GlobalPost sits down with Superintendent Seline Awinja on gender-based violence and times when “there is no womanhood and no manhood.”
NAIROBI, Kenya — Seline Awinja, one of Kenya’s highest-ranking female police officers, smiles proudly as she recounts the ranks she’s advanced in her 26 years with the force: From constable to corporal to sergeant to senior sergeant to inspector to chief inspector — and now to superintendent of police for Nairobi’s Njiru district.
Awinja, 46, sits at a desk in a tin hut that serves as her command post. Plainclothes officers enter repeatedly to tell her about a dispute unfolding between armed thugs and a landowner over control over a nearby plot of land.
She fires back at them in Swahili, telling them to “bring their big guns” and hold the peace until a judge can be summoned to arbitrate. “Deal with them like a man,” she yells, and sends them off.
As the US military this year lifts its longtime ban on women in combat roles, a similar debate is unfolding within the Kenya Police. In the United States, female American soldiers and their allies argued the ban limited women’s ability to rise through the ranks into the military’s highest positions. In Kenya, a legacy of female officers serving in only secretarial roles has only partially faded: Today only 11 percent of Kenya’s 73,000 police officers are women, according to a United Nations estimate.
Recently, female police in Kenya have been called upon to staff ‘gender desks’ at local police stations to handle cases of sexual and domestic violence of the sort that Kenya’s male-dominated police force is notorious for failing to take seriously. Kenya made international headlines last month after police in Western Kenya set free three suspects in the gang rape of a woman known as “Liz” rather than investigate or charge them.
GlobalPost sat down with Awinja to ask what drove her to pursue a position of leadership that few of her female counterparts share — and how she approaches her role.
Kenyans are abuzz with hope that its newly-discovered resources will enrich the country, but is Kenya prepared to make the most of its natural wealth?
Kenya, a long time outlier in a continent known for its mining and oil, is now facing the prospect of a natural resources boom itself. And Kenyans are abuzz with hope that the country can harness its newfound mineral wealth to propel East Africa’s largest economy even further.
But while these discoveries could provide a significant source of revenue for Kenya, disorganisation within Kenya’s mining ministry, and controversy surrounding one Canadian company in particular, raise concerns that Kenya may be unprepared to regulate and benefit from its forthcoming resource surge.
Read the full article as it appeared at Think Africa Press.
As the nation grieves, few Kenyans direct their anger toward Somali immigrants here. But that hasn’t stopped police from singling out Somali communities.
NAIROBI, Kenya — In the middle of a crowded downtown street stand two hundred men and women, listening to a religious debate between a Muslim cleric and a Christian priest.
The two take turns shouting into a microphone that amplifies their voices to the curious onlookers: ‘The Bible says…’ the priest begins. The cleric responds, “The Koran says…” and so on.
The ritual has become a daily phenomenon as Christians and Muslims come together to discuss their religions here in Eastleigh, the heart of Nairobi’s Somali Muslim community. But this religious debate held a special significance Monday, exactly one month after gunmen including at least one Muslim of Somali heritage began their deadly siege of Nairobi’s Westgate shopping mall.
Progress on labor rights in the city of Mombasa sets a precedent for the rest of the country.
MOMBASA, Kenya – One of the first tests of Kenya’s progressive new labor law began slowly.
First, piles of trash formed outside restaurants and shops here in Kenya’s island city. Then traffic jams brought downtown Mombasa to a standstill when, after two agonizing months without a paycheck, most of the city’s 2,600 public workers went on strike in protest.
Three years ago, such organized action would have been illegal in Kenya. But a clause in Kenya’s new 2010 constitution explicitly guarantees workers the right to organize, bargain collectively—and to strike.
And so, when Mombasa officials reacted to the strike by going to court to force workers back to their jobs, the judge ruled in favor of the workers. In a matter of days, Mombasa’s city employees were back to work with pay after officials scrambled to fix the glitches in the county’s new payroll system that had caused the problem.
As workers across Kenya look to benefit from their progressive constitution, Mombasa’s public sector may serve as a model for what the new standards can accomplish.
While the Westgate investigation simmers, Kenyan women protest a more systematic type of violence.
NAIROBI, Kenya – Two weeks before the shooting at Westgate mall, a scandal erupted within Nairobi’s political scene. The city’s governor, a man, delivered a slap to the face of a leading female parliamentarian Rachel Shebesh. It was caught on video and immediately made national news.
But reactions to the incident revealed Kenyan society remains divided in how it perceives of acts of violence against women. Some say Shebesh deserved the slap for becoming confrontational with the governor. Others say it was an unprovoked act of physical violence that should be prosecuted as an assault.
The division is stark: Many men and some women in Nairobi fall into the former category, but advocates for women’s rights say the incident highlights how violence against women continues to permeate Kenyan society.
“Men make jokes that you have to discipline a woman so she knows that he loves her. And we treat it as a joke,” said Helen Macharia, 70. “We need to start treating it as it is—abuse.”