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Will lobbyists manage to alter Kenya's firm stand on gays?

Members of the Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya protest during a previous ruling at the High court.[David Gichuru,Standard]

It is an indisputable fact that the presence of powerful forces of international gay and lesbian movements is now a reality in most parts of Africa. More freedom of press, widespread use of the Internet and social media, as well as trade liberalisation, are increasingly producing an engendered form of globalisation in Africa, which in turn is accelerating internationalisation of sexual rights and identities. Emboldened LGBTs caused a profound cultural shock during the 2007 World Social Forum in Nairobi by coming out publicly to demand their rights, and to declare that they were not ashamed of their sexual orientation.

In the relatively recent past, Kenyans would not boldly speak out on matters relating to homosexuality for the fear of the cost of exposure, being acutely aware of their own vulnerability in the event of public knowledge of their sexual lives and because of the fear of breaching the conventions of mainstream society.

Consequently, the vexing discourse on LGBT in Kenya has moved from being a peripheral issue. It has now gained a veritable ‘over-presence’ and become quite dominant in the academia and the public sphere. Today, because of evolving human rights discourses, it is a much more serious offence to counteract, criticise or tarnish the institution of LGBT than it was before.

Psychosexual theory

Even the venerated father of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud would have a hard time today selling his psychosexual theory of human growth and development which presupposes that homosexuality is treatable, because that position now runs counter to prevailing notions which no longer view homosexuality as being deviant from the norm.

Many scholars and public figures are licking wounds sustained while trying to counter this powerful gay wave with any opposition being labelled as gross repudiation of a universal quest for freedom from sexual and gender oppression. There is also the precarious plight of being characterised as homophobic, backward or unsophisticated if one espouses anti-gay sentiments and consequently losing funding, scholarships and other professional privileges which are increasingly getting tied to applicants’ devotion to the causes of powerful and well-heeled pro-LGBT lobbies.

In the mold of Ugandan critical scholar Sylvia Tamale, scholars also seem to be departing previously entrenched and conservative pan-African positions in the gay debate. Tamale warns of the dangers of indulging in an oversimplified African discourse on sexualities, which uncritically relies on knowledge built on an edifice of cultural assumptions of the West but is not responsive to the concrete ways in which sexuality is experienced in African spaces.

More recently however, a curious connection between LGBT and world commerce is emerging, with the ‘who-is-who’ among the world's richest conglomerates joining the fray and tacitly coercing poorer countries in the global south to embrace LGBT.

A coalition of more than 20 huge global companies that included Microsoft, Google, Barclays, Standard Chartered, IBM, PwC and American Express have asked Kenya to fully and legally recognise gays, lesbians, bisexuals and the transgender in order to ‘unlock more billions into the economy’. These powerful companies claimed that Kenya loses between Sh18.5 billion and Sh130 billion every year because of policies that assign criminality to, and discriminate against, the LGBT community. 

The target of the conglomerates is understandable. African countries are always the easiest to manipulate-perhaps because of their over-reliance on the West’s purse for fiscal survival, and the existence of a rapacious political class which is ready to accede to any governance experimentation as long as it boosts their own pockets directly.

Pummeled by the gay wave, many governments have capitulated. Even Christian churches, formally considered the impregnable defenders of the heterosexual biblical definition of marriage have not been spared. The Methodist Church, founded upon the ‘sanctification’ and ‘holiness’ teachings of the Wesleyan brethren has been the latest to throw old-age biblical injunctions under the bus and allow same-sex marriages.

As of now, homosexuality and same-sex marriages are criminalised in sections 162 to 165 of Kenya’s Penal Code which term it "carnal knowledge against the order of nature” and carries the penalty of five to 14 years imprisonment.

So the guessing game continues: How much longer can Kenya remain the ‘last man standing’? Will the Kenyan LGBT community grow into critical masses that threaten national voting outcomes as happened in the US, Canada and other Western countries? Will local politicians then stand firm, or will they, true to form, tweak the nation’s laws and expunge the few ‘offending’ clauses which may impede their own stay in power?

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