ONE of the more enduring images of the recently ended Women’s World Cup was when Abby Wambach, one of the game’s most decorated players, bounded over to the stadium’s edge to kiss her wife, after the American team downed Japan in the thrilling final on Sunday.
Coming after the US supreme court confirmed the legal right of same-sex couples to marry, it felt rather the perfect tribute to the landmark ruling that affirmed the rights of minorities, even in a country that advertises itself as built on strong liberal values, such that for many, it was just another American couple celebrating.
So it is jarring that just weeks before US president Barack Obama visits Kenya, legislators in the African country have been working themselves up into a tizzy, warning him against speaking up for same-sex rights.
The speaker of the country’s parliament said was an “obnoxious” behaviour that would corrupt the country’s children, though he claimed he was speaking in his personal capacity.
Another legislator said that the government would reject American aid if it was tied to legalising homosexuality, while one of the more absurd ones promised to eject Obama from the country’s parliament if he as much squeaked about same-sex unions.
Church leaders, many with links to western right-wing evangelical sponsors, have also been mobilising against the so-called gay agenda, with a recent decision by Kenya’s high court allowing a gay rights organisation to be legally listed in the spotlight.
The issue has been slowly built up in the media once Obama’s visit to the land his father hailed from was confirmed, but it got a life on its own when the country’s deputy president weighed in, terming gay practice as unChristian.
“We have heard that in the US they have allowed gay relations and other dirty things. I want to say as a Christian leader that we will defend our country Kenya, we will stand for our faith and our country,” William Ruto said in a local church on Sunday.
The argument has revolved around the usual themes: homosexuality is un-African, imported, unChristian and against the Constitution.
It is disingenuous.
There is evidence of same-sex practices in African societies long before colonialism, with the Nama of Namibia, the Azande of Congo, Gabon’s Pangwe and the Beti of Cameroon among the communities documented as practising same-sex relationships.
European administrators criminalised it with the introduction of penal codes for such associations, but essentially what they did with this was to subjugate African culture. Those who would argue in favour of this path are only agreeing that African culture was primitive to begin with, raising the question of why they then back traditionalism.
A central creed of Christianity is tolerance and shielding the vulnerable, but this seems to disappear whenever homosexuality comes up, disturbingly abetted by the very same church leaders who readily fulminate against intolerance from pulpits.
Kenya’s constitution, only promulgated five years ago, does not provide for such unions, but it recognises, and protects, the rights of minorities. It is on this peg that the court based its April decision ordering authorities to register the umbrella association for gays.
“In Kenya, the Constitution is supreme,” it said in its ruling, and the state “cannot rely on religious texts or its views of what the moral and religious convictions of Kenyans are to justify the limitation of a right.”
The court was only saying was that the constitution upholds the rights of all living in the country, and not just the popular or majority view.
It also feels all very staged and ratings-seeking.
Kenya, like most other African countries, is battling many issues, from allegations of official mega-corruption to terrorism and insecurity, and the focus on gay rights feels crafted to distract from the weighty—and real—issues that Obama would ordinarily be more concerned with.
One can sense the rather trite need to seek some sort of high moral ground over the world’s most powerful man, despite being secretly pleased he will finally be visiting as president (the frenzy of filling up long-potholed roads and lighting parts of the city with workers on the job 24 hours, is evidence of that). Nothing like milking some of the limelight, through any means possible. The country’s gay community just happen to be fair, and easy, game.
It also smacks of the “victim” need to blame outsiders for all of the continent’s problems, despite decades of Africa having had the right to shape its own destiny.
Gay-bashing is inherently dishonest and reeks of bigotry. Recently, empirical evidence showed homophobia, can result, at least in part, from the suppression of same-sex desire. In other worlds, gay persecutors need to interrogate their vaunted positions further—it could get complicated.
What this all goes to highlight is that Africa really has more existential issues to occupy itself with. Working itself into a frothy frenzy, about what Obama might or not say, is silly really.
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