Gender based violence against men needs to be addressed

This article looks at  gender based violence directed against men.  Some of the abuses here seem extreme as they are perpetrated in situations of conflict, however they are used to illustrate the nature of SGBV experienced by men. Picture source

By Millicent Agutu

It is a fact that daily there could be an act of violence against some men at a domestic level etc. In Kenya for example there are various media stories of men being battered by their wives, injured or even being killed. There are unconfirmed reports too showing that some men after buying investments for their families get killed by their  wives who seek  for freedom. It ends recommending that organizations should equip themselves to addressing the needs of such victims be it domestic or other forms of violence.

According to various institutional and media reports of Sexual and gender based violence (SGBV) perpetrated against men have increased. However, response to these reports has been limited, as existing evidence and programs have primarily focused on prevention and response to women and girl survivors of GBV. Communities and organizations are not equipped to deal with male survivors of sexual and gender violence because it undermines the ideals of social constructions of masculinity. Compared with females, male survivors lack access to reproductive health programs and are generally ignored in gender-based violence discourse. Yet, male survivors are known to suffer from numerous physical injuries and psychosocial disorders.

SGBV perpetrated against men and boys often go unreported by survivors due to socio-cultural factors associated with sexual assaults, including survivor shame, fear of retaliation by perpetrators and stigma by community members. In Kenya too during the post electoral violence period of 2008, there were many reports of violence against men in the form of forced circumcision, rapes and other humiliating experiences of a sexual nature. Before discussing the impact the victims go through, we look at the various forms of abuses against males that have been the subjects of various reports and media.

Rape – A number of different forms of male rape do take place. Victims may be forced to perform fellatio on their perpetrators or on one another; perpetrators may anally rape victims themselves, using objects, or force victims to rape fellow victims. At times victims are been ‘made to masturbate their culprits orally’ or rape each other in front of their perpetrators. At times too victims are  forced to commit acts of incest.  There is also the notion of ‘rape plus’, the ‘plus’ being HIV/AIDS, or another consequence of rape, which may have been the very purpose for the rape in the first place.

Enforced Sterilization – Enforced sterilization largely comprises castration and other forms of sexual mutilation. Castrations are performed through the use of crude means such as, forcing one victim to bite off another’s testicles, chopping them off or through pulling off the testicles.

Genital ViolenceThere are cases where victims private parts are hit or subjected to electric shocks. There are instances of forced circumcisions.

Enforced Nudity – The most common way of sexually humiliating men is forcing them to strip naked in public. There are reports of men being made to repeatedly undress and dress, undress and stand naked for periods of time and undress in public or forcing males to wear women underwears and bras; taking pictures and video taping them in explicit sexual positions.

Enforced Masturbation – There are also cases where groups of male detainees are forced to masturbate themselves while being photographed and videotaped or being forced to masturbate their captors. The forced masturbation of the victim and the perpetrator is considered to be one of the most common forms of sexual violence experienced by men.

Therapists working with men who were sexually abused in childhood  report findings such as guilt and self-blame; low self-esteem and negative self-image, Problems with intimacy; sexual problems; compulsions;  or dysfunctions; substance abuse and depression and symptoms of post-traumatic Stress disorder. Societies should create ways and means of helping male victims of SGBV deal with their pain. However, Kenya as a society tends to have a few facilities to address problems of SGBV affecting men.

The article summarizes Lydia Maingi’s presentation on Addressing male gender based violence  presented at the First International Conference Against Gender Based Violence, Kenyatta University from 1st to 3rd August 2012.


Kenyan youth have a role to create peace as we approach the 2013 elections

By Akoya Ochanda

Peace is in the hands of the youth when they decide not to join acts of violence or engage in acts that put the lives of other people in jeopardy. Let no manipulation or provocation lead the youth to commit heineous acts against their fellow Kenyans. Let our youthful hands be used to create, build and strengthen peace. Let all our acts be guided by the care of the safety of fellow Kenyans!

Kenya is slowly walking into the future and will soon experience an important moment. This moment is the  electioneering period scheduled to take place in March 2013 and the preceding campaigns. As we prepare for this important moment, we are also nursing wounds of 2008 post electoral violence which brought untold pains to many families in terms of family breakages, loss of property; creation of orphans, widows and widowers. The suffering was immense and the physical and psychological trauma was enormous to the extent that no words can capture them well.

Before the 2007 election no one in Kenya had imagined that the country had deteriorated to that extent. Though it was evident that tribalism was heavily pronounced and unity amongst Kenyans was elusive. However despite this reality it still remains difficult to account for the fact that different ethnic communities attacked and each other, destroying, killing and doing many other evil things. Though most of the blame was apportioned to the leaders, we the wananchi also played a major role in bringing about this moment. We bear part of the blame for being partakers in the evil acts of that time that caused great wounds that will take long to heal.

As a young Kenyan I will be voting for the first time in the 2013 election. During the previous election I was very young. As people went to vote, I was contemplating to join a secondary school. However what is still fresh in my minds are the horrific memories of that period.  Despite the memories of those dark times in Kenya, I will go to vote and will do it confidently. I really believe that our country is changing for the better and we as loyal citizens have to support these changes which  will contribute to a wonderful Kenya by 2030. By then I presume I will have a family and my children will have a different version of Kenya all-together.

As young people, the responsibility to create a great and peaceful Kenya today rests in our hands. Before deciding to carry out evil acts we must ask ourselves many practical questions such as: if now I take my machete and stab someone to death, am I not killing someone’s mom? Am I not killing someone’s dad? Am I not murdering ones sister or brother? Am I not taking life of ones child? How will the affected families take it? How will they survive? In order to extend this discussion, I would like that my fellow youth create a mental picture of having actually carried out the evil act, what is your feeling?  Then ask yourself an important question what have I done? Is it right? What have I become? How will the society see me now? How will I live with this guilty feeling in me? After you have asked yourself all these questions tell me, are you still going to commit acts of violence against your fellow citizens? Will you kill because of an election- Something that comes once after five years? Let’s assume you are paid 10000/= to do that? Will the person who gave you this help you to deal with the guilty feelings that will develop thereafter?

After all these questions, what is your decision? Are you just blindly going to be used for evil acts? Fellow young men and women, realize that we are the ones who are prone to this kind of evil manipulation. Our hands are used to do evil things whose origin is not with us. We however have the power in our hands to refuse these bribes that create deadly beasts in us. We as youth should work to make a safe Kenya and also push for the safety of all Kenyans. We have a task and the ability to create a perfect and peaceful Kenya if we decide to choose the path of integrity and virtue.

We become heroes by being our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers – President Kibaki

… all Kenyans should seek to be Mashujaa in their individual ways.  We become Mashujaa by abiding to the law of the land, carrying out our civic duties, being our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers, taking care of the environment, and playing our part in the transformation of our communities and country.  As we do this, let us unite in our common goal of building a prosperous, just and equitable nation for the welfare of all Kenyans. President Mwai Kibaki 20th October 2011

Fellow Kenyans,

I am pleased to join you for this year’s Mashujaa Day.  On this important occasion, we celebrate the achievements of our freedom fighters.  In addition, Mashujaa Day affords us the opportunity to celebrate post-independence and modern-day heroes and heroines who have brought pride and joy to our beloved country.

We honor our freedom fighters led by the founding father of our nation, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta.  Because of their sacrifices and commitment, Kenya attained independence.  We also pay tribute to the leaders of Kenya’s Second Liberation.  The multi-party democracy we enjoy today is as a result of their struggles.

Let us embrace the values and dreams for a better Kenya that these patriots had for our beloved country.  In their honour we should redouble our efforts in making Kenya, a working and caring nation and a haven of peace, unity and prosperity.

In the last few months, Kenya has lost a number of eminent leaders and we celebrate their great achievements.  Martin Shikuku was a seasoned politician who was at the forefront of fighting for the rights of Kenyans from the days of the Lancaster Conference right through the struggle for multi-party democracy. Njenga Karume was a businessman and political leader who modeled the example of starting from scratch and working hard in order to achieve success.  John Michuki, Professor George Saitoti, Orwa Ojode, Geoffrey Kareithi and David Nalo were committed public servants who carried out their duties without fear or favour.  Let us emulate the examples set by these great leaders.

Fellow Kenyans,

Turning to present-day Mashujaa, on behalf of all Kenyans, I would like to commend members of the Kenya Defence Forces for their professionalism, bravery and sacrifice as they executed Kenya’s hunt for Al-Shabaab militants in Somalia. These patriots have brought great pride to our country and region.

In the world of sports, Kenyans are proud of our athletes who continue to bring us glory in various competitions around the world.  During the recently concluded Olympics and Paralympics Games held in London, our athletes won a total of four gold, six silver and seven bronze medals.  We commend them for their hard work and commitment. Moreover, I congratulate the Captain of our Olympics Team, David Rudisha as well as Samuel Mushai and Abraham Tarbei for winning gold medals and breaking world records.

Our athletes have been some of our most effective ambassadors.  They have carried Kenya’s good name to all parts of the world. When we hear our National Anthem played in different parts of the world, this gives us great pride as Kenyans.

There are other heroes and heroines in the public sector, private sector,the performing arts, academia, and technology who have made significant contributions to national development.  We commend and celebrate them.

I also salute all Kenyans, who, in their own small ways, have made efforts to transform their local communities, our country and the world through acts of innovation and service.

Fellow Kenyans,

Independence of a people is manifested in their efforts to take charge of their social, economic, cultural and political affairs.  Kenya has made significant progress in these areas.  On the economic front, our economy grew by four and a half per cent last year.  It is projected to maintain this growth trend in the current year despite the harsh economic environment.  Inflation fell to about five per cent, even though it is under pressure from rising oil prices.

Agriculture has shown strong resilience despite global challenges.  Our food security situation has also improved significantly due to good harvest of major food commodities such as maize, rice, wheat, grains, and vegetables. One of the agricultural sub-sectors that have experienced impressive growth in the last few years is the tea industry.  Tea is now our number one foreign exchange earner.  I commend all stakeholders in the industry and especially the Kenya Tea Development Agency which manages 65 tea factories on behalf of over 560,000 farmers across the country for their consistent hard work and prudent management.

Other areas of our economy that have expanded are finance and banking; I.C.T.; building and construction; and hospitality.  This growth was made possible by our prudent investment in infrastructure and social sectors in the last ten years.  The Economic Recovery Strategy for Wealth and Employment Creation that we launched in 2003 and the Kenya VISION TWENTY THIRTY that we launched in 2008 laid a firm foundation for our development into a middle income country and significant progress has been achieved so far.

I also thank Kenyan taxpayers for paying their taxes.  This has enabled us fund our transformative development agenda in areas such as infrastructure, healthcare and education.  Paying taxes is a national duty and an act of patriotism.

The discovery of oil in Kenya also places us in a unique position to attain higher economic growth and prosperity for all.

Another great opportunity that our economy faces is the implementation of innovative business and industrialization ideas.  I urge our researchers and innovators to patent their research findings and turn them into commercial endeavours.  Private investors should fund these ideas so as to produce local goods and services for the mass market as well as create employment for our youth.

In addition, I call upon financial institutions to grant financing to our young people with creative business ideas.  Most of our young people do not own any land or other assets to serve as security for loans but they need support through the provision of affordable and flexible credit. By supporting our youth, we will facilitate the development of a new generation of Mashujaa who will help us create thousands of jobs, bring about rapid industrialization and contribute to faster economic growth and development.

Fellow Kenyans,

To achieve more prosperity for our people, we must guarantee our nation’s security.  This is the reason why one year ago our Kenya Defence Forces were mandated by the Cabinet and Parliament, to pursue and deal with the threat of Al-Shabaab inside Somalia. Together with other AMISOM forces and the Somali Government Army, KDF have made major gains in dealing with the
Al- Shabaab menace.  Early this month the forces successfully took control of the Port of Kismayu.  I commend our KDF forces, the Somali Government Forces and AMISOM for a well executed take-over of Kismayu.

I once again send my heartfelt condolences to the families and relatives of our brave men and women who have lost their lives in the defense of their motherland.  I also condole with the families of security forces who have died in the line of duty while hunting down terrorists and other dangerous elements within our borders.  We salute them as modern day heroes and we wish all our security forces God’s favour and protection as they undertake their duties.

Let it be known to those who seek to harm us that we will not relent in the work we have begun. We shall get the job done, until we have order and security.   Indeed, the gains we have made, call for our continued vigilance as the forces of terror will seek to fight back.  Kenyans should work closely with our security forces and the Provincial Administration so that we flush out all dangerous elements who threaten our security.

I would like to reiterate that Kenya’s only interest in Somalia is to bring peace, stability and eventual prosperity to our neighbours.  We would like to see our 700,000 Somali brothers and sisters who live in refugee camps safely return to their motherland.  Our forces will remain in Somalia for only as long as is necessary, as we work towards restoring normalcy under the umbrella of AMISOM.  Kenya stands ready to help the people and Government of Somalia during the reconstruction process.

I also appeal to the international community to come to the aid of the people of Somalia to ensure that they consolidate the gains made so far. In bringing about peace in our neighbouring country, we shall also intensify efforts to ensure that peace and stability reigns within our borders.

I took an oath to defend our Constitution, the people and the Republic of Kenya, and I intend to abide by that oath.  As a Government we will take firm and decisive action in dealing with those who have issued threats of secession or those who threaten our security. Kenya is one unitary state. The Constitution is clear on that and so is our history.  Let us learn from that history and not seek to distort it and let us respect our Constitution.

Fellow Kenyans,

We are due to hold our next General Election early next year.  The Government has put in place the necessary institutions and legal structures to ensure that we have a free, fair and peaceful election.  As we approach this historic event, I appeal to all political leaders and their supporters to engage in peaceful campaigns.  Let us all remember that Kenya’s collective destiny is far more important than the interest of any individual person or group.

I advise Kenyans to turn out in large numbers and register as voters when the exercise kicks off next month.  The Government is fast-tracking the issuance of national Identity Cards to Kenyans who have attained the age of 18 years to enable our youth take part in the elections.  Taking part in an election is the sure way of influencing the political and economic destiny of your county and nation.

In conclusion, I urge all Kenyans to seek to be Mashujaa in their individual ways.  We become Mashujaa by abiding by the law of the land, carrying out our civic duties, being our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers, taking care of the environment, and playing our part in the transformation of our communities and country.  As we do this, let us unite in our common goal of building a prosperous, just and equitable nation for the welfare of all Kenyans.

Finally, I once again convey my best wishes to our students as they sit for their national examinations.  The Government is taking steps to ensure that the process goes on smoothly.

Asanteni na Mungu Awabariki.

Kenyans Celebrate Heroes Day by Dramatizing the Life and Times of Wangari Maathai

Nation online 19th October 2012

Wangari Maathai’s memories will always inspire Kenyans to strive for that which is good for the Kenyan communities. Her legacy and that of many unsung women who have contributed to the building of peace and harmony in Kenya and to the development of Kenya cannot be over emphasized. Long live our heroines!

Mumbi Kaigwa is commemorating the life and passing on of Kenya’s most celebrated woman, Nobel Peace Prize winner, Prof Wangari Maathai.

She has assembled an outstanding cast of Kenyan actors and secured performing rights to a Pulitzer Prize-winning script about a brilliant woman whose life and death parallels Wangari’s in surprisingly similar ways.

Ms Kaigwa is also giving a chunk of the funds she hopes to raise from staging that play to the Nairobi Hospice, which is celebrating 20 years of assisting terminally ill patients.

Under her new theatre company, the Arts Canvas, Kaigwa and her troupe will stage Margaret Edson’s Wit from Tuesday to Sunday at Braeburn Theatre.

It is directed by Nyambura Wariungi, who worked in both film and theatre in Canada for more than a decade before returning home this year to make a movie and direct the Wit.

Wit features an amazing cast as well. It not only includes Kaigwa, who is celebrating 40 years of performing on stage, television and film this year, it also embraces a whole new crop of local film, theatre and TV talent, such as Dan Aceda, Samson Psenjen, Njoki Ngumi, Mugambi Nthiga, Fridah Muhindi, Sahil Gada, Wangui Thang’a and Musa Mwaruma.

Because Wit traces the life and death of Dr Vivian Bearing in dramatic detail, one might expect the play to be painfully depressing.

On the contrary, Wit is filled with ironic humour, sarcasm and self-awareness on Bearing’s part. Stunning is also an apt term for Kaigwa’s performance as the dying don who dramatically appraises the process of her passing almost to the very end.

Being a scholar and researcher with a literary flair (like Wangari), Bearing chooses to document the gruelling eight-month process of experimental treatment that she endures at the hands of medical researchers, students and specialists who claim to hold the cure to her ovarian cancer, but in the end she (and we) find out, they don’t.

Like Bearing, Wangari was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. She also endured months of experimental treatment that eventually failed. Nonetheless, for both women, death is not the end of the story by any means. See the play to find out what I mean.


One of the beautiful bits about Wit is the way John Donne’s poetry is interwoven into the script. Also inspirational is Bearing’s deep affection for language, one of the elements of the university professor’s life.

But what I found most striking about the show was the process of psychological self-discovery that seemed to parallel Bearing’s physical treatment for cancer. For while the chemotherapy wasn’t successful, the soulful insights that she gained in the process were transformative.

Bearing, like Wangari, had been uncompromising in her professional life. However, this is the point at which the two women’s lives differ. For Bearing had got so caught up in her own genius and in the genius of the 17th century poet John Donne, that she had forgotten about compassion and human kindness.

Her students had suffered as a consequence. It is only when she is awakened to her own need for comfort and kindness that she reflects on her cold-hearted treatment of everyone around her. The realisation, however painful the process, is liberating for her.

Wit is a must-see, especially as it touches on a topic that affected one who was and remains very dear to many Kenyans, the Nobel laureate, Prof Wangari Maathai.

Official languages and not mothertongue should be used in dispensing public services

by 18th October 2012

Public servants have been asked to uphold professionalism and stop using mother tongues in offices.

The Commission on Administrative Justice (CAJ) has raised concern over use of mother tongue in public offices, saying it is unethical.

CAJ Chairman Otiende Amollo noted that the Constitution recognised two official languages – Kiswahili and English – which should be used in public offices.

Mr Amollo, who addressed leaders at Gusii County Hall during the commission’s Kisii County farmiliarisation tour, said some civil servants report to their work stations late after keeping the public waiting.

He urged public servants to be time-conscious and have courtesy while serving the public, as they were servants of people and not their masters. Amollo visited eight Government offices where he found that some officers reported to work late.

Amollo cited Gusii County Council where over 50 per cent of the staff had not reported by 8.30am except the Town Clerk and the surveyor. Amollo noted that the civic authority also lacked a service charter.

At Kisii Municipal Council, the council lacked facilities for people with disabilities who are forced to use steep staircases to access services.  The commissioners were shocked to find officers at the Department of Registrar of Persons using vernacular language.

The law supports wealth inheritance for all: Daughters and Sons

In the past several arguements were advanced to deny women of inheriting their parents’ estate. This fact condemned women to poverty and also made them subservient to the partriarchy. Times have changed now and both men and women are entitled to an equal share of inheritance from the estate of their parents. The notion that women have no inheritance right has been dispproved by various legal precedents. Read on

Story by on 18th October 2012

In my view, the law as it is now, it matters not whether a daughter of the deceased is married or not when it comes to consideration of whether she is entitled to inherit her parent’s estate.  Article 60 (f) of the Constitution of Kenya 2010 provides for elimination of gender discrimination in respect of land. The marital status of a daughter is not a basis to deny her the right to inherit her father’s estate…’’ — Lady Justice Mary Kasango (February 17, 2011)

Reality is now sinking that the cultural tradition of locking out daughters from inheriting their parents’ property  is outlawed.

A reader sent an email to this column complaining that daughters of deceased tycoons should be ashamed of fighting for their parents’ property.

The writer was referring to the daughters of the late Starehe MP Gerishon Kirima. He argued that only his sons should claim the estate worth over Sh1 billion.

According to the reader, it is unafrican for single or married daughters to claim the property of their father.

“Daughters have no property rights under our traditions…they should live in areas where they are married and leave inheritance to their brothers,” he argued.


For Lillian Cherono, also a reader, her concerns are whether daughters have rights to claim in court property of their parents.

“I have a friend (a spinster) whose biological father passed on two months ago leaving investments in property in Nairobi and Eldoret,” Cherono wrote.

According to Cherono, disputes over the estate pitting brothers and uncles of her friend have already started.

“Her brothers and uncles told her that she was out of the equation as daughters have no property rights in succession…is this true? What can she do? ,” Cherono asked.

However, even as some communities lock out daughters from inheriting property, the laws have changed.

Since the passing of the new Constitution daughters who moved to court demanding their rights to inherit property of their late parents have emerged victorious.

Even a series of successive judicial precedents set by the Court of Appeal and the High Court are proof that the tides have changed.

Take the recent case of Consolata Ntibuka who challenged her brother’s decision to evict her from her late father’s land at the High Court in Meru.

Lady Justice Mary Kasango who presided over the succession dispute ruled that daughters have a right to inherit their parents’ estate.

“It does not matter whether a daughter was married or not when considering whether she is entitled to inherit her parent’s estate,” Justice Kasango said.

To refresh memories, the Constitution forbids the State or any person from discriminating on the basis of a person’s marital status.

Article 60 of the supreme law further provides for elimination of gender discrimination in law, customs and practices related to land and property.

Therefore, Articles 27 and 60 of the Constitution clears the air whether married and unmarried daughters have a right to inherit wealth in the family.

Even before passing of the new Constitution, courts invoked the Law of Succession Act to guarantee daughters property rights.

According to Lady Justice Martha Koome when ruling in the case of Priscilla Kamau in 2005, daughters — just like sons — have equal rights to inherit.

“The law does not distinguish  between the children of a deceased on the basis of their gender or marital status,.” Justice Koome ordered.


Fast-forward to 2008. Lady Justice Kalpana Rawal dismissed the application of a Maasai custom that allegedly blocked daughters from inheritance of family property.

The case involved daughters of the late Maasai tycoon Lerionka Ole Ntutu who died without leaving a will on distribution of his estate.

The daughters told the High Court that their brothers planned to exclude them from inheriting the family property.

Justice Rawal overruled the Maasai customary law and applied the Law of Succession Act in favour of the daughters.

“Any tenet of customary law, which would abrogate the right of daughters to inherit the estate of a father cannot be applied,” Justice Rawal ruled.

Even the Court of Appeal recently demonstrated that customs and traditions that lock daughters out of succession have no place in society.

When delivering judgment in the case of Rono verses Rono, Justice Philip Waki ruled that marriage should never be a ground of locking daughters out.

“Arguments that daughters would get married are not a determining factor on distribution of the net estate of a deceased,” Justice Waki ordered.

Justice Waki said courts had a duty to exercise discretion judiciously when it came to distributing estates in dispute.

There was a protracted family dispute over property inheritance as some sons argued that their sisters would be married and move away.

The writer is an Advocate of the High Court of Kenya

Foreign Names have Culturally Alienated Africans

What is the effect of having a European, Arab or Indian  name? Travelling to Saudi, I met Christians who have no western names. In Europe too I have white muslim friends who still retain their European names. Given the fact that the African is always forced to adopt some strange names because of having converted to a particular religion has had the effect of  allienating us from our-selves and making us think that we have to look like Europeans or Arabs to be part of the human race. Realising this dilemma several Kenyan prominent figures like Mwai Kibaki, Wangari Maathai, Orie Rogo Manduli, Uhuru Kenyatta, Raila Amolo Odinga, Kabando wa Kabando, Kalembe Ndile, Anyang Nyong, Koigi wa Wamwere amongst others are leading the way. By dropping the colonial imposed name, the African will infact find himself or herself.

Daily Nation 17th October 2012

Belonging to a man.

O, be some other name!

What’s in a name?

That which we call a rose

By any other name

Would smell as sweet

Uttered by Juliet to display her unflinching love for Romeo in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, the words above hold no water outside romance, where names sometimes pack more weight than their face value.

And you need not go further than look at the list of leading lights in Kenyan politics, which reads like a script from the ’60s, thanks to scions of former heavyweights now holding powerful positions, courtesy, largely, of their surnames.

This, however, is not a Kenyan peculiarity. In the US, for instance, two George Bushes ascended to the presidency almost back-to-back. The same has been done by the Sukarnoputris of Indonesia, the Gandhis of India, the Bhuttos of Pakistan and the Aquinos and the Macapagals of the Philippines.

In the years gone by, the question “whose son are you” was common since people were, more often than not, judged according to their father’s reputation. Wisdom dictated that “a good name is worth more than gold and silver”, or, in modern terms, millions of dollars in the bank.

“Names are very important in the African society because they are believed to appease ancestral spirits and further the family tree,” explains George Mathu, a lecturer at the University of Nairobi’s Department of Anthropology.

“Their significance is so integral that parents will avoid naming their children after people with bad images in the society, like thieves or murderers.”

In the olden days, and to emphasise the importance of names, naming a child was done in elaborate rituals laden with deep religious significance. Newborns were named after ancestors, past heroes, time and place of birth, animals, physical features and major events.

Others were a reflection of the prevailing emotions or conditions at the time of birth. Taabu, Raha, Blessing, Zawadi, Talent, Innocent, Fortunate, Rehema and Baraka are good examples.

Mathu says that a name is so critical in the belief systems that many believe it can determine the way people behave and feel about themselves. This explains why there are so many Castrols, Mandelas, Kennedys and Julius’, and so few, if any, Judas’, Cains, Hitlers and Lucifers.

A funny name, for instance, can make an individual the centre of attraction or ridicule, in the end affecting their self-esteem and personality.

Orie Rogo-Manduli, the firebrand female politician and activist, says she was baptised Mary Snessor by her parents in honour of a Scottish nun working in Calabar, Nigeria.

“My mother gave birth to me while on a visit to check on my ailing father at Maseno Hospital in the company of Jaramogi Oginga Odinga,” Orie explains. “I popped out unexpectedly and, after being washed, Jaramogi took me to my father’s bedside where, although very ill, he whispered ‘Orie’”.

Later on, the Trans-Nzoia County Senator aspirant found ‘Mary Snessor’ such a mouthful and requested her parents for permission to drop the two names.

“Although I admired the Scottish lady — and even visited her birthplace later on — I believed my identity lay with my maternal grandmother Orie, whose genes I carry,” she says.

“Besides, people used to stop at ‘Mary Snessor’ and ‘Orie’ was somehow overshadowed, hence we held a big family meeting where I officially became ‘Orie Rogo’ and later added ‘Manduli’, which is my late husband’s name.”

Known for her strong feminine ideals, Orie insists that women should not drop their maiden surnames even after getting married since that is a sign of respect to their fathers.

Occupation, religion and personal philosophies are some of the most common reasons for changing names. Also, success in some careers like performing arts and politics is sometimes hinged on a unique and larger-than-life personality, of which a name plays a big role in creating.

There are many people who transformed their careers and fortunes in these fields by simply changing their names.

If you watched movies like The Firm, Jerry Maguire, Magnolia, The Last Samurai and War of the Worlds, you might be among the many who do not know that the main star Tom Cruise once answered to the name Thomas Mapother III.

Other stars who changed their names are Marilyn Monroe (born Norma Jean Baker), Demi Moore, (Demetria Gene Guynes), Chuck Norris (Carlos Ray) and Bruce Willis (Walter Willison).

Adolf Hitler’s father was born Alois Schicklgruber and later adopted the name Hiedler after her single mother remarried. But, as the future Fuhrer entered Germany as a young job-seeker, an immigration officer found ‘Hiedler’ a mouthful and simply wrote ‘Hitler’.

That name change would prove a turning point in his political career in future because it would have been hard to imagine the millions of Nazis in rallies across Berlin and Frankfurt shouting “Heil Schicklgruber” instead of “Heil Hitler”.

Nearer home, while growing up around the Kilembe Copper Mines of Uganda, Richard Nguluku Ndile couldn’t tire telling people about that ‘wonderful place in Uganda’ upon his return to his native Kibwezi, hence everybody referred to him as Kalembe.

Years later, after he lost a civic election just because, he says, his supporters could not recognise his name on the ballot paper, the maverick politician swore an affidavit and dropped the first two names, officially becoming Kalembe Ndile.

Besides politics and showbiz, there are those who abandon their original names as a sign of protest against political, racial, religious or cultural prejudices in the societies they live in.

“The African independence generation was very conscious of their African roots and was determined to crush cultural subjugation and imperialism,” explains former Subukia Member of Parliament Koigi wa Wamwere. “Therefore most of them went out of their way to demonstrate this quest by dropping, legally or otherwise, all their European names.”

Kenya’s founding father Jomo Kenyatta was among leaders who changed their names to reflect their pan-African convictions.

Born Kamau wa Ngengi and baptised John Peter, which he later changed to Johnstone, the late president adopted the name Jomo, which means “burning spear” in Kikuyu, and Kenyatta, which referred to the beaded belt he often wore.

Other African leaders who changed their names included Zaire’s Mobutu Sese-Seko wa Zabanga, Malawi’s Kamuzu Banda and South Africa’s Thabo Mbeki.

In Nakuru, politician Koigi wa Wamwere says he was baptised with a Christian name that he is not comfortable mentioning because he never considered it his name in the first place.

“I dropped that name because I considered it a constant reminder of the colonial subjugation and past,” he told DN2. “For those reasons, and the fact that I would like it to remain buried in the vaults of forgotten history, I don’t like mentioning or saying what it was.”

While Africans don’t need to have foreign names in order to be Christians, Koigi says, the fact that they adore European names is an indicator that although they got political independence, they are still “culturally colonised”.

The veteran politician’s sentiments are echoed by Mukurweini Constituency MP and Assistant Minister for Sports and Youth Affairs, Kabando wa Kabando.

Due to what he calls “vexation by the blatant segregation against my cultural heritage by the colonial education system”, the MP dropped his birth names Godfrey Kariuki Mwangi for the double-barrelled Kabando wa Kabando.

“During my younger life, many high schools were sponsored by major religious organisations like the Catholic Church and the Presbyterian mission,” he explains.

“There was a rule that you have to be baptised with an English name for you to be admitted in one of these schools, hence I adopted the name Godfrey because of the worry that I might pass and miss a chance.”

But even after taking up Godfrey, he referred to himself as GKM Kabando when he joined Form One at Ololoserian High School in Kajiado since he never believed the first three names were his. For these reasons, many of his classmates referred to him as Kabando.

“That was a rebellion against unfair conventions at an early age because these colonial prejudices compelled Africans to do what our colonial masters didn’t do,” Kabando explains. “Foreigners don’t change their names when they come to Africa, but some expect us to change ours.”

When he vied for the Chairmanship of the Student Organisation of Nairobi University (Sonu), the name Kabando wa Kabando stood him in good stead since many could not easily place his ethnic identity in the heavily polarised student community.

“My name helped me defray the tribal card when I campaigned and won the Sonu chairmanship in 1992 since I couldn’t be associated with any ethnic or political party grouping,” Kabando recalls. “But it also became a setback for me when I vied for a seat in Parliament in 1997 because some Mukurweini voters thought I was an alien.”

While saying that he is passionately opposed to camouflaging identities through foreign, names Kabando believes that using local names is an honour to the African philosophy and anthropology, which was the guiding principle in naming children for hundreds of years.

“The adoration of foreign names, especially among the youth, is a perpetration of an inferiority complex because it reflects their worship of Western values,” he explains.

“Martin Luther King Jr talked about people being proud of who they are regardless of their race and religion, but here we are, punishing our children with strange names or expecting them to speak English with a native accent.”

Getting his names changed completely was never an easy task, for he had to contend with legal bottlenecks at the Registrar of Persons. After launching more than 32 unsuccessful applications, he finally got his way in 2003 after the NARC government came to power.

“After the 2002 elections, I literally camped at the Registrar of Persons for many days until he finally heard my case, albeit half-heartedly,” the politician says.

“The only other political figure who was able to completely change their names completely in Kenyan history was Johnston Kamau Ngengi, popularly known as Jomo Kenyatta.”

In A Grain of Wheat, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, formerly known as James Ngugi Thiong’o, explains his surprise upon encountering an African economics lecturer at Makerere University without an English name called Mwai Kibaki.

Although he was baptised Emilio Stanley by Italian missionaries, President Mwai Kibaki has always been known, for all intents and purposes, by his two African names.

Born of pan-Africanist fathers who had a penchant for African names, the two leading presidential contenders Raila Amollo Odinga and Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta don’t have any English names.

Others like Kalonzo Musyoka and Musalia Mudavadi lay a lot of emphasis on their African names, while Peter Kenneth is the only presidential hopeful who uses two European names.

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