Aya de Leon

author – activist – faculty – mom

Tony Mochama’s Alleged Assault on Shailja Patel: Predatory Men Are Still Human…and Are Still Predators

shailja photoMen are not animals. They’re not scum. They’re not vermin. They’re not douchebags, (and why would you use something associated with women’s genitals to insult men, anyway?). Men are human beings.

And people will often ask women in ongoing abusive relationships, “why did she stay?” Sometimes, women stay because they lack the resources to get out of the relationship. But other times women stay because they have connected with the part of a man that is human, that exists outside of his abusive behavior, and she is bonded to that man’s humanity. And it’s difficult in our culture to understand that because we are taught to see everything in a dichotomous good/bad. Our culture finds it difficult to hold these two sides of people: the truth of their humanity and the reality of their abusive behavior.

The same is true in the reverse. When we are in touch with the brilliance or gift or dedication of a leader or artist or upstanding member of our community, people will often express shock and disbelief. He couldn’t possibly be a rapist, child molester, sexual abuser because…I loved his book/His speech moved me/I’m his biggest fan. When someone comes forward with an accusation against the beloved luminary, many will blame or discredit the accuser, unable to accept the possibility that their hero could be capable of misdeeds as well as greatness.

Sometimes it is easier when people value what a public figure can do, as opposed to how they make us feel. The public can accept that Ray Rice could be a stellar football player, yet a brutal and abusive partner.

So now we come to the case of Tony Mochama, a columnist with Kenya’s Standard Group, Secretary of PEN Kenya, and holder of a Morland Writing Scholarship. Mochama allegedly sexually assaulted feminist poet and activist Shailja Patel at an international gathering of poets in Kenya. Mochama initially denied that attended the gathering. However, his presence there was witnessed and confirmed by the 12 others who were present, including Kwame Dawes, founder of the African Poetry Book Fund, who convened the gathering. It was also confirmed by the poet who invited him, Clifton Gachagua, to whom Mr. Mochama afterwards allegedly boasted of his assault on Patel. When the story keeps changing, any credibility the alleged perpetrator might have had is lost.

Mochama’s supporters, however, do not seem to have any trouble believing his story. Apparently they are having trouble accepting that he could be both a celebrated writer and capable of sexual assault. Radio personality Caroline Mutoko of Nairobi’s KISS 100 “grew up with Tony.” In a videotaped interview, she wrestles with the possibility that the sexual assault allegations against him could be true: “He has a committed partnership. I think he’s married, and he has a child. I’m finding it very hard to believe that what is being said about Tony is true…I’m hoping it isn’t….It would be painful if it was true.”

Mutoko acknowledges the reality that accepting the misdeeds of our friends or heroes is “painful.” We want to believe the best about those we care about. Of course, her logic is totally flawed. Having a committed partnership, a marriage or a child has never stopped men from pursuing other sexual avenues. But beyond that, sexual assault is not about the pursuit of consensual sex, it’s about asserting sexual power and domination.

So some are having a hard time believing Patel because of their loyalty to Mochama. Perhaps for others, it’s not so much a case of not believing Patel, rather a dismissal of her right to complain. Perhaps for some it’s just a good old boys situation, where men have the right to turn a co-ed gathering of internationally renowned poets into a frat party where the guys have license to grab any women they choose. According to one media outlet, “There was no alcohol at the venue but Tony Mochama decided to turn it into a BYOB and so he brought his own alcohol.” The author concludes by saying, “some of the women present accuse Tony Mochama of being a perenial pervert, putting paws on their assets whenever he gets drunk and unruly.”

But as I said, men are not animals, they are not scum, they are not rodents or douchebags. They are human beings. They’re capable of brilliance as well as abuse. And for their humanity and brilliance they deserve affirmation, but for their abuse and oprressive behaviors, they need to be accountable. Period.

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5 comments on “Tony Mochama’s Alleged Assault on Shailja Patel: Predatory Men Are Still Human…and Are Still Predators

  1. bmwaeng
    October 3, 2014

    ipulilg;j’lu[i-p87p
    ‘tr;y;ip67i h;j

  2. Ian Masinde
    October 3, 2014

    Well said. Any human being is capable of extreme evil deeds. People should accept things as they are; remove the hand in front of their eyes.

  3. philowriting
    October 4, 2014

    This blows the lid off! When we finally FACE the facts, we shall find that so much abuse hides and is hidden in the most obvious places. In homes, offices, among friends. We know it. Let this case be pursued to the very end. It is good that Shailja has a voice and so saddening to hear of denial and boasting at the same time. I bow my head but raise it fast for vigilance is key!

  4. siguda
    October 5, 2014

    I am not a fan of either Tony Mochama or Shailja Patel for that matter. You have covered the flaws on Tony’s defence very well but haven’t looked at the other side at all. We have to appreciate that sexual assault is not a trivial matter and that justice has to be pursued to the bitter end. We are not being told the whole story.

    We have an assault that allegedly took place on a Saturday, nothing happened on Sunday, no report to the police, absolutely no action was taken. On Monday, the social media is informed of Mochama’s alleged indiscretions with information that is barely enough to establish what happened, an appropriate hastag is duly manufactured and the rest of us are encouraged to join the crusade. The charge was being led by people who were not at the premises on the material day. When asked to report the matter to the police, they berate not only the system but then proceed to cast aspersions on anyone who thinks that justice will be delivered.

    There were other witnesses around who have gone on to state in no uncertain terms that Tony did not assault Shailja. Now that the case has been reported and Tony is likewise suing for slander and defamation, why not wait for the institutions to determine the fate of these cases?

  5. Pingback: In Support of Shailja Patel: A Call to Grief for Caroline Mutoko | Aya de Leon

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This entry was posted on October 3, 2014 by in Uncategorized.

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