The ‘Pussy Whipped’ And Battered Men Of Central Kenya: What Capitalism, Mau Mau War, And The Free Market Have To Do With It

Simon Kiguta in a Nyeri hospital Feb. 11, 2012. He was slashed across the face with a machete by his wife when he came home drunk in the night. (Joseph Kanyi/Nation photo)

Where men are threatened in Kenya, you can expect Maendeleo ya Wanaume (Movement for Men’s’ Rights), a conservative lobby group led by the colourful Mr Nderitu Njoka, to show up.

So it was that recently, Maendeleo ya Wanaume warned that it was going to mobilise Kenya’s suffering men to boycott food in their houses starting Monday to protest the recent increase of man battering. These kinds of utterances make Njoka hilarious and good copy.

What is going on? Well, in recent months in Central Kenya, the land of the good Kikuyu people has seen an epidemic of man battering. Daily there have been stories, and photos, of men from Central Kenya, faces sliced with machetes; lying in hospital beds with broken legs; with skins peeled off their backs and stomachs by hot water administered by angry women (“well cooked”, a female colleague quipped).

According to Maendeleo ya Wanaume, there were 460,000 cases of men battering reported last year in Central Kenya and 300,000 in Nairobi. Nyeri County in Central Kenya is the man-battering Mecca of man battering. If those are conservative figures, then at least one million Kenyan men are thumped and whacked by their wives, mistresses, and girlfriends every year.

That said, Kenya men, of course, still beat and kill women in far, far larger numbers. It would be a disaster, in the discussing of the battering of men, to forget that.

A visibly traumatised, and frightened, Kiguta in Nyeri Provincial General Hospital. (Joseph Kanyi/Nation photo)

If you are cynical, you can say that Kenyan women have developed the fine art of beating their men: They slice them, break their legs, box their teeth out, but generally don’t murder them. In part it has to do with the timing. Many wait when their men are drunk to attack them, ensuring that there will be little resistance, which tends to limit damage. Sometimes they time when their men have stolen the kitchen kitty or, or because they are unemployed lay-abouts failed to put food on the table. Again, here, the man is at a psychological disadvantage.

While there also sorts of jokes flying around about why the women of Nyeri, and Central Kenya in general, are a terror to men, there are very good economic, political, and historical reasons for the high number of battered men in the region. Ironically, the source of the man beating is actually good – it’s because Central Kenya have progressed a lot.

For example, statistics show that women in Central today tend to have the least number of children. They are marrying later than other Kenyan women. Their use of contraception is also the highest in Kenya. More of them are employed than any other national group in Kenya. They own more small business than women from other Kenyan communities.

One argument tends to be made that Kenya’s founding father, Jomo Kenyatta, himself a Kikuyu, was a tribalist who handed the Kikuyu an early advantage, allowing them to get ahead of the pack. However, Kenyatta was prime minister/then president for 14 years, from 1964 to 1978 when he died. His successor, Daniel arap Moi, a Kalenjin from the Rift Valley, was president for 24 years, from 1978 to 2002 when, to his credit, he stepped down.

President Mwai Kibaki, a Kikuyu from Nyeri (ah, Nyeri), has been the chief since January 2003, and when he steps down at the end of this year, he will have clocked 10 years. In all, then, two Kikuyus will have led Kenya for 24 years, and one Kalenjin also for 24 years. Moi was viewed as a tribalist too, so if all else was equal, the same social tensions, and domestic violence patterns we see in Central Kenya, should be happening in the Rift Valley.

However, it is NOT—and there is no sign that it is about to. What this suggests is that to understand what is happening in Central Kenya today, including the man battering, we need to go back to the period before independence. I believe that easily the best book on Kenya is Robert Bates’ “Beyond The Miracle Of The Market: The Political Economy Of Agrarian Development In Kenya”.

One of the excellent points Bates makes is that the relative economic development in Central Kenya is the result of a tragedy; the Mau Mau Uprising, which officially lasted from 1952 to 1960.

To paraphrase and enrich some of his arguments, Bates argued that in order to grab Kikuyu land, the British had to reach it—so they built roads and infrastructure. When the Mau Mau uprising begun, the colonialists ramped up the development of infrastructure; roads to ferry the army in remote places to fight the Mau Mau rebels; treatment facilities for their injured; and telephones and telegraphs to reach the settlers who were scattered on their far flung farms who were being targeted by the freedom fighters.

When the war ended, Central Kenya had the infrastructure that no other region could even dream of. And where roads once ferried Kings African Rifles to kill the Mau Mau and suspected collaborators, now they took products to market, enabled the Kikuyu to travel further, and to leverage it all for trade.

Capitalism arrived in many parts of Kenya early, thanks in part to the Kenya-Uganda Railway. But it was entrenched, and fuelled in Central Kenya at lightning speed, not by Kenyatta, but war.

Central Kenyan women therefore not only came into contact with serious capitalism before all their other compatriots, but they also faced the fury of the male-war machine before others. In short, they lost their innocence earliest.

Francis Ndung'u displays his burns on Feb. 12, 2012 in hospital. His wife emptied a bucket of hot water on him as he slept in their Riuru home. He had returned home drunk. (Joseph Kanyi/Nation photo)

Now capitalism really doesn’t have too much sympathy for the idea of the loyal housewife staying at home, cooking, mopping, and bearing twins for her husband. It tends to force women out of the house into the work place. By the same token, it abhors the lazy man sitting at home, waiting to feed off his wife’s labour – unless he is a proper househusband who also looks after the children, cooks, and cleans (which jobless Kikuyu, and African men in general, don’t do).

In future we shall examine on the changes that have conspired to render Kenyan men in general, but rural Kikuyu ones in particular, jobless and turned them into drunkards – thus only sharpening the conflict with their hardworking wives.

However, the colonial experience, and particularly the Mau Mau rebellion, perhaps more than anything explains why Nyeri women are beating their men down in record numbers.

One man, according to a close friend of his whom I spoke to, who has taken a scientific attitude toward the unique aspects of domestic violence in Central Kenya, is Rev. Mutava Musyimi, lately Gachoka MP.

During the Mau Mau war, many men took off to the bush to fight and left their families behind. There were also many Kenyan men who didn’t go to fight, but stayed behind, joined the British, and battled against the liberators. They were the Homeguards, who are considered traitors, and the most despised and hated group in Kenya history.

The hapless James Ndung'u in Nyeri hospital Feb. 15, 2012. His wife wasted his right leg with a stone during a domestic scuffle. (Joseph Kanyi/Nation photo).

As happens, when the lessons of the Mau Mau war forced the British to grant Kenya independence, it was largely the Homeguard traitors that were well positioned to take power, not the freedom fighters. It is no accident that it took a Nyeri man, President Kibaki, to honour Mau Mau leader, the legendary Dedan Kimathi, with a statue only in 2006. The homeguards were too powerful in the Kenyatta and Moi governments to allow that to happen.

Anyhow, when the war ended, and the Mau Mau returned home, they got a second even more painful heartbreak. They found that their wives had either run away with or got children with the homeguards. For some of them the homeguards had stolen their wives and land too! Now if you want the permanent enmity of a man, do one of those things – but to do both!

The result, according to Musyimi (as reported to me) was that the Mau Mau generation of Kikuyu men (most from Nyeri) felt that their wives had betrayed them deeply, some as much as they hated them as much as they did the British and homeguards. Of course, the Kikuyu women had only indulged in “tactical infidelity” with the homeguards – to feed the children the fighters had left behind (this happened a lot too in Uganda during the military tyranny of Field Marshal Idi Amin).  This is often a necessary tactic in patriarchal societies where the men dominate access to food.

While a few men might understand that, almost none of them would forgive it.

That entrenched a deep suspicion between central Kenya’s men and women, and according to other accounts, many of that generation of men passed on “the hatred of women to their

The statue of freedom fighter Dedan Kimathi who was hanged by the British during the Mau Mau Uprising in downtown Nairobi. He unleashed forces that still define Kenyan society today.

sons, who in turn passed it on to their sons”, especially in the countryside. According to this view, the unfinished business of the Mau Mau war is still being fought out between the men and women of Central Kenya.

It is a historical tragedy, and a problem that requires a level of reflection and social engineering that, one suspects, is not about to happen if the mockery, sniggers, and avalanche of jokes about Nyeri’s men beaters, are anything to go by. And, as Kenyan and other African societies change, become market driven and industrial, it will be the lot of many more poor men. Nyeri is not the past or a Central Kenya oddity. It is our African future.

 © cobbo@ke.nationmedia.com / twitter@cobbo3


    Comments 10

    1. Kimani

      This is a great article! Deep! And how do you resolve that in a court? How did the new constitution factor in such? It’s high time Africa accepted its position and took its unique path. In any case it is unique. It should not fear diverging in development from the rest of the world!

    2. johnngirachu

      There is yet another version to this history of violence against men from Nyeri. The story goes that men from that region would leave their homes and go work in Nairobi, from where they would return on weekends or holidays. They would leave the bank accounts for the tea, coffee and earnings from the dairy cattle to their wives. They thus handed over to the women some financial power, which was to their own detriment. With the women in charge of all that money, and financially independent, they could afford to do more than brush off the advances of their drunk husbands, whenever they were at home that is. This hostility was passed on to their daughters and that, and other issues, is the reason men from Nyeri and not anywhere else in the region are battered by their women

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