We must stand up for rights, freedoms of all human beings

Members of the Civil Society demonstrating against impunity wants the Judiciary to take action. [File, Standard]
A legislator demands the National Assembly monitors LGBTIQ funding in Kenya, women are publicly counselled against tight skirts and casual sex relationships in Tanzania and Uganda and 7,000 human-beings are on the run from identity-based violence in South Africa. Our phobias are getting in the way of how we see people and fear-based leadership is accelerating it.

This week, the National Assembly declined to debate a petition introduced by nominated MP Jennifer Shamalla. The motion quotes gay people in the same sentence as words like “sexual deviants” and “non-psychotic medical disorder.” It seeks to compel the NGO Coordination Board to collect fiscal information on the National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission and all organisations that fund gay groups in Kenya.

The call for financial transparency is not a problem. These organisations already file taxes and returns with the Kenya Revenue Authority, NGO Coordination Board or other authorities. The problem is lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) Kenyans currently face three times more abuse and violence than heterosexual women and men.

This petition will predictably be used to profile and demonise the limited development funding that protects LGBTIQ persons from being isolated, denied the right to work and housing and freedom from stigma and violence. The moment is not without some irony. The petitioner was nominated to represent women, youth and marginalised groups in the National Assembly and the National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission has been in our courts for at least five years seeking the right to be registered.

Visiting Tanzania, Kenyan Resolution Health executives came face-to-face with Government’s conservative dress-code restrictions. Confronted with a poster of what is decent and indecent dress, at least one of their party was required to cover their knees with a lesso before the meeting could begin.

Preparing for the upcoming Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference, Ugandan Parliamentary Speaker Rebecca Kadaga felt it necessary to remind MPs to avoid casual sex and specifically, mentioned Jamaican men and women from the Pacific islands.

However, it was the news from South Africa that dominated the international news. Migrants from Nigeria, Ethiopians, Congolese and Zimbabwe have been systematically targeted by mobs of young and poor South Africans. Traumatised, eye-witnesses have spoken how they saw neighbours attack neighbours “like dogs.” With 12 dead, 653 arrests, 7,000 seeking refuge in community and NGO centres and over 600 Nigerians evacuated home, is it reasonable to say the Rainbow Nation has lost its rainbow?

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What do these four moments have in common? All four stories are fuelled by identity-based and fear-centred profiling and phobias. The fear that a gay person who could destroy the foundation of marriage and family by loving someone of the same sex. The phobia of women with a mini-skirt that could disrupt a business meeting with a flash of her knees. The profiling of highly sexualised Jamaicans who could rob Ugandans of their purity and moral decency. The migrant stealing our jobs, businesses and possibly our future.

Homo-phobia, gyno-phobia (fear of independent women), xeno-phobia or afro-phobia are anxiety disorders. They are defined by a persistent and excessive fear of groups we perceive to be different and a threat to us or our way of life. When those of us with authority manifest it, fear-based leadership always demonises, divides and destroys someone or some group in society.

Social cohesion, inequality, unemployment, poverty and criminality are real pre-occupations for all of us. South Africa’s Economic Freedom Fighter leader Julius Malema was clearest this week. He reminded South Africans that they are the children of formidable and brave freedom fighters not cowards or criminals that steal people’s property. The problems in South Africa will not disappear with the departure of African migrants. The violence will simply turn inwards and set the Zulu against the Xhosa and others. Demonising and dominating LGBTIQ persons, women and economic migrants who are less powerful and privileged than us will also not solve these challenges.

Lightly paraphrased, Proverbs 18:21 tells us that the power of life and death is on our tongues and in our actions. We must resist those that seek to feed us fear and confusion. Human society is too complex to be divided into friend or foe. We must find ways for standing up for the rights and freedoms for all human beings. The rent we pay for our own humanity is to allow others to enjoy it also.

- The writer is Amnesty International Executive Director. [email protected]

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LGBTIQKenyaNational AssemblyHuman rights