Tuesday, August 17, 2004

What Can Kenyan MEN Do to Stop Rape?

By Onyango Oloo in Montreal

On Monday, August 16, 2004,

Njeeri wa Ngugi

struck one of the mightiest blows against rapists in Kenya simply

by opening her mouth looking the world straight in the face and recounting the unspeakable horrors unleashed against her by a horde of violent, calculating, sinister sadists.

Even though she limped as she did, Njeeri stood TALL, far, FAR ABOVE the insecure beastly minions who hoped to sub humanize her and crush her spirit through those brutal acts that she described candidly and bravely in the well-attended and well-covered press conference held in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi.

The reporting in the Nairobi dailies has been thorough, professional and empathetic, never degenerating into the easy and sleazy tabloid sensationalism that such a tale of woe could have easily generated.

Click Here for the Standard story

Click here for the Kenya Times coverage

Kenya Times Story on the Ngugis

It was also heartening to see at least three NARC government ministers-Kiraitu Murungi, Raila Odinga and Kivutha Kibwana show up not only to offer empathy and support, but more importantly to apologize to the Ngugis personally and the Kenyan nation at large for not doing more to protect such a valuable national treasure. It was significant at the same time to notice the one person WHO WAS NOT THERE- Internal Security minister Dr.Christopher Murungaru.

On the same day, 8 human rights organizations based within Kenya issued a statement expressing concerns about the rising incidents of sexual assault and decrying the ineffectual state response so far.

Overseas, the Kenya Community Abroad issued a hard hitting statement condemning the attack on Ngugi wa Thiongo and Njeeri wa Ngugi and calling for the imposition of the death penalty for rape offenders.

In the course of the next few days, Kenya Democracy Project will be bringing you a joint statement issued by at least 3 Kenyan women abroad on the issue of the assault on Njeeri wa Ngugi. Please look out for it.

Njeeri wa Ngugi has shown exemplary leadership in breaking what she called the “conspiracy of silence between rapists and their victims”- this action on its own has disempowered past, present and future rapists who rely on the implied and coerced news blackout from the victim about what happened. When someone speaks out, you no longer have a “victim”; you are looking at a SURVIVOR, and in Njeeri’s case, a FIGHTER.

ALL THE HEAVY LIFTING on the question of rape and sexual assault in Kenya has been done PRIMARILY by women-either as direct survivors, support systems or allies. It is women who have set up the organizational, community and other institutional frameworks to deal with rape victims and survivors.

We know that in Kenya there are the state institutions like the courts, the police, the prisons that deal with rape as an incidence of crime and deal with it within the context of law and order, crime and punishment-even though we know that merely locking up a felon who has raped will not guarantee that other sexual assaults will not take place even as the harsh sentence is being pronounced.

The media and the Kenyan civil society have also worked extensively in highlighting rape and sexual assault occurrences. One organization-the Coalition on Violence Against Women(COVAW) has taken the lead in organizing the annual 16 Days of Activism.
This year's global theme is HIV/AIDS and Violence Against Women

FIDA Kenya has worked bravely to help prosecute suspected child molesters and rapists like the former cabinet minister, Julius Sunkuli (who still roams like a free bird in spite of credible reports that he assaulted and impregnated a minor who just so happens to be a blood relative).

It is OK for Kenyans at home and around the world to demand answers from the government and the work that Kenyan women are doing around sexual assault and other manifestations of violence against women is quite commendable. Ditto the contribution of the fourth estate and civil society actors.

But that there is ONE segment of the Kenyan population, which,like Chris Murungaru at Njeeri wa Ngugi’s press conference, IS MISSING IN ACTION.

Who am I talking about?

I am talking about people like Onyango Oloo.


Where are the Kenyan MEN in the fight against rape and sexual assault?

After all, it is PRIMARILY MEN who rape women (and other men as well).

So where are the Kenyan men?

I know there are hundreds, if not thousands of Kenyan men who are allies to women who work around these issues; dozens who participate in annual events to stop violence against women; men who intervene bravely in these situations; men who direct women to places of safety(often their own homes); men who are trying to come to terms with their sexist and misogynist socialization over millennia of patriarchy and sexist oppression…

I am not belittling these efforts.

I am saying that in terms of the work that needs to be done, the above are MERE TOKEN GESTURES.

We need to do more.

I know many men out there will say:

“Oloo: there you go again with your sweeping generalizations! Most men are appalled by the atrocity called rape and would shun anyone who they knew engaged in such inhuman outrages.”

And I say:


Consider this.

I was in the University of Nairobi as a student for approximately 15 minutes before I was whisked off to Kamiti (ok, slightly longer than that, but you get my point).

During that time I came to know about this other sub-culture that existed among CERTAIN, not ALL male university students.

It had something to do with what “comrades” (U of N slang for fellow (often male) student) referred to as a “Collection”.

What is a “Collection”?

It has no connections with the coins and bank notes collected from worshippers in church buildings across the country every weekend.

A “Collection” is/was campus argot for a prostitute. Within days of my arrival on campus in the fall (late October) of 1981 I was hearing second and third year students tell us freshmen about this strange phenomenon in which two or three university students would lure a sex worker from the streets of downtown Nairobi. They would promise to pay the unsuspecting woman for her sexual services. As soon as they arrived back at the halls of residence, these boisterous young men would go through a sudden transformation. Erasing their cheery dispositions, they would gang rape the poor woman, taking turns to perpetrate all kinds of indignities. The sickening punch line to this sordid tale is that these young men would get more undergraduate rapists to dash out of their cubicles simply by stepping into the corridors and yelling “Collection!” at the top of their lungs. At the end of the ordeal the victim would be roughly manhandled out of the halls of residence often half-naked and sometimes with her purse rifled through and the few mang’otores she earned from other tricks filched by her abductors and actors feeling safe in their unsuspected abode of higher learning. My understanding is that University of Nairobi students got so notorious among the sex worker population in the Kenyan capital that NO WOMEN in the business would knowingly allow herself to be picked up and brought back to the campus by a known and potential student rapist.

Now, it must be emphasized that the VAST MAJORITY of male students DID NOT participate or condone such actions- quite the contrary; when we first heard the tale it was a cautionary account from an older student warning us to beware about this sordid University of Nairobi male "rite of passage".

But even if we assume that it was only 1% of the male student population that participated in such actions every year- how many cumulative rape incidents involving University of Nairobi students are we talking about from the time the campus was officially proclaimed to be such in 1970 up to the year 2003?

10 cases?

100 cases?

1000 cases?

10,000 cases?

Or more?

Who were the victims?

Where are the victims?

Did any of them ever come forward to file a complaint?

Did they get any justice?

More importantly, who were the attackers?

Who were the undergraduate and post-graduate rapists?

Where are they now?

Are some of them doctors?

Are some of them lawyers?

Are some of them civil servants?

Are some of them engineers?

Are some of them lecturers and teachers?

Are some of them NGO executives?

Are some of them journalists?

Are some of them preachers?

Are some of them husbands and fathers?
Are some of them cabinet ministers and assistant ministers?
Are some of them prosecutors?
Are some of them magistrates and judges?
And for those who are prosecutors, magistrates and judges, how do they try rape cases?

How many of these rapists have ever been accused of rape?

How many of these rapists have ever been arrested for rape?

How many of these rapists have ever been tried of rape?
How many of these rapists have ever been convicted of rape?
How many of these rapists have ever been jailed for rape?

How many of these rapists are reading these lines right now?

We all know about the tragedy that befell the students at St. Kizito Secondary School on July 1991. When I was researching for this piece a couple of hours ago, I came across this paragraph in a certain publication:

Sometimes, teachers ignore sexual harassment by male pupils toward female pupils and regard it as ''normal'' behaviour. One poignant example was given in this publication, ''In Kenya, this attitude caused an outcry after a notorious incident on July 14 1991, where 19 girls were killed and 71 reported being raped at St Kizito school. The headmaster reportedly commented that ''In the past the boys would scare the girls out of their dormitories and in the process they would get hold of them and drag them to the bush where they would 'do their thing' and the matter would end there with the students going back to their respective dormitories''(Beyond Victims and Villains, 24).

I grew up in both in the urban areas(Mombasa, Nairobi etc) as well as the countryside(Gem, Kisa) and in both instances as a boy I saw the culture that shaped most adolescent Kenyan males- the pressure to have sex, any kind of a sex as soon as possible. At Luanda Primary School I remember very vividly this incident when I was still a standard six pupil when our class monitor was suspended because she almost chewed off the thumb of the Maths teacher who lured her into his house by ordering her to personally deliver all the exercise books for marking before trying to crudely drag this strong, strapping lass into his rickety bed. You know who got punished? The late Adhiambo (not her real name) who was dragged before a kangaroo court in the headmaster’s office and found guilty of ASSAULTING the Maths teacher. She refused to be caned on the buttocks in front of the whole school- and she also refused to cry out even as the HM gave her six of what he usually called “the best” on both palms in front of the whole school assembly before ordering her to work on the school shamba for three days straight.

And growing up in the residential estates of Nairobi and Mombasa as a young innocent still a few years from my first tentative sexual encounters, we used to hear older teenage boys boast of how they took “manzi” or “ngede” Fulani binti Fulani and “Tukampiga Kombain” which was a euphemism for gang raping another girl essentially, if I can be so blunt.

Growing up with so many sisters I often imagined that it was one of my sisters who was being dragged through such indignities and that is one of the many reasons why I became a book worm from a very early age- staying away from all that raucous talk (three quarters of which I discovered in young adult confessions were made up to IMPRESS peers).

What I am trying to say is that if we move away from the headlines, we find, in looking at Kenyan society how much sexual violence against women IS CONSIDERED THE NORM by a very big part of the Kenyan male population.

And this is before you throw in the sexist stereotypes imported with television, movies, thrillers and of course tourists and soldiers coming to Kenya specifically to “have fun” with grown women they insist on referring to as “Kenyan girls.”

Here is a link to a document that explores the Kenyan scene in

less anecdotal and more scholarly terms

With all that in mind, let us start with some basics.

What is Rape?

Here is one definition

And here is another one:

definition of rape

Why do men rape women?

Someone writing for Congress of South African Trade Unions had this to say:

Cosatu Discussion Paper

Here is a question to the men in the room.

Do you fit the profile of a rapist?

Find out by clicking on this link

and this one as well:

Click Here
What are some of the mostly commonly held MYTHS about rape?

Let me clue you in:

Click Here

What are the 7 P's about men’s violence?

Here you go

Why should men care about rape?

Some men have tried to answer this question very eloquently and simply:
Rape as a Men's Issue

What are some of the things that men can do?

The White Ribbon Campaign
, a Toronto headquartered organization of men working to end violence against women has a few suggestions:

Still Wondering What You Can Do?
Today is a day to pose questions and offer suggestions.

My readers can take the next steps….

Onyango Oloo
Montreal, Quebec
1:23 am EST
August 17, 2004

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This is one of the best articles I've read by a man about rape now having said that I think its important to note that NGOs and the government have failed us in this area don't applaud any they are doing zero work