I Find My Abusers’ Lack Of Kindness, Disturbing!

It was a fringe item in the news out of Eldoret that I caught on Citizen TV last week. The National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB) had decreed that proof of family was a requirement for purchase of maize. Singles would have to obtain proof of marriage from their local chief. This was some policy makers’ bright idea of dealing with scarcity that has hit the national distribution of subsidised maize flour- unga. A few women who self-identified as single complained on TV of the discrimination, stating the obvious, hunger does not discriminate against gender or marital status.

An educated guess tells me that the majority of those who would bear the brunt of this discrimination would be low income earning women. The single man is a rare sight at an unga line. It is the height of humiliation to go sourcing for food only to be confronted by marital officialdom and turned away because you had no documentation as proof that one has mouths to feed.

Danger Comes In Cute Packages

Female criminals behind bars on TV are typecast as ugly, butch and foul mouthed. So it was pleasant reversal when Langata Women’s prison in Nairobi held an annual beauty pageant. The winner was stunning and a sight for sore eyes, until I looked up her back story. Two months earlier, she had been incarcerated for stabbing her boyfriend 22 times to death. A classic case of fatal attraction.

Yet, I still found myself empathising with her. Like most men, I am socialised to shower female inmates who pass for attractive with pity. Where there is clear evidence of premeditated murder, my instinct is to explain it away as a crime of passion and an act of self-defence. She must have been wronged and provoked to anger. Why else would such an angelic face deliberately dice up her lover?

Of Beauty And The Beast She Married

My mate Macharia ( Mash) is a runner. The kind of man who carries running shoes on a holiday and spends an easy weekend off, doing a half marathon. I used to hang around him hoping I would pick up his good exercise habits but nowadays, I dread his phone calls. He has become that voice of conscience that nudges me out of my sedentary existence.

Like all seasoned runners, Mash has his neighbourhoods mapped out. He knows what roads have the best running paths. The paved ones, the traffic free ones and the scenic ones with mature trees. He knows how to time a run too. To start out before dusk before visibility gets poor and return through lit roads and free of ankle sprain.  He knows the best loops with the right amount of hills and flat ground to make a run bearable.

One evening, he called me out. He had started his run two kilometres down my road and hoped I would not chicken out of a “polite” 5km run. I have my pride and he found me warming up outside my gate.

We took the usual easy-run route but at the T-junction, he turned into a road jam packed with evening traffic snaking up a steep hill. Mash attacked the incline, all in stride without switching gears. I watched him pull away with ease. Left with no choice, I shifted down to my lowest gear and retained him in my sights, focusing on keeping my heart from seizure.

Why Do We Keep Excusing Violence Against Men?

A man in Migori suffered the humiliation of getting busted having an affair on Citizen TV prime time news. He locked himself in a house with his new lover and his wife got wind of it. Unable to gain access to the room, she turned her rage on his Freelander Range Rover. The camera panned to provide live footage, inter cut with a running commentary of her tribulations as she meticulously smashed glass panes on the car. Turns out the man had been missing for a few months, abandoning his wife and children, living it up like an Armenian mercenary in Kenya. His 40 days were up. The crowd watched in solidarity as if to say, “We understand your pain sister”.

Of Hopeless Alcoholics And Angry Women

Women raid dens

News bulletins have been dominated with clips of gangs of young men and angry women in Central Kenya moving from bars to liquor dens, flushing out drunkards and destroying merchandise. While much focus has been on destruction of private property and the excesses of mob justice, I feel most of the reports have been framed out of context in mainstream media channels. The stories out of Central Kenya, in the wake of the alcoholic menace tend chase the battle of the sexes narrative, pitting the hopeless drunk against the angry woman. In a country where patriarchal structures are fairly intact, a woman clobbering a man, is akin to a man-bites-dog story and makes for captive headline news.

Alcoholism is not fresh news. Drinking alcohol is a national past time and a prevalent social activity. Incidences of poison masquerading and sold as alcohol openly have been around for close to a decade. In the recent past, religious organizations wielded an effective war against alcohol abuse but the church lost significant sway on the congregation and its leadership no longer enjoys the moral authority to speak out against social ills. Government prohibition has failed because corruption is a way of life and those charged with regulating drink are either sleeping with enemy or looking the other way. Kenyans are accustomed to a pattern whereby concerned authorities, in classic knee jerk fashion, employ elaborate public relations stunts when the alcoholic-related tragedies draw national attention, waiting patiently for the news cycle to move on before reverting to business as usual.

This was the trend until the women of Kiambu, Muranga and Nyeri rallied against a vice destroying their rural communities. The politicians who prominently jumped onto the bandwagon in typical Johnny-come-lately fashion were only been opportunistic. One would be hard-pressed to find a more apt example of preaching water and drinking wine.

Apart from John Mututho who has been fighting a one man crusade against alcohol abuse, most politicians hardly prioritized alcoholism as key social concern before the much publicized presidential directive. At the rural and lower income levels, politicians only rear their opportunistic heads to address social issues when their interests (read votes) are endangered.

The women are angry because the system has simply failed its people. No one trusts the chiefs, the police or the justice system. The poison brew merchants operated with impunity until the women consolidated their numbers and hit back. When there is no mean of restorative justice, a thirst for vengeance grows. All it takes is a spark for years of pent up energy to be expended, often in disproportionate amounts in search of retribution. There is an emerging culture in Kenya where violence is tolerated as an effective means of drawing attention to one’s issues. The violence is time and again underpinned by a sense of revenge.

Many Kenyans feel that justice system is compromised. With growing perception of an unequal justice system protecting a category of untouchables, aggrieved communities feel they have earned the moral right to take matters into their own hands. The problem with mob justice is that it knows no bounds and can become disparate. It can also become addictive.

 The forgotten victims of official incompetence are majorly young men caught in a vicious web of vested interests of regional politics and capitalism. These men are drinking not because they are poor and jobless. They drink to escape the harsh reality of a weakening social structure and a society that rendered them invisible and disposable. Alcoholism is a symptom of externalized stress, escapism and depression. Yet very few seem to see them as legitimate victims in need of genuine empathy and rehabilitation. These are men emasculated in their homes, belittled among their peers and profiled by the police as social misfits and regularly arrested for misdemeanors.

Alcohol abuse

The visceral reaction directed at these alcoholic dens and the poor men caught in the crossfire points to a deeper symptom of emerging militant opposition towards overt patriarchy. There is an ingrained notion among some women that men are flawed and should be taught a lesson they never forget. In the wake of the alcoholism malady, gender violence has become socially sanctioned in some pockets of the country as a means of dealing with domestic problems. While the focus is trained on the victims along the lines of an eye for eye retaliation, we pussy foot around the root causes, corruption and impunity.

The sin of apathy that our society is in danger of committing in the face of this alcoholic tragedy, is to be indifferent to the plight of those men caught in the vicious cycle of alcoholic addiction. The Italians have saying; when your neighbours’ house is on fire, carry water to your own.