27 January 2023

Aberdares/Treetops 2017

Back in 2017, Jane Bussmann kindly took me along on her writing gig. Because I was just chatting about the elephants of the Aberdares, I went back to fish out the bits and pieces I put on Facebook back then.


Treetops is like a street cafe on a busy high street. There are no doubt more magnificent settings to people watch, but everyone and their ill-behaved relative stop by. Lots of hanging out, a bit of bitching and shoving and flapping of ears. In related issues, teeny tiny baby elephants are, of course, The Best. This is official and the truth. But teeny tiny baby warthogs are also Very Very Good.


So don’t tell anyone, but Treetops has two fire-escape ladders, and when you climb down the one near the entrance, it gets very dark, but you end up in a little cubby hole. It’s just above ground level and has a few small windows that a not-very-tall person like myself can just about look out of. So after dinner, Jane and I climbed down into the cubby hole and there, right on the other side of the fence, was a group of elephants.

They look even more otherworldly and ancient in that orange-y light. They don’t stand still: they snuffle the ground with their trunks, and either stand, or walk, with swaying motions. And they breathe out noisily. The group pulls closer together, then gradually expands again. You can only see the really tiny baby when they move apart – it’s so tiny that it will still fit under the big elephants. There were two moments of upset while we were watching, one with trumpeting. And we just stood in the dark very quietly, utterly charmed.

Now that we’re upstairs in the bedroom, we can still hear them: every once in a while, they make an odd sound, almost like a low-key rumbly roar (if there is such a thing), something I’d have expected to hear from a lion.


So the obligatory game drive. We set off with Francis, the guide/driver, at around 4pm, the time when equatorial sun turns into that fat golden light. The Aberdares park is green, hilly and forested. I asked: They didn’t have much rain either, but still more than Nairobi, and there is just a lot more ground cover, so it’s by far not as dusty and brown. Not tropical rain-forest lush, but very green.

The view from the top of the hills is stunning: even with a bit of mist, you can see the hill (mountain?) ranges in the distance. Had we not seen a single animal, it would have still been a gorgeous drive. But we were lucky. And it turns out that the Bachelor Buffaloes of the Aberdares – those that are not allowed to hang out with the herd – are a lot more laid back. We spotted a bunch in the bend of the river just hanging out, no squabbling. One of them had his own little mud pool.

And then, Francis spotted some elephants up on the hill, so he backed up to the junction and took us up. I was mumbling ‘Oh oh OH!!l’ like an idiot when we reached them, hovering a little nervously with their ears out sideways in the green. So close! They are such odd, magnificent animals.

We also saw two hyena trundling along (or possibly just one very shifty one), and the rare Giant Forest Hogs – slightly surreal enormous pigs basically! They are very shy. A bush buck with his heart-shaped snout was watching us carefully from a few meters away, half hidden in the bush, just the right combination of presence and mystery. Colobus monkeys being very swish and glamorous with their bushy white tails. Baboons looking well fed and with nice shiny coats. Several gaggles of warthogs.

And then we reached the view point: a grassy plateau with mindblowing view for kilometers. And a very chilled buffalo just … chilling. Getting out of the vehicle and taking pics? No problem. Eventually he got up, gave us a longish look, and wandered off. Time up. I’m now convinced he’s called Kamau and gets a text message when we leave the lodge to get in position, and KES500 per week via M-PESA. We’re back at Treetops. The lodge clearly runs on its historical princess-turned-queen legacy. It’s small and fairly simple, and a little underloved (although not to the extent that it justifies Jane sending messages about ‘I’m in a POW camp with a skinhead German’). The food is amazingly awful, British boarding school level, but the staff are very nice indeed. I have forgiven them for the food because the park is so very beautiful.

03 September 2020

Shit Job, CNN: Akon City

Two of my Facebook friends posted this CNN piece on Akon's planned Akon City in Senegal. And my goodness, this infuriated me so much that I actually turned my Facebook write up into the first blog post in ages. It's ridiculously lazy journalism. (Of course CNN doing a lousy job on Africa issues is not entirely unheard of)

And note: this isn't about what Akon should or shouldn't do with his - or, in fact, other people's - money. This is about CNN being unbelievably sloppy.

There have been a few attempts to build new cities from scratch (e.g. Konza City, Tatu City, just to stay on the outskirts of Nairobi), and there is enough material to attest to the complexities. I'd like to see some actual information on what this reported USD6bn investment looks like: Where do the funds come from, are the funds commercial or concessionary or mixed, what entity will invest them, which partner firms are involved etc.

(probably accidental that this particular 'building' looks like an iteration of a Rabbit vibrator)

I had a look at Akon City's website and for starters, an English editor might have been a worthwhile investment. Then the concept is incredibly vague, with swirly, z-list wannabe-Zaha Hadid renderings and no plans. On the basis of this, you can't raise USD6bn or anything near it: https://akoncity.com/districts/. Konza City's renderings at some point at least had a nifty little fly-through thingie.

And then I had a look at the three organisations firms listed:

KE International: https://ke-intl.com/about. They are curious! They claim to have a project portfolio of USD8bn - a stretch, I think. The website shows a bunch of white US American guys. I ran their names through Google: none of them has an actual online footprint!

Sapco Senegal's website doesn't open, but Google suggests it's a parastatal, Senegal's Société d'Aménagement et de Promotion des Côtes et Zones Touristiques du Sénégal - the agency to promote coastal and tourist areas. Fine. But a body likely to play a key role in a large-scale real estate development?

Then we have BAD Consult. They list a whole bunch of projects. I fished out one randomly: Basra Sports City. BAD claim a project volume (or 'coast') of USD162m. I ran Basra Sports City through Google, and the Wikipedia entry says that the contractors for the USD500m project were an Iraqi and two US American firms. No mention of BAD. They could have been a sub contractor. Wikipedia says the project has been finished in 2013, but BAD don't show actual photographs, which should be available now. https://badconsult.com/portfolio-item/basra-sport-city/

I then ran BAD Consult and Bakri through Google and for pages, pretty much the only references to them are in the context of Akon City.

And none of this has even gone anywhere hear the mythical USD6bn. Financing and investing USD6bn WILL involve incorporated entities and law firms and a lot of paperwork.

All of this online open-source work cost me ... 45min? And I'm not getting paid for an article. Shit job, CNN.

And the article rehashes the 'solar energy for 600m Africans' tagline, too. There are so many solar energy companies and initiatives focusing on the retail market that Akon really isn't the avant garde nor the sole or the biggest player.

Both topics can and should be covered with some proper reporting, and this isn't arcane insider knowledge.


16 May 2019

Time for mandatory vasectomies

Coffee break, so I'm attempting to have a discussion with a pro-lifer on Twitter about abortions (yeah yeah, I know).

He's against them if not for medical reasons, and what Alabama did is just fine. So I ask him: how about we make vasectomies mandatory? Surely that would fix the whole issue.

I would like to propose the following: Vasectomies to be mandatory for sperm producers.

They are far less invasive than tubal ligations and can be reversed.

As a back up, you get to store your sperm in case there are problems with the reversal. Parents - maybe the father? - would have to monitor their son's sexual development as he hits puberty, and take him to a doctor quarterly to check if he produces sperm. Failure to do will be penalised.

Sperm storage could possibly be subsidised (although we achieve economies of scale if it's mandatory for the whole country) to keep costs at a level of what women pay on average for contraception.

And there we go. Problem solved!!

But he's now wailing about men being 'punished'.

24 November 2017

Uber Tales: The Mend-Your-Deviant-Ways One

Still in Uber adventures: When I came back from the village hooligans yesterday evening, I made a stupid mistake. It's a beginner's mistake, and I really should know better, but I keep making it because I don't like to lie.

So we're driving towards town, and chat a bit. Cabbie guy asks me how long I've been here, and where my family is: in Germany. Eventually he establishes that I have no husband. This was the mistake. I should just brazenly lie about husband, pretend he's waiting at home, invoke blood of Jesus or whatever one says (upstanding church ladies, please give advice).

That I haven't met the right guy isn't quite enough for him. I tell him that guys here are difficult. Why? Because I'm not so keen on the second wife/extra girlfriend/multiple extra girlfriends scenario. I thought we could leave it there, finally (note to self: Maybe in future avoid this discussion strand, talk about what a cranky cow I am instead and that I don't like having people in my space). I try to divert the discussion a few times, but no dice.

Thankfully we then get to Westlands. I pay him, and pretty much at 'Maybe one fine day I can cal-', I slam the door shut and walk. Not crossed a line maybe, but he was certainly quite comfortable with having both big toes firmly on it.

Or maybe he's a patriotic Kenyan and keen to redeem the image of this good country's men.

Or maybe I should say I don't cook?

(from 6 Nov 2017)

Uber Tales: The Scary One

I'm not a morning person, but this was a bit more adrenaline than I wanted or needed for 6am yoga class:

The Uber driver was a bit slow to get going, and then he took an unnecessarily long route to my place (Why are there so many Uber drivers who can't read maps? Why does the Uber map suggest such stupidly long routes?).

So I was a bit grumpy by the time I got into his cab, but at least we were on the way. Still dark, rainy, chilly morning. We had just gone past Tune Hotel when someone coughed in the back. I hadn't even thought of checking the back of the car, and suddenly discovering a person half a metre away from you when you hadn't expected to do so is, I can now tell you, terrifying. I jumped out of my skin.

The driver jumped out of his skin, and also out of his car. Turns out that he had dropped of a couple of guys at the petrol station next to the Mall (that's why it took him a while to get on the way) and apparently forgot to turf out this one!

(from 6 Nov 2017)

Dildos and Unsolicited Penis Peddling

I manage a pretty large Facebook buy-and-sell group. In it, you can find a broad variety of things, including vitenge, mitumba, kitchen items, lots of fake leather bags, cars, chicks (of the avian variety, I block the others), houses, pieces of land, bouncing castles – and dildos and vibrators.

Posts with the latter inevitably have a whole lot of comments with shrieking ‘Satan!’, ‘Jesus come!’, ‘End times!’, ‘Be ashamed of yourself!’, ‘You don’t need to do this!’ and more active hell fire and damnation curses wished upon the vendors and the buyers, too.

And then, just as inevitably, some dudes weigh in with concerns regarding what has the world come to, will women now dispense with guys completely? This is, as ever, a baffling argument to me: If you are worried that you will lose out to a piece of plastic or latex, dude, that says something about your sex and other skills. And what it says is not good. Sit your ass down and think.

Also, inevitably, such posts bring out the penis peddlers. They rock up, all bright eyed and bushy tailed, and offer their own appendage (natural! free!) to the various women who had expressed an interest in the items. Now the group has a rule that you must not spam other people’s for-sale posts with your own goods, so I have to expel and block those. Pole.

None of the man whores stop to consider that their all natural! free! appendage comes with the whole man whore attached, and maybe we don’t like his face, or his conversation, or generally don’t want to have our orgasm diluted by a stranger in the room. Or, for that matter, anyone in the room. Few to no people seem to stop and consider that these things might also be used by women in long-distance relationships and would certainly be better than cheating on their partners.

All this is as inevitable as death and taxes. Yesterday, though, one of the penis peddlers put a new spin on his move: He offered fornication (with his own free! natural! appendage) to the (possibly married) women making price inquiries, to save them from sure dildo-induced hell fire and damnation. If he fucks like he thinks, he’s definitely one worth foregoing.

Right, I need to get back to work. Don’t spam people’s posts with your penis. A good day to you.

07 July 2017

So here’s how I ended up with short hair

It was a dark and stormy night.

No, it wasn’t. It was a grey-ish day in Frankfurt. I think I was 29. Before, my hair had been various lengths, from well over my shoulders to about chin length at its shortest, and I’d very often cut it myself – it’s wavy to curly, so I didn’t need to be super accurate. At the time of that fateful hairdresser’s visit, I already had short-ish hair, about chin length. But I felt daring. So I booked an appointment with a proper hairdresser and told him, holding two fingers apart about five to six centimetres, that I’d like him to cut everything this short, equal length all over. He started cutting, and my hair got shorter and shorter. And shorter. And I sat there, in that hideous hairdresser cloak that makes nobody look good, still. In terror. Everything was short, with the sides and back slightly shorter. SHORT!

I didn’t confront him, but paid and walked out. And then walked around Frankfurt’s centre for an hour and a half or so, in a daze. A dazed, deep misery. It’s probably more a women thing how your hair can affect your whole state of being. And my state of being was thoroughly awful.

Then I went to meet my aunt to watch the "Titanic". We all know the story of the Titanic: ship sinks, loads of people die miserably and also in terror. This being a movie, and a very long one at that, there was very drawn out dying miserably in terror, with screeching violins all the way through.

I can’t tell you how emotionally exhausted I was when I finally got home that evening. I took off my coat, and went into my tiny bathroom to look at myself. And as I stood there in front of the mirror, I thought


Not bad, actually.”

A few weeks later, I bought clippers. That was that.

I had always thought that without my hair, nobody would look at me, but I was wrong about that, too.

Still, I’m not sure if I could have done the short hair much earlier. Turns out I was ready for it, even though I hadn't known it. These days, when I see images of women with freshly cropped hair, I envy them a little for that first moment of seeing themselves.

13 April 2017

Looking at big things!

I knew there were ship-shipping ships, but now I also know that there are aircraft-flying aircraft. Not whole aircraft, mind you, but rather large chunks of them: Today, at Airbus, I saw an Airbus Beluga. The company has only ever built five of them, and they fly large bits of aircraft between the company’s different locations in Europe. I had gone to investigate witchcraft with my dad, via a tour of Airbus’ Finkenwerder plant.

Finkenwerder is on the edge of Hamburg, nestled between the port and a stretch of river, in the Alte Land, one of Europe's largest fruit-growing areas, and after the industrial area. Airbus is, the guide, a former Airbus employee, said, Hamburg’s largest employer, with 12,000 people employed directly, and over 100,000 employed indirectly.

Airbus have their own shipping pier and, of course, their own airport – not just because those planes need to go to their buyers in the end, but also because they need to do six test flights before being handed over, plus one final flight with the client’s pilots. And some planes fly in just for painting and final interior work. Air traffic control is co-ordinated with Fuhlsbuettel, Hamburg’s regular airport, and also the port – turns out that having a huge-ass container ship in your flight path isn’t recommended. Hamburg has the second busiest port in Europe, and it’s right next door on the river.

I love big planes, and I have both the excitement and technological knowledge of a five-year old for them. But you don’t need much technical understanding in order to appreciate the incredible engineering and precision that goes into putting aircraft together. There was no mention of witchcraft, by the way, but that’s probably an industrial secret.

Finkenwerder assembles the A320, and we saw several of them in various stages of completion. The company produces 46 of them per month, and aims to increase this to 60. Fun fact: If they didn’t sell another aircraft ever, they’d still be busy for a decade. If you order an aircraft now, you’ll get it in seven years. But if you order 100, then you can expect your first one next month, so there’s that to consider! Each fully painted aircraft that we saw has a little sticker with the German flag on the tail: this will be peeled off once Airbus has received the full payment.

We spent quite a bit of time wandering around the assembly hall with the A320, and they are satisfyingly big and shiny. You get to see lots of parts up close, e.g. a winglet (don’t touch!) and where the wheels disappear to. I was allowed to touch one thing, and I did, of course: a tire. Lots of explanations of what happens where, which materials are used, and how all those nuts and bolts (many of them!) are managed.

And then we went over to the assembly hall for the A380. OMG OMG OMG – ladyboner! Our guide said that the full wing span of the A320 was about the length of one wing of the A380. I was bright eyed and bushy tailed before, but this was a different thing altogether! I may sound giddy, but I think my dad was just as excited. It is an amazing piece of engineering!

Fun factoid: My dad is an engineer by training, and he did his first industrial attachment at Airbus’ predecessor company. Aircraft have been built in that location since the 1930s, starting with seaplanes. It’s a huge, well organised, and modern facility, but one with history, and there are a traces left of it, e.g. some older buildings.

The tour had a strict no photographs/no phones/no touching policy, so I didn’t take any pictures, but here’s a Beluga pinched from the internet. Very satisfying morning.

See? An aircraft coming out of an aircraft.

06 February 2015

Do-gooder, sub-category Christian Evangelical: Y No Poor People?

I like US American Christian Evangelicals, I really do. I mean, not necessarily in person, but in principle: They are so very easy.

This is what the internet just coughed up on my door mat: Jestidwell’s blog piece ‘It didn’t happen like I thought it would’. Wife of one, mother of four goes on missionary trip to Kenya and is deeply disappointed when, upon arrival in Nairobi, she finds the Junction, a bloody mall of all things:

‘My heart was prepared for dirt floors.

For dirty laundry hanging everywhere.
For kids that were half naked and covered in bug bites.
People who couldn’t speak English.
not this’

Insert pictures of very well fed mzungu guy in Nakumatt looking at shelves of mayonnaise (possibly her husband?). The mayonnaise was, I admit, an element I appreciated.

Then she writes this without any apparent sense of irony:

‘But this girl from the states expected Nairobi to be like what you see in the movies. Or on Feed the Children commercials.’

Seconds after I posted that blog piece on Facebook, I was convinced that it was a spoof. So I went back to her blog. Apparently not. There’s this:

'I will never be able to accurately describe the feeling of love I experienced when we stepped out of the airport and onto African soil.
The smell.
The sounds.
The breeze.
Almost ocean like but without the ocean.'

I feel cheated. How come I never have such mystic experiences when getting off the plane at JKIA? JKIA, Y U cheat me? Is it because I don't bring the love? Here goes Jesstidwell:

'But most of all, I prayed for Nairobi. That the people here would know Jesus. Not because we stand on a street corner and preach for hours on end and not because we pass out bibles and tracts, but because we show them love.'

Sure. Because Nairobi doesn’t have enough of the love of Christ already. Is Google blocked in the US?

Stand by for pictures of her and many grateful, small, black children. They are happy with so little! They are just like us!

Gold-star comment from the Focus Group: ‘What is wrong with the American education system? How can they generate so many, but just far too many under-educated ignorami (plural for ignoramus)? And why do these particular lot afflict us with their presence? Dear God what wrong did we ever do to deserve such as these? Why us? Why them? Why us?’ (Yvonne Adhiambo)

12 September 2014

Nairobi PTSD?

After we crossed the border on the way back from Denmark, my dad left the Autobahn to look for a restaurant that he remembered from his youth. He wasn't quite sure anymore where it was, so at one point, he stopped by the roadside, and he and my mum looked at the map. This is on one of the regional roads, in the middle of fields (orderly roads, orderly fields). No traffic.

Then a car stopped opposite and a man got out and walked towards us.

I sat in the back and had the craziest surge of panic when I saw him approach.

He bent down to the car window and asked if we needed help. My dad told him where we wanted to go, and he gave us directions. My parents were delighted that he had been so thoughtful. I breathed out slowly and gently as my panic subsided.

12 June 2014

'Africa' is a real subject, sub-category: Writing about M-PESA

So here’s a story about M-PESA. Another one. Written by Charles Graeber for Bloomberg Businessweek:

‘I had traveled from New York to Nairobi to learn how to do exactly this—to pay for things with a phone—and to understand why Kenya has gained a reputation as the mobile payments future. (...) though I believe myself well-traveled, I’d never even set foot in Africa. All to the better, my editors said; there were already too many self-styled experts on how East Africa was leapfrogging more mature economies on mobile payments.’

And you know what? There’s actually a reason why it might be a better idea to have such an article written by a so-called ‘self-styled expert’. Or just someone who's familiar with it. Because M-PESA is hardly a new subject, and there are a great number of people who know how the system has developed and works, and who also know the basics about Nairobi:

The airport didn’t burn to the ground, for example, and the city isn't referred to as ‘Nai-rob-me’. This article is sprinkled with mistakes on M-PESA, too: the daily transaction limit and the maximum balance are wrong, for example, and pesa means money, not payment. No mention of the fact that you can now transfer money from your bank account to your mobile account, which saves you running around with cash. This is not available to the author as he’s a tourist, but certainly an important feature in how the service has developed both in competition and co-operation with the banking sector. Or that Safaricom developed mobile money further to offer a payment platform specifically for retailers. The article has the inevitable NGO stories, but no mention of M-PESA’s payroll services (because yes, there are employed people here).

Le Sigh. No doubt well intended, but sloppy. ‘Africa’ is a real subject. So do some real homework.

11 June 2014

Kenya Inc: Standing Solidly with Rapist Elders?

This was an interesting (for lack of a better word) couple of weeks with corporate ethics in Kenya. A few weeks ago, in the Business Daily, Frank Njenga responded to someone seeking advice on how to speak out about having been abused as a teenager. The situation had been made more complicated by the fact that the abuser was now considered a ‘respected elder’. Mr Njenga lobbed a misplaced bible quote at the woman. And then he went on a lengthy, absurd and highly unprofessional speculation that she had really been making all this up in a strange desire to bring shame upon herself and her husband and destroy her family.

This would have been outrageous ‘advice’ by any measure. But I read this pretty much around the same time as this news item from the Standard: ‘A Kenyan High Court has ordered police to reinvestigate complaints of rape by 11 girls in a landmark case brought by a children's charity on behalf of more than 240 victims of child rape, some of them as young as three years old. (...) (The girls) came to the charity for help after being raped by fathers, grandfathers, uncles, police officers and neighbours. The police rarely investigated their complaints, even locking one girl in a cell after she reported one of their colleagues had raped her (...). Police demanded bribes to investigate rape, refused to investigate unless the victims produced witnesses, and said victims had consented to intercourse, the victims said.'

I still have no words for how angry this made me. How incredibly angry. Digest it: Children as young three years. Raped. By the very people who should be looking out for and protecting them. Read the two articles parallel, and your stomach turns. And those rapists get away with it, time and time again: because the system fail (the police are the rapists) and people like Mr Njenga create the environment in which the ‘respected elders’ will continue being respected while the victims will be silenced. ‘Respected elders’ standing up for another one?

As I said earlier, I saw little point of engaging Mr Njenga – someone who gives such ‘advice’ has chosen his side, and you don’t need to engage with every reactionary who is muttering away in the corner of the bar. I was looking at the role of organisations here. First of all I was stunned that the Nation Media Group would run this article, just like that. Was there nobody who looked at it before it went to print? I emailed the NMG about this. Four very senior people. Repeatedly. They hmmmed and hahed, and admitted in private emails that yes, this hadn’t been ideal. But that wasn’t the point: this wasn’t about telling me. The reason why I kept emailing them was because the NMG is the largest media group in the region and it is an outrage that it carries such reinforcement for rapist ‘elders’.

But I didn’t just try to speak to the NMG: Mr Njenga is also the chairman of AAR. I happen to have been a client of AAR for several years. So I emailed the CEO to inquire whether, if I ever sought medical help after sexual abuse, I’d be confronted with bible quotes and accusations of lying. Whether that was, in fact, corporate healthcare policy. Mr Gakunju weaseled out of this by responding that he had forwarded my inquiry to Mr Njenga and I should wait for his response. So far, deafening silence.

I also asked the Kenya Medical Board’s CEO, Dr Yumbia, for a comment. Repeatedly. Deafening silence.

And then I emailed the head of the Psychiatrist Association, Dr. Mutiso. Deafening silence.

After a couple of weeks of pestering, Business Daily put this on their Facebook page: ‘BUSINESS DAILY has noted the controversy and offence caused to some by Frank Njenga's column. We would like to state that Nation Media Group, and Business Daily in this instance, has a firm policy of non-discrimination, and in no way condones a disrespectful and insensitive treatment of victims of sex abuse. Dr Njenga's views are those of a columnist, and in no way represents NMG's views. We sincerely and deeply regret and apologise for the pain and embarrassment caused. Thank you.’

So: we print stuff that people send us, but we don’t read it. We just print it. Don’t hold us responsible for content?

That’s the best you got? Seriously now?

So there we are. Kenya Inc, presumably fathers, husbands, uncles: standing solidly with rapist elders. This keeps happening on such a broad scale not just because there are people who will actively back and protect the rapists, but also because the good guys don’t have the you-know what to speak up.

In somewhat related news, I’m keen to hear from a reputable health insurance company with no implicit or explicit policy of treating anyone seeking help after sexual abuse with bible quotes and accusations of lying and sluttery. I don’t smoke, I drink very little, I exercise regularly, I mostly eat healthily. Also, I’m a woman, so I don’t fall sick with the wildly dangerous man flu. Anyone?

Originally published on 15 July 2013 on The Star.

Edited to add: Mr Gakunju eventually responded after I copied Swedfund, one of AAR's investors, on my follow up email (and after the column was published in the Star): 'We at AAR are “stakeholders” of Gender Recovery Centre. Our staff are fully trained to deal with the medical conditions in this area and more importantly, the trauma that accompanies these types of terrible and mental scarring incidences. Points expressed by the writer in the Business Daily are personal and are not AAR’s.' Well phew!

The Radical Notion that Women are People

I am lucky: I have a lot of wonderful people in my life. Amongst them are my girlfriends. Most of them, all, I think, are professionals. Some of them mothers, but not all. This wasn’t a deliberate choice, but since I’m quite wrapped up in my work, I think it just so happened that most of my close women friends also fall into that category. Obviously I think they are great, because why would I be friends with them otherwise? They are smart, interesting, passionate about what they do, and fun to hang out with. And they are part of the web of support that helps keep me standing, and going, personally, professionally: Advice, or a piece of information, or an introduction are usually just a phone call or email away. I’m happy for them when they succeed, and I think they are the bee’s knees anyway.

All of this is both wonderful, and also very normal. So I was more than a little taken aback to read an article by a Peter Mutua on ‘The problem with having too many women leaders in a firm’. Mr Mutua states: ‘Women are necessary, lovely, delightful, wonderfully colourful creatures. However, when they constitute an overwhelming majority of management within a workplace, the resulting corporate environment can be disturbing.’

I have no idea what trauma Mr Mutua went through. Possibly being challenged a little insistently on rubbish statements such as these? Leaving aside his convoluted writing, his reasoning is underwhelming: ‘Till late 2012, a local State corporation had women occupying 10 of its 11 senior management positions. While this oversight was recently rectified to include three more men, this corporation’s results fall far short of the expectations given by women activists.’

I have thoughts on this, several thoughts: That this must be a very unusual organization for Kenya, because how often do you find any company where women hold the majority of board seats? Or the majority of senior management positions? And: That women are people. Like men. Some will do exceedingly well, many will be mediocre, some will be lousy. By Mr Mutua’s reasoning, KPLC (Smooches, guys. Nothing personal. Not hating you too much this week) must be run entirely by women’s rights activists.

These are things I’m over: That behavior we salute in men – say, assertiveness – becomes a liability in women. That women’s bad behavior is seen as reflecting all women. Yeah, Rachel Shebesh and Mary Wambui did beat doors down in the middle of the night, and I disapprove – but good grief, have you ever had a look at what male politicians have gotten up to for decades? I’m done with the fact that portraits of successful women have to include the necessary addition of how humble and simple she really is (better still: chuck in husband and how he’s still ‘the head of the household’ when she gets home).

And I’m done with this getting airplay. I emailed a couple of people at the Nation Media Group about this Business Daily article to ask, facetiously, whether misogyny had now become editorial policy at the NMG. I would have probably let this slip – after all, you don’t need to respond to every chauvinist idiot muttering away in the corner of the bar – if it had not been for a piece that the NMG had published a few days earlier: this was an ‘advice column’ (quotation marks of derision here) by Frank Njenga. He had responded to a letter by someone who had been abused as a teenager by someone who was now a ‘respected elder’. Despite now being married, she (or he – it’s not possible to tell from the letter) finds this so much of a burden that she wants to speak out about this. Mr Njenga starts off nicely with ‘the truth will set you free’. And then he compares her to the adulterous woman in the bible who only those without sin should throw stones at – missing the point by a couple of miles. This is not someone seeking advice for her own mistake, but for a crime committed against her. Njenga then launches into a convoluted, lengthy, unsubstantiated speculation that she wishes to bring ruin upon her husband and her own family and essentially made the whole thing up anyway. Lesson: If you seek to speak out about abuse, you’re a slutty slut and a liar. Mr Njenga – a ‘respected elder’ protecting another one?

I have little interest in engaging with Mr Njenga. His victim shaming is clearly beyond redemption. But I will engage with the NMG. It is one of the largest and, by virtue of being a media house, most influential corporates in the Kenya (and, let me add that, certainly not the only one to publish misogynistic nonsense). In any better regulated market, Njenga would have been struck of. I am baffled that nobody at the NMG looked at this piece before publishing it and thought ‘Ummm maybe not’. I am the NMG’s client, and as a client, I will call them out on this. Again - I’m still waiting for a response.

And now I’m off to email Safaricom why a talk by governor Evans Kidero was billed as ‘Mantalk’ for a male audience. Nairobi women residents too colourful and fluttery to have an interest in weighty matters as how our city is run?

‘Feminism is the radical notion that women are people’ (attributed to British suffragist and journalist Rebecca West).

Originally published on 15 June 2013 on The Star.

30 April 2014

Kenya's Marriage Bill

The Kenya Law Reports website has a useful summary of the new marriage bill here.

Assuming that this is correct:

  • Christian, Hindu and civil marriages are monogamous. Only Muslim and traditional marriages are polygamous. First/prior wives must be informed, and can register objection, but can't halt the marriage.
  • Divorce is still difficult - I think it's still not possible to just decide to part ways, and one party has to be at fault. But a monogamous marriage can be annulled if one party was already married (this would apparently also void the marriage).
  • Penalties are interesting - I wonder how enforceable those criminal offenses will be? (which, of course, does not mean that they should not exist).
  • Curious: 'Court may order a party to refrain from molesting a spouse or former spouse' (why thanks) but: 'No proceedings may be brought to compel one spouse to cohabit with the other Sec 84(2). However court may order restitution of conjugal rights Sec 84(3).' So the whole concept of marital rape hasn’t gotten much traction yet.

Can I now have several husbands? The law speaks of polygamy, not polyandry. I think someone should challenge this in court. Asking mostly as a matter of principle, though, as even one Kenyan husband seems to require more work than I'm willing to put in, what with their inability to look after themselves like a normal grown up.

On reflection, I might rather have a wife. Friends assured me that this was possible under traditional marriages, so I guess I’ll have to wait until my ovaries kick it completely, and then argue continuation of my family line and preservation of property. There’s an old Merc to be had, ladies!

A couple of other thoughts, mostly drawn from Facebook discussions:

I have no issues with polygamy – as long as it’s between consenting partners. This is a flaw in the bill. Someone argued that this didn’t really matter, and that in the west, men didn’t seek consent for a string of mistresses and girlfriends either. Not that it’s really of any importance what the west does or doesn’t (bit of a red herring argument), but the whole concept of marriage (as legislated by the state, or regulated by other institutions) is that it has implications. In this case, mostly to do with property and inheritance.

That’s a substantial issue, and you cannot assume that people are ‘wealthy and wise’ (as proposed by that Facebook commenter) nor, in fact, that they leave a will, let alone a reasonable one - see plenty of court battles just in Kenya, and corpses being perma-frosted in the morgue because they can’t be buried. It is not fair to a partner in marriage who builds family wealth jointly with his/her partner to then have to split this with a second family who was taken on without consent. I think most men would be reluctant, too, if their wife took a second husband who then, in the event of her death, claimed part of the property that he put years and lots of effort into creating with her.

The marriage bill does not actually give blanket authorisation to polygamous marriages - Christian, Hindu and civil marriages are still monogamous. So from a property perspective, apart from making sure that her property rights are clearly documented, it makes sense for a woman to insist on one of those. You can't really legislate for the emotional hurt of finding out that your partner plays away, but as far as property etc are concerned, the marriage bill allows women to avoid the implications of being in a polygamous marriage by choosing a marriage form that is monogamous.

Having said that, I think even children born to a girlfriend/mistress/lover are entitled to a share of the man's property, and to maintenance (and, from the perspective of the child, that's fair). So there's that. I guess for women the main risk really is to have no own income, no own assets, and/or to not have proper documentation of co-owned assets.

Stephen Partington also notes the difficulties of context and transition:

‘A customary marriage, for example, is polygamous (no problem there to a great extent) unless the couple agree to it being monogamous and get a certificate asserting that they agreed that it would be monogamous, as far as I read it. But that ‘paperwork’, that ‘certificate’. It would work if women were all fantastically educated with regard to this law and its requirements, and weren’t, prior to marriage, in situations of relative poverty and other circumstances of inequality. Unfortunately, in Kenya women in the vast majority ARE in these categories, meaning that they can be exploited in all manner of ways, and you and I know how many men work: certificates will be denied them by their husbands, meaning more court cases and trouble for often uneducated women; certain disadvantaged women (and most polygamous marriages will involve this group) will not be made aware of the provisions of the law until a second wife is obtained; a man can just get a second wife without the first’s consent (even if he knows, by word of mouth, that the first didn’t want to be in a polygamous relationship) if he works quickly or claims that he never knew her wishes; and so on. The law provides that poor and uneducated women will be disproportionately held captive and abused, and as such is a class/inequality crime as a much as a gender crime. This ‘opt in’ to monogamy in a customary marriage is a huge problem.’

Legal eagles – any thoughts?

14 April 2014

Crowdsourcing Information: Is the Maasai Fabric Maasai?

In a Refinery article I posted on Facebook yesterday, a checked fabric was described as 'Buffalo Plaid', and Kui L Irungu pointed out that it was Maasai fabric. Or is it? When did the Maasai start wearing what is identified as a quintessentially Maasai fabric? Does anyone know?

Not that many obvious answers on the internet. Since the Maasai are pastoralists, I don't think they would have engaged in fabric production, which is not to say that the shuka itself, made from other materials, but in distinct colours and patterns, isn't a Maasai item.

This link describes the origins of the textile trade from South East Asia, which is also a fascinating tale of globalisation and colonialism. Two pointers in it: the use of black-blue and red, based on the available natural dyes, in Madagascar, and the fact that fabrics were used as a means of payment in the slave trade. There is a mention of West Africans becoming particularly fond of red and blue checked cottons known as 'Guinea Cloth' in the 18th century.

P. 15 has a para on the Maasai, referring to the end of the 20th century: 'The Maasai continue to affect distinctive dress while rejecting both Islam and Christianity. Their tourist paintings show them invariably clad in single red woollen blankets originally imported from England, although they now drape themselves in an average of four lengths of thick striped or checked cotton, called shuka, which is produced locally for sale to both the Maasai and tourists.'

If you have any useful information or links, please comment!