This is a story I have been sitting on for a long time. Back in the day when childhood was simpler, the kids on my street would play together and visit each others’ houses with great freedom.
This was when communal upbringing was still a done thing in middle-class Dar es Salaam, a beautiful experience that is denied to many of the young’uns I see coming up now. My goodness, now I have made myself feel old. Where was I?
We used to play quite safely all over the neighbourhood... or so we thought. One day one of us went missing. The street was rife with whispering adults who would raise her name and immediately go quiet if they spotted us trying to eavesdrop on their conversation. I didn’t know what rape meant, precisely, but I did know enough that it was appalling. Had it happened to her?
What followed still haunts me. Our playmate was confined at home for some days to recover while her family figured out what to do. Her rapist was “dealt with” — I never found out what that was. All requests to go visit my friend — she was hurt, after all — were denied. Any attempts to ask adults what happened was met with stern rejection.
I then started to overhear insidious comments about “but maybe she let him? — An absurd notion as we were not even teens and she was an innocent (even kids know who is going to start exploring first. Not her). And then she really disappeared. They sent her to the village to “recover with her grandmother.” To this day I can’t get over the implication that she was soiled goods.
Child molestation. Victim blaming. A closing of the ranks and erasure of the incident by literally getting rid of someone. And the patriarchy soldiered on, damn it to hell.
So when the controversy over the pardoning of Babu Seya and his son from prison for a child rape conviction happened, I did what some trauma victims do. I completely tuned out. Like, this isn’t happening. I love Hollywood film, I love Tanzanian music, for mercy’s sake, please don’t take it all away from me...
I don’t want to deal with the way this administration has capped its tacit support of violence against women by highlighting the pardoning of two convicted child abusers. Of all the things!
I don’t want to deal with the way that public discussion around this issue has focused on yelling that President The Fifth is doing exactly what his main political opponent said he would do if he got into power (let’s not go down that rabbit hole right now). That’s...not the important bit, people.
There is an elephant in the room and folks who are pointing out that this is Sending The Wrong Message are decent folk who care for kids. What elephant, you ask?
I certainly don’t want to have to think about my friend, and how decades later I am still simmering with anger and anxiety and confusion over it all. And I don’t want to express my primal fear of living in a society that used to feel slightly safer for women but where current bullying, from the top down, is encouraging the worst of the worst in us.
Because dealing with it means admitting how visceral it actually is to be reminded that you are a feminist for the sake of survival. Not because it was an intellectual choice, but because the world is literally trying to harm you in a most intimate way. All. The. Time. And creatively, too.
Denial is a river in Egypt and we’re all just fine, right? This is East Africa, where a Me Too movement would be, what’s the term? Ah, yes, “culturally inappropriate.”
It’s not like that sticky-looking man Simon Lokodo ever said that he would understand a man raping a girl child, but not a man having consensual sex with a fellow adult male is it?
But we are Africans respecting our elders and our cultures. We are not monsters engaged in a society-wide systemic suppression of a sorely-needed conversation about an ugly topic. Are we?
Are we? I definitely don’t want to confront that. There’s nothing like not-talking about something to make it all go away... like my friend, who went to recover in the village with her grandmother.