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Kenya Is Not Uganda

Jim Burroway

September 18th, 2012

Of course Kenyans and Ugandans know that, as do most everybody else in the world. The headline is for the benefit of Americans, who on average possess an abysmal geographic literacy. But when you think of it, there’s not a lot of reasons why Kenya and Uganda should be all that different from each other. They lie right next to each other, they are both members of the East African Community, they are both former British colonies, they share a similar religious makeup, and they both have histories of dictatorships and human rights abuses since independence, which occurred for each country within five years of each other. And both countries criminalize homosexual behavior: Uganda with prison terms of from 20 years to life, Kenya with a prison term of fourteen years.

I know that when I started writing about Uganda in 2009, I don’t think I could have picked it out on an unmarked map of Africa, and I don’t think I would have been able to find Kenya either. But if you had told me these similarities, and pointed them out on the map where I could see them side by side, I would have then assumed that there were other similarities as well. Like, in their attitudes towards LGBT people.  And I would have been wrong:

The first openly gay man to run for office is drawing attention to Kiambu County by running for the senate seat. Mr David Kuria recognises that his sexual orientation may be an extra challenge in the already competitive political sphere.

…Going against the advice of many to marry, he hopes that voters will interpret his openness about his sexual orientation as honesty. Mr Kuria hopes that the discrimination he has faced will allow him to better represent others in the society who are marginalised.

Uganda is still sitting on a proposal to execute gay people and criminalize anyone who would aid, defend, or even know them. Kenya’s anti-sodomy law, on the other hand, is treated as a curious artifact of Colonial rule. Kenya has had its share of anti-gay violence, but it has also had politicians and its Chief Justice standing up for gay rights. And now we have David Kuria running a very visible campaign for Senate, while David Cecil is threatened with two years’ imprisonment in Uganda for staging a pro-gay play. Kenya and Uganda may be side by side on the map, but they are light-years from each other in their recognition of human rights.

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Timothy Kincaid
September 18th, 2012 | LINK

Though this may not be the most significant contributor, I cannot help but think that President Obama’s support for gay rights has had some influence on Kenyan social attitudes. Because his father was born in Kenya and he has relatives in that country, it is highly likely that his words and views carry extra weight there.

Lucrece
September 18th, 2012 | LINK

And this is why I also have to roll my eyes at progressive apologists who bring out poverty and colonial rule to excuse the abysmal conditions for gays and women in Islamic states. It was well educated, wealthy doctors in the US who called AIDS “gay cancer” and advocated electrocuting us and lobotomizing us.

At some point people have to take responsibility for the quality of person they are. For every person in Venezuela’s ghetto who brutally kicked a sickly dog, there was some compassionate person who would grow sick at the sight despite sharing the same socioeconomic background.

I hope sometime Kenya will inch toward South Africa’s position, however flawed South Africa’s relations may still be. I’m constantly in awe of the brave men who have the guts to be without fear in such countries.

David Waite
September 19th, 2012 | LINK

Jim, it was BTB’s coverage of Uganda which first drew me here and I’ve often posted the link to your series in explanation to history-challenged progressives. Thank you for this well-informed comparison.

Timothy, although I’ve been an occasional critic, one of the things I truly love about you is your pure-souled optimism about some things and people. Here you are not only able to see Obama as having an influence that many progressives won’t see or accept, you have no trouble saying so.

Lucrece, your second and third paragraphs make me want to shout and testify “Yes!” Your first paragraph reminds me that many well-educated people still have trouble accepting the depth and the depravity of the utter subversion of non-European and non-Middle Eastern cultures by conquerors from those two regions. For example,the agriculturally and minerally rich nation of Buganda was the victim of a concerted assault from the outside religions that perverted it, Roman Catholicism, Anglicans and Islam.

Typically, westerners aparently paid no attention to the recent comments by the leader of one Commonwealth nation that anti-sodomy laws are from the days of empire and that most of the Commonwealth nations still have those laws (which this leader approved of for their Christian values) on their books. Only the ahistorical and the logic challenged don’t fully blame colonialism both for the utter subversion of the native cultures conquered and for the present day poverty in nations which had their own social/cultural structures destroyed with nothing put in place to actually enable any newly-independent nation to escape the barbarism of dictatorship.

There are cogent reasons why none of colonial or post colonial behavior and institutional results were accidents, or merely down to people failing to take personal responsibility. If you don’t know what they were and why and how some of those reasons still rule, you should ‘hie thee to a library.’

Lucrece
September 19th, 2012 | LINK

The patriarchy long preceded colonialism, as did homophobia in those native cultures. You hear only about the two spirits and fa’afine colonialism quashed, but not about the native cultures that didn’t need Abrahamic religions to be oppressive toward minorities.

Abrahamic religions are only the more prominent and recent forms of magical thinking we have to blame for rampant oppression. It is patronizing to portray those native cultures as pure and innocent. Anyone who thinks that had Christianity or Islam or Judaism not come, that every minority would just be so much better off, doesn’t even need to visit a library — they are too damn oblivious to even learn something from a book. The problem lies deeper than some brutally exported worldview.

David Waite
September 19th, 2012 | LINK

I suggested a library because of he generalized nature of your unfounded asumptions. Libraries are a good cure for blanket assumptions because they are organized conveniently by subject matter and their information is in books or the 21st century equivalent. There is less chance to make ignorant assumptions that claim some two or three sentence generalization covers thousands of years and thousands of cultures. Colonialism didn’t originate with western cultures. It is present as a principle in every conquering culture and every culture in history has had a conqueror phase. If they didn’t they didn’t make it into the history books. That is the sort of thing a lifetime with individual books, in a building full of books, inculcates into our thinking and changes how we see and interpret the world around us.

A couple of good books about the history of pre-colonial Buganda would inform you that homosexuality was part of their societal norms before the Imams and priests arrived from beyond their borders. In their case the two daughters of the original Abrahamic religion converted the elites to Catholicism Anglicanism and Islam. Buganda was formed by East African colonial consolidation (we’re talking black on black colonialism here) long before the British French and Arabs arrived to colonize and control.

The hundreds of years of cultural history of the Kingdom of Buganda and the other smaller nations which now constitute Uganda are too rich and varied to even hint at in a comment. The dozens of years long fight by Western European nations to be the winner who conquered East Africa was fought in competition with each other and the North Africans. They used missionaries, soldiers, bribes, mischief making, lies and mayhem against a not-at-all-pure and merely aristocrat-noble native culture.

The story of ‘the 18 catholic martyrs’ is a lie the Vatican still raises money on. You could ask Jim to write a column on the truth of it, but he probably has his column space prioritized. You could ask me to expand and expound, but Jim, Tim and the others already overindulge my tome-sized comments. Or you could go to a library.

Of course, if you’d rather indulge in generic railery against some artificial entity that’s somehow teaching that the non Westerners were all noble, if you’d rather pretend that specific study at a library cannot and would not cure the essential ignorance displayed in this exercise in genericised non-sense,
The patriarchy long preceded colonialism, as did homophobia in those native cultures. You hear only about the two spirits and fa’afine colonialism quashed, but not about the native cultures that didn’t need Abrahamic religions to be oppressive toward minorities. enjoy your trip. Just so you know, every phrase in that bolded quote is inaccurate or meaningless or both. A library would teach you this. Lastly, abrahamic religions are prominent but not recent. The youngest one sent out its first missionaries nearly 1400 years ago. The rest of that para suggests you were the victim of one of those doctrinaire “evil Western Civ! noble Savages!” routines from some tired and mindless apparatchck that nearly drove you crazy with their nonsense. I sympathize. A library would have helped you with that. Doctrinaire types use libraries and troll libraries, but you won’t have to listen to them. If they attempt to hijack your brain in a library the librarian won’t let them talk

Quick note
September 20th, 2012 | LINK

Uganda and Kenya are certainly vastly different countries with complex and multitudinous cultures. I would caution against a simple juxtaposition of the two with regard to SOGI rights.

My partner was recently abducted in Kenya by family, and after surviving violent traditional “healing” practices, narrowly escaped a forced marriage (read: lifelong “corrective rape”). Please also see Kenya Country Report 2011, GALCK, IGLHRC, etc.

An openly gay candidate for senate does not indicate liberation in civil society. While the distinction between Kenya and Uganda is essential, “light years apart” is grossly inaccurate.

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