Friday, November 23, 2012
An anti-poverty campaigner has become Kenya's first openly gay man to run for political office, but David Kuria Mbote faces a challenging path as he tries to dispel taboos in the black African nation in a race for a senate seat
If elected to the Kenyan senate, Mbote, 40, would be Africa's only openly homosexual black man to hold national office, according to the Kaleidoscope Trust, a non-profit organisation focusing on gay rights. But a cabinet minister warned of a revolt if Mbote were elected, a clear sign that attitudes towards the homosexual community in Kenya, reflected across much of Africa, remain vehemently anti-gay. "It's not a vote-getter," said Mbote, a prominent gay rights activist who is seeking a senate seat in Kiambu County, which neighbors the capital. "If anything, you say you hate gay people to get votes," he said. Homosexuality is illegal in most African countries and same-sex relationships are often seen as a Western fad and an affront to traditional African culture and moral values. Under Kenyan law, homosexual acts are punishable by up to 14 years in prison, but police say that they would have to catch someone in the act to prosecute successfully. When Uganda and Malawi tried to introduce tough anti-homosexuality laws, outraged Western donors threatened to cut aid, pitting them against fiery local politicians and African religious leaders. Neighboring Uganda is planning to pass an anti-gay law, criticized by gay rights groups for its draconian penalties, including life imprisonment in certain circumstances. But the threats have done little to influence mostly anti-gay attitudes in the highest levels of government. Kenyan Trade Minister Moses Wetangula has warned there would be a revolt if voters elected Mbote, saying that homosexuality "simply doesn't fly" in Kenya. An openly gay man should not "have an opportunity or privilege to lead a country that is founded on religious morality", Wetangula said in reference to Mbote, who is running as an independent candidate. A 2011 survey by the Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC) found that only 18% of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Transgender Kenyans had revealed their sexual orientation to their families. Of these, 89% were subsequently disowned. Traders and shoppers at a food market filled with women in colorful aprons selling bananas, tomatoes and other goods in the town Kiambu just a short drive from the Kenyan capital of Nairobi said they were encouraged by Mbote's policies but that his lifestyle made him virtually unelectable. "We don't want a generation of gay people in our town," said 52-year old Anne Ngugi while shopping for spinach and peas. "His policies are okay but he has moral decay."