News / Africa

Odinga Remarks Spark Persecution Fears for Kenya's Gay Community

Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga takes a new oath of office after signing the new constitution into law, at Uhuru Park in Nairobi, Aug 27, 2010 (file photo)
Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga takes a new oath of office after signing the new constitution into law, at Uhuru Park in Nairobi, Aug 27, 2010 (file photo)


Michael Onyiego

Kenya's gay and lesbian communities say they are confused and worried after the country's prime minister called for the arrest of homosexuals.

Recent statements made by Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga have many gay and lesbian activists concerned that the country's gains in civil rights could be erased. Speaking Sunday at a rally in Kenya's largest slum, Kibera, Mr. Odinga told supporters that none would be spared from laws in the new constitution that criminalize homosexual acts. The premier said that any Kenyan found engaging in homosexuality or "lesbianism" would be arrested and jailed.

Engaging in "homosexual acts" is currently a crime in Kenya, punishable by up to 14 years in prison.

Mr. Odinga's comments have provoked a measure of panic from Kenya's gay and lesbian community. A board member of the Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya, Nguru Karugu, said the comments could potentially drive Kenya's gay and lesbian communities underground.

"The community will now fear and go back in," said Karugu. "Fear to go to testing, fear to go to health clinics, fear to get services, fear to go to the police, for fear of being arrested or being harassed. It was a major blow for some pretty good work that has been going on the last few years."

Karugu said the Coalition is asking for clarification of the statements made by the prime minister, which he described as "out of left field." Gay and Lesbian issues have been a relatively untouched subject in Kenyan politics during the tenure of President Mwai Kibaki.

The Prime Minister has similarly had relatively little involvement in the issue, but the coalition said his comments were detrimental to the country's fight against HIV and AIDS.  
Kenya's National AIDS Control Council has recently moved to include gay and lesbian outreach in its fight against AIDS. In January, the prime minister attended and helped launch the group's 2010 Strategic Plan - the first that promised to work with homosexuals and other high-risk groups.   

Clarifications made by the Prime Minister's office have called the remarks "off the cuff" - saying they did not indicate a shift in government policy. Kenya's new bill of rights prohibits discrimination on any grounds, but Karugu believes many will take Mr. Odinga's words as sanctioning discrimination against homosexuals.

"Not only are people in their neighborhoods now feeling that they can easily be attacked because the prime minister - who is definitely a respected man in the country - said this, but healthcare workers who were before not sure whether they should deal with you or not may now choose not to," said Karugu.

During the past two years, a series of anti-homosexual legislation has swept through the region, leaving many fearful that Kenya could soon adopt stricter measures against homosexuality.

In 2009, a bill criminalizing homosexuality in Burundi was signed into law by President Pierre Nkurunziza. The Rwandan parliament also considered a similar bill that was thrown out after debate.

In the same year, Uganda introduced a bill that would, in certain situations, impose the death penalty on people caught engaging homosexual acts. The punishment of death was later removed due to international pressure. The bill is still under consideration by the Ugandan Parliament.

You May Like

Multimedia Brussels Schools, Metro Reopen Under Heavy Guard

City remains under the highest threat alert level due to what authorities have described as a 'serious and imminent' threat of attack

Video Debt-ridden Refugees Await Onslaught of Lebanese Winter

Aid agencies are attempting to reduce potentially devastating consequences of freezing conditions and snowstorms that killed eight last year, including three Syrian refugees

Americans Think About Strange Stuff at Thanksgiving

Millions of Americans are celebrating Thanksgiving, but they’re not necessarily thinking about turkey and stuffing

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

By the Numbers

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against ISi
November 24, 2015 3:04 AM
The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs