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Why Kenyans use sexual metaphors during campaigns

By Babere Kerata Chacha | Jan 24th 2022 | 3 min read

It is time that Kenyans stopped using the female body as a go-to symbol for political reasons. [Courtesy]

Not long ago, I argued in this column that election campaigns have become like a war period which makes this country a political battlefield of words and insults and where everything is weaponised. 

To illustrate this argument, I mentioned how Raila Odinga always talked of remaining with ‘one bullet’ or promising an impending political ‘tsunami’. Mudavadi has now come up with a new one — ‘an earthquake’ that shook our weekend. These I argued are all typical examples of virilistic staging and an overplayed masculinity by our political leaders.

As the campaigns continue to heat up, memes are constantly being created, remixed and shared as political events unfold, phone users during this period are heavily engaged in content creation of a satirical and playful participatory nature, mostly using sex to satirise political campaigns. These metaphors thus tend to render the competition for power in terms of sexuality.

Today, in such hyped Kenyan urban sphere, both men and women seem to have weaponised their bodies and used sex and flirtation to manipulate almost all aspects of social life.

Sex is increasingly becoming masculinised and weaponised and often satirised to war and or battle especially applied within the context of political campaigns.

Sex theme, therefore, regularly appears on social media during campaigns both as a frequent topic of satiric attacks and this normally targets feminine licentiousness, male decadence and general sexual desire as objects of excoriation. 

Sex is increasingly becoming satirised to war especially applied within the context of political campaigns. [Courtesy]

In 2005, Linah Kilimo equated two breasts with presidential terms of office when she told Mwai Kibaki that he had sucked one breast and one more was remaining for him to suck. During the same time, people satirised PNU’s slogan, panua kazi iendelee, and Wiper Party nipatie wiper.

Today, Azimio adherents on Tik Tok are telling UDA followers they would be ‘screwed watajua hawajui”, indicating an awareness that politicians are a deceitful lot out to take advantage of voters.

Recently, Raila was at it again while appealing to Kamba votes, when he stated that wakamba ni waaminifu, wakisema watakupatia watakupatia. Colloquially, political competitors too consider their opponents “impotent” while making reference to the social of inscription of male bodies in a normative coital imperative or in phallocratic notions of being medically fit.

Here, women social media users say they… need a younger energetic aspirant with chuma (metal rod) that can do the work effectively. A politician in Nyanza, referred to her female competitor as “marinda”, a Kiswahili word means “skirt”.  The use of this word brought forth the deeply ideologically laden metaphor which re-invokes the belief that politics is for men, not women.

The extensive use of sexual metaphor might be due to the fact that Kenyan politics is predominantly masculine. It is thus common linguistic practice to figure political opponents as subdued, conquered females as a means of claiming one’s ‘superior’ masculinity and hence power. 

It is time that  Kenyans stopped using the female body as a go-to symbol for political reasons. We need to find better ways of critiquing male power where the punchline is the male and not female victims.

Dr Chacha teaches at Laikipia University.

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