Tag Archives: Kenya

#MyDressMyChoice: The day we defeated silence

In Nairobi, Kenya, women are demanding respect.

They want to re-claim their bodies.

They are condemning the humiliating public stripping of three Kenyan women earlier in the month.

On this day, 17th November, 2014, many took to Nairobi streets – and marched from Uhuru Park (in the city’s CBD ) to the Embassava Sacco bus stage on Accra Road, where a mob had been filmed ripping off a woman’s clothes.

In the last one year, ten women have been stripped in public, for something that was described as ‘indecent’ dressing.

The mobilisation for the protest started through social media under the hashtag #MyDressMyChoice

Brian took photos. Ngala wrote.

This photo-essay is a narrative of the protest.

At Freedom Corner, protest organisers are reading a statement to the media. This about 11.00 AM.

At Freedom Corner, protest organisers are reading a statement to the media. This about 11.00 AM.

The protest march proceeds through the city centre. This is about 11:45 AM.

The protest march proceeds through the city centre. This is about 11:45 AM.

Our bodies, our choices. Protestors dancing during the protest march. This is about 12: 00 noon.

Our bodies, our choices. Protestors dancing during the protest march. This is about 12: 00 noon.

The adorning of mini-skirts formed part of the protest. Women want to have the choice to exercise bodily autonomy, and feel comfortable in dressing of their own choice. This is about 12: 00 noon.

The adorning of mini-skirts formed part of the protest. Women want to have the choice to exercise bodily autonomy, and feel comfortable in dressing of their own choice. This is about 12: 00 noon.

My body is not your battlefield. This is about 12: 00 noon.

My body is not your battlefield. This is about 12: 00 noon.

We demand dignity, respect and justice for all. Protestors chanting ‘My dress, My Choice’ across the streets of Nairobi.  This is about 12:30 PM.

We demand dignity, respect and justice for all. Protestors chanting ‘My dress, My Choice’ across the streets of Nairobi. This is about 12:30 PM.

The harming of one woman harms us all. This is about 12: 30 PM.

The harming of one woman harms us all. This is about 12: 30 PM.

No society that oppresses women is a civilised society. Protestors make a stand against gender-based violence. This is 12: 45 PM.

No society that oppresses women is a civilised society. Protestors make a stand against gender-based violence. This is 12: 45 PM.

Protestors refuse to tire. This is about 12: 50 PM.

Protestors refuse to tire. This is about 12: 50 PM.

11 12 13 14

Protest has arrived and sets camp near Embassava Sacco bus stage, where the public stripping of a woman’s clothes took place recently. This is about 1: 00 PM.

Protest has arrived and sets camp near Embassava Sacco bus stage, where the public stripping of a woman’s clothes took place recently. This is about 1: 00 PM.

“SHAME ON YOU”! An angry protestor stops an Embassava Sacco bus. This is about 1: 05 PM.

“SHAME ON YOU”! An angry protestor stops an Embassava Sacco bus. This is about 1: 05 PM.

“SHAME ON YOU”! Stopping Embassava. This is about 1: 07 PM.

“SHAME ON YOU”! Stopping Embassava. This is about 1: 07 PM.

On Tom Mboya Street, tension is beginning to build up. This is about 1: 15 pm.

On Tom Mboya Street, tension is beginning to build up. This is about 1: 15 pm.

A scuffle and a counter-protest are quickly developing. This is about 1: 17 PM.

A scuffle and a counter-protest are quickly developing. This is about 1: 17 PM.

Counter-protestors, the majority of whom are men, have come with the bible. This is about 1: 30 PM.

Counter-protestors, the majority of whom are men, have come with the bible. This is about 1: 30 PM.

Counter-protestors are threatening to strip us naked while the police stand and watch. This is about 1: 45 PM.

Counter-protestors are threatening to strip us naked while the police stand and watch. This is about 1: 45 PM.

Counter-protestors are defending patriarchy with bible verses. This is about 1: 50 PM.

Counter-protestors are defending patriarchy with bible verses. This is about 1: 50 PM.

Counter-protestors are getting violent. They have forcefully taken one of our banners, and some are groping women. This is about 2: 00 P.M.

Counter-protestors are getting violent. They have forcefully taken one of our banners, and some are groping women. This is about 2: 00 P.M.

One woman, a counter-protestor, invokes culture and religion, demanding that women dress decently. This is about 2: 10 PM.

Society is at war with itself. Despite the counter-protest, we press on. This is about 2: 15 PM.

Society is at war with itself. Despite the counter-protest, we press on. This is about 2: 15 PM.

We make our stand outside the Supreme Court of Kenya. This is about 2: 30 PM.

We make our stand outside the Supreme Court of Kenya. This is about 2: 30 PM.

The Chief Justice of Kenya, Dr. Willy Mutunga (centre), receives the petition. He promises that justice to the victims shall be realised. This is about 2: 35 PM.

The Chief Justice of Kenya, Dr. Willy Mutunga (centre), receives the petition. He promises that justice to the victims shall be realised. This is about 2: 35 PM.

 

History will judge you by your inaction. The protest is successful. A statement has been made. This is about 2: 50 PM.

History will judge you by your inaction. The protest is successful. A statement has been made. This is about 2:50PM.

This day silence we defeated.

This day silence we defeated.

#MyDressMyChoice Silence shall no longer be a woman.

 

There is an online petition calling on the President of Kenya to take action. Click here to add your voice.

 

This piece is the first in a multi-part series on Routes about patriarchal control of women’s bodies. Stay tuned for the next installment!

Brian Inganga is an award-winning photographer and humanitarian worker. Brian is also the co-founder of Change Mtaani CBO in Kibera Slums, Nairobi, and he works at PAWA 254.

 

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Beyond Development

To say “I hate politics”, or “please, I am not that much into politics” – and with much conviction – is more often than not a political act. This resonates well with a long-held view that scientific or technical knowledge, construed by liberal consensus to ‘true’ knowledge, is fundamentally non-political and conversely, that overly political knowledge is not scientific and hence cannot be considered as ‘true’ knowledge.

Following in this precedent, many developments ‘experts’ today, including politicians, have claimed that their work is not ‘political’ but ‘developmental’-within an uncompromising zeal to render the concept of development technical. These apparently unchallengeable, self-evident truisms that exist in the world today originate less from fact than from strategy. Essentially, they allocate certain roles and positions to carefully selected actors and processes while excluding others. Ultimately, they constitute a hegemonic enterprise.

Dispatch 1: 13th September, 2010

“In Nairobi- Higher Education Minister William Ruto has given public universities an ultimatum- phase off all courses that will not help Kenya industrialise if they want to continue getting government funding.”

The Star  

Growing up in Kenya in the 1990s-at the height of neoliberal reform in the ‘Global South’ in general and in Africa in particular- I was actively made to think that sciences were much better than humanities and art. In addition, I was told- in school and in church-that I was created by God, saved by Christ, and would be civilised by Western education: education is the key! And not any other kind of education of course, only that which will turn individuals into obedient servants and workers within a capitalist industrial system, which in my country, is synonymous to development.

In this way, my social world had been carefully thought out and created.

Within this dynamic, the human body and mind has no space for emotions and irrationalities, and that space only exists for facts and logic. Subjects such as literature, history, music, culture, and politics, did not fare well in the epistemological ladder to the scientific heaven.

Dispatch 2: 18 August, 2010

“In Luweero, President Museveni has criticised humanity courses at universities as useless, saying graduates from such departments can hardly solve anything to steer national development.”

Daily Monitor  

Of course, everything else, including poverty, rising levels of unemployment, crime, and violence, were either reduced into technical problems, requiring technical solutions, or viewed as curses -abnormalities occurring to those with little faith and those who did not choose the ‘right’ courses or simply did not work hard in school.

And so, when they ‘sent’ me to the university and after having failed to convince me to study medicine or engineering, my family insisted that I shouldn’t bother myself with university politics – even as student welfare conditions deteriorated without fail. That many had gone through the trouble and were now successful – “driving their own cars!”

Through these disciplinary frameworks, a whole generation in my country and beyond have been encouraged to obey but not to question, to master handed-down formulas of “success”, and mathematical equations, but not to rethink and reinvent their meaning. Ultimately, through these means, people have been urged to steer clear of alternative ways of being and thinking.

This has become extremely powerful and unquestionable at a time where life is becoming increasingly precarious especially for the middle-class, and all sovereignty and power to affect Africa’s destiny and progress has been appropriated by others.

The result of this hegemonic enterprise to wipe out the relevance of any social justice thought and work (which would lead us into asking the difficult questions) and the study of humanities and social sciences which would be relevant in this regard is the de-politicization of development itself. Thus, the global approach to development aims to be scientific and technical, refusing to see poverty and inequality as social justice issues while precluding contestation in whatever is described as a development project.

“By uncompromisingly reducing poverty to a technical problem, and by promising technical solutions to the sufferings of powerless and oppressed people, the hegemonic problematic of ‘development’ is the principal means through which the question of poverty is de-politicized in the world today.”

-James Fergusson, The Anti-Politics Machine, 1994

As argued by Edward Said, the author of Orientalism, no one has yet devised a method that detaches the ‘scientist’, or the development ‘expert’ from the circumstances of life, or from his involvement (conscious or unconscious) with a class, a set of beliefs, a social position, or from the mere activity of being a member of a society.

Yet, an unceasing belief in the magical powers of technocracy and of the assumed non-existence of politics in development matters persists. It allocates unchecked power to the technically educated, and none to the uneducated –the supposedly grateful beneficiaries of development intervention.

In this way, development, as an idea and discursive tool, available for use by democrats and autocrats alike, has stood against unlimited democratic potential and wide-spread progress. It has been deployed to delegitimize political opposition and exacerbate the powerlessness of millions by supporting unwavering foreign intervention into their lives and affairs without their voice. We are now faced with policy makers, experts and officials, who, as one observes, cannot think how things might improve except through their own agency.

BUT- “We tell them [rural peasants] what is good for them,” remarks an agricultural expert with an NGO working in Western Kenya. However, this ‘telling’, which can better be described as ‘coercive persuasion’, has involved the uprooting of ‘undesirable crops’ in rural Rwanda by government officials, the distribution of fertilizer (supposedly to improve agricultural production in rural Ethiopia) which destroys soil fertility, and farmers being ‘asked’ off their small-plots of land so as to pave way for massive plantations that are said will help make Africa ‘food secure’.

The basic question coming out of all these examples is: after half a century of its existence, how is the concept of development achieving wide relevance in a world where inequality and injustice have only increased over time? At what point are we going to have a genuine post-development or ‘beyond development’ conversation?

The problem, it seems, is that such a conversation will mean the tacit acceptance by the international development community that development is inherently political: the exact antithesis of current development discourse.

This post was written by Ngala Chome.

Ngala Chome was born in Kenya and is passionate about ideas and work that challenge existing frameworks for understanding social justice issues and development. He is an editor with Routes and was the 2013-2014 Commonwealth Shared Scholar at the University of Edinburgh. His email is kllnngl@yahoo.com

 

Suggested Readings:

Maria Green, Tanzanian Local Politics

Christian Lund, Ghana, Development and Change, Twilight Institutions: Public Authority and Local Politics, 2006.

Claire Mercer, LSE Civil Society and Community development in Tanzania

Henrietta Moore, Cutting Down Trees

Can sport be radical?

In closing let me say that it is our hope in these our games to stiffen the backbone of these our boys by teaching them manliness, good temper, and unselfishness – qualities amongst many others which have done so much to make many a Britisher, and which we hope to instil into our boys in such a way as to make them strong men indeed. Our belief is that our games may be, when properly controlled, a mighty channel through which God can work to the uplifting of this race.

1909 in the East Africa Protectorate (today, Kenya) and Scottish missionary John William Arthur reflects on a ‘great football match’ he had organised for some Kikuyu boys. People in East Africa had long engaged in physical competitions but this contest involved novel things like a measured pitch, a stopwatch, a score-sheets, and a referee. In fact the ‘great football match’ was one of the earliest organised sports competitions in East Africa. And it was  a part of a broader, global, process experienced in many places all over the world as Brits and other Europeans sought to (re)produce the sports culture of the metropole in their new colonial locations.

The Commonwealth Games are a thread in the entangled history of sport and empire. The Games underline the fact that many of the world’s most successful sporting nations were once British colonies. Running in Kenya, sprinting and cricket in the Caribbean, cricket in India, rugby in South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands: people in these places have redefined the very activities people like John Arthur (who, incidentally was born in Glasgow) hoped would ‘stiffen backbones’ and ‘make Britishers.’ They are no longer, as Arthur believed, ‘our games.’

As the overbearing, indeed triumphant, presence of the Queen during the opening ceremony of this summer’s Games forcefully reminded us, some things however, have not changed. A more subtle and less contested imperial legacy is the abiding belief in the capacity of seemingly frivolous activities such as kicking balls and running in circles, to make better citizens. This was, after all, the point of Arthur’s football match in 1909: not the production of elite athletes, but rather ‘good-tempered’, ‘unselfish’, ‘manly’ Christians.

Read today, Arthur’s words might raise an eyebrow: the unshakable confidence he had in the civilising capacity of sport seems out-dated and naive. Nevertheless sport continues to be promoted by public figures for many of the same reasons. It is good, we are told, for young people, particularly poor or supposedly dangerous young people, because it teaches ‘correct’ behaviour and is a ‘productive’ use of time. Sport has been promoted too, on the grounds that those who play sport are more likely to vote. In short, it is supposedly its utility as a ‘disciplinary technique’ that makes sport socially desirable: to subdue people, to make them more obedient. A sub-feature to this narrative – evidenced in the refrain of white collar professionals who ‘do exercise’ in order to relieve stress or help concentration – is that sport makes people more productive (and thus ‘better’) workers.

There are hardly any radical narratives surrounding sport in popular culture. The voice of the establishment has claimed sport in a way which is unique among other pastimes and pursuits. Unlike reading, film-making, or learning a language, you never really hear people championing sport because it allows for an alternative lifestyle, or because it promotes critical engagement with society and the environment. Yet this is exactly what sport can offer. Even at a basic level, whether training, competing, or simply playing for fun, doing sport can lead to alternative ways of thinking about oneself, others, and the world. Sport has much more to offer society than solidifying the status quo.

The commercialisation of sport (and sporting competitions) and the exploitation and abuse of construction workers which has underpinned the staging of recent sporting ‘mega events’ must give us reason to ask whether sport can ever be radical. Any movement in this direction must begin with the recognition that sport itself does not have to be, as Arthur presumed in 1909, inherently controlling.

This post was written by Tom Cunningham.

Tom is entering the second year of a PhD in African Studies at the University of Edinburgh. His thesis, provisionally entitled, ‘Muscular Christianity: A History of the Body and the Church of Scotland Mission to Kenya c1906-1938’, is funded by an ESRC 1+3 studentship.