OPINION: Pushing for LGBTQ rights in Kenya is focusing on non-issues

By Leonard Khafafa

One of the times President Uhuru Kenyatta has gotten the approbation of Kenyans is on the issue of gay rights. Asked, by American president Barack Obama, to comment on alleged infringement on fundamental rights of lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgenders and queers (LGBTQ), Kenyatta responded with Solomonic wisdom. Declaring the topic a non-issue in Kenya, he forestalled a difficult conversation that would have led to curtailment of much needed foreign aid tied to LGBTQ rights.

But that bullet has not been dodged. The global North is still determined to tie the economic well-being of nations with prurient matters.

A recent report titled The Economic Case for LGBT+ Inclusion in Kenya says, “Kenya loses between Ksh.18.5 billion and Ksh.130 billion every year.” “This”, it adds, “is because of policies that assign criminality and discriminate against members of the LGBTQ community.”

It is instructive that a coalition of 27 global companies is behind this report. Most of these are American companies. President Joe Biden’s administration appears to have set his country’s agenda towards LGBTQ+. On his first day in office, he signed an executive order that affirmed his administration’s support for gay rights.

Having made LGTBQ+ the centrepiece of American policy, there is now a concerted soft power effort to coerce nations across the globe to acquiesce to this new culture. Kenya is clearly targeted because of a section of the Penal Code that criminalizes homosexuality. Further, the country does not recognize same-sex marriages.

But to allege, as the report does, that “LGBTQ+ Kenyans are harassed by State officials and are often subjected to physical violence and death threats,” is risible.

For the most part, Kenyans treat this community as oddities, ignored because of greater existential concerns like food security, economic and political stability. It is not therefore far-fetched that those within the country claiming discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation are opportunists stringing along gullible donors convinced that there is persecution of the LGBTQ+ community.

But it must be noted that though Kenyans are mildly tolerant of gay persons, there are no regulatory gray areas when it comes to its laws.

The Penal Code expressly forbids “an act against the order of nature” and prescribes punishment for the guilty. This aligns with the position of most African communities that find LGBTQ+ lifestyles repugnant to their sensibilities. Indeed, out of the continent’s 54 countries, 36 criminalize homosexual activity.

There is danger in allowing the decay of African conventions through pressure from the West. There is the immediate peril of the global North’s agenda to keep the continent preoccupied with non-issues while extractive capitalism continues behind its back. Then there is the insidious erosion of identity where biological differences between men and women are blurred.

In such cases, gender becomes a social construct. Women identify as men and vice versa. Others identify as binary, meaning they are neither male nor female. Confusion is compounded when it comes to provision of public facilities like washrooms.

It is unethical for global companies to leverage on their influence to promote lifestyles that are inconsistent with the mores and ethos of Africans. The sovereignty of nations is undermined by tying access to global trade and finance to acceptance of what is taboo. If an “open for business” city entails opening up to what Kenyans consider sexually deviant behaviour, Nairobi would rather stay closed.

Because Kenya is said to be 85 per cent Christian, these unattributed words speak to the position of the majority. “Yes, I am a Christian. I believe the Bible. I do not support homosexuality or ‘homosexual marriage.’ Yes, I still love you. Yes, we are still friends. No, I am not judging you. No, I will not let anyone bully you. But realize that name-calling and stereotyping those of us who stand for what we believe is exactly what you do not want done to you. We have a right to speak what we believe, same as you have a right to speak what you believe.”

Leonard Khafafa is a Public Policy Analyst

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