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The East African : Nov 24th 2014
20 The EastAfrican OPINION NOVEMBER 22-28,2014 In my g≥andmothe≥’s day, wea≥ing shoes was ‘indecent’; go figu≥e Stripping women is asserting patriarch power relations through violence an humiliation.” H Tee Ngugi igh up on the wall of my maternal grandparents’ sitting room, hangs a studio photograph probably taken in the 1940s. In the photo, my grandfather — wearing trousers, a jacket and shoes — stands behind his wife who sits in a chair. She is in an ankle-length dress, her hair covered in a head kerchief and wearing no shoes. As a small boy, I was always intrigued by the footwear discrepancy. Once, on an impulse, I asked her about it. She chuckled, tickled by the ridiculousness of what she was going to say. “Wee, back then it was considered indecent for a woman to wear shoes,” she told me. “They would have called me a prostitute.” Even as a boy, I was staggered by the sheer stupidity, irrationality and hypocrisy of patriarchal reasoning. I was reminded of this nature of patriarchy last week when the media reported that a group of men had stripped a woman naked in the street because she was “indecently” dressed. This was not an isolated case. She was the latest victim in a series of incidents in which men in the streets constitute themselves into morality panels that decide what is decent dressing and what is not. Just as in the case of my grandmother’s missing shoes, the reasoning behind these acts is a study in stupidity, illogic and hypocrisy. First, consider the assumption that there is some kind of self-evident moral standard that is absolute and eternal. But determination of what is moral or immoral is whimsical and changes according to a myriad of factors. What was thought of as immoral dressing years ago may not be thought so now and vice versa. Today, no one of sound mind would strip women of their shoes as might have happened in the 1930s or 40s. Second, this country has serious moral issues that have nothing to do with women’s hemlines. For instance, we not only cheer people with illegally acquired wealth but we also elect them to parliament. Further, we proclaim as protectors of our communities those spitting the crudest forms of hate speech. And not so long ago, we were pulling people from matatus and hacking them to death because they belonged to the “wrong” tribe or burning children and people in wheelchairs in a church for the same reason. At night, men sleep around and then abandon the resulting children. Women activists demonstrating on Kenyatta Avenue in Nairobi. Pic: File During the day, they claim to be morally offended by a miniskirt. Then there is the argument about loss of African cultural values. First, our traditional wear was a lot more revealing than anything today’s woman could ever wear. Also, there is the question why this criterion only applies to women’s dress and behaviour. Now, if we feel that miniskirts so thoroughly offend our national sense of morality, then we should pass a law to ban them, which would still not be a licence for ad hoc panels to strip others naked. But were such a law passed, Kenya would enter the realm of the truly absurd, with our policemen walking around holding rulers to measure women’s skirts, miniskirts being held up in our law courts to determine their length, and fines being handed out according to the number of centimetres by which the offending miniskirt violated the legal length. The argument I’m leading to is that the stripping of women has nothing to do with decency or indecency. It is just another form of asserting patriarchal power relations through violence and humiliation. If not ar- What will stop the moral panels from walking into public pools and stripping women wearing swimming costumes? rested, it will lead us down a slippery slope. For what other modes of dress will be deemed indecent? Low necklines, trousers, form-hugging dresses, shorts? What will stop the moral panels from walking into swimming pools and stripping women wearing swimming costumes or going to our beaches to strip tourists wearing bikinis? Further, we all must realise that stripping one naked occupies a point on the criminality continuum. The next stage will be violent robbery of women and men, “decently” or “indecently” dressed. We must stop this criminality now. How Af≥ica can get veto-powe≥ seat on Secu≥ity Council Nations Security Council is welcome news. It’s a compelling call and one that should acceded to without much ado. But will Africa earn its seat at the veto power table without a fight? Paradoxically, the first hurdle that Africa T will have to overcome is, well, Africa itself. The push for a permanent seat on the UNSC is not entirely new. After the promulgation of a new Republic of South Africa in 1994, the Nelson Mandela administration trained its sights on the UNSC. Soon, Nigeria presented its bona fides, leveraging its population heft. Not to be left behind, Egypt has also been clamouring for the coveted seat. Either UN statutes will have to be amended to have Africa represented as a single entity — an imponderable — or the African nations eyeing the seat will have to reach an agreement for only one of them to represent the continent. Going by the bitter campaign for the position of African Union Commission Chairman that saw the ouster of Gabonese Jean Ping and his replacement with South Africa’s Nkozasana Dlamini-Zuma, it can be expected that the question of who occupies the veto position will be anything but a walk in the park. The second stumbling block is that of sup- port. It is not going to be as easy as the AU presenting its resolutions to the UN and its demands being acceded to in one fell swoop. Of the five UNSC members with veto powers, African nations can cautiously expect support from the People’s Republic of China. Af- he rolling out of an ambitious strategy for the long-overdue representation of Africa in the exclusive club of the permanent members of the United African nat will have to on only one them to rep the continen Bob Wekesa ter all, under the Forum on China Africa Cooperation, Chinese and African leaders have repeatedly declared their commitment to UN reforms and better representation of Africa at the world body. Indeed, China owes a debt of gratitude to Africa. It is the African votes that tipped the scales against Taiwan (also known as Republic of China) and ensured the arrival of Beijing as the rightful representative of the Chinese people at the UN. Russia too, in its own interest, can be brought around to supporting the African cause, especially as the former superpower seeks allies in view of sanctions and isolation by the West. One can’t be certain about support from the remaining three, USA, France and Britain. These three nations enjoy a he- Of the five UNSC permanent members with veto powers, African nations can cautiously expect support from the People’s Republic of China gemonic hold over Africa and would naturally be wary of Africa’s bid to upset the obtaining balance of power. The third hurdle relates closely to the “sta- tus quo” factor. It is not only Africa that is campaigning for veto power status. Brazil, Germany, India and Japan are joined by the so-called Muslim-majority nation as polities lobbying for a seat at the table either in their own right or on behalf of wider regional interests. As with the contest of wills between South Africa, Nigeria and Egypt in the African context, these nations also face opposition from within their regions. As an example, China is known to oppose Japan’s bid while Pakistan is dead set against India’s inclusion. The upshot is that Africa will have to fash- ion a deal with any number of allies. It will be a tricky undertaking. For instance, throwing in its lot with Japan in gunning for the UN seat would mean losing historical favour with China. Going with India would set alarm bells ringing in Islamabad. Partnership with Germany, quite apart from the indefensibility of having three UNSC members in close geographical proximity (German shares a boundary with France, which in turn shares one with Britain), would strengthen Britain’s opposition. What is to be done? The bare minimum is that African strategists need to agree in advance on who will represent the continent. Second, African nations need to be wary of potential treachery by the status quo powers. Third, African nations need grit. Clearly, the push for veto power will upset certain national interests but in a geopolitical game of this nature, Africa can’t please everybody. What President Uhuru Kenyatta at the AU Peace and Security Council Summit on Terrorism. Pic: File Africa needs is a constellation of allies that can win when the matter is put to the vote. Bob Wekesa is a ≥esea≥ch associate at Witwate≥s≥and Unive≥sity and a PhD candidate at the Communication Unive≥sity of China. E-mail: Job.firstname.lastname@example.org.
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