Kenyan Leader Orders Arrest of Anyone Engaging in ’Homosexual Activity’
The head of the Kenyan government has ordered that anyone engaged in "[homo]sexual activities" be arrested and prosecuted.
With those orders, the African nation joins other countries on the continent in ramping up persecution of gays and lesbians. The Kenyan prime minister, Raila Odinga, issued the order on Nov. 28, reported Capital News on that same day.
Odinga couched the anti-gay orders in statements about a recent census and a proposed new constitution. Noting that the census showed about equal numbers of men and women in Kenya, Odinga questioned why anyone would engage in homosexual conduct, the Capital News article said. Odinga also denied that there was any chance that a new Kenyan constitution would set out protections or family equality rights for gays and lesbians, in the manner of the South African constitution.
Rather than guaranteeing family parity for all, the new constitution sets out protections for heterosexual families only. "Every adult has the right to marry a person of the opposite sex, based on the free consent of the parties," a clause in the new constitution reads.
South Africa is the only nation in the world that guarantees equal rights for sexual minorities as a matter of constitutional law. South Africa also extends marriage rights to same-sex families as well as heterosexuals.
But other African nations have taken legal and social aim at gays. A bill pending in Uganda would impose the death penalty on gays who have repeated sexual encounters with others of the same gender; a tabloid newspaper in that nation recently published the names and photos of one hundred people it declared to be gay and called for them to be hanged.
The tabloid’s anti-gay campaign has been linked to incidents of violence targeting gays and lesbians. A Ugandan equality advocate wrote an essay, published in British newspaper The Guardian, describing how the situation in Uganda has deteriorated for GLBTs in the wake of a bill having been introduced by anti-gay lawmaker David Bahati that not only stiffens the penalty for gay sex by imposing the death sentence in some instances, but also criminalizes the discretion of people who know about a gay relationship but do not report it.
A recent meeting of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights refused to accredit a lesbian rights group, the Coalition of African Lesbians, saying that the group played no role in promoting or safeguarding human rights, according to a Nov. 25 story at AllAfrica.com. The article noted that another African nation, Zimbabwe, hailed the Commission’s decision.
Last year, a gay couple in Malawi was arrested under than country’s "decency laws," and, after a long prison stay, were put on trial for having celebrated a traditional engagement ceremony. They were sentenced to fourteen years’ hard labor, but were pardoned and freed in the wake of an international outcry.
Anti-gay laws in Kenya also prescribe 14-year sentences, and the leader of the Kenyan government outlined a similarly hard-line position. "We will not tolerate such behaviors in the country," declared the prime minister. "The constitution is very clear on this issue, and men or women found engaging in homosexuality will not be spared." Added Odinga, "Any man found engaging in sexual activities with another man should be arrested. Even women found engaging in sexual activities will be arrested."
Saying that gay sexual conduct would "not be tolerated in this country," Odinga warned, "Men or women found engaging in those acts deserve to be arrested and will be arrested."
Odinga made his comments during a pubic rally in Kibera, a slum in Nairobi, Capital News reported.
HIV/AIDS activists and health professionals warn that nations that criminalize homosexuality risk worsening the health crisis by driving gays underground and discouraging testing and treatment. Others worry that laws persecuting gays will lead to an uptick in criminal activities such as blackmail. The Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya’s David Kuria issued just such a warning, telling British new source the BBC that "People will succumb to extortion, blackmail and violence" in the wake of the anti-gay crackdown, and lamenting, "We thought in this country we had made a lot of headway."
Kenyan law criminalizes same-gender sexual contact, calling such contact "carnal knowledge against the order of nature." Socially, homosexuality is strongly rejected in the country, with 96% of Kenyans responding negatively toward gays in a 2007 Pew survey, according to a Wikipedia article.
The article also notes that transgendered individuals, and intersex individuals (who are born with both male and female genitalia) are subject to "stigma, discrimination, and violence" in that nation.
Attempts by same-sex couples to stage unofficial wedding ceremonies have drawn police action and religious protest, including a violent rally called "Operation Gays Out" that was undertaken jointly in the town of Mtwapa by Christian and Islamic religious leaders earlier this year. Sheikh Hussein Ali and Bishop Laurence Chai spearheaded the vigilante action.
"We thank God for saving this town from being turned to Sodom and Gomorra of this era as we may be on verge of being doomed had this criminals managed to conduct their evil exercise within our neighborhood," said Chai after the melee. Chai and Ali publicly called for the government to close any nightspots catering to gays, and Ali swore further violence against gays, urging residents of Mtwapa to attack them.
The new level of legal persecution may have health repercussions. Last year, in a bid to address the HIV epidemic, Kenyan officials sought to launch a census of the nation’s gay population. However, since the law punishes gays with nearly a decade and a half of prison time, health officials doubted an accurate survey could be made.
An Oct. 29 BBC News article reported that even the head of Nascop, the Kenyan program to stem HIV infections, doesn’t think that the census will be successful. Nicholas Muraguri held out hope that a census could help efforts to educate the public, carry out HIV testing, and distribute condoms, but the anti-gay laws in that nation are expected to hinder the new initiative. "Kenyans cannot actually afford to say that the gay community are isolated somewhere in the corner--they are part of our lives," Muraguri told the BBC News. "This group must be reached with information and services so they know how to protect themselves from getting infected."
The country has had some success in fighting the AIDS epidemic, the article said, with the nation’s population once hitting a peak 10% rate of HIV infections. In the last decade, that rate has fallen four percent, the article said.
Gay equality advocate Peter Njane pointed out that the public had little idea about safer sex. "Most of the gay community think that having sex with men is safe. There’s no information here about safety measures," Njane told the BBC.