Pambazuka News 549: Special Issue: Tributes to a fallen fighter: Wambui Otieno
The authoritative electronic weekly newsletter and platform for social justice in Africa
Pambazuka News (English edition): ISSN 1753-6839
CONTENTS: 1. Features, 2. Announcements, 3. African Writers’ Corner, 4. Podcasts, 5. Zimbabwe update, 6. Women & gender, 7. Human rights, 8. Refugees & forced migration, 9. Emerging powers news, 10. Africom Watch, 11. Elections & governance, 12. Corruption, 13. Development, 14. Health & HIV/AIDS, 15. Education, 16. LGBTI, 17. Racism & xenophobia, 18. Environment, 19. Land & land rights, 20. Food Justice, 21. Media & freedom of expression, 22. Social welfare, 23. News from the diaspora, 24. Conflict & emergencies, 25. Internet & technology, 26. Fundraising & useful resources, 27. Publications, 28. Jobs, 29. WikiLeaks and Africa
Wambui Otieno: She belongs to Kenya!
What’s in a name? For most of us, our names are signifiers of our heritage and the multiplicity of identities that course through our veins each day. They may be clear indicators of which ‘group’ we ‘belong’ to, our connections with others by birth and through other forms of partnerships. Names tell a story about the circumstances of our birth or offer commentary on a period or a political moment. They may also tell the story of those who birthed us. However, names can also transcend these very important boundaries and on their own generate multiple discourses based on rumour, conjecture, reality and myth. Your reputation precedes you – is a statement that aptly captures what I refer to here.
Wambui Otieno the name (she was also known by many other names) and in turn the person – has captured the imagination of Kenya and the diaspora in diverse ways over decades. While many may not have met her, her name is instantly recognisable and is accompanied by multiple narratives about nation building, gender, sexuality, ethnicity that in and of themselves have generated wide ranging public and academic discourses .
As I combed through reports in the Kenyan media about Wambui’s death, the most featured reports articulated her struggle against the Umira Kager clan for the right to burry her husband SM Otieno and most recently for her marriage to Mbugua, a man decades her junior. It has been easy to therefore downplay her Mau Mau struggle credentials captured in a memoir ‘Mau Mau’s Daughter: The Life History of Wambui Otieno’ (1998), overplay Wambui and dismiss her mixed ethnic heritage, thereby emphasising her connection to both the colonial and Kenya’s flag democracy political class through her father Waiyaki wa Hinga and brother Munyua Wayiaki who served in Jomo Kenyatta’s government. The over-emphasis on her union with Mbugua – a relationship that was no doubt important to her in her final years – exposes the hypocrisy of patriarchy given that across Africa examples abound of men marrying women half their age.
It is not the act of marriage, freedom or choice (which are important) that are at issue here. It is the associated ideas of virility, hyper-sexuality and phallo-centricism that are continuously to linked to certain forms of ruling masculinity and thereby legitimised that interest most scholars who analyse the public’s response to the Wambui–Mbugua union. These responses and the discourse it has generated reveal that expressions of sexuality that do not cohere to ‘acceptable’ femininity and are not performed in relation to dominant masculinities are constrained, surveyed and demonised and not simply because they are transgressions that undermine the social organisation of power. Actions such as Wambui’s especially when ‘performed’ in public destablise ruling forms of masculinity that are critical to sustaining political power bases.
References have been made in the Kenyan media to Wambui as the ‘last moran’, ‘a warrior’, ‘male daughter’ suggesting that reconciling Wambui’s public defiance requires a retreat to masculinity and a reliance on stereotypical forms of masculine power as a route to understanding and ‘accepting’ her actions. The corollary is that Wambui was not your ‘typical woman’ – she had more ‘man’ in her that overshadowed her feminine self. Obviously, if Wambui’s actions were an indicator of hyper masculinity in a woman, they did anything but endear her to the ‘boys club’. Instead, her actions re-affirmed her femininity in all its complexity including re-marriage in her sixties, when most women her age are both de-feminised and de-sexualised.
In this special issue of Pambazuka News we seek to bring to the fore the layered nature of Wambui’s life and the opportunities it in turn offers to understanding the social, political and economic factors that are contested, influence and shape Kenya. Taken individually each of Wambui’s ‘public disruptions’ offer a singular narrative, together we have an opportunity to unpack a rich tapestry. It is evident that Wambui’s destabilisation of the heteronorm, consistently re-invigorated public debates on sexuality, gendered norms, culture. These debates revealed the complex ways in which patriarchy re-constitutes itself towards sustenance of an unstable nation-state. Perhaps Wambui’s pursuit of the SM Otieno case is the most visible for its complexity in this regard. In this issue, we want to situate Wambui’s negotiation of motherhood/wifehood/widowhood/comrade and sisterhood within the larger Kenyan context and reflect on the transnational implications.
In the words of a colleague, who whilst commenting on the politically charged funeral of murdered Kenyan scholar Dr. Odhiambo-Mbai in 2003 proclaimed, ‘Mbai belonged to Kenya!’ inferring that in death and in the latter part of his life he had transcended nuclear and extended familial ties. I am struck by the fact that Wambui Otieno’s family is sitting in the same place, holding a different association to her as a member of the family while many of us through these pages view her as an enigma, worthy of scrutiny and theorizing. We claim her for Kenya.
Through Wambui Otieno’s we see the nuances of the colonial struggle against the British, the intricacies of liberation organising and the tensions across gender, class and ethnicity that were evident in Kenya’s flag democracy; narratives that many will find resonance with. Through her life we touch the pulse of Kenya across different periods. We also reveal subversion, agency and a powerful counter discourse to hegemonic narratives designed to prop up patriarchy. Through these pieces we gain some insight into how the brazen defiance of one woman captured the imagination of a nation. Wambui Otieno belonged to Kenya! Love or hate her, you could not ignore her.
We also pay tribute to another illustrious Kenyan , Professor Wangari Maathai who died on 25 September 2011 after a battle with cancer. Professor Maathai was a woman of many firsts in Kenya but is globally known for her work with the Green Belt Movement, the first woman doctorate holder in East Africa her field and the first African woman to receive a Nobel Peace Prize. She also led a campaign in 1986 as the chair of Maendeleo ya Wanawake (MYWO) in support of Wambui Otieno’s legal case for the right to bury her husband S.M Otieno. Rest in peace.
BROUGHT TO YOU BY PAMBAZUKA NEWS
* Awino Okech is director of research at Fahamu – Networks for Social Justice.
* Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News.
 The SM Otieno case, which is examined in this issue, remains one of the most cited legal cases. It has also generated many publications across different academic disciplines.
 One of the many underground movements that gained prominence in the latter period of Kenya’s anti-colonial struggle against the British
 I borrow from Kopano Ratele’s use of the term in Ratele, K. 2006. ‘Ruling masculinity and sexuality.’ Feminist Africa 6: 48–64. Madiba, Zuma, Mugabe and Biya come to mind. The irony of these four men being linked in this manner is not lost on me.
 A term in Ifi Amadiume’s (1987) Male Daughters, Female Husbands: Gender and Sex in an African Society. A seminal book that contributed to destabilizing normative knowledge/s about the gendered organisation power in pre-colonial African societies through an analysis of the Igbo. Many years later it remains a critical book but can be challenged for it’s over reliance on heteronormativity as a model for situating power. Elsie Cloete’s reference in this issue of Wambui’s nickname as Chwo Mon (Women’s Husband) is also instructive here.
 Dr Odhiambo Mbai was at the time of his murder in 2003 was the head of the constitutional review commission’s committee on devolution. He was a lecturer at the University of Nairobi.
A decade of living dangerously: Wambui Otieno’s Mau Mau
With her death on 30 August 2011, Wambui Otieno-Mbugua joins the pantheon of African women activists who devoted their lives to struggles against colonial and post-independence political regimes and against systems that favoured and still do favour men over women. Wambui’s activist career began in 1950s Kenya and can be seen to run parallel with those of anti-apartheid activists from southern Africa such as Ellen Kuzwayo, Albertina Sisulu, Miriam Makeba, Emma Mashinini, Helen Joseph and Winnie Madzikela-Mandela. And, like so many of her activist peers from Africa, Wambui also wrote and published her autobiography, ‘Mau Mau’s Daughter’ (1998).
Although she was never elected to parliament, Wambui is one of the few ex-Mau Mau who rose to public prominence in post-independence Kenya. As a young, Christian Kikuyu girl, Wambui, who was distantly related to Jomo Kenyatta, joined the Mau Mau at the start of the Emergency in 1953 as a scout and urban guerrilla, moving through the ranks until she had taken all 15 warrior oaths. In many instances she reported directly to the movement’s War Council. After the Mau Mau effectively lost the war in 1956, Wambui became a member of the resurgent trade union movement and worked closely with Tom Mboya and other trade unionists, becoming notorious for her activism against the colonial government.
In 1960, having being declared an ‘incorrigible’ by the authorities, she was incarcerated for almost a year on Lamu Island. Upon Kenya’s independence in 1963, she was elected head of the women’s wing of Kenya African National Union (KANU) and became deeply involved in Kenyan politics. Dissatisfied with political splits along ethnic lines, increasing corruption and the paucity of attention given to improving the lot of women in Kenya, Wambui was involved with almost every opposition political party over the last 30 years. On a personal level, her battles against a male-dominated society continued into the 1980s with her legal battle to have her husband S.M. Otieno buried on his farm near Nairobi rather than within his traditional clanland. In the first decade of the new millennium she married a man 42 years her junior, defying once again, society’s notion of customary propriety.
From the start she has defied gossip, rumour and open antagonism from a male-dominated society and this will be remembered as her long-term legacy by many women activists. In Kenyan political circles Wambui was nicknamed ‘chuo mon’, the husband of women. It is a nickname that not only referred to her campaigns on behalf of women but perhaps also to a certain level of bossiness – a bossiness that would have translated as ‘leadership’ if it had referred to a man.
This tribute to Wambui looks at her life in the Mau Mau movement. In many respects, apart from being a young girl, she was also an outsider inside the Mau Mau and was certainly not a typical recruit into the movement. Considering her family origins and standing in rural and metropolitan Central Province, her education, gender and relatively speaking, the material plenitude of her family, her involvement in such a movement and political developments thereafter remain truly remarkable. In 1952, while still a schoolgirl, she took her first oath. She declares ingenuously in her autobiography that she had ‘assumed the oath to be associated with the Girl Guide movement’ of which she was a member. The Girl Guide Promise of 1950 promised duty to God and the King, helping other people at all times and obeying the Guide Law. By contrast, the first Mau Mau oath Wambui took involved a ritual passing underneath a sugarcane pole arch, the drinking of a mixture of blood and soil, and an oath of allegiance, which is in singular contrast to the Guide promise of ubiquitous charity and imperial subservience. The comparison with the Girl Guides was either an attempt at humour by Wambui or indicative of her extraordinary incredulity and naïveté – up till then she had certainly lived a sheltered life.
In August 1950 the government had already declared any oathing amongst Kikuyu illegal. Despite this, oathing expanded rapidly throughout the Central Province of Kenya and it is estimated that between 75-90 per cent of Kikuyu adults had taken at least one oath by 1952. Wambui was not exceptional. What made her so exceptional is that unlike most women, by 1956 when the war had effectively ended, she had also taken the Batuni, or warrior, oath. Maloba writes that ‘the Batuni oath demanded high standards of courage. It demanded a complete commitment to militant action and violence, as opposed to mere demonstration of solidarity with the movement’. The Batuni oath gave the oath taker credentials and credibility beyond mere commitment to the movement. Wambui’s loyalty to Mau Mau was never in question.
Wambui saw the inside of almost every prison and holding centre in the Nairobi area during the 1950s. Except for her period of detention on Lamu Island in 1960, she was never detained for very long – being released often enough because of lack of evidence against her, or through the intervention of family contacts. Much of the time a considerable amount of luck was on her side, partly because the Kenyan colonial authorities and military personnel, at the beginning of the Emergency at any rate, failed to recognise the crucial role women played in Mau Mau, and partly because the canny Wambui saw to it that she had effective disguises and maintained tight security with regard to her activities. More than once, close relatives, who undoubtedly were Loyalists, secured her release from detention or facilitated her screening so that she could obtain a coveted Pass.
For Wambui, as it was for so many other people involved in the Mau Mau war and political movements in the 1950s and early 1960s, this was a decade of living very dangerously. Certainly, during the war, proven involvement in Mau Mau, especially if it involved carrying dangerous weapons – firearms, pangas and simis – and consorting with known members of the movement, carried the death penalty. For those Kikuyu who attempted to remain neutral or displayed an affiliation with the Loyalists or joined the Home Guard, life was equally dangerous as they opened themselves up to reprisal actions by Mau Mau supporters.
To all intents and purposes there was very little material incentive for Wambui to join the movement – she was educated and had fairly good employment prospects, her family were land owners and did not suffer the extraordinary deprivations of villagisation, her father enjoyed the protection of a civil service job and her mother was heavily involved in church activities. Admittedly, all around her was evidence of poverty and landlessness. Close by, less fortunate inhabitants of the area sold their labour to settler farmers or were forced to squat on land that had perhaps once belonged to their family. Many of her female peers were circumcised and lived very traditional lives while others straddled colonial and Kikuyu cultures.
In 1953 Wambui was due to join her brothers and a sister who were studying in England but was unable to do so as the colonial government had declared a State of Emergency in October 1952. Wambui had completed the Kenya Preliminary Exam (Form Two) – the highest level of education an African could achieve in Kenya in those years. Any further education had to be undertaken abroad. The Emergency had severely circumscribed possibilities for employment in Nairobi or for further training and her general movements were restricted. In the previous year she had taken the first oath during the school holidays. In her autobiography Wambui is at pains to motivate her allegiance to a movement she admits to not knowing much about: ‘Both [a cousin and a farmworker] were aware of my intense resentment of the brutal treatment my great-grandfather Waiyaki wa Hinga had suffered at the hands of the colonialists, for I had openly said that I was prepared to do anything to avenge him’.
Tiras, her father, was undoubtedly a member of the notorious Home Guard and, except for a few months in detention, a fate that befell almost every male Kikuyu in Kenya, enjoyed the patronage of his employer, the Supreme Court of Kenya. In the Kenya Archives there is a copy of Tiras’ Oath of Allegiance to the colonial government. Not much store can be set by such a declaration of allegiance. After all, this was expected of every Kikuyu employed by the colonial government. However, in several conversations between Wambui and myself she was quick to point out that her father also supplied information and documents to Mau Mau and often turned a blind eye to so-called suspicious activities while he was on guard duty. Wambui’s mother, Elizabeth Wairimu, only became aware of her daughter and her husband’s clandestine Mau Mau involvement after the Emergency had ended.
Her father was apprehended along with almost every other Kikuyu male and sent to detention camps for screening by the security forces the day after Operation Anvil was launched on 23 April 1954. The loss of a regular income hit the family hard. Wambui recalls that during her father’s absence ‘our family suffered many hardships. For lack of money, my brothers in England had to discontinue their education. My mother took risky train trips to Nairobi to collect rent from our house, No. 490 in Pumwani … We also felled wattle trees and sold the wood and bark to Muguga Ginnery to supplement our income’.
Wambui was one of 0.1 per cent of all Kikuyu females who had received sufficient schooling to enable her to sketch and measure, read and copy, competently. In 1954 girls constituted only 26 per cent of the primary school enrolment within the Kikuyu community. Often, female children were removed from school to help with household chores or assist in raising siblings. Wambui herself was withdrawn for almost a year to help her mother with the younger children before returning to primary school. Education, for those girls lucky enough to attend school, was often no more than rudimentary.
In ‘Mau Mau’s Daughter’ Wambui writes that ‘it was sometimes very difficult to explain things verbally’ when scouting and that it was necessary ‘to draw them [locations, layouts] on a piece of paper’. Geography and mathematics, subjects she had not had much time for at school, became vitally important as the lay of the land, distances and building plans had to be conveyed to the fighters. As a young woman, and part of a very small percentage of Kikuyu females whose literacy and numeracy could be considered adequate for some of the tasks enjoined by Mau Mau, Wambui was able to negotiate her status and elevate herself from mother’s helper into a sphere more potent than those who were illiterate could. Education, above the level of merely knowing one’s letters, was of vital importance to Mau Mau leaders. And, as a relatively literate woman, Wambui was thrust into roles of enormous responsibility by Mau Mau.
Almost every Kikuyu male was detained or under suspicion of subversive activities, and it was therefore up to the women to obtain documents and information relating to Mau Mau either by sneaking into government offices and officials’ houses or by inveigling clerks and servants to do so on their behalf. An unknown male Kikuyu found hanging around servants’ quarters or government offices was more than likely to be reported and picked up by the security forces.
There were no photocopying machines in the 1950s, so all documents had to be perused for their usefulness, and accurately copied out by hand or on a typewriter before being returned to the desk or briefcase. Wambui often wielded a camera in poor light to take photographs of documents and building entrances and exits as well. Often, the assignment had to be completed in a couple of hours and this required an ability to distinguish between documents whose contents were of a standard, insignificant nature and those which could be used against the authorities or refuted in the press. Copying out a document under pressure also required a sure hand. If there was no time, a reader had to accurately relate the contents of a document to the leadership. Since very few could do this, it is not surprising that Wambui became close to the inner circle of Mau Mau and was assigned tasks of increasing danger that also required organisational abilities.
One of Wambui’s greatest successes was her role as a scout for the Great Battle of Naivasha in 1953. In early March Wambui took a bus and train to Naivasha and went into the police post where she asked to see a certain police officer, whom she knew had been transferred elsewhere. She took in the location of the series of buildings and what she thought was the arms store, suggested the best direction for attack and the ideal place to regroup afterwards. Later that month General (later Field Marshal) Dedan Kimathi and a number of fighters drove up to the Naivasha Police Station in two lorries and overpowered the guard, broke into the armoury and released all the prisoners. The colonial government was badly shaken and humiliated and this battle stands out as one of the principal Mau Mau victories.
Wambui's participation in the planning of a raid that was spectacularly successful would not have gone unnoted by the War Council. Together with her higher than average educational level, her commitment and her involvement in this exercise ensured Wambui’s rise to prominence. In urban Nairobi Wambui was given greater responsibility for a group that had to obtain firearms, pass along vital information, and carry food and weapons. She divided the women she enlisted into cells. Many of these women posed as prostitutes and entertained newly arrived battalion soldiers from Britain in their barracks obtaining information about troop movements and nicking the odd firearm or radio. Thousands of male Kikuyu were killed in the course of the actual war and in the exceedingly repressive counter-insurgency actions but the colonial authorities were fairly oblivious to the roles played by women.
One of Wambui’s continuing regrets was that female Mau Mau veterans had been conspicuously neglected by the post-independence governments of Kenya. Jomo Kenyatta’s government paid no allowances to families and orphans of the war and they received almost no educational benefits. The male Kikuyus who benefited most were those loyal to the colonial authorities and those who had some education and were able to move into bureaucratic structures, the army and private companies where there was a shortage of literate, skilled workers once the colonial government had handed over control. The women warriors were completely neglected and abandoned and it was left to Wambui to persistently raise consciousness in Kenya that the Mau Mau had not only been a men’s war.
BROUGHT TO YOU BY PAMBAZUKA NEWS
* Elsie Cloete is professor of Literature at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. She was born and raised in Kenya and conducted her doctoral research on Wambui Otieno's life and times.
* Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News.
Wambui Otieno: A love story
Any tribute to Wambui Otieno, a great woman of Kenya, is roughly predictable. It is most likely going to be a portrait of a woman who confronted colonial oppression as a member of the Mau Mau, who resisted the oppression of widows through her struggle to bury her husband SM Otieno, and who defied the patriarchal expectation that only men can marry spouses much junior to them.
But the fact that a tribute to this great daughter of Kenya is predictable does not make the tribute any less valid; rather, it affirms that these three aspects of Wambui’s life are so fundamental that they will forever be milestones in Kenya’s political history. We must and will keep repeating these three events for two main reasons.
First, Wambui accomplished the feat of embodying the freedom struggle beyond the stereotypical narrative of Africans versus colonialists that has been cheapened by post-independence dictatorships and political mediocrity. Unlike current politicians who evoke the colonial struggle to clothe their selfishness, cynicism and contempt for us with a cloak of respectability, or worse, who twist the struggle against colonial settlers to dub fellow Africans as the next settlers to be kicked out, Wambui’s legacy of anti-colonial resistance was entrenched and contemporised through her struggles as a mother, a widow and a wife. Her life and struggles have called into question what kind of ‘independence’ we have in Kenya, if women have to experience education, marriage, motherhood, career and widowhood as one burden after another, rather than as cycles of life. They have also called into question the difference between ‘African’ custom and colonialism, if both remain oppressive to living human beings. As such, Wambui’s life echoed the great revolutionary Thomas Sankara, who said, ‘There is no true social revolution without the liberation of women. May my eyes never see and my feet never take me to a society where half the people are held in silence.’
Also, we must keep reminding ourselves of the three main milestones of Wambui’s life because the struggle continues. Wambui stood out because she was a solitary woman who fought against patriarchal values, which, during the SM Otieno burial saga, were defended by fellow women. In fact, in her autobiography ‘Mau Mau’s daughter: A life history’, Wambui often marvelled at the women who supported the fight against her struggle to bury her husband, and sometimes remarked those women had no idea what was awaiting them. Almost a quarter of a century after the landmark ruling against her, Wambui remains almost as solitary. The majority of Kenya’s women continue to be dispossessed and harassed for the simple reason of being widowed, or worse, for the simple reason that God created them women.
But while milestones are important for memory, narratives are important for understanding. This is because milestones summarise events, but do not explain the people, forces, emotions and philosophy behind those events. We would therefore be doing Wambui and ourselves a disservice, if all we do is evoke the three milestones, but never study and understand Wambui’s thinking and daily struggles which propelled her to the platforms of history where she would confront, in epic form, struggles which other Kenyans confront on a daily basis.
We must resist the temptation to jump to milestones and leave the miles in-between because the lessons we learn and the histories we tell differ not in the landmarks, but in the ordinary – and probably less interesting – life between the landmarks. Right now, the narratives that dominate the interpretation of Wambui’s life are those of resistance: Resistance against the patriarchy embodied in the fight to bury SM in Nyamila, resistance against the expectation of widows to either be inherited or remain single, and the resistance against ethnocentric attitudes symbolised by the so-called Luo-Gikuyu hostility.
I find these narratives missing in what I consider the most powerful tool against oppression: The force of love. Wambui may have struggled AGAINST oppression, but her story is simply a struggle FOR love and dignity.
In ‘Mau Mau’s daughter’, Wambui reveals how women in the anti-colonial struggle loved their country so much that they were willing to give up their bodies in order to steal arms and secrets to pass on to then anti-colonial struggle. In other words, what the women endured was nothing compared to the promise of freedom that would protect them and the people from such indignity. As Wambui was to learn later, that freedom did not arrive after ‘independence.’ Moreover, Wambui would carry the scars from that indignity after going through brutal rape by a colonial officer, which left her with a child whom she had to raise.
But although Kenya did not reciprocate Wambui’s love for us, she did find such love in SM Otieno. SM was a man like few in Kenya, especially at the time. He married a woman who had children by another relationship, and by Wambui’s account, he was the one who encouraged her to raise the child that she so painfully conceived. He financially and morally supported Wambui’s political ambitions, even when the establishment did not. And Wambui loved him just as much. When the political aristocracy urged her to leave SM if she wanted to win parliamentary elections, Wambui sent the message that parliament was not going to be her husband after her five-year term. She also rejected encouragement from her cousin to pretend to file for separation, which she could withdraw after elections. Wambui argued that it would hurt her husband and children.
While there are many marriages that survive the anti-family pressure from relatives, as Wambui’s and SM’s did, there are many other marriages that do not. Contemporary narratives of why divorce is increasing in Kenya typically blame the empowerment of women for divorce, saying that educated and employed women prefer money to their husbands. Not only is that explanation naive, it ignores the reality of how men, in the name of ‘custom’ and pleasing their relatives, marry a second wife or frustrate their wives’ professional development, and how women, out of fear of widowhood and divorce, take the side of their families against their husbands. In other words, we have not yet achieved the balance between the Christian imperative of a man leaving his home to ‘cleave to his wife,’ and the cultural imperative of marriage as the joining of two homes. Wambui tried to achieve it by reaching out to her brother-in-law with the expectation that he would mourn with her and her children and would protect them. Instead, Joash Ochieng’ fought against them.
As such, a major driving force behind Wambui’s confrontation with her in-laws over her husband’s burial was that of a woman simply seeking to honour the wishes of the man she loved and who loved her, and to have her children bury their father in dignity. In fact, she says that what hurt her most during the court dispute was having her children watch her being insulted and humiliated both by the Umira Kager clan and by the court. I found it heart-wrenching to read about the visit her son Jairus paid to his uncle immediately after arriving from the US. Jairus sneaked out of home to go and persuade his uncle to remember his father’s wishes for burial because he was disturbed to see his mother and uncle in disagreement. Later on, Wambui would say that the most hurtful statement in Judge Bosire’s ruling in the clan’s favour was his criticism of her son.
Wambui’s courage shows that the bottom line of any nation, and also of any custom, is the extent to which living human beings are able to protect and nourish the dignity of those we love. Umira Kager – and particularly Joash Ougo, SM’s brother – contradicted that love when they failed to support Wambui and her children in their time of grief, and further subjected them to the humiliation of not honouring the wishes of SM and of seeing their mother being insulted by those who were supposed to support her.
That is why the difference between Wambui Otieno and the Umira Kager clan, led by Ochieng’, is more than just about burial and the importance of custom. It is about fundamental values that protect and nurture life. While Wambui sought to honour the life of SM, the clan chose to reify SM in death. In fact, what I found shocking is not so much the clan’s fight to bury SM as much as the hostility it showed to SM’s family. The foundation of the importance of customary law in modern times is the importance most African communities ascribe to children in maintaining a community’s legacy. Ironically, the clan attempted to symbolically cut off SM from his children by refusing to honour SM’s wishes. It essentially buried the legacy that it claimed it was protecting.
The treatment of SM by the clan also has important questions with regards to African masculinity. Even though we praise men who have departed through eulogies about their professional accomplishments and about the families they raised, the fact of the matter is that we nullify a man’s life when we cut off his widow and his children from material inheritance and from the husband’s and father’s legacy. We nullify his life if we justify behaviour that he would not have accepted when he was alive, such as invading a man’s home as Joash Ochieng’ and his family did in the days following SM’s death. When the judgment on SM’s burial affirmed that a man’s wishes were irrelevant to those of the clan, it affirmed the negation of SM’s life. And if all a man does while he was alive can mean nothing after he is dead, is he really a man in the first place? As Mugambi Kiai has noted in one of his tributes to Wambui, Wambui’s legacy is not only for women; it is also for men in the control of their ‘choices, destiny and fortunes.’
And in this sense, Wambui ended up winning the war that she fought even though she lost the burial battle in court. Through her children, and through her memoir, we learn who SM was in life. And I suspect that even the Umira Kager clan sensed that they did not really win anything, and that is why it sought to extend an empty victory by claiming that Wambui should be buried next to her husband.
Wambui’s life is also a story of parental love. Together with SM, Wambui loved and raised 15 children and foster children born in relationships and to people outside their marriage. For me, it is this family – and their resilience – which are the striking character in the SM burial saga. And the Otieno children put to test not only the customary claim to children as a legacy, but also our leaders’ ability to put the rights of children at the centre of our nation. As Wambui notes in her memoir, the children put to test Moi’s persistent declaration of his love for children when, in a letter they signed off as ‘Your obedient children,’ they appealed to him to intervene in the burial dispute. Although Wambui was sceptical about the outcome of that letter, she says that the least Moi owed her children was to reply to their letter, ‘if only to console them.’
So unlike the Western narrative that treats children primarily as individuals with rights, Wambui’s family showed the intertwining of children’s rights with parental rights. And we know that they are not alone in the struggle for parents to be able to protect their children in life and in death. We saw women at strip at Freedom Corner because they were tired of their sons and daughters being in detention. Every now and then we hear of how corrupt politicians steal billions of shillings earmarked for children’s education, for drugs and immunisation. Like Moi, these thieves that call themselves leaders ignore the plight of children and the adults who raise them, and seek to pacify us with a ministry that deals specifically with women and children.
And finally, who could forget the striking story of Wambui and Peter Mbugua? Their marriage is not simply a story of love; it is one of hope. Many women who are unfortunate to be widowed early find that they have to leave the rest of their lives in singlehood (levirate marriage is still singlehood for the woman) out of fear of in-laws. The marriage also affirmed women as human beings who also get lonely and who fall in love. Wambui has disproved the myths about African love as non-existent and about African women marrying just because they want to get children.
Wambui Otieno was a true revolutionary in Kenya. She is the true embodiment of Che Guevara’s assertion that ‘the true revolutionary is guided by great feelings of love. It is impossible to think of a genuine revolutionary lacking this quality… We must strive every day so that this love of living humanity is transformed into actual deeds, into acts that serve as examples, as a moving force.’ May that force with which Wambui opened the doors for so many of us also help us to complete the struggle for freedom to which she gave her life.
BROUGHT TO YOU BY PAMBAZUKA NEWS
* Wandia Njoya teaches literature and French at Daystar University, Kenya. She has published a number of academic articles related to gender and politics. She also runs a blog at The Zeleza Post.
* Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News.
How (not) to remember Wambui Waiyaki Otieno
Soundtracks of our youth
Grace A. Musila
SOUNDTRACKS OF OUR YOUTH
As children growing up in 1980s Kenya, one of the songs we sang in our games – accompanied by the intricately co-ordinated palm-tapping that only a child’s flexible hands can master – had the following lyrics:
Otieno yuko wapi?
Where is (SM) Otieno?
Wambui was answered
Otieno has passed on.)
Where will he be buried?
Wambui was answered
He will be buried in Nyalgunga)
(I don’t accept!
(that) my husband
These lyrics were set to the tune of South African musician Yvonne Chaka Chaka’s popular track, ‘Umqombothi’ (‘We maDlamini, Uph’umqombothi?’). At the time, we questioned neither the lyrics nor the tune. Yvonne Chaka Chaka’s music was a popular staple in the Kenyan musical diet; and there was nothing remarkable about the fact that we now had Swahili lyrics for it. Like all the songs of our childhood – or what my friend T.M. Mboya calls ‘the soundtracks of our youth’ – we never wondered who Wambui and Otieno were, or why Wambui would be against burying Otieno in Nyalgunga. What mattered was that the song worked for our games. And so we sang with as much delight as we sang Lokassa ya Mbongo’s ‘Monica’ whose French lyrics our Anglo-Swahili tongues mangled with youthful abandon: ‘Monica ee e ee/jekone pa grigri, jikonepa marabu, selaverite Monica ee e ee’ (‘Je connais pas gris-gris/Je connais pas marabout, c’est la veritè Monica ee e ee’).
Years later, when we read historians Atieno Odhiambo and David Cohen’s excellent book, ‘Burying S.M. Otieno: The Politics of Knowledge and the Sociology of Power’ in Africa (1992); my friends and I revisited the song. With the benefit of adulthood and academic debates about popular culture and the workings of the public sphere, we pondered the dynamics that mediated the case’s journey from the Nairobi courtrooms to children’s clapping hands across Kenya. One of my friends and colleague, Florence Sipalla, wrote a paper reflecting on the appropriation of the legal proceedings of the SM Otieno case into Kenyan popular culture.
The links between Wambui Waiyaki Otieno and iconic South African women extend beyond our playful childhood impulse of setting the SM Otieno case to the lively beat of Yvonne Chaka Chaka’s ‘Umqombothi.’ Two other South African women come to mind when I think of Wambui Waiyaki Otieno: Winnie Madikizela-Mandela and Sarah Baartmann. The links to Winnie Madikizela-Mandela are perhaps more obvious – and in some ways polarised to – the connections with the enslaved Sarah Baartmann; but as I think about her life, I am persuaded to see compelling resonances to the enslaved South African woman, Sarah Baartmann. Indeed, it is the parallels with Sarah Baartman, which for me, strike a cautionary note that enjoins us to critically reflect on the ways in which the Kenyan public sphere related to Wambui Waiyaki Otieno in life; and how we remember her in Kenyan public memory now and in future.
MOTHERHOOD, WIDOWHOOD AND THE BURDEN OF REPRESENTATION
In her foreword to Wambui Waiyaki Otieno's autobiography ‘Mau Mau's Daughter: A Life History’ (1998), historian Cora Ann Presley draws comparisons between the life stories of Wambui Waiyaki-Otieno and Winnie Madikizela-Mandela (1998:6-7). As she notes, the two women’s life histories are similar not only in their shared ‘illumination of the role of women in the [anti-colonial] political struggle, the use of state terrorism against them and their depiction as “wicked women”,’ but also because they both ‘committed to the struggle early in their lives, were exposed to terrible abuse [as] political prisoners, and, in spite of incarceration, continued their work as activists after their release, [refusing] to accept the gendered constructs of their societies as sacrosanct’ (1998:6-7).
Like Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, Wambui Waiyaki Otieno is an icon whose insistence on pushing the boundaries of hegemonic assumptions about nationalism, tradition, political cultures and ‘acceptable’ behaviour for women earned her a prominent place in the Kenyan public sphere. Thinking about the two women, I am struck by their lives’ evocation of the complexities that arise from what the African American scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr terms ‘the burden of representation,’ in his book ‘Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Black Man’ (1997). Gates Jr describes the burden of representation as ‘the homely notion that you represent your race, thus your actions can betray your race or honor it’ (1997:xv, 11). For Gates Jr, such figures ‘bear the freight of being iconic: people who have been vested with meaning, allegorized; and who have defined themselves by struggling against other meanings, other allegories’ (1997:xv).
The irony of citing a book that profiles thirteen iconic black men (some with questionable views on women) in discussing a woman who spent much of her life fighting black patriarchy is not lost on me. Yet, in my view, Henry Louis Gates Jr’s idea of the burden of representation for iconic figures nonetheless vividly captures the parameters of containment that have haunted the lives of both Wambui Waiyaki Otieno and Winnie Madikizela-Mandela. To a large extent, both the critique and affirmation these two women have attracted in their lives has been largely anchored on assumptions about ‘proper’ conduct for ‘public’ figures of their stature, on one hand; and equally constraining assumptions about women as metaphoric receptacles of phallocratic notions of motherhood, widowhood, morality and the decorum of icons on the other.
This gendered prism of the dictates of propriety for public figures in the Kenyan public sphere explains why Wambui Waiyaki Otieno’s 2003 marriage to Peter Mbugua provoked scandalised laughter and critique across the Kenyan public sphere; with hours of media commentaries on Radio and Television; heaps of newspaper articles; and even a satirical episode on the Kenyan sit-com, ‘Redykyulass’. Two aspects of this response stood out for me: Firstly, on 10 May 2003 – barely a month earlier – the then 60 year-old Kenyan vice-president, Wamalwa Kijana had wedded 34-year old Yvonne Nambia in a lavish ceremony that was popularly dubbed a ‘state wedding.’ This wedding enjoyed overwhelming public goodwill; with little comment on the age difference. Yet the same Kenyan public took issue with Wambui Waiyaki Otieno’s marriage to Peter Mbugua on the basis of the age difference between the couple. Secondly, this was the second time Wambui Waiyaki Otieno had provoked such widespread public response. The first time was in 1987 during the drawn out court case over the burial of her husband SM Otieno.
Despite her contributions to both the Mau Mau anti-colonial struggle, the feminist cause and democratic struggles in independent Kenya, Wambui Waiyaki Otieno’s contributions largely remained eclipsed from popular public debate, outside of these two moments in her life – both of which were largely interpreted as improper conduct for a mother and widow. She was seen to be contravening the dictates of ‘decorous’ conduct, as defined by a phallocractic Kenyan public sphere. And so, now, with her death, we have her third moment of extensive media attention; complete with the spectacle of the Umira Kager clan demanding her burial in Nyalgunga.
PUBLIC MEMORY, PRIVACY, AND HOW NOT TO REMEMBER ICONS
Decades later, I am reminded of our childhood song, with which I opened this comment. And it is the memory of this song that brings to mind the third black woman I mentioned earlier: Sarah Baartmann. In her book, ‘What is Slavery to Me?’ (2010) Pumla Gqola has a chapter provocatively titled ‘Not (Re)Presenting Sarah Bartmann’, which registers her critique of the assumed public availability of Sarah Baartmann as ‘an icon for various systems of logic; [a] known and knowable subject’ (2010: 88, 99). I find Gqola’s cautionary note here equally relevant to our relationships with Wambui Waiyaki Otieno in her life, in death, and henceforth, in our public memory, as feminists, Kenyans, Africans and academics.
Given the spectacular fascination with her life during the three key moments I note above, I find myself asking: What does it mean to afford the icons of our histories privacy and space for contradiction; without necessarily erasing them from public memory? How do we celebrate Wambui Waiyaki Otieno’s life and its contributions in ways that resonate with her transgressive spirit without succumbing to the voyeuristic and spectacularising lenses that haunted public responses to her life? Most importantly, how do we resist the temptation of thinking about Wambui Waiyaki Otieno as, in Gqola’s words, a ‘known and knowable’ subject; with the invasive familiarity that bandied her name, her life, her loves, and her pain, across the Kenyan public canvass, from the courtrooms of Nairobi to children’s games?
In a way, these questions relate to broader questions about Kenyan public memory, archiving and memorialisation. The tendency in Kenyan nationalist history has been selective affirmation and erasure of iconic nationalist figures in public memory in line with their in/convenience to respective political regimes. Mercifully, Wambui Waiyaki Otieno is one historical figure whose cliché stone-cold statue we won’t be seeing on the streets of Nairobi any time soon. If it took that long for the statues of Tom Mboya and Dedan Kimathi to ‘walk’ the streets of Nairobi, it will be wise not to hold our breath for the Wambui Waiyaki Otieno statue. Then again, such a statue – especially the predictable nationalist sculptures that dot African cities from Cape to Cairo, Accra to Addis – would be too frozen for her dynamism; co-opting her into the very phallocratic nationalism and patriarchy she spent her life questioning. But for feminist women and men with a passion for the riskier, transgressive widening of the horizons that many of Wambui Waiyaki Otieno’s choices signalled, she lives on; inspiring, provoking, challenging and disagreeing with us.
I just have one prayer: If they must sing about her, may our children’s songs be a robust tribute to the courageous spirit of a woman who said ‘sikubali!’ to the chauvinist currents of her time.
BROUGHT TO YOU BY PAMBAZUKA NEWS
* Grace A. Musila is a senior lecturer in the English Department at Stellenbosch University. Her research interests include Eastern and Southern African literature, gender, and African popular culture.
* Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News.
Gates Jr., Henry Louis. 1998. Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Black Man. New York:
Gqola, Pumla Dineo. 2010. What is Slavery to Me? Postcolonial Slave Memory in Post-Apartheid South Africa. Johannesburg: Wits University Press.
Presley, Cora Ann. 1998. “Introduction”. In Mau Mau’s Daughter: A Life History, by Wambui Waiyaki Otieno. Boulder, Colorado: Lynne Rienner
Sipalla, Florence. 2004. “When Law turned Popular Lore: The Case of Wambui
Otieno.” Unpublished Paper.
Burying SM: Simply complex
‘We must strive every day so that this love of living humanity will be transformed into actual deeds, into acts that serve as examples, as a moving force’ – Che Guevara
Death and the event of a funeral are always political moments and it is the politics that reveals the complexity of human interaction. In most settings, funerals become a theatre for the contestations of claims. Whether it is in the order of who speaks or doesn’t, where one sits and the potential children and ‘other’ wives that often appear during the burial of men, in addition to who is perceived to bear the burden of grief. These are some of the politics that surround the death and funeral of an ‘ordinary’ person in most contexts. They may differ in complexity and this will be informed by the connection to death and family. Where death is considered part of a life ritual that must be celebrated alongside other key milestones – the processes become simply complex. It follows therefore that the ‘politics’ described above would be magnified when the person is considered ‘prominent’ and a whole slew of dynamics are thrown into the ring. This I argue is what distinguished the SM Otieno burial case from the others – the theatre of complexity in an ‘ordinary’ death and burial became magnified.
MEMORY IN TIME: 24 YEARS LATER
The burial of SM Otieno as the case is popular known has generated numerous scholarly journal articles, books and theses. Most notable are Stamp, P. 1991. ‘Burying Otieno: the politics of gender and ethnicity.’ Ojwang J.B. & J.N.K. Mugambi (eds). 1989. ‘The S.M. Otieno Case: Death and Burial in Modern Kenya’ and my favourite Cohen and Odhiambo (eds). 1992. ‘Burying S.M.: The Politics of Knowledge and the Sociology of Power in Africa’. The task of this piece is not to rehash what already exists in the scholarly domain but to examine public memory, 24 years after the SM Otieno case and in the wake of Wambui Otieno’s death.
I suggest that despite the complexity of the SM Otieno case, which has been analysed rigorously in the publications mentioned above and others, public memory of the case is coloured by positionality. It is these positions (as women’s rights activists, as individuals belonging to a particular ethnic group, as global citizens) that have resulted in our pulling apart the case – picking and choosing, especially upon Wambui’s death that which we believe will most vindicate her struggles and/or de-emphasise aspects that would reveal deep seated divides in a country re-constituting itself. While taking away that which we deem critical from the SM case, I argue that such ‘choice’ posthumously de-contextualises the complexity of the struggle Wambui Otieno waged. In turn, it reproduces discourses about popular struggles for rights that entrench dichotomies, which the SM Otieno case revealed were simply complex.
INITIAL CONTEST: ‘MODERNITY’ VERSUS ‘TRADITION’
The SM Otieno case appeared on the surface to deal with two seemingly simple questions; the question of who had the rights over a body and where the said body would be buried. As the case developed over six months in 1987, it evolved into a site on which diverse struggles would be waged.
Below are some reports about the case that were carried in the international media.
‘In life, S M Otieno was a classically successful modern African.
One of Kenya's top trial lawyers, he drove a Mercedes Benz, watched Perry Mason on his video-cassette recorder, enjoyed reciting Shakespeare to friends and sent his children to study in Britain and the United States. Mr. Otieno and his wife were reportedly the first Africans here to buy a house in Karen, an exclusive expatriate suburb named after Karen Blixen, the author of ''Out of Africa.'' On Dec. 20 Mr. Otieno even died of a modern disease - hypertension, leading to a fatal heart attack at age 55. But in death he illustrated how thin the veneer of modernity can be over Africa's tribal traditions’. (The New York Times, February 25, 1987)
‘NYALGUNGA, Kenya — One of Kenya's most prominent lawyers has been buried at his ancestral homeland, more than five months after his death, in a case that sparked a legal battle between his widow and clansmen. The weekend service was a mixture of Christian rites and traditional beliefs of Silvano Melea Otieno's Luo tribe. Thousands of Luo tribesmen went to the service, but neither Otieno's widow, Virginia Wambui Otieno, nor any of their 15 children attended’. (Los Angeles Times, May 26, 1987)
These reports including those carried in the Kenyan media upon Wambui’s death in 2011, rehearse a tension between ‘modernity’ and ‘tradition’. Then, ‘modernity’ was represented through associations made during the case and picked up by the media about SM’s attraction to ‘modernity’ – Perry Mason, Shakespeare, good whisky and ‘modern ailments’. ‘Tradition’ was and is portrayed as the legal victory by the Umira Kager clan and in turn the subjugation of Wambui as a wife to ‘Luo culture’ figuratively speaking. Conversely, ‘modernity’ was and is interpreted as Wambui’s rights as a woman enshrined within international norms and conventions.
Legitimating Wambui’s claims to her husband’s body and burial site was constructed as only possible by leveraging ‘modernity’ especially in a mixed ethnic marriage. Indeed, the transcripts of the case showed that Wambui’s lawyers emphasised her fear for ‘backward’ Luo ‘practices’ such as ‘widow inheritance’ and ‘head shaving’ as the reason for SM’s choice of a different burial site. One could therefore read her reluctance to acquiesce to a burial in Nyamila as a means to dissociate from burial rites that would involve her and her children.
However, the SM Otieno case was never about the ‘threat’ of Wambui’s ‘inheritance’ as it has been popularly reproduced. The very nature of who Wambui was – liberation icon, powerful force, ties to the political class – and the nature of their marriage – by most accounts was not approved of by the Umira Kager clan and involved joint registration of property points to the ‘impossibility’ of these claims. Based on power, physical and in some quarters emotional distance as well as legal absolutes, the only legitimate claims Otieno’s clansmen could make was to Otieno and his children not necessarily to his spouse. However, the route taken by her defense team left an indelible mark in Kenya’s psyche about what it meant to be a ‘Luo wife’ – real or imagined.
As an exogamous and patrilocal community a woman is married into the clan and therefore always considered an outsider whether she is of Luo descent or not. She only becomes an insider by forging ties with her husband and his extended family. A wife’s ‘insider’ status reaches its height due to age and accompanying seniority. In fact, it is argued (see Cohen & Odhiambo, 1992) that by virtue of Wambui’s age (51 at the time) and extensive knowledge of her father-in-law’s lineage and home as demonstrated through her testimony in court – Wambui had moved from simply being the wife of Otieno and had become the wife of the clan (in effect a Pim), thereby giving her a legitimate say in decisions in that home. However, her legal counsel positioned this as a struggle between ‘modernity’ and ‘tradition’ thereby limiting the opportunities to counter the claims made by the Umira Kager counsel about ‘Luo culture’ – using their tools – ‘Luo culture’.
A number of ‘cultural’ experts were called in to give extensive testimony about Luo burial rituals. Her counsel did not seize the ‘cultural’ route to re-affirm her legitimacy as a decision maker by virtue of her age and seniority as a wife of the home – Pim. I am not suggesting that this would have shifted the course of the case but it would definitely have dealt a blow to the construction of ‘Luo culture’ as unchanging and where men reign supreme.
OF HOUSES, HOMES AND ANCESTRAL LAND
Central to this case was the assertion of a burial site named as ancestral land. Nyamila in Alego was argued to represent home, the land of his ancestors and Upper Matasia – the place where he had verbally indicated as his desired burial place – was a house, an urban residence.
The importance placed on the ‘ownership’ of the corpse by Otieno’s clan and the site of burial reflected the gendered dynamics that positioned Wambui as a custodian of those rites and not one to contest them. As a wife, her role determined that in reproducing the Otieno clan and by extension that of Umira Kager through five children, she would remain a custodian that would secure both the clan boundary (through land and children) and ascertain its propagation (through children).
Shifting the site of burial of necessity contested a physical boundary. The presence of a body in a home presented the most tangible evidence that would indicate Otieno had been here and belonged. The burial site, children and Wambui’s role as a wife in securing these boundaries were the sites from which the legitimacy of the Umira Kager clan would be propagated and claimed. These contestations revealed the importance of both metaphoric and actual boundaries in the creation of nation-hood, which I delve into later.
While claims and rights to ancestral land were interpreted as harkening to tradition in 1987, they were considered a legitimate basis for an all out ‘war’ at the height of the post-election crisis in 2008, when Kenyans who were born and settled in places other than those constructed by ethnic boundaries were forced to return to their ‘ancestral land’. This was land they had no connection to except by virtue of the geographical boundaries ‘assigned’ to ‘their kind’ through a pre-colonial history of migration and entrenched through an administrative colonial and post-colonial imperative. Divisive – yes, a powerful tangible force for reinforcing nationhood – yes.
‘SHE KNEW SHE WAS MARRYING A LUO’ – JUDGE SAMUEL BOSIRE
Wambui’s ethnicity begun as an undercurrent and later became the basis for the case. While there had been resistance to this marriage from the onset (See Cohen & Odhiambo, 1992), the couple had been left to their own devices and had even contributed to raising SM’s brother’s children. Upon his death, it was expected that Wambui should know better. Implicit in that is the assumption that a wife of Luo descent would have known better.
Latter burial contestations in Kenya such as those of Wangila Napunyi, Samuel Wanjiru and Joshua Okuthe amongst others show that ethnicity could not be the only factor here that distinguishes ‘outsider wives’ as notorious to laying counter-claims to corpses. In most of these cases, where contestation arose between families about burial, there was shared ethnic heritage. In my view, ethnicity was mobilised and usurped as a factor as the case progressed and this was evident on a number of levels.
The first was in exposing a dual legislative regime where customary law triumphed over common law. The triumph of customary law cannot simply be argued to be an ambiguity in the constitution but can be summed up in a 2011 assertion by the then presiding Judge Samuel Bosire who when asked if his views on the case would change today said; ‘culture is very important to some communities’. His statement 24 years later bears semblance to his concluding remarks at the end of the SM Otieno case in 1987 when he said; ‘Wambui knew she was marrying a Luo’.
Bosire’s comments raise two important points for me. The first is the implicit recognition that the institution of marriage is bound to render a wife inferior to her husband, whether it is ‘explained away’ within a cultural framework, a religious or a legal one. Secondly, Bosire’s comments on both occasions lifted the ethnic dynamic by constructing this struggle as one between ‘Luo tradition’ and ‘modern’ common law.
The judge that initially granted Wambui the right to burry SM was white (Frank Shields) while the court of appeal bench was Kenyan. Two major assumptions and/or conclusions can be drawn from the differences in judgment. The first is the ability of a caucasian man to comprehend the ‘ridiculous’ claims of ‘tribal’ burial as contradiction to ‘modernity’ while the African judge would be more persuaded by the need for ‘tradition’ given that they are after all inherently ‘traditional’.
The corollary, which remains unquestioned in blanket assertions about a patriarchal bench failing Wambui, is too scary to consider. This would be to argue that as a white judge, Shields was a lesser patriarch than his African counterparts (Samuel Bosire et al) owing to advanced ‘civilisation’. In effect, the colonial project had failed women. Would the case have gone differently if the ethnicity did not come to the table or had other factors influenced the process?
NATIONS WITHIN A STATE
I suggest therefore that a third final layer to this case was political. In 1987, a nascent multi-party movement was forming and it crystallised in earnest in the early 1990s. The case provided an opportunity for a convergence between a localised struggle for rights and an environment that had historically seen political plurality negotiated against ethnicity.
SM’s burial therefore came to represent an iconic struggle for political might between two historically ‘divided’ ethnic groups. The ethnic factor in the case ceased to be a question of differences in interpretations of the meaning of death of burial and these differences were instead constructed and produced as an indication of historical political disrespect and arrogance against the Luo community. A ‘clan struggle’ was catapulted into national ‘struggle’ that saw the effective mobilisation of gender, ethnicity and class interests. This provided fodder for the rehearsal of old political tensions and re-assert the strength of the Luo nation definitively against the Kikuyu but also in the larger Kenyan context.
The assertion of Luo norms and cultural practices as time tested affirmed was not simply a means to reinforce the importance of ‘culture’ but served as a means to re-produce Luo personhood. The distinction between houses and homes served to reinforce the notion of bonds and ties to geographical spaces and their symbolism – ancestral ties, production, reproduction, uncontested boundaries.
THE RIGHTS OF WOMEN
In 1985, Nairobi had hosted the United Nation’s Women’s meeting, from which the ‘Nairobi Forward looking strategies’ emerged. Given Wambui’s history in women’s organising in post-colonial Kenya through Maendeleo ya Wanawake (MYWO) and the National Council of Women Kenya, the legal defeat was interpreted as an assault on women’s rights, particularly their rights within the institution of marriage. The Umira Kager win was interpreted as ‘tradition’s’ triumph through over ‘modernity’, which is argued would have yielded to Wambui’s indication of her husband’s verbal wishes and given primacy to her as a wife. I think the SM case was more complex than this.
The complexity and contradictions, within the institution of marriage in general notwithstanding, the construction of a simplistic binary between ‘modernity’ and ‘tradition’ raises multiple tensions that cannot be effectively dealt with here. However, an important point to take forward is the understanding that the subjugation so to speak of gender through – a retreat to ‘culture’ and ethnicity was not simply designed to teach Wambui and women in general a lesson. The mobilisation of gender was geared towards the reconstitution of the meaning of a nation – gender became subsumed in that process mobilised as a resource towards this ‘larger’ goal. As a result, re-positioning the case as contest between the rights of women and the role of culture therein became tenuous since the case had been usurped by other interests. Analysis (see Stamp, 1991) that has pointed to silence of the women’s movement shows that this was not simply the result of an ‘un-sophisticated’ movement but instead alerts us to the complex ways in which identities in general operate.
The then chair of MYWO Wangari Maathai initiated a national campaign that involved a petition as well as mobilising the support of well-known women leaders towards re-asserting a conversation about the rights of women as the basis of this case. The petition did not go very far and may have been in part dealt a blow by the public retraction of a then leading woman politician of Luo descent – Grace Ogot who argued that her name had been erroneously linked to the campaign. She requested that posters that had her picture be pulled down
While I can only hazard an explanation for Grace Ogot’s actions, the most important point to retain here is that the notion that women (and men) would simply shed off other constitutive identities and give primacy to gender belies an understanding of human relations, existence, negotiation, ‘trade offs’ and most importantly power. Women (and men) do not simply act on the basis of their gender alone. Of course, the fact that patriarchy as a system is designed to reward masculinities in general (and hegemonic ones more so) perhaps leads to the belief that men are not ‘their own enemies’ due to the seeming coalition when it comes to re-aligning the resources (gender, ethnicity and class) towards sustaining the division of power and labour.
Twenty-four years later I am struck by the salience of the SM Otieno case in revealing how gender and sexuality are manipulated towards the goals of the nation-state project. This is in addition to the questions it raises around the meaning of organising for equity and transformation. In re-membering the case, I am in awe of the tenacity of Wambui Otieno who stayed the course, irrespective of the public surveillance that this brought on her and her children. The numerous ‘silences’ whether named as culture, ethnicity or tradition during her court case revealed the complexities attendant in claiming rights, building solidarity and sustaining change.
In 2011, despite a new constitutional dispensation in Kenya that has dealt with the ambiguity between customary and common law, as well as enshrined a whole range of rights for women – I am alert to what the SM case tells us about what it means to claim and sustain rights in a patriarchal society. Wambui’s struggle within the SM case reveals the multiple routes and resources that are mobilised by patriarchy towards sustaining attendant privileges and rewards. The ongoing debates in Kenya about the ‘impossibility’ of ascertaining gender parity in government and the ease with which gender is negotiated away in our latter day revolutions in Northern Africa in order to balance ‘other’ political interests, brings this home profoundly for me.
I have always been drawn to the ‘truth’ in Audre Lorde’s; ‘a master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house’. However, in looking back at the SM case and its relevance to Kenya two decades later, I question whether using what looks like the master’s tools to dismantle the master’s house might just be the way to deal with shrewdness of patriarchy.
In the words of a student of military history: ‘women have had the capacity for a first strike’. This has been evident through the deployment of ‘conventional weapons’ whether in form of precedent setting cases like SM’s or in pushing for legal and normative standards within laws and constitutions. Do we or have we exercised second-strike capacity? To do this, I believe we must first be ready for the diversity of counter responses from patriarchy and deploy ‘unconventional weaponry’.
BROUGHT TO YOU BY PAMBAZUKA NEWS
* Awino Okech is the director of research at Fahamu – Networks for Social Justice.
* Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News.
Cohen, D.W. & E.S. Odhiambo. 1989. Siaya: The Historical Anthropology of an African Landscape. Nairobi: Heinemann Kenya.
 Subsequent misguided attempts by the Umira Kager clan to lay claim to what they perceived as Otieno’s property failed because it was jointly registered.
 This is not unique to the Luo ethnic group
Pim is recalled as a woman who came into the household from a social and sometimes geographical distance. Often an outsider, Pim’s entry into the household as a widow or new bride offered protection, food, friendship and a renewed position in life. As the respected older woman of the household graduated to the status of dayo (grandmother), Pim assumed the role of teacher, passing on to the children a broad section of knowledge through folklore (Cohen, 1992:56).
 The most notable political evidence of this was the “battle” between Jaramogi Oginga Odinga and Jomo Kenyatta.
She danced to the beat of a different drummer
to be a feminist is
to celebrate my mother
to poetise my sisters
to message their failures
to savour their intellect
to drink their feelings
The last time I saw Virginia Edith Wambui Otieno Mbugua was at a civil society gathering ahead of promulgation of the new constitution almost exactly a year before she passed away. Despite the lateness of the hour by the time the programme came to a close, she stayed on to the very end. The sense of satisfaction when she held aloft the symbolic copy of the constitution on behalf of the freedom fighters of the past before it was passed down the generational chain to the children waiting to receive it as the new covenant to govern the land was tangible. I wondered then if she thought of the contributions she had made personally towards the historic moment we were witnessing, the constitutional affirmation of the rights of Kenyan women as full citizens – political, social, legal as well as cultural.
It was perhaps particular memories of personal experiences that made her part of this moment of national celebration that evoked that quiet smile of pride on her face: a woman standing as a political candidate where people insisted only men ought to be leaders; a woman defined as being married to someone from the ‘wrong community’ or ‘wrong generation’; a politician who insisted on remaining in a party despite being from the ‘wrong community’; a human being who insisted on her right to make her own decisions about her life; a Kenyan who lived the right to call any place in this country home...
I, in turn, thought about the day she stood her ground at a plenary session during the Constitution of Kenya Review Commission (CKRC) even as a group of rowdy delegates tried to strip her of her rights of citizenship on the flimsy charge of being ‘an abuser of African culture. Yes, she stood her ground. As a cultural advocate, this is what most defines Wambui Otieno-Mbugua for me and guarantees her place in Kenyan history as a cultural hero. And by her insistence on being present in that place at that moment, regardless of the vocal opposition to her being there, she demonstrated the importance of the words later on immortalised as Article 11 of the constitution: ‘culture as the foundation of the nation, and the cumulative civilisation of the Kenyan people and nation’.
20 August 2003. The National Constitutional Conference (NCC) gathered to receive the interim report of the task force on the ad hoc committee on culture. This was indeed a momentous event for the nation. This task force was one of the two specifically set up by the CKRC in response to topics that were of pressing concern to Kenyans as reflected by the CKRC’s country-wide engagement, but had received inadequate attention in the Zero Draft. For the first time, Kenya was actually considering entrenching culture in the constitution, and that report was to set the stage for a discussion on the same. It was in the middle of its presentation that Wambui Otieno-Mbugua walked into the hall - and disorder ensued.
What followed reflects the very reason I celebrate her here as a cultural hero. The on-going presentation was abruptly halted and the NCC was immediately split. Some delegates demanded that she be ejected from the gathering for ’abusing the fundamentals of African culture’, arguing that in so doing the NCC would ’maintain the dignity of African men’. Others defended her right to remain, arguing that she had done nothing wrong and it would, in fact, be un-African to harass and discriminate against her on the grounds of gender; that she was a Kenyan citizen with rights of participation as an observer at the NCC, having duly registered as was procedural. Indeed, as was observed by both the chair of the session Wilfred ole Kina and CKRC Commissioner Abubakar Zein Abubakar, her presence underlined the very reason for the task force: The weighty complexity of cultural matters that needed to become part of our everyday discourse. The fractious exchange that ensued before the NCC got back to the business of the day remains a historic testimony to the challenges of engaging cultural realities and possibilities in a manner that respects difference and diversity.
It is instructive that without even uttering a word, Wambui Otieno-Mbugua could, just by her sheer presence, elicit such an incredible exchange, actually leading to a fifteen minute ‘cooling off’ break. No one cited any specific reason why she had been singled out for such attention, nor did anyone present make any enquiries as to the reason. Clearly, to be Kenyan was to know and appreciate the cultural importance of this one woman. It is this that prompts this reflection on Wambui Otieno-Mbugua as one of those rare beings – a cultural hero whose contributions to Kenya and national discourses on this subject spring not from her own personal investment in culture as a career path or calling, but rather from her understanding of herself as a cultural practitioner. Her very life functioned as a battleground in the struggle to assert her understanding of what it meant to be a human being, whose life is determined by her identity as a Kenyan woman.
to be a feminist is
to speak out loud
to articulate my name
to assert that I am
to declare that woman is
to water my fertility
to converse with my soul.
Most people struggle with defining cultural work outside the realm of the creative economy and the expressive arm of culture, the arts. For this reason, we Kenyans often use the terms ‘artist’ and ’cultural worker’ interchangeably, many of us struggling to even define what those terms mean. It is astonishing how many people assume that whenever one talks about cultural advocacy, it is solely the wish list of a small, self-indulgent community of liberal social rebels that is being addressed. Then there are those who see cultural workers as another fringe group - the die-hard warriors of ‘African tradition’ who see themselves as patriotically holding the last line of defence against the encroachment of globalisation, ignoring the reality of culture as a living entity and tradition as, to quote Amiri Baraka, as ‘the changing same’. It is true that today we are gradually seeing more respect given to those whose work in the creative economy that makes Kenya a richer place. Still, there is little appreciation, comparatively, for those whose labour in the culture realm is difficult to assign economic value to, the precious handful of humanity who tirelessly work at fashioning the intangible sphere of our collective identity, values and priorities. This is where, in my opinion, Wambui Otieno Mbugua has made a singularly distinct contribution to this nation.
As we who serve at the Kenya Cultural Centre like to reiterate, while all of us might not be cultural professionals, we are all cultural practitioners who ought to take the labour of culture seriously. If Kenyan culture is, indeed, as the constitution tells us, ‘the cumulative civilisation of the Kenyan people and the nation’, then all of us are, by default if not by choice, part of defining what that culture is and ought to be. Yet, outside those who consciously identify themselves as cultural workers and/or activists, few of us give consideration to the everyday rituals, traditions, rites and processes that we participate in or intellectually engage with the principles, rules, covenants and institutions that govern these spaces. We accept unquestioningly their authority even as we grumble under our breath about that which we are outraged, angry, frustrated or upset about, giving up on the possibility of ‘becoming the change we want to see’ without even trying. There is, perhaps, good reason to do so, given the vicious nature of the fight-back that we know we will encounter if we dared venture into that space. Yet, one wonders how many ‘harmful cultural practices’ would still exist if more of us had the courage to wrap on our lesso and do the labour of displaying the personal as political.
I cite Wambui Otieno-Mbugua as a Kenyan shero, because she was not only one of those who took seriously the question of culture with regard to her own personal life, but she also had the courage and chutzpah to extend her understandings of what should be to the public sphere, in order that her choices might benefit others whose lived realities echoed her own. That she was willing to shoulder that burden, despite the high personal cost - financial, psychological, social and professional - is something I pause to think about. It must have been an added burden to know that her family would also have to live with the implications of her choices. She was not one of those unfortunate beings who have their moment in the harsh spotlight of public attention despite themselves, when some aspect of their lives they would prefer to keep private catches the attention of the media. She became a cultural icon because she did not shy from public scrutiny of those extremely personal aspects of her life, despite knowing how outraged cultural conservatives would be, not only because she dared challenge social norms, but also because she did so openly and with no apology. She became part of our national discourse, often vilified, talked about, mocked and condemned by people who knew little about her, apart from what came over the grapevine and media outlets. Those who cheered her on often did so because she represented the promise of a better future for themselves; few, however, dared to emulate her in rushing in where angels feared to tread.
to be a feminist is
to embrace my womanness
the womanness of
all my mothers
all my sisters
to hug the female principle
and the metaphors of life
that decorate my being
Ironically, standing for what she believed put her in the dock when it came to the merciless court of public opinion. Never mind that she was the victim, not the perpetrator, of the rape that made her detention a living hell; of the court case that took away her rights as a widow; or of the political violence whose physical consequences she suffered to her dying day. In counting the cost of her choices, she must have understood that while the price she was paying was high, the price of conforming would be even higher, not just for herself, but for myriads of others who had not been given the gift of the grace – or the sheer will – to stand their ground when the hurt became especially cutting. Still, I wonder if there were times when she was tempted to give in and give up, especially when her choices complicated her relationship with, and the lives of, family and friends who found it hard to understand her or deal with the pressure of their relationship to her. I hope she and they found comfort in knowing that she had lived up to the courageous responsibility to leave the world better than she found it.
Those who knew her well testify to her inability to leave injustice alone wherever and whenever she found it. She detested any form of marginalisation and bigotry – be it on the grounds of gender, social status or background, vocation, age, ancestral roots, religion, political affiliation, ideological orientation - whatever it might be, she wielded her life as a weapon to challenge and correct bigotry and inequity. In that, she challenges us all to understand that culture is not something that just happens or something that we are born prisoners of and helpless to do anything about, but rather that like life itself, it evolves and responds to the socio-historical context which it finds itself part of. Culture is crafted to serve humanity, rather than the other way round. And so, while we might not agree with the choices she made, we ought to be grateful for the gift she gave all of us: the invitation to talk to each other about those important aspects of our lives that we might otherwise continue to sweep under the carpet in public and weep about in private.
Wambui Otieno-Mbugua serves for me as a living reminder of Ayi Kwei Armah’s injunction that we take the time to turn celebrations into cerebration - intellectually engaging with the cultural processes, rituals and rites with which we mark the passage of our lives as human beings and societies - thinking through what these symbolise. We must create the spaces to make our lives meaningful, having the courage to change those elements that no longer serve us even as we embrace those that enable us to make the past a meaningful foundation for our collective futures. Listening to the tributes of those who lined up to publicly eulogise her after her death, I was particularly struck by how many testified to her character as a catalyst of change. Regardless of whether we ultimately agreed with her or not, Wambui Otieno-Mbugua forced us to re-examine our own lives, our beliefs, our choices, our prejudices, our actions, making us honestly face up to those hidden, unquestioned, aspects of ourselves that we might otherwise left unexamined.
to be a feminist is
to unseat domination
and forge a rock
out of powerlessness
to shake hands
with people's struggles
to conceive and deliver
a human world.
Thank you, Mama Wambui. The lessons you taught us keep your spirit alive – and our future is better because you lived.
BROUGHT TO YOU BY PAMBAZUKA NEWS
* Mshai Mwangola chairs the Governing Council of the Kenya Cultural Centre.
* Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News.
Constitution of Kenya Review Commission (CKRC). “National Constitutional Conference Verbatim Report of the Presentation of the Taskforce of the Ad Hoc Committee on Culture Held at the Bomas of Kenya on August 20th August.
Family of Wambui Otieno Mbugua. “Celebrating the Life of Virginia Edith Wambui Otieno Mbugua.” 7 September 2011.
Kenya, Republic of. The Constitution of Kenya. Nairobi: Government Printers. 2010
Mugo, Micere. “To be a Feminist.” http://socialiststories.org/content/be-feminist-micere-githae-mugo Accessed 14th September 2011
The passing of a revolutionary
‘You cannot carry out fundamental change without a certain amount of madness. It comes through nonconformity: the courage to turn your back on the old formulas, the courage to invent the future.’ Thomas Sankara
This quote by the progressive former president of Burkina Faso sums up the person Wambui Otieno was in my opinion. Africa and the world at large were shocked to learn about Wambui’s demise on 30 August 2011. The glowing tributes in the social media prove Wambui’s role in shaping the legal and social discourse in colonial and post-colonial Kenya and internationally, especially in Africa.
My introduction to Wambui came when I studied customary law for an accountancy course in the famous case of Wambui Otieno vs Umira Kager clan. In that case Wambui waged a five-month court battle with her late husband’s clan over the burial location. The clan insisted that the prominent advocate Silvano Melea Otieno be buried in Siaya according to Luo customs, but Wambui contested this in court demanding that Otieno be buried in their Upper Matasia Home in Ngong according to his wishes.
Even though she lost thanks to a patriarchal bench, the case was groundbreaking for Kenyan women and indeed many African women who were treated as chattels when their husbands died; their opinions were disregarded. Because of Wambui’s audacity, the case raised important issues on the legal rights of women while also encouraging women to break the silence on inheritance among other rights.
But Wambui’s revolutionary history had started earlier. She was born Virginia Wambui Waiyaki in 1936 in a family that had a long history of anti-colonial resistance from her grandfather Waiyaki wa Hinga who was killed by the British in 1892. In her autobiography, ‘Mau Mau’s daughter: The life history of Wambui Waiyaki Otieno’, she exposed the complex family traditions she inherited of mixed ethnicity, resistance and later Christianity and how they shaped her.
In her nonconformist nature, Wambui left home aged 16 and joined the Mau Mau in Nairobi during the emergency period, igniting her lifelong career as an activist. True to her revolutionary self, she crossed class and gender borders to join the movement despite not being the typical Mau Mau recruit who joined due to social-economic grievances since she came from a privileged Christian family. Her father was the first African inspector of police. In the Mau Mau movement, Wambui served mainly as an intelligence agent by spying, scouting, liaising with the movement and procuring arms. She was later arrested and detained in Lamu where she was tortured for being a Mau Mau.
Her memoir was the first narrative by a woman to detail the intimate roles played by women in the Mau Mau resistance. In her book she details the roles women played as couriers, intelligence gatherers and weapon procurers. Through her work Wambui exposed the critical role of women in the history of resistance in Kenya, who had largely been silenced by colonial and post-colonial historians. Other female voices include Charity Waciuma, Tabitha Kanogo, Muthoni Likimani and Ann Presley. Through this book Wambui left a legacy in the academy by engendering the colonial resistance narrative, which was largely male-centered and exposing the history of women’s nationalism in Kenya.
Her legacy in politics in post-colonial Kenya is also significant. In the early 1960s, she joined the Tom Mboya-led Nairobi People's Convention Party (NPCP) as the leader of the women’s wing and later the Kenya Africa National Union (KANU). She was also involved with Kiama Kia Muingi (KKM), a Mau Mau successor organization. She ran for office as a KANU candidate and served as an official of Maendeleo ya Wanawake and the National Council of Women of Kenya where she partnered with women across the globe working on similar ideals of advancing women.
In 1985, frustrated by Moi’s manipulation of elections and lack of internal party democracy Wambui left KANU and joined Jaramogi Oginga in the Forum for Restoration of Democracy (FORD) in 1987 in efforts to introduce multiparty politics in Kenya. In 1997, she unsuccessfully vied for Kamukunji constituency parliamentary seat on an NDP ticket and in 2007 she established the Kenya People’s Conventional Party on which she unsuccessfully contested the Kajiado’s North seat.
Socially, Wambui was a trendsetter who never shied away from controversy. In 1961, despite opposition from her family she married S. M Otieno, a Luo. More recently, in 2003 Wambui pushed the social boundaries further and generated a national debate after her marriage to her second husband Peter Mbugua, 42 years her junior. True to the revolutionary Wambui, she announced the she had set the pace for other women who were imprisoned by culture and traditions. Wambui had done it again. Her marriage generated debate mainly because she had threatened the patriarchal order that defines the Kenyan society, where a man of whatever age has the right to marry any woman regardless of age. Wambui questioned why this privilege was unique to men and went ahead to solemnise her marriage in church forcing Kenyans to rethink longheld stereotypes on age and class in marriage.
Wambui’s tensions, dilemmas and challenges are a true representative of colonial and post-colonial Kenya and when Kenya’s history is written she will grace many chapters. Through Wambui’s ‘madness’ and courage to turn her back on the old formulas, she reinvented the future albeit in a small way, as Sankara had advised. The Kenya she leaves in 2011 has benefited legally, politically, academically and socially from the legacies she has left us. Because of her, we have come this far. Kenya will miss Wambui.
BROUGHT TO YOU BY PAMBAZUKA NEWS
* Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News.
* Njoki Wamai is a peace and security scholar at the African Leadership Centre (ALC) in King’s College London. This article was first published by the Sunday Nation.
Wambui Otieno-Mbugua: A tribute
‘Well-behaved women seldom make history’ - Laurel Thatcher Ulrich.
Few lives demonstrate this saying so powerfully as that of Virginia Wambui Otieno-Mbugua. Her global impact is best assessed by entering her name on any online archive of academic research - dozens of books and articles return, published over 20 years from a range of disciplines. Scholars across the world will continue to delve into Wambui Otieno’s legacy for decades to come. Cambridge University’s John Lonsdale hailed her autobiography, ‘Mau Mau’s Daughter’ (Lynne Rienner Publishing, 1998) as groundbreaking: ‘the narrative of Nairobi's `legitimate' political militancy in the late 1950s and early 1960s is the first we have had from below.’
Her influence in Africa is more personally felt. When the news of her death went out, activists from the Cape to Cairo mourned publicly and loudly, on Facebook and Twitter. They eulogized her taboo-busting life, her rearranging of gender and power, her ‘routine destabilizing of hegemonic masculinity and the meanings of class.’ (Grace Musila).
And of course, within Kenya, the reach and intimate power of Wambui Otieno’s life cannot be overstated. Whether we are aware of it or not, in our daily negotiations with modernity and tradition, with selfhood and community, with partnership, family, society and state, we swim in waters changed forever by the battles she fought in the public sphere.
When I consider the meanings of Wambui Otieno’s life, I think about space: the taking up of. The speaking in. The taboo breaking. The contestation of. She showed generations of Kenyans that we could redefine spaces - legal, political, communal - with our bodies. With our voices. That we could rewrite narratives of cultural heritage and patriarchal society in ways that liberate us all.
What Wambui Otieno modelled for us was a life based on the truth of struggle openly disclosed. A life that was the opposite of the enclosure she could have opted for, as a daughter of a wealthy and prominent family. From a young age, she chose self-definition, full engagement in the historic moment, over passive acceptance of chattel status. This choice came with risks and costs. We watched her face painful defeats in the full glare of public scrutiny, take the blows and continue to make transgressive choices.
Lives of disclosure, risk and honest struggle are necessarily messy. The stakes are high when a woman demands, on the national stage, the full space due to her humanity. The falls are spectacular. The meaning of her life lived out loud changes the story for all of us.
Blogger Kenne Mwikya asks: ‘what is the meaning of the deep scrutiny of Wambui, pre- and posthumous? What does it bring the whole nation to, in knowing and searching within itself for the imprint of Wambui Otieno?’
Literary critic and academic Keguro Macharia writes on his Gukira blog: ‘without Wambui, I would not have been able to come to feminism as I did. I would not have been able to understand the gendering of testimony, the acoustics of gender, the importance of bodies as they matter and mutter. Without Wambui, I would not have been able to appreciate how nations feel and act on their feeling.’
The meanings of Wambui Otieno, and the feelings they engender, like the woman herself, will not be contained or constrained. Her legacy is to enlarge the spaces for every form of disclosure in Kenya - and to inspire us with the courage to transgress, to matter in the history of our nation.
BROUGHT TO YOU BY PAMBAZUKA NEWS
* Shailja Patel is an award-winning Kenyan poet, playwright and activist. Her website is www.shailja.com
* Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News.
Ballad to a true rebel
Patrick Dominic Maina
The transition of Wambui Otieno has left a bad taste in our mouths. The granddaughter of a Maasai Laibon, that alone explains the streak of self-appointed authority to upstage the status quo. She shot unashamedly from the hip and never missed the target. Her father was a Mau Mau soldier and obviously she fought tooth and nail to protect what she called her own .No one ever stepped in her space without receiving more than a slap on their wrist. She strode the pages of life whip in hand and cracked it without prior warning.
She dug her own grave 21 years before the grim reaper came for her on 30 August 2011. It was a bold statement that she alone called the shots. She was on top of the totem pole. She floored the Umira Kager clan for the right to bury her dead husband, S.M Otieno. All her fights were for bigger causes, not seeking vain glory.
Wambui fought valiantly for the independence of this nation from colonial rule, which eventually happened on 12 December 1963. She was a jewel in the women’s liberation movement; a queen of hearts for radical feminists, but was rarely honoured by the authorities during her life. The colonial regime detained and persecuted her. Subsequent governments ignored her. Maybe the Kibaki government will honour her posthumously with a Head State Commendation medal. Kenyatta University may honour her with an honorary degree of letters. Maybe. But even it does not happen, our hearts have honoured her.
As a pacesetter she formed the Kenya Peoples Convention Party and subsequently contested the Kamukunji and Kajiado North parliamentary seats. She definitely deserves the title of role model for exercising her rights and going against the grain of society. Wambui clearly understood that in a male-dominated society customs are not necessarily meant to benefit womenfolk; they are there to be broken. Women more often are given the short end of the proverbial stick. The Eves of this world have to stick their hands out to get a share of the pie because men will never hand it to them. She was not a puppet to jump whenever some male-dominated clan decided to bark. Her place was not at the back burner but at the frontline where the action was.
Wambui’s marriage to Mbugua who was 42 years her junior upturned the dynamics of love. Society’s skewed norms were not going to dictate who she was going to marry. It was a media sensation that unruffled the feathers of the fathers of conservatism. Obviously the clerics will rationalize that love is divine and it’s only the heavenly powers that can explain the path it takes. The lawyers will rationalize that love has no laws to abide by. No one has the audacity to question her marriage to Mbugua. If an 80 year old man can marry a woman of 21 years, why not a woman?
We will not bury Wambui Otieno in the cemetery of history, but we will always mention her name whenever we talk of Kenyan rebels. Live on brave warrior, for even soldiers lay down their weapons some day.
BROUGHT TO YOU BY PAMBAZUKA NEWS
* Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News.
A legacy of resistance to oppression
When history’s tides shall silt in the books, they shall in no doubt eulogise the legend of Wambui Otieno-Mbugua. I too here walk on egg shells at the fall of a giant, an empress who renounced her dynasty for a popular nationalistic cause. Yet what shall history write when she has already cast her name on stone with blood and sacrifice? Etched in blood and sweat deep in the blood-spattered Aberdares of the 1950s are accounts that extol Wambui’s virtues as a defiant teenage girl from an elite household (the dynasty of Waiyaki wa Hinga), educated at the best African girls school in colonial Kenya, a practicing Christian, uncircumcised (she refused to), daughter of a police inspector who gave up the comforts of complacency to join the Mau Mau.
This daughter of a Kikuyu and an Ogiek (her mother) took oath as a Mau Mau. She stole guns, fought alongside the men in the forest and traversed long distances by foot conducting espionage missions and gathering intelligence from British troops while coordinating a network of female agents who funneled information to the Mau Mau high command. An ancient legend of Kenyans for Kenya.
So effective and notorious was Wambui that she was arrested by the British in 1955 but later released thanks to her sassy mouth. In the coming years she would be rearrested and ordered to report for weekly interrogations in her home village. Detentions and weekly interrogations only made her stouter in the the Mau Mau cause. In her nationalism, she joined the Kenya African National Union and was elected head of the women's wing.
The British government would have none of it, Wambui was arrested and detained at Lamu Island where she was brutally raped by Chief Inspector Rudolph Speed and tortured. She surprised Kenyan women when upon her release in 1961 she demanded the prosecution of her rapist. Such was unheard of: some lowly creature, some woman, some native savage going against a white aristocrat? But trust Wambui to fight like a lioness, like a Mau Mau veteran until Inspector Rudolph resigned and fled jurisdiction to avoid charges.
A reasonable man would think that the torture and detention would deter her. But the plucky daughter of Waiyaki still hid guns for the Mau Mau between her legs as she took them for repair. Worse still, at the height of colonialism when black natives were not allowed to step inside the Thorn Tree Restaurant, now Stanley Hotel, Wambui did the unthinkable that would eventually lead to the opening of the hotel to all races. With a fellow female activist, she matched right into the hotel amidst security protests and proceeded to stand on a table!. As was expected, the white manager in rage slapped her. The incident was the subject of national and international media coverage which exposed the evil of colonial racism.
In the crowded streets of pre-independence downtown Nairobi, Wambui joined in the frenzied demonstrations, choral and dramatic productions choreographed by Luo activists who Wambui had nothing but love for. So much was her transethnic strength that Wambui brushed aside public ethnic biases and married a fine Luo criminal lawyer, SM Otieno.
Any student of law must encounter Wambui’s court case, which threw light on the problems and position of women in the Kenya. Law has often been either ambivalent about traditional beliefs or allowed gender discrimination. That is why Wambui lost the fight to bury her husband at their home in Ngong. She refused to attend the funeral in Siaya but later immortalized her husband with a mausoleum in Ngong’.
After years of helping shape the women’s movement in Kenya and at the international level, years of trashing Moi’s perpetuation of gender discrimination, Wambui found comfort and boundless love in the arms of Samuel Mbugua, more than 42 years younger than herself. By marrying Mbugua, Wambui opened up a vast space for the Kenyan woman’s freedoms and rights. In particular, she debunked the myth and affirmed that women just like men have a right to choose their own happiness; that they too should enjoy rights and freedoms just like any other person by virtue of being human. This feminist, nationalist and progressive Christian will be sung for reconstructing masculinity. She has unsuccessfully ran for political office, unbowed by dirty patriarchal politics.
When history is written, the SM Otieno’s brothers from the Umira Kager clan will find nothing but ignominy for sticking to an era long gone. As if the infamous SM Otieno case was not enough, one Mr Ougo, a brother to Otieno, demanded that Wambui be buried in Nyalgunga in Siaya according to custom. Such men, such words, such clans represent nothing but what Wambui called in her autobiography ‘men who back a conveniently divisive tribal, patriarchal "tradition"’.
The life and times of Wambui represent a courageous struggle in the turbulence of modern Kenya. My dirge for this legendary daughter of Kenya affirms her positive legacy on issues of gender and ethnicity. She was robustly nationalist, progressive and feminist in groundbreaking ways beyond her times.
BROUGHT TO YOU BY PAMBAZUKA NEWS
* Please send comments to editor[AT]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News.
Fahamu call for research proposals
Comparative African perspectives on China and other emerging powers in Africa
Wambui, our warrior
Njeri Wangari Wanjohi
The Mau Mau uprising
Found you and left you
You fought with the white man
Like a man
Wambui our warrior
You chose with your heart
The bead to place
In your life’s necklace
Like a soloist
Singing praise songs
For bearing you a lover
Wambui our warrior
Your love, like honey in a hive
For your children, husband and country
Was fresh and abundant every day
You fought for your husband’s love
Like a wounded animal
Their stabs to your heart
Left you bruised
But not dead
Wambui our warrior
For your husband’s body and his will
And they adorned themselves his curse
Like a bride for her day
Wambui our warrior
A pack of vultures surround your remains
Like a child
Had no right
Raising your voice to grown men
Wambui our warrior
May women try filling your shoes
Fight for truth
Fight for justice
Fight for what is right
Like a lion with its prey
Wambui our warrior
You have now found peace
At the bosom of your lover
Wambui our warrior
BROUGHT TO YOU BY PAMBAZUKA NEWS
* Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News.
Mama Wambui: National ethno-feminist
Dennis Dancan Mosiere
In your struggle
you exposed traditional chauvinism
Seen through the mirror of self
In your struggle,
There was a sense of weaving a nation
A true nation of humanity and unity
Indeed from you I learnt not to mourn
As unity was bestowed in your heart
Uniting the smaller nations within us
Not ethnicity, much of it very negative
Your warrior spirit
Continues to inspire us far and wide,
Broadly, our weakness in issues was broadly exposed, suppressed
May the spirit of your work
Inspire nationalism in this state
Without a nation-Kenya
May the fruits of your sweat serve the young
Instill and inform
Rekindle the memories of our songs of freedom
Freedom that we all yearn for
You have left a legacy, mau mau legacy
To be respected and maintained
For us, the souls in treachery
Must have freedom
Mama Wambui, a title
They never wanted to bestow upon you
Me, I , the poet recognizes
Bestow it upon your soul.
Mama Wambui-a true revolutionary
I honour you and know that
It shall prevail in my generation
Mama, rest in peace
Rest among the greatest
Of African progressive souls
Thomas Sankara, Me Katilili
Muthoni Nyanjiro. Field Marshall Kimathi Waciuri
Gakere, Baimungi and others
I do not manage to mention
Your soul is within us
And you shall inspire through the seed you planted
A true heroine,
A true progressive soul
I shall commit myself and my other comrades
It shall prevail,
Once we find our freedom and unity in humanity
* Dennis Dancan Mosiere aka Grand Master Masese is a poet, actor, editor, writer and musician based in Nairobi, Kenya.
* Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News.
A woman wears wooden sandals
If I sing you a song whose words
You have heard in the west
You will forget that I come from the East
You will tell me that I am a confused Afrikan woman
Who has learned from the west to sting with venom
deriding cultures and speaking in borrowed tongues
Failing to stem Lawino’s tide for all that sharpness
Relying on papers instead of oral wit.
If I sing you a song in this language
which many in the world share
you will tell me to think again
of placing my mother tongue
In its place of pride.
Should I beg you to let me sing?
Our mother’s tongues are versatile
Catching hope in glimpses of light
And with it making power for a night feast
Going where languages are no barriers.
Shatter this mold,
I do not in a language think
They do so who have time for analysis
We went digital before the way was discovered.
I tell you let me place my case
You can rest it in both the east and west
It is my soul that sings this song
Of freedom unbound by cultures
Refusing to sit in the place they choose
Feeling the pain of a dying language
Of mind and body and soul and power.
Translate me, transcribe me if you care
Languages never sit side by side.
Like white and black angels the fly everywhere.
Today I must look not only after millions of siblings
in a clan to assess a culture, and speak sense in no sense.
Wambui Otieno bears me witness
Many others are hidden in silence
I must from and to
bring them bread,
Of grain and of hope.
I take, without any permission
Metaphysical Aristotle to be my mentor
The principle of non contradiction
How can I be and not be
In different places at different times
In the different ways and in the same way?
Philo Ikonya © 2007
BROUGHT TO YOU BY PAMBAZUKA NEWS
* Philo Ikonya is a Kenyan poet.
* Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News.
I too weep with the widow
Daughter of Kenya, Wambui,
I weep with you.
Why has your nation left you alone?
In the moment of pain,
When Japuonj- Munene, the big one has slept?
Wambui, your tears go not to waste!
Like the sap that makes stand
They will be the comfort of
Many a Kenyan woman.
Who, the future, Wambui,
Will find a law written
With the ink of your sweat
Freedom and respect!
Are you democracy in love?
Let the big one rest in peace,
Woman of fiery mettle.
You of the heart that loves,
Weep, Wambui, weep,
We too weep.
Weep, weep with you.
© Philo Ikonya
BROUGHT TO YOU BY PAMBAZUKA NEWS
* Philo Ikonya is a Kenyan poet.
* Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News.
Ghana: Exploring lives in Sodom and Gomorrah slum
Discover the ins and outs of Sodom and Gomorrah slum in this documentary. Close to 80,000 people live in Sodom and Gomorrah, a slum on the edge of the polluted Korle Lagoon. The processing of electronic waste near the lagoon leaches toxic substances like lead into the soil. The place sprang up in the 1980s when thousands of people fleeing bloody ethnic clashes between the Kokomba and Nanumba in the north poured into the capital.
Ghana: Political Promises
Political Promises reveals how promises given the electorate end up unfulfilled. It is a special documentary on Obom, a village a few miles away from the Ghanaian capital, Accra. Many of the residents are suffering from Buruli ulcer. Children still carry desks to school, and sit in classrooms with leaking roofs. Joy FM reporter Seth Kwame Boateng tells the story of how the health, education and economic needs of the locals have yet to be fulfilled.
Ghana: Woes of the Borstal Child
Woes of the Borstal Child delves into the poor conditions in which children are held in Ghana’s remand homes for children. Hundreds of the children under the age of 18 are held in these institutions under shocking conditions. Most of the facilities were built decades ago and have seen little or no renovation since they were built. But why would the courts be keen on sending children to these poorly-resourced facilities built decades ago? There is also concern that many of these children were unfairly convicted and sent to these facilities. Fiifi Koomson of Joy FM in Accra has been following the issue.
Trouble on the Land: Dan Rather Reports
Dan Rather devotes his program, 'Dan Rather Reports on HD Net' on Tuesday 27 September to exploring the complex issues involved with modern-day land appropriation in developing countries. The program profiles Oakland Institute's ground breaking work on land grabs in Africa involving over 30 land deals in seven countries. Rather interviews Anuradha Mittal of the Oakland Institute and looks at the role of American investors and US universities in this trend that threatens millions of lives, the future for Sub-Saharan Africa, and examines why this is happening at this time.
Zimbabwe: 'Country risks becoming another Ivory Coast'
The Prime Minister of Zimbabwe, Morgan Tsvangirai, has requested Nigeria and the African Union (AU) to intervene in his country's pre-elections disagreement in order to rescue it from becoming 'another Ivory Coast.'
Zimbabwe: Shortage of nurses, doctors and specialists
Statistics show that chronic diseases such as cancer and diabetes are on the rise in developing nations. A number of these nations are still battling infectious diseases such as HIV. Having to deal with both infectious and chronic diseases puts even more pressure on health systems that are already struggling to cope. Zimbabwe’s brain drain of medical professionals has further compounded this situation due to the shortage of nurses, doctors and specialists.
Africa: '2012 World Development Report on Gender Equality and Development'
The 2012 World Development Report on Gender Equality and Development finds that women's lives around the world have improved dramatically, but gaps remain in many areas. The authors use a conceptual framework to examine progress to date, and then recommend policy actions.
Africa: Cervical cancer common among women in Sub-Saharan Africa
Cervical cancer is the most common women’s affliction in Sub-Saharan Africa and the third most common ailment in females, with 530,000 new cases and 275,000 deaths each year. About 80-90 per cent of women in the Region have never had a pelvic examination.
Africa: Female agriculture scientists to fuel agrarian evolution
Africa must harness the potential of female agriculture scientists to revolutionise farming practices and rescue millions of citizens from hunger pangs. Experts contend that African women contribute 70 per cent of food produced yet they are grossly under-represented in research and policymaking as well as influential leadership positions in the agriculture sector.
Africa: Gender equality World Bank report
'The right and smart thing to do'
Gender equality matters in its own right, but is also smart economics: Countries that create better opportunities and conditions for women and girls can raise productivity, improve outcomes for children, make institutions more representative, and advance development prospects for all, says a new World Bank report.
Africa: Rights of older women raised at the UN
The abuse of women's rights in Africa is an issue which is close to blogger Glynnis Cummingsjohn's heart. Abuse against older women is common across Africa and in African communities abroad, yet it receives very little attention. People give many reasons for it: culture, religion, politics, etc... all in the hope of legitimising this abuse, which is totally unacceptable.
Africa: Understanding contemporary violence in Central Africa
Militarism, race, and gender
It is time to challenge the conventional explanations of gender based violence. Patricia Daley argues that it can only be understood in association with contemporary geo-economic forces and the Central African experience of modernity.
Africa: Violence against women and girls in the Horn of Africa
The Untold Story
Sarah Costa, executive director of the Women's Refugee Commission, examines the plight of many in the Horn of Africa as thousands of Somalis, the overwhelming majority of them women and children, flee their country to find food and shelter in neighboring Kenya and Ethiopia. Yet when they finally reach the camps, which are supposed to be safe havens, they find that the dangers continue.
DRC: Women politicians 'key to promoting rights'
Political parties in the Democratic Republic of Congo are struggling to recruit women into their ranks to run for parliament, despite a legal requirement to do so and a belief that greater numbers of female parliamentarians are critical to advancing women’s rights.
Zimbabwe: Polygamy and poverty culture impacts women
This piece on the Women's News Network blog recounts that despite the country’s urban political turbulence, most rural communities in Zimbabwe are still governed under patriarchal rules that permit polygamy and exclude women from property rights.
Egypt: Emergency law biggest threat to rights since 25 January
The Egyptian military authorities’ expansion of the emergency law is the greatest erosion of human rights since the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak earlier this year, Amnesty International said. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) broadened the application of the Mubarak-era emergency law following clashes between demonstrators and security forces at the Israeli embassy last Friday. The confrontation resulted in three reported deaths and some 130 arrests.
Egypt: End to military trials of civilians
Egypt's army will stop trying civilians in military courts when it scraps the country's decades-old emergency law, a top general said, as activists tried to build momentum for a mass protest against military trials. Rights groups say Egypt's army rulers have used military courts to imprison as many as 14,000 civilians as they try to deal with follow-up waves of street protests since the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak.
Equatorial Guinea: Disputed life sciences award back on UNESCO's agenda
A year ago, human rights activists thought they had squashed a proposed United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization ( UNESCO) prize in the life sciences that would honor Teodoro Obiang, the longtime dictator of Equatorial Guinea. But that celebration may have been premature. The controversial award is back on the agenda of UNESCO's Executive Board, which will meet in Paris -and this time, Obiang has the backing of the entire African Union.
Global: 130 death row inmates have been found innocent since 1973
This is a startling and disturbing statistic. The reality is: these 130 people were originally found guilty based on eyewitness testimony. Once physical DNA evidence surfaced, it turned out that the eyewitnesses, who testified against them, were wrong. There is no DNA evidence in the case of Troy Anthony Davis.
Global: Rights defenders using video need greater protection
As human rights activists and ordinary citizens risk their lives across the Arab world, a new report argues that we have not yet done enough to empower and protect those who attempt to expose injustices through video. Video, a powerful tool for change, is enabling the public to become human rights activists on an unprecedented scale. The 'Cameras Everywhere' report from WITNESS calls on technology companies, investors, policymakers and civil society to work together in strengthening the practical and policy environments, as well as the information and communication technologies, used to defend human rights.
Liberia: AFL brutality again
The newly trained Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) seems to be gradually reverting to behavior and practices of the past. There are repeated reports of soldiers’ brutality here and there against civilians and sometimes paramilitary personnel in the country.
Sierra Leone: Human Rights Commission speaks out against violence
'HRCSL expresses deep concern over the recent spate of violence in the country and regrets the resulting loss of life and injuries to individuals and destruction of property. We refer to reports of political violence recently in Kono followed by the affray at the national stadium during the Egypt/Sierra Leone match and most recently the Bo incident. The incident in Kono and Bo involved political violence resulting in the discharge of firearms allegedly by the police leading to injury to individuals and security personnel.'
Swaziland: Police kill protesters
'Two bus operators have died after having been shot by police in Swaziland,' Morten Nielsen from Danish NGO Africa Contact reports from the small kingdom. The shootings come in the wake of widespread police violence throughout the country during recent weeks, as well as in April, where thousands of Swazis marched for democracy and socio-economic justice.
Togo: Truth commission begins hearing testimonies of violent decades
After culling through 20,000 depositions from alleged victims of politically motivated torture and human rights violations in Togo, a special commission has begun hearing testimony from a select group of some 250 of those alleged victims, whose stories cover nearly half a century of turmoil in this West African nation.
Uganda: Amnesty welcomes release of Kenyan rights activist
Amnesty International has welcomed the release of Kenyan human rights activist, Al-Amin Kimathi by a Ugandan court. The charges against NGO director Al-Amin Kimathi and four other defendants were dropped by the Kampala High Court at the start of their trial.
Western Sahara: Polisario Front denounces Moroccan 'repressive' practices
The National Secretariat (SN) of the Polisario Front has denounced the colonial practices of the Moroccan government, through the campaigns of brutal repression, arrests, abductions and transferring civilians before military courts, particularly since the forced dismantling of the camp of Gdeim Izik, November 8, 2010.
Global: African refugees in the Amazon
According to United Nations figures, since 2010 some 30 refugees from Africa who have requested asylum from the Brazilian government are living in Amazon jungle states. The asylum-seekers are from Cote d'Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea Bissau, Nigeria and Sierra Leone in West Africa, Kenya in East Africa, Zimbabwe in Southern Africa, and the DRC.
Liberia: UNHCR opens new camp for Ivorian refugees
UNHCR has opened a sixth camp for up to 27,000 refugees from Côte d'Ivoire who have been living with host communities in eastern Liberia since fleeing their homeland.
Nigeria: Deportation of 115 in Kano
Nigerian authorities have in recent days deported 115 illegal immigrants from the northern city of Kano amid increased security after an attack on UN headquarters in the country, an official said.
Sudan: Government denies access to aid agencies
Over 200,000 people affected by the recent violence in Sudan’s Southern Kordofan face extreme levels of malnutrition and mortality after the government has denied access to aid agencies, the United Nations said.
Zimbabwe: Travelling with child migrants
The BBC has produced a podcast about Zimbabwe as part of their BBC documentaries podcast series Assignment. In 'Assignment - Zimbabwe's Child Migrants' (25min) Mukul Devichand goes on the road with young children travelling alone on a journey of desperation, danger and hope - south from Zimbabwe and across the border to South Africa.
Africa: China, Africa reinforce nongovernmental ties
China and Africa called for deeper and more frequent people-to-people exchange as they launched the first China-Africa nongovernmental organization (NGO) forum to bring together civil society actors.
Latest edition: emerging powers news roundup
1. China in Africa
China to build complex in Mozambique
A Chinese company is building a $439m housing project outside the capital in Mozambique, meant to create a new suburb for the middle class, state media reported on Tuesday. Prime Minister Aires Ali laid the first stone for the construction of 5 000 houses "worthy of Mozambicans" in the city of Matola, near Maputo, according to state newspaper Noticias. The southern African country, one of the poorest in the world, signed the deal with China's Henan Guoji Industrial and Development company in August.
China gives Benin $34m in loans, grants
China has given Benin $34m in loans and grants, part of which will fund an anti-piracy patrol drive off the coast of the west African country where hijackings have surged this year. The aid package was announced by the office of President Thomas Boni Yayi, shortly after he returned home on Tuesday at the end of a week-long official trip to China. Of the $34m, about $5,5m will go towards the purchase of a vessel to patrol the waters off the coast of Benin, which has seen 19 ships coming under attack this year alone, up from zero reported last year.
Tanzania nears $1bn loan from China for pipeline
Tanzania is expected to sign a deal for a $1,06bn loan from China to build a natural gas pipeline from the southern part of the country to its commercial capital, a newspaper has quoted the energy minister as saying. Last month, Energy and Minerals Minister William Ngeleja said in a presentation to parliament that the government was seeking loans from China to finance the construction of the pipeline from Mtwara to Dar es Salaam.
Zambia opposition leader says to keep China ties
Zambian opposition leader Michael Sata, who stands a fair chance of an upset in next week's presidential election, said on Friday he would maintain strong economic ties with China despite his previous criticism of Asian investment. The Patriotic Front (PF) leader has accused Chinese mining firms of creating slave labour conditions in Africa's top copper producer with scant regard for safety or the local culture, but has tempered the rhetoric as the September 20 election has neared.
Zambia's kwacha falls after opposition poll victory
Zambia's kwacha fell to a 12-month low of 5,030 against the dollar on Friday after opposition leader Michael Sata, a fierce critic of foreign mining investment, especially from China, won a surprise election victory. Traders said the currency of Africa's biggest copper producer was likely to remain on the back foot until Sata provided clarity on his economic policies.
2. India in Africa
India's foreign trade institute to set up shop in Uganda
The government-run Indian Institute of Foreign Trade (IIFT) is setting up its first overseas campus in Uganda to assist students of African nations understand the nuances of globalisation and capacity-building in the continent. 'We are setting up a full-fledged institution like the IIFT in Kampala. It will be our first full-fledged overseas campus. The Ugandan government will provide physical infrastructure,' said IIFT director K.T. Chacko.
India moves to wrestle African telecom market from China
The battle for the control of Africa's telecom market is heating up, with India attempting to wrestle the market from China through bigger investments in the region's ICT sector. Last week, the Indian government signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Zimbabwe on computer aided education for youths dubbed "the Hole in the Wall Project." The Indian government will additionally help Zimbabwe with the establishment of three learning institutions in to mark the pilot phase of the project.
India to boost Ethiopia's leather production
Two Indian government leather development institutions have vowed to transform Ethiopia's leather sector in three to five years and make it globally competitive. Ethiopia has Africa's largest cattle population. The arrangement has been made by the Central Leather Research Institute (CLRI) and the Footwear Design and Development Institute (FDDI) with the Ethiopian Leather Industry Development Institute (ELIDI). The two Indian institutions will transfer technology and help accelerate the sluggish growth of earnings from the East African nation's leather and leather products export.
3. In Other Emerging Powers News
Chinese experts propose India-China-Africa trilateral
Amid attempts by the West to project India and China as rivals in Africa, Chinese scholars have proposed trilateral cooperation between New Delhi, Beijing and the African continent which could include dialogues between their policy makers and academics. "India, China and Africa have similar economic and political interests. A trilateral cooperation mechanism will contribute to international peace, stability and prosperity," said Africa Study Centre Director Li Rong at the influential China Institute for Contemporary International Relations.
"Brazil Could Mediate Between Juba and Khartoum"
The world's newest nation, South Sudan, is seeking support from Brazil – the first country in the world to recognise the new nation – in learning the art of diplomacy and defusing tensions and persistent conflicts. South Sudan plans to open an embassy in Brasilia in 2012, the first in South America. Brazil could be a "trusted partner" to help the new country negotiate with Sudan to the north and learn "how to conduct diplomacy," said James Padiet Angok, in charge of relations with South America in South Sudan's recently created Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation.
Emerging powers can play vital world role -Brazil
Brazil, one of the world's fastest-growing economies, is part of the BRICS group of emerging market powers, which also includes Russia, India, China and South Africa. Brazil earlier this month moved to spearhead an effort by the BRICS group to support the crisis-hit euro zone by making coordinated purchases of euro zone government bonds. Early this summer, the growing dissatisfaction by emerging countries that they remain relegated to peripheral roles in world affairs was highlighted by the jockeying over the naming of a new head to the International Monetary Fund.
BRIC nations sign Beijing Consensus
The BRICS countries, including China, Brazil, Russia, India and South Africa, signed the Beijing Consensus on Wednesday, stating that coping with the financial crisis and promoting long-term, steady and relatively rapid economic growth are their shared tasks. The consensus, signed at the second BRICS International Competition Conference, called on all countries and regions to build more consensuses and adopt effective competition policies, which it said "are vital for ensuring fair competition, protecting the interests of consumers and promoting the healthy development of a market economy."
Africa: AFRICOM: Devil in the backyard
An opinion piece in the Herald argues that AFRICOM is 'undermining the African Union (AU) and its Peace and Security Council which deals with Peace and Security on the continent'.
Africa: US building secret drone bases
The Washington Post reports that the Obama administration is assembling a constellation of secret drone bases for counterterrorism operations in the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula as part of a newly aggressive campaign to attack al-Qaeda affiliates in Somalia and Yemen, US officials said.
Africa: Long-serving African leaders
Time to consider exit strategies
The Brookings Institution finds that in January, the 10 longest serving African leaders included: Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi of Libya (42 years) , Jose E. Dos Santos of Angola (32 years) , Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mi of Equatorial Guinea (32 years), Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe (31 years), Hosni Mubarak of Egypt (30 years), Paul Biya of Cameroon (30 years), Yoweri Museveni of Uganda (25 years), Blaise Compaore of Burkina Faso (24 years), Zina el-Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia (24 years) and Umar Hassan al-Bashir of Sudan (22 years). Within a short period of eight months, almost a third of them have been removed from power.
Africa: Protests in Sub-Saharan Africa
A record number of African countries are set to hold elections throughout 2011. This article analyses the political and internal situation of different countries that are currently facing unrest and revolt. Protesters ask for better social and economic conditions, the respect of their civil rights and the implementation of political reforms. Leaders have often responded to the opposition with violence and repression. It remains to be seen if real changes can occur in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Cameroon: Meet some 2011 presidential aspirants
So far more than twenty Cameroonian political and civil society actors have indicated their intention to run for the country's top job, the president of the republic. As Cameroonians look forward to the 2011 Presidential Poll, due October, the aspirants have also been making public what they will do for the country, but some observers hold that the presidential aspirants are not proposing issues, which are realistic.
Congo: The electoral process seen from the east
The latest briefing from the International Crisis Group, examines voter registration and the beginning of the campaign on the ground in the Kivu provinces and the Ituri district and highlights the electoral stakes in a region that remains fundamental for durable stability in the country.
Gambia: Climate of fear ahead of presidential poll
Human rights advocates watching Gambia are worried that abuses against perceived dissenters will rise as the November presidential election nears, killing any chance of a free and fair poll. Already the official campaign period - the only time opposition parties are given access to the media and allowed to actively campaign - has been shrunk to 11 days from four weeks, sparking concern among political leaders.
Liberia: Africa Today speaks with Emira Woods on upcoming elections
Africa Today speaks with Emira Woods on the upcoming Liberia elections, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, and West African regional developments. Emira Woods is the Co-Director of Foreign Policy in Focus at the Institute for Policy Studies.
Libya: New govt. in 7-10 days
Libya's interim prime minister says his administration will form a new government within the next seven to 10 days. Mahmoud Jibril spoke to reporters on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York. He said Libya's National Transitional Council is finalizing decisions on the exact number of ministries and whether they would all be located in the capital, Tripoli, or divided between eastern and western Libya.
Malawi: Activists plan fresh protests
Leading Malawi civil rights groups plan a new round of protests against President Bingu wa Mutharika, who received international condemnation after his forces killed 20 people when crushing anti-government rallies in July.
Sudan: Ban of opposition party
The Sudanese government has banned and closed the offices of the Sudanese People's Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N), a major opposition party, a senior SPLM-N member says.
Zambia: Civil society group hails ‘well-managed’ vote
The Coalition of Civil Societies On Elections says it is satisfied with the conduct of general elections in Zambia. It warns however delays in announcing the results could create tensions.
Zambia: ZESN observes Zambia’s tripartite election
'Election Day was generally peaceful, however incidents of violence were reported at Lilanda, Kanyama and Nakatindi polling stations owing to the delay in opening of polling stations and the delivery of Ballot boxes. It is important to note that when notified of these issues, the Electoral Commission of Zambia was quick to rectify some of the problems identified.'
ZESN observes Zambia’s tripartite elections - 2011
Harare - 26 September 2010 - The Zimbabwe Election Support Network deployed a 15 member delegation to observe the tripartite election which were held on 20 September, 2011.
The team observed the pre-election, election and post election phases of the Zambian Presidential, parliamentary and local government (tripartite) elections.
Election Day was generally peaceful, however incidents of violence were reported at Lilanda, Kanyama and Nakatindi polling stations owing to the delay in opening of polling stations and the delivery of Ballot boxes. It is important to note that when notified of these issues, the Electoral Commission of Zambia was quick to rectify some of the problems identified.
The ZESN mission made a number of observations:
Biometric Voters’ Roll
ZESN noted that copies of the voters’ roll were easily accessible to the public and political parties. Voters were given voter cards bearing their image and other essential details similar to those on the voters’ roll. This reduced the possibility of double voting and confusion over the polling stream and polling stations to use on election day. All the political party agents in the polling station had a copy of the voters’ roll for verification purposes. ZESN commends the Electoral Commission of Zambia for the transparent and comprehensive manner in which the voters’ roll was compiled.
The Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) had its Ballot Papers printed in South Africa citing lack of capacity within Zambia to produce them. Although this courted some controversy, the ECZ invited all political parties and civic society organisations to witness the ballot printing in South Africa and to accompany the ballot papers back to Zambia. This quelled fears of ballot tempering and helped build confidence in the transparency of the process.
The mission noted media polarization. The state or public media’s reportage was biased towards the incumbent Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) party and the mainstream private media reporting favourably on the main opposition parties. However, there were efforts to provide a semblance of balance with both private and public media conducting election debates covering all parties.
Polling centres and Polling station based voting
The ECZ established a total of 6 456 polling stations across the country, these were further divided into streams of not more than 850 people. The streaming was done to speed up the voting process and ZESN commends the ECZ for the streaming process which also customized voter registers alphabetically to avoid confusion over which stream voters would cast their ballots.
Tabulation of results
Election results per voting stream were counted and recorded on polling station results sheets which were signed by political party agents and monitors. At constituency level Returning Officers announced the winners of the Parliamentary and Local government elections. Presidential returns for the presidential ballot were sent by electronic modems and satellite phones to the ECZ. The mission however noted delays in the announcement of the results in some constituencies which raised suspicion of vote tempering and resulted in violence in some areas. However the final results were announced within the stipulated 48 hours which is commendable.
Role of Civic society
ZESN observed that the Zambian civil society had a coordinated effort in advocating for a free and fair election as well as in fostering peace and political tolerance among the opposing parties and deployed over 9 000 monitors. Zambian Civil society was also instrumental in the security of the vote by using a system called Rapid Response Project (RRP). The RRP which was a random sample of polling stations and results was based on official ECZ results tabulated at polling stations. The final results announced by the ECZ were within the approximations given by the RRP with a margin of error of 1.4%.
The mission also learnt that there were over a million new voters according the statistics provided by the Commission. ZESN applauds the inclusivity and comprehensive voter registration exercise by the Commission.
The mission also commend the open invitation to regional and international observer mission such as Commonwealth Observer group, European Union Election Observer mission, SADC Electoral Observer Mission, SADC Parliamentary Forum Observer Mission, African Union, the Chinese delegation, SADC Council of NGOs, SADC Election Support Network amongst others. In addition the mission also commends the decentralised accreditation process which was also smooth and efficient.
Electoral Commission of Zambia
There were significant levels of trust by the electorate of the ECZ. In addition there seemed to be a belief in the independence, integrity and capacity of the ECZ to run the election. This was made possible by the various confidence building mechanisms that the Commission employed.
Although the ZESN mission noted a number of good practices during the Zambia elections there are a number of issues the Electoral Commission need to improve on.
· Firstly; the media in Zambia is highly polarized and there is need for comprehensive reforms to enable fair and balanced coverage of all political parties.
· The election revealed that there are no provisions for gender equality in the electoral processes. ZESN therefore call on the ECZ to put in place mechanisms that encourage gender parity in Zambia’s electoral processes.
· There is no clear framework on political parties finance and there is need for policies that will clearly articulate the financing of political parties so that smaller political parties will not be disadvantaged in future elections.
ZESN, based on the findings of the Zambia election observation mission is of the view that the elections were held in a conducive and peaceful environment and applauds the government of Zambia, security forces and political parties for respecting the will of the Zambian people. // ENDS
Africa: Corruption eroding benefits of health projects
Corruption is eroding the benefits of good health projects in Africa and governments must look inwards for funding, the World Health Organisation (WHO), has said. In a meeting with African Ministers of Health and Ministers of Finance in Yamoussoukro, Cote d’Ivoire, the organisation said solving the problem of funding was necessary for the health sector to thrive in the continent.
Africa: Tender accountability/corruption in Southern Africa
An initiative of the Institute for Accountability in Southern Africa (IFAISA)
Initiated by the Institute for Accountability in Southern Africa (IFAISA) (a non-profit association), and organised by Omega Investment Research, this international conference is intended to deal with all the more serious forms of corruption and combating corruption from both an international and an African perspective.
Africa: US regulators probe Oracle dealings in Africa
Oracle Corp. is being investigated by US authorities on whether the business software maker violated federal anti-bribery laws, the Wall Street Journal reported.
South Sudan: Change student scholarships after education funds stolen
South Sudan’s new minister of higher education said during a visit to Uganda that 'a lot of changes' will be made to processes of awarding scholarship to students due to lack of transparency and corruption at his ministry.
Zimbabwe: Mugabe swears in anti-graft commission
President Robert Mugabe has sworn in Zimbabwe's anti-corruption commission in an effort to stem graft in the southern African country, state media reported.
Africa: All-African peoples' conference statement on neocolonialism
This statement dates from 1961, but 50 years later it is being reposted here for its historical and contemporary relevance. The statement notes that, 'neo-Colonialism manifests itself through economic and political intervention, intimidation and blackmail in order to prevent African states from directing their political, social and economic programmes towards the exploitation of their natural wealth for the benefit of their peoples.'
RESOLUTION ON NEOCOLONIALISM
ALL- AFRICAN PEOPLES’ CONFERENCE
CAIRO, MARCH 25– 31, 1961
The third All-African Peoples’ Conference meeting in Cairo from the 25th to the 31st of March, 1961, having carefully reviewed the current situation in Africa;
Considers Neo-colonialism, which is the survival of the colonial system in spite of formal recognition of political independence in emerging countries which become the victims of an indirect and subtle form of domination by political, economic, social, military or technical, is the greatest threat to African Countries that have newly won their independence or those approaching this status.
Emphasises the examples of the Congo, the French Community, the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland, which indicate that the colonial system and international imperialism, realizing their failure in facing the development of revolutionary movements in Africa, make use of many means to safeguard the essential of their economic and military power.
When the recognition of national independence becomes inevitable, they try to deprive these countries of their essence of real independence. This is done by imposing unequal economic, military and technical, conventions; by creating puppet governments following false elections, or by inventing some so-called constitutional formulas of multinational co-existence intended only to hide the racial discrimination favouring settlers.
Whenever such machinations appear insufficient to hamper the combativity and determination of popular liberation movements, dying colonialism tries, under the order of Neo-Colonialism or through the guided intervention of the United Nations, the balkanization of newly-independent States or the systematic division of the political or syndical vivid forces, and in desperate cases, like the Congo, colonialism goes as far as plots, repressive measures by army and police, and murderous cold-blood.
Considering that Neo-Colonialism manifests itself through economic and political intervention, intimidation and blackmail in order to prevent African states from directing their political, social and economic programmes towards the exploitation of their natural wealth for the benefit of their peoples.
Considers that such countries as the United States, Federal Germany, Israel, Britain, Belgium, Holland, South Africa and France are the perpetrators of Neo-Colonialism.
Manifestations of Neo-Colonialism
The Conference denounces the following manifestations of Neo-Colonialism in Africa:
(a) Puppet governments represented by stooges and even fabricated elections, based on some chiefs, reactionary elements, anti-popular politicians, big bourgeois compradors or corrupt civil or military officials.
(b) Regrouping of states, before or after independence, by an imperial power in federation or communities linked to that imperial power.
(c) Balkanisation as a deliberate policy of fragmentation of states by creation of artificial entities such as Katanga, Mauritania, Buganda, etc.
(d) The economic entrenchment of the colonial power before independence and the continuity of economic dependence after formal recognition of national sovereignty.
(e) Integration into colonial economic blocks which maintain the under-developed character of African economy.
(f) Economic infiltration by a foreign power after independence, through capital investments, loans and monetary aid, or technical experts under unequal concessions, particularly those extending for long periods.
(g) Direct monetary dependence, as in those emergent independent states whose finances remain directly controlled by colonial powers.
Agents of Neo-Colonialism
The Third All-African Peoples’ Conference exposes the following agents of Neo-Colonialism:
(a) Colonial embassies and missions serving as nerve centres for espionage and pressure points on local African governments directly or through their civil or military technicians.
(b) So-called foreign and United Nations technical assistants who ill-advise and sabotage national political, economical, educational and social development.
(c) Military personnel in armed forces and police, as officers and advisers who serve above all, the colonial interests directly, or through local officers who remain loyal to their former masters.
(d) The representatives from imperialist and colonial countries, under the cover of religion, Moral Re-armament, cultural, Trade Union and Youth and Philanthropic organizations.
(e) The malicious propaganda by radio, press, literature controlled by imperial and colonial countries, as well as in some independent African Countries where press and radio are still owned by imperialist powers.
(f) Puppet Governments in Africa being used by imperialists in the furtherance of Neo-Colonialism, such as the use of their good offices by the neo-colonial powers to undermine the sovereignty and aspirations of other African States.
Means of Fighting Neo-Colonialism
The Third All-African Peoples’ Conference, whose very reason of existence is the mobilization of the African masses for the liberation of Africa, is firmly convinced that it is by intensifying this mobilization that Africa will find the most efficient way to fight Neo-Colonialism and to extract the last roots of imperialism.
It is the duty of popular, political, syndical, youth and women’s organizations, not only to inspire and wage the struggle against Neo-Colonialism, but also, and above all to be vigilant, to control the correct application of the general outline and to denounce all those who attempt to deviate it from its real objectives.
The Conference realizes that the struggle against Neo-Colonialism must be associated with the struggle against all forms of opportunism which is the mask of the accomplices of imperialism.
It is therefore by awakening of the conscience of the masses by the establishment of landmarks of real liberation, that the masses will be freed from the power of certain slogans and formulas that only serve as a camouflage for colonialism.
That is why, the Conference:
(a) Condemns the balkanization of emerging States, whether dependent or independent, as a way to perpetuate Neo-Colonialism in Africa (Congo, Mauritania, Northern Rhodesia, Buganda, etc. )
(b) Condemns the federations and communities created before independence under the patronage of colonial States.
(c) Invites all independent African States to give aid and assistance to liberate the African countries still under foreign domination.
(d) Urges all independent Africa States which still retain former military and para-military bases, to liquidate these bases as soon as possible.
(e) Conference reaffirms its determination to continue to mobilize popular mass opinion to denounce enemies of true independence and agents of Neo-Colonialism camouflaged in all possible forms.
(f) This Conference denounces aid with expressed or unexpressed strings attached.
(g) The Conference urges independent African States to intensify their efforts for the creation of an effective form of cooperation among African States in the Economic, Social and Cultural domains in order to frustrate Neo-Colonialism.
(h) This Conference deplores the attitude of some independent African States who, under the guise of neutrality, are passive even on matters affecting the whole of Africa, and who, by their passiveness in activities in fact promote the cause of Neo-Colonialism.
(i) The Conference calls for the immediate launching of the All-African Trade Union Federation as an effective means of counter-acting Neo-Colonialism.
Africa: Battle for agricultural development
Famine in the Horn of Africa and surging food prices are concentrating the minds of policymakers on the need for long-term solutions, particularly for small farmers. If they can become as productive as their peers in Asia, the argument goes, they can move from self-subsistence, make a decent livelihood, and ultimately drive economic development on the continent.
Africa: Governments, NGOs & Civil Society
A crisis of legitimacy?
In April, the Columbia Journalism Review raised the question of whether non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in Africa benefit from particular representations of the continent as conflict and poverty-ridden.
Kenya: Kenya puts its faith in fish farming
The Kenyan government is pushing fish farming to provide an alternative to small farmers who are scrabbling to eke out a living from poor soil.
Africa: History of blood transfusions and HIV in Sub-Saharan Africa
Could blood transfusions have made such a contribution to the most serious HIV epidemics in the world? Often, it is said or suggested that transfusions were not common enough in developing countries, particularly the African countries that have experienced the worst HIV epidemics. But an article published by William H. Schneider and Ernest Drucker five years ago shows that this view is mistaken.
Africa: Struggle to control a prolific killer
Lifestyle influenced non-communicable diseases, including diabetes, heart disease and cancer, kill about 36m people each year – 80 per cent of them in developing countries. The rate is growing fastest in Africa, where it will overtake the death toll from infectious diseases such as malaria and HIV by 2030.
Burundi: Deaths reported as ARV shortage continues
Burundian NGOs say at least 20 people have died as a national shortage of antiretroviral continues. 'Some have died, others have turned to traditional healers, and all of them [HIV-positive people] are discouraged,' said Jeanne Gapiya, who heads Burundi's largest HIV NGO, Association Nationale de soutien aux Seropositifs et Sideens (ANSS).
Namibia: Malnutrition cases rising in Karas
The number of underweight children as a result of malnutrition continues to rise in Karas Region, a recent weight monitoring study conducted by the Keetmanshoop health district reveals. A report that contains information over a six month period since January indicated that 145 children aged between zero and 59 months were found to be severely' underweight.
Sierra Leone: Pregnant women still denied lifesaving medical care
More than a year after the launch of the Free Health Care Initiative, pregnant women and girls in Sierra Leone continue to face serious challenges in accessing the drugs and medical care crucial for safe pregnancy and childbirth, Amnesty International said.
Somalia: The world's highest mortality rate for children
Somalia has the world's highest mortality rate for children under age 5, according to data released by the United Nations Inter-agency Group for Child Mortality Estimation.
Zimbabwe: 2nd national HIV/Aids strategic plan complete
Zimbabwe has completed the development of a second national HIV/Aids strategic plan for 2011 to 2015 which is designed to reduce the percentage of HIV infected infants born to HIV-positive mothers, an official has said.
Zimbabwe: HIV - survey reveals women most affected
Women account for more than 60 per cent of the 1,2 million people living with HIV and Aids in Zimbabwe, a recent survey has revealed. The survey, contained in a report titled: 'Know your Epidemic - Know your Response', indicated that only 20 per cent of the adult population knew their HIV status.
Zimbabwe: Thousands of children die from AIDS each year
Thousands of children die each year in Zimababwe from HIV-related illnesses, often because they have no access to life-prolonging anti-retroviral drugs, the state-run Herald newspaper reports.
Africa: Pan-African awards for entrepreneurship in education
Pan-African Awards for Entrepreneurship in Education is a competition initiated by Teach A Man To Fish and generously sponsored by partner organisation Educating Africa. It continues to reward organizations in Africa that use innovative and entrepreneurial techniques to fill gaps in educational services across the continent. The competition is open to all organisations based in Africa working in education, from primary through to tertiary, as well as in non-formal and adult education.
Eritrea: Illiteracy rate drops by 45 per cent
An Eritrean Ministry of Education statement issued in connection with International Literacy Day has found that the nation's illiteracy rate has been reduced by 45% and attributes progress to the preparation of textbooks as well as an adult education programme.
Gambia: Educationists reaffirm commitment to higher education
Educationists from the two sister Ministries of Basic and Secondary Education; and Higher Education, Research, Science and Technology recently stepped up efforts that seek to pave the way forward in achieving a more vibrant higher education policy road map.
Zimbabwe: To South Africa in search of an education
The collapse of affordable schooling in Zimbabwe is leading thousands of children to make a perilous trek to South Africa. But some of those who make it, penniless, to Johannesburg, get what they want - a top-quality education.
Uganda: LGBTI human rights defender receives Kennedy Award
Frank Mugisha, a Ugandan LGBTI human rights defender has been selected for the 2011 Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award. He has been commended for his work in the LGBTI community especially in Uganda. Mugisha is the Executive Director of Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG), an umbrella organisation that protects and recognises LGBTI people in the country.
South Africa: Govt. devoted to uprooting xenophobia
South Africa remains committed to resolving and stamping out the recurring problem of xenophobia in all its forms wherever it manifests itself within the Republic. This was the message from Minister for Public Service and Administration, Mr Richard Baloyi during his opening remarks of the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) meeting of select Focal Points with African Peer Review (APR) Panel members.
Africa: CCAFS theme leader discusses root causes of food insecurity
In this video interview, made by Francesco Fiondella at the International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI), CCAFS theme leader James Hansen discusses the causes of the current drought plaguing the Horn of Africa. He points out that even if the lack of rain is a root cause of the crisis, it is still only one of many factors that has lead to the ongoing drought.
Africa: Global warming threatens food security
The food security threat posed by climate change is one of the greatest challenges facing the African continent, says Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson. 'Climate change is a serious threat to the agricultural field in the African continent,' Joemat-Pettersson told BuaNews at a breakfast briefing with African ambassadors to solicit support for the planned meeting on climate-smart agriculture.
Ethiopia: Global Climate Change Alliance
Builiding the national capacity and knowledge on climate change resilient actions
This project was formulated by the EU Delegation with full participation of NAO, EPA, MoA and MoWE aims to contribute towards the construction of a carbon neutral and climate resilient economy through the corresponding socio-economic development program (CRGE). Identification of Services is a key aspect of the project which focuses advisory and support functions.
Gambia: Already suffering negative impact of climate change
Gambian National Environment Agency, NEA said recently that the country is already facing the worst ramifications of the climate change. NEA’s executive director, Momodou B. Sarr said in Banjul that already climate change impact on agriculture is attributed to 40 per cent drop in groundnut yields due to rising temperatures and the disappearance of freshwater swamps, and soil salinization in lowland areas resulting from sea level rise is likely to impact negatively on rice production and the lives of women farmers in these areas.
South Africa: Infrastructure needed to help farmers cope with climate change
Investments in rural infrastructure, both physical and institutional, were needed to enhance the resilience of agriculture in the face of the uncertainties of climate change, South Africa's Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Maite Nkoana-Mashabane said at the African Ministerial Conference on Climate-Smart Agriculture.
Africa: Indian agribusiness sets sights on land in east Africa
Indian agribusiness companies are ready to spend $2.5bn buying, or renting for decades, several million hectares of cheap land in Ethiopia, Tanzania and Uganda in what could be some of the largest farming deals struck in Africa in the last 50 years.
Mozambique: Government provides 60,000 km2 of land to Brazilian farmers
The Mozambican government is providing large tracts of land at a symbolic price to Brazilian farmers to produce soy, maize and cotton, Mozambique’s agriculture minister, José Pacheco told Brazilian newspaper Folha de Sao Paulo.
Mozambique: REDD+ in Mozambique
New opportunity for land grabbers?
REDD+ intends to develop financing mechanisms that will compensate developing countries as an incentive for changing the way forest resources are used to curb CO2 emissions. The performance based compensation will pay for actions that prevent forest loss or degradation, conservation, the sustainable management of forests and enhancement of carbon stocks. Isilda Nhantumbo argues that REDD+ is now driving a race for land in Mozambique.
South Africa: Land reforms lag behind goals
A document shows that South Africa’s government is far behind land reform efforts, a setback that could prove explosive in a country with staggering inequality almost a generation after white rule ended.
Uganda: Oxfam sounds Uganda land-grab warning
A new report by the British charity Oxfam suggests that over 22,000 Ugandans have been forced out of their homes since 2004. Oxfam claims many of them have been left homeless after being evicted in so-called land-grabs, to clear the way for timber plantations. One eviction case involves the British company New Forest Company, who have denied the accusations.
Africa: Challenges & opportunities for strengthening farmers organisations
Lessons from Ethiopia, Kenya and Malawi
Farmers’ organisations (FOs) are increasingly being asked to play a central role in driving agricultural transformation processes in Sub-Saharan Africa, despite their mixed record of success. As governments, donors and NGOs rush to promote the scaling up and diversification of FOs’ activities and membership, this policy brief draws on findings of a study of the roles, functions and performance of FOs in Ethiopia, Kenya and Malawi to suggest some principles and practices for supporting FOs in Africa.
Africa: Small farmers in vanguard of agricultural development
Agriculture, predominantly small scale, accounts for about 30% of sub-Saharan Africa's GDP and at least 40% of export value. Having fallen out of favour in the development debate in the last decade, agriculture these days gets its own G20 summits and there are moves to make agriculture the centrepiece of the Rio+20 global development summit next June.
Africa: AU to launch media development platform
The African Union (AU) is to launch the Pan-African Media Network (PAMEN), a platform run by the African Forum for Media Development of the Global Forum for Media Development (GFMD) and the African Media Initiative (AMI).
Africa: ‘Media skills dearth holds Africa back’
The World Bank has warned that poorly skilled journalists in Africa who could not analyse government policy would impede development by hampering public accountability and involvement.
Rwanda: African media advised to enhance partnerships
Organisations in Africa have been urged to develop and enhance partnerships amongst governments and other stakeholders in order to promote gender equality. International Federation of Journalists General Secretary Beth Costa made the statement during the All-African Conference on Gender and Media held in Kigali. Issues of gender inequality took centre stage as sexual harassment, poor pay, lack of training, unfavorable working conditions and little or no maternity leave were identified as some of the major challenges facing women journalists.
DRC: Old and unloved
The struggle for the elderly in DRC
It is not uncommon for elderly people on the streets of Goma, in the Democratic Republic of Congo (CRD), to be mistreated by their families. Unable to look after themselves due to a lack of income, most elderly people live with their children, where they encounter various forms of abuse, including at times, accusations of witchcraft.
Kenya: Pipeline explosion sparks slum safety debate
Survivors of last week’s fire that killed more than 100 people in a Nairobi slum say they are lucky to be alive. As the government works to help and compensate those affected, the explosion ignites fresh debate about the safety of slums.
After Troy Davis's death, questions I can't unask
Dave Zirin, writing in The Nation, asks a series of questions about the US execution. 'Can Troy Davis, who fought to his last breath, actually be dead this morning? If we felt tortured with fear and hope for the four hours that the Supreme Court deliberated on Troy’s case, how did the Davis family feel? Why does this hurt so much?'
Call for the immediate withdrawal of MINUSTAH troops from Haiti
Letter to Ban Ki-Moon
'It is surprising and humiliating to certify that "Haiti is a threat to world peace and security", as the UN Security Council does, year after year, in order to ratify the presence there of a military-police mission said to be for the purposes of stabilization: the MINUSTAH. It is a statement that hides the impunity of the major powers and the hypocrisy that allows them to intervene militarily, politically, and economically in Haiti, drawing as well on the services of others. The real threat is that intervention itself, a laboratory as well for new forms of domination and popular control.'
Africa: Thinking outside the traditional funding box
The race to feed more than 12 million people facing severe food shortages in the Horn of Africa has seen humanitarian agencies make several funding appeals. Donor governments have contributed more than US$1.46 billion out of the required $2.48 billion. So far, so traditional. What has not been counted has been the response of ordinary people in the region to the disaster unfolding on their TV screens. Here is a round-up of some initiatives that have tapped into popular philanthropy.
Cote d’Ivoire: UN to boost military force after attacks
The United Nations and regional governments are deploying additional soldiers to Côte d'Ivoire's border area with Liberia after deadly attacks on villages in the densely forested West African region, a military official said.
Libya: Civilians flee Gaddafi's hometown
Heavily armed anti-Gaddafi fighters tightened their siege of the ousted Libyan leader's hometown of Sirte on Monday as hundreds of terrified civilians poured out of the Mediterranean coastal city. Fleeing residents spoke of dwindling supplies of food and water and said Gaddafi forces had attempted to stop people leaving, while doctors warned of a growing humanitarian crisis.
Africa: Android invasion
Mobile phone manufacturers, operators and Google have started a big push of the Android operating system into Africa this year. Samsung, HTC and Huawei are moving Android phones into the market and some operators are starting to subsidise Android handsets to get them to a price point palatable to a larger number of buyers.
Africa: Mobile technology vital in east Africa’s fight against hunger
How can technology be used to fight food insecurity in a region as large and diverse as east Africa? Karen Peachey, the British Red Cross’ east Africa representative, gives a few ideas: 'Mobile phones are everywhere in east Africa, even in many remote areas. If mobile companies could improve access further then people’s lives can change. A mobile phone gives you access to information –you can find out that your goat is worth more money than the middleman is offering, meaning you have better access to food, medical care, and education.'
Global: Google Maps now available on 40+ new country domains, 6 in Africa
Google has added more than 40 new domains on Google Maps, including six African countries: Somalia, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Lesotho, Mali and Niger.
Kenya: Information as aid in East Africa’s famine
In any emergency, be it natural disaster or man-made, long- or short-term, people’s lives are turned upside down. Knowing what’s happening, where to go for assistance and who to call for help is crucial to their survival and recovery. As famine is declared in six regions of neighbouring Somalia, this edition of Mobile Message highlights the work of ActionAid in improving vital communication with drought-affected populations in northern Kenya.
Africa: Mobile learning
The mobile learning toolkit is an open source resource that can be used in the delivery of all kinds of training in any developing context. It has been designed to be as inclusive as possible, with most of the methods requiring only low end devices (basic mobile phones with voice calling and SMS capability). In this way the toolkit can be used to deliver interactive distance learning experiences to participants even at the Base of the Pyramid (BoP).
Africa: New web-based tool to help combat malnutrition
In a bid to stop millions of people dying and suffering every year from malnutrition, WHO is launching a new web-powered initiative that clarifies guidance on life-saving nutrition interventions, and assists governments and healthcare providers to better scale up action against all forms of malnutrition.
AwaaZ Issue 2/2011: Self reliance: a strategy for liberation
This issue includes:
- Self reliance then and now by Dharam Ghai
- Self reliance in the age of globalisation by Firoze Manji
- Sankare by Demba Moussa Dembele
- Re-learning seld reliance for engagement by Sakhi Nitin-Anita and Manish Jain
- Creating self reliance mechanisms to manage conflict by Alice Nderitu
- Self reliance in the art world by Kofi Osei
- Damned if you do and damned if you don't by Sunny Bindra
- Say little, work hard and be young forever by Fiona Mati
- Organising the working poor by Dharam Ghai
ALTERNATIVE ANGLE: Who are 'we' by John Sibi-Okumu
The Mutunga cultural stud by Ali M. Mazrui and Al-Amin M. Mazrui
Indian South Africans by Mohamed Keshavjee
London calling: reminiscences, reflections by Ramnik Shah
CONFERENCE REVIEW: Constitutions and constitution-making by the British Institute of East Africa
RABINDRANATH TAGORE: 150th year celebration of a life
- Strings of pearls bleeding light by Sheniz Janmohamed, reviewed by Stephen Partington
- Crackdown by Njuguna Mutonya; reviewed by Awaaz
- Hearts and souls by Leopoldo Paradela, reviewed by Stephen Partington
- Men of dynamite: edited by Rashid Seedat and Razia Saleh: reviewed by Meg Samuelson
- The politics of betrayal by Joe Khamisi: reviewed by John Sibi-Okumu
- Wizard of the crow by Ngugi Wa Thiongo: reviewed by Marjorie Oludhe
- CYNTHIA SALVADORI
- KADER ASMAL
- MANUBHAI MADHVANI
- DEKHA IBRAHIM
Giro Commercial Bank, Agility Logistics Ltd, Franklin Management Consultants Ltd, AdScreen Print Ltd, Concorde Car Hire Ltd, Colour Print Ltd, Reef Hotel Msa
INDIVIDUAL SUPPORTERS AND SPONSORS:
Mohez Karmali, Hindpal Jabbal, H S Mangat, Chandaria and Premchandbhai Foundation, Rattansi Educational Trust, Fatma Alloo, Shehin Hirani, Yash Ghai and Jill Cottrell Ghai:
Monty’s Wines and Spirits – Sarit Centre, Westlands, Text Book Centre - Sarit Centre, La baquette – Shell Petrol Station, Westlands, Book Stop – Yaya Centre, Hurlingham, Book Point – Moi Avenue
China-Africa relations scrutinised in AfDB’s new book
The African Development Bank released a book titled 'China and Africa, An Emerging Partnership for Development?'. In recent years, China has been the prominent emerging partner for most of Africa and new China-Africa relations have generated heated debates. Is China really the sole winner in its relations with the African continent? This book challenges this idea by analysing opportunities and challenges for both parties.
ETC Group Seeks Africa-based Programme Manager
ETC Group is seeking a staff member, based in Africa, to share in carrying out the overall programme of the organization, and to give specific attention to strengthening our work on the continent during the period leading to the UN’s Rio+20 Earth Summit in 2012.
Ethiopia: Project management
The International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) works at the crossroads of livestock and poverty, bringing high-quality livestock science, communications and capacity building to bear on poverty reduction and sustainable development. ILRI seeks to recruit a senior Project Manager to oversee and lead all aspects of the implementation of the 5 year Livestock and Irrigation Value-Chains for Ethiopian Smallholders project.
Zimbabwe: WikiLeaks reveals Africa’s growing impatience with ailing Mugabe
Robert Mugabe’s continued grip on power in Zimbabwe, and ZANU PF’s ongoing failure to properly govern the country, is causing growing impatience among African governments, the details of which have been revealed by the whistle-blowing group WikiLeaks.
Fahamu - Networks For Social Justice
Pambazuka News is published by Fahamu Ltd.
© Unless otherwise indicated, all materials published are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License. For further details see: www.pambazuka.org/en/about.php
Pambazuka news can be viewed online: English language edition
Edição em língua Portuguesa
RSS Feeds available at www.pambazuka.org/en/newsfeed.php
Pambazuka News is published with the support of a number of funders, details of which can be obtained here.
To SUBSCRIBE or UNSUBSCRIBE go to:
or send a message to email@example.com with the word SUBSCRIBE or UNSUBSCRIBE in the subject line as appropriate.
The views expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of Pambazuka News or Fahamu.
With around 2,600 contributors and an estimated 600,000 readers, Pambazuka News is the authoritative pan-African electronic weekly newsletter and platform for social justice in Africa providing cutting edge commentary and in-depth analysis on politics and current affairs, development, human rights, refugees, gender issues and culture in Africa.
Order Samir Amin's 'Ending the Crisis of Capitalism or Ending Capitalism?' from Pambazuka Press.
* Pambazuka News is on Twitter. By following 'pambazukanews' on
Twitter you can receive headlines from our 'Features' and 'Comment & Analysis' sections as they are published, and can even receive our headlines via SMS. Visit our Twitter page for more information: //twitter.com/pambazukanews.
* Pambazuka News has a Del.icio.us page, where you can view the various websites that we visit to keep our fingers on the pulse of Africa! Visit http://delicious.com/pambazuka_news.