Tuesday, November 30, 2010

When a Continent Hates

My recent visit to Kenya was short lived. I only spent 3 days in Nairobi and unlike my previous visit there I didn’t get to see much of the country this time around. However, during my brief stay I did make time to speak to some locals and get their views on homosexuality and issues affecting GLBT people in Kenya. Striking to me was Kenya’s willingness to change with a couple of large bill boards next to the road that optimistically reads “Kenya, a new constitution by 2030”. Kenya seems to have hope; they even had David Kuria, an openly gay activist running for senate. However, all this progress came to a screeching halt on Sunday with Raila Odinga (Kenya’s Prime Minister) threatening a crackdown on homosexuals. This led me to wonder, will institutionalized homophobia in Africa ever be eradicated?
Kenya, like most African countries, queerly believes that homosexuality is unnatural and does not occur in their society - Homosexuality is an affliction only suffered by Europeans and most definitely is not an African phenomena.  This misconception is widely spread throughout the continent, so widely spread that it’s enormously sad that this is believed by many. And this misconception will continue to thrive until African countries seize to repress, threaten, persecute and kill homosexuals.  But unfortunately, for some it serves their interests to perpetuate this misconception.

Homosexuals in Africa have been bullied into hiding by self-serving leaders using the homophobic agenda to gain political leverage. In some cases this leverage also involves large sums of money in the form of “funding, donations or aid” from western fundamentalist groups trying to further their own economic and political agendas in Africa. Just look at what is still happening in Uganda and Malawi.

The reality in Kenya is that homophobia and ignorance about GLBT people are prevalent, but not as prevalent as you would think. There are villages, slums and areas in certain cities in Kenya where homosexual best avoid going. But for the average man on the street the eradication of homosexuality features very low on their agenda. Homosexuality is tolerated as long as it’s not flaunted. Nairobi, Kenya’s capital even has some very well known gay bars and a thriving gay community. However, when statements are made like the one of Raila Odinga on Sunday it is normal for the gay community’s natural caution of living in a country where homosexuality is punishable by 14 years in imprisonment to turn into worry and possibly fear.
It has been reported by the Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya, that since Sunday they have received numerous phone calls from members of the GLBT community expressing their fears of being arrested or possibly falling victim to extortion of money from people threatening to expose them or officials wanting to arrest them. One would think that Kenya who is currently considered to be one of Africa’s largest drug smuggling hubs with a large prevalence of heroin addiction and resulting HIV infections would have more important issues to address than that of homosexuality. But then again, homosexuals makes for easy targets and fabulous villains with whom you can threaten ignorant society, garner more votes and support as have been done so eloquently by Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe in the recent past.

Why is it that whenever African leaders experience a lull politically or are perceived to be losing favor they turn to the gay community for a basing and ego bolstering? Do they not realize that this has been identified as a clear trend in Africa? It’s like beauty Queens when unable to muster an original answer uttering the words “World peace!” When African leaders are stuck and are incapable of resolving issues in their own countries they pick on the gays. It’s pathetic and it’s bigoted!
The bigotry unfortunately is not only isolated to clearly homophobic African countries; unfortunately South Africa is also guilty of this. On 16 November 2010 South Africa agreed along with Uganda, Saudi Arabia, Zimbabwe, Uzbekistan, Syria, Belize, Libya, Tanzania, Comoros, Lebanon, Ethiopia, Morocco, Burundi, Eritrea, Angola, Kenya, Cameroon, Algeria, Tunisia, Kuwait, Ghana, Liberia, Senegal, Guyana, Jamaica, Sierra Leone, Malawi and Malaysia to remove GLBT protection from a United Nations resolution on illegal executions.  By removing GLBT protection from a United Nations resolution it effectively gives the green light to the on-going murder of GLBT people by homophobic regimes, death squads and vigilantes. Quite sad seeing as GLBT rights is protected in South Africa and one would think it would be morally wrong for South Africa to deny this right to other people. But this is how it goes on the African continent, a continent that appears to hate when it suits their political agenda.

Institutionalized homophobia does not seem to be going away anytime soon. Parts of Africa still like to bully homosexuals for political gain while others appear to have no problem to turn their backs on the GLBT community when it serves their agendas. The GLBT community in Africa still has a long road to travel to attain equality and freedom for all. But as we have proven in the past we queer folk are tenacious and we will not be bullied or threatened into submission. So all my brothers in sisters in Africa stay strong, stay proud and stay vigilant!

Till next time.

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