Everyone in Nairobi knows the irregular and bright smile of Adelle Onyango. It is displayed all over the Kenyan capital, on huge billboards. The 34-year-old entrepreneur is a celebrity that brands fight over: her podcast, “Legally Clueless,” is Kenya's best-known, amassing five million plays in total. A program launched in 2019, which has become a reference for human rights activists.
It is this notoriety that earned the young woman to be invited in October 2021 to the Africa-France summit in Montpellier, where she caused a sensation alongside Emmanuel Macron. "On the one hand, there is a France entangled at home in a social crisis around racism and, on the other hand, a France which allows itself to give us lessons in democracy", she had struck at the president of the Republic visibly irritated. The projection had had its effect.
Passed by several national radio stations, the 30-year-old has long presented the morning show of Kiss FM, the largest English-language station in Kenya. A rich and frustrating experience. "I couldn't talk about what was close to my heart, I always had to step into a character," recalls the one who was selected as one of the BBC's 100 Women in 2017.
Raped at 18
In her podcast, on the contrary, she discusses personal, intimate, and often taboo subjects "that you don't hear on other traditional media". Each of the 212 episodes begins with the same catchphrase: "I have no idea what I'm doing, but I'm sure I'm not the only one. "Last week, says the producer, I was doing an episode on female infertility with a Zimbabwean guest, the previous time it was on anxiety and fear of failure in men".
For both her listeners and her, "Legally Clueless" often serves as therapy. At the age of 18, Adelle Onyango was raped outside a nightclub in downtown Nairobi. Telling his experience loud and clear will have been a liberation.
According to the latest national survey, 47% of young Kenyan women (15-49 years old) have experienced physical or sexual violence. And yet, many of these assaults remain unknown. Fear, and sometimes the feeling of shame, prevents victims from reporting the facts to the police.
"What Adelle has done is show the way to a whole generation of young women," says Rachel Ombaka, a Kenyan journalist who has undergone group therapy offered by Adelle Onyango's foundation. Before her, no one had done it. Today, she freed the floor. »
Her "Safe 24/7" initiative organizes group sessions to provide psychological support to survivors of sexual violence from poor neighborhoods in the Kenyan capital. Several times a year, it brings together around twenty women, in particular from Nairobi's largest slum, Kibera.
The Kenyan state is singled out for its passivity in the fight against sexual and gender-based violence. "I promote group therapy in my podcast to get funding from people online," says Adelle Onyango. Indeed, no public body supports his initiative. "She has to organize everything on her own, the government is not doing anything to help her!" “, annoys Rachel Ombaka.
The young entrepreneur also wanted to leave a written record. She turned it into a book: Our Broken Silence, published in 2020 and co-written by Lanji Ouko-Awori. The book tells the story of decades of sexual assault across East Africa. It collects testimonies and diaries written by survivors, nurses, doctors, lawyers, judges... "As there are several accounts of queer individuals, the booksellers were afraid to publicize them", laughs- she rolled her eyes.