/ 6 December 2010

Call to arrest shocks gay activists

Gay rights activists in Kenya have condemned Prime Minister Raila Odinga for saying that anyone engaging in homosexual activities should be arrested.

“We are shocked and in fear,” Solomon Wambua of the Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya told the Mail & Guardian.

“This will only cause further stigmatisation, which will stop people attending clinics, getting health check-ups and accessing antiretroviral drugs if they need them.”

At a rally in Kibera, Nairobi’s biggest slum area, Odinga said that men caught having sex with other men should be arrested.

His spokesperson claimed that he was quoted out of context. But, in a radio recording of the incident, Odinga said that if a man was caught having sex with the other “we jail them, or if a girl is caught with the other, we will jail them”.

There was no reason for men to be gay, Odinga told the crowd, when the most recent census showed there were more women than men in Kenya.

“We want a country that is clean. A clean way of doing thing has clean mannerisms. We do not want things to do with sodomy,” he said.

Shock to Kenyans
On the streets of Kibera, residents expressed shock at the comments. “It is surprising,” said Elizabeth Otienna (23). “We’ve never heard anything like this in public before. Restricting anything always has a bad effect.

“It’s just like with changaa (home-made liquor). When it was illegal, many people died because it was illicitly brewed. But now that they are making it legal, they haven’t. It is always good to get these things out in the open.”

Nicholas Chagu (20) agreed. ­”People should be entitled to do as they please. It’s a personal thing.”

Odinga’s comments follow criticism from some quarters in Kenya that the country’s new constitution, passed in August, would allow for same-sex unions.

“Those were lies from leaders who wanted to confuse Kenyans to reject the new law. The Constitution is very clear on that matter,” Odinga said.

The order of nature
“It does not state anywhere that same-sex marriage is legal in Kenya.”

Homosexuality is, indeed, unlawful, with the country’s laws prohibiting “sex against the order of nature”.

Though the charge is punishable by up to 14 years in prison, gay rights activists say that it is rarely used, with the gay community openly tolerated in many bars and nightclubs in Nairobi. But an alleged gay marriage near Mombasa on the coast in February led to public protest and the arrest of five people accused of organising it.

Last year an MP in neighbouring Uganda introduced a Bill in Parliament that would have introduced the death sentence for men caught having sex with other men.

Odinga’s comments threw another unwelcome spotlight on Kenya, as former United Nations secretary general Kofi Annan and the chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Court, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, arrived in the country amid growing tension in government.

The new constitution has yet to be implemented in spite of being approved in a referendum in August as it has run into the barrier of ethnic division ahead of the next general election in a year’s time.

The government has been unable to convict leaders for hate speech, and information released by Wikileaks has revealed that the United States administration under President Barack Obama has nothing but contempt for the grand coalition government formed after the election violence of early 2008.