Whither Justice?

On Saturday, September 20, Mr. Tony Mochama, a columnist with Kenya’s Standard Group, Secretary of PEN Kenya, and holder of a Morland Writing Scholarship, sexually assaulted a woman during a gathering of Kenyan and international poets. Mr. Mochama is a well-known figure in Kenya’s literary circles: he has hosted open mics, promotes literary culture in his work for PEN Kenya, and travels abroad regularly as an ambassador for Kenyan literature. Beyond his own accomplishments and labor, Mr. Mochama represents us. An us that encompasses all Kenyan literary workers, cultural producers, and cultural administrators. Quite simply: he is one of Kenya’s faces.

What are we to do when one of our collective faces commits sexual assault? How do we face that aspect of ourselves?

Kenyan philosopher John Mbiti argued that the African sense of self could be found in the formulation, “I am because we are.” Extrapolating from Mbiti, we can say that the self, the individual, exists within multiple networks and embeddings, all of which provide legibility, livability, and, most importantly, produce and demand ethical orientations. More simply: what injures one of us, injures us all.

If the damage is not only to the poet Mr. Mochama assaulted—who must not be forgotten—but also to our collective sense of self, how are we to address this assault? How can we take collective responsibility and imagine forms of accountability that produce a more ethical “we”?

If, in his role as PEN Kenya’s secretary, Mr. Mochama travels to Kenya’s schools, who are we sending to those schools? If, in his role as a Morland Writing Scholar, Mr. Mochama represents African writing, who are we saying represents African writing? If, in his role as a columnist for the Standard Group, Mr. Mochama publishes articles, who are we saying writes us and circulates among us?

Quite simply, if Mr. Mochama is the mirror we look into to see our faces, what faces are we seeing? And are those the faces we want to see?

I have used a collective we to emphasize the role of community accountability. As “advanced and theorized by Incite! Women of Color Against Violence,”

Community accountability is a community-based strategy, rather than a police/prison-based strategy, to address violence within our communities. Community accountability is a process which a community – a group of friends, a family, a church, a workplace, an apartment complex, a neighborhood, etc – work together to do the following things :

Create and affirm VALUES AND PRACTICES that resist abuse and oppression and encourage safety, support, and accountability

Provide SAFETY AND SUPPORT to community members who are violently targeted that RESPECTS THEIR SELF-DETERMINATION

Develop sustainable strategies to ADDRESS COMMUNITY MEMBERS’ ABUSIVE BEHAVIOR, creating a process for them to account for their actions and transform their behavior.

Commit to ongoing development of all members of the community, and the community itself, to TRANSFORM THE POLITICAL CONDITIONS that reinforce oppression and violence.

Community Accountability refuses to privatize relations of damage—a privatization that happens when damage is framed as a relationship between assaulter, assault victim, and police-state mechanisms. Community Accountability acknowledges that damage is never private, that it is embedded within historical, cultural, and ideological frameworks. And it seeks to unmake those frameworks that make damage not only ordinary, but also inevitable.

And, so, this is a call: if you are reading this, will you help unmake the frameworks that make sexual assault not only ordinary, but also inevitable in Kenya and elsewhere?

13 thoughts on “Whither Justice?

  1. Except that this ‘assault’ is the figment of Wambui Mwangi’s feminist agenda (she wasn’t even there) and if it is feminist credentials she was seeking through her defamatory tweets, well, we will sue her and see her in court. Very vexing rubbish, this.

    • @Tony, Lol. I cant imagine a worse response to an allegation of sexual assault than to blame it on feminism. You may as well have typed, “damn this bitch for refusing to be treated as chattel”. I dont know if you did it but I do know you just managed to indict yourself further in many eyes.

      @The alleged victim. Please, please take this to the courts. The criminal justice system has its issues and misogyny is among them for sure but it may be the closest you get to justice.

  2. Tony,

    Are you also going to sue Clifton Gachagua, Michael Onsando and Keguro here because they have also point blank said (on their twitter feeds, FB pages and on blogs like this) you committed sexual assault? The list will probably grow.

    i don’t know if you did it. But if you did, then you should accept and ask for forgiveness. Publicly say you did it. People will hate you and you may lose opportunities but it will be a step towards you becoming a better man. And perhaps eventually again be welcomed into the lit family.

    Otherwise, most writers on the lit scene will say “Hey, if Clifton is saying this, then it’s not smoke, it’s fire”, and you are asking to inflict on yourself a permanent disability on the lit scene. Even if you go ahead to sue Wambui, and even if you win in court, it will mean nothing. Writers will see you as not only as a sexual predator but also as someone who aggressively capitalizes on a sin and gets away with anything.

    Again, I don;t know if you did it. But if you did,try ans see if you can show some guts to approach the writing family and tell them you have sinned and want to change. Maybe it’s the better option?

  3. When people get drunk they often do strange things. Then you write a whole blog without any specific details. Who was Sexually assaulted for example? How did it happen?

    Your blog has no facts but just anger mostly directed to his achievements. I think that just because we have a keyboard does not give us the right to become judges, juries, prosecutors, and witnesses.

    This is bad investigative story, bad commentating, bad articulation of facts, bad everything – emotionally written, factually lame.

    Disappointed.

    • I agree with you Oduor! Social media should not be used as a means to crucify a person.. It allows whoever to be the judge, jury and executioner and as it seems in Tony’s case, the verdict is already out! I don’t know if it did/didn’t happen but IMO the aggrieved should follow the right channels (report, police, etc..) and if true, the cards should come tumbling down by themselves. Going after tony’s career and telling me to ‘take your word for it’ won’t work for me. One might even be tempted to think you have hidden/ill intentions with the way you’ve handled this!!

  4. I may not know the details of exactly what happened, but the allegations are quite grave, and have a bearing on the acused progress in his career. In African culture, relationship dynamics are complex, and especially more so during normal interactions when a man may show some interest in a woman. In the current scenario, I strongly feel someone acting bitter, and is trying to settle scores, for whatever reasons. Only the woman in question and Tony himself can provide accurate accounts of what transpired, if ever there was such an interaction. Any other allegation from “third parties” are just that, ‘allegations’.

  5. Social media should not be used as a means to crucify a person.. It allows whoever to be the judge, jury and executioner and as it seems in Tony’s case, the verdict is already out! I don’t know if it did/didn’t happen but IMO the aggrieved should follow the right channels (report, police, etc..) and if true, the cards should come tumbling down by themselves. Going after tony’s career and telling me to ‘take your word for it’ won’t work for me. One might even be tempted to think you have hidden/ill intentions with the way you’ve handled this!!

  6. Ok,

    What I gather thus far from is that Tony allegedly sexually assaulted a Kenyan poet (identity withheld) on Saturday night. The case was not reported to the cops and was taken to the social media on Monday. What did the witnesses do on Saturday when the alleged assault was taking place? We haven’t been told, but from what I gather, nothing.

    We are living in a nation where sexual assault has more often than not reared its ugly head. It is a crime, it was witnessed by multiple people and can therefore be taken up by the legal system and the witnesses just stand there doing nothing waiting for Monday morning to ‘pounce’ on Twitter?

    When it comes to making noise this is the same group that will give us the statistics of how many sexual assault cases go unreported.

    There are institutions in this country and even if the case ends in failure one can’t be faulted for trying. The excuse that the Kenyan legal system is institutionally misogynistic is one that doesn’t fly when one hasn’t given it a shot, if it fails then the social media based outrage would be justified, otherwise I am going to mute a bunch of characters from my timeline to put an end to this nonsense on my timeline.

  7. All the people claiming that the “sexually assaulted” should just go to the police or to the courts clearly don’t understand any of the references to community accountability. Yes, the “sexually assaulted” can go to the police, or to the courts. But she can also turn to her community. It is a viable option, or at least it should be. “Community accountability is one critical option. Community accountability is a community-based strategy, rather than a police/prison-based strategy, to address violence within our communities. Community accountability is a process which a community – a group of friends, a family, a church, a workplace, an apartment complex, a neighborhood, etc – work together to do the following things : affirm values and practices…provide safety and support…address community member’s abusive behaviour…and transform the political conditions that reinforce oppression and violence”. In my opinion, what will have a larger impact in resolving issues of oppression and violence is seek to transformative strategies, such as the one propagated by Keguro, above…we must each play our role in this. It’s not just up to the “sexually assualted”, the perpetrator, the cops and the courts.

  8. An accusation has to have meat. If it is sane, even a man from the other side of the world will see it reasonable. If it is otherwise, its skeleton will appear to be talking but no one will be understanding the language. Wisdom, again, knows where to manifest itself. It’s the same for imprudence. We should not allow ourselves to be eaten up by our own ignorance. That would be a tragedy. For the sake of tomorrow, it is important to write things that can live longer to help other people. Words are living things.

Comments are closed.