Sunday, 30 November 2014


Ugali kwa mtindi... 

Around 1978 to early 1980s Dar es Salaam, there used to be a man who terrified women.
Those days the word terrorist was not so instantly understood as in 2014. But this thin bloke, (I guess he was around 170 cm, or 5 foot 7, not tall or huge, as you can imagine), ruled one road in Dar. Independence Avenue, re-named Samora Machel Avenue,  homage to the late Mozambican leader. A  bustling street; filled with tourists, students (Forodhani Secondary School nearby), coffee shops, beauty salons, Asian shops, banks,  restaurants, offices, bookshops; a place to be. Hip.
 The chap was always dressed in a black kikoi, tied from waist down like the Sarongs made internationally famous by English footballer David Beckham (pictured below) in 1998.

 Kikoi, indeed, is standard outfit for East Africans, especially in poor areas. This nightmare from hell, wore one, carried a stick and he was as angry as he was menacing. Never to guys, though.
We are talking of pre- internet days. Us in the media wouldn’t even photograph the chap who I soon found out had a mental illness and highlighted his saga in my then weekly column of the Sunday News.
Women feared him. Seriously.

He would openly chase them with his Mpingo (ebony) cane which he held like a policeman’s truncheon, although the comparison with cops is awfully, sinful. One sunny afternoon in 1981, I was strolling along Samora Avenue with a very self confident, executive woman, clever and very good company. Out of the blue, her radar picked up something; alarm and panic took over, she vanished into a shop. When I say vanish, I mean like ice under the sun. She melted.  Dude, I just stood there, playing maths in my head. The man had blood-shot eyes; he ignored me and left, lips pouted, chaffing like a possessed elephant. Havoc guy.
 A year later, I was in a company of two visiting white women. Keen to explore and buy Makonde carvings and enjoy Tanzanian food. We were heading towards the then popular Salamander restaurant, on the corner of Samora and Mkwepu. I smelt his sweaty odour and heard his characteristic high pitched yell.
“Toka hapo!  Wee, Jianajike! ” (Please note his pronunciation of women).
The visitors did not understand what was going on. I sternly told him to get lost. Cowering like a domesticated wolf, the bulldozer sauntered off.  A heated discussion followed after, as we relaxed at Salamander. Did bulldozer despise women, yet, respect fellow men?
Picture of Mona, daughter of Expatriate friends in Dar es Salaam in 1982 ...around the time this episode was going on. Pic courtsey of Seema Gill

Brings us to the ongoing talk among East Africans. I was chatting to a Kenyan friend in London apropos flogging of women on their streets.   I picked it up from fellow Citizen Columnist, Onyango Obbo, the Ugandan born journalist, last week. Hot weather now.  You cannot go to Uganda because of recent “pornography” laws, which does not allow showing parts of the body intended to “cause sexual excitement.” Nor in Kenya where mobs might attack you since your pants are too short. Solution, suggests Obbo (hilariously), is to visit gorillas of Rwanda. Peace.
 But then comes another Citizen writer, Esther Mngodo, “Free to Wear what we want” ... keeping the fire with legal, cultural, academic questions. Upcoming Tanzanian poet, Sandra Mushi, has a poem titled “Mine”, in her recent book.
“But you know what?
My short skirt
Is not an invitation
My tight pants
Are not a provocation
Or an indication
That I want it
Or I will give it
Or that I am a hooker...”

This is suddenly turning into a volcano. Has already exploded in the Middle East, among Arab women; the whole spectrum of freedom, to be precise.  In Tunisia, a group of women from various nationalities, picketed with bare breasts. A provocative picture of six of them waving placards proclaiming “Freedom to All Women”, “Arab Women Against Islam”, No Masters No Slaves”, etc, as part of efforts to side and free Amina is currently on the internet. Who is Amina?
 Amina Tyler (Sboui) had protested by showing half of her naked torso on Facebook; defending the right to freedom (My body is mine). A “fatwa” was issued by Imam Del Almi. Hundred lashes plus death by public stoning. While in prison, international protests via the “Free Amina Movement” kicked off. Ms Sboui has since been released but jailed with another charge.
Meanwhile, British born Iranian, Ghoncheh Ghavami, was imprisoned for fighting for the rights of Iranian women to watch men playing volleyball. It is legally allowed but prohibited, by custom, i.e. Culture.
So, various struggles for women continue, while discussions keep boiling. My take on this is simple. We are all involved. Any extreme approaches to chase, flog or prohibit will keep inflaming things. That horrific, mad man who used to parade Samora Avenue with a Mpingo stick (wonder if he is still alive?) offers us clues as to what is wrong with our modern societies.

Published in Citizen Tanzania, 28th Nov, 2014

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