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Tuesday, 23 March 2010

All quiet on the Kenyan front?

By Paul Canning

No further mob attacks may have happened on gays living along Kenya's coast but activists are worried that they may recur, and be even worse next time around.

Between 11-13 February riots and anti-gay attacks in the town of Mtwapa near the city of Mombasa on Kenya's coast centred on the Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI) clinic. A month later the clinic was again threatened with attack on local Christian radio station Baraka FM.

But no more attacks have actually happened. As we reported, the interventions and joint educational efforts of groups such as Other Sheep Kenya, supported by the East African Sexual Health and Rights Initiative (EASHRI), and the Kenyan Human Rights Commission (KHRC) perhaps have had the desired effect.
LGBTI in the region: "live in fear of attacks any time soon."

However, in a report by KHRC of a Mtwapa District Security Council meeting 12 March concerning the KEMRI clinic, obtained by LGBT Asylum News, the District Commissioner describes local LGBTI (lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgenders) as “sick people” who should be “shunted aside” from the rest of the “normal population.” He threatened a “massive swoop” in the area to “clean up” Mtwapa.
While he reiterated that the Law would be followed, he kept emphasizing that, as far as he is concerned, the LGBTI community do not have any rights in the matter. He even scornfully alluded to a group of busybodies that had been claiming the protection of LGBTI community’s human rights. He also says that public houses in the area will lose operating licences. Though vague, his comments point to a plot to target establishments that are frequented by LGBTI.
One bar in nearby Mombasa is reported as being targeted by vague complaints about its "sanitary conditions".

The report says that his opinions:
Seemed to voice the views and intentions of the provincial administration. In his view, the question of human rights for the LGBTI community does not arise.
It says that community leaders (Imams, church leaders and other elders) believe that the LGBTI community "should be eradicated" from Mtwapa.

According to meeting attendees, who represented "administrators, community leaders, KEMRI staff and other stakeholders", apart from the belief that the clinic 'supports homosexuality', another claim is that KEMRI "exports sperms to the Western countries".

It does neither: KEMRI takes part in Kenya's strategy for tacking HIV/AIDS and engages with men who have sex with men (MSM), who are an extremely significant proportion of the population living with and transmitting HIV.

KHRC's priority strategic conclusion from the meeting is education:
Community leaders, provincial administration and radio stations need to be awake to the hazards of inciting the public and the consequences thereof (legal and otherwise). 
However, ominously, the report warns:
In the light of the impending swoop, KHRC needs to influence the course any such operation would take, if not thwart it, altogether.
On the positive side, it says that the local Sheikh, Ali Hussein, one of the leaders of the February incitement, has resigned and been replaced by Imam Stajabuni, "who is much less militant".

Kenya's gay community has developed as part of their longer term strategy the aim of educating religious leaders. Other Sheep Kenya's (OSK) local workshops, with Christian and Muslim leaders, reported positive results and will go on to reach hundreds of pastors, Imans and other leaders.

Denis Nzioka of Gay Activists Alliance International Africa-Kenya confirmed this strategic direction to LGBT Asylum News but added to the report's concerns about what will happen next. LGBTI in the region, he said, "live in fear of attacks any time soon."
There is still need for more dialogue and engagement. At the moment, the situation is returning to relative calm. I am told that a police station has been set up to deal with security matters. Local security committees have been formed. The civil society and human rights organisations are actively involved in advocating for human rights. However, there are still other elements that linger that, like a spark, may cause the same attack to be carried out; this time even more vicious and systematically.

The situation is, he says, "unbearable for gay people" and the "tremendous work" of the OSK and KHRC interventions, ""have elicited, but little positive response or results."

Nzioka underlines that the attack on KEMRI, a government institution which was wrecked, had staff attacked and was forced to close, has resulted in no statement from the government. This had led to other HIV/AIDS services with MSM activities throughout Kenya 'raising the red flag', worried that they might be next.

Many local HIV positive people now do not have access to anti-retroviral medicine (ARV) or any other services.
"Perhaps," he says, "this attack on KEMRI has placed the government in a peculiar and uncomfortable position. How can they say they give non-stigmatizing services to people whose behaviour and lifestyle, according to the law, are illegal or are criminals to be arrested?"
The incitement by local media has echoes, he points out, of their role in the post-President election violence of 2007, which killed over 800 people. There "the media had a hand to it by being biased and and being pawns by political powers with vested interests."

Nzioka added that media laws against incitement need to be used and the Kenya Media Council should become involved.

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