Two Murders in Majengo and the Injustice

I could have missed the story but thanks to an IT savvy young man Trevor who works at HOYMAS, a male sex workers’ organization in Kenya, documentation guy.

Trevor forwarded a curious story from ‘The Star” newspaper titled “Man lynched for stabbing sex worker to death after refusing to pay”.

According to the article, the man got into an argument with the sex worker after he refused to pay the agreed amount of Sh.200 for sexual services rendered. He turned violent and stabbed the woman, who died from her wounds.

Majengo, a sprawling slum in the densely populated Nairobi Pumwani area, is the true Red Light District of Nairobi with a history of sex work dating back to the colonial era.

In the early 1950s, women from Tanzania came to Majengo but the slum traces its beginnings from the 1920s when it was inhabited by the railway builders and those serving them.

Local women, as well as Ugandan and Tanzanian women of all ages, have been working as sex workers in Majengo for decades. When a sex worker, say from Tanzania retires due to age or ill health, a replacement is sought from her country to quickly take over her hut and her clients.

Part of the local sex workers are married women who have homes in other corners of the city but who must hustle in Majengo to provide for their families.

I read the Star article again and the familiar sadness grips me. This would be close to the 30th recorded murder of a sex worker in the country in the last twelve months. About 5 months ago the country witnessed the horror of close to a dozen murders of sex workers in Nakuru,Thika and Nanyuki towns.

To many people in Majengo it was a death for a death, but had justice been served?

Many people did not think much about the murders other than that they served to expose the sins of Majengo. What was there to concern the good people of Majengo? A bad woman, a sex worker had been murdered, her murderer, another bad person visiting a whore in that bad place had been stoned to death.

Everybody thought this was the end of a sad story. They were wrong. Four days later sixty women were rounded up as suspects in the murder of their client, a former security officer, and a sex worker.

“The police would not have arrested us so easily but they used deceit. They made an announcement for us to gather at the corridor for a short meeting and we all stepped out while those who had clients in their rooms were dragged out. A few of the clients were arrested too. Once we were outside they simply led us into the waiting police truck and drove us to the cells. Many of us were not fully dressed, with some wearing only night dresses, others in T-shirt and a wraparound or leso a common dress code in Majengo,” Filomena, one of the suspect, narrated.

Among those arrested were Tanzanian, Ugandan, and local women. Some of the women had Swahili and Muslim names while others were called by their Christian, local or pet names.

One had to marvel at the speed of investigations and arrests just two days after the stoning of the guard. This was amazing considering the many sex workers who had been killed around the country and no one was investigating. There have been at least 30 unresolved murders of sex workers in which less than five suspects have been arrested in the last one year.

SWOP clinic, an organization that has a project in Majengo and sex work rights activists sought to free their women especially those who were on medication, however, the Shauri Moyo Officer Commanding Station {OCS} would hear none of that.

According to him, there was a reason on why he picked on those particular women and not on any other from the other villages. He claimed they were bad women who were in the habit of robbing men then resort to verbal and physical abuse when the men accused them.

The OCS argued that majority of the victims of the women attacks didn’t report due to stigma and the shame associated with visiting prostitutes.

Further, he believed that no man participated in the stoning as this was an area under the reign of women. To him, the women, by their final act of stoning a man who had gone to them for sexual services, had crossed the line and were a danger to the community.

He planned to charge the women with murder and additional charges of being in the country illegally being slapped on the sex workers from Uganda and Tanzania who did not have proper documentation to be in the country.

However, the sex workers claim the police don’t have a shred of evidence to support their murder charges.

“How could 60 women murder one man? Some of those arrested were in hospital attending to the sex worker who had been stabbed,” claimed Mary, a sex worker.

Mary, who is also paralegal in Majengo, complained that they were being harassed and abused when they visited and attended to their colleagues in the cells.

Like in most police stations in the country, the women’s cells is really small; always seems to hold more than it should. The Shauri Moyo cells were no different and it was a wonder how the 60 women all fitted in two tiny cells.

Sex workers are a resilient lot, and being in the cells is a usual occurrence, but this is a big deal, they passed their time blaming each other, crying, worrying about children and money, exonerating themselves and re-living that fateful Monday.

Sadly the police boss is not done with the hate and disgust. He cannot get over the revelations that nearly half the women here are married! They lie to their husbands, they lie to their families, and they pretend to go to work every morning but end up in Majengo where they engage in prostitution from morning to dusk.

I engage one of the suspects, Lucia, who tells me she has a granddaughter who is her whole world. Her younger daughter died of HIV-related complications and left her daughter, Precious, then aged 6.

Lucia has raised Precious from the same stool that she raised her mother. Sex workers in Majengo are home based and sit on stools outside their huts where they beckon customers or just wait to be “picked”.

Lucia is determined that Precious will never sit on that stool or befall the fate of her late mother. She was on the stool this week to raise the examination fees for her granddaughter’s last exam; she was so near to delivering the future!

Then a man died and they were blamed, but a woman died first.

Hey, does anybody remember the death that started it all? Nobody seems to remember that a sex worker was murdered too. Her relatives were informed of the circumstances surrounding her death and decided not to pursue the case further. They wish to bury their dead quietly.

A few months earlier when a sex worker died in Nakuru, her family reacted in a similar manner. They blamed their daughter. According to them, she had lived a shameful life and died a shameful death. They did not wish to report the matter or pursue an investigation, did not even want her shameful colleagues at the funeral.

This case is yet another demonstration of discrimination, gender violence, and community acceptance. I try to imagine if it was a woman who had been stoned for killing a man, how fast would the police have reacted? Would we have 60 men in the cells for her murder?

The conclusion is painful, in death as in life it is a man’s world.

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