No Female Experts in Kenya? Think Again…

Kenyan Women have started an online campaign against male-only or male-dominated panels, otherwise known as “manels”…. read Jacky Habib’s piece about it from the Daily Nation below:




Happy International Women’s Day

Happy International Women’s Day everyone – this day was first marked in 1909 and is rooted in the desire for socialism and equality for all women.  March 8th marks the day that women marched in Petrograd, Russia, which sparked the 1917 revolution.

To commemorate the day, we present a series of articles and information; and the sad reality is that, despite progress in many areas of life, we are still faced with gender inequality on a global level and in all walks of life.  There is much work for all of us, both women and men, to eradicate all forms of sexism in our daily lives, within our institutions and systems, and in the broader society.

Firstly, to motivate everyone, some inspiring quotes from African women activists are here

For those in Nairobi, Kenya, there is an event today to celebrate International Women’s Day from 12 – 6 pm at Freedom Corner, Uhuru Park with Arts Performances, Exhibitions and Dialogues on on Inequalities and Barriers to Development.  FREE ENTRY!

This year’s theme is “BE BOLD FOR CHANGE”.  Today’s Daily Nation celebrates some bold Kenyan women HERE

Here are some articles, largely focused on sexual and gender-based violence being faced by so many girls and women and several, although not all, about Kenya.  Please click on the stories to read more:

The Real Reasons Women’s Don’t Report Sexual Harassment

Hope for Survivors of Political Violence

No Bed of Roses: The Kenyan Flower Pickers Fighting Sexual Harassment

Is Your Dress Really Your Choice?

For more about International Women’s Day and its’ history: please check the following:’s_Day


“A feminist is anyone who recognizes the equality and full humanity of women and men.” Gloria Steinem


Why Silence should never be an Option in a hellish Society

by Rasna Warah

We live in strange and scary times. The president of the world’s most powerful nation is using Twitter to send out 140-character messages (full of spelling mistakes, I might add) to the world.

Yes, Donald Trump, who has an army of communication and public relations experts at this disposal, is physically typing angry messages on his Twitter account – and the United States security apparatus seems quite unperturbed by this bizarre recklessness. (Why doesn’t somebody just take away his phone and disable his personal Twitter account?)

Many Americans are anxious and frightened about their future under an impulsive and unpredictable president, whose national and foreign policies (which seem to be formulated on the spot without any consultation) are being articulated via social media.

To understand this weird new social order, Americans are turning to literature — George Orwell’s novel 1984 about a dystopian authoritarian society hit the bestseller list in the United States this month.

In an article titled, “The Madness of King Donald”, the journalist Andrew Sullivan explains this angst. He wrote: “I think there is a fundamental reason why so many of us have been so unsettled, anxious, and near panic these past few months. It’s not so much this president’s agenda.

That always changes from one administration to another. It is that when the linchpin of an entire country is literally delusional, cynically deceptive, and responds to any attempt to correct the record with rage and vengeance, everyone is always on edge. There is no anchor any more. At the core of the administration of the most powerful country on earth, there is, instead, madness.”

It seems that the inmates have taken over the asylum not just in America, but in many other parts of the world as well. In the Philippines, the president has given citizens the licence to kill drug dealers, and yet he has not suffered any sanctions from the United Nations; on the contrary, citizens have lauded his policy, and hundreds of people have been murdered as a result.

Western countries, whose military actions in Iraq, Libya and Syria contributed to creating an unprecedented refugee crisis, and also gave birth to terrorist organisations, are now refusing to take in these refugees. Instead, many are looking to stop refugees from entering their countries altogether.

Yet these same countries were among the first to reprimand Kenya for threatening to close down the Dadaab refugee camp.

Kenya has not escaped the insanity that is becoming increasingly common around the world. Recently, President Uhuru Kenyatta posted a photo on Twitter of him doing a jig with dancers on the State House lawn at a time when the country is experiencing a severe drought and patients in public hospitals are dying because there is no one to attend to them.

Meanwhile, union officials representing striking doctors were jailed for a month (but later released on appeal) for disobeying a court order, yet Ministry of Health officials have not been reprimanded, investigated or sacked for allegedly stealing or misusing billions of shillings that could have gone towards increasing the salaries of these doctors.

It is easy in these crazy and confusing times to feel disoriented. People’s coping mechanisms vary from depression to detachment. It is no wonder that there is voter apathy in Kenya. As one young man at a discussion I recently attended said: “If after having fought for 20 years for a new constitution, we can still rig elections or choose leaders who are bad for us, then what is the point of voting?”

Unfortunately, this detachment or apathy may embolden those who seek to silence the voices of reason. The language of silence, as Yvonne Owuor reminds us in her novel Dust, is more potent and destructive than the language of vocal protest because it normalises the abnormal.

Sometimes silence can be a precursor to something more ominous. When people are subdued and silenced after experiencing years of poverty, corruption, disappointment, discrimination or humiliation, they experience violence at the deepest spiritual and emotional levels, says Ugandan activist Kalundi Serumaga.

This violence can manifest itself physically, either through self-destructive behaviour, such as alcoholism, or through violent rebellion, like the one witnessed in France’s poor suburbs last week when youth went on a burning spree.

Which is why silence must never be an option in these uncertain times.

Originally published in the Daily Nation, Monday 20th February 2017

No assistive device? Then you are not disabled

By Akhila Damodaran

BENGALURU: Madhumitha Venkataraman, a HR professional struggles with accessibility, especially because her disability cannot be recognised instantly by an onlooker.

Born with an orthopaedic disability called Left Hemiparesis, she says, “For me to navigate places in any city is hard – sometimes, crossing the road, moving around can be a challenge.”

She says there is a lack of understanding that not all disabilities may be visible – there are disabilities which could be less visible or invisible, but need equal care and attention.

“The assumption is if you are not using an assistive device,you may not be disabled. I have an orthopaedic disability and have difficulty walking and cannot use my left hand well, but because it is not very visible, I need to keep stating the disability while seeking help. I was once travelling by public transport, and the driver refused to help me because he believed I was not disabled. I was left to fend for myself through difficult infrastructure and that was a very tough experience.”

In extension, the existing Persons with Disabilities Act, 1995 (India) covers only certain disabilities whereas the revised bill will include several other conditions such as cerebral palsy, locomotor disability and dwarfism.

“This, hopefully will bring in more holistic inclusion of the definition of disability,” she adds. She also currently works in the space of diversity and inclusion. She works with several NGOs and corporate firms across spaces of gender, disability, LGBTQIA and generational diversity.

The Right with Disabilities Bill says the National Commission (India) shall formulate regulations for the persons with disabilities laying down the standards of accessibility for the physical environment, transportation, information and communications, including appropriate technologies and systems, and other facilities and services provided to the public in urban and rural areas.

Madhumitha adds the number of persons who know and can use sign language in public spaces are very few and that again creates issues of accessibility for speech and hearing impaired persons.
“At the airport, you will come across wheelchair support, but sign language interpreters are hard to find. A few months ago, I was travelling with a friend who had partial speech and hearing impairment and there was no one to communicate with him at the airport. I had to do most of the communication on his behalf. Accessibility cannot be only for one type of disability, it needs to be inclusive to all.”

While the Persons With Disabilities Act, 1995 also says the appropriate governments and local authorities shall by notification formulate schemes for ensuring employment of persons with disabilities and that the appropriate governments and the local authorities shall, within the limits of their economic capacity and development, provide incentives to employers both in public and private sectors to ensure that at least five per cent. of their work force is composed of persons with disabilities, it does not seem to be properly implemented.

Madhumitha says, “There was a friend of mine who got a job from an organisation. He had educated the employer on his disability beforehand and had got the job on merit. He had resigned from his current job and a few days before joining, the offer was retracted stating the disability as the reason. Truly inclusive education is again very hard – majority of children with disability don’t have access to complete education, and that is a key differentiator to future growth and development.”

Originally published in The New Indian Express, 23rd November 2016.

Link to article:–1.html

I Am a Dangerous Professor

By George Yancy (THE STONE)

Those familiar with George Orwell’s “1984” will recall that “Newspeak was designed not to extend but to diminish the range of thought.” I recently felt the weight of this Orwellian ethos when many of my students sent emails to inform me, and perhaps warn me, that my name appears on the Professor Watchlist, a new website created by a conservative youth group known as Turning Point USA.

I could sense the gravity in those email messages, a sense of relaying what is to come. The Professor Watchlist’s mission, among other things, is to sound an alarm about those of us within academia who “advance leftist propaganda in the classroom.” It names and includes photographs of some 200 professors.

The Watchlist appears to be consistent with a nostalgic desire “to make America great again” and to expose and oppose those voices in academia that are anti-Republican or express anti-Republican values. For many black people, making America “great again” is especially threatening, as it signals a return to a more explicit and unapologetic racial dystopia. For us, dreaming of yesterday is not a privilege, not a desire, but a nightmare.

The new “watchlist” is essentially a new species of McCarthyism, especially in terms of its overtones of “disloyalty” to the American republic. And it is reminiscent of Cointelpro, the secret F.B.I. program that spied on, infiltrated and discredited American political organizations in the ’50s and ’60s. Its goal of “outing” professors for their views helps to create the appearance of something secretly subversive. It is a form of exposure designed to mark, shame and silence.

So when I first confirmed my students’ concerns, I was engulfed by a feeling of righteous indignation, even anger. The list maker would rather that we run in shame after having been called out. Yet I was reminded of the novel “The Bluest Eye” in which Toni Morrison wrote that anger was better than shame: “There is a sense of being in anger. A reality and presence. An awareness of worth.” The anger I experienced was also — in the words the poet and theorist Audre Lorde used to describe the erotic — “a reminder of my capacity for feeling.” It is that feeling that is disruptive of the Orwellian gestures embedded in the Professor Watchlist. Its devotees would rather I become numb, afraid and silent. However, it is the anger that I feel that functions as a saving grace, a place of being.

If we are not careful, a watchlist like this can have the impact of the philosopher Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon — a theoretical prison designed to create a form of self-censorship among those imprisoned. The list is not simply designed to get others to spy on us, to out us, but to install forms of psychological self-policing to eliminate thoughts, pedagogical approaches and theoretical orientations that it defines as subversive.

Honestly, being a black man, I had thought that I had been marked enough — as bestial, as criminal, as inferior. I have always known of the existence of that racialized scarlet letter. It marks me as I enter stores; the white security guard never fails to see it. It follows me around at predominantly white philosophy conferences; I am marked as “different” within that space not because I am different, but because the conference space is filled with whiteness. It follows me as white police officers pull me over for no other reason than because I’m black. As Frantz Fanon writes, “I am overdetermined from without.”

But now I feel the multiple markings; I am now “un-American” because of my ideas, my desires and passion to undo injustice where I see it, my engagement in a form of pedagogy that can cause my students to become angry or resistant in their newfound awareness of the magnitude of suffering that exists in the world. Yet I reject this marking. I refuse to be philosophically and pedagogically adjusted.

To be “philosophically adjusted” is to belie what I see as one major aim of philosophy — to speak to the multiple ways in which we suffer, to be a voice through which suffering might speak and be heard, and to offer a gift to my students that will leave them maladjusted and profoundly unhappy with the world as it is. Bringing them to that state is what I call doing “high stakes philosophy.” It is a form of practicing philosophy that refuses to ignore the horrible realities of people who suffer and that rejects ideal theory, which functions to obfuscate such realities. It is a form of philosophizing that refuses to be seduced by what Friedrich Nietzsche called “conceptual mummies.” Nietzsche notes that for many philosophers, “nothing actual has escaped from their hands alive.”

In my courses, which the watchlist would like to flag as “un-American” and as “leftist propaganda,” I refuse to entertain my students with mummified ideas and abstract forms of philosophical self-stimulation. What leaves their hands is always philosophically alive, vibrant and filled with urgency. I want them to engage in the process of freeing ideas, freeing their philosophical imaginations. I want them to lose sleep over the pain and suffering of so many lives that many of us deem disposable. I want them to become conceptually unhinged, to leave my classes discontented and maladjusted.

Bear in mind that it was in 1963 that the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. raised his voice and said: “I say very honestly that I never intend to become adjusted to segregation and discrimination. I never intend to become adjusted to religious bigotry. I never intend to adjust myself to economic conditions that will take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few. I never intend to adjust myself to the madness of militarism, to self‐defeating effects of physical violence.”

I also recall the words Plato attributed to Socrates during his trial: “As long as I draw breath and am able, I shall not cease to practice philosophy.” By that Socrates meant that he would not cease to exhort Athenians to care more for justice than they did for wealth or reputation.

So, in my classrooms, I refuse to remain silent in the face of racism, its subtle and systemic structure. I refuse to remain silent in the face of patriarchal and sexist hegemony and the denigration of women’s bodies, or about the ways in which women have internalized male assumptions of how they should look and what they should feel and desire.

I refuse to be silent about forms of militarism in which innocent civilians are murdered in the name of “democracy.” I refuse to remain silent when it comes to acknowledging the existential and psychic dread and chaos experienced by those who are targets of xenophobia and homophobia.

I refuse to remain silent when it comes to transgender women and men who are beaten to death by those who refuse to create conditions of hospitality.

I refuse to remain silent in a world where children become targets of sexual violence, and where unarmed black bodies are shot dead by the state and its proxies, where those with disabilities are mocked and still rendered “monstrous,” and where the earth suffers because some of us refuse to hear its suffering, where my ideas are marked as “un-American,” and apparently “dangerous.”

Well, if it is dangerous to teach my students to love their neighbors, to think and rethink constructively and ethically about who their neighbors are, and how they have been taught to see themselves as disconnected and neoliberal subjects, then, yes, I am dangerous, and what I teach is dangerous.

George Yancy is a professor of philosophy at Emory University, the author of “Black Bodies, White Gazes” and “Look, a White!” and a co-editor of “Pursuing Trayvon Martin.”

Originally published in The New York Times, November 30, 2016.

Link to article:

Bringing African Books Back Home

Magunga Williams grew up in Kisumu, a Kenyan city that’s home to more than three hundred thousand people but to only two major bookstores. There, Williams told me recently, “people depend on books that they find in supermarkets.” Most of these books come from the United States and Europe. “These supermarkets do not have a rich African collection,” Williams said. But there was one place where he could always find a wider range of books. It was the personal collection of a local man, whose house became a neighborhood meeting place and an unofficial sort of public library. “It helped so many of us,” Williams, who is now twenty-five, said. “There are people who used to skip school so that they could go to the library and read comics.”

Eventually, the library in Kisumu closed. Williams moved to Nairobi and began an undergraduate program in law, but he never forgot the way that a house full of books, in a city with too few, became an escape. “It’s something that I’ve always wanted to do,” Williams said. “The dream has always been to have a library.” So Williams, while he was in school, started a literary blog,, and when he received his undergraduate degree he decided not to take the necessary final steps to become a lawyer in Kenya. Instead, he made it his mission to create a space like that library—not in a house but on the Internet. The result is a fledgling online pan-African bookshop: the Magunga Bookstore.

In becoming a bookseller, Williams was, in part, following in the footsteps of his girlfriend, Abigail Arunga. A few years ago, Arunga, a Nairobi-based freelance writer in her late twenties, stopped by a few local bookstores and asked if they would stock “Akello,” her self-published collection of poems. At one shop, she was told that Kenyans don’t read poetry. At another, an employee claimed that her ninety-three-page book was too short. “They told me that my book had to be at least a hundred pages,” she said. So she decided to sell the book herself—at poetry readings, literary festivals, even family gatherings. “Literally everywhere. Like, except illegal places,” she told me. She kept a stack of copies in the trunk of her car. “I had at least six in my handbag at all times.”

This summer, she sold her thousandth copy, which translates to nearly one and a half books a day for the past seven hundred days. But she’s frustrated that it came to this. “You have to self-publish, you have to self-market, you have to self-everything,” she said. For both Arunga and Williams, it was an education in literary marketing. The two of them saw the vast gap, especially in Kenya, between those people who sell books and those who write them. “At the end of the day, a bookstore is a business,” Arunga said—and businesses have a way of resisting change. Shops won’t stock books unless they’re popular, but books seldom become popular if they aren’t stocked in shops. “Sometimes, people don’t ask for books because they don’t know that they’re there,” she said.

An epiphany came last winter, when Williams was reading an article in theGuardian and noticed that the newspaper operates its own online bookstore. He told Arunga that they were going to open a bookstore, too. “You’re going to start doing deliveries, because you have a car,” Arunga remembers him telling her. Williams earns his living by writing sponsored posts on his blog, which attracts around five thousand readers each day. He asked his Webmaster, David Mabiria, to add a new tab to the Web site, which would offer books for sale. Williams was evidently undaunted by the fact that he was trying to imitate one of the world’s best-known newspapers on a sub-page of his blog. He and Arunga requested book donations from writer friends, who provided copies of their own work. They launched the feature with ten titles in stock, under a simple slogan: “Spreading the Word.”

Word spread slowly. The Magunga Bookstore made its first sale in December, 2015, when Williams was out of town—he had to ask a friend to deliver the book. “He was telling me he was in traffic,” Williams recalled. “And I was, like, ‘I don’t care. Just go get a boda-boda ride.’ “ (Boda-boda is East African slang for a motorcycle taxi.) He remembers telling the friend, “I’ll pay you even if it costs me double the price. Just to make sure the client is happy.”

Arunga and Williams agreed on one rule: They would stock only African books, distinguishing themselves from larger sellers such as the Guardian and Amazon. “Africans want to read African books,” Arunga said. “It’s all very well to think global, but I do believe in thinking local first.” On the streets of Nairobi, as in the supermarkets in Williams’s home town, venders tend to offer cheap books from the West. Strangely, Arunga says, Kenyan writers rarely attract attention locally until they’ve found success internationally.

In the first few weeks after the page went up—during the holiday season—about two dozen books were sold. Williams and David Mabiria then decided to create a standalone page for the store. They designed the site so that customers could use it on mobile phones or with 2G Internet; it went live in early January. Soon, they began contacting publishers to acquire well-known books like “Americanah,” by the Nigerian-American novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and “From a Crooked Rib,” by the Somali writer Nuruddin Farah. When possible, they added books on a sale-or-return basis, so that copies which didn’t sell could be sent back to the author or the publisher. They added fifty titles in the first three months; today, the site has two hundred, most of which cost between seven and ten dollars. In Nairobi, where the streets are filled with boda-bodas, the site offers same-day delivery.

The online store, which Arunga described as “Amazon for Africa, with fewer payment options,” has now sold a thousand books in Kenya and beyond—a relative handful, but, to Williams, a meaningful start. In order to support a full-time employee, he said, the store only needs to sell fifty books a day. And if that happens it could serve as a proof of concept for literary entrepreneurship in the developing world. “The timing couldn’t be better, because of the growth of social media, the growth of connectivity on the continent,” Eric Chinje, the C.E.O. of a pan-African nongovernmental organization called the African Media Initiative, told me. Chinje believes that, with the right marketing strategy, the store can appeal to a quickly expanding African middle class. A few orders have come in from Germany, the U.S., and the U.K. as well—countries that have historically exported literature to Africa, instead of the other way around.

For now, Williams and Arunga are learning that even modest digital success has concrete consequences: the apartment that they share, in Nairobi, has become a sort of literary warehouse. Whenever a new order comes in, which happens about half a dozen times a day, one of them has to sift through stacks of books, package the purchase, and hand it off to a local courier or the postal service. Perhaps the bookstore of the future won’t look so different from the library in Kisumu. Williams spent much of his youth in a house full of books. It seems increasingly possible that he’ll spend his adulthood in one, too.

By Daniel A. Gross, originally published in The New Yorker, November 21st 2016