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Sunday, 9 October 2011

A gay divorce catches Kenyan attention

By Paul Canning

The London gay wedding of Kenyan men Charles Ngengi and Daniel Chege Gichia sent shock waves throughout Kenya. There was outright and widespread condemnation of their marriage in Kenyan media through October 2009. And the pair were described as "the accidental gay rights trailblazers".
"After the Sunday Nation broke the story of the gay wedding of Kenyans Daniel Chege and Charles Ngengi in London, hardly any other subject could get attention on call-ins into FM stations, the Kenyan blogosphere, and in Nairobi pub conversations," wrote Charles Onyango Obbo.
Now, the couple's divorce is drawing similar attention.

The Nation spoke to Gichia who confirmed it. He had been married before to a British citizen, David Cleave.

The Nation's story, written by London correspondent Joseph Nguigi, claimed that Gichia was seeking a 'decree nisi' - when this is not how civil partnerships, which are the equivalent of marriage, are dissolved in the UK. Nguigi also reported that "Wacera was spirited away from Kenya by Mr Gichia on a marriage visa, issued on the ground that gay marriages would never be allowed to happen in Kenya", something which does not exist. The UK has a 'spouse visa' for those already married and there are no guarantees that it will be granted.

Nguigi quotes Gichia saying that he 'thinks' the British Home Office will investigate whether the marriage was a scam. This cannot be confirmed as they don't comment on individual cases but there have been a number of high profile arrests in so-called 'fake marriage' scams recently in the UK.

Nguigi quotes Gichia saying that that the investigation is into “whether the marriage was indeed a scam, intended only to enable one of the couples gain illegal entry into the UK. As far as I am concerned, I did the right thing to bring Mr Wacera to the UK so that we can marry.” This sounds like words being put into Gichia's mouth.

Gay Kenya points out that The Nation's report quotes Ngengi as 'Wacera' with "mischievous intent ... since Wacera is a female name."

The Nation's report ends with the line:
"Asked whether he had plans to leave the gay life and marry to get children, Wacera said he would never marry a woman, and will never even seek to have children."
Gay Kenya speculates that the divorce resulted from "huge pressure due to too much exposure from the press".
"Ngengi and Gichia were shocked by the amount of interest their civil union received from the Kenyan press. It does appear they never quite recovered from too much exposure and pressure on their families. The press speculated that the couple were not in love but only wanted to secure U.K visa. There are few couples opposite sex or same-sex that would have survived that kind of negative media reporting."

"Listening to many FM radio stations this morning [6 October], one can only empathise with the couple, who now will have to re-live the same media exposure that may have doomed their marriage."
In 2009 the media was condemned for tracking down the couple's elderly parents, in rural Kenya.

Says Gay Kenya:
"We hope this time the media will spare their families. It is not Gichia's and Ngengi's parents who are in a same-sex relationship! Please leave them out of this divorce process."
In April the wedding in the US of Terry Ng’endo and Courtney Nicole led to threats to burn down Ng’endo's sister’s bar and harassment of her mother. The resulting stress forced Terry’s mother to seek hospital treatment .

Since 2009, the Kenyan LGBT community has made huge strides. They are increasingly visible and organised. They are supported by a lot of civil society and have systematically and strategically engaged with religious leaders of all faiths. In June Kenya appointed pro-gay people to its top judicial and public prosecutorial jobs.

Wrote Charles Onyango Obbo in 2009 about the impact of the 'gay wedding' news in Kenya:
"Going forward, discussions of gay issues will probably be less difficult. And, I suspect, the next story of another Kenyan gay couple is unlikely to attract as much attention. The novelty, or shock factor, around gay relationships in Kenya – and indeed people in the know say Kenya has East Africa’s largest gay community – has cracked considerably."

"Chege and Ngengi never intended it that way. After all, they refused to speak to the BBC about their wedding, and their only other comment has been a plea to the media and the public to leave their families alone."

"However, if eventually Kenya comes to hold a more tolerant public attitude toward gay people, history will show that Chege and Ngengi were the ones who opened public minds. They could be the accidental trailblazers for gay rights in Kenya and, who knows, maybe East Africa."
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