was travelling outside South Africa. Miriam refused to be beaten: instead, she turned her forced exile into a highly visible and vocal platform to expose the sickness and brutality of apartheid. (Autobiography – Makeba: My story)
  • To Mariama Bâ, Senegalese educationist, feminist and author, who left us with the gift of her poignant writing in Une si longue lettre (So long a letter) and Un chant écarlate (Scarlet song)

(An aside: interesting how many Ms feature above for Mamas’ Day, and that an M flipped upside-down beomes a W for woman. There’s at least one more M that belongs in the list above, for yet another Miriam in that illustrious list, besides Makeba…)

Like almost all things in life, motherhood too is a dichotomy and has both joys and pains. I reflected on some of these pains in my Mothers’ Day piece last year – The dark side of motherhood.

The harsh reality of slavery and racism in Mauritania have not changed an iota since: if anything, Mauritania has since been elevated to a lofty seat in the UN Human Rights Council last month on Human Rights Day 2013.

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Governor speaks on stripping: All sizzle and no steak? And other leaders?

Finally, in the NTV video clip below, newly elected Nyeri Governor, Mr  Nderitu Gachagua, this week spoke out on the unspeakable stripping of women in public; a vile and violent abuse of rights, driven by impunity and and flagrant law-breaking, that also prompted this press release from a concerned lobby group.

Thank you, Governor. Now, please also walk the talk, and let this not be a case of all sizzle and no steak; words without action.

Nyeri’s new top leadership enjoys perfect gender parity. We’re yet to hear from the other three in top leadership in Nyeri:

  • Ms Priscilla Nyokabi, Women’s Rep, Nyeri County, an an accomplished human rights lawyer prior to her recent entry into politics;
  • Ms Esther Murugi, re-elected MP, Nyeri Town (she knows a thing or two about stripping, but voluntary, however, and to symbolise protest); and
  • Mr Mutahi Kagwe, Senator, Nyeri County.

Of course I could be completely wrong, and it could well be that the other three leaders, in stark departure from the nature of politicians (surprise, surprise!),  are very busy acting on the matter away from the limelight, newspaper headlines and the public eye. So much so that they have had no time to brief the public on what they are doing regarding this critical and urgent matter. Waheshimiwa, we need to hear your voices and see your action. That is what public leadership is about.

Nyeri is by no means an isolated case in degrading and abusing women in recent days: it has also happened in Bomet,  Kitengela, and who knows where else away from the headlines (such as Muthurwa)?

Ruling coalition, President Uhuru and Deputy President Ruto, this is happening in your electoral ‘strongholds’, where your word is probably even mightier than the law. Speak, leaders, speak! Follow the fine examples of Ms Joyce Kirui of Maendeleo ya Wanawake Bomet Branch and Cllr Muthoni Wanjau, in addition to Gov Gachagua.

Ms Winnie Lichuma and the National Gender and Equality Commission (NGEC), where are you? One of NGEC’s functions is “to initiate and advocate for legal reforms on issues affecting women, and to formulate laws, practices and policies that eliminate all forms of discrimination against women and all institutions, practices and customs that are detrimental to their dignity (emphasis mine).”

Where are you, COVAW, Women’s Rights and Awareness Programme (WRAP), AWC, AMWIK?

As for the ‘bwana yangu’ woman in the video above (cheerleading for the mob of layabouts, louts and perverts) and her ilk, I have no words. While she is naturally entitled to her opinion, she is however not entitled to enforce her opinion on others, dictating what they should wear, and where they should confine themselves to when they wear wheat. Dada, your cheerleading and the wearing of head-to-toe shrouds by women is not what’s going to keep your errant husband from straying or ‘domesticate’ his roving eye. It would appear you have more fundamental marital problems as a couple that you need to address (and not undress) by other means, and not through the vestment of other women. Your husband should feel very insulted, since, by your own testimony, he is apparently an uncontrollable and unthinking testosterone-crazed beast that attacks every ‘alluringly’ dressed female in his sights. But then again, you know your husband better, so we must take your word for it, in the absence of hearing otherwise from him. From what you say (“…heri avae trouser kama hii”), it seems you’re wearing trousers. You should therefore know that the next time sects like Akurinu, Mungiki or some misguided amorphous mob that opposes women wearing trousers is on the rampage, you too could fall victim.

In many ways, you and your ilk are even worse than the citizens who do and say nothing in the face of such injustice and mob rule, opting to instead take a ringside seat to ogle and peep as the drama unfolds, craning their necks for a better angle. Remember the ancient wisdom of Leo mimi, kesho wewe – what befalls these women can also befall you, Sister.

Links

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Era of errors

A tragedy of errors –  Has Kenya degenerated to the ‘Error Republic’?  We surely deserve better. Sample this:

  • Two television journalists inanely giggle on live national TV over a woman’s stripping in public by a bunch of Neanderthals. Thereafter, and only upon the insistence of civic-minded citizens, the journalists ‘apologise’, and they airily and offhandedly attribute their callous fits of giggles to their human condition and a “scripting error”
  • The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) publishes uncannily similar figures for presidential candidates in several constituencies across the country. It explains one case only as a “typing error” (no need to explain the rest, it seems)
  • At the Supreme Court hearings on the petitions against IEBC declaring Uhuru Kenyatta’s election as President, his lawyer attributes anomalies detected by the Court’s own re-tallying to “clerical errors” by IEBC
  • The helicopter crash in which George Saitoti and five others perished is blamed on “pilot error”. KTN’s Jicho Pevu aired on April 7 2013 differs.
  • A KES 9.2b discrepancy in the national budget described as having been “too consistent to have been missed by the Treasury” is attributed to a “typing error”

On the sidelines of all these were the “some six people” slur and the alleged hacking of the K24 Twitter account which sent out the ‘prophetic’ future-tense tweet below on the (then yet-to-have-been-delivered) verdict of the Supreme Court, and its implications:

And so it came to pass the following day in the Supreme Court and the public sphere – EXACTLY as the malware-induced, tense-sensitive and supremely savvy K24 tweet had foretold.

There was no public reprimand from the Court on slur or tweet (less fortunate, though, was the Law Society of Kenya Chair, who riled the Court and attracted its ire).

The lack of reprimand is in much the same way that IEBC apparently had no problems with KTN TV calling the election for Uhuru in the dead of the night, after IEBC having advised Kenyans to go to sleep, and even as the declaration on the result of the presidential election was to be made solely by IEBC the following day, by its own commitment and reiteration.

One can only wonder what other “errors” lie in store in our uncertain future, with a complicit, compromised and apparently uncaring and unconcerned media, coupled with an uncouth and extremely suspicious orchestrated, concerted and relentless campaign against civil society. A campaign that employs language and characters most uncivil.

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Wangari Maathai, in her own words – Freedom turns a corner: Part 2

Coups, conspiracies and entrenching the culture of fear

The late Prof Wangari Maathai

The 4th excerpt from Prof Wangari Maathai’s autobiograpy Unbowed: One woman’s story.

Key message from today’s excerpt: no matter how strong and courageous you are, support and solidarity from like-minded people is priceless. Prof Maathai says:

“As I was carried out of the courtroom to an ambulance … I gained courage and strength from the women who wailed and wept around me. I was in physical agony, wondering the arthritis would ever let my legs carry me again. I saw a banner from the women’s rights group Mothers in Action that warmed my heart and helped me realise that no matter what happened to me, there were people who cared, who wished me well, and who understood what it meant to be a woman fighting for the future of her country [emphasis mine]. WANGARI, BRAVE DAUGHTER OF KENYA, the banner said, YOU WILL NEVER WALK ALONE AGAIN…”

A side-note on women: Poignant that practically on the eve of Prof Maathai’s birthday, in Nyeri – where Prof Maathai was born – a woman was stripped naked in public for being “indecently dressed”.

On to the 4th excerpt:

It was in this political climate that, on January 10 1992, a large group of us met to strategise on how to propel our pro-democracy movement forward. During the meeting, one of us was called to the phone and given information that chilled me to the bone: “We have learnt, reliably, that Moi wants to hand over power to the army,” the caller said. The coup was scheduled to take place at any time, we were informed. A government-sponsored coup would be the perfect way for President Moi to avoid having to face the electorate at the end of the year. It was possible that the rumour was started by the government itself to scare the opposition into silence and ensure that the authorities retained power. Nonetheless, I took what was said very seriously, not least because the person on the phone named me as one of the people targetted for assassination. This was not an idle threat. Not long before this, Bishop Alexander Muge  had voiced fears for his life after calling for civil rights in Kenya. He had died shortly afterwards in a mysterious car “accident”.

We decided to alert the media and went to the Press Centre. We issued a statement to the effect that if the President felt that there was a need for a change in government, he should call a general election and not turn power over to the army. We also alerted the press to the existence of a list of potential targets for assassinations.

The President denied rumours of the coup, and attacked members of FORD for associating themselves with what he termed “loose talk”. After we made our statement, we scattered. That afternoon, our phones started ringing with the news that all those who attended the press conference were being picked up by the police one by one and arrested. I decided to barricade myself in my home.

Soon enough, the police arrived. I refused to let them in. By the next day, news that I was under siege had spread and the press had begun to gather. From inside the house, I talked to as many journalists as I could, Kenyan and international, who had gathered around the compound (some had jumped over the gate), as well as on the phone. I told them about the rumoured coup and explained why we didn’t want power handed to the army. I spoke about how the 1988 elections had been rigged and how the President was nervous about holding elections because he knew he would be defeated. After some time, the police cut my phone line, and then I was frightened. I was alone in the house, surrounded. My connection to the outside world was gone. The rumours of the coup had set Kenyans on edge, including the security forces. I didn’t know what would happen next…

On the third day of the siege, the situation turned ugly. The locks on my doors and the steel bars on my windows must have annoyed the authorities greatly, since they acquired a pair of steel cutters from the army and went to work…Taking me by the arms, they walked me through the broken doors and past a crowd of supporters, pushed me into a car, and drove me to the police station. To my consternation, the officers left the house wide open…

The charges against me were serious: spreading malicious rumours, sedition, and treason, the last of which carried a death penalty. Thankfully by this time, I, as well as other targets of the regime, had a system whereby if I had been arrested or something had happened to me, people would spread the word to our supporters almost immediately. They would then inform the press and inquire why I’d been arrested and what they could do to get me released.

Nevertheless, it was a dark time. I was in jail again. I tried to sleep without any covers on the floor of a cell that was wet, freezing cold, filled with water and filth. I wondered whether the floor had been flooded deliberately. I was 52 years old, arthritic in both knees, and suffering from back pain. In that cold wet cell, my joints ached so much that I thought I would die.

The lights were kept on throughout so it was impossible to sleep. I was alone in the cell. I had no access to information or any idea of what was happening outside the bars of the cell. Denying me the ability to control what happened seemed to me to be the greatest punishment the regime could mete out on me.

By the time of the court hearing, my legs had completely seized up. Crying from pain and weak from hunger, I had to be carried by four strong policewomen into the courtroom…

Some judges were sympathetic to the need for greater democracy but either had to act as the system demanded for their own personal safety, or, less honorably, for their own personal comfort and privilege. In this case, the judge was fair, though he did require bail. He also demanded regular appearances in court that hampered my work and the work of my codefendants, who included the lawyers Paul Muite and James Orengo. Both of them, leaders in the pro-democracy movement, were also good friends. In those days, bail was often used as a way to curtail freedom and dissent, since it, or other deferred charges, made it impossible to travel and left you vulnerable to arrest at any time on numerous vague accusations of wrongdoing.

While my codefendants and I knew we were innocent of what we were being accused, we had no guarantee that we could be publicly vindicated. As I was carried out of the courtroom to an ambulance to take me to Nairobi Hospital, I gained courage and strength from the women who wailed and wept around me. I was in physical agony, wondering the arthritis would ever let my legs carry me again. Then I saw a banner from the women’s rights group Mothers in Action that warmed my heart and helped me realise that no matter what happened to me, there were people who cared, who wished me well, and who understood what it meant to be a woman fighting for the future of her country. WANGARI, BRAVE DAUGHTER OF KENYA, the banner said, YOU WILL NEVER WALK ALONE AGAIN…

[External pressure was also brought to bear on the government.]  The government must have listened to someone because in November 1992, the State withdrew the charges against all of us. There was, and never had been, a case to be made. We were free again and ready to continue our advocacy work.

END OF EXCERPT

So what was this immense and relentless external pressure that the government finally bowed and capitulated to? Get yourself a copy of Prof Maathai’s autobiography.

And as we laugh at the dark but very educative humour in the political satire of the XYZ Show ‘s 31 March 2013 episode (from circa 15:43), let’s also see those Xs via accidents (Bishop Muge) and detentions (Kenneth Matiba) for the terror they really were when Moi was in power. We may laugh about it now; it wasn’t at all funny then.

Next excerpt will be on how a part of Uhuru Park came to be called Freedom Corner, and why elderly women  in their 60s and 70s stripped (in protest due to police brutality, and of their own volition, not the violation and bestiality here). Some of these women feature in the short seven-minute video below, as does her daughter, Wanjĩra.

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Stripping, sniggering and ‘moving on’

A few days ago as we approached the celebration of the late Prof Wangari Maathai’s 73rd birthday on April 1,  in the region Prof Wangari Maathai called home, a woman was stripped naked at a Nyeri bus terminus for being “indecently dressed”. Something inside her died that day. How stripping her made her “decent” defiles, defies and defeats all logic.

This is extremely painful, made worse by how one media house reported this event. How far will we carry this culture of intolerance of others, riding on a perceived power high? What right do these ignorant cretins have to dictate what others should or should not wear? What culture, creed or constituency condones – nay expects rather than condemns – such crude bestiality? What can such behaviour be other than public bullying by idle and shameless sick and petty minds that feed on vapid voyeurism riding on so-called ‘community moral values’? Who defines and prescribes these ‘values’ that these vandals take upon themselves to enforce?

Wanjiku wa Wanderi ponders on Facebook:

“The men justify that the woman was indecently dressed thus why they undressed her. So what’s their excuse for inserting dirty claws/fingers, sticks and dirt into her womanhood? Isn’t this akin to raping her in public?

Someone needs to tame these savages.”

Over to you, Ms Priscilla Nyokabi, Nyeri County Women’s Representative in the Senate, and lawyer focussing on human rights, and to Ms Esther Murugi, Nyeri Town MP. On this matter, as leaders, your unequivocal voices need to be heard  loud, stong and clear to bring a stop to this perennial savaging of women. And why not President-elect Uhuru Kenyatta as well at a time when the nation is all ears when you speak? This is happening in one of your strongholds not ‘weakholds’ and your word there, as anywhere, would carry much weight. But even more so in your strongholds, where your word will ring and reverberate, penetrating even the thickest head. Speak, Sir, speak!

Wandia Njoya posts on Facebook:

“Once again, Nyeri is doing the rounds in the news for flawed gender relations. This time, a woman was a victim of violence, not a man. For the last two years, I have said again and again that how we conceive gender relations is how we conceive power. I have made a lot of noise saying that Kenya’s problem is a model of hyper ethnicized masculinity in which manhood is exploitative, disrespectful, obsessed with property, with the foreskin being cut and with what women are wearing. If you are a man who thinks that women should be stripped in public, or that women should be beaten, or that a woman’s life should be controlled by a fellow human being simply because he is male, you’re the same man who lets politicians strip you in public by lying to you, stealing from you and dictating whom you should vote, whom you should rape and whom you should love or hate. Kenyans need to repent and get saved from this dehumanization and start fighting what really is destroying us: selfishness, mis-education, exploitation, economic inequality and an inferiority complex that makes us confuse colonial Victorian bravado with African culture. I am aware that this particular machismo is peculiar to Central Kenya, but our country has an embarassingly rich cultural diversity of Kenyan machismos that prevent us from having a truly free Kenyan men and women who love God and one another. Let’s emancipate ourselves from mental slavery and walk the true road of love and revolution together.”

END OF WANDIA’S POST

To exarcerbate what those uncouth savages did in Nyeri, two KTN journalists, Eric Njoka and Betty Kyalo, made light of this grave incident on live TV, after which they ‘apologised’ thus on Twitter:

  • Betty Kyalo @BettyKyalo: “Hey we do apologize for the distasteful intro for the Nyeri woman. Human is to error. It was a barbaric act indeed. Good day” [the tweet is since inaccessible]
  • Eric Njoka @eriknjoka: “Apologies: #NOtostrippingofWomen may have come out as distasteful but No one was laughing at the lady, it was the scripting @BettyKyalo

Earlier on Eric Njoka’s response (in pure political parlance given the press’ new partner) was for those with grievances to ‘move on’.

In response to this tweet from Sophie Ngugi @sophien “#NOtostrippingofwomen it was rather disturbing to see @BettyKyalo and @eriknjoka make this a laughing matter! @njokihatari”, Eric Njoka tweeted: “To laugh or not to laugh, if it was hilarious we are not ROBoTs to ignore , move ON @sophien: @njokihatari  @BettyKyalo  @NjeriOkono”

Move on? MOVE ON???!!!! So, what are we to make of the apology that followed and its sincerity? And did/will the two of them and their media house apologise on the same public airwaves on which they so trivialised the dastardly deed, or have they ‘moved on’? Is it not those who do not like the manner a woman is dressed the ones that they should tell in no uncertain terms to ‘move on’? And to wordlessly avert their eyes if the way a woman is dressed offends them?

The video description posted by KTN read thus, produced verbatim word-for-word without any alterations whatsoever: (other than – apparently – by KTN itself. See note below script marked with an asterisk)*

“Drama ensued at the nyeri bus termini when a crowd descended upon a lady they claimed was indecently dressed. The angry mob undressed the lady saying that the short dress top she had worn reflected badly on the women of nyeri.the lady who was not given a chance to defend herself was stripped and left in her birthday suit as her inner garments were kicked and thrown about by angry men. The women who were equally scorned warned mothers against letting their daughters leave the house without approving their dressing. A good samaritan who witnessed the saga saved her embarassment by giving the lady a long dress as an alternative approved by the men.”

[*Addition after this post was written: The synopsis above is what currently appears on KTN's YouTube account.  See original script, courtesy of Wambui Mwangi, at the bottom of this post] 

Have we made a silent pact for such testosterone-powered gratuitous violence on women to also be part and parcel of our ugly post-election ‘celebration and revelry’ package? Did we not witness the same ugly, shameful and shaming incidents in Naivasha following the 2007 elections, when marauding Mungiki mobs roamed the town stripping women wearing trousers and miniskirts, for no other reason other than that they were the power and the terror of that moment in time and so could get away with it with the impunity and disregard for law that has sadly come to characterise Kenya for those under the patronage of a power baron?

The Nyeri goons’ faces were captured on video. These vermin should be traced, apprehended and speedily punished to the fullest possible extent of the law. They must be brought to book for what they have done. Because they have violated the Supreme Law of our land – the constitutional right to self-expression in a manner that does not infringe on the rights and freedoms of others.

If you don’t like what you see, look away, shut up, and – indeed – move on.

And if you wish to join those opposed to this barbarism, a Facebook group awaits.

—–

PS: What was redacted from KTN’s original script, courtesy of Wambui Mwangi:

In the adjusted text, these words were removed: “Traders and other passers-by had a free movie to watch as they gathered to witness as the drama was unfolding…Women and mothers were warned not to let their daughters walk out of the house without their approval. What a lesson!” Like most of the world’s corporate media, Kenyan news-media anticipates and transmits to a dominant male gaze. The on-air anchors displayed an unattractive admixture of prurience veiled by spurious professionalism. The framing of this incident suggests, also, that a submissive female public—the everywhere-threatened subject of violence—is not so much anticipated as in the process of construction. This incident is not likely to be the last in Kenya; nor has the public lesson been lost.

Excerpt from the post Silence is a Woman by Wambui Mwangi

Posted in Gender, Human rights, Law | Tagged , , , | 7 Comments