COLONIAL LEGACY?: ‘In essence, in pre-colonial Africa, homosexuality was widely practised, so why the post-colonial push to make it illegal? Where did this notion that it is illegal come from to make it illicit? The laws which first made homosexuality illegal were enacted by colonialist governments, and this was mostly prevalent in former British colonies. One can even go as far as to say it was not homosexuality that was imported to Africa but rather homophobia.’
Kenya has been labelled as the fifth most prejudiced countries when it comes to LGBQ rights. Homosexuals hide in the dark and fear exposing their orientation because of harassment and possible abuse. Even our very own Deputy President has been known to say there is no room for homosexuality in Kenya. He reaffirmed what most Africans countries believe – that being gay is unnatural and un-African. Many people believe it is a ‘white’ thing that is being forced upon us. The incident in 2010 where a mob attacked a number of men in Mombasa after accusing them of having gay sex, shows just how deeply seated the stigma goes. They were then sentenced to prison for ‘having unnatural sex against the order of nature’.
In 2014, Kenyan MPs proposed a Bill which would have resulted in gays being stoned to death if they were found out. They proposed that anyone charged with aggravated homosexuality – performing a gay act when HIV positive or having AIDS – should be publicly stoned to death. The Bill was later found to be unconstitutional and was not passed. The fact that it was even proposed is quite shocking seeing as these homosexuals are merely living out their preferred lifestyle. The current status is a sentence of up to 14 years if one is caught performing homosexual activities. It is true that the rate of HIV infections between homosexual men contributes up to five per cent of all new infections and is growing in Kenya, and this is worrying, but this does not justify killing a man. This is further exacerbated by healthcare facilities which refuse to offer treatment to patients if they find out they are gay. Another thing to note is the Bill would only have applied to men and not women. There are probably as many lesbians as there are gays, so why should only one gender be persecuted?
It has been a persistent trend that lesbians are more tolerated than gays, maybe as a result of the sexualisation of lesbian sex by the porn industry. They are shown to be sexy and erotic, but do still attract discrimination. The act of corrective rape which is prevalent mostly in South Africa is believed to ‘cure’ a lady of lesbianism, and is often unreported. Sometimes rapists will use crude objects such as sticks, knives and even bottles, which leave the victim physically and emotionally wounded. The social impact of such actions is obviously negative, with women committing suicide, dealing with unwanted pregnancies and feelings of violation.
The basis that homosexuality is un-African is unfounded, and a little research will reveal this notion to be untrue. Funny enough, there is documented proof there is a history of ancient African homosexual activities between both men and women alike. In the Zande culture of North Central Africa, young men were married off to older men as temporary wives and a brideprice was even paid for them. In this very country which we call home, the Iteso tribe allowed and accepted men who had female tendencies and felt like women. They adopted female names, wore their clothes, and did their daily jobs. In pre-colonial times, Kikuyus have a history of older men having explicit relationships with adolescent boys while Meru men were frequently homosexual and even married other men.
Uganda, which controversially passed a law dubbed “Kill The Gays Bill” was ironically home to known and accepted homosexual behaviour among the Bahima, Banyoro and Baganda tribes. Furthermore, in the Lango tribe, transgender males were known as mukododako and were allowed to marry men and seen to be women by their fellow tribe members.
Traditional African homosexuality went as far as to praise and honour homosexuals as discovered by Portuguese priests in Angola. Priests in the Congo dressed as women, and were given respect and admiration. Homosexual intercourse was even used as a ‘medicine’ to promote wealth in Cameroon and Gabon.
So in essence, in pre-colonial Africa, homosexuality was wildly practised, so why the post-colonial push to make it illegal? Where did this notion that it is illegal come from to make it illicit? The laws which first made homosexuality illegal were enacted by colonialist governments, and this is mostly prevalent in former British colonies. One can even go as far as to say it was not homosexuality that was imported to Africa but rather homophobia. And now in this post- colonial era, the same Western forces that imposed homophobic laws upon us now wish for us to completely eradicate them and follow their example. It could be true Africa is resisting this push to assert their independence from Western influencers, and not bow down to their sentiments in contrast to colonial times. Kind of like a child refusing to eat merely to disobey their parents and ignoring their hunger.
With Kenya being a mostly Christian country, many arguments against homosexuality are backed by Christian sentiments which in essence promote homophobia. Churches often try to ‘convert’ homosexuals into ‘normal people’ and regularly ban them from church services. They quote the Bible in their arguments, but is this not the same Bible which promotes love for everyone?
The Christian and Muslim argument that homosexuality is against God’s rule is not convincing enough to justify such harsh treatments of gays and lesbians. And asserting that Christianity and homosexuality cannot coexist is proven wrong by looking at Argentina which is a purely Catholic country yet they do not criminalise the act. It is known that God would not expect or want Christians to choose between their compassion and their faith. Although it is mentioned a few times in the Bible, these widely spread Old Testament verses are used to criticise and ultimately judge homosexuals.
Furthermore, Paul in the New Testament instructs Christians not to follow the writings in the Old Testament because they are weak and useless “for the law made nothing perfect”. How can Christians decide to choose one part of the Bible to justify homophobia but ignore other laws such as pork being forbidden and having tattoos? When Paul shuns homosexuals in the New Testament, it is necessary to understand the context in which he is writing. Wealthy Romans used to buy slaves of the same sex and forced them to perform sexual favours. Paul saw this and was disgusted by the nature of the transaction, and he would have condemned it even if it were happening between man and woman. There was no concept of ‘gayness’ in his time, so he could not have been condemning homosexuality as an identity, rather the wanton, predacious, non-consensual same-sex acts between people whom he understood to be heterosexual. The word homosexuality did not even exist in his time. Essentially, when taken out of context, the Bible can be used to support or oppose any and every moral stance.
Kenya may, however, be moving in a different direction with the recent ruling that the National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission can be registered and be recognised as an NGO. This is in line with the constitution which protects the right for anyone to join associations of their own choice. The case of Andrew who then became Audrey is also proof of a step in the way Kenyan law is moving in terms of tolerating same-sex relationships.
I, for one, I’m not for homosexuals or against them, but I will advocate for their rights because they, just like you and me, are human beings. They have the right to express themselves and choose their own ways of life be it with someone of the same sex. I as a Kenyan, I’m proud to be one but I will not and essentially, cannot support outright discrimination even by any other name. Let them be.
First published by The Star