Kenyan Prime Minister Calls For Mass Arrests Of Gays
December 1st, 2010
Prime Minister Raila Odinga, speaking at a political rally on Sunday, said that all gays in Kenya should be rounded up and charged with violating the nation’s anti-sodomy laws. According to the Kenyan independent newspaper Daily Nation:
Addressing a rally at Kamukunji grounds in his Langata Constituency, the PM said their behaviour was unnatural. “If found the homosexuals should be arrested and taken to relevant authorities,” Mr Odinga said.
The PM thrilled the crowd when he asserted that the recent census showed there were more women than men and there was no need for same sex relationships. He said it was madness for a man to fall in love with another man while there were plenty of women and added that there was no need for women to engage in lesbianism yet they can bear children.
Anti-gay rhetoric has been noticeably absent under President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Odinga until now, which is why LGBT advocates describe the Prime Minister’s remarks as “out of left field”:
A board member of the Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya, Nguru Karugu, said the comments could potentially drive Kenya’s gay and lesbian communities underground.
“The community will now fear and go back in,” said Karugu. “Fear to go to testing, fear to go to health clinics, fear to get services, fear to go to the police, for fear of being arrested or being harassed. It was a major blow for some pretty good work that has been going on the last few years.”
LGBT advocates say that they have already received phone calls from people who are HIV-positive who are afraid to go to their clinics to receive refills on their anti-retroviral medication.
Meanwhile the Prime Minister’s office is reportedly backing away from his comments, claiming they were taken out of context and that there is no change in government policy. Kenya’s new constitution contains a bill of rights which prohibits discrimination on any grounds, but LGBT activists fear that Odinga’s remarks will provide official sanction for anti-gay pogroms.
Those fears aren’t without foundation. Last February, anti-gay mobs went on the rampage in Mombasa following rumors of a same-sex wedding in a nearby resort town. At least a few American anti-gay extremists sought to promote violence against LGBT Kenyans by posting “Wanted” posters on the Internet. Some of those posters were printed and posted on the streets in several parts of Kenya.
Last year, Kenya announced that they would count gays in the national census as part of an important effort to gather information for guiding the country’s HIV prevention programs. AIDS activists hailed the move, but many LGBT activists were cautious. Kenya’s colonial-era anti-sodomy law provides for imprisonment for up to fourteen years upon conviction. Odinga’s remarks last Sunday would only heighten those fears.
But despite those problems, there had been grounds for optimism that the climate in Kenya was improving significantly for LGBT people. Last October, Kenya’s Special Programs Minister Esther Murugi told participants at a national symposium on HIV/AIDS in Mombasa that addressing the problem of homophobia was critical to the country’s fight against HIV. “We need to learn to live with men who have sex with other men… we are in the 21st century and things have changed,” she told the audience. Those remarks generated a huge public outcry, but Murugi has remained at her post.