Behind the Mask LGBT African website
June 24, 1998
Homosexuality takes root in Kenya
While sex between men is accepted in few societies, over the past 20 years there has been increasing awareness that it occurs all over the world. Only in sub-Saharan Africa do we still have widespread denial among the authorities that men have sex with other men. However, with increased willingness by researchers to investigate the issue and the emergence of small gay-identified organisations, the subject is gradually coming under scrutiny across the continent. The following report by Wanjira Kiama opens a window on to the lives of Kenyan men who have sex with other men.
What comes across most clearly is the fact that for many of those interviewed the ultimate goal is a strong emotional relationship – love – with another man and that sexual activity is a means of both expressing and searching for that love. This is not to deny that many sexual acts between men in Kenya and elsewhere are no more than a desire for physical relief, but at least partially explains why the desire many men have for other men is so powerful that it overcomes even the strongest taboos. Several points should be noted.
First, the fact that the men interviewed live in Mombasa and Nairobi does not mean that sexual activity between men only takes place in these cities; as in every country, the relative anonymity provided by cities allows greater opportunity for sex between men but men who have, or wish to have, sex with men, are to be found across Kenya and across Africa.
Secondly, the men Kiama interviews are relatively open about their sexual activity and many of them have obviously thought carefully about the conflict between their desires and prevailing Kenyan customs. Others, who are less open about their sexual activity with men, with others or with themselves, are likely to describe their situations differently.
Thirdly, while Kiama’s suggestion that sex between men is more tolerated in Mombasa because of Arabic influence may be true, the activity itself occurs irrespective of cultural or tribal influence.
Finally, it should be noted that because some speakers confuse sexual activity and sexual identity, words such as "homosexual" and "gay" are sometimes used differently here.
Kenya’s first President Jomo Kenyatta, once claimed that there is no African word for homosexuality. This proves, he argues, that homosexuality is foreign and totally unAfrican. According to President Moi, "Kenya has no room or time for homosexuals and lesbians. Homosexuality is against African norms and traditions, and even in religion it is considered a great sin". Kenyatta’s and Moi’s opinions reflect a disapproval of men who have sex with men that runs broad and deep in Kenyan society. Typical is the attitude of Michael Kariuki, 37, an accountant with a non- governmental HIV/Aids organisation. "Homosexuals are a menace to society. They should not only be jailed, but the key to the lock should be thrown away."
When asked what he would do if he learned that his son was homosexual, his anger rises: "I would disown him before I cause him grievous harm. I would rather sire a cow than a homosexual. With a cow you get milk, but what possible good or value would come out of a homosexual?" In Mombasa, on the Coast, there is greater acknowledgement of homosexuality, but no more acceptance. Men who are believed to have sex with men are despised, ridiculed, harassed and sometimes beaten and during political campaigns – emotionally charged periods when people commonly express deep-seated fears and hatred – often threatened with lynching. Children shout shoga (male prostitute) at them on the streets.
This hostility towards men who have sex with men reflects generally conservative attitudes in the Kenyan society towards all aspects of sexual behaviour. Despite one of the severest HIV/Aids epidemics in the world, Government officials have removed from the school curriculum any subject, topic or learning material that touches on sex education – including Family Life, a booklet published by the American Girl Guides Association. In August 1995 the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Nairobi joined hands with the Imam of Jamia Mosque in Nairobi as they led their faithful in the burning of condoms and sex education books in Nairobi.
June 24, 1998
The "Myth" of Homosexuality in Kenya Society
Paul, 39, a technician at the University of Nairobi, married with three children, gets almost hysterical with laughter when asked whether he knows any homosexual people. "What would I be doing with homosexuals? Don’t I look man enough?" he bellows. Yet, within walking distance from the university, in a building open to the public, young men who openly refer to themselves as gay meet on a regular basis to socialise, a few even coming in for the sundowner (a drink at the end of the day) wearing make-up and jewellery. While men, such as Eddy, Ivan and Jack are "obvious", others are more discreet. There is 42-year-old Odongo, for example, a petrol attendant who grew up in Kisumu and pays for male partners. His family forced him to marry but he has no intimacy with his wife, who still resides in Kisumu.
Or Jared, 55, who works as a casino manager and owns a in house in a posh Nairobi suburb. Jared has been married three times and has a six-year-old daughter. Each of his wives left after finding out that their marriage was just a front. Jared goes to church every Sunday "to pray for my sin" but is unable to abandon his lifestyle. He keeps framed love letters in his house and treats his male guests to sex videos for entertainment.
Amin, 54, is a primary school headmaster who leads two lives – one in public during the day, the other in the evening in the backstreets of Nairobi. He chews miraa (a herbal intoxicant) in a bar and restaurant where he can drink, eat and pick up a young man whom he will take to a more private facility where he can hire a room for sex before going home to sleep. His relationships are with young men in their twenties, who he assists financially.
Peter, a 50-year-old property developer and "social animal", once married and now divorced, is seen frequently at social functions with different young women. When the party is over, he drops the girls home, then takes up his male relationships in private. Statistics on men who have sex with men can be difficult to find, but the men themselves are to be found across the nation. Kisumu, for example, has a reputation for homosexual activity, with men such as gardeners, cooks, hotel, shop and golf attendants, having relationships with their – usually older – employers. Money rather than desire appears to be the motive for many of the younger men, while the older men have the wealth to cover their lifestyle from general public scrutiny.
Perhaps not surprisingly, it is in Nairobi where men who have sex with other men are easiest to find, although not everyone is aware of this. Men who have sex with men are perhaps more accepted at the Coast, where the Arabic past heavily influences the Swahili culture. Not only is there is a Swahili word for homosexuality (msenge), but there are cases of marriages between men. Twenty- three-year-old Hassan, for example, has been married three times, each time complete with dowry and wedding rings.
Hassan appears feminine, pouting his lips and covering his face when laughing.
When walking, he swings delicately while holding his kanzu (robe) under his arm – much in the same manner as Arabic women carry themselves. He wishes his marriages had been legal, so that he could claim his rights from the husbands who have abandoned him.
He believes that one in particular, who left him when he (the husband) was forced by his parents to take a wife, will come back to him. "I used to cook for this man, make his bed, and be there for him. Yet he left me," Hassan says sadly. As older women, known as mkungus, educate young girls in the duties of marriage, on the Kenyan coast young homosexual men learn from male mkungus.
Ahmed, 36, who lives in Mombasa, learnt bedroom tactics from a mkungu, as well as how to groom himself, to look out for disease and to keep his man happy by being a good cook. The training, which is both theoretical and practical – including sexual – lasts a month. At the end of the "course", the younger man gives the mkungu special cloth and kitchen utensils as payment. Ahmed is now a mkungu himself, advising what perfume to sprinkle on one’s body to please the "husband" and demonstrating how to wear the special khanga (flowered cloth) in the house. "You must be clean and smell nice to your husband all the time," he tells his recruits.
For eight years, Karim, 30, who also lives in Mombasa, has maintained a relationship with a 40-year-old man married to his cousin. Five years ago, the cousin caught them in bed. To hush things up, Karim was asked to marry his lover’s 16-year-old adopted daughter. From Karim’s point of view, it was a good arrangement, as it offered him both the respectability of a wife and continued access to his lover, now his father-in-law. With no experience with girls, Karim forced himself on his wedding night to provide his relatives with the evidence that he had broken his wife’s virginity. He now has a five-year- old daughter and does not want another child. Two evenings a week he and his lover hire a hotel room, where they spend several hours before each returns to his wife. At the travel agency where he works, Karim’s colleagues know that he is gay. The women are friendly, but some men despise him while others approach him in private. Karim believes that most men in Mombasa enjoy sex with other men and rejects the theory that homosexuality was brought by tourists.
Fazal, 30, a mechanical engineer with an 18-year-old lover, agrees. Now he is faithful to his partner, but as a teenager he had several experiences with fellow boys. "Many men in Mombasa try out homosexuality in their youth," he says.
Abdul, also 30, is a successful businessman who travels frequently to the Gulf. He was a virgin when his parents found a wife for him, as is the tradition, and they have a two-year-old daughter. Meanwhile, Abdul has been in a loving relationship with another man his own age for the past three years. They have a small flat in which they meet regularly and where Abdul does all the housework. In his own house, where his wife and sisters prepare and serve his food, the roles are reversed.
Rocky, 23, is a tall young man from western Kenya who was brought up in Mombasa. He is a student of languages and hopes to become a tour guide. When he was younger, a neighbour his father’s age introduced him to homosexual activity. Their affair lasted three years. For the moment, Rocky does not have a stable relationship. "Marriage is not an option for me," he says. "God made me and understands me. I don’t think what I do is a sin."
Most men who have sex with men in Kenya keep their activities so secret they will not admit it to close friends or family members. As a result, the pressures of a double life get to many men. On the one hand, Abdul appears to adore his male lover of the last three years, but at the same time he says that now he has a one-year son he is tired of "playing around with the woman". He would like to begin a new life and stop his homosexual relationship. "I don’t want my son to get to know that I am a homosexual, and for him to be ashamed of me," he says. "I think that Allah will come to punish me." Fazal, with an 18-year-old-lover, prays that one day "I will see the light and stop this sin". His parents want to arrange a wedding for him, although he would rather get a wife on his own. "With time things change, and I might get used to a heterosexual relationship," he says. He would like to move to Dubai, where he could live anonymously. "There I would not have to deal with the heartache of being despised and children calling one in the street msenge."
Others, such as Eric believe that it is society rather than homosexual men who should change. But few would go so far as in Zimbabwe and Botswana or Europe and north America, where organisations of gay men have been established. In the 1960s, there was an attempt to form a gay club in Nairobi, when men met at the Pop-In restaurant (now closed). In the early 1970s, another Nairobi restaurant was popular until street fights erupted between women sex workers and gay men. Later, they got together at the Club 1900 until the Government cracked down on the club, citing drugs as the reason. Today, the locales where men who have sex with men can meet are well known to those "in the know", but none advertise. Furthermore, since homosexuality in Kenya is considered a criminal act, few men are willing to "come out" – to openly admit their homosexuality and to demand a place for gay men in Kenyan society.
The stories of many men reveal that most are pressured into marriage. Some wives know of their husband’s sexual and emotional relationships with other men, while other wives remain ignorant. Amin, the primary school headmaster, for example, has an unspoken agreement with his wife of 26 years. She knows that he prefers men, while he only "bothered with her" to have their three children. Karim in Mombasa has intimacy with his wife on Wednesdays and Saturdays, but does not enjoy it. Were she to walk away from the marriage, he says he would not bother to marry again. There are cases of heterosexual wives finding out that their husbands are bisexual. Some seek counselling, hoping that the husband will change, or they simply walk out if they are economically independent.
Frank Njenga, of the
Kenya Medical Association, recently handled a case where a woman found her husband and a male family friend in the matrimonial bed when she came home unexpectedly. The woman brought her husband for counselling. He agreed to stop having sex with men and stopped for some time only to go back to his old ways. The couple are now separated.
In another case, an accountant heard rumours about her husband from her gardener and came home one afternoon to find him in bed with the cook. She says, "I could not live with him another day, I moved into a hotel to sort out my feelings and to consult my lawyer." Because of the children, it was the husband who eventually had to move out. Julie is still receiving psychological counselling.
How much women are at risk of contracting HIV from their husbands’ affairs is uncertain. Often, there is little sexual contact between them, although even one act of intercourse is enough to transmit the virus if a condom is not used. A few men are careful to protect themselves and their wives by using condoms with their male partners.
Others believe they are not at risk. Abdul, mentioned above, does not use condoms because "I am faithful to my partner and to my wife". With no official information to guide them, few men who have sex with men are persuaded to use condoms on a regular basis. Some of the men interviewed said they did not use condoms with their wives on the grounds that to do so would invite suspicion. Furthermore, they argued, there is no risk since they had only one male partner to whom they are faithful. (In fact, there is a risk
if a partner is unfaithful or contracted HIV before the couple began having sex). Those who have multiple partners say they "try"
to use condoms, but the word itself suggests they sometimes or often fail. Of the men interviewed, only Karim uses condoms all the time, although he calls them "cumbersome". Many others, such as Abdul and Fazal, consider that fidelity protects them. Odongo sees no need for protection, while Jared believes that with young "untainted" boys he is safe. Amin occasionally uses condoms, believing that he cannot get HIV/Aids if he goes out with "fresh" men.
Kassim, 19, of Mombasa has just completed high school and would like to become a computer programmer. He admits that he has been promiscuous and that even though he is aware of Aids he does not use a condom. "Why spoil the fun?" he asks, adding, "I hope that I won’t get Aids." Indeed, many of the men interviewed prefer to have sex without condoms. Others cited the fact that stronger condoms for homosexuals are not available in Kenya and the regular condoms they use tend to tear easily and are, therefore, ineffective.
June 26, 1998
Homosexuality and Aids: A double-edged sword
by Wanjira Kiama
Kenyan law defines any sexual relations between men as a criminal act. There are, however, few prosecutions; one exception is the current (early 1998) investigation into the Forum for Positive Generation on Aids Prevention, a registered community organisation for people with HIV in Kisumu. Police allege that the organisation has been "recruiting" homosexuals. The rarity of prosecutions is no doubt one of the factors behind the statement of Attorney-General Amos Wako that his office does not know the extent of homosexual practices in the country. Wako repeats the Government’s line that homosexuality is widely regarded as unAfrican and the wider public does not see the need for research in this area.
"What we have on this is just impressions, since there are no reliable figures anywhere," says Dr Frank Njenga, a psychiatrist and chairman of the social responsibility committee for the Kenya Medical Association and an HIV/AIDS prevention activist. "People tend to either exaggerate or underrate the extent of homosexuality, bisexuality and lesbianism." Njenga argues that Kenyan society has not "developed" to the level where people with a different sexual orientation are allowed to be themselves or develop within laws and rights set out for them. As a result, "we have a good number of Kenyan men who are constitutionally homosexual and socially heterosexual, so as to fit in the society". The only national statistics that in any way relates to homosexual activity is the UNAIDS estimate that fewer than five per cent of Aids cases are the result of sexual transmission of HIV between men.
The UNAIDS resident advisor, Dr George Tembo, says that for Kenya and other developing countries, this is a grey area since there has been no authoritative study. The figure is based on anecdotal evidence. Furthermore, many African men having sex with other men are bisexual. "It is a double-edged sword," says Tembo. "How does the doctor or sociologist decide whether the HIV/Aids infection of a bisexual man is through his relationship with a woman or with a man?" Meanwhile, studies undertaken by the African Medical Research Foundation (Amref) of the high incidence of sexually transmitted diseases among truck drivers between Mombasa and Uganda offer evidence of some homosexual activity, particularly between men and boys aged 12 to 16. "It is not known whether it is men expressing their own sexuality, or whether it is something learnt," says Dr John Nduba, deputy director of the Amref country office.
Such studies are supported by anecdotal evidence that suggests sexual activity between men in Kenya is more common than generally believed. Young people, usually men with men and women with women, often share housing for economic reasons. But, according to Allan Ragi, chairman of the Kenya Aids NGO Consortium, some young men share housing for emotional and physical needs. He adds that although not officially acknowledged, homosexuality is practised in prisons, the military and boarding schools and colleges throughout the country. Ragi claims that more young men than old men participate in homosexual activity. An Aids programme manager with an international NGO who declined to be named, shares that opinion: "Men having sex with men is not only common among young people, but fashionable. Just as young men like to wear an earring, they are also opting to try out homosexual practice. It is not just seen as an orientation, but also a `fancy lifestyle’."
According to interviews with men who have sex with men, the most common sexual activity is anal penetration. The roles within the relationship are often clearly defined, with the same partners taking the active (insertive) and passive (receptive) role. Those who are looking for steady relationships often do not rush into sex, preferring to get to know each other well first. In such situations, the relationship progresses from appreciative looks to touching, kissing and cuddling before more intimate touching and finally to sexual intercourse. Those who are interested only in casual relationships want only sex, sometimes watching erotic videos to put themselves and their partners in the mood. Due to the constraints on relationships between men, a good number of those interviewed have intense but short-lived relationships. Sometimes men give up relationships with other men, either to see if they can be happy in relationships with women or, because of society’s reaction, to practise celibacy.
In addition to the lifestyles described in this article, it is clear that there is "institutional homosexuality" – sexual activity between men in institutions such as boarding schools, the military and prisons- and this too is worthy of research. (PANOS)
Preventing Transmission of HIV
From time immemorial, men in most societies – past and present – writes Wanjira Kiama have had sexual relationships with other men. It is not known why some men prefer to have sex with other males rather than with women. As a species, human males and females mate in order to reproduce, but the sexual behaviour of individuals is driven by a range of social, psychological and biological factors that are still poorly understood. Recent studies suggest that a gene or the hypothalamus may influence a man’s desire to have sex with other men.
Unprotected anal intercourse has the highest risk to sexual transmission of HIV – and omitting this fact from education campaigns may actually increase the incidence of anal intercourse with men and women. Where understanding of Aids is poor, HIV can spread rapidly among groups of men who have sex with men and from them, less rapidly, to their female sexual partners and their future children. This pattern of rapid transmission occurred in the late 1970s and early 1980s in North America and Western Europe and was seen later in several other countries. In some regions, such as North America, sex between men continues to be the predominant mode of HIV transmission while in others, such as the English-speaking Caribbean, it appears to have been overtaken by sexual transmission between men and women.
In Thailand, one paper suggest that 6 per cent of men have same-sex experience, but same- sex activity is responsible for 12 per cent of transmission of HIV infection in men. In countries where sex between men is recognised, non- governmental organisations and sometimes governments have developed prevention programmes which have often succeeded in limiting or reducing the rate at which HIV is transmitted between men. However, where sex between men is denied, such prevention programmes are seldom developed. In the last ten years, small groups of men in a number of countries have formed organisations which attempt to address this problem, but these have often been limited by financial and cultural considerations. These cultural factors may include hostility or indifference from the government, laws against sex between men., disagreement between different ethnic or socio- economic groups as to the goals of the campaign and hostility or indifference from the men they are trying to reach, who often deny that they are at risk.
Despite these obstacles, many NGOs working with men who have sex with men have gained valuable experience both in understanding the social and psychological factors behind such behaviour and in developing programmes which respond to these factors. The best of these programmes not only help men to protect themselves in their sexual encounters with other men, but also to protect their female partners and future children. Furthermore, by their actions and presence, they alert governments and, to some extent, the general population to the fact that men who have sex with men are an integral part of their society. As revealed in a study undertaken by Panos in 1996, there are still many countries and cultures where there is little or no recognition of the existence or the extent of sexual activity between men and where government and non-governmental response has been non-existent or minimal. This means that in many parts of the world, it is still not certain the extent to which sex between men is a significant factor in the Aids epidemic and assumptions of an exclusively or predominantly male-female epidemic need to be re-examined.
In the English-speaking Caribbean, the health authorities are re-examining the role of sexual transmission between men, prompted by awareness that many men are reluctant to admit sexual activity with other men and by the high percentage of cases where transmission is reported as "unknown" – 18 per cent across the region and as high as 35 per cent in some countries. Dr Bilali Camara points out that "in countries where sex between men is accepted, we see that there are less cases of `unknown’." The implication is that many of these "unknowns" are in fact sex between men. A similar situation may be seen in Mexico, where the percentage of "unknowns" reaches 40 per cent. The debate as to whether these should be attributed to sex between men is much more than epidemiological, since it goes to the heart of how Mexicans perceive their own sexual behaviour.
Camara suggests that social pressures on men who prefer men may be perpetuating the epidemic in the Caribbean. "If society is really pushing people to be married and does not tolerate homosexuality, we will be battling for a long time." He adds that only when society as whole accepts that some men prefer sex with men, will it be possible to "empower people to accept what they are and do the correct thing – that is practise protective behaviour."
Muriel Douglas, acting co-ordinator of the National Aids Programme in Trinidad, recommends that education on HIV transmission between men be given to secondary school children of both sexes. While this might not increase tolerance, it would at least provide young men attracted to other men with the knowledge of how to protect themselves and would advise young women that their male partners may risk through sex with other men. However, Douglas admitted, this idea is still theoretical since funds are not available for such work.
August 14 1998 (?)
AIDS in Kenya: Where Are Kenya’s Homosexuals?
by Wanjira Kiama, Nairobi, (Panos)
African leaders from Jomo Kenyatta, Kenya’s first president, to Robert Mugabe, current president of Zimbabwe, have claimed that sex between men is ”un-African” and only occurs on the continent as a result of pernicious Western influence. Daniel Arap Moi, the current Kenyan president, agrees. ”Kenya has no room or time for homosexuals and lesbians. Homosexuality is against African norms and traditions, and even in religion it is considered a great sin,” Arap Moi has been quoted saying i n Kenya’s Daily Nation newspaper.
But networks of men who have sex with men can be found across the continent. And in Kenya, where homosexuality is a criminal offence, their voices are beginning to be heard. Statistics on the number of such men are hard to come by. ”What we have is just impressions,” said Dr Frank Njenga, a psychiatrist and HIV/AIDS prevention activist. Njenga argues that Kenya has ”a good number of men who are constitutionally homosexual but socially heterosexual, so as to fit in the society.”
As in all other developing countries, sex between men plays a small but measurable role in Kenya’s HIV/AIDS epidemic. But that role is not restricted to men alone. Official and societal disapproval often obliges such men to marry women. And if they have unprotected sex, the risk of HIV transmission increases. According to UNAIDS, the umbrella United Nations agency, fewer than five percent of AIDS cases in the country are the result of sexual transmission of HIV between men. But studies by the African Medical Research Foundation (AMREF) of sexually transmitted diseases among truck drivers show evidence of homosexual activity, particularly between older men and boys aged 12 to 16 years. These studies are supported by anecdota l evidence which suggests that sex between men in Kenya is more common than generally believed.
AMREF is trying to establish how people contracted the virus in order to develop strategies that can help check transmission. According to AMREF’s Dr Nduba, ”Homosexuality is an area that needs to be looked into, but we tend to shy away from reality.”
”Men having sex with men is not only common among young people, but fashionable. Just as young men like to wear an earring, they are also opting to try out homosexual practice. It is not just seen as an orientation, but also a ‘fancy lifestyle’,” said All an Ragi, of the Kenya AIDS NGO Consortium.
Ragi says sex between men is practised in prisons, the military, boarding schools and colleges throughout Kenya. And some men share housing not only for economic reasons, but also to meet emotional and physical needs. Other interactions are more open. Within walking distance of the University of Nairobi, in a building open to the public, young men who openly refer to themselves as gay meet regularly to socialise. A few even come in for a drink at the end of the day, w earing make-up and jewellery.
But in general, homosexuals in Kenya — as in many other countries — tend to keep their sexuality a secret. They include men like:-
— Odongo, 42, a petrol attendant who no longer has intimacy with his wife but pays for sex with male partners;
— Jared, 55, who owns a big house in a posh Nairobi suburb, and has been married thrice — each of his wives left him after finding out that their marriage was a front for his homosexual lifestyle;
— Amin, 54, a primary school headmaster who hires a room for sex with young men he picks up in the evenings;
— Peter, a 50 year-old property developer who is frequently seen at social functions with young women. When the party is over, he drops the girls off before taking up his male relationships in private; and
— Rocky, 23, a student of languages who says ”Marriage is not an option for me. God made me and understands me. I don’t think it is a sin what I do.”
Men who have sex with men are perhaps more accepted in the coastal regions of Kenya, where there are ‘marriages’ between men. As older women, known as mkungus, educate young girls in the duties of marriage, young homosexual men learn from male mkungus. T he training lasts a month; at the end, the younger man gives the mkungu special cloth and kitchen utensils as payment. Most men who prefer sex with men claim that they are pressured into marriage. Some wives know of their husband’s sexual and emotional relationships with other men, while others remain ignorant. Those who find out seek counselling, hoping that the husband will change, or, if they are economically independent, they walk out.
How much women are at risk of contracting HIV from their husbands’ affairs is uncertain. The taboos surrounding men who have sex with men have meant that few, if any, attempts have been made to provide AIDS education and support to them. As a result, few such men use condoms regularly. Some men do not use condoms with their wives because they fear that it will invite suspicion. Often there is little sexual contact between husband and wife, although even one act of intercourse is enough to transmit the virus if a condom is not used. While authorities acknowledge the impact of male behaviour towards women on the epidemic, there is no official recognition of the role of homosexuals who may either themselves contract HIV or pass the virus to their male or female partners. UNAIDS Resident Advisor George Tembo says his organisation has not yet targeted men who have sex with men. ”Homosexuals are not easily accessible. They will need to come out of the closet if they are to get any attention,” he says.
However, a document adopted unanimously by the Kenyan Parliament in September 1997 acknowledges that ”groups such as beach boys, watchmen, soldiers, prisoners and truck drivers may usually establish casual relationships because circumstances separate th em from their regular sexual partners for long periods. This makes them more vulnerable to HIV.” Maina Kahindo of the Ministry of Health comments that ”taking into account other modes of transmission of HIV/AIDS, homosexuality is negligible, and should not take up our resources and time.” He continues, ”We have other, far more pressing areas which affect the majority of our people and therefore need urgent attention.”
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1 October 1999
Nairobi, Kenya—Kenyan President Daniel Arap Moi has joined an ever growing list of African leaders to attack gay people, saying homosexuality is a “scourge” that runs counter to Christian teachings and African tradition.
President Daniel arap MoiReuters reports President Moi made the comments during an agricultural show in Nairobi on Wednesday. Moi said Kenyans should guard against “dangerous practices” such as homosexuality.“ It is not right that a man should go with another man or a woman with another woman. It is against African tradition and Biblical teachings,” the 75-year-old Moi said. “I will not shy away from warning Kenyans against the dangers of the scourge.” Moi was asked to comment on comments made to Yoweri Museveni, President of neighboring Uganda earlier this week. Museveni said that he had ordered his security services to round up gay men and lesbians for the commission of what he said were “abominable acts.”
His comments were compared to those made by Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe who for several years has been particularly outspoken in his condemnation of homosexuality. Active repression of Zimbabwe’s fledgling gay rights movement and comments describing gay men and lesbians as “lower than dogs and pigs” provoked international outcry. Mugabe has been the subject of gay-led protests at nearly every international public appearance he has made over the past several years. But as President Moi and President Museveni made all too clear, Mugabe is hardly alone in Africa. Most African rulers regard homosexuality as a perversion imposed on Africans by white colonialists. Moi made fun of gays in his comments before the conference on Wednesday. “Now we are seeing men wearing earrings to make it easy for them to be identified by other men,”he said to the amusement of his audience. More and more young men in Kenya’s urban areas wear earrings emulating Western pop stars whose videos are shown on Kenyan television.
April 22, 2002
Gays in Other Lands
by Michael Mukwuzi
Jomo Kenyatta, the revered founding president of Kenya exuded much confidence when he declared in the 60s that there was no African word for homosexuality. Kenyatta averred that the practice was totally un-African and unknown to the black man. Kenyatta’s pronouncement received an extra boost with a statement from President Daniel Arap Moi who stated in public that "Kenya has no room or time for homosexuals and lesbians. It is against African norms and traditions, and even in religion it is considered a sin".
However the pronouncement on homosexuality fell flat on its face decades later when the sodomy trial of Canaan Banana, a close friend and long time political associate of Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe, reverberated throughout sub-saharan Africa. The entire continent was held spell bound when the Daily Nation, a newspaper published in Kenya, exposed graphic details of how Banana committed the act. Beyond the Banana saga, independent enquiries reveal that while there is greater acknowledgement of homosexuality in the Kenyan coastal city of Mombassa, there is no more acceptance than is found in the capital, Nairobi. Men who are believed to have sex with men are despised, ridiculed, harassed, sometimes beaten and often threatened with lynching and execution.
The study also showed that the level of social conservatism is not limited to homosexuality but also relates to all matters of sexual nature. Politicians, religious institutions and the other dominating social customs in Kenyan society also reinforce the strong cultural prohibition towards the act.
Outside the shores of Africa, the practice is as widespread as ever, especially among catholic priests in the United States and Britain. In early February 2002, the Diocese of Manchester, New Hampshire, published the names of 14 priests involved in the deed and turned their cases over to civil authorities. Interestingly, of the 14, only one Reverend John Porier in Gorham remained on duty as an active full-time priest. Six others were retired while seven were sent packing as a result of multiple involvements. In Abingdon, Massachussets parish, Reverend Joseph Welsh was removed from his sacred position for what church spokesmen termed "credible" charges of child molestation. Ordained in 1968, Welsh was the ninth Massachusetts priest sacked in February for similar reasons. In Philadelphia, archdiocese spokesman, Catherine Rossi, announced the dismissal of several priests connected with child molestation.
In March 2002, Rev. Micheal Doucette, parish priest of St. Agatha, Maine, announced to his stunned congregation that he had been intimately involved with a 15 year-old boy at another parish. Also in the same month, two Jesuit priests employed as teachers at Boston College High School, Reverends Francis Mc Manus and James Talbot were charged with harassing students. The same period, the Boston archdiocese officials settled civil claims arising from the crimes of Father John Geoghan for an estimated $20 million, bringing the total settlement in his case alone to $35 million for an estimated 186 victims. Later, the Catholic Diocese of Spring field, Massachusetts gave up files on 90 child-molesting priests to civil authorities.
In Spain, a Roman Catholic priest shocked the entire nation when he became the first priest to publicly declare his practice of homosexuality. "I give thanks to God for being gay", Father Jose Mantero, a parish priest in the town of Val Verde, Southern Spain, stated on the front cover of the gay magazine, Zero. The priest was pictured wearing his dog collar, an earring in his left ear and a studded leather bracelet.
January 18, 2003
Kenya Gays See End To Repression
Nairobi – Kenya’s gays and lesbians are hopeful the new government of President Mwai Kibaki will herald the beginning of acceptance. After decades of repression Kenya’s gay community is mostly closeted, but a growing gay rights movement is expressing confidence in the reforms announced this week by Kibaki, including a new constitution which guarantees basic human rights.
Kenyan gay rights group Galebitra says it does not expect the constitution to include specific references to gays but the group’s co-ordinator Jeremy Mirie said he believed basic human rights protections would be interpreted as including sexual minorities. Kibaki has also promised the creation of a special ministry to deal with constitutional affairs. That is good news Mirie said, adding that it will give his group a pipeline to advocate on lesbian and gay issues.
Mirie said he believes Kibaki will keep his promises to liberalize the country citing pressure from IMF, World Bank and other bodies in the industrialized world. He said that "External pressure from [GLBT] organizations outside Kenya will help give voice to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered community within Kenya."
July 5, 2003
Kenya girls together
by Mokaya Migiro from Saturday Magazine Home
We have heard of the growing number of gay men in our midst but very rarely do we hear people speak about the women yet apparently they are just as many. "Hata hiyo maneno wanayoongea, hatuwezi kusema kwa lugha yetu" – Former President Daniel arap Moi on gays. That could very easily sum up the accepted Kenyan attitude towards gays. Kenyans, at least most of them, are straight ugali and sukuma wiki people. They value their traditions and conform to societal norms. Men are brought up to be real men and women are brought up to be real women.
These two categories of people link up to form a family unit which in turn forms a society. And they live happily ever after or so goes the gospel according to African tradition society. Though not an accepted societal norm, gay relationships between men have become fairly commonplace here in Kenya. Between women, however, it is a subject that hardly ever comes up. Yet an increasing number of women in Kenya are involved in relationships with same sex partners. Does this point to hitherto undisclosed flaws in our societal values or is this a side-effect of modernity? Haunted by these questions and apprehensive of the daunting task of getting gay people to come out of the closet, Mokaya Migiro went looking for lesbians willing to talk. These are their true stories. Names have been changed to protect privacy. See them out on a date, most people think it’s a girls night out. Since most women hug, peck and sometimes hold hands, they do not stand out. Because of this acceptable affection, lesbians find it easy to blend-in negating the need for special social places. I meet Carol, a successful 30-year-old businesswoman, casual in jeans, shirt and safari boots.
Hers is not just a casual fling. She not only lives with her lover, Katrina, but has had the relationship formalised. Carol feels women are more gentle, caring, loving and honest than men. "I could have sex with a man and fake it. But I couldn’t fake it with a woman. When I am with a woman it is something so pure and special," she says, "And it is not just about having great sex. It is about this loving, caring and gentle relationship. Remembering birthdays, keeping time and putting the person you love before you. "For the past four and a half years that I have been with my girlfriend, she has never forgotten my birthday or our anniversary. It is all these loving gestures that you would never get in a man that make me love her even more," she enthuses. Carol and her girlfriend felt so strongly about each other that they decided to get married 19 months ago.
"We wanted to show that our commitment to each other was for real. When I die, I’d like my partner to inherit my property as my next of kin. Hopefully by then, the law here will have changed," says Carol, who sports a diamond engagement ring and a gold wedding band. "Besides, my partner works for this company that has very good benefits for spouses including free air tickets and medical cover. We thought it made sense for me to have these benefits."
But Kenyan law does not recognise same sex marriages, so Carol and Katrina went to Switzerland, where Katrina is from. "All her family and friends were there at the ceremony. I had already met her mother when she came to Kenya to visit Katrina and she was really cool about the whole thing. We went to the equivalent of the Attorney-General’s chambers, signed the papers then had dinner and a party at our friend’s place. That’s how simple it was," Carol recalls. Back home, things are not so simple. Many Kenyans would argue that lesbianism is a foreign concept and an unsavoury side-effect of modernity and Westernisation. "Who says that lesbianism started recently? Many women have been able to fool men all through time. Even now some of my male friends do not know I am a lesbian.
They think Katrina and I are just good friends sharing a house. Let sleeping dogs lie," says Carol with a sly smile. And what about comments that it’s all a foreign lifestyle? "The people who have hit on me are mostly Kenyan women. Even though I am married to a white woman, white lesbians in Kenya are few. Most of my friends who are in relationships are Kenyans. It’s not therefore right, at least in my experience, to claim that lesbianism is a foreign concept. It is very much with us here today and those involved are locals" says Carol. Carol believes her upbringing influenced her decision to get involved in same-sex relationships. In her home, the eight daughters were forced to wait on their younger brothers and violent father. "My father made us feel our brothers were more important than we were. He basically considered us girls a waste of space. We would be asked, even though we were older than them, to serve, cook and clean for our brothers. They were small kings in our house," says Carol. Her mother’s advice also turned her against men. "My mother believed all women who suffer do so because of men.
When I was 12 years old, there was a photograph in the paper of a pregnant nine-year-old girl. My mother called all of us girls and told us, ‘You see, this is what you are going to be like if you keep fooling around with men.’ Growing up seeing the men being favoured and the violence that her father would unleash on her mother, Carol made a decision that "men would never rule my life again". She traces her first lesbian encounter to when she was doing her ‘O’ levels. One day, the head girl just kissed her out of the blue. "It felt so good. Boys wanted only one thing. This kiss felt like it was not a demand for sex. It was more an appreciation of who I was," she recalls. She enjoys the equality she experiences in a relationship with a woman. "I’m equal from my kitchen to my bedroom, to my car, to my place of work. I am not the type who wants a ‘man’ in the house," she says. That has not stopped her from experimenting with men. Five years ago, she had her first sexual relationship with a man "I liked him, he listened to me and my body", and she continues to have the occasional affair even though she is now in a monogamous relationship. "I have always had relationships with women, but men I just sleep with.
There are times I prefer men. I think it has something to do with a woman’s cycle. Sometimes I just feel like I need a man. "My girlfriend is also bisexual and she doesn’t mind me sleeping with men because it is not a threat to what we have. And besides I only sleep with men when I want to and according to the terms that I dictate. "When I feel like, I pick a man up, sleep with him and then discard him quickly. Most men I have encountered do not even know I am attached to a woman. They think they are very smooth and that is how they scored with me. I sometimes think if they knew who I really was they’d be devastated," Carol laughs. Looking to the future, Carol’s wish is that gay rights – in particular same-sex marriages – be recognised.
Next I meet Precious, a 24-year-old logistics manager. Dread-locked, beautiful, with big brown eyes, an almost shy persona with a killer smile, she comes across as tomboy-ish and laid back but very intense. She wears no make-up, prefers shirts and sneakers to skirts and heels. A mix of silver and African jewellery – the kind you’d associate with independent, creative women – completes her look. She smokes, is unbeatable in pool, gives firm handshakes and can drink any man under the table! Over a drink, she agrees to talk to me on condition that I keep her identity secret, this she says is not just to protect her but her partner as well. A few stalling tactics and awkward silences later, she begins her story. Like Carol, her first lesbian experience was at school.
"When I joined Form One, we were allocated ‘big sisters’ from senior classes to act as our guardians. Mine was a Form Three student with a heart of pure gold. She helped me with my studies, warned off the bullies and ensured I was comfortably settled in. Inevitably, I developed a deep bond with her. So deep that sometimes I’d spend the night in her bed. First, it was the cuddles, then the fooling around and before I knew it, we were spending every night together." A sip of her drink as she warms up to the tale. " Our relationship didn’t last long though because we were discovered by the teachers. This led to my being suspended on numerous occasions. Of course, I always denied any wrongdoing when I went home but my mother suspected. She never really said that she didn’t believe me, but I could tell … she just suspected."
" After high school, I started seeing men. I had a few relationships with them, some of which were very fulfilling but I still felt drawn to women. I started seeing women secretly. Some were just experimenting while others were completely gay and it was all so much fun. Then I got to where I decided there was no point in playing games with the men in my life when the only people I really felt comfortable with were women. Looking back now, I don’t regret having made that decision." Precious lifts a cigarette to her lips, lights it, takes a deep drag and simultaneously drops the pack almost carelessly on the table – a gesture I find very masculine. But what attracts her to members of her own sex? Was it something in her childhood perhaps or the men in her life? "Not at all," she is quick to point out. "I had a perfectly normal childhood, a good family and lots of love. All my siblings are straight. I’m the only ‘crooked’ one, if you like. The men in my life had nothing to do with my decision either. "I feel the same way a man does when he looks at a woman and is so taken by her that he cannot even speak. How do you explain that attraction … that magnetic pull from which there is no running away?"
Precious is in a serious relationship with Jalalo, a 29-year-old aid worker. Tall, stunningly beautiful and extremely charming, Jalalo has that regal carriage of a model. Effortlessly, she can pull men and women with one penetrating gaze from her feline eyes. She has a seven-year-old daughter from a previous marriage with whom they live. "I was born in a very traditional home," she says. "I went to school, worked hard, got employed then married well. I wanted to be the perfect daughter, wife and eventually mother. A few years into my marriage, I developed serious doubts about my sexuality. I’d fantasise about other women when I made love to my husband. I started seeing other women because that is what my mind, body and soul wanted me to do. "This went on for a while until I decided to tell my husband how I felt. I thank God because he was very understanding.
Him having a gay sister and being an American helped because he kept an open mind, something I think an African man would have found very hard to do. We agreed to separate, then divorce. He’s now happily married and I am happy for him." Like most couples, Precious and Jalalo have conflicting stories about how their relationship started. They both dissolve into embarrassed giggles whenever I broach the subject. With gentle coaxing, I managed to glean the facts. When they first met, Precious was in a relationship with another woman. "But I knew that if you love something, you have to fight for it," narrates Jalalo with a conspiratorial look. "When Precious’ girlfriend decided to go straight, scared her family and friends wouldn’t accept it, I got my chance and I didn’t waste it." Jalalo has since taken Precious to her mother who’s asked for dowry if they are to get her blessings. Precious on the other hand has not yet summoned the courage to reciprocate the gesture. They admit that they have fights like any other couple but not about things like "he squeezes the toothpaste in the middle". Their fights are mainly about other women. Men don’t bother them that much.
" Sometimes people see us having a fight and think that we are fighting over a man. Little do they know!" explains Precious. They go to the same places that everyone else goes. We dance, drink enjoy ourselves. Anyone looking would assume we are just two friends having a nice time. But there was something nagging my mind. Jalalo had been married before and has a child from that marriage. What about Precious, didn’t she ever want to get married or have her own child? "We’ve discussed it at length," says Precious. "And we’ve decided that if I ever want to have any children, I’d get a sperm donor purely for procreation purposes. But for now, I have Jalalo’s as my own and I am not in a hurry to make up my mind." I wonder about Jalalo’s seven-year-old daughter, how she takes all this. Jalalo doesn’t believe her daughter will grow up traumatised. "When she is old enough, I’ll tell her that this is mummy’s special friend. I won’t lie to my daughter. People sometimes ask me whether I am encouraging her to become gay like me but I always tell them that my daughter’s life is her own. If she decides to experiment, she’ll try it. It’s something I cannot control even if I wanted to. "But I’ll teach my daughter all about how to be a woman with morals and I’ll always be there for her. Precious is already her other mother. Think about it how lucky can one be to have two mothers, a dad and a step mum who all sikizana."
Both Precious and Jalalo agree that it is much harder for gay men to come out in the open. People find it easier to accept us women than men, they say. But they admit it is a daunting task because women are already discriminated against even in law. Worse still, lesbians are a minority amongst women. They feel the time is not right yet for them to come out. "Let us first fight for women rights, then the girl child, then maybe we’ll get to us. For now we are choosing to remain anonymous but we would like people to know that we are here and we are also human beings and there’s nothing wrong with being who we are. We love each other and even though we cannot show affection publicly, we hope that one day we shall be able to do so. Today, you are reading about us in the paper, tomorrow it might be your sister, daughter or wife telling you this," Precious says. They are strongly convinced that there are very many women in Nairobi who are gay or bisexual but are too scared of their family, friends and mungiki to come out in the open. They estimate that they know 70 to 100 such women and that there are many more out there. They cite an example of a gay party they went to that had 12 female couples, most of who were married.
Gay people are struggling to earn recognition and respect, they are continually denied
Jabulani Dube finds out how life is behind the mask.
Like cold weather that bites awfully, that is the kind of life gay people in African countries outside South Africa have to endure. "Living here as a gay [person] is very much frustrating," says Mike. He is gay and lives in Kenya. Kenya is one of the African countries where homosexuality is criminalized. Nairobi has a population is about 4 million, it is under-developed as are most great cities in Africa. The infrastructure such as road networks, electricity, level of social amenities is not in proper supply. But life in general is moderate; the level of education is quiet high by African standards – 89% literacy rate. And Kenyans are pro-western in ideology meaning trendy lifestyles are those from US or UK. Need not to say Kenya’s countryside is beautiful and one is better off living there than the big towns, which are crowded, and with heavy traffic. Daniel Arap Moi, former Kenyan president, once said, "Kenya has no room for homosexuals and lesbians. Homosexuality is against African norms and traditions, and even in religion it is considered a great sin". Gay people live their lives in fear of being found out. The fear of being subjected to hatred, bashing, tortures and worse, imprisonment.
Gay people are largely spurned by society because of their sexual orientation, but worse is the rejection by their families. Mike is one of those who had suffered the same fate. "Rejection came soon after I had introduced my boyfriend. My parents rejected me… because of the stigma around homosexuality", he said. "And with this rejection is the loss of parental love. The stigma that goes with being gay is having to put up with hatred from heterosexuals. This is just because of the differences or should I rather say the fear of the unknown." So how does one survive in this truly hostile environment, where harassment is the daily bread? "You have to bury your identity behind pillows", says Mike. Burying ones identity doesn’t come easy – since it involves letting your desire die, with shame of not being allowed to be. Harassment comes in all sort of forms, from families, educational institutions and everywhere else. There is no prosecution for being gay; law doesn’t really talk of being gay. Rather about committing unnatural acts such as sodomy, bestiality and so on. So no one really has ever been charged for being gay.
With the present law there are loopholes as James puts it, "In order to be convicted, there have to be circumstantial evidence such as being caught in the act by the police or the magistrate. Or if one of the parties who partook in the sex act is complaining, which can not happen since then it would imply that if it was consensual, then both parties are guilty".
Wrestling with the fact that they are gay, they start building up on false "hide it up relationships". That is a life with a borrowed girlfriend or worse opting for a marriage of convenience. Those who suffer the most are the ones who live in the rural areas. There had been hellish nights for Mike. When confronted by the blood- thirsty people, luck had been with him; he always managed to get away in the face of death. He says that some guys who bitterly labelled him a guy from Sodom and Gomorrah almost killed him. A person has to live his life looking over ones shoulder. One can only imagine how painful and what torture it is to live a lie.
That is when you live in the closet not by choice but because of compulsory heterosexuality that is forced on everyone by the society norms. Al, who is also gay, takes us into the live a lie life. He does not act and/or behave in an obvious manner, say in dressing, talking or publicly move around with companions that people might easily tell their orientation. Being not flamboyant helps him stay away from confrontations. That is not all: "I avoid situations where I get caught up in brawls with someone because of relationship disagreements for example, picking or hooking up with a stranger in a pub. I only go out with people I know and understand well." It has been a living hell for him too. Gay people in a country where they are deprived of their human rights, is living "Hell on Earth" confessed Al. He says that life has become a little easier since he got to know people like him. He admits though that, "The search was long and arduous" but he says that he is at least at peace with himself. Al has never been confronted about his sexuality. When asked if he is out: "Hell no" – he’s not out for obvious reasons.
However, he has a feeling that some people have their suspicions, but none has come to ask. Does he mind them at all? "Well I don’t care about what is in their minds," he responded. In a place where one does not have a freedom to be, how do you recognise ‘members’ of your ‘family’? It is the hardest thing to do currently. There is no standard convention that’s used here because of the modernisation in people’s habits. With the world going gay way, he says,"Some signs that used to be considered gay have since been taken up by everyone thinking it’s a fashion sort of thing." "Internet has played a big role lately for everyone here," suggests Al. Technology makes living a little easy for gay people. However, the old as time trick still works wonders he says. "In public places, eye contact still does the trick once in a while".
The sad side of things is that some people are good at taking advantage of the situation. Because not all have access to the Internet, they still meet on the streets and this goes with risk and not to say other ways are not risky. People find themselves black mailed by those who know their secretive ways of life." In search for their soulmates, others even go as far as advertising themselves in the local newspaper looking for a pal. You’ll certainly know what the massage is, if you read between the lines. Surely nothing can stop people from getting what they want. No matter how awful the situation might be. Al expressed his concerned: "The problem is that you may attract someone with other motives. Selling drugs, prostitutes or just some guy who just wants free booze, then takes off eventually, just to name a few".
It is said that love has no colour and age is nothing but the number. Sadly, this is not true at times, when one has no choice but to see his desire shrinking away. The relationships are mostly between black and black people. "There are few [relationships] though between whites and blacks but they are rare and tend to be temporary and more often than not for commercial reasons", Al commented. What is the problem with black and white relationships? Relationships of that kind are considered an outright sell out. You can hardly be seen with a white man because people will conclude that you are a rent-boy, explains Al. With that in mind, black boys avoid being seen with white guys. The reality, of course, is that homosexuality exists – the number of people coming out is the evidence of this. However, it ‘s seems to be a long way to acceptance, and an overdue stay in denial. It is still to be seen as to how long it’s going to take Kenya and the rest of the world to admit, and accept reality. Al, concludes, "The situation is not bad as it’s made to look from outside Kenya. There is hope that tomorrow will be better than not."
September 15, 2003
Gay Clergy: Cracks Appear in African Front at Lambeth
by Mwangi Githahu
As 38 Anglican primates from all over the world gather in London this week, it seems that the divisions within the Worldwide Anglican Community are not as clear cut as they appeared to be at the beginning of the ongoing debate on gay clergy. Most observers had assumed that the meeting at Lambeth Palace, the official residence and office of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, who is the head of the Anglican Church, would be split between primates from Britain, Canada and the US against those from the rest of the Anglican Communion in Africa and Asia. It was also beginning to look as though, just as with the debate over the ordination of women in the 1980s, the Africans and Asians would win whatever dispute took place by sheer weight of numbers. Now, however, the lines of division seem blurred, with certain primates from Africa and Asia, such as the Archbishop of Cape Town, Winston Njongonkulu Ndungane, taking a different view. A week ahead of the Lambeth Palace conference, some less irreverent commentators were referring to it as a free for all.
But Archbishop Ndungane suggested that his African colleagues were being arrogant, intolerant and hypocritical on the recent appointment in the US branch of the church of Dr Gene Robinson, the first openly gay bishop. The appointment of Dr Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire earlier this year was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back and brought the issue of gays in the church’s leadership to the top of the Anglican agenda again. This and the earlier aborted appointment of Jeffrey John as Bishop of Reading were seen as issues that could split the 70 million-strong worldwide Anglican Communion. Kenya’s primate, Archbishop Benjamin Nzimbi, said last weekend that those called to the church’s leadership should not be involved in homosexuality and urged Dr Robinson to resign from his position of leadership.
Nigeria’s Archbishop Peter Akinola had led the criticism of Bishop Robinson’s appointment in August, describing it as "a satanic attack on God’s church". Said Archbishop Ndungane in an article published in the left-leaning British newspaper, the Guardian: "It is very arrogant to assume that the people in America do not know what they are doing." He accused his colleagues such as Nzimbi and Akinola of being hypocritical and warned against such an attitude in the run-up to the London meeting. "There is a woman waiting to be stoned to death for adultery in Nigeria and yet we are not hearing any fuss about it from the leadership of the church there," he said.
He continued: "It is no secret that there are gay clergy and there are gay bishops, and the institutional church seems to be turning a blind eye when we should be encouraging honesty. If Gene Robinson had kept quiet there would have been no issue." Archbishop Ndungane said there were other issues that should be priorities for the Anglican Church such as world hunger, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the HIV/Aids pandemic. An appointment in one part of the church should not concern leaders in another part of the church, he said.
Archbishop Ndungane further told the BBC in an interview that the equally divisive subject of women priests and that of divorce was treated differently by various Anglican communions and the issue of homosexuality should, therefore, be no different. "Each of the autonomous churches within the Anglican Church has its own structures. We have to respect these structures whether we agree with them or not," he said. "If the church in the US wants to do its thing, then that’s its business." Archbishop Ndungane also warned against the selective use of Bible passages in the debate on homosexuality, adding that in the past quotes from the Bible had been used to defend slavery and apartheid. The South African primate’s views are similar to those of his predecessor, Nobel Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Ndungane succeeded Desmond Tutu eight years ago as leader of two million worshippers in the oldest province in Africa, covering eight countries.
In a TV interview in Soweto last month, Tutu said that Robinson’s sexual orientation did not make a difference. "In our Church here in South Africa, that doesn’t make a difference. We just say that, at the moment, we believe that they should remain celibate and we don’t see what the fuss is about." Tutu’s Kenyan brethren, who have in the past looked up to him as an important figure both as a clergyman and a political inspiration, were unsure how to behave towards him when he came to Kenya shortly after making this statement. They opted to generally ignore his remarks. However, Tutu was just being consistent in his message. In 1995 he wrote to Anglicans (or Episcopalians) in California, USA, where he said: "It is sad indeed that we as a church have more often than not turned our back on a significant portion of God’s people on the basis of their sexual orientation. We have inflicted on gay and lesbian people the tremendous pain of having to live a lie or to face brutal rejection if they dared to reveal their true selves. But oppression cuts both ways. Behind our ‘safe’ barriers of self-righteousness, we deprive ourselves of the rich giftedness that lesbian and gay people have to contribute to the whole body of Christ."
On the issue of homosexuality, the current South African primate is able to speak with particular authority, having chaired a committee of 60 bishops at the last Lambeth conference, five years ago, which looked into the issue of human sexuality. The committee’s report was overruled at the conference by other hardline bishops from Africa, Asia and South America as well as British evangelicals. The question this time around is whether his views will carry any weight with his colleagues and whether he will be one of those that Anglicans of the future will thank for having kept the Communion together during a difficult time. If this year’s Lambeth talks are held in the spirit of rational and reflective thinking, instead of a stormy confrontational atmosphere, it may be interesting to see what the Anglican Communion looks like at the end of the debate. Other faith groups, Christian and otherwise – having followed various arguments among the Anglicans over the years – feel that in the end they will reach a compromise to stop a break up of the church.
3 November 2003
Kenya church makes first break from USA Anglicans for consecrating gay bishop
Nairobi – The Kenyan Anglican church on Monday severed ties with its US counterpart over the consecration of a gay bishop, as the first split emerged among 70 million faithful over the controversial move. The decision to consecrate Gene Robinson also provoked furore in Nigeria, where the spiritual leaders of 50 million Anglicans in the developing world announced they were breaking off ties with the US church because the appointment violated biblical teaching. "The overwhelming majority of the Primates of the Global South cannot and will not recognise the office or ministry of Canon Gene Robinson as a bishop," said Right Reverend Peter Akinola, Archbishop of Abuja and leader of the Nigerian Anglican community. Akinola’s statement was issued "for and on behalf of the working committee for the Primates of the Global South." ‘Because it is a sin’ In Nairobi, Eldoret Diocese Bishop Thomas Kogo, who said he was speaking on behalf of the Kenyan Anglican establishment, said: "As a church, we are not going to support homosexuality in the church, primarily because it is a sin."
"And on that note, we have broken our links with the US Episcopal Church," said Kogo, adding that he was speaking on behalf of the Kenyan Anglican establishment. He said the decision had already been made and that Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams – the worldwide head of the Anglican church – had been informed. He added that the move would be formalised at a meeting of Kenyan Anglican bishops in two weeks. "It is clear that those who have consecrated Gene Robinson have acted in good faith on their understanding of what the constitution of the American church permits," Williams continued. "But the effects of this upon the ministry and witness of the overwhelming majority of Anglicans particularly in the non-western world have to be confronted with honesty." "We need now to work very hard to giving new substance to this, and to pray for wisdom, patience and courage as we move forward."
In Australia one senior church leader said that Robinson would not be recognised as a bishop in much of the world, despite his consecration by the US Episcopalian Church. Sydney’s Archbishop Peter Jensen said the US church had succumbed to the "pervasive culture of permissiveness".
"Western culture is very individualistic, it’s greedy and it’s sexually permissive," Jensen said. "The church sometimes buckles under this and I’m afraid it has in this particular case. "The new bishop is not going to be a bishop in much of the world," Jensen said. "He’s not going to be recognised. This is opposed to God’s word." In Britain, ‘Changing Attitude’, which describes itself as "a network of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered and straight" church members, said Bishop Robinson would "inspire" gays and lesbians with new confidence in the church.
June 3, 2004
Kenya health minister attacks ex-attorney general over his stand on abortion and gays
According to a report in the East African Standard Health Minister Charity Ngilu has criticised former Attorney-General and minister for Constitutional Affairs Mr Charles Njonjo for his stand on abortion and homosexual rights. According to the report Ngilu says that the youth in Kenya were in dire need of stewardship. She stressed that the Government was working tirelessly to bring about behavioural change in order to check the spread of HIV/Aids and reduce unwanted pregnancies. On Sunday, Njonjo, a prominent member of the Anglican Church of Kenya, was quoted as openly supporting abortion and homosexuality. " When I was the Attorney General, I would never prosecute those who carried out abortion or those who went for it. I equally would never waste time persecuting gays. I respect their rights," he was quoted as saying.
And in a sharp reaction that misquotes and corrupts Njonjo’s words, Ngilu said: "I am appalled that a man of Njonjo’s standing could portray abortion so simplistically and as though it is an alternative to contraception. I am equally unhappy that he went further to tell young Kenyans that homosexuality is an opinion". The minister said the struggle to safeguard the moral fabric of the nation by the churches should be shared by opinion leaders and role models in the society. " Mr Njonjo has failed this test and young Kenyans should not compromise the gains made so far by the Government," she said.
Ngilu advised Kenyans to practice sexual abstinence, have sex only in marriage and with one partner or use condoms correctly to prevent Aids and unwanted pregnancies. Meanwhile, the current Attorney-General Mr Amos Wako has warned that abortion or attempts to procure it remain illegal in Kenya and therefore punishable. He gave a similar warning regarding homosexuality. " I want to assure the general public that abortion, attempts to procure it, unnatural offences and attempts to commit unnatural offences, otherwise known as homosexuality, are criminal offences under the law," he said in a statement.
January 19, 2005
Bernard Muiru Convicted of Sodomy– Jailed for 21 Years
by Beatrice Obwocha
Three teenage boys in Njoro eagerly looked forward to initiation, a ritual that would usher them to adulthood. They were enthusiastic that finally they would no longer be regarded as boys but men. They were ready to go through all rituals that would usher them into the new stage in their lives. On December 4, last year, the boys, all cousins, were circumcised at Piave farm in Njoro. The father of two of the boys, who is a prison warder, appointed one of the villagers to counsel and take care of the boys, two aged 16 and one 14.
He selected 21-year-old Bernard Kamau Muiru whom he knew as a staunch Christian and a youth leader at a local church. " I knew my son and nephews were safe in his hands. This is because I knew him as a Christian. I knew that he would counsel them well to become responsible adults and would not beat or harass them," he says. He says he trusted Muiru as they worshipped in the same church and had known him for over five years. But that was not to be. After the initiation, the boys were taken to a secluded hut at their father’s homestead where they were to stay for eight days under the care of Muiru. Muiru took good care of the boys for the first six days, but on the seventh day, he committed a horrific act that would remain embedded in the minds of the three innocent young boys forever.
He sodomised them after deceiving them that it was part of the rituals initiates undergo in order to become men. " He told us that the act signified that one graduated from childhood to adulthood," said one of the 16-year-olds. The boy said they did not doubt Muiru because they knew him as a Christian and he had been selected to be their counsellor. Their father and uncle, they said, could not have gone wrong in choosing Muiru.
On the night of December 12, at 2.30am, their counsellor woke them up and told them it was time to go through the ritual. He told them to strip and bend over the bedpost. " We did not know how to do it so he showed us. He told us not to shout if there was any pain because men do not scream or shout," one of the boys said. They were sodomised in turn for about 15 minutes and then Muiru told them that they had become men. He asked them to go back to sleep. " It was very painful and one of us could not even pass stool the following day," one of them said. The boys did not inform anyone, but on December 13, their last day in the house, the truth came out in the open. Two boys, Peter Macharia and Samuel Kamau, both aged 18 and who had undergone initiation the previous year, visited them. Macharia said the trio shared the experiences of the past seven days. Muiru was not there at the time.
" They told us that they had been sodomised by their counsellor who told them it was part of the rituals. We were shocked as we did not undergo the ritual," he added. He says they promised the initiates that they would ask older men whether the act was part of the ritual. Macharia and Kamau approached one of the boys’ uncles, who was shocked by the news. " I had known him for close to five years and we worshipped in the same church. It was hard to believe that he could do such a thing," he said.
He visited the boys and told them there were no such ritual. He told them that Muiru had taken advantage of them and sodomised them. " They were shocked to hear that and two of them actually broke into tears. It was about 10am and I waited until around 1pm when Muiru came. He entered the hut and I locked it from outside and called the police," he says. He called the boys’ father and informed him of the incident. The whole village got wind of the incident and flocked the home. " Everybody was shocked as they all knew Muiru as a Christian. Some started demanding that we stone him to death, but I refused and told them we should call the police," he said.
Muiru was arrested and the initiates were taken to Njoro Health Centre, where a doctor confirmed that they had been sodomised.
They were treated and discharged. On December 20, 2004, Muiru was charged before a Nakuru court with three counts of sodomy. He pleaded guilty and was jailed for 21 years. Senior Principal Magistrate Gilbert Mutembei jailed him for seven years on each count and ordered the sentences run concurrently. The prosecutor, Inspector George Mukonesi, called for a stiffer sentence. Mukonesi said the act committed by Muiru was unimaginable as he took advantage of young innocent boys and had ruined their lives.
" The sentence was lenient but all the same, he will be put away for sometime. I hope he will never sodomise other boys," their father said.
March 24, 2005
Men Recognised as Rape Victims
by Mwangi Githahu
For the first time in Kenya’s legal history men and boys could be recognised as legitimate victims of rape. Until now, Kenya’s laws have only recognised women and girls as victims of rape. This un-equal situation could be about to come to an end if Nominated MP Njoki Ndungu gets her way and manages to steer her proposed Sexual Offences Bill through parliament. Ms Ndungu who sits on the government benches and whose many interests include women and youth matters, has been working on the Sexual Offences Bill for the best part of the last two years in parliament. During this time she has had to fight prejudice and ignorance from critics and others, who misunderstood some of the things the Bill will be pushing for. The proposed piece of legislation is seen as timely now because in Kenya recently, there has been a shocking rise in reports of incest, rape and other sexual offences over the past few years.
Over two and a half months since the beginning of the year, hardly has a day gone by without a media report about rape or defilement, and many victims are babies. More than 32 cases of rape have been reported in newspapers so far this year. Twelve victims were minors, two of them aged four. Five were boys aged between five and nine years, and seven were teenage girls. Ms Ndungu’s is a crusade to stop this appalling trend in sex abuse. She wants to revolutionise the way sexual offences are classified and handled. She wants the public to understand that it is not just girls and women who can be victims; the law must recognise that boys and men too are abused. This April, Ms Ndung’u will table the Sexual Offences Bill and hopes it will be law by the end of the year. Speaking to this correspondent recently, Ms Ndung’u said she has the support of the Attorney-General’s office. As the bill is a non-political and non-partisan issue, Ms Ndung’u expects the support of the majority in the House. She has been quietly lobbying her colleagues and helping fellow MPs to understand the issues in the proposed law, which was quickly demonised as the "Castration Bill" when first touted.
Ms Ndung’u explained that when she first talked about the proposed Bill, she mentioned "castration" and her intentions were widely misinterpreted. "I was talking about chemical and not physical castration". She explained: "Chemical castration is very effective for treating disorder in men who cannot control their sexual urges, especially against children". Ms Ndung’u said chemical castration had proven quite effective in the US state of Florida. She explained that chemical castration is a term used to describe treatment with a drug called Depo-Provera that, when given to men, acts on the brain to inhibit hormones that stimulate the testicles to produce testosterone.
Depo-Provera is a common birth control pill and contains a synthetic version of the female hormone progesterone. Advocates of chemical castration hope thatinjections of Depo-Provera would prevent sexual perverts from molesting children in particular.
Asked if the majority of her colleagues, who are men, might see the proposed Bill as hostile to them, Ms Ndung’u, a lawyer by profession, said: "The Sexual Offences Bill will introduce a proper definition of rape and protect boys and men as well as girls and women." Said added: "It is not a man-hating bill at all. We are trying to protect men too by recognising that they can be raped. The Bill is about protecting the whole society, both male and female."
" There are increasing cases of rape committed during car-jackings, hijackings, muggings and violent robberies in homes. These will be classified as ‘aggravated rape’." Ms Ndung’u advocates harsh minimum sentence to deter rapists and other sexual offenders. The one-time state counsel explained: "Although there are laws laid down for certain offences, that latitude given to magistrates is being misused. So the introduction of a minimum punishment for a first offender, a second offender, those who have defiled children, etc, would be critical. I want to see criminals charged with sexual offences imprisoned for a long time. I have proposed the minimal sentence for first offenders be 15 years and more for repetitive rapists. I have proposed that criminals who prey on children, old women and the disabled get a minimum 30 years in jail."
In addition, Ms Ndung’u wants paedophiles (those who prey on children) to be publicly noted once they are released from jail "so that those living in the same area would know and act accordingly to protect their children". The legislator wants to drop the requirement that victims of rape first report to the police. "I want to make it possible for victims to go straight to hospital and seek treatment against any sexually transmitted infections, especially HIV/Aids. The Bill will propose that the burden of proof be shifted from the victim to the perpetrator. I want to introduce free compulsory treatment and counselling services for rape victims."
April 26, 2005
United Nations Human Rights Committee Opposes Kenyan Homosexuality Criminal Law
The United Nations Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) has urged the government to revoke the law criminalising homosexuality.
The committee, chaired by Ms Christine Chanete, said it was inconsistent with the UN covenant’s non-discrimination clauses for the government to consider homosexuality an unnatural act. Section 162 of the Kenyan Penal Code criminalises homosexuality as an unnatural act, and the offence is punishable with a jail sentence of up to 14 years. The committee’s proposal is contained in its recommendations on a human rights report submitted by the government to the United Nations last month.
Submitting the report, Attorney-General Amos Wako told the committee that the homosexuality movement appeared to be towards tolerance. "While homosexuality is not an issue per se, all the tribes and customs of the country, and churches abhor the practice," he said. A committee member, Mr. Roman Wieruszewski, expressed concern that Kenya considered homosexuality an unnatural act and had enacted laws to that effect.
May 11, 2005
AIDS Now Compels Africa to Challenge Widows’ ‘Cleansing’–(Malawi, Zambia, Kenya)
by Sharon LaFrainieremchinji, Malawi
In the hours after James Mbewe was laid to rest three years ago, in an unmarked grave not far from here, his 23-year-old wife, Fanny, neither mourned him nor accepted visits from sympathizers. Instead, she hid in his sister’s hut, hoping that the rest of her in-laws would not find her. But they hunted her down, she said, and insisted that if she refused to exorcise her dead husband’s spirit, she would be blamed every time a villager died. So she put her two small children to bed and then forced herself to have sex with James’s cousin.
" I cried, remembering my husband," she said. "When he was finished, I went outside and washed myself because I was very afraid. I was so worried I would contract AIDS and die and leave my children to suffer." Here and in a number of nearby nations including Zambia and Kenya, a husband’s funeral has long concluded with a final ritual: sex between the widow and one of her husband’s relatives, to break the bond with his spirit and, it is said, save her and the rest of the village from insanity or disease. Widows have long tolerated it, and traditional leaders have endorsed it, as an unchallenged tradition of rural African life. Now AIDS is changing that. Political and tribal leaders are starting to speak out publicly against so-called sexual cleansing, condemning it as one reason H.I.V. has spread to 25 million sub-Saharan Africans, killing 2.3 million last year alone. They are being prodded by leaders of the region’s fledging women’s rights movement, who contend that lack of control over their sex lives is a major reason 6 in 10 of those infected in sub-Saharan Africa are women.
But change is coming slowly, village by village, hut by hut. In a region where belief in witchcraft is widespread and many women are taught from childhood not to challenge tribal leaders or the prerogatives of men, the fear of flouting tradition often outweighs even the fear of AIDS. " It is very difficult to end something that was done for so long," said Monica Nsofu, a nurse and AIDS organizer in the Monze district in southern Zambia, about 200 miles south of the capital, Lusaka. "We learned this when we were born. People ask, Why should we change?"In Zambia, where one out of five adults is now infected with the virus, the National AIDS Council reported in 2000 that this practice was very common. Since then, President Levy Mwanawasa has declared that forcing new widows into sex or marriage with their husband’s relatives should be discouraged, and the nation’s tribal chiefs have decided not to enforce either tradition, their spokesman said.
Still, a recent survey by Women and Law in Southern Africa found that in at least one-third of the country’s provinces, sexual "cleansing" of widows persists, said Joyce MacMillan, who heads the organization’s Zambian chapter. In some areas, the practice extends to men.
Some Defy the Risk
Even some Zambian volunteers who work to curb the spread of AIDS are reluctant to disavow the tradition. Paulina Bubala, a leader of a group of H.I.V.-positive residents near Monze, counsels schoolchildren on the dangers of AIDS. But in an interview, she said she was ambivalent about whether new widows should purify themselves by having sex with male relatives. Her husband died of what appeared to be AIDS-related symptoms in 1996. Soon after the funeral, both Ms. Bubala and her husband’s second wife covered themselves in mud for three days. Then they each bathed, stripped naked with their dead husband’s nephew and rubbed their bodies against his.
Weeks later, she said, the village headman told them this cleansing ritual would not suffice. Even the stools they sat on would be considered unclean, he warned, unless they had sex with the nephew. " We felt humiliated," Ms. Bubala said, "but there was nothing we could do to resist, because we wanted to be clean in the land of the headman." The nephew died last year. Ms. Bubala said the cause was hunger, not AIDS. Her husband’s second wife now suffers symptoms of AIDS and rarely leaves her hut. Ms. Bubala herself discovered she was infected in 2000.
But even the risk of disease does not dent Ms. Bubala’s belief in the need for the ritual’s protective powers. "There is no way we are going to stop this practice," she said, "because we have seen a lot of men and women who have gone mad" after spouses died. Ms. Nsofu, the nurse and AIDS organizer, argues that it is less important to convince women like Ms. Bubala than the headmen and tribal leaders who are the custodians of tradition and gatekeepers to change. " We are telling them, ‘If you continue this practice, you won’t have any people left in your village,’ " she said. She cites people, like herself, who have refused to be cleansed and yet seem perfectly sane. Sixteen years after her husband died, she argues, "I am still me." Ms. Nsofu said she suggested to tribal leaders that sexual cleansing most likely sprang not from fears about the vengeance of spirits, but from the lust of men who coveted their relatives’ wives. She proposes substituting other rituals to protect against dead spirits, like chanting and jumping back and forth over the grave or over a cow.
Headman Is a Firm Believer
Like their counterparts in Zambia, Malawi’s health authorities have spoken out against forcing widows into sex or marriage. But in the village of Ndanga, about 90 minutes from the nation’s largest city, Blantyre, many remain unconvinced. Evance Joseph Fundi, Ndanga’s 40-year-old headman, is courteous, quiet-spoken and a firm believer in upholding the tradition. While some widows sleep with male relatives, he said, others ask him to summon one of the several appointed village cleansers. In the native language of Chewa, those men are known as fisis or hyenas because they are supposed to operate in stealth and at night. Mr. Fundi said one of them died recently, probably of AIDS. Still, he said with a charming smile, "We can not abandon this because it has been for generations." Since 1953, Amos Machika Schisoni has served as the principal village cleanser. He is uncertain of his age and it is not easily guessed at. His hair is grizzled but his arms are sinewy and his legs muscled. His hut of mud bricks, set about 50 yards from a graveyard, is even more isolated than most in a village of far-flung huts separated by towering weeds and linked by dirt paths.
What Tradition Dictates
He and the headman like to joke about the sexual demands placed upon a cleanserlike Mr. Schisoni, who already has three wives. He said tradition dictates that he sleep with the widow, then with each of his own wives, and then again with the widow, all in one night. Mr. Schisoni said that the previous headman chose him for his sexual prowess after he had impregnated three wives in quick succession. Now, Mr. Schisoni, said he continues his role out of duty more than pleasure. Uncleansed widows suffer swollen limbs and are not free to remarry, he said. "If we don’t do it, the widow will develop the swelling syndrome, get diarrhea and die and her children will get sick and die," he said, sitting under an awning of drying tobacco leaves. "The women who do this do not die."
His wives support his work, he said, because they like the income: a chicken for each cleansing session. He insisted that he cannot wear a condom because "this will provoke some other unknown spirit." He is equally adamant in refusing an H.I.V. test. "I have never done it and I don’t intend to do it," he said. To protect himself, he said, he avoids widows who are clearly quite sick . Told that even widows who look perfectly healthy can transmit the virus, Mr. Schisoni shook his head. "I don’t believe this," he said. At the traditional family council after James Mbewe was killed in a truck accident in August 2002, Fanny Mbewe’s mother and brothers objected to a cleanser, saying the risk of AIDS was too great. But Ms. Mbewe’s in-laws insisted, she said. If a villager so much as dreamed of her husband, they told her, the family would be blamed for allowing his spirit to haunt their community on the Malawi-Zambia border.
Her husband’s cousin, to whom she refers only as Loimbani, showed up at her hut at 9 o’clock at night after the burial.
" I was hiding my private parts," she said in an interview in the office of Women’s Voice, a Malawian human rights group. "You want to have a liking for a man to have sex, not to have someone force you. But I had no choice, knowing the whole village was against me." Loimbani, she said, was blasé. "He said: ‘Why are you running away? You know this is our culture. If I want, I could even make you my second wife." He did not. He left her only with the fear that she will die of the virus and that her children, now 8 and 10, will become orphans. She said she is too fearful to take an H.I.V. test. " I wish such things would change," she said.
February 22, 2006
Being gay in Kenya
Nairobi – Chinese stir-fry sizzles on the stove and lively conversation crackles between the three friends gathered round a table on a Tuesday night in Nairobi. It’s a run-of-the-mill dinner party but many Kenyans would say it is not a typical one. "I’m not afraid, but I’m not going to tell someone, ‘hey, I’m gay’," says Alex, 31, a marketing consultant. Stirring coconut milk into rice cooking on a glass-topped stove, Alex, who comes from a conservative Muslim background, says there are not many places to meet gay people and talks excitedly about wanting to open a gays-only bar. "There’s no gay anything here," he says.
More like ‘gay death’
"It’s more like gay death, not gay life in Nairobi." The three friends eating in the tiny kitchen are members of an unrecognised and stigmatised minority in Kenya. Keeping a low profile is their way of handling the isolation. While debates in developed countries rage over same-sex marriage, in most African countries gays and lesbians suffer from more basic concerns – the right to choose how to live. Homosexuality is outlawed in many African countries, including Kenya, and is often condemned as being "un-African" – a ‘disease’ imported from the West. In some traditional beliefs, homosexuals are said to be cursed or bewitched. "Homosexuality is against African norms and traditions, even in religion it is considered a great sin," former Kenyan president Daniel Arap Moi once said. "Kenya has no room for homosexuals and lesbians." In Cameroon this month, tabloid papers published names and photos of allegedly gay politicians, businessmen and musicians in what editors said was a crusade against "deviant behaviour." African bishops led by Nigerian Archbishop Peter Akinola mutinied last year over the issue of gay Anglican clergymen. Only South Africa, whose constitution was the world’s first to enshrine equal rights for gays and lesbians, bucks the trend. In December, its top court ruled it was unconstitutional to deny gays and lesbians the right to marry, paving the way for it to become the first African country to legalise same-sex marriage.
Though rarely enforced, punishment in Kenya for gay sex is five to 14 years in jail. Sex between women is not mentioned in the law. The gay Kenyan men interviewed by Reuters asked to have their names changed, citing potential family and work problems. "I don’t want my parents to know something that will end up hurting them," Alex said. Many in Kenya say they live closeted lives because they risk being disowned or fired if their family or bosses find out. "People live double lives here. There’s a life you live with your straight friends and the life you live as a gay person," says Jeremy, the co-ordinator for Galebitra, a local gay and lesbian rights organisation. "We are vulnerable, we are neglected, and we don’t have any visibility," he adds, speaking softly in the upstairs part of a hamburger bar in downtown Nairobi. Jeremy says he comes to the restaurant because it is more "gay-friendly." Tall and lean, Jeremy slouches and says, almost whispering, "Without massive protest and gay people coming out, standing up for what they want, the government will continue disowning us." He says if one country in East Africa opened up, it would clear the way for the surrounding countries to follow. "The situation you see in Kenya is the same for East Africa. If our country can open up, it’ll be a big breakthrough," he said.
According to Behind the Mask, a South African-based gay and lesbian rights group, laws prohibiting homosexuality exist in most East African countries except for Eritrea and Rwanda, where there are no laws specifically banning homosexuality. Punishments range from a few years in prison to death. Last month in Nigeria, the government gave initial approval to a draft law which would ban homosexuality and same-sex marriage. The bill would make homosexual acts punishable with five years in prison and outlaw gay groups and rallies. It has yet to be approved by parliament. On a continent with many Western missionaries and still-flourishing animist beliefs, religion plays a major role in shaping public opinion, especially in rural areas. Around three-quarters of Kenyans are Christians. The Catholic Church and the Protestant churches in Kenya, including Anglicans, condemn homosexuality as sinful. In Islam, the Qur’an forbids homosexual acts.
A poll in Kenya last year showed that 96% of respondents viewed homosexuality as being against their beliefs. Illustrating the social prejudices, opposing sides in Kenya’s constitutional referendum last year accused each other of wanting to legalise homosexuality. "Homosexuality is not an issue (the authorities) particularly want to get involved with," says Mwangi Githahu, a journalist with the influential Nation newspaper.
He said most Kenyans did not want to talk about homosexuality. "The law and everybody else pretend it’s not happening, they just don’t want to know," he added. "There’s this crazy idea out there that homosexuality is un-African. Where that came from, nobody really knows," he says. Back in the restaurant, Jeremy argues that there are many different kinds of traditional family structures in Africa and asks why same-sex relationships cannot be part of that. "There’s a lot of talk about family values. In Africa, family unions are very important," he says. "Emotional values are part of same-sex unions. We share the same family problems … but if you don’t talk about it then it becomes a silent killer."
June 26, 2006
Conference addresses gay issues in Africa
Nairobi – "We are here in Africa. We live in the mainstream, we pay taxes like everybody else, we relate with people in the mainstream. We are a naturally occurring phenomenon in the universe," said activist Donna Smith of gay people in Africa. The representative of the Forum for the Empowerment of Women – a black, lesbian organisation based in Johannesburg – was speaking at the second Africa Conference on Sexual Health and Rights that took place in Nairobi last week. About 400 delegates gathered for the meeting which sought, in part, to improve policies and programmes on sexuality in Africa. The first such meeting
was held in Johannesburg in 2004.
A session on gay sexuality proved a drawcard. Many countries in Africa still outlaw homosexuality, including Kenya , where it is punishable by jail terms of up to 14 years. In addition to repressive legislation, gays face stigmatisation and discrimination. At worst, discrimination ends in violence. Fikile Vilakazi, of the Coalition of African Lesbians, cited the example of Zoliswa Nkonyana, a 19-year-old lesbian who was killed by a mob in Cape Town earlier this year because of her sexual orientation. Vilakazi said that matters were aggravated by officials’ attitudes towards gays. "A number of rape and assault cases have been reported to police stations. When one reports, the police respond by asking why one is a lesbian."
How Boys are Socialised
A study in Kenya revealed that nearly forty per cent of men who have sex with men (MSM) had been raped outside their home and thirteen per cent had been assaulted by the police (Niang et al. 2002, cited in Barker and Ricardo, 2005). This makes it harder for men to adopt alternative, more equitable, masculinities. Even for those men who are able to conform to dominant norms of masculinity, the consequences may be no less harmful. The principal causes of death for young men are violence and traffic accidents, both of which are directly related to how boys are socialised (the process by which individuals learn and teach others to abide by cultural norms and expectations)
December 16th, 2006
Health minister Charity Ngilu said she would table (present) the issue of homosexuality among Coastal youths before the Cabinet
Ngilu termed the situation serious, adding that the matter must be handled at the Cabinet level. Speaking in Mombasa during a leaders meeting, Ngilu said she was shocked by revelations that homosexuality among teenagers was rampant in Coastal towns. “I did not know that homosexuality and sodomy were rampant among our youths in the Coast. This is a very sad thing. I will table the matter before the Cabinet so that we can find ways of ending this shameful menace,” she said. “What does the future hold for our children if some of them indulge in homosexuality and sodomy?” she asked.
She said homosexuality was illegal in Kenya. “We cannot allow sex between man and man. Men should have sexual relationships with women only,” she said. She urged the provincial administration to crack down on tycoons who, she said, lured youths into homosexuality. Coast General Hospital chief administrator, Dr Khadija Shikelly, said schoolgirls engaged in anal sex to avoid getting pregnant. “There is need for parents to educate their children on the dangers of this vice,” she said.
National Heritage minister, Suleiman Shakombo, said some girls engaged in the vice to preserve their virginity. “This is due to some traditions that teach girls that they must be virgins when they get married,” he said. Elsewhere, Reproductive Health organisation’s deputy director, Dr Josephine Kibaru, has decried the rise in cases of HIV/Aids among youths. Kibaru said studies by the Health ministry had shown that children aged between 14 and 15 were sexually active. She made the remarks at the Coast Provincial Commissioner’s office during a meeting, which focused on adolescents.
Reaction to this story:
April 12th 2007
OMG I can’t believe this! Thats funny because wen i read this title i thoght it was vile and especially in kenya- unheard of! lol but in true ecssense im live in the uk and for the sake of political correctness and the culture i share here may i argue aginst this article- how dare she condem this lifestle with such words as sodomy should it matter what sexuality somebody is as long as it dosent hurt anyone else. she also says “it is a sad thing this vice” im sorry but that is totaly unacceptable hu is she 2 judge how another person should live their life. as 4 hiv people in a hetrosexual relationships also contract these disease if for anythging we should blame those cheating fathers hu r out sleeping with prostitutes on so called “bussiness trips”! we cannot deny african values are being influenced by the west and our youth are finally given the freedom to express themselves as never before. and there is no way any law, organization or power is going 2 stop that. the only shameful thing about this story is the homophobics writing it