BREAK THIS CON­SPIR­ACY OF SI­LENCE RIGHT AWAY

The East African - - NEWS -

Each case of a 12- or 10-yearold girl yanked from school, cir­cum­cised and mar­ried off to an old man is the stuff of pure tragedy. But in Kenya, and Africa, of­fi­cials and in­tel­lec­tu­als con­tinue to tip­toe around crimes com­mit­ted in the name of cul­ture.

Each case of a 12- or 10-yearold girl yanked from school, cir­cum­cised and mar­ried off to an old man is the stuff of pure tragedy. A few weeks ago, a re­port emerged of a girl who was mur­dered for re­fus­ing to be mar­ried to an el­derly man. And re­cently, a 10-year-old was res­cued from a mar­riage with a 60-year-old man.

These are just two cases of God­knows-how-many such ob­scen­i­ties are hap­pen­ing every day in this coun­try. Fred Ma­tiang’i, the Cabi­net Sec­re­tary for se­cu­rity (who else in the mori­bund Cabi­net?), ad­dressed this is­sue at a public meet­ing in an area where these prac­tices are rife. He de­scribed them as stupid and crim­i­nal, and told chiefs to crack down on per­pe­tra­tors.

Hope­fully, Ma­tiangi’s an­gry de­nun­ci­a­tion of these crimes will lead to pol­icy, pro­grammes and leg­is­la­tion that will help us end these crimes sooner rather than later.

The abuse of chil­dren and women in the name of cul­ture is not unique to Africa. In In­dia, back­ward be­liefs sanc­tion all kinds of crimes against girls and women. There are cases of foeti­cide, where moth­ers abort girl foe­tuses be­cause girls are con­sid­ered not only of less value but also costly to the fam­ily. Child mar­riages are en­demic. Gang rape of women has reached cri­sis pro­por­tions.

The bru­tal gang rape and mur­der of a stu­dent some­time back brought the mag­ni­tude and se­ri­ous­ness of rape in In­dia to the at­ten­tion of the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity. In the cities, women are reg­u­larly groped and sex­u­ally ha­rassed. In­dia now ranks along­side Africa as one the most dan­ger­ous places for girls to grow up in.

But there is a dif­fer­ence be­tween how In­dia has de­cided to ad­dress this epi­demic of cul­ture-based abuse of girls and women and our re­sponse here in Africa. In­dian au­thor­i­ties as well as in­tel­lec­tu­als speak out loudly against these abuses. Fur­ther, the state has taken an un­com­pro­mis­ing stance with re­spect to these crimes.

Af­ter the rape and mur­der of the stu­dent, the state brought back the death penalty for this crime. In one metropo­lis, a spe­cial po­lice unit has been formed to deal specif­i­cally with cases of sex­ual ha­rass­ment on streets and public trans­port. The unit also re­ceives and acts on com­plaints of sex­ual ha­rass­ment in­clud­ing un­so­licited phone calls. Given the pop­u­la­tion and the sever­ity of these kinds of crimes in In­dia, there is still a long way to go.

But as of now, these so-called cul­tural crimes do not have a friend in the In­dian state. The state has un­masked crim­i­nal­ity dis­guised as cul­ture. In­dian in­tel­lec­tu­als on their part of­fer no philo­soph­i­cal jus­ti­fi­ca­tion, in­tended or un­in­tended, for these crimes, and are in fact vo­cal cam­paign­ers against these prac­tices and be­liefs.

In Kenya, and Africa by ex­ten­sion, of­fi­cials and in­tel­lec­tu­als con­tinue to tip­toe around crimes com­mit­ted in the name of cul­ture (that is why Ma­tiangi’s stance is so rad­i­cal). There are two main rea­sons for this con­spir­acy of si­lence:

First, just as in the case of cor­rup­tion be­fore the re­cent crack­down, is lack of po­lit­i­cal will. The ru­ral ar­eas where these prac­tices are rife are also vote-rich ar­eas. Politi­cians think that an ag­gres­sive cam­paign against cul­tural abuse will cost them votes. To a Kenyan politi­cian, peo­ple are just po­ten­tial votes. His or her po­lit­i­cal strat­egy is not in­formed by val­ues or ide­ol­ogy. Rather, it is shaped and driven by cal­cu­la­tions of what to do or not to do in or­der to in­crease the vote tally at the next elec­tion.

With re­spect to cul­tural abuses, the cal­cu­la­tion is to do noth­ing or, in some cases, en­cour­age such be­hav­iour by use of coded lan­guage. Cul­tural abuse be­comes a com­mu­nity mo­bil­is­ing tool.

The sec­ond rea­son for the si­lence, es­pe­cially from our in­tel­lec­tu­als, is what Abi­ola Irele called our psy­cho­log­i­cal com­plex as a formerly colonised peo­ple. His mean­ing is that we tend

‘Cul­tural crimes’ do not have a friend in the In­dian state, which has un­masked crim­i­nal­ity dis­guised as cul­ture. In­tel­lec­tu­als cam­paign vig­or­ously against it

to look at African re­al­ity through the prism of our colo­nial ex­pe­ri­ence. Thus be­hav­iour or prac­tice that is just plain wrong, even crim­i­nal as with cul­tur­ally sanc­tioned abuse, is viewed within a larger bat­tle be­tween the colonis­ing ide­ol­ogy and the re­sponse to it.

Be­cause the colonis­ing ide­ol­ogy claimed that Africa was back­ward, the coun­ter­claim was that Africa had a hu­man­ist tra­di­tion. So these abuses present an ide­o­log­i­cal co­nun­drum. They are best de­nied, ig­nored or rein­ter­preted.

But no so­ci­ety on earth can claim to have ac­quired hu­man­ist val­ues nat­u­rally. These are fought for and pro­tected by laws. A hu­man­ist tra­di­tion in Africa will only come imto be­ing once we end cul­tural abuse and es­tab­lish true democ­racy.

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