The governor of Nairobi has sparked an explosive debate among Kenyans over the issue of children born out of wedlock to powerful politicians and their lovers.
After MP Ken Okoth died of cancer at the age of 41 last month, Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko publicly detailed an alleged affair between the late MP, who was a friend of his, and a woman who was appointed to the Nairobi County Assembly.
Sonko, 44, told a memorial service broadcast on local television: “Ken had a son with one of the Nairobi MCAs named [Members of County Assembly]. The two lovebirds made no secret of the fact that they shared a son as evidenced by the photos and various documented correspondence.
Governor Sonko made his comments to a gathering of mourners that included Okoth’s Italian-born woman, whom he met at university in Austria, and with whom he had no children .
Sonko’s words unwittingly struck a chord, drawing criticism from some politicians and dividing opinion in this deeply religious and conservative society, where such family matters should only be broadcast in the privacy of the home. .
CNN’s efforts to reach Sonko and his staff for comment were unsuccessful. Asked about the governor’s comments, Okoth’s brother Imran Okoth told CNN: “No comment. It’s a personal matter. The alleged mother of Okoth’s child declined to comment.
Residents of Nairobi immediately took to social media with the hashtag #Sonko to jokingly caution against sharing their secrets with the governor, who would inevitably reveal them in a very public way.
But Sonko claimed to have a higher purpose for his words. He told the bereaved, “My humble call is that even as we prepare to bury Ken, let us not forget his son. He too needs and has the right to participate in the farewell of his beloved father. The family must accept that the Honorable Okoth’s son enjoys legal protection and recognition.
Sonko, who has three children, can be described as a maverick operator. But his comments reflect a very real problem in Kenya, where many children go through life without any parental assistance.
According to the 2014 Kenya Demographic and Health Survey (KDHS), almost half of Kenyan children did not live with both biological parents and 22% of children come from single parent families even though their fathers are alive.
In a 2017 case in which a man cited poverty as a mitigating factor in his inability to provide for his child, a High Court judge ruled that men cannot escape the responsibility of providing for their child. their children even if they claim that they cannot afford it. .
Sonko continued the debate on parental responsibility by targeting his political colleagues. He posted two phone numbers on his Facebook page and invited women to contact his office if they had had similar experiences with lawmakers.
“When sending details about which MP, Senator, Governor, or businessman impregnated you, don’t forget to send their full names and position they hold as well as any photos or videos of those happy times. so that we expose them, “he said in another post.
On Friday, Sonko announced on Facebook that he had received numerous complaints from women via his hotline. His “investigation”, as he described it, found that many politicians had impregnated their girlfriends and “refused to take responsibility. [for] their babies.
Sonko said evidence of some of these transgressions would soon be published in newspapers and on his Facebook page. None of these claims could be verified by CNN.
Fallout from Sonko’s comments at the funeral divided opinions in Kenya’s capital. Was the governor right to expose so publicly the alleged infidelity of his friend the legislator?
Brandish Kotia, a restaurateur, told CNN: “What Sonko did was wrong. It is a family affair. They could have talked to each other, there was no need to make it so public.
Mary, a shopkeeper from the Westlands district in Nairobi who declined to give her last name due to the sensitivity of comments about politicians, agreed with Sonko: “It will be a lesson for everyone. There are too many hiding places and when you try to tell men, they don’t want to hear about it. But now everyone will be alert.
Men CNN spoke to largely declined to comment and shook their heads at the governor’s boldness. “He’s letting us down, men,” said a taxi driver before setting off.
And despite the governor’s public concern for single mothers, there have also been growing questions about how the Kenyan parliament treats its female members. In June, a Member of Parliament was charged with physically assaulting a Member of Parliament, and last week a Member of Parliament was kicked out of Parliament for bringing her five-month-old baby to the bedroom because current rules do not allow children .
There were also tensions between lawmakers, women’s rights groups and Sonko after the funeral episode.
Suba North MP Millie Odhiambo, a member of the opposition Orange Democratic Movement party, slammed the governor, sparking a heated exchange online.
She wrote that, unlike the governor, she does not “bark at funerals,” adding that she worked hard to pass laws that protect all children. “I… insisted that article 53 of the constitution protect the son of the late Ken Okoth. Once DNA confirms that he is Ken Okoth’s son, he will have the right under inheritance law to inherit Ken’s estate. He is protected. It’s covered, ”Odhiambo said.
The governor took the hook and replied to Odhiambo in another Facebook post: “I long for the day when you will open your legs to give birth to a child so that you will feel the pain that the mothers I defend. . You have to respect those single mothers who struggle with their children as men go missing. ”
With this, Sonko lost the respect of Memory Kachambwa, Executive Director of the African Women’s Development and Communication Network, which works for gender equality and women’s empowerment in 47 countries.
“You can’t speak out of both corners and apply double standards when you claim to speak on behalf of women,” Kachambwa told CNN. “It is absurd to aspire to do this when your words and actions are strongly sexist and objectify the same women you claim to represent. And anyway, who said women can’t speak for themselves?
Poverty is an unlikely problem for Kenyan lawmakers, who are paid 76 times what the average Kenyan earns in a year – the second highest figure in the world after Nigeria, according to a study by the Independent Parliamentary Authority of standards (IPSA) in 2013 and the International Monetary Standards Authority (IPSA). Fund (IMF).
Considering these salaries, many average Kenyans would say that politicians who err in this way should be afforded the means to care for their offspring.