Mike Oliver: A Window into a Society Struggling with its Morality Amidst Amoral Leadership

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By Washington Osiro

About three weeks ago, Mike Oliver, a white foreign man, trended on Kenya’s social media. Mike trended because he had allegedly slept with several Kenyan women. Some of the women he slept with were married or on the verge of getting married, and inevitably, pictures of the man and his many Kenyan paramours in various compromising poses ended up on social media. The story elicited reactions from Kenyans across either extreme.

Some Kenyans were livid at the middle-aged looking sandy-haired white man for sleeping around even though he was supposedly HIV+.

On the other end were the country’s gang of anti-feminists, men and women, who popped celebratory bottles of bubbly while hailing Oliver for confirming what they had always believed – that many Kenyan women are bereft of morals. In this group were those who cheered on Mike’s conquests, folks repulsed by (Kenyan) women who see in all white people – men and women – dollar signs. These are the people who see “landing” a “mzungu” as their ticket to a better life – away from the shithole their “god-chosen leaders” have created.

The varied reactions to what should have been a public health concern, given allegations that Oliver was HIV-positive even as he slept with multiple sexual partners, reflect the mindless first-order thinking some Kenyans default to when contemplating or discussing such (social and econo-political) topics.

Of course, Michael Oliver is a whore and a slut. He is a sexually promiscuous person who had casual sex with several women. He IS the common thread that links all these women, and because of that, he IS the classic definition of a slut and whore. I am confident that had “Michael” been “Michelle,” the unflattering, but apt descriptors would have replaced the last name!

I don’t know whether these women knew that the reported intentions of Oliver, the object of their affection, was to bed as many Kenyan women as he could during his stay in their country. On the other hand, if they knew that he was a sex tourist and they consented to his advances, then they – Oliver and the Kenyan women – were adults engaging in consensual sexual relationships with one another. Last I checked, it is not criminal for two consenting adults to have sex – regardless of their race, physique, socio-economic wherewithal, or looks – and irrespective of how the man’s jeans hug their butt!

Similarly, if these women saw in the “mzungu,” dollar signs, then they were engaging in a time-honored tradition that some Kenyans refer to as “Willing Seller/Willing Buyer.” Isn’t this how people acquire stuff – by buying, willingly, what the sellers are offering, also willingly?

If, on the other hand, these Kenyan women did not know that their European lothario was, for whatever reason, out to add notches of sexual conquests onto his belt, then they join the long list of women (and men) who have been “played.” As heartless as these “entanglements” often are, they happen every day – right Will and Jada?

And the silver line in the Oliver episode of Sodom and Gomorrah? I am yet to hear that anyone was “conned of five hundred thousand shillings.” And while none of the women walked down the aisle with Oliver, some of them incurred the wrath of their husbands, fiancés, and I would imagine, partners. Worse is that they all had their miens plastered all over social media.

At the most basic level of analysis, the Mike Oliver story is not surprising, nor is it unusual. The saga is about humans – men and women – doing what humans do: Taking advantage of one another, willfully or not so willfully. The incident microcosms a man, being, well, a man and a woman, being, well, a woman. It is a white man using his privilege to entice African women, some who have bought into the “mzungu = better life” calculus. However, stopping the analysis of the man’s conduct at this basic level is convenient and lazy. Such analyses also protect the patriarchal and permissive Kenyan culture that sees women as second class citizens while simultaneously glossing over male behavior that endangers the public’s health and creates socio-economic conditions that necessitate such tawdry conduct.  I hate to disappoint those who see Mike Oliver’s escapades as unbecoming, BUT Jamuhuri also happens to be a bucket list port of call for his ilk, i.e., men and women who partake in sex tourism.

Lost in the self-righteous moralizing over Oliver’s debauchery are questions about how the socio-economic and political conditions that compel Kenyans – young and old, male and female – to sell their bodies – came to be. The late Thomas Sankara, a favorite of Kenyans who see themselves as heirs to the Burkinabean’s revolutionary creds but are now tsk-tsking over Oliver’s sexcapades, offered the view that “prostitution is nothing but the microcosm of a society where exploitation is a general rule.”

Mike and his fellow “tourists” are the willing buyers of the perverted services, increasingly sold by child prostitutes found in towns and villages along Kenya’s coastal region. The International Organization of Migration (IOM) estimates that close to “15,000 children aged 12 to 18” live along the area. This data dovetails with a 2006 UNICEF report that stated that one in three girls aged between 12 and 18 – also in the coastal region – engaged in prostitution. Left unspoken in the country’s booming sex trade is its flip side – that Kenya’s coast is also home to the infamous “Beach Boys.” These are young African (Kenyan) men who actively seek to hook up with old white women (and men) who come from Europe specifically for these sexual encounters. Producer Ulrich Seidl’s 2013 movie “Paradise Love” immortalizes (normalizes?) this amorous pairing of old white persons and young African men.

Beyond the obvious depravity of adults engaging in wanton unsafe sex, few care to question why the social mores of Kenya/ns are so stained.

Why are there so few employment opportunities that selling one’s body is NOT thought of as a choice made by an adult, but a choice made of economic necessity?

African leaders traipse to Mike Oliver’s foreign land, tin cup in hand, looking to sell Africa’s natural resources and national sovereignty to foreign governments. If they can do that, why is it wrong for Atieno, Nduta, Njeri, Kilonzo, Rashid, or Korir to throw themselves (along with what’s left of their dignity) at foreigners such as Mike Oliver or Helga Schmidt and, increasingly, Li Quan – in the proverbial “Willing Seller/Willing Buyer” ethos?

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