Kenya’s deputy president, William Ruto, has told worshippers at a church service in Nairobi that homosexuality had no place in the east African nation, reports said on Monday.
Homophobia is on the rise across much of Africa and homosexuality remains illegal in many countries, including Kenya where it was outlawed under British colonial legislation.
“We will not allow homosexuality in our society as it violates our religious and cultural beliefs,” Ruto was quoted as telling a cheering congregation at the Jesus Winner Ministry Church on the outskirts of the capital.
“We will stand with religious leaders to defend our faith and our beliefs,” he said. “There’s no room for homosexuality in this country. That one I can assure you.”
Ruto’s comments came as US Secretary of State John Kerry visited Kenya. Asked to react to the reported comments, Kerry reiterated Washington’s position.
“The US believes that all people are created equal and all people have rights, that includes people of every faith, every gender, every choice of partner, no matter who you love,” he told reporters.
Ruto, who is on trial at the International Criminal in The Hague accused of crimes against humanity, said his stance was about morality not politics.
“When we say this, we are not saying so as to get votes but to protect what we all believe is right,” he said, according to The Star newspaper.
In conservative Christian and Muslim countries in Africa, homophobia is a vote-winner.
In Uganda legislators sought the death penalty for homosexuality and although the anti-gay bill has since been watered down, ruling party MPs remain eager to see it passed.
Nigeria and Gambia have passed tough new anti-gay laws in recent years, with Gambia’s President Yahya Jammeh, calling homosexuals “ungodly, Satanic… vermins [sic]” in a speech last year.
Homosexuality is illegal in 36 out of 54 African countries and punishable by death in four, according to human rights group Amnesty International.
In Kenya, too, a cross-party parliamentary group is seeking stricter application of existing anti-gay legislation.
Binyavanga Wainaina, a prominent Kenyan writer who last year came out as gay, took to social media to attack Ruto’s comments.
“Our Deputy President Ruto is building himself to be the most dangerous man in Africa. If his strategy works much will burn,” Wainaina told his 18 000 followers on Twitter.
The Jesus Winner Ministry Church specialises in prophecies and describes itself on its website as “an oasis” for people “under the yoke of curses, witchcraft, stagnation, ancestral spirits and other evils brought by Satan.”
Kenya has given the United Nations three months to remove a camp housing more than half a million Somali refugees, as part of a get-tough response to the killing of 148 people by Somali gunmen at a Kenyan university.
Kenya has in the past accused Islamist militants of hiding out in Dadaab camp which it now wants the UN refugee agency UNHCR to move across the border to inside Somalia.
“We have asked the UNHCR to relocate the refugees in three months, failure to which we shall relocate them ourselves,” Deputy President William Ruto said in a statement on Saturday.
“The way America changed after 9/11 is the way Kenya will change after Garissa,” he said, referring to the university that was attacked on April 2.
Emmanuel Nyabera, spokesperson for the UNHCR in Kenya, said they were yet to receive formal communication from the government on the relocation of Dadaab and could not comment.
The complex of camps hosts more than 600 000 Somali refugees, according to Ruto, in a remote, dry corner in northeast Kenya, about an hour’s drive from Garissa town.
The camp was first established in 1991 when civil war broke out in neighbouring Somalia, and over subsequent years has received waves of refugees fleeing conflict and drought.
The United Nations puts the number of registered refugees in the chronically overcrowded settlements of permanent structures, mud shanties and tents, at around 335 000. The camp houses schools, clinics and community centres.
Macharia Munene, professor of international relations at USIU-Africa, said the logistics of moving hundreds of thousands of refugees across the border would be “a tall order”.
But he said there were now safe areas within Somalia from where Islamist al Shabab militants had been chased out by African Union forces in recent years.
“Kenya is in an emergency situation… Each country has an obligation to look after its people first,” he told Reuters.
‘We must secure this country at all costs’ Funerals of the students killed in the campus attack were taking place across the country. Pictures of their grieving families dominated the media, reminding Kenyans of the attack.
Audrey Mbugua will not say whether it was a razor blade, pills or carbon monoxide that she used to try to kill herself.
Born a male in Kenya and given the name Andrew, she felt trapped in the wrong body and started dressing in women’s clothes while at university, attracting ridicule and rejection. After graduation, Mbugua was jobless, penniless and alone.
“I thought the best way was to end it all,” she recalled six years later, sitting in her leafy garden in Kiambu, 20km from the Kenyan capital, Nairobi.
“I didn’t have any hope. I didn’t have friends I could talk to. My family had deserted me,” said the slim 31-year-old, who wears glasses and her hair long.
Experts say up to 1 percent of the world’s population are transgender – men and women who feel they have been born with the wrong body and the wrong gender.
When Mbugua sought help to deal with her inner turmoil from a healthworker, the woman took Mbugua’s hands and prayed for her to be freed from the devil’s clutches.
“She pulls open her drawer, takes out a Bible and starts to preach to me,” Mbugua laughed. “I don’t think she knew what I was going through, so to cover up, she said it’s the work of Satan.”
Transgender people are some of the most invisible in Africa where rigid gender stereotyping continues to stifle freedoms. Many are forced to hide their identity and live on the margins of their communities or risk being vilified as immoral and unchristian by the conservative majority.
Mbugua is a rare exception.
Since a test case in 2013 to compel Kenya’s examinations council to change the name on her school leaving certificate from Andrew to Audrey, Mbugua has become an unlikely celebrity, using interviews to promote transgender rights.
Surgery After Mbugua’s 2008 suicide attempt, doctors diagnosed her with gender identity disorder and arranged for surgery to change her sex.
But Kenya’s minister of medical services cancelled the operation at the last minute without explanation – an example of the confusion that has marred her quest to fully become a woman.
Facing one hurdle after another, Mbugua decided she had to take up the mantle of campaigning for transgender rights to combat the ignorance and stigma blighting her life.
“It has to be done so that people are able to live lives that are full of dignity, where people are not hindered from being who they are,” Mbugua said.
Transgender people across Africa are publicly humiliated, stripped, harassed by the police and thrown out of their homes. Alcoholism and suicide are often the only way out.
“A transgender person should be a prostitute, they should be used for sodomy – that is the general narrative,” Mbugua said.
Despite a degree in biotechnology, Mbugua has been unable to find work. She has had a dozen job interviews, but the interviewers made “nasty comments” and threatened to take her academic certificates to the police, accusing her of fraud.
Mbugua changed her name through deed poll in 2012, using this to replace Andrew with Audrey on her passport.
But she has been unable to change the name on her identity card, birth certificate or academic papers. An application to change her identity card has been pending since 2012.
Her 2013 case against Kenya’s examinations council unleashed a media frenzy with her story dominating front pages. Television interviewers asked her about her sex life, she was mocked online and young men in her village threatened to attack her.
“You feel like throwing yourself in front of the bus but you have to find a way of living with it,” she said. “I wanted to take as many hits as possible and show the world that you can hit a transsexual and she stands up.”
“I didn’t want people to think of people like me as cowards, as people who hide, who are ashamed of themselves,” she added.
In a landmark ruling in October, the court ordered the examinations council to change the name on Mbugua’s certificate. But the council appealed the ruling and the case is awaiting a date in the High Court.
Fundamental change? South Africa and Botswana are the only African countries with laws explicitly allowing official documents to be changed to reflect a person’s desired identity, although medical evidence of transition is usually required.
Kenyan authorities say medical proof of transition – a sex change – is required to change the gender mark on Mbugua’s passport and identity card. But sex change surgery is virtually impossible to get in Kenya because the procedure is so unusual.
The few Kenyans Mbugua knows who have had surgery did it overseas.
In February, the High Court ruled against ordering the government to set medical guidelines for treatment of gender identity disorder, which must be in place before Mbugua can undergo surgery.
“Gender change operation is part of my treatment,” she said. “It’s the last piece of my treatment as recommended by doctors who saw me. It’s my right.”
Mbugua has become Kenya’s most famous transgender woman. Strangers stop her in the street and tell her she is brave and beautiful. She receives emails from doctors asking her to help transgender patients change their names on official documents.
She juggles her advocacy work with studying for a Masters degree, spending hours at her computer, blue and black nail polishes neatly lined up next to the screen.
She believes Kenyans are now more understanding of what it is to be transgender, accepting it as a medical condition that has nothing to do with homosexuality, which remains a taboo in much of Africa.
“Nowadays, I normally have a good night’s sleep because no one calls me that they have been arrested by city council or police on some trumped-up charges of cross-dressing or prostitution,” she said. “We have seen fundamental changes.”
Determined that the students killed in the terror attacks in Garissa not be reduced to a number, a Kenyan social media campaign has set out to tell the story of each individual victim.
Using the hashtag #147notjustanumber and #theyhavenames, friends and families of the victims, journalists and others on Twitter have begun to honour the lives of those who died – sharing the photographs, names, ages and character portraits as the details become available.
Each tweet paints a powerful portrait of loss.
They include tributes to Leah N Wanfula, who at 21 was the first of nine siblings to go to university. There’s Gideon Kirui, 22, whose entire family saved up for him to continue his education; and Selpher Wandia, 21, who was studying to become a teacher.
They record small details that will be remembered by those closest: Beatrice Njeri Thinwa, 20, was a fan of Kenny Rogers and Mildred Yondo loved theatre, music and mangoes.
Official reports say that 148 people died when al-Shabaab gun men stormed a university in eastern Kenya seeking out Christians last week. Most were aged between 19 and 23. Some of the victims honoured on Twitter were also featured in Kenyan national newspaper the Daily Nation on Monday.
Ory Okolloh Mwangi, also know as @KenyanPundit, started the campaign on Sunday before the official death toll had been raised to 148.
She told the Wall Street Journal that the initiative was “an effort to humanise victims of terror”. According to social media monitor Topsy, the hashtag #147notjustanumber has been mentioned 52 000 times so far.
In an effort to make sure each student is honoured a public Google document has been created “to ensure we never forget the names of victims of internal and external acts of mass violence”. It also contains tabs for other al-Shabab victims, including the ones on Mandera Quarry in 2014 and the Westgate shopping mall in 2013.
Coordinated by a Kenyan blogger known as Owaahh, the document is acting as an open-source database. The public are asked to add any information they have about the Garissa students, including quotes from family members and personal Facebook pages.
Owaahh’s team is also asking for links to source and verify the information collected. It currently lists the details of 71 victims, not all of them are verified.
Kenyans on social media have also started to share details of a vigil “to remember and mourn the Kenyans who lost their lives”, which will be held in Uhuru Park, Nairobi. People have been asked to volunteer at the event and those attending to bring handwritten tributes.
The Nairobi County government has shut down a Chinese restaurant that refused to serve African customers after 5pm.
According to reports in Kenya’s Daily Nation, the restaurant in Kilimani was operating illegally for years without a liquor licence, a health inspection licence and a change-of-use licence.
The closure comes after media reports of the restaurant’s controversial decision to ban African patrons after 5pm. The owners said it was out of concern for the safety of Chinese patrons.
“We don’t admit Africans that we don’t know because you never know who is Al-Shabaab and who isn’t,” relations manager Esther Zhao told the newspaper. “It is not like it is written on somebody’s face that they are a thug armed with a gun.”
However, staff denied that only a select group of Africans were allowed in, saying there was “strictly a no African policy” in place.
Kenyans who were turned away from the Chinese restaurant have been encouraged to lodge a complaint with the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights.
The owner, Zhao Yang, was arrested yesterday for operating the restaurant without a licence, the Guardian reported. If found guilty, he faces a prison term of 18 months or a fine of more than $1 000.