Nudity as a tool of protest is not new around the world, even in Kenya.
One of the biggest news stories coming out of East Africa last week was the protest march by half a dozen semi-naked Ugandan women activists denouncing police brutality.
Yes, police. It looks like a regional problem. There are the notorious Kenyan and Tanzanian gangsters in uniform who wouldn’t hesitate to shoot dead any anti-government protesters, including unarmed women and kids, or even other citizens going about their business. In Rwanda and Burundi, protests are virtually outlawed.
Isn’t that something the East Africa Community should worry about, instead of pretending to have found an answer to Kenya’s post-election violence conundrum four years after the conflagration?
The East Africa Parliament last week unanimously voted that Kenya’s Ocampo Four should be tried at the EA Court of Justice. The region’s heads of state endorsed the decision.
Where have these people emerged from after all these years? Who do they speak for? What have they said about justice for the victims of the PEV? Have they heard of IDPs?
How many criminal cases has the EA Court of Justice tried? Where was that court after Kenya burst into flames in 2007/8? Who has it tried in connection with the violence?
Anyway, we were talking about female breasts, by far the most harmless and uncontroversial part of the female anatomy.
Ugandan police violently broke up a march on Friday, April 20. In the course of the confrontation with the protesters, a policeman, whose mind apparently was not entirely focused on the duty assigned by his bosses (or was that part of the strategy of dealing with female protesters?) was shown on television grabbing and fondling the breast of opposition Forum for Democratic Change women's League Leader, Ingrid Turinawe.
A shameless policeman in full anti-riot gear assaulting a woman indecently in broad daylight in the name of restoring law and order? What law and order?
Does that thug have a wife, daughter, mother, aunties or a family? Is that what makes President Yoweri Museveni proud of ‘liberating’ Uganda?
Women activists in Kampala were outraged by the blatant indecent assault on one of their own. On Monday, six daring women stripped down to their bras and marched to a police station to invite the law enforcers to a free view of the breasts they seemed to have missed so much for so long.
The protesters were promptly arrested.
The incident received considerable media coverage, particularly on Kenyan television.
Of course the whole world needed to know the primitive depths into which Ugandan police have sank in their desperate efforts to prop up the Museveni dictatorship.
But the media coverage raises an interesting question: Was it ethical for TV stations to carry those pictures the way they did?
A woman’s breasts are nowadays considered to be private parts (although not everywhere). Any attack targeting them amounts to indecent assault. Media reporting of such outrageous incidents requires sensitivity.
Could a man attacked in his private parts in a similar fashion be portrayed on TV in the same way Turinawe was?
Quite unlikely. When NTV recently played a recording of a vicious police attack on a young Kenyan boy, great care was taken to protect his dignity.
Beatings on his private parts were blacked out, as well as the insulting orders by the sadistic GSU officers about how and where the boy should be hit for maximum pain.
But in Turinawe’s case a policeman was shown, not once, grabbing and squeezing her breast while she screamed and fought back without success.
That must have left families at home watching the story wincing. Family members and friends of the Women’s League leader must have been very uneasy as well.
And then there were those close shots of the women who stripped down to their bras to protest the assault on Turinawe. The media appeared to feast on that protest!
In the first instance, Turinawe was clearly a victim of sexual violence perpetrated by a policeman. Article 19 of the Code of Conduct for the Practice of Journalism in Kenya, under the sub-head ‘Victims of sexual offences’, addresses just this issue:
“The media should not identify victims of sexual assault or publish material likely to contribute to such identification. Such publications do not serve any legitimate journalistic or public need and may bring social opprobrium to the victims and social embarrassment to their relations, family, friends, community, religious order and to the institutions to which they belong.”
On the basis of this guideline, we believe TV stations would have done better not to show fully the indecent assault on Turinawe. The picture should have been blurred, or shown only very briefly or partially.
But Citizen TV used that clip a whole two times in the same story.
The second issue is that of the semi-naked protest by women that followed the attack on Turinawe. There were close shots of justly angry women stomping about in bras.
The danger with this kind of coverage, certainly recorded by male camera crews, is that the seriousness of the protest action may have been lost as attention was focused on the breasts.
Well, the protest was not about breasts per se but the criminal conduct of a policeman and the suppression of civil liberties in Uganda.
Nudity as a tool of protest is not new around the world, even here in Kenya. But the professional thing for the TV stations would be to use long shots of the protesters instead of close ones.
Now, could those pampered big men at the East African Community please say something about the Museveni dictatorship that has sank so low?