• Social death, American sociologist, Orlando Patterson explains, is the condition of people not accepted as fully human by wider society.
• It occurs through racial and/or gender exclusion, persecution, slavery, and apartheid.
Last week, media was dominated by reports of the death of Velvine Kinyanjui, 24. She was waitress who succumbed to spinal cord injuries allegedly inflicted by a man with whom she was in company. It was a disturbing story that provoked reflection on the state of women’s right in Kenya.
What came out strongly, however, was the arrogance and insensibility with which some Kenyans dismissed Velvine’s story. “She was cheating. What was she doing with a man at night in a hotel,” one Kenyan wrote on Twitter.
One couldn’t help but wonder just how low our humanity has sunk. According to the Federation of Women Lawyers Kenya, at least 1, 071 cases of sexual and gender-based violence were reported between April 15, 2020 and February 28, 2021.
Kenya National Bureau of Statistics show 14 per cent of Kenyan women were raped between 2014 -20.
To understand apparent degeneration of human sensibilities in Kenya, we must first understand our country is undergoing social death.
Social death, American sociologist, Orlando Patterson explains, is the condition of people not accepted as fully human by wider society. Social death occurs through racial and/or gender exclusion, persecution, slavery, and apartheid.
Kenya’s social death has largely been procured by three institutions, the first being the church. Religious institutions have molded scary passions of mankind through pay-for-twist gospel and used the crucifix to justify failure of leadership.
Although most people are slow to mention it, churches are actively involved in perpetuating political degeneration by stifling moral progress. The church has failed to procure a life of wellbeing for majority of its followers. Instead, it has legitimised social prerogatives and inequality through its close relationship with the State.
By circumventing injustices, religious institutions have encouraged the practice of lawlessness, corruption, greed and other evils. In short, leadership failure has partly been facilitated by religious institutions.
The second institution is the political class. Most politicians are corrupt and dishonest. They promise reforms with one breath and take it away with another. They have little integrity.
With a justice system that is designed to favour the rich, many politicians siphon public money, incite ethnic violence and expedite corruption with impunity.
“The elite corruption in this country is carried out with increasing impunity and brazenness. A billion shillings is the new million. Ordinary folks have to ride with the tide,” former Auditor General Edward Ouko once said.
We have allowed politicians to normalize political deceit.
More than that, by politically persecuting its citizens, Kenya has slowly but steadily undergone social death. For instance, the state has refused to facilitate unconditional return of lawyer Miguna Miguna in bald disregard of multiple court cases.
But political persecution isn’t new in Kenya. Wind the tape back to Moi days when government critics were tortured and murdered. Some Kenyans such as Ngugi wa Thiong’o still live in exile to this day as a result of the events of that period.
The third and most consequential institution is the music industry.
In her article titled Boobs and Booties: How Hypersexualised Images of Women Impact Society, Kenyan writer and journalist Rasna Warah notes that in most music videos of Kenyan, Congolese and black American hip hop, women are expected to wiggle their nude or semi-nude private parts whereas their male counterparts are fully clothed.
“The commodification and hyersexualisation of women and girls has gained impetus in today’s money-worshiping world,” she writes.
Most Kenyan music videos today, particularly “Gengetone” thrive on extreme sexism: Which means they receive more views hence more money.
For example, the official video of ‘Lamba Lolo’, a rap song released by Ethics in 2018, has more than 4.9 million views on YouTube. This shows the level of traction sexist content has found in the consciousness of most Kenyans.
By sexually exploiting black female bodies, as Rasna notes, black male musicians inadvertently perpetuate sexual myths that were advanced by the whites during colonisation.
It was easy to note that most of the insensitive comments on Velvine’s story came from men. A society that commercialises and hypersexualises female nudity cannot be sensitive to sexual injustices committed against women.
As podcaster Adelle Onyango puts it, rape would end if men stopped raping women.
Ouma is a FirstGen scholar and an accepted journalism student at Biola University in the US