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January 22, 2019

The slap heard across the nation

Unless you have been under a rock, you have heard about and probably even seen Nairobi Governor Evans Kidero slapping Nairobi Women’s Representative MP Rachel Shebesh across the face at his offices last Friday.

The story goes that Shebesh stormed the gubernatorial offices with a group of striking workers. The governor opened the door to his office and was surprised to find Shebesh with about 30 people. There was some commotion during which Kidero claims Shebesh assaulted his groin, and he retaliated by slapping her across the face. The two have since recorded statements with the police and the matter is under investigation. I don’t know what you investigate with a youtube video running rampant on the web.

Anyway, since then there has been all manner of uproar on social media. Opinions range from "Shebesh had it coming" to "Kidero must go" and other more colourful and frankly obnoxious statements. Belligerence aside, I am disappointed.

When Evans Kidero was running for office, I supported him in this very column. Most women will agree that Shebesh is a slight if not complete embarrassment to most of us. But this is not about personalities. It is not a simple case of ‘man assaults woman’, would that it were for Kidero’s sake, he would probably get away with it as if he were disciplining a child. This is about two publicly-elected officials and it boils down to the office of the governor assaulted the Women’s Representative.

Evans Kidero slapped Rachel Shebesh and we have all seen the evidence. Perhaps he is telling the truth and Shebesh did indeed provoke him with an off-camera assault, only further probing will tell. However, regardless of probing and investigation, what we know now is that Kidero hit a publicly-elected official and he should resign and in fact be prosecuted. If evidence shows that Shebesh did indeed provoke him, she too should be prosecuted and she should also resign.

We, the already over-taxed and under-served electorate, shall then go to a by-election for a new Governor and a new Women’s representative. If the Nairobi governor was female ,I would advocate the same line of action. Our elected officials should feel safe to carry out their jobs and protest if necessary.

What saddens me is that on Thursday night, there were little boys who went to bed never having seen a man strike a woman. They might have heard stories of bad men who hit women but never seen it. On Friday night, those boys went to bed having seen that it is not just bad men who do these things, rather it is also leaders like Kidero. If Kidero’s actions go unpunished, those little boys will now have three lessons: you can hit women; there are no consequences; and this is how you hit a woman.

By virtue of his stature as leader and his inherent large sphere of influence, his actions will have far reaching consequences. Kidero cannot simply apologise to Shebesh, he has to apologise to the Nairobians who thought she was fit to represent them. He should participate in some kind of campaign that educates men and boys about the ills of violence against women.

One man’s slap becomes another man’s permission to rape. The Kideros and Sonkos choose fists and words while others who emulate them will choose their penises. Leaders are a reflection of the society that puts them there. Kidero’s slap and Sonko’s abuse of Caroline Mutoko have set the tone for how the county of Nairobi does business with women. It is no wonder that 'kuchotwa' is so pervasive in our slums that Juliani, the rapper, had the temerity to tell me, “Valentine, you call it rape,” as if I was some clueless foreigner who was hoisting her rape-free and hence bizarre childhood on people who ‘do things a little differently’.

Kidero and Sonko, now poster children for violence against women, please resign.

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