KENYANS: let us build and not destroy our country!

Mike Mungai


“After a long, tedious and bloody struggle for self governance,Kenya achieved independence on the 12th of December 1963. The struggle for independence arose from a combination of several factors. The British settlers through the colonial government had forcefully and without compensation taken and occupied the most fertile lands, they had forced the local populations to work on theirnewly established farms, the colonial government had imposed hut system of taxation on the local population, and introduced the “kipande” system. These and other acts of exploitation of the Kenyan nationals in the guise of “bringing civilization,” led to the growth of trade unions and political groupings.

Even before the British had settled, they were countered by individuals such as Mekatilili wa Menza at the Coast and Koitalel arap Samoei in the interior. Later on, there emerged individuals such as Harry Thuku, Tom Mboya, Jomo Kenyatta, Bildad Kaggia, Achieng Oneko, Jaramogi Oginga, Paul Ngei, Pio Gama Pinto amongst many others. They all in their singularly unique and at times collaborated efforts struggled to ensure that the grievances of the people of Kenya were addressed by the Queens government. At the same time, there were many men and women such as Dedan Kimathi, Field Marshal Muthoni, General Mathenge of the Mau Mau who led an armed resistance against the colonial government.
I believe that their struggle was one which was meant to see an end to oppression of Kenyans from all corners of the country. A vision to see a country where people would live without fear of being harassed, and where people would live in peace and unity and at any corner of the country. Such a vision can not be stated better than by the very words of our Kenyan national anthem: “”may we dwell in Unity, Peace and Liberty- Justice be our Shield and Defender.”

As such, it is heart breaking especially these days almost 50 years after we gained independence, to see that Kenyan are killing one another due to tribal, political or religious differences. When we resort to fighting our neighbors, destroying other peoples property, killing and displacing one another – do we really solve the problems that we are faced with? I am sure that the answer is NO. A big one in that case. Whenever people resort to using violence because to them it seems to be doing good, the good is only temporary whereas the evil it does is permanent. Our nation would leap greater steps if the populations especially the most active ones politically, socially and economically would veer away from negative thinking, physical and verbal conflicts. If the all people would contribute each in their own special way to resolving differences and promoting unity then we would show to the continent and to the entire world that war is not the answer, that love is.

Let us not remember where where we are coming from, because if we do-then we won’t have a sense of where we are headed to. Let peace reign and brotherhood prevail. Our fathers-mother, grandfathers-grandmothers and probably those before them struggled to see days such as these. Here we are now, let us live and let others live, let us build and not destroy our country.”

The World is Made Better When Sharing Becomes the Norm

By Mike Mungai

These illustrations were developed after reading an anthropological story about African kids. Well, it made me think  that people of the world  should realise that cooperation makes us all better. This does not mean that competition makes the world worse. Extreme acts of selfishness that result from competition are the ones that harm the world making a section of the world’s people to become losers. In contrast, cooperation even when insignificant leaves all people feeling great and no one feels inadequate or deprived. This means that cooperation promotes the common good making everyone a winner. Hence individual selfish benefits are sacrificed to promote mutual benefits.


“If we cared for each other, if we shared in each others joys and sorrows, if we looked at each other and saw our brother or sister, if we respected each other, if we could genuinely help those who are in need- just as we would want to be helped if it were we, who were in need; would not the world be such a peaceful and lovely place to live?
But now that we look at each others weaknesses, problems and needs and use them to our advantage, now that we look at other people and judge them on the basis of color, religion and social status, now that we look at others and scheme up ways of manipulating them and ripping benefits from their efforts, now that we look at others and want to abuse their vulnerability; is not this the reason why there is so much trouble, strife and suffering in the world today?
I hope that a day will come that a day will come that we will learn to appreciate one another, care for each other, understand one another, that a day will come when we will look at others and see human beings, individuals with strengths and weaknesses, but still beautiful human beings. For when that day comes, we will hear no more about poverty; for we will all share in each others problems, we will all either be rich or poor. We will hear no more about human rights abuses; for we will have learned to treat others with the dignity that we would want ourselves to be treated with. There will be no more exploitation, just appreciation.
At that time, UBUNTU: I am because we are, will be realized.”

Bunge la Mwananchi: New Way to Push for Public Interests

Bunge la Mwananchi has become very influential. The Author indicates that there is very little women participartion in such bunges.

East African Standard, By Ken-Arthur Wekesa, 19 August 2012


One may dismiss them as idlers as they gather along City Hall Way, Nairobi, to discuss trending issues.

But on keen following of their proceedings, something is manifest: They are actively engaging in social, political, and economic discourses pertinent to the heart and soul of the public.

On this particular day, they interrogate the conduct of Independent Electoral Boundaries Commission officials over the controversial Biometric Voter Registration kits tender, suitability of presidential aspirants in line with Chapter Six of the Constitution, Transport Minister Amos Kimunya’s controversial cancellation of a multi-billion shilling airport tender among other issues.

So informed they are that they observe the sub judice principle of not discussing suspended Deputy Chief Justice Nancy Baraza’s case, as it is a matter for the court’s adjudication.

Live debates

Their gatherings have adopted structures of the Legislature. They have a ‘Speaker’ who moderates the debate whose eye ‘MPs’ must capture to contribute.

There is also the ‘sergeant-at-arm’ whose work is to walk out unruly ‘MPs’ from the ‘House’. Indeed it is Bunge La Mwananchi (People’s Parliament).

It is not just restricted to Nairobi city, Bunge La Mwananchi has mushroomed in other parts of the country as well.

In Mombasa, there is one prominent gathering along the busy road that leads to Moi International Airport christened Bunge La Wazi Kwa Hola. There is also one near Eldoret post office, and another at the Kitale main bus station.

In Nakuru, there are a number of Bunge La Mwananchi assemblies near Telcom Building, Merica Hotel, Ogilgei Hotel, City Inn Butchery, and Utugi Club.

Similarly, there exists Bunge La Mwananchi in various spots in Kakamega town.

Joseph Magutt, a political scientist, says such gatherings are a clear indication that Kenyans are politically alert. “Kenyans are political animals if I have to borrow from the words of Aristotle, the philosopher. That is why they are actively engaged in the political processes to the extent that they hold Bunge La Mwananchi, borrowing from formal structures of the Legislature,” Magutt says.

He adds such assemblies indicate the moral maturity of the populace as they use their free time meaningfully. Mike Odhiambo, an avid member of Bunge La Mwananchi in Nakuru, says whereas sharp differences among members over an issue sometimes emerges, they are ironed ought amicably without raising a fist.

Edward Kisianga’ni of Kenyatta University says Bunge La Mwananchi is indeed a protest voice against the actual Legislature for the incurable transgressions like watering down the Integrity Bill.

“Whereas they don’t have the legislative capacity to influence policy, theirs is to decry the misrepresentation by elected leaders by sensitising their audiences and in a way, influencing those the electorate should vote for,” he says.

A check by The Standard in selected parts of the country on these alternatives to the official National Assembly indicates males predominantly attend such gatherings. Women are a handful if any, which brings into focus their involvement amid perceptions women, have historically been marginalised in political discourses.

“The solitary reason you find few women in informal gatherings discussing politics is because Kenya, like many African democracies, is a highly patriarchal society,” says Fibian Lukalo, a communication lecturer at Moi University.

Lukalo says the repeal of Section 2A of the old order, which had made Kenya a one party State is what has ostensibly informed the mushrooming of Bunge La Mwananchi.

He says women have historically engaged indirectly in the political process. She says: “It was Rosa Park’s decision not to give up her seat to a white person in a bus that catalysed the black movement cause against racial segregation in the US.”

Giant strides

Richard Bosire of the University of Nairobi says Bunge La Mwananchi illustrates the giant strides Kenya’s constitutional democracy has made in terms of political maturity. The don further observes that they are tools of civic education, as the moderators and conveners of such meetings are sources of information in themselves, having acquainted themselves with news and what is circulate in the social media.

On gender disparity, the don says whereas such informal gatherings are bereft of womenfolk, it does not mean they don’t sip from the cup of political engagement.

“There are more women registered pressure groups than those by men and it is through such that they wield influence,” says Dr Bosire who agrees with Dr Lukalo that women’s participation in political matters is sometimes indirect.

The content of their discussions vary from one gathering to the other. Geographical location, level of education of participants, ethnicity among other demographics influences the debate. In Nairobi, which is more cosmopolitan with more informed participants, there are debates of national issues compared to those in homogeneous settings where they debate local issues and sometimes in vernacular.

The fact that what Bunge La Mwananchi spends quality time discussing, including goofs of the political class, never influences policy begs the question of just how exactly they can be heard loud and clear.

Pundits say there are mechanisms thy can use to influence action from the policy makers.

“One of the ways to prompt higher action is to have Bunge La Mwananchi engage civil society groups whose activities are well structured. They may engage sitting MPs to sponsor a Bill on the floor of Parliament that resonates with their concerns.” says Magutt. Bosire agrees: “They ought to formalise their existence, liaise with pressure and lobby groups to get funding to bolster results.”

Challenges of decriminalising sex work

East Africa Standard By Beverline Ongaro June 5 2012

A Kenya National Commission on Human Rights report ‘Realising sexual and reproductive right; a reality or a myth’ had interesting findings and recommendations on sex workers that has unfortunately not generated debate it deserves; rather the focus especially, in the media has been on same-sex relations.

The report’s recommendations in relation to sex workers are a contradiction of some sort and will make eunuch the efforts to the safeguard of the dignity of sex workers. On one hand, the report recommends decriminalisation and regulation of voluntary sex work for men and women to make the practice safe for the sex workers and clients.

On the other hand, it calls for implementation of a counter-trafficking law to be implemented fully to eradicate instances of forced sex work.

The fact that these recommendations were made side by side demonstrates that there is no dialectical appreciation of how sex work and human trafficking for sexual exploitation are almost intrinsically linked. Human trafficking has become unfortunate social reality that is fuelled by sex work. This is on account it is not possible to fully regulate and ensure sex work is safe.

How feasible is it to differentiate forced and voluntary sex? Persons with licences to permit sex work within in their premises would just easily engage in human trafficking for sexual exploitation by stating that all women and men in their premises work there voluntary.

This leads to the question as to whether the booths should be installed with surveillance cameras including when sex workers are serving clients and hence raises the concern on right to privacy for both of them.

In other jurisdictions, notably Amsterdam with its ‘progressive’ laws have had to contend with these concerns especially after noting that sex work is purveyor to trafficking for sexual exploitation. Most of the workers had been trafficked and were abused even within booths with installed cameras.

And the demand side?

There were reported incidents of sex workers subjected to inhumane treatment. These forlorn states of affairs have been discussed by various stakeholders at international and regional levels. Notably culminating to a communiqué, “Global Efforts to Eradicate Violence and Discrimination against Women and Girls: A Discussion in Combating Sex Trafficking in Eastern Africa September 2009 in Nairobi” that was drawn by civil society organisations speared headed by Equality Nown.

The communiqué in line with singular observation and approach by human rights activists advocates for enactment and implementation of laws that criminalise the ‘customers’ to deal with the demand side of prostitution rather than simple blanket decriminalisation and regulation of prostitution. It would have been expected that Commission could have at least moved towards this direction.

Its quest for safe practice of sex workers will remain a Chimera for it failed to address how discrimination and inhumane treatment of sex workers is fuelled by the nomenclature-prostitution: the prevailing perception is that prostitutes evoke inhumane treatment towards them.

This invariably determines whether sex workers have access to reproductive health services from a society that perceives them as ignoble persons.

The report classified sex workers as sex minorities without analysing the plight of sex workers that would classify them as such. This makes the quest for freedom from discrimination and equality of sex worker to be pseudo- equality.

There is need to re-examine the plight of sex workers in prevailing local, regional and international settings, otherwise human rights abuses and violations will continue.

Standard 20th June: No one should be coerced into prostitution

There are some men and women who choose to work as sex workers. And there are those voices actively lobbying for Government to legalise it, ostensibly to “cut out the middlemen” to reduce slavery and child prostitution since all sex workers will be identifiable by the authorities. But that is not our focus today.

Those not forced into prostitution find themselves in the vice because they believe it is the only thing they have of value. They claim that they are the ones in control, or that it is a mere physical act.

That should not be confused with freedom of choice. It is a severe lack of self-esteem. Prostitution is heartbreaking and degrading, and is forced sexual slavery, for no right thinking individual wants to hawk their body.

In this regard, at the risk of being seen to be part of the enlightened lot that would like prostitution legalised, we shall defend the right of anyone to choose prostitution, but criminalise those forcing anyone into such bondage.

To avoid sub judice of a recent court case where a parent “leased out” her daughter to a paedophile, we can still cite daily reports of defilement of minors, and human trafficking for purposes of profit.

Our laws are clearly against these practices but as long as long as men are allowed to think they should access sexual services for the most competitive price they can negotiate, it will be hard to stamp out suppliers seeking to service this demand.

Debase their dignity

We must, however, draw the line where adults take advantage of children for self-gratification and in blatant disregard of their human rights, debase their dignity, leave them diseased, pregnant, out-of-school, bruised and psychologically traumatised.

Perhaps, legislation should be amended to hand out stiffer sentencing to offenders. Silence is akin to collusion and paints us as a morally deficient generation that could not stand up for the future citizens of this brave new world.

Kenya: New Book on the Difficulties faced by Sex Workers Out

East African Standard by Goro wa Kamau 18th August 2012

Title: A Walk at Midnight

Author: Catherine Wanjohi

Publisher: Life Bloom Services International 

Please visit this site to get in touch with the author

A Walk at Midnight is the story of the author’s journey with sex workers as she attempts to rehabilitate and inspire them with a new sense of dignity and wholesomeness. It is a journey driven by a need to give these abused women and girls a second chance in life.

It all begun quite dramatically in 2002 when the author, then a principal in a girls’ secondary school found a letter from a parent addressed to her on her desk. The parent who was HIV-positive wrote: “Teacher, you’ve been very kind to me and my girls and I am sorry I wasn’t able to attend the parents meeting last weekend … I have been sick … I don’t know how long I will live. Should I die soon, I will live my daughters with you.” Why would a dying woman have the confidence to write such a letter to her daughters’ school principal?

The letter was traumatising. Now Wanjohi understood why the youngest of the woman’s daughters had asked for permission to go to hospital in Nairobi and why she had attempted suicide when the permission was denied.

She arranged visit the ailing woman together with her daughter. After the visit, the author wondered how many of her students may be similarly affected by HIV/Aids only to discover there were several of them. The author responded by supporting the establishment of peer counselling clubs in her school. Catherine Gathoni, the girl who had just recently attempted suicide, became one of the most active participants in these clubs. She has told her story in the book Can Scars Become Stars?

The author learnt from the girls in the peer counselling clubs about the kind of homes most of her students came from — broken homes mostly headed by poor women for whom paying school fees was a struggle. In addition, those mothers who were infected with HIV/Aids had to deal with problems of social stigma. From then on any time a female parent came to see her she encouraged her to share what other story she might be holding back.

“The stories were often about negligent and irresponsible husbands, early marriages, poverty and single parenthood — voices of what really happened at home, in the family, in our society. Issues that could not be addressed in the narrow confines of the school compound.”

This realisation culminated in the author’s resignation from her school principal’s job. She founded Life Bloom Services International, an organisation through which she started working with sex workers.

Attempted suicide

At the start, it was a baptism of fire, a personally traumatising experience. A Walk at Midnight documents the lives of numerous abused women and girls who are forced to work on the streets of our cities and towns peddling their flesh in an effort to feed their children and often-poor families. Abused and stigmatised, most of these women have to be high on alcohol and drugs in order to numb their minds and conscience against the violence meted on them by their customers and law enforcement agencies.

The book is full of touching anecdotes from the lives of these abused women. Beyond the fear of the consequences of reckless, sometimes unprotected sex, their daily encounters with criminals and other shadowy characters that prowl the sex dens and the violence that accompanies their lives, these women are our ordinary sisters. Like all mothers, they want a better life for their children.

The author, a co-traveller with these women in their struggles, documents how her Life Bloom International Services works closely with Government agencies such as hospitals, prisons, the Provincial Administration, the Church and owners of bars and lodgings in Naivasha and other places where her organisation is active. She ensures the sex workers get access to medical and spiritual care as well as dignified treatment from such agencies as the police when they, inevitably, get in trouble. Through her organisation, the author teams up with well-wishers to train the women in leadership and counselling, trade and vocations, reproductive health, peace-building, basic and computer literacy among a range of other employable skills in a bid to give the sex workers a second chance in life

Acting Against Gender Violence: Kenyatta University GBV Conference 2012 Lessons

Milicent Agutu

The First International Gender Based Violence Conference took place at the Kenyatta University on the 1st to 3rd August 2012. The theme of the conference was “Creating safe spaces: A multi disciplinary approach to gender based violence. The conference was enriched by a confluence of policy makers, practitioners and academics who provided different perspectives on GBV.

Gender Based Violence as defined by UNESCO (1999) entails “acts likely to result into physical, sexual, or psychological harm or suffering to women, including such acts as coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life (UNESCO 1999 p.53)”. Violence significantly hinders the ability of individuals to fully participate in, and contribute to their communities – economically, politically, and socially. It is a human rights violation or abuse; public health challenge; and a barrier to civil, social and economic participation. GBV is also associated to limited access to education, adverse health outcomes, lost households productivity, reduced income and increased costs.

The main organizers of the conference were  AMWIK, Wangu Kanja Foundation, COVAW, CREAW, Menken, The Coexist Initiative, supported by United Nations Trust Fund to End Violence Against Women, USAID, APHIA Kamili, APHIA PLUS, APHIA PLUS –Bonde, TROCAIRE Working for a Just World, Population Council, SWEDEN, Norad, Elion John AIDS Foundation, LVCT among the others. Kenyatta University the main organizer hosted the conference.

GBV was explored in the context of family, community and state. At the level of the family an examination was made on how the traditional gender roles, societal constructs and culture do promote GBV. At the state level it was felt that combating GBV both nationally and internationally needs to go in tandem with the need to alter the existing paradigms. The conference called for a recognition that GBV undermines not only the safety, and human rights of the millions of individuals who experience it, but also the public health, economic stability, the security of nations.



1. From the conference presentations it was clear that  GBV is enhanced by traditional structures that reinforce and sanction gender inequality. These structures may be socio-cultural, political, economic and legal and they vary from family to family, community to community and state to state. In many cases GBV was trivialized by the traditional society and people who are culprits of GBV never felt that it was an offense. It was hence considered normal and macho to mete violence against women by “beating the hell out of them.” In some cases women got used to being violated and thought that it was something normal. Hence the woman lived in terror and always expecting/ waiting to be punished for any trivial issue or at the man’s pleasure.

2. A common cultural practice that violates the dignity of the woman is the female genital mutilation (FGM) practiced by several societies. The effects are severe as FGM and are associated with both psychological and health problems. Women risk infections; including problems in their urinary system, obstetric and gynecological complications, abdominal pain and may also emit discharges. The circumcision destroys sexual function and precludes enjoyment of sexual relations. The worst consequence includes the fact that those undergoing FGM risk infertility, complications during child births or to the extreme deaths during delivery.

3. GBV happens within families and takes place either under the full view of the public or in closed doors. The main victims are mostly women and children. There is acceptance of GBV in the families/community and lack of acceptance of sensitive issues; e.g.  talking about  sex is regarded as a taboo. On the other hand common language has been used to promote gender violence. Most words that demean women are considered as normal in the family and society. Hence suffering within a family may go on for a lifetime and may never be reported. Observers too may never intervene to help stopping it. The failure to report spousal violence is attributed to the  lack of community support and absence of approppriate community structures to combat it. On the other hand, the fact that the public (neighbours or friends) does not intervene, shows the extent in which GBV is generally an accepted and condoned societal norm.

4. On the other hand there are no specific anti-GBV laws under which perpetrators can be charged. Crimes of this nature therefore are tried under various laws, such as the penal code, sexual offenses act, counter trafficking act etc. This has the danger that in the long run the victims may not get justice in cases of severe bodily harm and the culprits walk free to continue abusing others women. There is also a feeling that there is little political will to tackle gender based violence by enacting the pending bills.

5. Efforts to address the problem of GBV is also hampered by lack of credible data. Or where this data exists it has never been used by researchers. This means therefore that there is a great divide between the academia, practitioners and policy makers. This divide is bound to make the different approaches to addressing the problem weaker.  However when researchers will find data depositories from the practitioners, then they will be able to show the magnitude of the problem. Understanding the scale, zenith and  scope of the problem will help both the state and the practitioners develop effective strategies to address GBV.

There is also a misconception of the role played by GBV researchers. They tend to merge gender work with feminine activism. Lack of awareness and sensitization among the people and misinformation on Gender; gender being regarded as wholly a women’s issue thus disassociation by men counterparts. Also there is a tendency that students working on gender  are not encouraged to pursue internship with organizations tackling the problem of  GBV. Universities on the other hand have missed in their role which is to teach, research and community outreach. University research should aim to impact communities and help initiate change where it is needed.

6. The conference also looked into human rights concerns and how women (and men) access and obtain justice. It was acknowledged that there are tremendous improvements in the way women victims of GBV are safeguarded.  However the challenge of reporting cases and successful prosecution remains a major impediment despite the presence of laws addressing Violence Against Women.

7. The government on the other hand has not treated the enactment of the pending gender related bills with urgency.  Article 45(5) of the Constitution of Kenya 2010 mandated parliament to enact legislation for the protection of the family unit. One of the initiatives that have been undertaken is to consolidate all the laws governing marriage. Currently, the Protection against Domestic Violence Bill 2012, The Marriage Bill 2012, The Matrimonial Property Bill 2012 have been drafted and forwarded to the Commission on the Implementation of Constitution (CIC). Domestic Violence Bill 2012 besides providing the legal framework with a law specifically addressing Intimate Partner Violence (IPV), also empowers the courts to provide protection and orders in favor of victims of domestic violence. Areas for advocacy explored at the meeting were:- The P3 forms and the gazettement of the post rape care (PRC), Funding for GBV, Policy reforms to include a special police unit on gender, Funding and services towards psychosocial support and related post IPV attention

8. The Kenyan Constitution has made Gender and women a core focus of our Nation. The Bills of  Rights provides for equality and freedom from discrimination; thus women and men have right to equal treatment, including the right to equal opportunities in political, economic, cultural and social spheres. Leadership and Integrity Bill – election of women to elective positions; 1/3 of women representatives in the parliament and all elective posts, The Legislature – Promotion of Marginalized Groups; women being part. Devolved Government – county executive committees; Stipulates that the numbers appointed under clause (2) (b) shall not exceed one-third of the county assembly, if the assembly has less than thirty members; or ten, if the assembly has thirty or more members. Land and Environment – Legislation on land; (iii)  that regulate the recognition and protection of matrimonial property and in particular the matrimonial home during and on the termination of marriage and (iv) protect the dependents of deceased person holding interests in any land, including the interest of spouses in actual occupation of land.

Combating GBV

1. There is a need to network with actors against GBV from all sectors of the society; practitioners, academia, policy makers and donors.

2. There is need to empower the women and the girls economically. The government could consider making a provision against GBV within the  National Budget. Women’s empowerment is critical to build a stable Nation and democratic societies.

3. Gender work should be guided by good research that borrows from multi-disciplinary perspectives? Researchers should also consider pursuing a multi-sectoral, dimensional and issues approaches; prevention of GBV, sexual issues, language, culture etc .

4. Create a gender based violence data base of researchers (men and women), , research on how constitution will help solve the  GBV challenge, research on how language escalates GBV, engagement of public/community in their issues, research on how technology can enhance or speed GBV (technology to collect and disseminate data).

5. Actors should be assisted to become socially innovative. This can be done through the formation of communities of practice that will enhance the emergence of best practice in combating the problem of GBV. Education should be a priority and it should reach all the structures of the society. Documentations will need to be made on the important dimensions of service such as advocacy, psycho-social assistance, economic assistance, legal assistance, safe havens etc. On the other hand it is important for organizations to share how they assist women and children victims from abusive family relationships by holistic services provision.

Call for Action


1. Ending gender-based violence will mean changing social cultural concepts about masculinity, and that process must actively engage men, whether they be policy makers, parents, spouses or young boys. Faith communities, corporations, institutions have a role to play in this process. The whole country should be educated to act against gender based violence.

2. The Government need to enact urgently the Marriage Bill 2012 and the Matrimonial Property Bill 2012, this will also help in defining gender based violence.

3. There should be interrogation of culture, traditions, attitudes and beliefs and lastly what kind of programs to put for different category of people.


4. There is need for regional mechanisms (for advocacy & lobby) that would see the government set space, policy and to do the implementation of programs to support women and girl child.

5. There is need for every one to watch their language as language can prevent or enhance GBV. Taking responsibility on language use, is therefore quite important.  Media  should also be careful to portray women as  language as sex symbols as they risk becoming platforms for GBV.

6. There is need to come up with simple programs of creating awareness and sensitization, social-economic and political empowerment of women and reinstatement/establishment of one stop centre.


Circumcision and Bravery amongst the Bukusu Young Males in Kenya

By Maurice W Barasa East African Standard 18th August 2012

Life will never be the same again for Martin Nganga and his wife Grace. Their halcyon daily routines were brought to a rude, abrupt end early this month. Nganga can no longer engage members of his age-set Bachuma in any cultural intercourse.

His candidacy for eldership in the Bukusu community has now been permanently revoked and members of his clan, Baala will for a long time to come, walk dejectedly with bowed heads.

Grace will never again freely socialise with other women and share intimate conversations with them at the market place. Her clan Babuya, has been blamed for what befell her son (name withheld because he is a minor). The activities of the morning of August 2, will forever be engrained in her mind, that of her husband and in the collective memory of the Baala clan.

On this fateful day, the gods conspired to rob her family whose head, Nganga once served as a village elder, of the dignity it had accumulated over the years as it reigned over other families in Busiraka Village of Bungoma County in western Kenya.

Circumciser’s Knife

The family’s second born son did the abominable. He, out of fear of the circumciser’s knife (embalu) and contrary to the dictates of culture, fidgeted before letting out a loud cry, calling on his parents to rescue him from the “intruders who want to mutilate my manhood”.

The class seven pupil at Kasosi Primary School soon found himself on the receiving end of a whirling vortex of crowd anger and his attempts to dash for freedom were quickly thwarted by the sea of humanity that surrounded him. To the uninitiated, the manner in which he was wrestled to the ground and circumcised was iniquitous.

However, to many within the Bamasaaba cultural macrocosm, the boy deserved the treatment that was meted upon him. Initiates among Bamasaaba are supposed to hanker for the knife and face it nonchalantly. The Bukusu of Kenya and Bagisu of Uganda share a common patriarch – Masaaba. They are thus known as Bamasaaba (children of Masaaba).

Among Bamasaaba, a circumcision candidate who exhibits signs of cowardice is regarded as an outcast and will forever not fit in the socio-cultural stratum of the society. And for bellowing out his parents’ names when faced with the traditional surgeon’s knife, the boy caused his parents and clan unfathomed agony.

An expensive cleansing ceremony, which culminated in the slaughter of a ram was held to “purify the circumcisers” whose dignity and trade the boy sallied. Nganga had to sell part of his shamba and sugarcane plantation to get the funds needed in fulfilling this cultural requirement. To compound Nganga’s misery, his first-born son is in police custody on robbery charges. “My wife has now gone into depression,” he laments.

Many would ask why the boy was forcefully circumcised. In the Bukusu community, the moment a candidate goes through the ritual of khuchukhila, which precedes the actual circumcision, his fate is sealed. He must be circumcised.

The khuchukhila ritual involves ancestors escorting the initiate to the river where he fetches water under their watch. He then returns home where he pours the water into a pot whose mouth is tied with Wandering Jew grass and its belly holding dry liquor pellets. This is a covenant between the candidate and his ancestors that he must face the embalu.

The boy says he resolved to be circumcised this year and graduate into adulthood following the encouragement from his cousin. The two have a lot in common. Their fathers are brothers.

They are both in Standard Seven in the same school and they used to take turns looking after their parents’ livestock. If his cousin went ahead and got circumcised before him, the latter’s world would have crumbled. Circumcised men do not keep the company of the uncircumcised boys. The two convinced their fathers that they were ready to face the knife. Since the two have been very close from their childhood, their parents determined that they should be circumcised on the same day – August 3 and by the same team of circumcisers.

The boy’s mother least expected her son to embarrass the entire Baala clan. “That was the last thing on my mind,” she said. “My first born son withstood the cut and I believed he had set the pace for his younger sibling,” a reflective Grace laments. Nganga says he became jittery when his son failed to exhibit signs of bravery. “On the eve of the circumcision day,” he says, “my son never looked convincing.” He alerted the circumcisers. And in the morning, an hour before the rite, elders decided to delay the cut by taking a detour with the boys as they came from the river smeared with clay.

Singing crowd

Songs of encouragement freely pierced the air. The singing crowd now hoped the boy would gain the necessary courage as they approached Nganga’s homestead. They were wrong. Nyongesa Sinino, the lead circumciser says he knew the boy would cause problems and that his team was well prepared for the resistance the initiate put up. A hopeful Nganga held his son’s hand and led him to the etiang’i (spot where he would stand to be circumcised).

Bukusu and Bagisu initiates are expected to be gutsy. Cases of cowardice are rare. During the bi-annual circumcision ceremonies held in August of every even year, boys from the two communities aged between 12 and 16 years transcend villages and counties inviting friends and relatives to witness their transition into adulthood. The two boys jointly visited their relatives’ homes inviting them to grace the ceremony that would turn them into men. Traditionally, among the Bukusu the resolve of a candidate to become a man by way of the embalu is put to test by his father who demands that the son steps on a burning ember as he (the father) takes a lap around their main hut. However, the two boys were exempted from this test.

This ritual is in reflection of the lap a serpent, endemu ya bebe took around a cave at Mwiala in Teso sub-county before it was killed by a courageous man called Mango in the 16th Century. This serpent, says Mzee Fred Makila, an author and Bukusu elder, was notorious for killing Bukusu herders and their livestock. Mango, who had immigrated with his clan Bakhurarwa from Mbale in Uganda into Kenya resolved to eliminate the snake despite repeated warnings from his mother and tribesmen that he shouldn’t dare the reptile.

A gutless Mango smeared his body with clay to conceal his body odour, armed himself with a sword and crept into the snake’s cave. In the evening the serpent arrived. It first went around the cave to ascertain its safety before entering it. And as is normal with snakes, it turned around and put its head at the mouth while the rest of the body remained inside the cave. Mango had strategically placed a log and the entry to the cave and when the snake rested its head on it, he chopped it off. The head, legend has it, bit a nearby fig tree whose leaves wilted immediately.

Age groups

A bloodied Mango emerged from the cave and having proven that he was not pusillanimous, he demanded to be circumcised. An omurwa (Saboat) circumciser from the neighbouring Mt Elgon circumcised him. That marked the revival of circumcision rituals among Babukusu, which had stalled due to migrations, wars, and natural calamities. Mango’s age-set came to be known as kolongolo and it gave rise to seven others – Kinyikeu, Kananachi, Kikwameti, Nyange, Maina, Chuma and Sawa.

Today, Bukusu initiates are smeared with clay just before they face the knife as Mango did.  After being circumcised, they enter their seclusion huts backwards imitating endemu ya bebe’s entry into its cave. The age-sets have come a full cycle. Ironically, Nganga’s son shares the age-set, kolongolo with the legendary Mango. However, he will not be allowed to associate himself with it.

The writer is a PhD student at Kenyatta University

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