‘Men conference’ lights up lovers’ day, but is it a sign of big problems?

Kenyan men want a break, and the men-only Valentine’s Day conference brought the urgency of the matter into perspective. 

In a cleverly crafted script, practically all Kenyan men waxed lyrical on the mythical world devoid of spousal pressures - a land of milk and honey, where they are not guided by matters pertaining love.

“It is too much. From what you need to buy and how you should behave. You never get it right with our women,” Brian Okola wrote on Facebook. His post attracted a lot of feedback from men, who revealed that Valentine’s Day fills them with nothing but dread, and that they wish for the day to pass without drama.

The desire to escape the sideshows of Valentine’s Day had men creating posts on how they were taking a trip to a ‘men’s conference’, a hyped fantastical three-day event to a far away place. Away from the demands of spouses and girlfriends who demand chocolates, flowers, wine, money, assorted gifts, trips and other things believed to define the day of lovers.

It peaked when celebrities and politicians joined the bandwagon, riding on the men-only hashtag.

Speaker of the Senate Kenneth Lusaka was among the politicians who rode on the hashtag to crack up his followers.

‘Nagging creatures’

A caption on a photo of himself and senators Kipchumba Murkomen and James Orengo read: “While it may be mistaken that we are attending the men’s conference 2019, for avoidance of doubt, let it be known that we are at the two-day senate leadership retreat”.  

Supporters of the ‘men’s conference’ came with rib-cracking schedule of topics to be covered at the conference. They ranged from sexuality, polygamy, how to avoid confrontations, excuses to use when you do not want to go home, among other subjects that women felt pushed as a stereotype that they are nagging creatures who are out to frustrate men.

“The bigger issue is that men want to have their cake and eat it. They want to cheat, drink and be reckless without taking any responsibility. If you question them, they say you are nagging,” says Lillian Kerubo, who identifies as a feminist.

In the jokes and memes about men seeking liberation that were shared widely on social media, Sophia Nafuna, a counsellor, sees an unspoken problem of men feeling repressed and seeking all ways to express themselves.

“Men rarely have space to talk about themselves. They do not have ‘chamas’ and exclusive social media groups to talk about things affecting them like women do,” she explains.

Chairman of the Maendeleo ya Wanaume (MAWE) Nderitu Njoka, notes that men in Kenya have suffered enough. He claims that there are many men in marriages who are suffering in silence, as women beat and emotionally abuse them; and they have nowhere to run.

“If they talk about it, people tease them and call them weak. Society has made men feel like there is nowhere to run to when faced with challenges. That is why we hear of so many cases of men committing suicide,” he says.

Fantasy trip

A report by Kenya National Bureau of Statistic released in 2017 indicated that men are more likely to commit suicide than women, and that out of the 421 suicide cases in 2017, 330  were of men.

Strained relationships and financial difficulties rank as top reasons why men are likely to commit suicide. Reports also indicate that men are likely to spiral deeper into depression and that they rarely seek medical intervention when they are depressed.

And even as they discussed the magical world of “men’s conference” - a place where alcohol was in plenty, and nagging women who want luxuries for Valentine’s Day were locked out - the reality of the gender battle was alive.

“Men should be allowed to take leave from marriage. That thing is tough,” said Bonnie Mutahi who says he was married twice before he gave up on the idea of marriage.

The men made one thing clear: Valentine’s Day is a chore and they would rather be anywhere else than bear the pains of the day.

Women cheekily responded to their request to be left out. They are also planning to go on their own fantasy trip once the men are back!

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