Association for Africanist Anthropology
Group Flash Presentation Session
Men attempting suicide is a growing concern across Kenya, and specifically so at the county referral hospital in Naivasha, a horticultural town that exports vegetables and flowers internationally. Many of the men admitted are young, unemployed or engaged in low-wage casual work; live alone in poor housing; have little education; and have migrated or come to town in search of well-paying employment. Their admission to and care in the hospitals is often mediated by their families and neighbors, many of whom live in similar circumstances to the men admitted. The reasons given for attempting suicide are characterized by the frustrations they face in trying to make a living, getting and maintaining employment, getting and maintaining relationships with women who make material demands of them, being able to maintain paying of rent and being disappointed by their parents’ refusal to provide money to start business. Many attempt to commit suicide by consuming readily available horticultural herbicides. Drawing on an extended clinical ethnographic study of men’s mental health at the hospital, I examine ideas of masculinity, kinship and care in the context of precarity. I argue that expectations of manhood play a key role in the care provided in the wards by clinical staff and their families, as well as fellow patients, who strategize on how best to be a man in their social relationships, how to cope with the societal pressures, and how to mobilize resources to meet their individual expectations of manhood.