Tag Archives: nation: Kenya

Global Attitudes toward Homosexuality

The Pew Research Global Attitudes Project recently released data on attitudes about homosexuality in 39 countries. Generally, those living in the Middle East and Africa were the least accepting, while those in the Americas, Europe, and parts of Asia (the Philippines, Australia, and to a lesser extent Japan) were most accepting:

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Generally, the more religious a country, the less accepting its citizens are of homosexuality:

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The proportion of people who support social acceptance of gays and lesbians ranged from a high of 88% in Spain to a low of 1% in Nigeria:

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Attitudes about homosexuality vary widely by age. There is a pretty consistent global pattern of more positive attitudes among younger people, with a few exceptions:

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Thus far, legalization of same-sex marriage has been largely confined to the Americas and Europe; New Zealand and South Africa are the two outliers:

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The Pew Center points out that of the 15 nations that have fully extended marriage rights to same-sex couples, 8 have done so just since 2010. In the U.S., we’re currently awaiting a Supreme Court’s decision, which should arrive shortly, to know if we’ll be joining the list sooner rather than later.

Thanks to Peter Nardi at Pitzer College for the link!

Gwen Sharp is an associate professor of sociology at Nevada State College. You can follow her on Twitter at @gwensharpnv.

Declining Faith in Hard Work and Capitalism

Cross-posted at Reports from the Economic Front.

The Pew Research Center recently published a report titled “Pervasive Gloom About the World Economy.” The following two charts come from Chapter 4 which is called “The Causalities: Faith in Hard Work and Capitalism.”

The first suggests that the belief that hard work pays off remains strong in only a few countries: Pakistan (81%), the U.S. (77%), Tunisia (73%), Brazil (69%), India (67%) and Mexico (65%). The low scores in China, Germany, and Japan are worth noting. This is not to say that people everywhere are not working hard, just that many no longer believe there is a strong connection between their effort and outcome.

The second chart highlights the fact that growing numbers of people are losing faith in free market capitalism.  Despite mainstream claims that “there is no alternative,” a high percentage of people in many countries do not believe that the free market system makes people better off.

GlobeScan polled more than 12,000 adults across 23 countries about their attitudes towards economic inequality and, as the chart below reveals, the results were remarkably similar to those highlighted above.  In fact, as GlobeScan noted, “In 12 countries over 50% of people said they did not believe that the rich deserved their wealth.

It certainly seems that large numbers of people in many different countries are open to new ways of organizing economic activity.

Martin Hart-Landsberg is a professor of economics at Lewis and Clark College. You can follow him at Reports from the Economic Front.

Erasing the City of Nairobi

Cross-posted at Scientopia.

Sadie M. sent in an example of the reproduction of the idea that “Africa” is an arid, desolate place where nature still dominates civilization.  The snapshot Sadie sent in was of Nairobi.  Nairobi is the 12th largest city on the continent of Africa with a population of over 3 million in the city and its surrounding suburbs.  It is the capital of Kenya and an economic, political, and financial hub in the region.

This is Nairobi on Google maps:

This is what comes up if you Google image Nairobi:

Nairobi is also not a desert plain.  The name, in Maasai, translates into “the place of cool waters” and it is popularly known as “Green City in the Sun” (wikipedia).

Despite all of this, Sadie’s snapshot shows that an in flight magazine depicted Nairobi as a savanna full of elephants and bereft of people.  The other two destinations featured – New York and Sydney — are pictured as they are.

So there we have it: Another piece of advertising erasing the bustling, successful economies of Africa, and instead reproducing the idea that the entire continent is an uncivilized desert full of exotic animals.

See also: How Not to Write about Africa and The Single Story of “Africa.”

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

My Maasai Life: Romanticizing Kenya

Recently Lisa posted a video listing suggestions for how not to write about Africa, pointing out the ubiquity of a number of stereotypes and tropes used in novels or memoirs set in African countries.

That video came to mind when I saw this one about the book My Maasai Life, written by Robin Wiszowaty (and sent in by Randy McL.):

So she goes to Kenya to experience “simple life” to help her deal with the angst she felt in the U.S. You have the romanticization of the Maasai: they laugh openly! Judgment doesn’t exist!

She recalls asking herself, “How did I end up here?” How did you end up there? Um, you intentionally decided to go there to get away from everything you know, presumably with the money to do so. And in that simple place where happiness and tolerance reign, and people laugh openly, you figured out who you are.

I know I’m being snarky. Yes, she did some volunteer work, and from the video it looks like she worked in some schools. Certainly those benefited some specific people, regardless of what I think about her attitude. But you can help some individuals while still perpetuating stereotypes that may be harmful to groups of people in the long-run.

And this is another example of the limited number of perspectives authors tend to take when writing about African countries/people. Either it’s a desolate, violent, hopeless place filled with human misery, or it’s the home of happy, smiling, tolerant people (or “tribesmen”) who, through their simple lifestyles, show all of us in developed countries how much better things would be if only we could follow their example, except with clean water, and also TV.

Modern Goldmining

American school children learn all about the U.S. gold rush in the Western part of the country. Goldmining was a speculative, but potentially highly rewarding endeavor and attracted, almost exclusively, adult men. But the entrepreneurship of gold mining (though not mining as wage work) is long gone in the U.S.  Still, gold is in high demand:  “The price of gold, which stood at $271 an ounce on September 10, 2001, hit $1,023 in March 2008, and it may surpass that threshold again” (source).  Who are the gold entrepreneurs today?  Where?  Under what economic conditions do they work?  And with what environmental impact?

I found hints to answers in a recent Boston.com slide show and a National Geographic article (thanks to Allison for her tip in the comments).  While there is still some gold mining in the U.S., there is gold mining, also, in developing countries and all kinds of people participate:

According to the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), there are between 10 million and 15 million so-called artisanal miners around the world, from Mongolia to Brazil. Employing crude methods that have hardly changed in centuries, they produce about 25 percent of the world’s gold and support a total of 100 million people…

Environmentally, gold is especially destructive.  The ratio of gold to earth moved is larger than in any other mining endeavor.

It makes me rethink whether I really want to buy gold (because, you know, I do that constantly, darling, constantly).  In fact, jewelry accounts for two-thirds of the demand.  In the comments, HP reminds me:

Gold (along with even more problematic metals) is found in pretty much all consumer electronics. It’s in your computer, your cellphone, your .mp3 player, your TV/stereo, etc. You’re buying gold all the time already, whether you know it or not.

Below are images of gold prospecting around the world.

Near Lodwar, Kenyan children mine for gold to help support their families:

In Colombia, about 8,000 prospectors seek gold illegally on the Dagau river:

Miners in Abangares, Costa Rica, scrape tiny amounts of gold out of abandoned mines; the work is dangerous and potentially toxic:

An illegal gold mine in a national park, Paral, Brazil:

This woman, in Indonesia, is collecting mud to sift for gold:

Also in Indonesia, this illegal mine is opposed by villagers who argue that the waste is polluting:

Mining in Myanmar:

UPDATE! A reader, Heather Leila, linked to a picture she took of gold prospecting in Suriname (at her own blog).  She writes:

The gold mines aren’t what you are thinking. They aren’t underground, you don’t carry a pick axe and a helmet. The garimpos are where the miners have dammed a creek and created large mud pits. The mud is pumped through a long pipe lined with mercury. The mercury attaches itself to the specks of gold and gets filtered out as the mud is poured into a different pit. The mercury is then burned off, while the gold remains. This is how it was explained to me. From the plane, they are exposed patches of yellow earth dotting the endless forest.

See also our posts on post-oil boom life and gorgeous photos of resource extraction by Edward Burtynsky.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Representing “Africa”

Aaron B. sent us a link to a fashion spread called Out of Africa at the Daily Mail featuring individuals from, the accompanying text specifies, “the Surma and Mursi tribes of East Africa’s Omo Valley.”  Please scroll through the images and see the commentary below (as well Aaron’s own illluminating interpretation at his blog).

First, notice how the individuals in the images are supposed to represent “Africa.”  Africa, of course, is an immense continent with dozens of countries and hundreds of cultures.  But here a couple “tribes” are supposed to represent all of Africa.  And those tribes are notably primitive.  Anne McClintock* coined the excellent term “anachronistic space” to describe the bizarre way in which we tend to imagine (mostly subconsciously) that, as we go from the U.S. to Africa, we are going back in time and visiting our own primitive selves.

Second, Aaron notes how the author of the accompanying text seems “struck by the strange paradox of Africans having fashion.”  Because fashion is a modern thing, of course, and these are just primitives.  Here is some of the text:

With colourful make-up of bright yellows, startling whites and rich earth-reds, flamboyant accessories and extraordinarily elaborate decorations, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the designs in these images originated in the fevered mind of some leading fashionista.

Yet far from the catwalks of New York, London or Paris, these looks are the sole creation of the Surma and Mursi tribes of East Africa’s Omo Valley.

Inspired by the wild trees, exotic flowers and lush vegetation of the area bordering Ethiopia, Kenya and Sudan, these tribal people have created looks that put the most outlandish creations of Western catwalk couturiers to shame.

As they paint each other’s bodies and make bold decisions about their outfits (all without the aid of mirrors), it seems that the only thing that motivates them is the sheer fun of creating their looks, and showing them off to other members of the tribe.

Notice the way that the author exoticizes them with references to color, a natural frivolity, and the use of words like “fevered,” “outlandish,” “wild,” and “exotic” (exotic to who?).   They are motivated by “sheer fun.”  And aren’t we delighted?

Some more questions to consider:

What does it mean that people in the U.K. (and the U.S.) are consuming these images?  What is the relationship between these images and colonialism?  These images and the historical emergence of the idea of race?  These images and the continued re-inscription of race as a social construction?

Anyway, how often do you see non-models in fashion shoots?  What is the reason for presenting them as “authentic”?  What kind of authenticity are they going for?

What are the consequences of portraying “Africa” this way?  How do such images interact with “development” rhetoric about how Africa is un- or under-developed, developing, or undevelopable?

Who benefitted from this photo shoot?   Did the individuals get paid?  How much?

* REFERENCE: Imperial Leather: Race, Gender and Sexuality in the Colonial Context by Anne McClintock (London: Routledge, 1995).

Kenya’s Carnage


As if the world needed another battleground, peaceful Kenya slipped into a civil war as post-election demonstrations turned to riots, and riots to rampages. Kenya’s December 27th elections could have ended as a model for party transition, but instead it became the worst possible scenario.

EU observers agreed the vote processes were flawed and results were denounced as rigged by the main opposition party. Protesters were shot by police leading to rioting and repeated demonstrations. Hundreds of thousands of Kenyans fled their homes and hundreds lie dead as the conflict became an ethnically charged civil war.

Two years ago I had the good fortune of spending four days in Kenya. To my amazement Nairobi’ downtown felt like a Midwestern city: orderly, friendly, uncongested, clean, and mostly absent of beggars. But Nairobi has over three million people, a half million of which live in Africa’s largest slum.

Poverty in many rural villages was evident, but the Kenyan people, especially the women, work very hard. In the first photo is a typical rural scene where the women do back breaking work in the fields.

During our brief stay the papers headlined several major political events: President Kibaki, who is still the uncompromising president, fired his entire cabinet. The next day he suspended all of parliament. On the third day, major public demonstrations took place in the streets by the opposition party calling for new presidential elections.

I watched these demonstrations on the streets of Nairobi and felt the tension and anger. The demonstrations, however, ended without incident. But apparently it has not been uncommon for people to die in Nairobi demonstrations.

I took the 2nd photograph of the demonstrations in the central city. Notice that it could pass for football game day in a small US city.

What can sociology add to help us understand Kenya’s tragic, unfolding story? Here are three perspectives that may help:

Social Class Perspective: The images we are given by the American network media are suggestive of warring savages. In fact, the riots and ethnic strife are phenomena of the poverty class, not the wealthy and middle classes, although the leaders of both warring factions are wealthy politicians. Sharp inequality and festering poverty lay beneath the surface of this formerly peaceful country.

Historical Conflict Perspective: The British spent decades trying to keep the Luo and Kikuyu divided to preserve colonial order. (Now these are the two major warring ethnic groups.) During the decolonization process the British drew electoral boundaries to cut the representation of groups they thought might cause trouble. This only fanned the flames of tension among these groups. In the past few years tribal factions fighting over cattle rights in the Rift Valley have left over 100,000 refugees. These conditions helped ignite recent spontaneous rioting, looting and killing.

Race/Ethnicity Perspective: Both sides of the conflict are accusing the other of genocide, and both may be right. It will take months if not years to assess the horrendous damage. Ethnic hatreds run deep and prolonged, but the first cause of this war was political. It was the common practice of rigging elections followed by a refusal of the President to negotiate a coalition government.

What other sociological perspectives help to explain what is happening in Kenya and what might happen in the future?