The US was just trying to help, but the decision of its embassy to organize the first gay pride event in Kenya on June 26 has given local activists heartburn–some even called for a boycott.
Though homosexuality is illegal in Kenya, my understanding is that it has a vibrant home-grown LGBTI movement, and that there is some hope of making progress on repressive laws. But as in much of Africa, homosexuality is often framed by opponents as being a western import.
And the tension over this event demonstrates the shadow that the US–and by extension, the US gay rights movement–casts over gay rights movements in the non-Europeanish world: things have moved so far so fast here that activists in some places have to disavow ties to movements in Western countries out of fear of a backlash.
Wanja Muguongo, who directs UHAI– the East African Sexual Health and Rights Initiative–explained to GayStarNews,
When it comes to Kenya, [prides] have not been done in the past for very many reasons. So for the American embassy to go out to do it is not good and can be really damaging…Any kind of activism can hurt. It can be dangerous. But the danger must be something that is decided upon by that community and that is what I have a problem with in this case.
But a columnist who writes under the name Queer Watchtower for the online publication Identity Kenya, took a slap at the critics of the event:
After months of disorganization and sloth in petty wrangles that have harmed the movement, some activists want to use this opportunity to spoil for a fight. Where is the security threat? Who is being forced to attend? We need to stop spreading fear and inciting insecurities where we have no credible basis and when the movement has for a long time been unstrategic.
But he followed up his comments with a disclaimer that said the event was actually intended for US nationals living in Kenya. I don’t know if that’s true, but it’s not how the event’s been covered, which makes me think there’s a conscious effort even among activists who support it (or plan to attend) to distance it from homegrown activism.
This pride is not for Kenyans, it is for American nationals in Kenya and their State Department, through their embassy is doing what the White House did last month; hosting a pride for its nationals who are LGBTIQ to remind them that as a government, it respects them and accords them equal rights. Same thing the Kenyan embassy in the US would do for Kenyans in Washington during Jamuhuri day.
…Build bridges, cease fighting and constituting security think tanks in serv lists. Why didn’t we do that after four lesbians killed themselves this year? Why isn’t there a security think tank to address the near collapse of GALCK. Let us find ways of latching into actionable events and see how we can benefit our LGBTIQ constituents without unnecessarily embarrassing ourselves in spoils for fights.