By Peter Orengo
The gay community is working day and night to transform itself from a fringe group to one that enjoys official legitimacy from the government and Kenyans in general.
Today this community has found representation in legitimate government-run organisations formed to fight HIV, ostensibly to highlight the plight of homosexual people afflicted by Aids.
Experts believe the real reason for this sudden interest is to have a share of billions that come from gay lobbies elsewhere.
There are also legitimate state programmes to tackle HIV and promote awareness in Kenya. The government also receives funding from foreign financiers towards the fight against HIV and Aids.
The National Aids Control Council (NACC) notes that Aids prevalence in the country exceeds 18 per cent, among both men who have sex with men and people who inject drugs, while 29.3 per cent of female sex workers are living with HIV. This is well below the national average of 6.3 per cent .
A 2012 surveillance report by Most at Risk Populations (MARSPs) shows that nearly 40 per cent of all Men who have Sex with other Men (MSM) have been married to women and 13 per cent of all gay males are still currently married to a woman.
Many gay men in both Nairobi (62 per cent) and Kisumu (52 per cent) identify their sexual identity as gay.
“This is clear indication that the number of gay men is either on the increase, or more men are coming out,” says Dr Nicholas Muraguri who is the former head of the National Aids and STIs Control Programme (NASCOP).
Two weeks ago, the National Aids Control Council denied releasing a report that indicated Nyanza led other regions in number of gay men and gay prostitutes after the report created uproar among critics.
These critics claimed the figures had been doctored so that donor funds could be channeled to that region.
NACC vehemently denied it had released this data, arguing that the purported facts were citations from “unofficial sources”.
Such is the amount of interest that attracts the gay lobby and interest groups whenever new research touching on homosexuality and lesbianism is released. Homosexuality is largely considered to be taboo and repugnant to cultural values and morality of Kenya and the state considers same-sex sexual acts as crimes of unnatural acts.
Despite this, various organisations are working to protect and improve the rights of this group.
“The gay lobby groups, which within a few years were absent or working underground, have risen to ten. They are not only well organised, but also well-funded by some oversees ‘human rights’ entities”, claimed a lobbyist who requested not to be named for fear of appraisals.
Notable among these donors is the Open Society Foundations, funded by an American billionaire George Soros, and the Urgent Action Fund.
Their operations in Nairobi and other parts of the country have been covert, away from public glare and sanction.
However, since the 2007 World Social Forum in Nairobi, there has been a concerted effort to promote the gay agenda more openly and boldly.
One lobby group claims it has the support of some high-ranking government officials, including some Members of Parliament and two former cabinet ministers and has pushed for weakening sections 162 and 165 of the penal code that criminalises homosexuality.
However, the penalty for committing unnatural acts remains five to 14 years’ imprisonment.
Nevertheless, the gay community believes it has made some progress, claiming that the constitution only prohibits same-sex marriage but not same-sex relations.
The Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya (GALCK) and Galebitra have been pushing for greater liberties from their members. Established in May 2006, GALCK is a coalition of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (GLBTI) organisations based in Kenya. The website galck.org expressly states their core mission to be the deletion of sections 162-165 of the penal code that criminalises sodomy in Kenya. Section 165 titled Indecent Practices Between Males states:
“Any male person who, whether in public or private, commits any act of gross indecency with another male person, or procures another male person to commit any act of gross indecency with him, or attempts to procure the commission of any such act by any male person with himself or with another male person, whether in public or private, is guilty of a felony and is liable to imprisonment for five years.”
The act makes no mention of women, and there is no evidence to suggest that women have been convicted under this section of the penal code.
The coalition contesting these laws comprises Minority Women in Action (MWA), Gay Kenya, Ishtar, GALEBITRA, TOMIK, Diverse Outing, Changing Attitudes and Equality Now. Their followers on Facebook have hit 683 individuals.
Among some of their activities include legal representation and assistance, research, strategic communication, monitoring and evaluation, health and social services, and monitoring and evaluation.
GALCK claims in its website that its work is funded by various donors, who include the Norwegian Agency for Development, through Norwegian National Association for Lesbian and Gay Liberation.
Others are the American Jewish World Service, Humanist Institute for Cooperation with Developing Countries, Open Society Institute of East Africa, East African Sexual Health and Rights Initiative and Equal Rights Trust.
It lists 14 partners which it says include NACC on health care discussion of MSM, Kenya Human Rights Commission, International Commission of Jurists, the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights, Liverpool VCT Care and Treatment and American Foundation of Aids Research among others.
Ishtar MSM, a community-based organisation working with gay men in Nairobi was established in 1997, making it the oldest of the Kenyan gay organisation. The founder director, Emmanuel Kamau a.k.a. “Aunty Ivy” fled into exile in the USA soon after the World Social Forum of 2007, claiming his life was in danger.
The group is now under a new country director but Kamau still has links back home and could be the main liaison to the organisation’s funding.
“Our vision is to attain full sexual health rights and social well being for MSM in Kenya by creating general awareness with the aim of empowering the MSM while advocating for the rights to their good health,” says Peter Njane, the Ishtar director.
A Nairobi don and researcher who also works at the Kenya Medical Research Institute Dr Kizito Lubano says just like HIV attracted funds, the plight of gays in Africa is attracting a lot of funds in equal measure. These groups prepare proposals and write concept reports to sympathetic foreign nations and organisations.
“These groups attract a lot of funds from abroad because some developed countries believe they face discrimination. Because most research shows homosexuals are the most vulnerable to HIV, anyone would be willing to pour money in that area,” said Dr Lubano.
Recent development in the US is consistent with what Dr Lubano is alluding to. The cnsnews.com reported how the National Institutes of Health (NIH) authorised a three-year study to find out why some HIV-positive homosexual men in Kenya do not seek the free treatment that American taxpayers already are funding.
The study, which will cost the US taxpayers Sh20 million, seeks to encourage Kenyan homosexuals, including prostitutes, to avail themselves for antiretroviral therapy Aids treatment and to continue with medication once they start.
“Although MSM are at very high risk for HIV globally, this group has only recently become an important focus of our national HIV and Aids programmes in sub-Saharan Africa,” the project description says.
The report says researchers have worked with male prostitutes on the Kenyan coast since 2005 and have found “significant disparities” among people who seek treatment and continue with the therapy, partly due to “stigma and social isolation”.
The US government through President’s Emergency Plan For Aids Relief (PEPFAR) programme says, the project is “consistent with” priorities set by the NIH Office of Aids research on “reducing HIV-related disparities and improving disease outcomes for HIV-infected individuals”.
Last week, US President Barack Obama, while in Senegal, infuriated many Africans, including heads of states when he encouraged African governments to decriminalise homosexuality.
Deputy President William Ruto urged the US president to respect the African country’s culture and religious beliefs that view homosexuality as a sin.
“No one should have any worry about Kenya’s stand as a God-fearing nation. President Obama is a powerful man but we trust in God as it is written in the Bible that cursed is the man who puts trust in another man,” Ruto said.