Assuming nothing; questioning everything

I am because we are

Ubuntu 1

November 2015 marks exactly one year since I started blogging. My blog was largely inspired by the spirit of Ubuntu, an African philosophy that states, “I am because we are” and in some cases expressed as, “I am because you are”.  The Ubuntu philosophy that appreciates the interconnectedness of humanity; that our humanity is inextricably linked.

Writing was therefore my platform to use my voice to add onto the efforts to challenge exclusion that deprives some groups of people from experiencing their full humanity, with the understanding that I cannot be free when others, particularly women continue to be bound.

Ubuntu 2

My first blog post was inspired by the injustice faced by female hawkers on the streets in the hands of City County Officers, otherwise known as kanjo. My second post  was on “My Dress My Choice”, an initiative that was started by women in Nairobi at a time when violent undressing of women in public spaces was becoming rather common.

I wrote the blog post on “My Dress My Choice” because the incidents of women being stripped reminded me of my own experience when I was 15 years old, after a man threatened to strip me at Commercial Bus Station.

I was wearing a long wrap around skirt, and as the wind blew, it blew away the top flap. As I was holding onto my skirt to avoid it being blown off more violently, a man approached me and told me that if I continued to hold my skirt, he would undress me. He said that if I chose to wear revealing clothes, I should not show any signs of discomfort.

At the age of 15 I was beginning to understand that the world I live in is not designed for girls and women to just live, without being controlled by everyone including strangers.

I wrote the article and supported “My Dress My Choice” because it was unbelievable that close to 15 years later after my experience, and at a time when girls and women are said to have advanced tremendously, women were being violently stripped in public for wearing what was deemed inappropriate.

“My Dress My Choice” protest took place on November 17th 2014, and it was a huge success. Women came out in their numbers, supported by some male allies to protest against violent undressing of women. Some of the perpetrators were sentenced to 20 year jail terms and as a result, women to some extent feel safer knowing that action can be taken against such forms of violence.

A while back, I had an experience that made me realize that “My Dress My Choice”, did make gains for women. As I was walking to meet a friend one Saturday afternoon, I faced the all too common problem of society, and particularly men deciding to control what women wear. I was catcalled on several occasions because I was wearing a short dress.

Shake that ass

After ignoring a few catcalls, I got tired and decided that I wasn’t going to be made uncomfortable anymore. So, when another man walking with two other men catcalled me, I stopped him and asked him if he had something to tell me. To my surprise, he got tongue tied and started sweating and breathing heavily; signs that he was having a panic attack. He stammered that he had not said anything to me. I left him at that and moved on.

When I got to my meeting point, I narrated my experience to my friend, perplexed as to why someone would have the nerve to catcall me and then get a panic attack upon being confronted. My friend told me that things were changing and men were begin to get more cautious after men that had stripped women were sentenced to 20 year jail terms.

She shared with me of an incident that she witnessed when a conductor slapped his colleague who was making derogatory remarks at a woman who was wearing what he considered inappropriate. After slapping him, he told him to stop being stupid, asking whether he wanted their matatus to be grounded from operating. My friend said, the driver commented that the days of “playing” with women were over, as Uhuru had decided that abuse and violence against women on the streets would not be tolerated by his regime.

When I think of these two incidents, I want to shout “WE DID IT! We did it as women! We used our outrage to stand with the women that had been stripped, and made significant changes for women in this country. Many of us did not know the women that we were standing up for and wouldn’t even recognize them if we meet them. But that didn’t stop us from being sisters to one another.

mydressmychoice 1

But even as we celebrate this victory, girls and women are still not safe. All forms of abuse and violence against women continue in every imaginable space, be it private or public. The system is also painfully slow and unfriendly to women who seek justice.

An example is one of the women that faced violent undressing in public, who at some point opted to drop her case because of the challenges in the system. She said that as the sole breadwinner of her family and in casual employment, the legal process was taking too much of her time and prohibited her from fending for her family. The process of recounting her story at every stage of the lengthy legal process was also very traumatic and she wished not to live a life of constantly reliving this experience.

The experience of this woman with the legal process tells us that we have more a lot more to fighting to do to ensure that women are safe from violence and abuse, and guaranteed of expeditious legal processes as well as social, economic and psychological support to accompany the legal process.

As we begin the 16 days of Activism against Gender Based Violence from November 25th to December 10th, 2015, we must bear in mind that the journey ahead of us is long. To succeed in this journey, the spirit of sisterhood must prevail as it did during “My Dress My Choice Campaign”.

To win this battle, we cannot afford to be distracted by hostility towards each other or competing to be recognized.

We must constantly remind ourselves that this is about ALL girls and women and not about any individual. It is about our daughters, sisters, friends, mothers, grandmothers and each one of us to be safe in our homes, on the streets and every other space that we occupy.

Lastly, as I begin my second year of writing, I thank you all from the bottom of my heart for reading, commenting, critiquing, and most importantly for giving space to my voice on your screens. I thank you for the wonderful friendships we have established on cyber-space and in the physical world. Thank you for meeting me and warming up to me like old friends or family because of the connection you developed with me from my writing. I have experienced the true spirit of Ubuntu this last year. I truly am because you are! Let us continue to be, for each other.

Ubuntu 3

I also wish to announce that my blog will be moving from to

I look forward to interacting with you all at

Image credits: All the beautiful Ubuntu images are from AJ’s Art Journaling blog post on Ubuntu, Picture of My Dress My Choice

Lessons from a taxi driver


I often hear researchers say that talking to taxi drivers is a good way to get a sense of the political atmosphere of any place. My experience with one tells me that Kenyans are angry and despondent at a political system that has completely failed them.

While I was in a taxi today, the driver was very vexed, and I decided to hear him out. It turned out that he was so ideologically grounded, it felt like I was in a Sociology 101 class that was speaking to the realities of what is happening.  He spoke with a lot of concern and anger about the inequality that this country is grappling with.  He said, “everything that is going on, is benefiting just a few people, and everyone else is suffering as a consequence”. He spoke of the standard gauge railway and how billions of shillings have been misappropriated by just a handful of people. Then he went on to talk about a by-pass that was recently built, but because the land surrounding it has been grabbed, the road is so narrow, that when trucks approach each other, they have to be very careful not to cause an accident.  “You see”, he continued, “a few people grabbed those pieces of land, and now Kenyans are not safe on the roads that are coming up”. “These roads will kill Kenyans, because a few people have to take what does not belong to them”. He called it the politics of “me, mine and myself”.

I noticed how the narrative has changed. For a long time, whenever I got into a political discussion with taxi drivers from the Mt. Kenya region, they would go on about the humility of the president, and how this was the best president that Kenya ever got. I remember one day as we were driving past State House, the taxi driver began to narrate in awe how the president had dropped off a chopper, ignored the car that was meant to drive him into State House, and instead opted to walk. “The chopper landed right there” he pointed excitedly. This to him was a sign of great humility and good leadership. I remember asking him angrily whether he had ever eaten humility. So today I was surprised when this person who is from the Mt. Kenya region sounded so dissatisfied with the system. I take it as a sign that people are coming to the reality that their tribesman is not their security.

As I was getting to my destination I had to interrupt him, because I wanted to hear from him what he thought the solution was. I asked him what he thought people could do, and he replied, “only God will save us, he is watching and one day he will rescue us; I know that day is coming”. But even as he was saying that, he seemed to have a good understanding of power dynamics. He argued that people could organize themselves and challenge the system, but then the powers that be would seek private meetings with the organizers and pay them off.  He gave me an example of a time when they organized as drivers to challenge the difficult working conditions, in an organization that he worked for.  But the drivers that led the organizing were paid off and given better conditions, and that was the end of their organizing.

Speaking to the taxi driver and other Kenyans, it is clear that people of all walks of life are disgruntled, because of the blatant economic exclusion, where those in the lower strata of the socio-economic ladder toil for hours on end but are unable to afford the basics.  A recent survey tells us that 36% of children in Kenya are underfed, yet their parents are the same people who work day and night, only to send their children to bed on empty stomachs. Even the middle class are struggling with high interest rates on loans and mortgages and failing public systems that force them to send their children to expensive private schools and healthcare services that they can only afford because of the private health insurance their employers provide. Not forgetting constantly having to send MPESA to support friends, relatives and even strangers to access education or to get treatment both locally and abroad.

In a context where the political environment is so stifling, yet organizing to challenge the system seems impossible, citizens have little else but to resign to their fate. Those that strongly believe in a higher being, see that as the sole saviour. Those that do not believe or have given up on the idea that even a higher being could rescue us are giving in to the idea that violence is inevitable, particularly given the subtle and sometimes not so subtle ways in which incitement is happening.

Like many Kenyans, I am concerned that the social, economic and political environment bears the signs of looming violence. But I am even more concerned at the way people are speaking of violence with such simplicity.  Like it is a door that you walk in, and walk out. The little exposure we have of violence has left us with the idea that violence is as simple as killing and burning each other’s property, flying Kofi Annan into the country, having two political figures from opposing sides shake hands, and life going on as usual. Some of us have been arguing that Europeans had to slash and kill each other to get to where they are economically, socially and politically. We forget that it took Europeans 300 to 400 years of slashing and killing each other to finally figure their politics and economies.

As I think of the simplicity that we approach the idea of violence with, I am reminded of an older Somali friend of mine, whom I have the privilege of getting into political conversations with once in a while. He has on several occasions commented that Somali was exactly where Kenya is in the 80’s. That massive infrastructural projects were ongoing, roads were being constructed, high-rise buildings were coming up and foreigners were investing in the country. It seemed as if all was going well, but this development co-existed with massive looting of public resources by those placed in power and outright ethnic hostility. We know that Somali is yet to recover from the war. We know several countries endowed with resources, but war will not allow them make use of the resources.

As we grow more and more despondent, and some us begin to accept the inevitability of violence, let’s put the Kofi Annan mediation scene off our minds for a moment, and think for a while other possible ways that this could go.  When I think of such possibilities, I want to try something else.  Isn’t that what we always do in life? Don’t we try other channels when one isn’t working?  It’s not easy but we have to be willing to try other routes; do our best and remain hopeful that our efforts will create change.  We must begin organizing slowly, but in a progressive fashion, understanding that “unless we learn to live together as [Kenyans], we shall perish together as fools”.*

*Adapted from a Martin Luther King Jr. quote

Photo Credits

We too shall rise, but how?

FeesMustFall Movement 1

I started following the South African university students’ movement from March this year, when UCT students declared that #RhodesMustFall.  I have followed the movement closely and with a lot of excitement, because South African students are demonstrating that they understand the meaning of freedom, not just in its superficial form, but in its deepest and truest form.

The students understand that ending apartheid is not enough, the symbols of apartheid must be destroyed, and they began doing that by demanding the fall of the Rhodes statue at the UCT Campus.  They understand that the remnants of apartheid must be destroyed, and they are doing so by using the #FeesMustFall movement to contest exorbitant universiy fees that continue to exclude students from poor backgrounds, most of whom are black.

The South African university students also understand that change of government, and having fellow black men and women in leadership is not necessarily freedom, it can be as binding as apartheid rule.  And so they are challenging new forms of apartheid, manifesting in the form of neo-liberalism, class and racial inequalities.

Unlike in the anti-apartheid struggle where the participation of women was largely forgotten, women students have refused to have this erasure repeated, by claiming space and visibility during the entire protests.  They led marches, led struggle songs and wore head wraps to ensure their visibility and to make a statement that they would not be erased.  LGBTI people also claimed their space and visibility in the protests.  This movement clearly understands the concept of inclusion, and how structures of oppression exclude women, people with non-conforming gender and sexual identities, black people, those that are differently abled and the poor among others.

FeesMustFallMovement 2

The interconnectedness of race, class and gender issues in the #FeesMustFall Movement demonstrates that the students are aware that the challenges in the education sector are not stand alone issues.  They are manifestations of exclusion, injustice and poor representation of the people, rooted in neoliberal ideology.  The #FeesMustFall movement seems to have asked the critical question of, whose voice is often unheard? and made deliberate efforts to include the often excluded voices.  Evidently, time, effort and ideologically grounded thinking has gone into organizing the movement.

The #FeesMustFall movement demonstrates that when people are pushed to their limits, they will rise up and contest their oppression.  History has proven that, time and again.  We’ve seen it in North Africa and Middle East with the Arab Spring, and even more violent forms of protest with many of the war torn countries in different parts of the world.

Kenya too has demonstrated this from the colonial period, when the Mau Mau contested foreign rule, to the 90’s when the pro-democracy movement contested dictatorial rule and demanded constitutional reforms, and even in 2008 when Kenyans contested unfair electoral processes.  Certainly, there can be no peace where exclusion, injustice, and poor representation of the people abound.

In Kenya we’ve been facing numerous instances of exclusion, injustice and poor representation of the people.  This year alone, we’ve had to deal with land grabbing by the political elite, massive looting of public resources at national and county levels.  We are seeing commodities purchased by government at exorbitant prices, hate speech left, right and center by those elected and those seeking election in 2017, a government that has run out of money, a bloated legislature that has constantly served its own interest by increasing its salaries, and Kenyans dying inhumanely because the public health care system is a mess.

Our response as Kenyans to these issues has been as irregular as the issues themselves.  Every new week there is a hashtag to discuss a new issue. Before that is over, we move on to another hashtag to discuss another issue.  Last week alone, there were three hashtags.  Our social media is not showing any difference from our mainstream media.  We touch, sensationalize and run after the next sensational item.  Our ability to understand the connectedness of the problems we are grappling with seems rather limited, and to deal with any issue exhaustively seems equally challenging.

Meanwhile the discontent is growing among the general population, a population that is bearing the brunt of deaths that could be prevented by a decent healthcare system, a population that is going to bed hungry and unable to educate its children despite walking three hours, to work 8-12 hours a day.

How long will it be before this population contests the exclusion, injustice and bloated representation that does not represent the people in ways that changes their lives?  How will the contestation be done?  Are we preparing ourselves as Kenyans to contest constructively?

The time to begin preparing for constructive contestation is now, and that will not happen by having a new hashtag every day, and forgetting what we were hash tagging about last week.  What for instance happened to the 109K wheelbarrow outrage?  Yet we went ahead and discussed the 37K bars of soap without remembering the 109K wheelbarrow.  How did we forget the NYS scandal?  That is now forgotten, we have made noise about it, and it is time to move on to the next thing.  We moved on to make noise about Aladwa’s inflammatory remarks, and now we have forgotten about that, and we are ready to move on to the next big thing.

I strongly believe that uncoordinated speaking, or being an “armchair activist”, is better than silence, and so we must continue, and speak even louder.  But more than that, we must be able to connect every scandal, every issue, with exclusion, injustice and poor representation.  We must organize for contestation, and organize effectively and inclusively for that matter, making sure that the poor, the rural and women are part of the struggle, and not just two or three women.

I say this, having been to forums that intend to be chart a new political path for Kenya, yet I find myself being one out of five or six women, surrounded by educated, well to do urban residing men.  The discussions seem ideologically challenged, devoid of new ideas other than the old tired mantra that things are not working and they must change.

This to me seems to be politics as usual and I often find myself asking, “What new political path are you charting, while leaving the poor, the rural and women behind?”  “What is the basis for organizing?” “How can a new political path that follows the old political route, expect to lead people to a new destination? “

The revolution will not happen without women, without rural and poor people. Leaving the majority behind is a sure way of maintaining status quo. The revolution will not happen without speaking to the bread and butter issues that the regular Kenyan faces; the hopelessness that comes with living on survival mode and being downtrodden while struggling to survive.

If its not accesbile to the poor

It’s time to prepare for constructive contestation, with understanding that yes, Kenyans will rise to contest what is currently happening.  The question is not when, but how.  Because how we prepare, or fail to prepare for that contestation determines whether we will be walking the paths of a new and brighter political future or recovering from the aftermath of unprepared contestation.

Nelson Mandela once told the South Africans that should the ANC treat them like the apartheid government did, South Africans should do to the ANC what they did to the apartheid government.  I think someone should have told Kenyans that should the Jubilee government treat them like the KANU government did, Kenyans should do to Jubilee what they did to KANU.  Perhaps then, we too would rise.

Photo Credits: Photo 1Photo 2Photo 3

The great discomfort


A Facebook friend of mine unfriended me. Before unfriending me, she mentioned that she had observed that I had started a blog on feminism, and made a point of being offensive about the fact that I was an active feminist.  She told me that she didn’t believe in feminism and that although she championed for the rights of women, she would not want to be associated with feminism, adding that she would be offended if she was ever referred to as a feminist.

I had just started writing my blog at that time, and I was getting a number of interesting, sometimes ignorant and other times damn right offensive responses.  I was getting tired of explaining myself, and she found me at the point where I had learnt to be less defensive about what I believed in, and sometimes even listened to responses that made no sense, or added no value, for the sheer fun of it, and maybe write about it someday.

I guess she mistook my silence for interest, and continued to tell me that told me that she thought feminism was demonic, and the devil’s agenda to destroy the family, and spread ungodly practices such as lesbianism and homosexuality.  The Sodom and Gomorrah case got mentioned somewhere in between the demons and the ungodly practices that feminism sought to spread in society.

Feminism, she said was teaching women to reject femininity as they desired to be more masculine.  She went on about how proud she was of her femininity, how she loved dressing up and looking beautiful, and feminism was denying women the opportunity to be feminine and beautiful.

From her unsolicited and rather ignorant opinion, it was clear that my blog and posts on feminism made her rather uncomfortable, and I was not surprised when she later unfriended me.  It’s been eight months now since I started running my blog, and every so often, I am amazed at how feminism generates discomfort in just about every quarter.

The discomfort is to a large extent driven by ignorance, fear of losing power by the privileged, and uncertainty over what a society where women are regarded as fully human, and not subordinate to men would look like. Society is yet to accept that African women are embracing an ideology that has often been described as unAfrican, because it seeks to liberate African women, who have for the longest time been considered sub-human and accorded secondary status in society.

Those that have long enjoyed the benefits of women’s subjugation are afraid that feminism will turn the tables, and human beings regardless of gender will now be equal.  They misconstrue feminism to be about women competing with men, and tell us that this is not the way African culture should be. They argue that there is a place for the African woman in society, which unlike everything else, does not evolve with time, and feminism is destroying that.

The number of times I see feminism appearing in sermons that seem to have an agenda to take women back to 1950 is surprising, disturbing and annoying.  I reckon there are people praying and fasting against the “spirit” of feminism.

The fact that feminism is questioning religious norms that teach that God created man to provide, rule and dominate, while the woman was created to obey, serve and submit is likely to destabilize status quo, and therefore not a surprise that it generates a lot of discomfort. We are told that feminism is destroying God’s intention for women to “care” and “nurture”.  God apparently created woman with “special” genes known as the nurturing, caring and domesticity genes, which are easily destroyed by feminism.  Geneticists need to help us with these twisted biology lessons.

I must say that I am not surprised at the discomfort.  When people question things that seem so fixed such as gender, and the position of women in society, it generates discomfort because then there is fear that people might begin to question other structures including religion, politics and education; tools used by a minority to gain and maintain power to oppress a majority.

Because the feminist movement threatens to destabilize status quo, question traditions that have long silenced, subjugated and oppressed women in the name of religion and culture, it is no wonder discussions left, right and center are exaggerating the empowerment of girls and women, and claiming that this is contributing to the disempowerment and subjugation of boys and men.

Feminists are being advised to urgently shift attention to the boy child who is seriously threatened by the emancipation of the girl child, otherwise, these girls will have no one to marry them. Never mind that violence at home, school, work, on the streets and even on social media is something that many girls and women confront on a daily basis.  And that women are still highly under-represented in business, politics, leadership and ownership of property.

Women, like the Facebook friend who unfriended me, have bought into this patriarchal thinking, perpetrated by culture and religion, and are up in arms, protecting “femininity” from feminist destruction.  Their ignorance on feminism doesn’t help either.

The discomfort created by feminism is not fun for a feminist, because this results in trolls, unsolicited advice, sermons that make me want to weep, and anti-feminist discussions that make me question the ability of human beings to reason.  But the discomfort also tells me that feminists are probably doing something right, and rather than be cowed by the discomfort, it is time for feminists to speak louder, more wisely, more intensely and more articulately than ever.*

The fact that the feminist movement is growing like wildfire, with many young, intelligent and outspoken women openly identifying as feminists is not a comfortable position for society.  Society is having a difficult time with women speaking their minds, and using their voices to challenge society as we know it. But society has to come to terms with the fact that women are leading this revolution, or otherwise bask in this discomfort, because there’s no stopping this revolution!**

* Adapted from a quote by Neil Gaiman

** Adapted from a quote by Alexis Templeton

Image Credits


When I read Wangari Maathai’s autobiography Unbowed, I was going through one of my lowest points this year.  I was feeling tired, deflated and depleted, and questioning whether “all this” matters.  “All this” being my struggle for emancipation of women and other oppressed groups.

I was so deflated, that I thought I would never blog again.  I was tired of the constant scandals and crisis mode that has become of this country.  I remember sharing with a friend how tired I was of the fact that the entire year has been characterized by crisis after crisis, with a new scandal emerging almost every other week.  I was growing weary from the fact that despite so many efforts, women are increasingly becoming more unsafe, to the extent of being raped while seeking medical care.

Looking at the magnitude of what has been happening, I felt overwhelmed and wondered whether what I was doing really mattered.  I felt that I needed some inspiration, otherwise, my spirit was going to die a slow death.

It was at this point that I picked Wangari Maathai for inspiration. I chose Wangari for two reasons; one being that September was the month that we lost her four years ago, and I thought reading and understanding her cause would be a great way to celebrate her life. The second being that, I established a connection with Wangari at the age of 9, and over the years, I have considered her a soul sister, and I therefore expected her to speak to me during my low.

True to my expectation, Wangari spoke to me the way no one else would have at that time. I picked 3 key things from reading the book unbowed: one, the power of voice, two, that no matter how difficult, change is at hand when we persist, and three, that we are never alone, even when it seems that way.

  1. Voice is power

As I was reflecting on the power of Wangari’s voice in protecting Uhuru Park and Karura Forest, I realized that that we have those two green spaces in the concrete jungle that Nairobi is, because Wangari decided not to be quiet about it, and instead wrote letters to different government authorities questioning the intentions to build a sky scrapper on Karura Forest and put up private development in Karura Forest.

As if to confirm the power of voice through writing, I came across these tweets:Capture 1Capture 2

  1. Change is possible

The most profound part of Wangari Maathai’s struggle for change was the year-long vigil held at All Saints Cathedral with mothers of political prisoners, demanding for the release of their sons.  For a year, they slept on benches demanding for change, and they did not waiver in their pursuit, until their demands were met.

Wangari’s spirit must have had an agenda to reinforce the message because at around the same time, I received a number of comments on my blog, on email and even by my friends, saying that my blog was changing the way they were seeing things, and they were becoming more conscious and found themselves questioning what they would consider normal.  That energized me to keep going, knowing that no matter how slow, no matter how minimal, change is coming.

Another world is possible

  1. We are never alone

My third lesson comes from Wangari’s recollection of her horrendous experience being arrested and locked up in a cold cell at the age of 52, while suffering from arthritis in both knees, and the impact that had on her health.  She recalls how she had to be carried by four policewomen into the courtroom while crying and weak from hunger.  As she was being carried into an ambulance to take her to hospital, she saw a banner from a group of women reading, “WANGARI, BRAVE DAUGHTER OF KENYA.  YOU WILL NEVER WALK ALONE AGAIN.”

She says that this warmed her heart and helped her realize that no matter what happened to her, there were people who wished her well, and who understood what it meant to be a woman fighting for the future of her country.

I too experienced that towards the end of the week, when I was feeling as if I was alone in the struggle.  I met some wonderful Kenyans that spoke with deep concern about what is happening and the need for change.  Speaking to them reminded me that I am not alone, that there are people who care and doing whatever they can in their small ways to change things.

So, I may be tired, but I will not give up because I am convinced in the power of my voice to create change, and know that I am not alone, because there are many of us working to create the change we desire.  As Wangari Maathai would say in her humming bird story, “I will do something about the fire….I will be a humming bird, I will do the best I can”.

Wangari Maathai - We must not give up

Every struggle needs feminism

I need feminsim because

“What is feminism?” is a question that I have been asked very many times.  Last week alone, I was asked the question three times.  As people ask this question, many do not hesitate to share their understanding of feminism with me.  The most common ones tend to be feminists as women who hate men, with intentions to be like men and go against nature by dominating over men.

After responding to this question during a radio show last week, I got into a discussion with a feminist friend who had listened to the programme, and we both agreed how difficult it can be even for a feminist to define feminism.

Like many feminists, I often focus on challenging inequalities experienced by women, because women are among the most oppressed groups, subjected to various forms of oppression in just about every space that they occupy, be it public or private.

However, this definition doesn’t wholly encompass what feminism is for me, as I find myself concerned about many other forms of oppression experienced by different groups of people.  I seem to be concerned just about every emerging issue that oppresses a particular group of people, while privileging others. From hawkers to farmers, health workers, domestic workers, guards and more recently, teachers.  I am also concerned about a variety of issues from LGBTI rights, to children’s sexuality in addition to society’s need to silence and shrink women.

There is no single issue struggle

My definition of feminism is therefore growing to recognize that gender is not the only factor that facilitates oppression, but class, race, age and ethnicity are also among factors that intersect to exclude and marginalize or privilege certain groups of people.   As such, gendered structures are not the only systems of oppression, but other systems such as colonial legacies, imperialism and capitalism, often interconnect and sustain each other to oppress a majority and privilege a few.

Although women tend to be most disadvantaged by these systems of oppression, they too can be privileged and oppressors of various disadvantaged groups. Feminism therefore needs to be intersectional by recognizing the ways in which different groups of people are disadvantaged as a result of the interconnection of various factors.


At the moment, like many Kenyans, I am greatly concerned about the education crisis that the country is facing.  Beyond the issue of teachers’ wages, the crisis demonstrates how capitalism as a system of oppression operates, and why the education crisis is an anti-capitalist struggle and consequently a key concern for feminism.

Capitalist ideology has made the Kenyan government comfortable with neglecting its education sector, failing to pay teachers adequately and creating a sub-standard public education.  Citizens on the other hand have responded by resorting to private education when the public system fails.

These mind-sets by both government and citizens, have created opportunity for charities and entrepreneurs to produce brands of education, to fill the void created by government inadequacy. For the upper end of the market, the brands are presented in all manner of enticing packages, with a promise of producing successful, wealthy, confident and all rounded children. For those in the lower end of the market, the conditions are immaterial.

These responses by the government, private sector, civil society and citizens have bred values that normalize capitalism, and even laud it as choice and democracy.  As a result we have a public education system that has over time suffered neglect by the government and has slowly been going to the dogs, while the private education system, both profit and non-profit, high and poor quality continues to thrive and boom.

As the middle class and wealthy rush to take their children to top notch private schools, the poor, who are the majority, are left to go through poor quality education that does not equip them adequately with basic education skills such as numeracy and arithmetic, nor prepare them adequately with skills to be productive in the economy.

An Uwezo study on the quality of education in public schools in East Africa revealed that less than 30% of children in class 3 possess basic literacy and arithmetic skills.  The study also revealed that 20% of children in class 7 cannot competently undertake class 2 numeracy and literacy assignments.

The situation is worse for children in urban slums, up to 70% of whom are attending poor quality low cost private schools with untrained teachers and poorly equipped schools, in unsanitary environments and with minimal resources.  In other communities, children can neither access the poor quality public schools or even the poor quality private schools, and schooling for them remains a distant dream.

Lack of commitment by the government to provide decent education for all its citizens, coupled with privatization and charity as responses to government inadequacy has created high levels of inequality and stripped the poor off the right to education.  Decent education is not secured or available to all, but only to those who can afford it.  Education as a citizenship right thus remains a guarantee to only those with money and the wealthy.

Sadly, capitalism describes this as freedom of choice.  I fail to see the freedom in this.  I don’t see the freedom in a small portion of the population going through high quality of education, while a major section of the population goes through poor quality education. I don’t see the freedom in paying for expensive private education, and at the same time paying huge amounts of taxes to a government that fails to provide the fundamental right of decent education to its citizens.

Did we fight for independence and for a new Constitution to entrench the idea of a class society more deeply? To become a society where the fruits of independence and the gains of the new Constitution are enjoyed by a few?

As a person who went through high quality primary and secondary education in public schools, I believe change is possible. But change can only happen when people respond and resist after carefully and critically thinking about what is happening around them.

My understanding of feminism as a struggle that resists all oppressive systems, is therefore essential in providing me with the tools to be part of this change.

This is how low we have sunk

A few months ago, I planned a group interview with residents of certain parts of Nairobi.  When I got to the venue of our meeting, I asked the guard to allow me in for the meeting. To my surprise, her response was, “unaenda ile mkutano ya waluhya?” Quite irritated with the question, I informed her that I didn’t know the ethnic identities of the people that I was meeting.

Shortly after that incident, I attended a meeting in a different community in Nairobi.  In this meeting, no one seemed to know the name of any of the people they were discussing, and the descriptions ranged from the “Kikuyu mama”, “Mkamba shopkeeper” to the “Mkisii policeman” and the “Kalenjin watchman” among other ethnic related identities.

Using ethnicities as a primary identity seems pervasive, not only in Nairobi, but other parts of the country as well.  Late last year for instance, I was conducting research in Turkana County, and I had this wonderful taxi driver who picked me up from the airport, took me everywhere I wanted to go, and was extremely helpful to say the least.  On the last day of my stay, as he was driving me to the airport, he asked the common question, “na nikuulize, kwenyu ni wapi?”  I told him that I am from Nairobi, since that is where I was born, raised and live.

As is common with many other Kenyan conversations, he wanted to know where my “real home” was.  I knew that he wanted to know my tribe, so I told him where I came from just to see where he was going with this.

When I told him where I came from, he almost jumped up to hug me.  I had never seen him this excited the entire time I was with him in Turkana.  Seeing how excited he was, I asked him “kwani huko ni ushago kwenyu, ama unajua mtu huko?”  He wasn’t from the place, and didn’t know anyone from the place, but he was my tribesman, and judging from his response that must have been the most important thing he got to know about me.

I think about these incidents, and I get the sense that we are losing it as a country, given the significance and primacy that is increasingly being pegged to ethnic identities. The number of times that people ask me where I am from, so that they can know my tribe is all too common.  Some will go ahead and ask whether my surname belongs to my father or my husband.  Perhaps because to them, my physical identity does not match that of the community that they associate my surname with.

A surname unfortunately is now used to judge political standing, and in some cases economic and social standing, as we saw with a recent tweet by a well-known political analyst.  We elect “our own”, and are satisfied with the simple idea of having “our people” occupy top positions in government, never mind that that they often do not represent us or our interests, often looting public resources for themselves and the few people surrounding them. As citizens we are often left bearing the brunt of the self-interested leadership of “our people”.

We seem to be sinking lower into the morass of tribalism by the day. The recent incident of a man by the name Mugo wa Wairimu, raping women while masquerading as a gynaecologist, demonstrates how low we have sunk as a society due to tribalism.

When I visited Mugo wa Wairimu’s Facebook page following the scandal, I was shocked to see how much support he had from his tribesmen, who purported that this was a political and tribal scheme by the opposing political and tribal camp.  His supporters alleged that this was an agenda to “destroy” their man, and encouraged him to be strong, knowing that the plan of the “evil one” would not prevail.

God was on his side, according to his supporters, who continued to encourage him with examples of men that had suffered tribulation, but emerged stronger and victorious.

Not too long before that, an audio clip of a woman who was being raped went viral in Nairobi.  This time it was by a man by the name Morris, but given the name Mollis, as the woman he was raping could not pronounce his name correctly due to mother tongue influence.  Using her accent to determine her community, jokes went round that this was evidence of the lack of sexual prowess by the women of her community, as the stereotype goes.

Tribalism seems to be eroding our humanity, intelligence and sense of justice.  Value for humanity, pursuit for democracy and justice have been replaced and blurred by tribalism, to the extent that as a society we no longer care how much we suffer or who suffers, the perpetrator will be supported by those they share an ethnic identity with.

It’s a sad state of affairs, and only time will tell how long we can continue this way, and where this will lead us.  What I know for sure is that this is not a healthy state for any nation to be, and as with all diseases, the longer it goes untreated, the more devastating and tragic the final outcome.

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