Eric Omondi

The uproar about a video showing a naked Eric Omondi playing with a bunch of boys in River Turkwell, Turkana, was a comical and needless farce.

Anyone born in the 80s will remember duf mpararo. In Nairobi, we swam in City Park, Nairobi River or some wetlands while rural boys swam butt-naked in dams, streams and rivers. The kids coming of age now when there are no clean rivers, and swamps and streams have dried up will never know the sense of freedom that Eric Omondi re-enacted in that video.

What I found hypocritical about that circus is that we were shaming the comedian for baring his nakedness, yet we insist that people should not to be ashamed of their bodies, warts and all.

Those who were raving mad on social media conveniently forgot that culturally, boys bathed with fellow boys, including grown men and that Africans used to strut around naked anyway until wazungu, them of nudist beaches and pornography, shamed and made us to believe that nakedness is a problem.

Of course those who castigated the comedian said the video evoked images of paedophilia, but typical of Kenyans, they ignored the elephant in the room and went hammer and tongs at a skinny little kid who was just having fun. 

It’s in this country that a minister raped and impregnated a young woman in his official car. The man wasn’t jailed. It’s in Kenya where we learnt that a former Cabinet minister who had just died had not only been molesting his gardener’s daughter, but impregnated her as well. That girl was one of the many whose lives he destroyed, but true to Kenyan style, the story was quickly forgotten.

The bigger conversation that we need have is about child molestation, incest and rape. Over 350,000 girls between the ages of 10 and 19 years became pregnant last year alone. About 33 per cent of girls in Kenya are raped by the time they reach the age of 18.

Twenty-two per cent of Kenyan girls aged between 15 and 19 years reported their first sexual intercourse to have been forced.

Those rapes were not a result of boys swimming naked. Most of the culprits were adults: relatives, priests, imams, police officers- people they trusted and interacted with every day.

And you know what? Our anger at Omondi for stripping naked is what morally bankrupt and decadent men use as a scapegoat to excuse the rape of women by men.  When a woman wears a short skirt or tight clothes, which is her right, society says she is attracting rape. Yet animals walk around naked but you will not hear that a lion raped its niece!

The suggestion that men are so bereft of self-control that women must be covered from head to toe like a sack of waru is nonsense because there are certain parts of Kenya where people still walk around virtually naked without raping each other. In simple terms, nudity is a form of self-expression, not mindless mating.   

For me, the lesson we must draw from Eric Omondi’s stunt is, love your body. Nudity is okay, it is fine. Eric Omondi can therefore remove all his clothes and run in the streets for all I care. His positivity with his body should inspire us to stop body shaming.

What we must rant about and act upon is rape and child molestation — especially where nudity, or the mere hint of it, is used as an excuse to perpetrate this most heartless and despicable of crimes.

Let us also remember that Eric Omondi will recover from this. But if pictures of a naked female celebrity swimming in a river would have leaked online, we would not only have called her a prostitute, but it would have been almost impossible for her to recover.

The writer is an award winning photojournalist and human rights activist