Kenyan Prime Minister Calls For Mass Arrests Of Gays

Jim Burroway

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.


December 1st, 2010

And not entirely surprising, Raila Odinga is a born-again Christian through an Evangelical church.

paul canning

December 1st, 2010


The Mtwapa (near Mombasa) riot involved police protecting gay people. As well, it was followed by a united effort to stop any follow ups, which succeeded.

All this comes from a long-term, strategic plan by Kenyan LGBT which engages with civil society and with religious leaders. This has led to extraordinary gains in an African context which, unfortunately, is little understood and is certainly not reflected in the way Raila’s remarks have been reported and understood.

The key context for Raila’s remarks is the attempt by evangelicals – and yes, supported by Americans – to associate constitutional reform with the potential for LGBT rights. This includes ‘gay marriage’ which is otherwise a complete non-issue.

If you read Raila’s office’s statement this is what he is saying.

Raila – like Tsvangeri – has a big balancing act to perform. He has both ‘traditional’ (anti-gay) support as well as ‘liberal’. Raila has been associated with the development of civil society in Kenya and it is that which has led to gains for LGBT such as inclusion in health.

This is why local activists say this comes ‘from left field’ – because they assumed he was not an enemy.

You are right to cite the fact that Murugi wasn’t sacked – by Raila – as proof of progress. Unfortunately the MSM loves ‘dark heart of Africa’ stories, so I expect that any contextualisation of Raila’s remarks will be missing and I’ll be reading the usual ‘boycott their ass!’ calls from pig-ignorant American activists (read David Mixner for one) who should know better.


December 1st, 2010

His words were taken out of context – yeah, right. In what context is “If found the homosexuals should be arrested and taken to relevant authorities” NOT something to be worried about?

Priya Lynn

December 1st, 2010

I’m with you Martin, I’d love to hear Paul put that in context.

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