I don’t remember how the tweet was framed. I can’t trace it on Twitter. But it went something like: “Kitambo wasichana walikuwa wanakunywa tu Redds, hawa magaidi wa siku hizi wanakunywa gin, wakichase na vodka.” {In the past girls simply drunk Redds—sweetened beer favoured by women that is no longer sold in the Kenyan market—nowadays, these terrorists drink gin and chase it with a vodka}

That was in 2018. By referring to a certain calibre of the modern Kenyan woman as “magaidi” (terrorists), the man added to Kenyan social media parlance, a word that so effectively captures how most men view the modern Kenyan woman. The term has been embraced by both genders not just for the comic value but for the zeitgeist feeling men in urban spaces have towards women.

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Late in 2020, I played host to a few friends for an evening of nyama choma and liquor. It started in a night club but the party was cut short due to the ongoing Coronavirus night-time curfew. We proceeded to my place with two bottles of gin, a vodka, lots of beer and takeaway food, for the night.

We were four men, in our 30s, three separated from baby mamas and one, unmarried at 36. No history of a child out there. And four women, mid-20s, three of them single mothers. This was an evening of purposeless, reckless drinking. Two of the girls were on other drugs and were high as kites, for much of the evening.

One of the girls shocked us in the morning. There is, in Nairobi, a thing called ‘kutoa lock’ — taking alcohol the morning after binge-drinking, in the pretext curing the hangover. She took a bottle of gin on one hand and a bottle of vodka on the other, and unfettered by our gaze, poured the two spirits into her mouth for like 30 seconds. This was a classic definition of a “gaidi”. It is not her drinking that shocked us, but the audacity of holding two bottles to her mouth and drinking like it is the most natural thing to do. It was a fine Sunday morning. We started the morning from where we left the previous night. Drinking some more and playing loud music.

“Look at us, all unmarried, all having fun. Life is supposed to be this way. We drunk, we had fun, and we still having fun. Now, even our baby mamas wherever they are, deserve to have as much fun with the lovers of their lives…” one of my heretical friends said this out of nowhere. It is a statement that the animal in every man will disagree with, but from a purely philosophical standpoint, it made a lot of sense, if we were to come to terms with modern living in urban spaces.

War Zone

If an alien dropped in Kenya, briefly, on its way to I-don’t-know-where, and had a glimpse of our social media preoccupations, it will be forgiven to think that Kenyan men and women don’t see eye to eye. There is an ongoing gender war. It gets worse every passing year. It is relentless. It is poisonous. Nobody seems to know where it is heading, where it will end. Nobody is ready to talk about solutions. It is like watching a civilization decay, slowly, right before your eyes.

Men are making nasty remarks about women. About single mothers. About their lifestyle choices. In the extreme end of the Kenyan manosphere, especially on Twitter, the gender diatribes can break your heart. If you still have one. Women are not taking insults lying down. They fight back. They say horrible things about men. Calling out deadbeat men. Canceling men who are seen to defend or tolerate rape culture. Women are empowered. They have the platforms and the power to push back. This was impossible just a decade ago.

On September 13, 2020, Esther Wangari Wakimbi, 20, left her home in Karura to come and meet a man she met on Facebook for a date. They bought fast food from an eatery in town, went to a supermarket and bought rum and soda and proceeded to a room in Ambank House’s 12th floor for an evening of eating and chat. At 7 p.m. she wanted to leave but the man wanted to have sex with her. She turned down his advances. The resulting altercation saw her being thrown out of the window from the 12th floor. She survived but suffered serious pelvic injuries that saw her spend two months at the Kenyatta National Hospital. 

Early in the year, a 24-year-old waitress, Velvine Nungari met a Nairobi businessman. They went out to have drinks in Kahawa West and ended up in a hotel in Kiambuni area. Nobody knows what happened, except that she called a friend the following day to tell her she was in so much pain. It later emerged that she may have been injected with an unknown substance, raped and tortured. She passed on March 9, at the Kenyatta University Referral hospital where she was receiving treatment for a broken spine and sexual assault.

The two cases have opened a can of worms on gender relations. Three popular male radio personalities have been sacked for trivializing rape and victim blaming. EABL, the largest alcohol manufacturing company and a big advertiser pulled out their ads from the radio station where the trio worked. The Communications Authority of Kenya cracked the whip by fining the station Sh 1,000,000, suspending the morning show for six months and demanding written apologies from the Homeboyz Radio in local dailies.

On Sunday, March 28, Kenyans woke to #BoycottEabl hashtag trending on Twitter. It was a trend driven by mostly men and a few women claiming that the punishment for the radio trio was inordinate to their casual remarks on their morning show, which followed the typical, often trashy format that defines the Kenyan commercial FM radios.

Women felt that the punishment was apt and can help bring about accountability to people with platforms they ought to use better. There was an interesting twist to the whole debate: both the CEO of EABL and the acting Director General of the Communication Authority of Kenya are female. Some men had an exaggerated sense of fear of a future dystopian world led by ‘toxic feminists’ who will silence men, and where contrary opinion cannot prevail.

How did we get here?

In all the name calling, accusations and counteraccusations, the black and white assumptions about gender relations, the denial of biological and evolutionary agency, what is lost in the mist of all these arguments, deep and shallow, is the root cause of all this toxicity. And sense is not about to prevail anytime soon.

If we were to take a step backward, and analyze the changing gender dynamics, moving forward we may find a solution, not entirely workable, but can help safeguard lives and even inject a new dynamism into the way we relate as men and women; from casual sex to marriage and family.

At their heart, men are traditional and conservative. But mainly because tradition favours them. The bedrock of most civilizations lies in tradition. At their heart, women are progressive and will grab any opportunity to escape the tyranny of tradition. Whether through biology or evolution, women are vehicles that carry generations forward. They do these by selective mating (choosing the most qualified mate, even if it means from another race or tribe). They do so by breaking with tradition — embracing modernity, moving to urban spaces where the anonymity of cities affords them a life of dignity from an individual perspective, unlike the sometimes ‘oppressive’ control of women’s lifestyle in the village.

Men are supposed to play their traditional role of procreation, protection, and provision. They are also supposed to be modern and adapt to the preferred lifestyle of modern women. The traditional roles of women on the other hand relied on the domesticity of women, which is incompatible with modernity and the working-class woman. Women can outsource childcare, cooking, and nurturing skills to a house help. Men, on the other hand, cannot outsource their roles. So, in a way, men feel short-changed. Worse, they no longer have the monopoly of provision and protection of their progeny. Women can provide for themselves and they can rely on the State for protection. We are in a state where women can extract the three traditional P’s from a man and if she can no longer extract the same, she can get a replacement or do it on her own if she has means.

A recent report by the Kenyan Demographic and Health Survey indicated that women aged 18-34 are doing better economically than their male counterparts, same age. Years of women empowerment, affirmative action, efforts by governments, non-governmental, not-for-profit organizations are paying dividends. More and more women are now financially empowered. In a 2016 World Bank Survey of MSMEs, it emerged that women control 60 percent of the informal MSMES and have a good stake in formal MSMEs. A cursory glance in the corporate sector indicates that women have been on the rise, and likely to continue breaking the glass ceiling.

Capitalism, Hypergamy and Sex

One dynamic that is evident, regardless of gender, is that money gives people the power to choose, or the illusion of the power to choose.

The usage of the word hypergamy in Kenya has been mainstreamed, in the last decade, as more men realize that women will always prefer to mate with those of a superior socioeconomic status. Women naturally marry up. This is defensible. It was for the good of children. This reality was not apparent to men because they were the owners of capital. But what happens when women start to own capital and men’s ownership of capital declines? What happens when financially endowed women still prefer to marry upwards? What happens to them when the statistical odds of finding that man of superior socioeconomic status declines every passing day?

Capitalism has increased women’s participation in the modern labour market but is failing to insulate them from the soulless destructive elements of the system that has been crushing men since the dawn of industrialization. Women are now beginning to bear the brunt — of life as a transaction.

All human relationships are transactional in capitalism, a breeding ground for toxic gender relations. It breeds the worst of hypergamy on women and misogyny on men. Unhealthy competition instead of cooperation. It conditions each gender to deploy whatever means for their profit, their advantage. There is a casual, almost dismissive rebut, against entitlement to men’s money, against entitlement to women’s bodies. The scripture is: money is the only salvation.

Most men think women only view them transactionally. So, they are throwing away norms around healthy courtship, seduction and sexual behavior, for transactional sex and attendant destructive and unhealthy sexual behaviors. They offer money, or any assistance in kind, and expect immediate sex as a reward.

In the sexual market place the laws of demand and supply, mixed with biology reign supreme. Most men have internalised the rules, and some work hard and hope with their money, they can be lucky to find a woman, only to realize that women want more than money, even as they increasingly center money in their conversations about desired mating partners.

In highly industrializing countries like Japan, China and South Korea, capitalism is throwing new alternatives to men and women, in the midst of automation bubbles. Sex with robots. Soulless automatons for companionship. In 2019, a sex robot brothel was opened in Japan, following in the footsteps of Russia, Spain and Italy. The brothel charged ¥36000 ($330) for a three-hour session and ¥13000 ($120) for one-hour session for live the futuristic sex with the hottest Asian Lumidolls. Experts have suggested that the popularity of love dolls and sex robots are to blame for Japan’s declining birth rate, with others even warning that the Japanese people risk becoming “an endangered species” as the nation’s love for silicon women flies to the high heavens.

In Kenya, Samantha dolls had men in a frenzy, to the extreme annoyance of most women, who repeatedly opined that the sex dolls — vibrating mounds of please — would electrocute men to their deaths, but the heat stopped as the sex dolls were way too expensive, Kshs 316,000 ($ 3,160). Vaseline or Arimis are currently the most affordable self-love accoutrements for the urban male, what soap served for village boys ‘strangling monkey’.

Radical feminist orgasm politics is driving consumerism for sex toys. Sid Azmi, the owner of a sex shop in Brooklyn, preaches that pleasure begins with the permission to self-love, and that sex toys hold the key to sending women’s bodies and spirits to heavenly bliss, for profit of course. The vibrator nation is the new message for sexual empowerment, a chance for women to practice sexual politics through the marketplace. There is an increasing number of Kenyan businesswomen on Facebook advertising vibrators and dildos to bridge the orgasm gap, and there is anecdotal evidence showing that these paraphernalia are becoming essential space occupiers in women’s drawers.

The entire mix is boiling in a bigger cauldron of a thousand categories of pornographic material. This is a glimpse of how human civilizations will collapse. There is a growing hunger for balance, for human values to drive the evolution of a society that advances the humanness of both men and women, and not capitalistic values.