It’s mid-morning and the sun is blazing. It is so hot that germinating seeds struggle to grow.
In Moi Ndabi, about 44km south of Kenya’s Lake Naivasha in Nakuru County, the vegetation dotted sparingly across the village has turned yellow.
More than 100 people have lined up at the Moi Ndabi borehole to wait their turn to fetch water sold at five Kenyan shillings ($0.05) per 20-litre jerry can.
But about 12km away from the water point in this region of the Rift Valley two greenhouses of different sizes stand adjacent to the homestead of Zainabu Malicha. By the end of March, she hopes to have pocketed at least 1.2m shillings ($13 100) from the sale of the tomatoes she grows there.
For the widow who is now solely responsible for the care of her five children, this venture into agribusiness has transformed her life, which for much of the last two decades has been dominated by hunger, poverty and malnutrition.
“Living in this semi-arid area [used to mean] no viable farming activity,” she says.
Malicha’s business venture relies on a simple water-harvesting technology: a water pan. Constructing the pan – a circular container 20m across – involves digging a dam and covering it with a dam liner. The pan then stores the runoff water during the heavy rains. Once full, it can provide enough water for Malicha for up to four months until the next rainy season.
“Before 2011, when the water pan was constructed, life was hard. Extremely hard. Maize would fail due to [the] scorching sun. Vegetables withered every so often. Going to sleep hungry was common,” Malicha says.
Having made 600 000 shillings ($6 500) from produce grown in the smaller greenhouse, Malicha used the proceeds to set up the bigger one. “I have so much joy now because I can comfortably feed my children with [a] balanced diet and meet the education expenses,” she says.
A few miles from her homestead, Florence Muthoni is also enjoying the fruits of the water reservoir.
Having access to a greenhouse has enabled her to grow watermelons, a crop she once attempted and failed to grow on her hectare (2.5 acres) of land.
“After two months, I harvest and make 135 000 shillings ($1 475). This is good enough to pay for my two sons on parallel programmes in local universities,” says the widow, who has lived in the area since 1992.
On a separate half-hectare of land she has also grown vegetables, some bananas and sugarcane, made possible through using water pans.
“I plan to buy a plot and then rear two Friesian cows. This could raise my profits, and when I finally become old, my children would take over,” she says.
Having the water pan, Muthoni says, has emancipated her from hunger and “opened up her mind to hope for great things” not just for herself but for other women in the village.
Muthoni and Malicha now lead a group of 286 women who form the Chemi Chemi ya Tumaini Jangwani Women Group (Springs of Hope in the Desert Women Group) as chair and secretary respectively.
Even though the water pans led to solutions to the problems of food scarcity and related health issues, their construction was possible only with the assistance of an NGO.
Muthoni says the NGO spent 20m shillings ($200 000) on setting up 50 water pans in the area for the women to irrigate their farms. The amount includes the 560 000 shillings used for their smaller greenhouses.
“We hear the government has loans for women, but how to get them is what we do not know. If it wasn’t for the NGO, we could still be suffering in hunger,” says Muthoni. “We need people to reach out to us in the villages and give us a sense of direction, just like non-governmental organisations do.”
Worryingly, the lack of gender-disaggregated information on credit beneficiaries continues to hamper balanced distribution of available resources, it says. Despite the creation of government funds specifically for women, only a few have benefited from them. Women make up more than half of Kenya’s population of 44 million.
Through community groups, women can access money from the Women Enterprise Fund , established in 2007, and the Uwezo Fund , launched in 2013. So far 707 435 women have received funding from the WEF while 274 857 have been trained in business management skills, according to statistics from the Ministry of Devolution and Planning.
Asking about them in polite society usually causes raised eyebrows and mumbles about their inappropriateness, but you don’t need to be a private detective to discover that they’re bought, sold and used almost anywhere you care to look on the continent.
At the same time though, the sale of sex toys is illegal in many countries where they’re being sold, although some governments don’t even bother putting the trade on the books, seemingly relying on social shame – which is fading fast – as a means of regulation. Nonetheless, even where selling them remains illegal, sex toys still manage to creep across the border.
Basically, what seems to be happening is that the governments are anti-sex toys, but the people aren’t. The internet has made it easier for anyone who wants a sex toy to bypass the law, but it is the importers who shoulder the risks, since they’re the ones likely to have their good seized at Customs. This probably accounts for the relatively high prices of sex toys in many countries.
So what does this mean for the continent’s sex toy trade, where there’s a market but being a supplier isn’t always something you can broadcast in public?
Countries such as Zimbabwe and Mauritius have actively said “no” to bedroom trinkets but, being popular holiday destinations, there are websites that offer tips on how to “sneak your sex toy in when going on holiday”.
The situation in a few countries:
South Africa says OK to a little sexual aid
Sex toys are very much legal in South Africa. But before you shout “Of course they are, it’s South Africa!”, you might be surprised to learn that it’s only in the last decade that it stopped being illegal for South Africans to manufacture or sell sex toys. We have the enlightened apartheid government for the Immorality Amendment Act of 1969 prohibiting the sale of any item “intended to be used to perform an unnatural sexual act,” an amendment apparently intended to prevent the use of dildos by lesbians. Gratifying to be able to report that South Africa now has one of the most liberal constitutional and legal frameworks in the world on matters sexual.
What that means in South Africa today is that you cannot throw a stone anywhere in the country without hitting an Adult World, its branches so dark and seedy (at least all the ones I’ve seen) that you worry you’ll catch an STD just walking in. If they own any chic, couples-friendly branches, I haven’t come across them yet, and don’t know anyone who has. (Incidentally, the chain, which has 60 stores nationwide, is currently embroiled in a tiff with the ANC for opening a store opposite Parliament in Cape Town.)
Adult World’s selection of products ranges from videos for all tastes (BDSM, lesbian porn, women in cheerleader outfits) all the way to 10-inch long replicas of male genitalia.
There are more tasteful shops around, such as the Whet Sensuality Emporium in Cape Town (more tasteful, no doubt, because it’s women- and couples-oriented; they even manufacture their own lubricant) whose owner also gives advice to couples in her consultation room. This is beautiful cream room decorated with orchids, lounge chairs and futuristic sci-fi sex toys that look like they travelled back in time from the year 2085.
There is also the annual Sexpo, showcasing the best of the best in terms of sex toys, clothing (costumes) and general erotica. Then there are clubs like the Pharoah Private Fantasy Club where they ask “Whats your flava?” Okay, I’m not sure if that has anything to do with sex toys, but I like their opening question. Not to mention the hundreds of online stores such as HoneyHoney and FemmeSensuelle.
Discreet unmarked packages
Taboo surrounding sex toys in Kenya has pretty much faded, especially in Nairobi where more and more sex shops are opening, offline (River Road is where to go, although be warned, it’s also where to go for anything from AK47s to fake death certificates or Harvard Masters certificates, printed while you wait, no less) and online. The latest to join the online fray is wittily called Bored of Men.
Kenyan laws prohibit the sale of pornography and “obscene materials,” but according to Nairobi lawyer Humprey Manyange, there is no law in Kenya that prohibits the sale, distribution or circulation of sex toys under the Penal Code or any other law. He added, though, that “…there should be caution on the mode of display and selling to avoid the disturbance of public peace and breach of public morality”.
Kenyans are spoilt for choice online with stores like Doctor Crocodildo, Pazuri Place (who claim to have delivered over 1 300 packages since 2009), RahaToys (“If you are in Nairobi, we send the delivery guy to bring the item to you” – now that’s service!) , The Secret Kenya and kenyasecrets.com (“the finest and biggest collection of sex toys in Kenya,” with same-day deliveries) – don’t ask me why my Kenyan brothers and sisters are in such a hurry to get hold of their sex toys. Door-to-door delivery and the more relaxed attitude towards sex toys means Kenyans no longer need to have their sex toys mailed in “discreet unmarked packages,” which was the case for years. Women are now spending up to 10 000ksh ($112) on vibrating bullets, but you also have shops like RahaToys where you can get a super stretchy gel erection ring for the low low price of 420 Ksh ($4) or a ‘Fetish Fantasy Series Door Swing’ for 5 590 Ksh.
And if you’re after a sex doll, you can get one of those, too.
Sex toys on the (not so open) market
In Zimbabwe, Vannessa Chiyangwa, the daughter of a well known businessman (who also happens to be a former Zanu-PF MP as well as a cousin of Robert Mugabe) caused tongues to wag not too long ago for holding sex toy auctions in Harare . If you’re going to sell them, might as well keep it classy with an auction. She also held peep shows whilst selling a selection of lingerie to further boost business. All of which was labelled “immoral” by government officials.
That enterprising lady’s case actually revealed a contradiction in the government’s official position on sex toys. According to Zimbabwe Revenue Authority’s director of legal and corporate services Florence Jambwa, the importation of the toys into the country is prohibited under the Customs and Excise Act. However, Censorship Board secretary Isaac Chiranganyika said whoever intended to import or trade in sex toys had to seek permission from the board. He also said, “Anyone who wants to do that business should first bring them [toys] to our offices for approval.” The Board’s staff members must test drive the products, after all. For quality control purposes, of course. But joking aside, this is confusing. It’s illegal to import sex toys but you must have your sex toys approved by the board before you’re allowed to sell the illegal imports? Perhaps the government is trying to encourage local sex-toy manufacturing.
According to this article in The Standard, people have been caught smuggling sex toys into Zimbabwe, and some of the main culprits have been foreigners attending the Harare International Festival of The Arts (Hifa). Apparently, it’s during the festival that officials confiscate the highest number of sex toys. Arty folk, eh? But seriously, this is probably an attempt to diss lefty Hifa with it’s “foreign” connections.
The board says they’ve kept all the vibrators and dildos impounded over the past two years (most of the sex toys are for use by women, but there are some ‘female organs’ among the contraband), a claim contradicted by Florence Jambwa who says they destroy all the sex toys they confiscate. Sounds like the Censorship Board members are having a whale of a time at home.
Sex dolls, door swings and same day delivery
If you read about Nigerians and their sex toys on This Is Africa recently, you probably assumed sex toys were legal in Nigeria. Nope. Contraband, according to government officials.
Nigerians might come over all abashed when you raise the topic in public, but sex toys are starting to become more popular in the country, even in the northern States that abide by Sharia law, but either government officials have enough wahala on their hands to add chasing after sex toy importers to the list or they know they’ll be onto a losing battle if they do.
The ownership of sex toys knows no age, social class or marital status barriers in Nigeria. In Lagos, one newspaper journalist found more than 20 shops selling sex toys (mostly small stalls), and one trader, who preferred to remain anonymous, said most of his customers were couples, with the male partners saying they preferred to have a toy as a “competitor,” rather than another man. On the other hand, another trader said she had to take her business online because people who had the “balls” to enter her shop just browsed a lot without buying much. Her sales went up by 120% with the move.
They reportedly saw this as “a sign of the end and the beginning of Sodom and Gomorrah” aka “Jesus is coming”.
According to the product specifications, the dolls’ skin texture was “99.8% human texture,” but with a price tag of $6 000 they’d better be, right? Clearly imported for the rich, these super dolls. What about the man on the street, I ask. The dolls last two years, are completely adjustable to any position, have a hundred sensors all over the body (including thirty in/on the private parts), get “wet,” and moan when penetrated. The “best money you will ever spend,” according to one man who is either the sole importer or a very, very happy customer. No wonder my Nigerian sisters were in an uproar.
One woman wondered “…what technology is turning the world into; even my husband saw it on the internet and he developed interest in it. My fear is if he gets it, it will be the end of our marriage.” Another was certain her husband would go for it, but said it was none of her business. One randy commenter said he’d forego a car to buy such a doll!
For those not wishing to sell or forego their car or break the bank, there’s Intimate Pleasures (Nigeria’s first online sex shop catering specifically to women), the owner of which, feminist writer and human rights activist Iheoma Obibi, also holds “Wellness and Intimacy” afternoon sessions.
There are shops selling sex toys in Ghana, offline (in Accra, at least; some street hawkers even sell them) and online (Area 51, GH erotic; you can even WhatsApp your order), though, again, the government considers sex toys “obscene” and has been known to close down sex shops. Women in Swaziland throw “product parties,” and have been calling on the government for years to legalise the sale of sex toys, stating that there’s no valid reason why women should be deprived of their inviolable right to choose how they pleasure themselves.
This appears to be a case of governments failing to move with the times, and to comprehend the reasonable desires of their citizens. I’m willing to bet that all the officials making it unnecessarily difficult to get hold of sex toys own sex toys themselves.
Governments, we want our sex toys, and we will get them any way we can, whether you like it or not!
Kagure Mugo is a freelance writer and co-founder and curator of holaafrica.org, a Pan-Africanist queer women’s collective which engages in activism and awareness-building around issues of African women’s identity, experiences and sexuality. Connect with her on Twitter: @tiffmugo
This was a conversation with Daniel, a destitute man in Nairobi, Kenya, posted on the internet last August. That night, thanks to a stranger, he received a cooked meal of ugali and stew. Then came more donations of food, money, clothes, a bed and a shack for him to live in.
Here lies the power of Homeless of Nairobi, a Facebook page pricking the conscience of those who take such things for granted.
It is “a virtual home” for the homeless people of the Kenyan capital and one of the few places where they are seen, heard and dignified.
The page features photos, conversations and updates on volunteer projects, such as a group effort on Christmas day that fed about 600 people with 600 loaves of bread, 500 packets of milk, 500 bananas and about 50 bottles of soda.
Not every story has a happy ending. “Today is a heartbreaking day for the Homeless Of Nairobi project,” read a post in November. “Over the past two months, we found a home for a wonderful man called Daniel… It has now come to our attention that Daniel has now left the house in favour of the streets once again. It is hard to understand why but we had told him that there is no pressure on him to stay.”
Building a movement The page was launched last year by Sham Patel (29), who was born and raised in Nairobi but spent three years as a student in Liverpool in the UK. Like many other residents, he gave little thought to people without a home until a chance encounter gave him a flash of empathy and changed his perspective.
“Ever since I was young, I’ve seen homeless people on the streets of Nairobi,” he recalled this week. “They have become part of the wallpaper of this city. For a long time, I didn’t see them as people but as pests who bother people for money. We’re conditioned to think like that by an apathetic society from when we’re young. We’re pre-programmed.”
But then one rainy day, on his way to the gym, he saw some homeless people huddled under a plastic sheet. “It made me think about how I’d feel if that was me or my parents out in the rain without shelter and food. I decided then that it was time to try to make a small difference where possible so the next day I took them bread and milk and started a conversation with them and it was incredible how much they knew about life and their philosophies and belief in God was astounding.”
Patel added: “They shared the bread with me. In fact, they offered it to me first before they ate. Since then, I’ve decided to talk to and spread the stories of as many homeless people as possible with the hope that we can build a movement that will lead to finding ways to help these men, women and children that much of society and our government has discarded.”
One of his major inspirations for the format was Humans of New York, a popular website cataloguing photos, snippets and stories from the US city’s inhabitants. Patel met its founder briefly and was advised: “Just go for it.”
Since then he has gone out day and night, gathering dozens of photos and stories, and the page has gained more than 3 000 likes on Facebook. It offers a rare insight into the pitiless conditions of the homeless in a major African city who have little social support or sympathy from the police. Some turn to drugs for escapism from hunger, pain or misery. A poignant entry on Thursday with a picture of children read:
“How much is the bottle of glue you’re sniffing?”
“We get it for about 30 shillings.”
“So why don’t you buy a small meal with that 30 shillings?”
“Because that meal will not even be enough to fill my stomach. That food will not help me when it is cold at night or when I am hungry again. The glue lasts longer and helps me forget where I am.”
According to the charity Kenya Children of Hope, in 2007 it was estimated that there were 250 000 – 300 000 children living and working on the streets across the country with, with more than 60 000 of them in Nairobi.
Mixed responses Patel said he gets a varied response from those he asks to take part. “Most of the time, the homeless people are really happy just to talk to someone and we can talk for a pretty long time. Other homeless people aren’t so friendly because of their lack of trust or because they’re high on something or the other.
“But it’s been pretty mixed. There was the time I was almost robbed by three homeless people and there was another time we were chased down the street by a homeless guy who, it turns out, is a little psychotic or just really angry. But for the better part, most homeless people are very accommodating even though they do not trust the colour of my skin.”
Patel, who also runs Myrobi, a company that deals in T-shirts and marketing materials with a business partner, says he hopes to achieve “big things” with the Homeless of Nairobi project, including crowd funded projects and a homeless shelter where people can learn skills such as pottery, farming, mechanics and stitching.
“We want to have a psychiatry unit at the shelter because a lot of these homeless people have seen and endured things that human beings should not see. For example, the homeless girls being raped in town constantly.
“These people need psychiatrists to help them deal with the problems they’ve faced. We don’t just want to create a place where we dump homeless people and feed them. We want to bring them back from the brink they stand on. And their resilience proves that it is possible to do exactly that.”
Human rights groups are warning that Kenya’s controversial Security Amendment Act still poses a threat to refugees’ rights despite a high court decision on Friday that suspends parts of the bill for 30 days pending a full court hearing.
The suspension included a section of the wide-ranging bill, popularly known as the ‘anti-terror’ law, that amended Kenya’s Refugees Act. The amendment stipulates that, “the number of refugees and asylum seekers permitted to stay in Kenya shall not exceed 150 000.”
Currently there are over 600 000 refugees, asylum seekers and stateless people living in Kenya, according to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR).
Although the cap of 150 000 can be reset by the National Assembly, rights groups fear that the new amendment will result in large numbers of refugees being forcibly returned. This would amount to refoulement, a serious contravention of international refugee law.
On Friday, the Judge ruled that other sections of the new act that deal with refugees will remain in place including a requirement that anyone who has applied for refugee status remain in designated refugee camps “until the processing of their status is concluded.” There are over 50 000 non-camp based refugees living in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, according to UNHCR.
A Court of Appeals will, within 30 days, rule on the constitutionality of 22 sections of the bill, which are being challenged by the Kenya National Human Rights Commission (KNHRC) and the opposition Coalition for Reforms and Democracy (Cord).
The Security Amendment Act was passed on 18 December after a heated debate in Parliament that culminated in a fistfight among members of the lower house. It was signed into law by the President the following day.
It took less than two weeks to draft and pass the law following a spate of terror attacks conducted by Somali terrorist group, al-Shabab in Kenya. On December 2, 36 people were gunned down by al-Shabab in a quarry close to Mandera town, an area close to the Kenya-Somalia border. Ten days earlier, less than 50 kilometers away, 28 bus passengers had been shot by the group.
Kenya has suffered more than 50 gun, grenade or improvised explosive device (IED) attacks since 2011, when it began its military operation against al-Shabab in Somalia.
Somali refugees disproportionately affected Amnesty International argues that while the new law, if enforced, would inevitably lead to refoulement, it could also be discriminatory in its implementation.
“We’re very concerned about who will be targeted to be sent back,” Michelle Kagari, deputy regional director for East Africa at Amnesty International, told IRIN. “We have been documenting that refugees, and Somali refugees in particular, have been disproportionally targeted by the link between refugees, terrorism and Kenya’s security operation in Somalia.”
UNHCR estimates that by the end of 2015, refugees and asylum seekers from Somalia will represent nearly 70 percent of the people of concern to UNHCR in Kenya.
Fears about the targeting of Somalis are echoed within the Somali refugee community.
“The anti-terror law is mainly meant for Muslims, and the Somalis in particular,” Sheikh Mohamed Abdi, a Muslim cleric living in Dadaab, the largest complex of refugee camps in Kenya where the majority of refugees are Somali. “There is nowhere to run. We fled from Somalia because of terror-related problems and here, where we thought it was a safe haven, is becoming another hell.”
“There are some refugees who are not registered and staying in the camp and so the police can arrest them, assume they are terrorists and hold them for one year,” said Abdi Ahmed, the Section N chairman in Dadaab, and a community leader. “The entire refugee community lives in panic.” Under the new law, terror suspects can be held for up to one year without trial.
Even registered refugees fear the restrictions on movement that the new law will formalise. “Getting a movement pass these days is very difficult and for students, not having it means missing classes and sometimes exams,” said a Dadaab youth leader, who wished to remain anonymous. He believed that the law will make movement even harder.
The Security Amendment Act comes in the wake of a worsening climate for refugees in Kenya. In April 2014, thousands of ethnic Somalis were rounded up in Nairobi, and held at a sports stadium as part of an operation dubbed Usalama Watch. Similar crackdowns have occurred across the country. Many refugees who had been living in cities were sent to Dadaab.
Government defends law
Kenya’s Attorney General, Githu Muigai, has defended the new law. In his response to the petition filed by the opposition party and various human rights groups, through the Solicitor-General, he said that the discretion accorded to Parliament to temporarily increase the numbers of refugees allowed to remain in the country would ensure that refoulement does not occur
He further argued that the laws were necessary to combat terrorism. “We currently have forces in Somalia and it is important to note that the country has been attacked several times. The law, as it is, enables the security personnel to counter threats posed to Kenyans. The issue of life is more important than anything else,” said Muturi.
However, rights groups strongly rebutted this argument. “The government needs to deal with security appropriately and do it in a way that respects human rights. The two are not contradictory,” said Amnesty International’s Kagari. “All three amendments are not only violating the spirit of the constitution but also Kenya’s commitment under the refugee convention.”
The grainy mobile phone video shows a mob of Kenyan men surround a woman and grab, grasp and yank her clothes until she is naked. Several such videos have emerged recently of attacks by males who deem a woman to be provocatively dressed. The attacks have created a groundswell of anger that saw mostly women protesters flood downtown Nairobi on Monday.
Rachel Machua wore what she called “a little black dress … my normal outfit” to Monday’s protest. She views the recent attacks as stemming from socio-economic conditions: Lower income men are attacking successful, well-dressed women.
The attacks are not overtly religious in nature, though this is a conservative, mostly Christian country. The women at the march described “normal” levels of sexual harassment over the years and said that peers will warn other women that “you’re gonna get undressed” for wearing a particular outfit.
“Kenyan men are in different groups. My father wanted me to be here and said you can dress however you want. Then there are others who think you are out of their reach and they try to victimise you,” said Machua (26), who runs an aid group called Transforming Generations.
Women play an active role in Kenyan society. The country’s foreign minister is a woman, though few women hold high-ranking elected office. Parliament is a virtual men’s club, unlike in neighboring Rwanda, where more than half of parliament is female.
After the recent attacks, elderly Kenyan women are said to have rescued the naked victims by giving them a shawl to cover up.
James Wamathai, said he was marching because he believes in equal rights. “I think it’s really horrible and no women should have to go through that,” said Wamathai (33), who does commercial media work. “It’s a weird sexual fetish. If you see some of the videos some of the men are groping the women. … But it’s not based on anything (like religion) because in Africa we didn’t used to wear clothes.”
Just 100 metres from the march’s meeting point, park worker Ulda Akinyi emptied trash. Akinyi looked at the demonstration with disdain, and said she has instructed her three daughters to dress conservatively for fear of attracting unwanted attention. “Wearing miniskirts is the devil’s work,” said Akinyi.
Men gathered against a nearby fence. Most said they didn’t support the cause. A man who gave only his first name, John, said he didn’t want Kenya’s women to “seduce” him by wearing revealing clothing.
“It’s like three-quarters naked if you are wearing one of those short skirts,” said David Ndongo, who works on one of Kenya’s mini transport buses known as matatus, where women can also face harassment.
The hashtag #MyDressMyChoice is trending on Twitter since yesterday, with many users voicing their outrage against the incident and their support for women to dress as they wish.
Those who attack/ violate women on pretext of manner of dress not only dehumanize her but reveal themselves as beasts! #MyDressMyChoice — Martha Karua (@MarthaKarua) November 14, 2014
Stripping women is barbaric! God has not appointed anyone to police others on his behalf. These are criminals! #MyDressMyChoice