DirtPol's blog posts for 2014

GUEST POST: The Politics of Decay in a Nairobi Council Estate by Constance Smith

Dec

22

The Politics of Decay in a Nairobi Council Estate

On 14 May this year, an article appeared in the Nairobi News with the headline “In Comes Chinese Money, Out Go Eastlands Estates”. The article describes a memorandum signed between Nairobi County Government and two private Chinese companies to demolish current council housing and build 55,000 apartments on the site, as part of the city’s so-called ‘urban renewal’ programme. The Eastlands estates are several neighbourhoods of colonial-era housing in the east of Nairobi, built by the British colonial government between the 1920s and 1960s to provide affordable housing for Africans in Kenya’s rapidly growing capital city. Although today they are dilapidated and in disrepair, tens of thousands of Nairobians still call them home.

According to the article, the new apartments are to be designed, constructed and then sold by the companies, in effect suggesting that this will be the end of public housing in this area of Nairobi. One of the targeted estates, Kaloleni, is the focus of my PhD fieldwork on architecture, history and materiality, where I have been exploring residents’ responses to this looming threat of redevelopment.

Kaloleni

The Eastlands Urban Renewal Strategy was developed as part of Nairobi County government’s plans to combat so-called urban decay in the city.

In Kaloleni, after years of neglect, most residents would welcome some form of state-instigated investment and construction within their estate, but many reject the label of urban decay.

As a policy category imposed by the state, urban decay is a judgement. It implies material and social failure and the condemnation of a whole community, whilst simultaneously allowing those who built or manage the estate to avoid being held accountable. In their refusal to be branded as a site of urban decay, Kaloleni residents object to the state’s evasion of responsibility.

They argue not only that they live in a historically and architecturally important site but that the neglect of their neighbourhood is politically motivated on the part of the local government, as they seek to condemn and redevelop it.

As with so much public housing all over the world that gets labelled as ‘dangerous’ or ‘decayed’ and earmarked for regeneration, Kaloleni was once a model estate, intended to generate a bright future for its new residents. Built in the 1940s and based on the garden city ideals of urban design, it was one of the first estates in Nairobi aimed at African families. It marked a period of British colonial urban planning in Africa that moved away from functional “bed-spaces” for migrant labourers towards a more ideological model that would refashion domestic life and build the exemplary colonial subjects of the future.

By the 1950s and 1960s, Kaloleni was at the heart of a growing urban middle class in Nairobi, and it was an aspirational place: it was the most well-to-do of the African estates, and it was a marker of some success to live there. Today, older residents are nostalgic for a time of order and maintenance, with neat lawns, playing fields, daily milk delivery and a well-equipped music room and library. But from the 1980s, widespread corruption and mismanagement at both municipal and national levels meant that the administration and upkeep of Kaloleni began to decline, and today there is almost no formal state presence in the estate at all. Despite still being council tenants, residents are now largely left to fend for themselves.

Whereas once the council swiftly managed repairs, these days any pretence at maintenance has been abandoned and it is up to the residents to fix their own homes.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYet there is something of a paradox apparent in Kaloleni. Though residents dispute the label ‘urban decay’ and the ramifications it entails, decay is nonetheless a powerfully affective force in Kaloleni. Homes are dilapidated, previously tarmacked roads have turned to dust. Water no longer runs in the pipes, broken streetlights lean precariously at awkward angles, the bulbs long gone. Rubbish is no longer collected, electricity is intermittent and the sewerage system is at breaking point. Families are now at the poorest end of the spectrum, and the estate has become dirty, congested, and unsafe.

What this makes visible is an important slippage between decay as a governmental category and a material process.

Many residents regard the material degradation of Kaloleni as a political act on the part of the city authorities. They feel that the council are deliberately running things into the ground so that they can condemn the estate as decayed, and so justify the demolition and redevelopment of the site, evicting the current residents in the process. This gives a very different gloss to the visible signs of neglect. These are not neutral processes, the product of some natural cycle of decay, or the consequence of Kaloleni being simply ‘forgotten’ by city authorities. Household maintenance is a political issue for residents, and their practices of management and repair inscribe the houses with their own personal histories. They are not simply repairing their homes for functionality and comfort, but in a small way trying to stem a much bigger tide of institutional neglect, and making a statement about their right to reside in the estate.

In some ways, there is a sadness and nostalgia to this decay, a loss of pride in an estate which was once desirable and orderly. But Kaloleni should not be regarded as a ruin, a relic of a colonial past destined for oblivion. Much recent scholarship on decay implies ruination, abandonment and desolation. The quintessential image of architectural decay is one of loss, a monumental relic of a ruined past: a decrepit fort, an abandoned factory, a deserted village.

Instead, the processes I have been following suggest that ‘ruin’ and ‘decay’ should not be conflated. Rather than headed for ruination, decay in Kaloleni is more productive: a sedimented history with which residents are increasingly engaged.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Ann Laura Stoler has encouraged us to consider the political life of imperial debris, “the material and social afterlife of structures, sensibilities and things” (2008: 194). This afterlife is vibrant in Kaloleni. Far from being abandoned, the population is today many times higher than its original intended capacity, thanks to residents’ construction of ‘extensions’, one room corrugated iron dwellings that they rent out privately. Amidst the decay is also a sense of opportunity, as formality and stricture give way to informality. Where previously economic activity was limited to formal outlets in the centre of the estate, today kiosks, hair salons, cafes, car mechanics and market stalls are flourishing across the neighbourhood. Governmental failure to fulfil mundane responsibilities of maintenance is countered by opening a front door to reveal a dramatic modification and vivid redecoration of a proud resident’s home, whilst many others have hedged and planted beautiful front gardens to create private outdoor space and keep the encroaching rubbish and mud at bay.

What is this kind of decay that is not ruination? In one sense, we could simply say that this is what happens when formality is replaced with informality. The failure of the council to manage their social housing has led to a ‘making-do’ culture, in which residents come up with ingenious fixes and creative solutions to issues such as lack of piped water, unreliable electricity provision and poor sanitation.

Whilst at a certain level this may be true, for me, it doesn’t really get at the social and material implications of such neglect. As I followed the materiality of decay in Kaloleni, tracing what was disintegrating and what was not, and questioning how people felt about it, I began to see decay not as something associated with loss and oblivion, but to see it as accumulation. What I was observing was a build up of material traces, a sedimentation of the remains of lives lived. If rubbish is not collected, broken objects are not removed, houses are not repainted, what we are left with is not less, but rather more – what we might term an excess.

There is no ruined enchantment to these residues, they are not often beautiful or aesthetically pleasing, but they reveal the way in which a landscape can be inscribed with multiple ordinary histories as they accumulate in the estate. I began to suspect that living within and among such sedimented histories generates an engagement with the past, a way of relating to the material structures of the estate that has helped to shape the resentment and rejection of the label urban decay.

front gardenThis was particularly clearly articulated by one resident, Limush. He compared Kaloleni to the new Thika Superhighway, one of the Kenyan government’s flagship infrastructural projects in recent years. He commented how the area bisected by the road has now changed so much that it is unrecognisable to him. It has been cleared, obliterated, all traces of what was once there removed. Importantly, he said not only can he no longer remember what was there before and how it looked, but “I can’t remember what I used to do there”. That is to say, he has lost his embodied knowledge of that area, its location in his lived experience. He said “if the buildings come down, Kaloleni will be gone” – not just physically but gone from history: “without the buildings you cannot remember, you have no memories”.

In this way, oblivion and loss may emanate not so much from decay itself as from its elimination. Once branded as a site of urban decay, that place becomes dead-end, futureless. It is a condemnation, an obliteration of slowly amassed material and corporeal micro-histories. Conversely, by starting to see decay as a process of accumulation rather than loss, new possibilities begin to emerge. Instead of a descent into oblivion, decay remains unforeclosed, an ongoing process of sedimentation. We start to see how the relationship between people and architecture is generative; the accumulated traces of decades of habitation leave their mark – both on buildings and people – in an ongoing process of place-making. Interior - me and Georgio

Constance Smith is a PhD candidate at University College London, a Social Anthropologist specialising in Material Culture

Nakedness Disgusts

Dec

18

The recent incidents in Nairobi where some women were embarrassingly undressed in public by some matatu gangs for what they termed scant dressing has made me write my views on the relation between nakedness and disgust. The incidences brought strong reaction on twitter to condemn the action with the hash tag #MyDressMyChoice trending for two weeks in Kenya. A section of other Kenyans advocating for decent dressings had their hash tag #NudityIsNotMyChoice trending for the same period in Kenya.

While I personally condemn these actions of public embarrassment by forcibly undressing women, the disgust expressed in seeing a naked being is not a new thing. Perhaps the matatu goons, as matatu operators are known in Nairobi, were unable to hide their disgust on seeing a scantily dressed lady on the streets. Mary Douglas cites Charles Darwin in her book Purity and Danger: An Analysis of Concepts of Pollution and Taboo (1966) as feeling very disgusted when a native touched with his finger some cold preserved meat he was eating, even though the hands of the native did not appear dirty. Could Darwin’s feeling be the same as that of the matatu goons?

While Darwin seems not have translated his feeling of disgust into action, the matatu goons went ahead to attack the ladies. Studies of disgust show that disgust is influenced by cultural background; additionally, disgust is a relative term and people from a shared cultural background may not express it about the same thing, or in the same way. In short: your disgust is not my disgust. Before the lady was stripped, obviously many others had seen her without necessarily feeling disgusted. While disgust-elicitors such as body secretions and decaying flesh are reported as universal, nakedness is not a universal elicitor of disgust.

Sights of nakedness–such as seeing an animal without fur–are likely to elicit disgust. Seeing a naked man on the streets is likely to make one feel disgust and/or fear. In a court case in the UK in which a couple was charged for walking naked, part of the judgement read as follows:

“At least one female member of the public veered out of his way. Evidence from two women was to the effect that they were “alarmed and distressed” and “disgusted” at seeing him naked. One of the women was with a number of children at least one of whom, 12 years old, she reported as “shocked and disgusted”.

In Ezekiel 23:18 in the Old Testament, Noah narrates how Lot uncovered her nakedness and he became disgusted with her just as he had become disgusted with her sister. Several other stories in the in the Bible relate to nakedness and disgust, including Leviticus 18 and 20, which combines the scene of Noah’s nakedness with the story of Lot and his daughters to condemn/rebuke incestuous relationships.

Although the actions of the matatu goons were unwarranted, nakedness is therefore an elicitor of disgust. The advocates of decent dressing (#NudityIsNotMyChoice) could be individuals who easily get disgusted by nakedness.

About the author:  Job Mwaura is a project researcher on the DirtPol project and is concerned primarily with issues pertaining to dirt in media and communications.  Job is based in Nairobi, Kenya, and completed his Msc in Communication and Journalism in 2013 at Moi University.

About the project: DirtPol is an international cultural studies project based at the University of Sussex.  For more information please visit the DirtPol website.

 

GUEST POST - Scavenging in Kenya, Then and Now by Lucy James

Dec

02

 

Rubbish is a perennial problem for politics. On a practical level it requires a significant amount of coordination, organisation and expense on the part of local councils. A great deal of urban planning design in Kenya's history has been structured around the ideal of a 'clean' garden city, free from the dangers and unpleasantness of waste. But deciding "what to do" with this rubbish is not just a matter of neutral and objective schemes for town development. Decisions about waste management involve sets of political choices that are structured by hierarchies of power and influence. Who collects rubbish, where it is put, how it is organised and who is permitted to access it has effects not only on issues of public health, but land ownership, class privilege and economic livelihoods. In academic terms this can be illustrated through the Marxist concept of "urban trash"; what we do with rubbish as rooted in political, economic and historical dynamics that structure spaces designated as dumps, tips and wastelands.

 

It is therefore not just geographical spaces that are shaped by waste. For communities living in and around rubbish dumps in Nairobi, everyday life is structured by its presence. Here the worthless rubbish of others becomes both a way of making money and a source of sustenance; things that can be extracted, resold, recycled and eaten. However, the issue of 'scavenging' is problematic for authorities whose job is to draw a line between the sanitary and insanitary, and to make sure rubbish remains rubbish, out of sight and mind of affluent urban areas. In this situation, the people who pick through waste themselves become a problem that must also be 'dealt' with politically.

 

Today the problem of scavenging in Nairobi and other African cities is framed as one of basic human rights. The Dandora dump in Nairobi, which was scheduled for decommission in 2012, has come under fire for the poor management of waste which has led to severe pollution of the water, soil and air of surrounding settlements of Korogocho and Dandora . The vulnerability of those who live off the dump to disease, abuse and social exclusion has become a mobilising issue for advocacy groups who seek to see scavengers integrated in to society and employment. However, the problem of scavenging has not always been framed in such a way.

 

While I was at the Kenya National Archives the other week, I came across a very interesting file. It contained correspondence concerning scavengers at the Makupa tip in Mombasa, from the 1950s to the 1970s. The letters and telegrams showed how various authorities, including the Municipal Council, the police and social services, grappled with the question of "what to do" with African communities scavenging off the waste.

 

The significant thing about these documents is the perceptible change in the language used to describe the scavengers, as well as the proposed solutions for "dealing" with them. In early letters from the 1950s, scavengers are referred to pejoratively as "nuisance", "hindrance" and "no-goods". However by the late 1960s, the documents began to describe the groups at Makupa not in terms of the (un)desirability of their behaviour, but as identifiable individuals. Thus, a report by a social welfare assistant from 1964 draws attention to "twenty women with young girls" and a lady "who had a two week old baby on her back". A letter the Housing Department 4 years later gives a further sense of scavengers as people with identity and personal histories, for example by citing a case study of a Luo man and his young family who eked out a living on the dump.

 

The changing language around unauthorised people who lived and worked on the tip echoes the shift in thinking about how to deal with the problem of rubbish in urban spaces. The vast majority of all the letters cited concerns about the impact of scavenging on public health, given that groups were known to forage for discarded food and materials to cook for others or re-sell in Mombasa town. Initially, this was thought to warrant strict measures such as arrest and prosecution.  A letter from June 1952, for example, suggests that without strong police action it would be "impossible" to stop groups of people collecting discarded maize, wood and other materials. However, later on scavenging comes to be recognised and promoted as "a social problem" caused by poverty and destitution, and solved by measures such as the alleviation of unemployment. These later examples have a clear resonance with the framing of issue of scavenging today: as a product of social marginalisation and inequality that requires political intervention.

 

Rubbish is therefore not just a question of physical waste and city management. In historical and present day Kenya, decisions about what to do with rubbish also intersect with issues of security, social welfare and human rights in different guises. The position of scavengers within this policy space illustrates the complexity of the politics of waste disposal. For example, even when human rights agencies and local NGOs campaign for closure of dumps, a whole series of questions are thrown up about "what to do" with the people who depend on rubbish itself to live. Thinking about these issues through my research for DirtPol brings me back to a concept often used in academic discussions of sanitation and hygiene. The issue of scavenging is a perfect illustration of how the 'abject' refers not only to taboo elements of the self that has been separated off (i.e. physical waste) but also to the state of marginalised groups who live and work among these rejected elements. Dealing with rubbish is therefore as much about culture, symbolism, political power and interpersonal relations as it is about sanitation infrastructure and the lofty visions of contemporary town planning in Africa.

 

 

 

Lucy James is a graduate attaché at the British Institute in East Africa. Lucy completed her MSc in African Politics at SOAS, with a particular focus on governance and society in Lusophone Africa.

Follow her on Twitter:  @lajames1291 

For more information on our research project, please visit the DirtPol website here.

The Anatomy of Disgust - book review

Nov

17

The Anatomy of Disgust by William Ian Miller
Published 1997 by Harvard University Press in Cambridge
Originally written in English. Translated to Spanish and Italian in 1999, and Slovenian in 2006
Number of pages             320
Chosen best book by the Association of American Publishers, 1997, in sociology/anthropology.

 

William Miller’s sensational book Anatomy of Disgust describes all the disgusting things that we humans encounter and emit in our daily lives. Disgust According to William Miller is relative and almost everything can be disgusting depending on where it is placed or the nature of it.

To begin with, disgust is considered as a revulsion of something unpleasant or offensive. Disgust is experienced by sense of taste, smell, touch or through vision. Therefore, disgust is very sensational. According to William Miller, anything could be disgusting depending on how someone imagines it or sees, smells, tastes and feels it. Brian Curtis in his book titled Dirt, disgust, and disease: Is hygiene in our genes? States that elicitors of disgust include body products, food, animals, hygiene, body envelope violations, death, and visible signs of infection. These elicitors are discussed comprehensively by William Miller in his book, Anatomy of disgust.

Disgust, according to Miller, is a serious subject of discussion that implicates our morality, love, politics and the sense of self. What then this means is that disgust is part and parcel of our daily lives. We cannot run away from it. It is what has been used to define our morality, love, politics and the sense of self. The author thus views disgust as a very broad theme.

William Miller insist on the essential and domineering nature of disgust and its physicality and analyzes its sensational nature, citing how it has affected the human beings in almost every way. On page 201, the author says that with disgust, we are always in the grip of a sensation, not empowered by it but in the power of it. The author says that a review of the five human senses shows how each claim an independent and very important relation to disgust and its pre-modern synonyms, such as loathsome, abhorrent, abominable, rank and fulsome. Therefore, our five senses are very important in the discussion of disgust. We cannot talk of disgust without talking of the senses. They go hand in hand.

In a further discussion of the sensational nature of disgust, William Miller in the opening pages of the book cites Charles Darwin who at one time was eating dinner in his camp at Tierra del Fuego and a native touched the British food he was eating and immediately he felt disgusted. Darwin then lost appetite. He quotes Darwin as saying that “I felt utter disgust at my food being touched by a naked savage, though his hands did not appear dirty”. Although this shows Darwin’s utter hatred for the savage, it is a clear example of how much disgust is imagined and to a great extent, sensational.

Disgust is a relative aspect and what could be disgusting to you could not be disgusting to someone else. However, Miller points out some universal or shared feelings of disgust. He says that if we want to find a common response on which all people at all times and all places can agree, then the pus drinking of St Catherine of Siena is surely where to look at. As Catherine attended on one of her fellow nun who had breast cancer, she would decant pus from her breast and drink it. She did this to punish herself after vomiting during the dressing of the wound due to the stench from the wound. By Catherine vomiting, it means that the stench made her feel disgusted. Reading Catherine’s story brings unimaginable disgust to everyone. Miller thus points out that some situations brings a feeling of disgust to everyone.

Looking at Chapter three of the book titled Thick, Greasy Life, Miller describes several substances and how they could be disgusting depending on their form. For instance, he sites that although water in many situations is considered as a good thing, wateriness of some substances could be considered as a sign of disease and suppuration. This does not however mean that dryness of a substance is good enough because the author states that some dry substance such as scabs, skin flakes, and crust are also disgusting.

seaweed1 When it comes to a comparison of animals and plants, the author states that animals are much more disgusting than plants. Some animals are more disgusting than others. This, in my view is a very objective statement. The decomposition of plants is what particularly makes plant disgusting. Plants in their natural form are rarely disgusting. True to this because I cannot think of any disgusting plant in its natural form. However, the thoughts we evoke when it comes to eating some plants, can be disgusting. For instance, the thought of eating sea weed can be disgusting. This is a confirmation that disgust is sometimes a construction of our thoughts.

The author brings in an interesting aspect that what makes animals disgusting is not their disgusting nature but the mere thought of we eating them (pg. 48). Some animals that disgust do not disgust themselves but their characteristics disgust. The sliminess of some animals, slitheriness and teemingness of others. I got thinking of how a snail is disgusting due to the fact that it has mucus like substance covering its body. The mere sight of it is disgusting. I wonder then how disgusting it would be to imagine of eating it.

William Miller views boundaries in human beings as being defined by disgust. He cites it as what distinguishes “us” vs. “them”. To him, disgust locates the bounds of the other either as something to be avoided or something to be embraced. Something that is not disgusting is likeable but everyone distances him/herself from something that disgust. Regardless of whether that “thing” is human or just an object. The looks and behavior would normally bring some level of disgust and thus a boundary is created. I agree to the fact that disgust helps mark boundaries of culture and boundaries of self.  disgust

Miller also illustrates how disgust can be discussed in political arena. Disgust has been used to define the spaces between the bourgeoisies and the proletariats. The upper class individuals consider the lower classes as smelly. This of course works against the ideas of equality. But it also explains one of the reasons why there is normally less interaction between these two classes.

Towards the end of the book, Miller gives a very strong reason as to why the discussion on the subject of disgust is important. He says that disgust involves morality, self-loathing, prejudice and more private agendas of honor and duty. Therefore, he reminds us to be mindful to another cornerstone of polite society and respect.

 

 

About the author of this post: Job Mwaura is a project researcher on the DirtPol project and is concerned primarily with issues pertaining to dirt in media and communications. Job is based in Nairobi, Kenya, and completed his MSc in Communication and Journalism in 2013 at Moi University.

About the project: DirtPol is an international cultural studies project based at the University of Sussex. For more information please visit the DirtPol website.

Follow us on Twitter: @ProjectDirtpol

DirtPol's PI Prof Steph Newell shortlisted for Herskovits Award

Nov

17

DirtPol's principle investigator, Professor Stephanie Newell, has been shortlisted for the Herskovits Award, an annual prize given by the African Studies Association to the work perceived as the most important scholarly work in the field published that year.  The award is well established, having been running since 1965 when it was named after one of the founders of the ASA.

"Between the 1880s and the 1940s, the region known as British West Africa became a dynamic zone of literary creativity and textual experimentation. African-owned newspapers offered local writers numerous opportunities to contribute material for publication, and editors repeatedly defined the press as a vehicle to host public debates rather than simply as an organ to disseminate news or editorial ideology. Literate locals responded with great zeal, and in increasing numbers as the twentieth century progressed, they sent in letters, articles, fiction, and poetry for publication in English- and African-language newspapers.

The Power to Name offers a rich cultural history of this phenomenon, examining the wide array of anonymous and pseudonymous writing practices to be found in African-owned newspapers between the 1880s and the 1940s, and the rise of celebrity journalism in the period of anticolonial nationalism. Stephanie Newell has produced an account of colonial West Africa that skillfully shows the ways in which colonized subjects used pseudonyms and anonymity to alter and play with colonial power and constructions of African identity."

 

For more information on the book: http://www.ohioswallow.com/book/The+Power+to+Name

 For more information on the award and the ASA: http://www.africanstudies.org/awards-prizes/herskovits-award

 To buy the book: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Power-Name-Anonymity-Colonial-Histories/dp/0821420321/ref=sr_1_13?ie=UTF8&qid=1416229897&sr=8-13&keywords=the+power+to+name

 For more on Professor Newell's DirtPol project visit: www.sussex.ac.uk/dirtpol

New Kenya bill wants gays stoned in public

Sep

04

In the course of my data collection, I came across this issue where there is a bill seeking to have foreign gay people stoned to death in public in Kenya and it is is now before the National Assembly through a petition by a political party. According to the draft bill, there is a proposal that a foreigner who commits a homosexual act be stoned in public, while Kenyan nationals found guilty will be jailed for life. The draft bill also seeks to criminalize sodomy, with offenders earning life imprisonment.

The petitioner of the bill argues that there is need to protect children and youth who are vulnerable to sexual abuse and deviation as a result of cultural changes, uncensored information technology, parentless-child developmental settings and increasing attempts by homosexuals to raise children in homosexual relationships through adoption, foster care or otherwise.

This draft bill further prohibits all forms of sexual relations between people of the same sex.The draft bill introduces the term "Aggravated homosexuality" which the petitioner says includes committing such acts with a minor where the offender is HIV positive. The petitioner of the bill proposes such persons should be stoned to death in public.

The purpose of the draft bill according to the petitioner is to provide a comprehensive and enhanced legislation to protect the cherished culture of the people of Kenya, legal, religious and traditional family values against the attempts of sexual rights activists seeking to impose their values of sexual promiscuity on the people of Kenya.

While homosexuality has been condemned in many quotas in Kenya and other African countries, it will be interesting to watch the progress of this draft bill in Kenyan Parliament. Civil groups and pro-homosexual rights groups have their sleeves rolled up to ensure this bill does not become law.

What is your view about it?

 


About the author:  Job Mwaura is a project researcher on the DirtPol project and is concerned primarily with issues pertaining to dirt in media and communications.  Job is based in Nairobi, Kenya, and completed his Msc in Communication and Journalism in 2013 at Moi University.

About the project: DirtPol is an international cultural studies project based at the University of Sussex.  For more information please visit the DirtPol website.

Follow us on Twitter: @ProjectDirtpol

What We Call Dirty by Olutoyosi Tokun

Sep

01

In the last couple of days I have been combing through popular blogs and online forums in Nigeria in search of representations of dirt, and it has been quite an experience. It has been interesting to read the opinions of the average person on happenings in the society. I would like to share this striking comment;

Topic being discussed: Malawi Officially Suspends Anti-homosexuality Laws.

A participant’s response to another participant’s opinion:

“Your thought process is premised on a faulty data, so I can understand your limitations. Gay and Lesbian should never be left alone. They are dirt thus most be cleared. Nobody wants a dirty society? Would you be fine if you see your kids watching two male adult kissing on TV? Protect the society!”

During my search, I found out that topics like politics, skin bleaching, homosexuality, spirituality, Nollywood gay movies, illiteracy, other ethnic groups, scamming (advanced fee fraud), the bring-somebody-down syndrome have been described as dirty. These representations of dirt have been good starting points for discussions and in-depth interviews.

 

 

About the author: Olutoyosi is a project researcher on the DirtPol project and is our Lagos-based researcher looking at health and the environment.

About the project: DirtPol is an international cultural studies project based at the University of Sussex. For more information please visit the DirtPol website.

Between Prostitution and Polygyny in Africa: The Implication for Culture by John Olatunde Uwa

Aug

07

As a researcher and a cultural archivist sampling perception and conceptions of dirt in Africa, I have had the opportunity of engaging a number of individuals on topical issues that revolve around ‘dirt’ in Africa. Some of these issues cut through the themes of religion, ethnicity, corruption, prostitution, civil partnership, robbery, poverty and such like. On a particular occasion, I had cause to interview a man on the theme of prostitution as a canvas for the collective odium that has followed those who solicit. This fellow made two striking submissions which I thought might be of interest to this forum. The first is that, prostitution is totally alien to Africa; while the second is that, polygyny is a structure that was put in place from primordial time in Africa to check, curb or prevent the practice of prostitution.

Whether prostitution is alien or not is not the question here as prostitution is already a global phenomenon, even in countries where the practice is considered as ‘haram’. What is quite puzzling here is that, between prostitution and polygyny in Africa, there are cultural codes that signify how both practices may be perceived. The former is an abomination; while the Later is a valid cultural practice, believed to have been handed down to prevent prostitution. But since prostitution is a ‘trade’, can polygyny solve the financial requirements of the woman? Of what economic benefit is polygyny to the woman? Even if we assume that prostitution is for sexual gratification, is it possible for a single man in a polygamous union to give all the women in the union the gratification they require? The assumption is that, while the man may be getting all the gratification he wants, some or all of the women in the union are denied total sexual gratification.  

 In spite of these burning questions, proves abound to show that about 90% of Nigerian women would rather be involved in a polygamous union than get involve in prostitution, when faced with the two variables. This is mainly due to their cultural and religious orientation more than what they are truly capable of doing. These cultural orientations which manifest themselves in taboo, abomination, witchcraft etc. tends to act as a strong restriction against the activities of the id. However, there is a latent content that becomes operational beyond the limit of social conformity.  Beyond this limit of social conformity in which culture and religion gives no answer, and in which ‘prostitutes’ find themselves, every woman become capable of soliciting. In other words, there is a limit to which every human can be in social conformity and there is a limit to which culture and religion can provide answers; and beyond this point, there is an ambient in which humans are capable of anything, and prostitution is not an exception. It is at such point that women are also capable of exhibiting the same tendencies that can make a man crave for more than one wife or woman.

Elsewhere in the world, especially among some nations of Europe, polygyny is unacceptable; however, it is an ‘accepted’ norm in Africa. Considering this paradox and the influence of a dominant culture, which is propelled by financial crunch, in a new global order which African is part of, what is the place of a primordial culture that is believed to prevent prostitution? What is the future of prostitution as we push towards the limit of social conformity and beyond? While it may be easy for us to keep theorizing, it must be must be noted that a culture that is inelastic is like a carved deity who becomes vindictive to those who provide it with palm oil and other libations; he is either reminded of the tree from which he was carved out, or turned into firewood while other deities are erected in ‘his’ place.      

About the author:  John Uwa is a project researcher on the DirtPol project and is concerned primarily with issues pertaining to dirt in media and communication.  John's based in Lagos, has an MA in English Literature and speaks Yoruba, English and Pidgin.

About the project: DirtPol is an international cultural studies project based at the University of Sussex.  For more information please visit www.sussex.ac.uk/dirtpol

Follow DirtPol on Twitter: @ProjectDirtPol

Rags!! By Ann Kirori

Jul

17

RAGS!!

Once upon a time there was a man who was publicly offending a village elder:
- You’re an atheist! You’re drinker! Almost a thief! you are useless!
The village elder just smiled in response.
One young man dressed in the silk trousers watching that scene asked the village elder:
- How can you tolerate such offences? Do you not feel hurt? are you not a man enough to fight your attacker? What example are you giving us young people?
The village elder smiled again and told the young people:
- Let’s go with me.

The young man followed him to the dusty lumber-room. The old man lighted the kin-dling and began rummaging in the trunk, where he found a completely worthless tattered robe, dirty and smelly. He threw it to the young man and told him:
- Try it, it will match you.

The young man took the robe, looked at it and resented:
- What these dirty rags are for? I am well dressed, and you must be crazy! – and threw a robe back.
- You see, – the old man said, – you did not want to try rags. Similarly, I did not want to try those dirty words that man threw me.
To be aggrieved by offenses means to try on rags someone throw us. The young man was left speechless.

LESSON

I know it’s much easier for me to tell you to stop taking things so personally than it is to actually stop taking things so personally. Still, there are ways to thicken your skin and enjoy life with more happiness and less contention and hurt feelings.
Tell yourself the person who is the potential offender has as much right to his opinion as you do to yours. Besides, they’re only words. What can words do? They certainly can’t break my bones!

Remember, the reason we usually feel offended is because of the meaning we attach to what is said or done: “That means he really doesn’t care!” “She’s saying I am no good!” “I knew he didn’t really love me!” “She wouldn’t say that if she was …” And so the internal interpretation goes.

So simply re -frame it. Talk yourself out of the offense by telling yourself: “This person is simply expressing his opinion, and listen to how interesting it is! I find it so fascinating that someone can have such opinions that are almost the exact opposite of mine!”

You will be happier as you learn to talk yourself out of offense and internalize the sticks-and-stones-may-break-my-bones-but-words-will-never-hurt-me philosophy of communication. Dear friends, you are already properly dressed. Why allow somebody’s rags to spoil your day?????

Is there beauty in filth?

Jun

24

From the desk of DirtPol's very own Professor Newell, this is clearly not everyone's cup of tea.  But it is hers, in more ways than one.  She thinks it's beautiful.  

 

Is she right?  Comment below - beauty or filth? 

 

 

tea