In 2014, it was recorded that over 400,000 abortions were procured in Kenya, over 2500 of these ending in deaths. More figures indicate 21,000 women are admitted annually due to complications arising from attempts to procure unsafe abortions – usually conducted in dingy establishments. Kenya is rife with a young population. 85% of teenage of girls who are sexually active do not practice safe sex. Sex education has not been adequate with a survey in schools showing a paltry quarter know who it is between the male and female who is supposed to take the pill (sic)! Needless to say abortion, unwanted pregnancies, sex education and maternal health care are pertinent issues for policy makers in Kenya.
Enter Sauti Sol, Amos and Josh; two Kenyan boy bands that have collaborated on a new single that is proving to be more than just a wonderfully composed and crooned ballad. To be honest, the song Nerea is really a deep and moving story delivered by sultry baritones and tenors, incredibly balanced acoustics, percussions and a soothing bassline. The plea in the song is by a boy pleading with the girl not to carry out an abortion. The boy refers to present and foregone African heroes and heroines from the first and incumbent African-American US President Barrack Obama to Wangari Maathai the first African / Kenyan woman Nobel Laureate and Lupita Nyong’o the first African / Kenya artist to win the prestigious Oscar Award to show the potential any single unborn baby may live up to.
Just as the reactions on social media have been quick to receive the song with ululations, a section of the audience have been quick to critique the song as another attempt by men to police women’s bodies and dictate what they were to do or not to do with them. Also, it has come out strongly that the song was nothing but another medium to be used in shaming the women who for reasons both legitimate and illegitimate have procured abortion in the past. Already the song has achieved success by breaking the hegemonic grip political conversations have had in Kenya in the recent past. By forcing Kenyans to dialogue on a social issue is a break from the conversations on corruption scandals and insecurity that had monopolized the talk in town. The conversations highlight an equality issue. In the past year or so gender conversations have taken a nasty turn with three events capturing the dire state of affairs. Facebook got lit up in 2014 by a page dubbed Dead Beat Kenya which was basically a public lynching of parents (mostly men) who had sired children and left the partners high and dry nary any support emotional nor most importantly eventually financial. Second, came the stripping incidences in Nairobi streets which saw ladies using public transport assaulted by a section of Nairobi’s touts. This drew wide local and international condemnation including the citizen action dubbed my dress my choice and law quickly caught up with the perpetrators who were soon to face stiff sentences upon conviction and suspending the license for a carrier whose touts were involved in the crimes.
Lastly, the assault by a sitting member of parliament raped and assaulted a friend’s wife at his office. This particular case was a new low in gender relations in Kenya given the stature of the offender and the extent he went to use the influence of their high office to undermine the victim and circumvent the course of justice to his favor. Lamentable also was a section of the public criticizing of the victim for her “not being home with her husband at 10: 20 pm at night.” Unwanted pregnancies have been found to be the leading cause of majority of the abortions procured. The stigma from the society that greets children born out of wedlock coupled with the financial burden that comes with raising a child especially when in the case of underage pregnancy the parent (s) are themselves children are some of the factors that make abortion palatable. For many girls, pregnancy, and unwanted / early pregnancy, at that signifies an end to schooling, career pursuits and relegation to a life of being house wives and dependence. On the flipside the boys seem to always get the better deal as pregnancy is often taken to be just a bump on their road to wherever they sought to do with their lives in the first place. The Kenyan first lady has taken it upon herself to take a lead in an initiative to reduce maternal deaths in Kenya. Seeing as unsafe abortions are a leading cause of maternal deaths in Kenya, the Beyond Zero campaign would benefit greatly if the plea in Nerea is headed by anyone contemplating or pushing for abortion.
The men symbolized in Nerea seem to have found their voice on an issue considered a preserve of womenfolk. It is a breath of fresh air there still exists in Kenya chivalrous menfolk. For the debate it has aroused one thing is clear, more needs to be done to safe guard lives of mothers and children. Seeing as abortion is still unlawful in Kenya and can attract upto a sentence of death upon conviction, this song may be what the doctor ordered to get conversation going in the right direction.