The Politics of Gender and Mainstream Contests for Power in Kenya
Onyango Oloo Amused and Musing in Toronto
WARNING to READERS SCARED SHITLESS ABOUT SEX: This is an X Rated Digital Essay. DO NOT Read it With Your Child!!
1.0. The Kenyan Men Who Want To Be President
Please take a CAREFUL look at the following pictures and tell me if you notice ANYTHING ODD:
What did you see, or rather, NOT SEE?
Well, if you are like me and thinking what I am thinking then you must have scratched that coconut on your shoulder and said:
THERE ARE NO KENYAN WOMEN IN SIGHT!
Which leads me to the following WILD SPECULATION:
2.0. What if Kenya Had an Empress Wu?
No, not "Wha-".
But WHO is WU??
I hear you ask, completely FLUSTERED and BEWILDERED- which can hardly be an auspicious start to yet another exploration of an Onyango Oloo digital essay...
Fortunately, dear reader, I do have the EXACT answer at my finger tips since I am such a shameless enthusiast for arcane, archaic and completely obscure and useless trivia(got bitten by the "What Is The Answer to That Question" bug in the late seventies when I represented Mombasa Baptist High School against HH The Aga Khan Kenya Secondary School in the televised final of the Inter Schools Challenge hosted by Ali Kadhi- for those who are Kenyan and old enough to remember that 70s quiz show from back home. It was ironic when I later became a classmate at Aga Khan Kenya(aka Kensec) of TWO of my VOK "rivals"- Chetna from Coast Girls and Arif from Kensec when we did our "A"levels at that Mombasa school tucked around the corner from Naaz Cinema and the Mombasa Central Police Station and ruled with an iron fist by long time ruthless bachelor Mr. Jamal-who finally got hitched when he was approaching Madiba's age-just kidding he is not that old.. ).
Are we back to the future already?
Tell me something dear reader:
What do you find MORE OBNOXIOUS about my digitals:
Is it the endless detours I keep making to decades past or blind siding you constantly with hectares of pictures you did not ask for?
Let me leave you fighting over that bone as I go back to my ORIGINAL train of thought about Empress Wu.
Yes we, or rather you, were asking me, who the hell was Wu.
Who was Wu?
Did you hear that?
If you say it out loud it sounds more like, "Who was Who?" Ama?
Like a past edition of the compilation of Who is Who.
But actually, that is the point isn't it?
Who, actually, is Wu???!!
Have you noticed that I am deliberately trying to DRIVE YOU AROUND THE BEND?
Make you go completely BONKERS?
Transform you into a GIBBERING GIBBON in human form frothing at the mouth while completely OUT OF ITS POOR MIND?
I want at least ONE of my readers to be INSTITUTIONALIZED for the rest of their natural life in a Secure Mental Health Facility after reading one of my digitals.
It would give me ENORMOUS SATISFACTION, let me tell you that much.
That was an inside joke that will be immediately understood on at least TWO Kenyan online forums.
For the multitudes of increasingly impatient other readers out there in cyberspace and elsewhere, I beg you to indulge my warped and weird so called sense of humour- I say things that only other certified NERDS and TWERPS like myself will find even remotely "amusing".
Now that I have laughed heartily at your expense, let me tell you WHO WU is, or rather WHO Wu was...
Finally, you ask, ironically, while sighing with a theatrical air of feigned disbelief?
Yes, that's right- finally you get the ultimate reward of patience, most dear reader.
3.0. Meet Her Royal Highness, the Empress Wu
All rise for one of the most famous Chinese monarchs:
SO, that is how WU looked like. But you still want to know:
Who was Wu, right?
Well, I searched and searched and over here is what I found out, just for you dear reader- I hope it suffices after the Chinese Water Torture(the water torture is NOT "Chinese" as you can see here that you put you through a few minutes ago..
But wait(just like those late night North American informercials on telly pleading with you to indulge in some reckless impulse shopping via your credit card) THAT'S NOT ALL. If you keep reading for the NEXT TWENTY SECONDS you will also find out, by clicking here the OTHER REASON why HISTORY( Herstory) remembers the unforgetable Empress Wu.
Would YOU do IT?
Go down on Empress Wu (if you were a guy working for the Chinese government in her time)?
Personally, Onyango Oloo would consider it a PLEASURE and a TREASURE- as long as those nether regions had recently been visited by copious amounts of fresh and refreshing
H20 flowing from a
(do not pronounce the final T if you do not want to annoy the French).
I mean, who wants to find out if feminine mkojoo is acidic or alkaline?
Must have been tough on those Chinese mandarins as they heard the Empress Wu bellow, growl, snarl and gnarl:
"Civil MTUMISHI, Come HERE! Down on your KNEES! Yes! You can look at it WITH BOTH EYES. Are you going to GIVE ME HEAD or should I CUT OFF YOUR HEAD????"
Even the most squeamish downtown jinriksha driver in China those days would immediately engage their tongues as an ignition key and get down to some furious sucking, licking and lapping.
I mean, who wants to end up HEADLESS in Bejing or Shanghai?
What is THE POINT OF THIS ESSAY, I hear you DEMAND, as you gather yourself up, a picture of shocked rectitude and moral indignation, huffing and puffing, ready to storm off in a huff.
Stay, dear reader, just stay-at some point TODAY, you will get the point I am trying to put across...
4.0. Why Are Kenyan Women Missing from the Presidential Heats?
To answer that question let us go back to the East and scan some of their ancient proverbs. This link to Confucian proverbs and sayings will perhaps underscore how REVOLUTIONARY Empress Wu was, given the prevailing sexist attitudes towards Chinese women at that time which were not that different from sexist attitudes towards women say in Yorubaland or England. I understand the following one is home grown in Kenya:
"Women have no upright words, but only crooked ones".
This one is from the Venda people of South Africa:
"Madzanga a nyo ndi nwana"- the role of the vagina is bearing a child.
And this one is from the Sepedi:
"Moshaa, kwa lentsu la banna, o se kwe mmago ke mosukudu (tshukudu)"- Initiate listen to the voice of men, never give a hearing to your mother, for she is a rhinocerous, meaning that you boy initiate, shall not be tied to your mother’s apron strings. A rhinocerous is a wild animal known as the troublemaker.
More of the same can be found at this location.
Sexism and misogyny have existed for millenia. Hatred and contempt for women has been ingrained IN ALL human societies for thousands of years.
That has of course, NOT PREVENTED the emergence of OUTSTANDING WOMEN leaders all over the world.
In our own country, Kenyan women have been part and parcel of each and every struggle for democracy, freedom, justice and equality. This handful of names illustrates my point: Me Katilili, Moraa, Syotuna, Mary Nyanjiru, General Muthoni, Grace Onyango, Chelagat Mutai, Micere Mugo, Phoebe Asiyo, Zarina Patel, Wangari Maathai, Kathini Maloba, Katini-Ombaka and many others.
5.0. If Women Ruled Kenya, Would There Be a Difference?
Well it depends. I am obviously NOT A KENYAN WOMAN so I can only offer an opinion. A commonplace observation is that a woman who ascends to power within a male dominated patriarchal context will tend to perpetuate those sexist dynamics unless she consciously acts to subvert them using her new found power.
One familiar example:
Margaret Thatcher was known as the Iron Lady and her fascist groupies think she was one of Britain's most outstanding leaders of the 20th century. Others who are more progressive and less reckless tend to take a very dim view of the lady who was not for turning. For example, how many WOMEN, apart herself, did she have in her cabinet? Here is your answer. Here is how contemporary feminists have rated her.
Kenyan women, just like their male counterparts- and other sections of society like the youth- are NOT a MONOLITHIC entity with identical interests, but on the contrary, divided by class, race, religion, ideology, age etc. It is true that certain issues for example rape and violence against women cut across all these cleavages.
At the same time, the support systems available to a middle class Kenyan woman who has the misfortune of experiencing rape are not the same as those available to her housemaid for instance.
During the recent heated debate on reproductive rights we saw that the fact that someone is a biological female will NOT AUTOMATICALLY make that person say or do something progressive and democratic on the issue of abortion for instance. Online, I saw Kenyan women trying to outdo the men in coming up with some of the vilests diatribes against a woman's right to choose. And of course no one spoke more raucously than Mrs Charity Ngilu aka Mama Rainbow-the first Kenyan woman to run for the country's highest political office.
We saw how, during Moi's tenure, Maendeleo ya Wanawake became a literal appendage of the ruling party KANU with its leaders clawing their way for national attention with their hawkish fascist pronouncements.
That is why, on the one hand, it is not such a big deal that there are not that many right wing Kenyan comprador and petit-bourgeois women from the neo-colonial power elite vying with their overfed brothers to misrule Kenyans in the future.
On the other hand, the continued marginalization of women from the centre stage of mainstream Kenyan politics is an indication that as a nation, we have a long way to go before we achieve true equality in this country.
6.0. Mobilizing Kenyan Women for Popular Power
The only context which makes sense for me is the historical imperative of ensuring that ALL marginalized sections and sectors of Kenyan society are harnessed in building a geniune and progressive national democratic movement.
To me that means, first and foremost having the core of the movement based among the Kenyan WORKING PEOPLE- and we know that at least HALF of those will be women; secondly to work with the youth, of which fifty percent is female. But it is not just among the working people and the youth and the female contingents within those sections.
More crucially it is important that those of us who want to be part of the national team(within and outside the country) fighting for democracy need to focus INITIALLY on the most CONSCIOUS and POLITICALLY AWARE components of the above contingents. Let us create a nucleus among people who DO NOT NEED TO BE CONVINCED for example, that sexism is a bad thing, or that violence against women has to go. Saying this does not mean preaching to the converted. No: it means not dissipating precious energy with endless ACADEMIC DEBATES with people who have a class and ideological motivation in championing the cause of the status quo. To give a personal example. If I write an essay defending the right of a Kenyan woman to terminate an unwanted pregnancy and I post this essay, say on Mashada, Mambogani, Kenyaniyetu or another forum I DO NOT SEE MYSELF PLAYING THE ROLE OF A POLITICAL MISSIONARY who has to "CONVERT" pro-lifers and other reactionary thinkers to my vantage point. More often than not, most of these pro-lifers are MALE and what they say about abortion is more often than not just a microcosm of their total MISOGYNST PACKAGE- they are the same dolts who laugh at sickening sexist so called "jokes", see nothing wrong with spending their time surfing the net for hard core porn or physically and violently attacking their spouses. And as for the female pro-lifers, that is no big deal: the African-American community has its Clarence Thomases, Condi Rices and Gen. Powells.
Socialists the world over embrace the cryptic proverb, "Better Fewer But Better"-a reference to the preference for quality over quantity. Time and time again, Marxist-Leninists have proved that if progressive and democratic forces are well organized, they can and will have an impact inversely proportional to their actual numbers.
Even as we say what we have just said above, we must hasten to caution against indivualism and elitism, for even on the Left there emerged decades ago the hilarious and inaccurate depiction of a "revolutionary vanguard" that consisted of a small knit circle of friends who exchange emails, pamphlets, leaflets and other forms of mutual intellectual masturbation. Marx said that revolutionary ideas only become a mass force when this revolutionary idea is embraced by the people.
That is why one of the most crucial tasks for Kenyan progressives is to mainstream a feminist analysis and progressive gender consciousness among all those who hanker for change- men as well as women. Even as we organize, we must incorporate the progressive lessons learned from a host of feminist struggles around the world.
I will give a minor and revealing example.
And it has to do with furniture.
Have you ever heard of the "politics of furniture"?
Well, you just did, if you were getting ready to mouth the word "NO".
The politics of furniture is a term that many of us who do workshops and training sessions are very familiar with. It simply says that the way the furniture is arranged in a room is infused through and through with the politics of power.
Next time when you go to an executive's office(business, professional, academic, government etc), even if it is your own, take a moment to see how the furniture is arranged in that office. In which part of the room does the boss sit? What kind of chair does s/he sit on? What kind of desk does s/he sit behind? Does s/he have any buffers or can any Odhiambo, Njuguna, Amina or Nanjala simply get off a matatu walk right into their office without knocking? Follow that executive home. Where does s/he sit in the family living room and at the family dining table? What kind of chair does s/he sit in? How does s/he relate to the other members of the family from s/he sits? During national celebrations like Madaraka Day and Jamhuri Day, where does the President sit? What type of chair does he sit in? How about the wananchi? How about the meetings of akina Raila, Kalonzo, Uhuru, Biwott, Kombo, Kiraitu, Murungaru and so on. Where do the wageni waheshimiwa sit? How about the wananchi?Check out a chief's baraza. Where does the chief sit? How about the wananchi? Walk into a classroom in ANY of the educational institutions in the country- from kindergarten to university. Where does the teacher/lecturer sit? How about the pupils/students?
Just by look at desks, tables and chairs, one could write an entire digital essay titled, "Furniture, Power Dynamics and Participatory Democracy".
It is FEMINISTS who first examined SERIOUSLY the Politics of Furniture. They noticed that the entire SOCIAL DYNAMICS in a meeting can be altered DRAMATICALLY by rearranging the furniture. Instead of having chairs in rows facing one desk where the teacher/ guest speaker/ facilitator/boss etc sits at, the organizers instead arrange the chairs to form a circle and they dispense with tables and desks altogether creating a democratic physical space where no is one is above anyone else, people can make direct eye contact and there are no alienating barriers between the participants in the meeting.
Having said that, it should be underscored that issues of hierarchy, domination and power go far beyond rearranging the furniture in a room-if Mwai Kibaki went to a chief's baraza and sat on the mchanga next to the little chokoras everybody would notice even more that the President was ruining his expensive suit by wallowing in the dirt with the wananchi. One cannot erase class, gender, age and other barriers simply by teaching people a new way to sit down.
In any case the larger point I am making is that Kenyan progressive should incorporate some of the feminist best practices in terms of leadership training and mass mobilization.
I am wondering for instance:
If the majority of the people in that lawyer's office during the siging of the contentious NARC MOU were women, would we be having the same tug of war?
Many of my progressive Kenyan women friends have argued persuasively that it would not have been the same- women are more prone to negotiation, less prone to duking it for personal power and are better listeners and that these three ingredients alone would have meant a different sequence of events. But when I look at the long running saga of a political feud between
Sheik Hasina and
Khalida Zia in Bangladesh, I am not so sure.
To end where we started:
As a Kenyan socialist, I of course do not wish to be ruled by an Empress Wu- or any other monarch, constitutional or otherwise. And seriously I would go back to Kamiti rather be forced to pleasure a head of state with a public act of cunnilingus also popularly known as going DOWNTOWN.
Sunday, September 19, 2004
IMPRESSING EMPRESS WU or Where are The Kenyan Female Presidents in Waiting??
Posted by Kenya Democracy Project at 8:33 PM
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yr kinda annoying. but thx for the info!
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