Over the past few years, there have been numerous reports of violence in campus relationships – with many cases making headlines when one partner has killed of gravely harmed another.
Other issues that have seemingly become the norm in campus are infidelity and cross-generational relationships.
Unlike previous times when having a sugar daddies was largely frowned upon, young people are now openly looking for “sponsors”, not caring if these moneyed partners have similar relationships with other people.
To the vast majority of Kenyans, such relationships are most unsuitable. So, do they stay?
eDaily sought an expert’s explanation of the worrying phenomenon, and Dr Ken Ouko, a sociologist and lecturer at the University of Nairobi attributes the change in collective behaviour to the empowerment of the girl child.
“The Kenyan male is under threat from his female counterpart – whether it is in marriage, relationships or at work. Most of the time women have come out as very strong in Kenya. The Kenyan woman is evolving way faster than the Kenyan man,” he explained.
“When you talk about relationships, the tables have turned; women are in control – right from the basics of dating to the basics of marriage. And the Kenyan woman is very assertive; that was not the case a few years back; almost a decade ago it was unheard of for a Kenyan woman to say: ‘I wear the pants in this house’, but today they do it confidently,” Dr Ouko said.
This assertiveness has put the girls a step ahead of their male counterparts, prompting them to seek older partners.
“Young girls in universities look at the boys, evaluate them and most of the time they do not end up with their university colleagues. They go out there, get what they want and come back in the university premises with nice phones and nice outfits and everything done and they intimidate the boys,” he further explained.
Dr Ouko says the young university man in the relationship will feel privileged to date such a woman because she “is already a class above him.”
He adds that so long as the girl brings in some money with her, wears the most expensive of clothes and drives the sleekest of cars that can be owned by a university student, the university partner looks the other way.
“One of the strangest phenomena I found out when we were researching on dual age relationships is that the younger girls are able to bring the high and mighty in Kenya to their knees. So the girls have the power to control men (both male college students and elderly financers) right from the time they are in first, second year in university,” Dr Ouko explained.
“And when you go to the airport in some of the weekends, you’ll find them (girls) flying off with these guys (sponsors); their male colleagues at that age probably have not even seen a plane nearby,” said the seasoned sociologist.
However, the university men who cannot cope with these “sponsored girlfriends” often seek for an alternative – the easiest being engaging in intimacies with sugar mummies.
“Men are socialised from childhood to be the masculine representation of toughness and you are the one who is supposed to be in control. So they feel like they need to assert themselves and that is why there is this new phenomenon of the boys in campus hanging out with older women. You will find them in apartments and you will find them driving big cars and you wonder what’s going on. Most of the times they don’t care who else the sugar mummy sleeps with,” says Dr Ouko.
“The guy will maintain a campus relationship for show… So the guys are trying to maintain that masculine posture for being the man which is an extremely difficult thing to do in society today because there is so much expected out of him,” he explains.
Dr Ouko says the young man would not mind being physically, emotionally or sexually violated by the elderly woman – so long as he is getting financial support to maintain the royal show.
Dr Ouko adds stigma too contributes to a young man staying rooted in an exploitive relationship.
“The Kenyan female has done a lot of things to improve her status, and the man has remained almost stagnant because he is still conforming to that traditional setting for being a man. So, in the long run the guys stays put in that relationship because if you were to run away, there is stigma, shame, embarrassment and the sense of failure – people who say you can’t even live with a wife,” says Dr Ouko.
However, Apolinaris Wafula Wafubwa, a second year Bachelor of Political Science student at the UoN says young men stay rooted in abusive relationships because of love and not necessarily stigma.
“Love creates emotional bond between people. Regardless of the infighting and confusion, people still stick together hoping they would soon iron out their differences; and when one wants to pull out of the relationship, the other one finds it difficult to live with that reality because she has invested her time, money, resources and wouldn’t allow another person to take over all that; hence she resorts to killing the partner,” said Mr Wafubwa.
Maendeleo ya Wanaume Chairman Nderitu Njoka advises young men who suffer abuse in relationships to report the cases when they happen instead of keeping mum and staying put.
“Men in abusive relationships should speak out. They should tell their friends, relatives, associations; et al. Women only take advantage when a man is silent. If you are abused and remain silent about it, they will continue abusing you; at the end of the day, they will chop off your private parts,” says Njoka.