Ushahidi’s sex scandal is a cautionary tale for the new age and the work ahead of all of us

Spilling the beans before taking matters seriously

We cannot be speaking of building inclusive workplaces for women (who bear the brunt of majority of sexual harassment cases) when we are still contending with such rudimentary issues as ensuring that offices are free of harassment. – Angela Kabari, a former capacity development officer with Ushahidi

Just this week, news resurfaced about R&B singer, R.Kelly and his history of abuse against women over whom he has great influence. As a long established, old establishment musician, many of us swiftly dismissed his history of abuse as something that was an intrinsic part of the old school, the structure that our ‘New Age/New School’ establishments are trying to dismantle. We however don’t seem to realize that we have absorbed much of the damaging social culture of the old order and are perpetuating them.

The last place you’d expect to hear of sexual assault, coercion, a cover up and a major sex scandal is Kenyan tech startup Ushahidi, but that was exactly played out over the weekend. Angela Kabari, a former employee of the company set the ball rolling when she put out an article on Medium alleging she had been pressured by the executive director, Daudi Wére, to have sex with a colleague, presumably for his own titillation.

Angela went with it, afraid to lose her job but fall out from the event left Angela in a psychosomatic state. But Angela herself wouldn’t know this yet, two weeks into the happenings of that night Angela falls physically and mentally ill, she seeks the help of both a doctor and a therapist but of course they both can’t succinctly account for all that’s wrong with her, Angela begins working remotely from home, Angela reports the sexual harassment happenings in an official document to the board at Ushahidi, after figuring her sexual harassment case isn’t the first from the same man, Daudi Wére. For details of what happened, see the nitty gritty of the events of that night  in the official statement to the company or Angela’s report on Medium after months of rarefied silence.

After Angela came forward, many women sexually harassed by Daudi Were also spoke out, telling their own stories and why they had chosen to stay silent until now: Were’s superior position in the company, the certainty that they would not be believed without overwhelming evidence, and to avoid something so potentially scandalous that is associated with being a victim of rape. The behavior told by these women varies from inappropriate and/or suggestive text messages to sending of pictures of male genitalia and pornography. In one incident Daudi allegedly exposed his genitals to a woman in the middle of a conversation about her work. After months of soul searching and conversations with these other women, Angela figured she was the only one with a tangible evidence –a voice note– of what had been done by Daudi as well as an employer-employee relationship.

Angela sought legal advice and learnt that, Daudi’s comments qualified as sexual harassment by creating a hostile environment (based on the provisions of Ushahidi’s HR Manual, as well as Kenyan and Florida Law). She was advised to file a court case but that it would be prudent to first give the company an opportunity to address the issue internally as the court should be a last resort. Unfortunately, the other women, who had also been recipients weren’t willing to come forward, excluding one of them on the basis that she be kept anonymous.

it would not be a stretch to call Daudi’s alleged behaviour predatory. Such predation is enabled by a culture of silence and secrecy that encourages victims of harassment to “not make a fuss” or “persevere” or “just ignore him until he gets tired or bored and goes away.” This culture leads many, many victims to not call out predatory behaviour and report it as the violence it actually is. This culture feeds into the victims’ fears that there is no point in speaking out against the harassment they face and leads them to feel like they have no option but to suffer in silence. This must stop! We cannot expect victims of harassment to speak up if they are (rightly) afraid that public opprobrium will follow. – Angela Kabari.

Angela didn’t know she was about to become the poster child for all the negative repercussions that make victims of harassment afraid to speak out. She was shamed, slandered in internal memos, her petition was delayed for 74 days before an official response came from the office Board. Nothing except enthusiastic letter writing was done for the first 60 days. And even the letters from the Board’s counsel seemed to be sent by literal snail mail, an opaque process —Ushahidi kept matters hidden, even to Angela. The Ushahidi board attacked Angela’s character during the inquiry, used her private life as cannon fodder for the argument that she had somehow brought Were’s unsolicited attention upon herself. They went as far as insinuating that since Angela had used the word ‘fuck’ in conversations with Were, she had turned the conversation to sex and thus invited Daudi’s sexual overtures, and finally, the refusal to listen to, let alone address her concerns.

Only after Angela’s independent Medium post went viral did Ushahidi get off their asses, fire Daudi and publish an apology to Angela Kabari.

Helping people raise their voice and those who serve them to listen and respond better. – Ushahidi mission statement.

We don’t know what this will mean for Ushahidi. It has definitely tarnished their reputation in the eyes of their more progressive western investors. We don’t know what will happen to Kabari as well; only time will tell. What we do know is this: If not for the power of the internet, Daudi Were would have gotten away sexually assaulting dozens of women, forcing them to quit tech for more traditional industries, perpetuating the myth that women are not tech inclined. But more importantly, The Ushahidi incident is a stark reminder that as the New Establishments set up their own power structures, they must root out the pernicious rape culture that targets and victimizes women. Otherwise, we might as well not bother.

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Fisayo is a journalist who thinks writing is hard and reading too. But her journey somewhere reveals, words are like pawns on chessboard when writing. She wants to see, create and share with the world, experience & communicate these experiences. Tweet at her @fisvyo

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