More on rape as a tool of war

// 14 February 2008

In the same week the UN Security Council condemns the use of children as soliders and sexual violence against them as a tool of war, it is reported that the Kenyan conflict is utilising rape of women and children (some as young as 2 years old) as just that. The rapes are being used as part of inter-ethnic conflict and play on the fact that rape is a stigmatising experience. Unicef have warned that the rise in child rape will lead to a rise in HIV diagnoses and a potential population timebomb as seen in other countries with similar experiences. Many women seek sanctuary in displacement camps and there are forced to trade sex for food and protection.

The Security Council itself named 58 violaters and 14 repeat violators (named at least five times) of the voluntary agreement banning this. The 14 include the Tamil Tigers (Sri Lanka), FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia)m ELN (leftist National Liberation Army, Colombia), Lord’s Resistance Army (Uganda) and government forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo and Myanmar.

“We must make sure that children and women are protected as much as possible from these atrocities, and that those responsible for these crimes are eventually brought to justice,” Hilde Johnson, UNICEF’s deputy executive director, said.

From AP

Comments From You

sokari // Posted 15 February 2008 at 1:11 pm

I write in reference to the use of the phrase “inter-ethnic conflict” to describe the rapes and other forms of violence taking place in Kenya at this time.

Despite the many Africans including many Kenyans who have written and tried to explain the nature of what is taking place in Kenya, the Western media still continue their reductionist and lazy reporting by naming the violence as “inter-ethnic”.

The violence which is taking place is being carried out by armed militia and the police. Yes different ethnic groups are being targetted but this does not make it an “ethnic conflict”.

The violence is complex and historically located in colonialism, the war for independence and the increasing classism and widening gap between the masses of poor and the minority elite along with greed and corruption amongst politicians of all groups.

Louise Livesey // Posted 15 February 2008 at 1:44 pm

I have to disagree strongly with the view that the violence in Kenya is not ethnically charged. Many, including Ngugi wa Thiong’o, have written about the problem of postcoloniality and the false boundaries created by colonial powers. Almost no African countries have boundaries which relate to previous ethnic groupings – they were instead decided upon by white colonialists as useful for the colonial enterprise. And many of the postcolonial civil conflicts we have seen have been because of majority/minority rule issues between these created coalitions of ethnicity.

Additionally the news reporting, which you describe as “lazy”, has flagged up more Kenyan voices talking about this than any previous conflict I can remember. Reports have been filed about violence against Kikuyu because of Kibaki’s Kikuyu heritage and of the Luos, Luhyas and Kalenjin in revenge for attacks on the Kikukyu and because of support for Odinga who is Luos. See here, here

here and here for more Kenyan voices on this. Political scientists and African writers have both averred that:

Appeals to tribe have long trumped ideology in Kenyan politics, and ethnic strife has been common around election time since the country made its first democratic strides in the 1990s

From The Guardian

And this isn’t just commentary from Western media sources. Kenyan newspapers are reporting the same issues. See East African Standard (on moving displaced persons to “ancestral homelands”), Kenyan Daily (on ideas of redrawing constitutional boundaries along ethnic lines), Kenya Today (on why Church leaders have been unable to help in this crisis because of their histories of ethnic partisanship) as examples of the local discussion of the situation.

But in amongst this rather dry discussion is another more important reality – just as with the previous African civil conflicts women’s and children’s bodies are being used as the battelgrounds of war. Lets remember that that is the point.

sokari // Posted 19 February 2008 at 7:46 pm

The sources you quote ie the MSM [mainstream media – ed] of Kenya are hardly what you would consider progressive.

With regards the colonial project in Africa, I am more than conversant with the impact on my own country, Nigeria, as well as the rest of the continent.

I am referring to the naming of the conflict as “tribal” and “ethnic”. For some more progressive quotes on the non ethnic nature of the conflict we can start with Ngugi who has written on “the need for African democracy to speak for and to African peasants and workers – the marginalized majority”. Or the Kenyan political and social justice activist and member of the 2007 WSF organizing committee, Onyango Oloo who referring to the Kenyan media you mention

“This morning I want to talk about “No Justice, No Peace!” in the contest of the ongoing social and political turmoil in Kenya……And I am doing it because I have been reeling with DISGUST, recoiling in horror at a new campaign for “Peace” launched primarily by Kenya’s media houses, principally the Nation Media Group, the Standard Group and the folks who run Kiss 100 FM and the Nairobi Star…

From Jukwaa

Firoze Manji – Editor of Pambazuka News for Social Justice in Africa, a highly respected and one of the few progressive news media on Africa :

Patrick Bond and Horace Campbell have also written on the conflict – Africa has progressive transformational voices – its just that the West fails to pick these up preferring to use the easy to find African MSM as it’s source.

I suggest you read some of the more progressive news media and writers from the continent such as Pambazuka News not to speak of the many voices of Kenyan bloggers – people such as Oloo

Louise Livesey // Posted 20 February 2008 at 12:43 pm

First off, I did some html editing to your previous response, hope you don’t mind, just makes the links easier to follow.

I agree that I didn’t use excerpts from non-mainstream sources, the point I was making was about how the violence is ethnicised and how women are, as if often the case in malestream political situations, being directly affected by this through rape as a tool of war and through displacement and resultant exploitation. This ethnicisation of the violence, through both media reporting and actual targetting of violence, has not been denied in any news sources, mainstream or otherwise. For example, from Jukwaa:

it is 100% correct to say that many, many members of the Agikuyu people have been direct victims and targets of ethnic specific violence and also true that thousands are now displaced and homeless

I see a difference between the reporting of this as tribal (as the Black Looks blog quite rightly condemns – as I did when listening to the same radio report) and as inter-ethnic. Tribal implies all sorts of colonial notions of anti-civilation, of all the negative colonialist and neo-colonialist views of pre-colonised communities and groups. For me, however, inter-ethnic denotes only that ethnicity is being use in the selection of targets for violence. Ethnicity is about social and political identification rather than notions of tribalism. Of course there is a strong argument to be made that as a term ethnicity is just a polite way of saying tribe but I guess I am grappling with something different in my use of the term. I am trying to convey that perception of ethnicity is important (I am reminded on Sunday afternoon by the pool in Kigali and by Half of a Yellow Sun here and how it is perception not inheritance which is important) and that this is being reported and used as justification for the violence, rather than it being the real cause.

As for whether we should privilege or only use non-mainstream news outlets in the F Word Blog? Well it is a news blog and therefore we do use mainstream sources, there is no way around that, I’m afraid. Your original point was that we hadn’t used local news sources and now that our news sources aren’t progressive enough. Sadly we aren’t going to be able to please all readers all of the time in our sources, our take on the news (see recent comments by other sites on their perception of the site!) or what we link to. That is just the nature of a diverse readership (which is something I really love about blogging for the site) and I, for one, am glad that the comments function allows us these discussions and for readers to cite alternate links because it really rounds out our coverage.

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