On Monday, Aug. 30, 2021, Yves de Mbella—a renowned host on a local Ivorian TV channel—presented a self-confessed repentant rapist on his TV show. The man, Traoré Kader said that he had recently just been released from prison for his crimes. Yves de Mbella then pointed him to a mannequin that was brought on stage and asked him to demonstrate some of the ways he used to rape women.
Amid lighthearted jokes and banter, Kader presented his techniques for a “successful rape” with the host interjecting to ask if some of his victims enjoyed it and the duo offering women advice on how to avoid getting raped. The inert, voiceless mannequin is a harsh metaphor for what it means to be a rape survivor in Côte d’Ivoire – silenced, ridiculed, trivialized.
“I wasn’t really shocked, because I see it all the time. We are immersed in rape culture,” said Bintou Traoré, the communication lead at Women’s Rights League, in an interview with France 24 (link in French).
Many who watched the show that aired on NCI were outraged. Online, journalists, and other collaborators of the TV channel began to dissociate themselves from the show and the host. Feminists called for an apology and reported the incident to the authority for audiovisual communication in the country – HACA. An online petition calling for the show to be canceled amassed more than 10,000 signatures within a few hours. Artists, religious leaders, and the minister of women denounced the show.
On facebook, a prominent catholic priest, Abbé Abekan Norbert-Eric wrote, “Rape is an extremely sensitive subject that should be approached seriously, especially on a television channel. To approach it lightly is to show contempt for the victims.”
I wasn’t really shocked, because I see it all the time.
While it is very problematic that the TV host and a whole production team behind him thought it was perfectly in order to air such a show, what is most interesting is understanding the larger societal dynamics that foster rape culture in the country and the ways that survivors, feminists, and allies are trying to change the status quo.
A history of victim shaming and normalization of sexual violence against women
In Côte d’Ivoire, popular culture is accused of trivializing sexual assault and domestic violence. Musicians and comedians approach the theme as something laughable or to be joked about and even boasted about, as evidenced by the hit Jahin poto by Mix Premier and Kiff no beat that has over 7.3 million views on Youtube. Some of the lyrics loosely paraphrased and translated state, “Don’t think I’m a fool anymore. Open your legs to me…My dear I don’t like fighting but if you don’t open up your vagina, I will kick it open.”
Even after the backlash from the TV show, an Ivorian comic influencer—DJ Tik Tok—made a joke mocking women from a certain part of the country stating that they cannot be victims of rape, “These are the things that make me laugh. How dare Guéré girls [an ethnic group] dare to speak about the Yves de Mbella scandal. When we rape you, you even change your position.”
Victims are blamed for their recklessness, or blamed for being immoral. For example, In April 2021, Zadi Israel, a serial rapist, was arrested in Abidjan. His last known crime was the rape and murder of a young ivorian woman named Sarah Gandon. The man who had been imprisoned in 2018 for allegedly raping and killing other women, had gotten off scot-free after his family paid a bribe for his release. Online reactions to the crime mostly focused on giving advice to women on how to avoid being “reckless” and therefore getting raped. There seems to be minimal sympathy for survivors, mostly blame and perpetrators generally come out unscathed.
A post on a public Ivorian facebook page states, “Why don’t girls take precautions given these stories are widespread? Why agree to go to a first meeting in an apartment ?” Sadly, these are some of the more sympathetic reactions that come out after such incidents take place.
A recent study by CPDEFM, an NGO that campaigns for the rights of children, women, and minorities, found that 416 women were killed in Abidjan from 2019 to 2020. Another study revealed that in June of this year, 1,121 women had been raped in Abidjan.
Since the airing of the show, several women have come together online to share their painful experiences and condemn rape culture in the society under #jesuisunevictime—a hashtag which preceded this incident, unfortunately.
“I strongly condemn these despicable acts and these words of the guest and the host, which undermine the efforts of the government, NGOs, and other anonymous actors working on policies to eradicate this scourge,” wrote Nassénéba Touré, the minister of women, family, and children in a facebook post.
Ivorian legislation around rape—similar to many other countries on the continent, is strong on paper but very weak when it comes to implementation. Anyone guilty of rape faces a penalty ranging from 5 years to 20 years’ imprisonment, or even life imprisonment depending on the case and the seriousness of the offence.
Stigma prevents many women from reporting the crime and with incidences such as these, it’s not surprising that they fear they will not get the intended results or support for them to revictimize themselves by sharing what happened. Costs are also prohibitive with a $100 medical certificate required to confirm one was raped – a cost that most families cannot afford.
The aftermath of the backlash against the TV show
The show host has since been dismissed, the channel has issued an apology and the self-confessed rapist has claimed he was an actor hired for the story. Both men have been fined—$3,600 for the host and $900 for the guest—and they are facing prison time.
Feminist activists hope that the outcry of that episode will contribute to a real awareness of the definition of rape, and better support for survivors.
A lot needs to be done. With rape being such an underreported crime, society needs to first change in ways that will keep survivors from being revictimized when they choose to report. Women need to know that they can be believed, that their perpetrators will face justice and they will be protected by society but also by the legal system. As it stands, none of these are assured.
According to a 2016 UN report on rape and its repression, one of the major causes of survivors not seeking justice in Côte d’Ivoire is amicable settlements. Stigma ensures that families prioritize protecting the reputation of the woman and her family than seeking justice and retribution. They want to forget the scandal. Some want to wait for God’s justice. Others hope to one day forgive.
Even with the recent case of Yves de Mbella, some few influencers and social media professionals have called out for the love of one’s neighbor, tolerance, forgiveness of human error, highlighting his impressive 30 years of experience in the industry. It could be said that he is getting more sympathy from some than many survivors get.
This is why the actions of feminists, survivors, women, and allies in calling out rape culture and fighting for the rights of survivors is extremely important.
The West had its #MeToo. But in Africa, we have #wearetired, when women in Northern Nigeria protested against sexual violence, #shutitalldown in Namibia when women protested against the rise in femicide, #balancetonporc in Francophone countries, #uyinene #justiceforsharon and #justiceforUwa when South Africans, Kenyans, and Nigerians refused to remain silent about heinous senseless crimes. We also have #wearthatmini in Uganda, #FreeAdjiSarr & T’étais habillée comment? (how were you dressed?) in Senegal and #mydressmychoice in Kenya.
Together, these movements lend each other momentum, by giving those who fight injustice the ability to know that there are others too who see their plight, share it in their own painful unique ways, and stand up alongside them.
Ivorian feminist activists stand strong in demonstrating that as long as rape cuture persists in Côte d’Ivoire, they will keep fighting it.
Sign up to the Quartz Africa Weekly Brief here for news and analysis on African business, tech, and innovation in your inbox.