Chiloba death: It's wrong for anyone to accuse Kenyans of homophobia

Slain LGBTQ activist Edwin Kiptoo Chiloba. His body was found in a metal box that had been dumped by the roadside in Eldoret. 

Most societies have mores that define them. Many times, these are traits that are specific to them. What is culturally accepted in some places may be at odds with the conventions of others.

For instance, in some communities, breaking wind at the dinner table is deemed an appropriate compliment to one’s host. In others, it is considered offensive.

Kenyans have general social norms that are acceptable across the country’s ethnic diversity. Citizens are for the most part tolerant of each other’s foibles. Whilst public discussions of a prurient nature are usually frowned on, they are not taboo. However, the law does set limits on overly affectionate public displays. It also expressly forbids homosexual relationships, prescribing punishment for the same in the country’s penal code.

The law notwithstanding, Kenyans have tended to treat the LGBTQ community with mild amusement; more like a social aberration than a force that threatens to rip apart the fabric of community. To that end, the penal code has hardly been enforced and many people are acquainted with people who profess to homosexuality. Which is why Kenyans take great exception to narratives that attempt to paint the country as being homophobic.

The unfortunate murder of LGBTQ activist Edwin Kiptoo Chiloba is a case in point. Chiloba’s lifeless body was found in a metal box that had been dumped by the roadside. Even before the police had initiated investigations, LGBTQ proponents took to all forms of media decrying the alleged harassment and murders of their ranks. Rights groups have linked Chiloba’s killing to his sexuality.

The BBC has also carried a story to the effect that, “more than half of LGBTQ Kenyans have been assaulted”. Yet preliminary police investigations point to a love affair gone sour. Four people have been arrested, who seem to have been in a relationship with the dead activist.

Rights activists and the BBC are wrong about the alleged persecution of the LGBTQ community in Kenya. As long as they are not overtly flaunting their lifestyle choices, no one is bothered by them.

LGBQT rights are the “new flavour of the month” because of the copious amounts of donor funding they attract. [iStockphoto]

In fact, many have come out of the closet over their sexual orientation without attracting any criminal sanction. A newspaper report quotes music producer and singer Savara Mudigi saying, “music group Sauti Sol wasn’t affected in the slightest when its member Willis Chimano openly came out as gay”.

It is not lost on Kenyans that the global North has consistently put pressure on the government to address “the LGBTQ question.” There have been attempts to coerce the country into drinking the Kool Aid of licentious living with gay abandon (pun intended).

Former President Uhuru Kenyatta rightly called it a “non-issue”. President William Ruto has been resolute on the matter saying, “we have Kenyan law, we have Kenyan Constitution, we have our traditions, customs; we will continue to respect other people’s customs as they respect our customs and traditions.”

A line is drawn when a cultural practice becomes inimical to the well-being of an individual. Like is the case of Female Genital Mutilation(FGM) which is illegal in Kenya. Or the immolation of old women on accusations of witchcraft.

Chiloba’s death is regrettable. Indeed, any murder is reprehensible. That his death has become the centre-piece of efforts aimed at arm-twisting the country to acquiesce to behaviour alien to its conventions is simply beyond the pale. Not when one considers that there are far greater existential threats that hardly get mentioned in the international press. Like sections of the country currently facing starvation as a result of drought.

LGBQT rights are the “new flavour of the month” because of the copious amounts of donor funding they attract. There is a certain tone-deafness towards the FGM crisis and more worthy problems because they do not capture the imagination of the decadent West. Kenyans are now tired of tendentious homophobic labels. They have better things to do rebuilding a battered economy than preoccupation with matters repugnant to their mores and ethos.

-Mr Khafafa is a Public Policy Analyst