Yet another African nation, this time Kenya, is working on a draconian anti-gay law that seeks not only to criminalize homosexuality, but also to enforce the death penalty as punishment. Based largely upon a law passed recently in Brunei, and on the heels of Uganda’s Constitutional Court striking down their own Anti-Homosexuality Bill on a technicality, the new Kenyan bill seeks the following:
Death by stoning for any foreigner who commits a homosexual act.
Life imprisonment for any citizen of Kenya who commits a homosexual act.
Death by stoning for “aggravated homosexuality,” which includes sex with someone under the age of 18 years, or with someone with a disability, as well as sexual acts committed by someone living with HIV, or who is in a position of authority over the “victim.”
The petitioner of the bill is Edward Onwong’a Nyakeriga, the Republican Liberty Party legal secretary. And although Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta, the President of Kenya, has yet to make his feelings public, the bill is currently being reviewed by the Justice and Legal Affairs committee of Kenya's National Assembly.
According to a report in the Daily Nation, proponents of the bill cite the need for “strengthening the nation’s capacity to deal with…threats to the traditional heterosexual family,” as well as a “need to protect children and youth who are vulnerable to sexual abuse and deviation as a result of cultural changes…and increasing attempts by homosexuals to raise children…”
It’s clear from this wording that advocates of the bill are somewhat confused about the origins of sexual orientation, believing that sexual orientation can be taught to children by example. Also present in such pronouncements is a conflation of homosexuality and pedophilia, an oft-recited scare tactic by the religious and by religiously motivated politicians who use fear to drum up support.
Calls to protect “culture” are also quite common when such laws are introduced; proponents of criminalization of homosexuality in India, Uganda, Zambia, and Nigeria (among others) have warned of the westernization of their way of life, pointing to homosexuality as a cause as well as a symptom of the demise of their customs and traditions.
But, as anthropologist Patrick Awondo points out, evidence suggests that homosexuality has always existed in Africa (as it has everywhere else in the world), since historical records show a centuries' old tradition of homosexuality in many African cultures. What has shifted of late is the public identification of some Africans as gay or lesbian, which has led to more openness and activism to demand equality, as well as the subsequent backlash against their seemingly "sudden" existence.
(The perception of homosexuality as exogenous is not unique to Africa. Many societies pass down origin stories that seek to explain homosexuality in their midst as having been introduced by outsiders. Thus, the British claim that homosexuality was introduced by Norman conquerors, the French view of homosexuality as Italian, and the Italians’ insistence that Bulgarians are to blame. For their part, Bulgarians attribute the popularity of homosexuality to Albanians, and Albanians to the Turks.)
Western influence may not be responsible for homosexuality in Africa, but it has certainly played a role in these recent sociopolitical flare-ups. The Religious Right in the United States is widely taken to be the catalyst for the Ugandan law, with many pointing Pastor Scott Lively, leader of a vehemently anti-gay hate group, and his close relationship with Ugandan MP David Bahati who introduced the original bill their in 2009. Further support for these bills has been provide by Family Research Council (FRC) president Tony Perkins, who issued a statement on the FRC website (later taken down) denouncing President Obama’s criticism of the bill: "Mr. President, as long as you characterize efforts to uphold moral conduct that protects others, and in particular the most vulnerable, as attacking people, civility will continue to evade us."
Only time will tell what will come of the laws introduced in Kenya and Uganda, but given the international picture overall, I foresee a great deal of hardship and grief for gays in Africa.
Incidentally, the president of Kenya signed a law in May, 2014 legalizing heterosexual polygamy.