GRIM DETAILS

Ushahidi’s sexual harassment victim has gone public and revealed damning details of her ordeal

Quartz africa
Quartz africa

Angela Kabari, a former capacity development officer with Ushahidi, has come forward and identified herself as the former employee at the center of the sexual harassment case that has shaken up the Kenyan software company and wider tech community in recent weeks. In a long Medium post, Kabari also named the respondent in the case as the Ushahidi senior executive that was suspended last week.

Ushahidi has so far declined to confirm the identity of the suspended executive and no formal legal charges have been filed.

Kabari said the senior colleague verbally asked her to have sex with another colleague while on a retreat in January, presumably, she wrote “for his own titillation.” Kabari said that she had heard stories from eleven other women who had similar unpleasant encounters with the same person, showing that he had “years’ long, widely-known reputation for sexually inappropriate conduct, socially and at work.” These women narrated incidents where he had allegedly exposed his genitalia, sent inappropriate or suggestive text messages, or pornographic pictures.

“Viewed against this grim picture, I feel as if I got off light,” Kabari wrote. “And in the larger spectrum of harassment that encompassed physical assault and even assault, it is easy to dismiss what happened to me as trivial. Except that it is not.”

Kabari’s statement provides links to the Ushahidi inquiry report and an audio transcript of the conversation between both parties at the Aberdare Country Club.

Kabari’s statement is damning for the leading technology company, which was built on the ethos of social activism and public transparency. Since it was founded in 2008, Ushahidi, which means “testimony” in Swahili, has attracted admiration for changing the way information is collated and shared during emergencies. Its award-winning crisis-mapping platform has also been used all over the world from Africa to the Balkans, to the United States, and Latin America. The non-profit also won awards for its innovations, and received millions of dollars in grants and investment from firms like Omidyar Network and the MacArthur Foundation.

When the allegations surfaced online in early July, they were received with a mix of shock, caution, and anger among the users of social media networks in Kenya. The allegations of sexual harassment also presented a cautionary tale for what can go wrong in Kenya’s budding tech industry, otherwise known as the Silicon Savannah. Kabari’s allegations also raised questions about how women were treated in Kenya’s start-up sector—and even whether Ushahidi could recover from such a stumble. On July 11, Ory Okolloh, one of Ushahidi’s original founders and who left the company in 2010, put out a piece noting the idea that individuals or organizations were “too big to fail” was “wrong.”

Kabari also said that she was disappointed by the actions and inactions of the board members, who censured her for seeking legal help, attacked her character, and only seemed to act after public pressure was mounted on them through WhatsApp groups, blogs, and media outlets. At least three member of the board, she said, had known for quite some time about the senior colleague’s “alleged penchant for harassing women.” She also said that none of the board members got in touch with her during this time to inquire about her well-being.

In her post, Kabari also called out the board members for not being forthright about those who have left or stayed. The board currently consists of three of its original founders—Erik Hersman, David Kobia and Juliana Rotich—and independent Stanford University’s Jenny Stefanotti.

Kabari’s statement also notes that Hersman “indirectly corroborated” the accused’s events of the night in question. She says he insisted he was looking for a lost earpiece and that Erik and the Aberdare stuff were helping him look for it. The audio transcript shows otherwise, and Kabari says that Hersman had already gone to bed by then. Kabari had pulled out her phone in order to turn on the torch and look for the earpiece, and started recording as a way to make him listen to his “drunk” voice the next morning.

“Even if Erik had been awake, the fact that he was called upon as [an] “alibi” should have clearly demonstrated his lack of independence,” Kabari wrote. “One cannot be a witness and judge in the same case!”

Since the story came out, Ushahidi has tried to contain the fallout by first saying it was investigating the claims and taking the matter “seriously.” Then, on July 17, it released a statement outlining the chronology of how the events transpired since it first took place in January. But Kabari says the process was “poorly managed” and only continued to deepen the culture of silence and secrecy that surrounds sexual harassment. In order to avoid the accused senior colleague, Kabari says that she took leave from late February until mid-March, and afterwards worked remotely and only came to work thrice a month.

Kabari said she hopes her case will help push companies to evaluate their sexual harassment procedures, and help support victims. “It is my hope that, my story shall prompt a change in company policies, both in the Kenyan tech space and in in other fields,” she said.

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