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Gender roles have shifted dramatically

SUNDAY MAGAZINE
By Benson Riungu | March 30th 2014

By Benson Riungu

You may disapprove of some of Lands Cabinet Secretary Charity Ngilu’s more forceful methods of getting a task done or putting her point across, but you must admit that President Kenyatta made a clever choice in filling, perhaps, the most problematic docket.

In my view, she is his answer to John Michuki in Kibaki’s presidency — although the two did not always see eye to eye when they served in the Cabinet.

You want a bulldozer to obstruct and take in circles a National Lands Commission with a misguided sense of mission, or to slap the daylights out of the faceless corrupt forces that are said to lurk in every nook and cranny of Ardhi House? Why, Charity is your girl!

The latest brouhaha about the CS having struck an official with a file — a claim she has denied any knowledge of — is Ngilu running in true form. It shows she has not mellowed a bit from the iron lady of Masaa ni ya Ngilu, mettle when she gave President Moi sleepless nights as an opposition stalwart, and especially while she campaigned as a presidential candidate in the run-up to the 1997 General Election.

Older readers of this column will remember the time, during a campaign in Kitui, when a misguided member of the then provincial administration had the affront to try and snatch a microphone from the lady’s hand. The slap he received could be heard all the way in Nairobi.

Those were the days when PCs, DCs, DOs and chiefs were not only an all-powerful president’s ‘eyes and ears on the ground’, but also wielded the Government’s big rungu. So powerful were these potentates that Cabinet minister’s trembled before them. The Kitui incident was, not surprisingly, an instant media sensation.

Sometime later, I came across the same DO while on assignment at Nkubu in Meru, and after we were done with the business that had taken me there, out of curiosity, I asked if it was true that Ngilu had slapped him. Coming from a community that believes in and celebrates the superiority of men, he looked aghast at the question, and spat into a wastepaper basket by his desk.

“Never,” he declared. “That was propaganda spread by the opposition.”

Dead men tell no tales, so the same question cannot be put to Michuki who, according to media reports, stirred a hornet’s nest when he derogatorily described Ngilu’s defection from PNU as wathe wa Mukamba, in reference to some Kamba dance.

Michuki had the good sense to slip out of his Jogoo House office by a back door when he learned that a militant Ngilu was at the front door, leading a group of female activists to come and oust him from office.

The mistake many commentators are making when addressing the Cabinet Secretary’s latest controversy is to cast her as some sort of oddity. The truth is she is only the public face of a dramatic shift that has occurred in gender relations.

At Uturine Village in Igoji, we know of a good number of men who not only cook for their families, but also perform other chores my sainted grandmother would have considered strictly a woman’s.

Men who are inclined to resist the changing trend only have to remind themselves of what befell a fellow villager who decided he had had enough of changing the baby’s nappies while his wife minded the family shop at the local shopping centre. When he marched to the shop and ordered that the roles be reversed, the beating he received left him with a pronounced limp that persists to this day.

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