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State must stop paying lip service to equality, ethnicity

By Barrack Muluka | January 2nd 2016

KENYA: Accept New Year greetings from the Green Village. I am filing this piece on the last day of the old year. Here in Emanyulia we are still waiting for the cacophony that drives away Nyababa, the wicked spirit that is the mother of all trouble. Around here, bad things don’t just happen. They are the work of malevolent spirits and their disciples. Bad years, too, are the handicraft of wicked spirits.

Nyababa is the ultimate author of misfortune, as I have told you before. She is at once the definitive angel of wickedness and the paramount mischief-maker. Across the road, they call her Nyawawa. In our highly patriarchal arrangement, Nyababa has to be a woman. When good things happen, we attribute them to a masculine angel of benevolence while bad ones belong to feminine malevolence!

We are not alone. Women have been easy scapegoats from the start of history. And so in Christendom, our father Adam says of the source of the Original Sin, “It is this woman whom you gave me.” In Greek mythology, they talk of the Pandora Box as the source of universal misery. It had to be opened by a woman. We say in Emanyulia that bad smoke billows towards easy waters. And what easier waters than the defenceless weaker sex?

Wole Soyinka has reminded us that it is the weaker sex that carries the heavy pot of water on the head while the baby is strapped on the back. She fetches firewood and walks long distances to fend for the family while the stronger sex engages in idle palaver and sampling of inebriating liquids. She carries you in her body for nine months and nurses you out of dependency. Such are some of the amazing feats of the weaker sex.

I want to wish the mothers of the world a very special and happy new year. Where would we be without the agonies of motherhood? My greatest wish for 2016 is that we can stop paying lip service to the dream of equality of the sexes. Led by State House, we can begin paying genuine attention to the search for gender equity. The ended year was a major letdown in this regard. State House made appointments with total disregard to gender concerns.

Indeed State House broke the law. And we allowed them to get away with it. We say in this village that when a man breaks a most basic law, he has prepared himself to break all the other laws. State House could imbue us with fresh hope and confidence in the rule of law by attending to gender issues. This is not a matter of tokenism. It is about doing what is right. For, the women of this country are not second-class citizens. When you do what the law says, you are not doing them a favour.

It only gets worse in the private sector. Women have been often been denied opportunities just because someone is afraid that “she will get pregnant, give birth and go on maternity leave.” Woe unto the woman who turns up for an interview when she is expecting a baby. She fails automatically. Have we condemned child bearing in women then? Where would we be, condemning pregnancy if some woman somewhere did not conceive and bring us into this world? Is there need for the gender debate to begin in earnest? Could we aim to make 2016 the year of gender transformation?

Away from gender issues, the Jubilee Government continued to pay lip service to national cohesion and integration. President Kenyatta and his Deputy William Ruto continued to excel in ethnic exclusion and rhetoric. Right from the campaign trail in 2012, they talked about “uniting the country.”

Upon ascending to power, they took ethnic exclusion to horrifying levels. The President’s good words in this respect ring hollow. He has been at again, this evening, talking about national unity. One must wonder what the President and his deputy understand by “the Kenyan nation.” Is it a duopoly? Their approach to this sensitive issue can only generate resentment among the communities that they have consciously marginalised.

My prayer is that the two most powerful people in Kenya will hold genuine dialogue with themselves and with each other in this critical year. For, the journey to the next General Election has just begun. If President Kenyatta and Ruto continue to pay lip service to national unity, ethnic exclusion will be a major agenda in the elections next year. However, it will not just be a major agenda, it will be an extremely polarising issue. We don’t need this in a country that has several times only managed to escape from going down the precipice.

If next year’s elections become a competition among tribes and tribal alliances, the country will “sit very badly” – to put it mildly. President Kenyatta has his job well cut out. In the end, the most crucial assignment before this government in this New Year is management of equity and perceptions about equity – gender equity, ethnic equity and equity for people living with disabilities and all other marginalised groups.

There is a sense in which inequality drives all the other ills in the country. Because of inequality, the wrong person gets into the wrong job and fails to deliver. The thief stays put in public office, because the tribe and the government will defend him. They say he did not steal, although the government knows that he did while the tribe has no evidence either way. President Kenyatta cannot address corruption without first addressing tribalism. For tribalism is the best shield behind which thieves hide. Here is wishing you a fair, just, equitable and, therefore, happy New Year.

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