Kenya politician spotlights gay taboo

2012-11-22 22:32


Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Kiambu - An anti-poverty campaigner has become Kenya's first openly gay man to run for political office, but David Kuria Mbote faces a challenging path as he tries to dispel taboos in the largely conservative Christian nation in a race for a senate seat.

If elected to the Kenyan senate, Mbote, 40, would be Africa's only openly homosexual black man to hold national office, according to the Kaleidoscope Trust, a non-profit organisation focusing on gay rights.

But a cabinet minister warned of a "revolt' if Mbote were elected, a clear sign that attitudes towards the gay community in Kenya, reflected across much of Africa, remain vehemently anti-gay.

"It's not a vote-getter," said Mbote, a prominent gay rights activist who is seeking a senate seat in Kiambu County, which neighbours the capital.

"If anything, you say you hate gay people to get votes," he told Reuters.

Homosexuality is illegal in most African countries and same-sex relationships are often seen as a Western fad and an affront to traditional African culture and moral values.

Under Kenyan law, homosexual acts are punishable by up to 14 years in prison, but police say they would have to catch someone in the act to prosecute successfully.

When Uganda and Malawi tried to introduce tough anti-homosexuality laws, outraged Western donors threatened to cut aid, pitting them against fiery local politicians and African church leaders.

Neighbouring Uganda is planning to pass an anti-gay law, criticised by rights groups for its draconian penalties, including life imprisonment in certain circumstances.

Lifestyle over policy

But the threats have done little to influence mostly anti-gay attitudes in the highest levels of government.

Kenyan Trade Minister Moses Wetangula has warned there would be a "revolt" if voters elected Mbote, telling the BBC that homosexuality "simply doesn't fly" in Kenya.

An openly gay man should not "have an opportunity or privilege to lead a country that is founded on religious morality", Wetangula said in reference to Mbote, who is running as an independent candidate.

Even if his sexual orientation were not a factor, Mbote is unlikely to win in a county where vast sums of money are needed to mobilise 1.6 million inhabitants to vote.

Mbote's candidacy has been covered by all the major Kenyan newspapers, though the focus has been on his sexual orientation rather than his 5-point policy plan on how he would govern.

There are no official estimates of how many Kenyans are gay but anecdotal evidence suggests those who are openly gay in Kenya's cosmopolitan capital Nairobi has increased.

Yet the bespectacled politician - who was earlier this month given an award by the government for his work on reducing stigma towards HIV sufferers - feels the only relevance of homosexuality to his senate bid is "honesty".

"If we want to change this country, then we've got to play new politics and the people who can do that are people who are outsiders of the system and the establishment," Mbote said.

But he faces an uphill battle to change attitudes.

Good leader

A 2011 survey by the Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC) found that only 18% of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Transgender Kenyans had revealed their sexual orientation to their families. Of these, 89% were subsequently disowned.

Traders and shoppers at a food market filled with women in colourful aprons selling bananas, tomatoes and other goods in the town Kiambu just a short drive from the Kenyan capital of Nairobi said they were encouraged by Mbote's policies but that his lifestyle made him virtually unelectable.

"We don't want a generation of gay people in our town," said 52-year old Anne Ngugi while shopping for spinach and peas.

"His policies are okay but he has moral decay."

However, many of the younger people Reuters spoke to in Kiambu said Mbote's homosexuality was not a key issue for them.

"All I care about is that he becomes a good leader," 22-year old phone-seller Jane Mwangi said.

Read more on:    kenya  |  kenya elections  |  east africa


Read News24’s Comments Policy publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Add your comment
Comment 0 characters remaining

Inside News24

  • Tuesday Mitchells Plain - 19:35 PM
    Road name: M7 Vanguard Drive
    ROADWORKS - traffic restrictions between the R300 and Highlands Drive - expect delays
  • Tuesday Belhar - 17:58 PM
    Road name: Belhar Drive
    TRAFFIC LIGHTS not working at Alabama Drive
More traffic reports...

Jobs in Cape Town [change area]

Property [change area]

Travel - Look, Book, Go!

Magical Massinga

Spend 5 nights at the gorgeous Massinga Beach Lodge in Mozambique and only pay for 4 from R13 220 per person sharing. Includes return flights, accommodation, transfers and romantic turndown. Book now! - shop online today

Up to 60% off - clearance sale!

Save up to 60% on appliances, books, electronics, toys, movies and more. Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

Deal of the Week!

Get bestselling John Green novels now just R99 each! Hurry and get yours while stocks last. Shop here.

Mind blowing deals on beauty & fragrances

Save up to 30% off beauty and fragrances. Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

Up to 50% off hair care products!

Save up to 50% on professional hair care products at Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

30% off academic books

Score a mind blowing 30% off academic books! Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

OLX Free Classifieds [change area]

Samsung Galaxy s4

Mobile, Cell Phones in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 24

Best bargain in big bay

Real Estate, Houses - Apartments for Sale in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

VW Golf 6, 1.6 Trendline (Excellent condition)

Vehicles, Cars in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

Samsung Galaxy Tab P7500 10.1" Tablet With WiFi & 3G

Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 gives you a better experience for...

From R4999.00

I'm shopping for:


It is always easier to look out and see what needs changing. Looking in is a lot harder... Today you may need to look at more

There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.