When US President Barak Obama confronted President Uhuru Kenyatta with the question about his stand on the rights of gays, the Kenyan president’s response was forthright, apt, and absolutely witty. He shifted focus to the similarities and dissimilarities in Kenya’s and US priorities. “Kenya and the US share so many values. Our common love for democracy, entrepreneurship and value for families. These are things that we share, but there are some things we must admit we don’t share – that our culture, our societies don’t accept,” the president explained.
“It is very difficult for us to be able to impose on people that which they themselves do not accept. That is why I repeatedly say, for Kenyans today, the issue of gay rights is really a non-issue. We want to focus on other areas that are day-to-day living for our people.” That was back in 2015 as the two presidents shared a platform at State House, Nairobi. Almost four years later, hundreds, if not thousands of Obama’s ilk are converging in Nairobi to attend the ICPD25, but with a not-too-dissimilar agenda.
The Kenyan president might once again find himself with the difficult choice between remaining true to the values and ethos of the Kenyan people and embracing the dictum of the West. Unfortunately, the question that President Kenyatta might be faced with this time may not be as clear.
When President Obama confronted Kenyatta with the gay agenda in 2015, Obama was forthright. “I’m unequivocal on this. If somebody is a law-abiding citizen who is going about their business and working in a job and obeying the traffic signs and doing all the other things that good citizens are supposed to do and not harming anybody, the idea that they are going to be treated differently or abused because of who they love is wrong. Full stop.” It is this “Full stop” that President Kenyatta readily turned into a comma and proceeded to outline Kenya’s priorities.
In contrast, however, the language at the ICPD is fluid and hazy – at least to the ordinary person. You can never tell where the comma, the colon, or question mark is, let alone the full stop. The ICPD nomenclature is so coded that it requires the gift of interpretation of tongues to decipher. For example, in the first conference in 1994 in Cairo, “Member states developed the ICPD Programme of Action (ICPD POA). Its salient areas included links between provision of universal access to sexual and reproductive health and rights as part of universal health coverage.” How many of us understand what is being said?
And yet, such a simple statement is loaded with special terms – universal access, sexual health and rights, Reproductive health and rights, universal health coverage (UHC), etc. Each of these expressions is pregnant with meaning and loaded with import. For example, the World Health Organisation defines sexual health as a state of physical, mental and social well-being in relation to sexuality. Sexual and health rights are thus listed to include: family planning, abortion, freedom from involuntary female genital mutilation, intersex rights, LGBTQ rights, reproductive health and right to sexuality. Hence, though the ICPD focus on population development is noble, the hidden language appears to deliberately camouflage moral and ethical issues.
For Western nations, however, this agenda appears to be a critical plank at the ICPD25. According to a UNFPA web page, Norwegian Minister of International Development, Dag-Inge Ulstein, declared that his country would allocate seven million Norwegian kroner (around $770,000) to “demonstrate Norway’s support for the objectives of the Nairobi Summit.”
Referring to opposition to unfettered abortion, Mr Ulstein said, “Norway is going to Nairobi to push back (against that) push back.” Similarly, UNFPA reported Peter Eriksson, Sweden’s Minister for International Development Cooperation, declaring their support: “Sweden will contribute $500,000 to make the Nairobi summit a success and end the unfinished business of ICPD.” He further declared, “As sexual and reproductive health and rights come under attack in many parts of the world, Sweden will not back down.”
It is clear that the ICPD nomenclature is loaded and must of necessity be unpacked before nations sign the Nairobi commitments. In particular, the Kenyan delegation must not commit us to matters that have not been fully subjected to public participation in line with our constitution.
For there are some things we must admit we do not share – that our culture, and our societies do not accept. Accordingly, we pray that our president will withstand global pressure that seeks to deflect us from critical matters to non-issues.
- The writer is the presiding bishop of Christ is the Answer Ministries. [email protected]