OTIENO: Break silence over women killers of Kisii

By OTIENO OTIENO, jkotieno@ke.nationmedia.com
Daily Nation, Posted Saturday, September 11 2010 at 11:26

Last month, reports that European explorer Henry Morton Stanley’s village mates in Wales were planning to immortalise him with a bronze statue triggered a high-minded exchange on the Daily Nation’s commentary pages.

William Ochieng, the Maseno University history professor, who fired the first shot, found trying to dignify a man who painted the image of Africa as the ‘Dark Continent’ insensitive.

American-born Tom Wolf, the lone contrarian, drew racist epithets from online readers who thought he was looking at Africa through a biased lens.

What was lost in this debate is the fact that prejudices are not unique to the Mortons and the Wolfs.

Sihle Khumalo, the South African latter-day explorer who travelled from Cape to Cairo in 2005 using public transport, does a poor job of clothing his biases in a cloak of humour in his book, The Dark Continent My Black Arse.

After just two or three days in Khartoum, Khumalo concludes that “Sudan is the only country where I didn’t see a single beautiful woman”.

I, too, have my own biases about us.

We may want to see ourselves as light years ahead of the caveman.

But you won’t tell it from the way our society or sections of it still insist on explanations for death and other common misfortune from the mystery of witchcraft rather than the reality of science.

Last Thursday, TV footage of a lynch mob hunting down elderly women in Kisii only served to entrench my dark view of this society.

The four scared women I saw conjured in my mind all the good things you and I associate with grandmothers in a normal society – nice, harmless, the symbol of nurture, the custodian of social security and people to be pampered.

Yet in Kisii, they are lucky, just for now. Police reports show that seven elderly women were ridiculously labelled witches and then lynched there last year.

Eighteen reportedly died in similar circumstances in 2008.

This should make Kisii one of the most dangerous places on earth for a woman to live in alongside the honour killing fields of Pakistan and India.

These women are victims of village brutes. However, it is the conspiracy of silence that says something of Mortonian proportion about us.

Despite the fact that this ritual has become part of Kenyans’ horror TV viewing, nobody – from the community elite, women rights movement, political leadership to the SDA and Catholic churches – speaks out against it.

Forgive my bias. But until I see Kenyans demonstrating their civic duty to protect the elderly women’s right to life (enshrined in the Constitution no less) and tame their wild killers, I will continue to hold onto the notion that Morton was entitled to his opinion.

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