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Friday, 25 February 2011

Shallow reporting on LGBTI topics in East Africa

The Daily Nation on Obama NightImage by afromusing via Flickr
By Kenne Mwikya

I have generally kept off the news about David Kato’s death, followed by a sham investigation, BS analysis and the fact that his murder is being used in a myriad of ways and to achieve wide ranging selfish gains. The analysis around David’s killing has kept off assessing activism in East Africa and has largely been about eulogizing him to what end, I don’t know. The patterns on anything ‘queer’ or ‘homophobic’ Uganda are the same: blaming the US evangelical right, Ssempa and giving undeserved power to the likes of Giles Muhame while incessantly complaining that the ‘west’ should do more. Quickly after that is some potent form of disillusionment that leads commentators – largely comfortable and/or inhabiting western(ized) spaces to conclude on the concept of ‘African homophobia’ and wait for the next installment of the African queer drama. Perhaps what has changed is the fervor that used to be attached to such reporting. Even though the news of Kato’s death reverberated above the din of the unrest in Egypt, the news was faced with a sadness that impeded reason – sadly. Condemnation abounded and now, as blogs and tweets and some kind of ‘analysis’ suggest – the preferred route in remembering David is anecdotes on his personal life.

What infuriates me more than what is going on now is what the Daily Nation, Kenya and the Monitor in Uganda – both sister newspapers to each other – have done to Kato’s legacy with their (to put it strongly) bullshit feature on him which I read on the DN2 on Monday. The two page article in the DN2 was based totally on anecdotes from a homophobe who accepted his money, an ex-lover who was ‘relieved’ on hearing the news of his death, an ex gay man who was ‘recruited’ by Kato and a ‘doctor’ who doesn’t respect doctor-patient confidentiality with excerpts from Val Kalende’s blogpost as the only truthful account in the whole thing (and probably added to ‘balance’ it and make it sound somewhat true). Uppity asshole – that is what came out of a two page article depicting an LGBTI activist who most readers did not know and who, after that article, will never realize the magnitude of his work or the influence of his activism in Uganda and elsewhere.

The article follows a line of shallow reporting on LGBTI topics in East Africa that just aim to attract a huge readership but nothing else after. Just like the Richard Muaysa intersex plea at the High Court last year, the paper has done its best to keep anything close to objectivity off the press and, in the end, opened the floodgates for all manner of hateful justification for his condition.

The journalists working on this piece stopped at nothing to make it sound as ‘balanced’ as possible even going as far as quoting a non existent blogpost by GayUganda where he outed Kato as being HIV positive. GayUganda has since come out with a very much needed commentary on the whole issue and even going on to point out other inconsistencies (ahem, lies) in the article and exposing it as a sham feature out on a smear campaign against the deceased activist.

I am particularly puzzled as to why the Daily Nation published the article, given that David was not that much known in Kenya and also because, in the past – though along other clearly prejudiced articles – it has come out in support of dialogue (if not anything else) on LGBTI equality. Why this all of a sudden? This was a good opportunity to open a discussion on activism and its dynamisms – no matter its end – in East Africa, or call for a much more sober articulation on the treatment of sexual minorities in the region (issues which would have come out on their own if the article was objective). What saddens me even more is how Kato’s legacy is being perceived in the ‘hetero mainstream’. He was a hero in my books but to DN, he was just a good opportunity to justify and engage in Giles Muhame like tabloid reporting. Comments on the article followed the same line of vitriolic rhetoric and bizarre justification for his death with social conservatives and religious zealots alike using it as an I-told-you-so moment for all liberals out there. It also reveals a more sinister plot to either discredit activism or just use it for comic relief after readers, and here am citing Kenyan readers, have had a good dose of political conspiracy theories going around the same topics of ‘Grand Coalition Constitutional Impunity Crisis’.

It’s about time queers started consciously nurturing their stories and those of their own so as not to be robbed of our dignity and integrity by the press, out to ‘tabloidize’ anything not directly related to politics. It’s a big challenge for a small community with few resources that can’t match such a huge journalistic enterprise as the DN but we must not watch as the well is poisoned.
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