Nicholas Kristof Saves Another Woman

In The New York Times columnit's world, Kenya is just another Third World site of pathos, despair, degradation, and fallen women waiting to be saved.

Nicholas Kristof speaking to readers in November 2009 (World Affairs Council of Philadelphia, Flickr CC).

He’s back! After a decade or so of “saving” South East Asian sex workers from “slavery”, sometimes by actually purchasing them, Nicholas Kristof has found Africa. Kenya, to be specific, and there too sex workers – or in his words “prostitutes” – await.

In his most recent column, “Sewing her way out of poverty,” Kristof tells the story of Jane Ngoiri, a 38-year-old single mother of two, former slum dweller, now “prostitute-turned-businesswoman.” With the help of a group called Jamii Bora, formed initially by 50 “street beggars,” Ngoiri developed skills, learned to save, grew.

Then “catastrophe struck”. Ngoiri’s daughter was in an accident. Medical expenses were crushing. She had to take her son out of school. Fortunately, Kristof was there! He and his peeps collected money, and without having to resort to “street begging” or “prostitution”, and Ngoiri’s son is now back in school.

Kristof’s takeaway. Life for the poor in Kenya is terribly “fragile”.

But what is Kenya?

From Kristof’s account, it’s just another Third World site of pathos, despair, degradation, and fallen women waiting to be saved.

Kristof’s article couldn’t come at a more ironic moment. In Kenya, this past week has been described as “a week of tears.” A pipeline exploded, killing scores. It turns out, experts had warned about this very possibility. And who dies, or better who is killed? The poor. And who is culpable? The oil and gas companies and the State that conspire to not care about safety precautions. And so now, the stories emerge of the tally of the dead, of the tearful reunions of the survivors and their grateful loved ones.

These past couple days in Kenya have seen fires, violence against girls, drought. And more.

Kenyan small hold farmers, for example, are the vanguard of African agricultural development, as they are warriors in the various battles to combat climate change. And who are those small hold farmers? Women. Women like Wayua Mwanza, 36-years-old, and a mother of three. Kenyan women farmers teaching and learning from … Kenyan women farmers!

As Somali women refugees move into Kenya, and in particular Dadaab, reputed by some to be the largest refugee camp or settlement in the world, many of them encounter antenatal clinics for the first time. That antenatal treatment is provided by Kenyan women, in ngo’s and in State agencies, as well as by non-Kenyans in various multinational ngo’s. Kenyan women teaching and working with … Somali women!

Earlier this week Cecillia Ng’etich, a candidate for public office in the Rift Valley, argued forcefully for women’s right to return to school, and for their partners’ responsibility to support them in that endeavor.

Life for the working poor, and especially for low- and no-income women, is always fragile … everywhere. And women cannot and are not waiting for some prince in shining white armor to come and rescue them. Women are organizing, at home, in the streets, in the shops, on the farms, in the refugee and IDP camps, in government, everywhere. Tell the story, but tell it right.

Further Reading

An unfinished project

Christian theology was appropriated to play an integral role in the justifying apartheid’s racist ideology. Black theologians resisted through a theology of the oppressed.

Writing while black

The film adaptation of Percival Everett’s novel ‘Erasure’ leaves little room to explore Black middle-class complicity in commodifying the traumas of Black working-class lives.

The Mogadishu analogy

In Gaza and Haiti, the specter of another Mogadishu is being raised to alert on-lookers and policymakers of unfolding tragedies. But we have to be careful when making comparisons.

Kwame Nkrumah today

New documents looking at British and American involvement in overthrowing Kwame Nkrumah give us pause to reflect on his legacy, and its resonances today.