In Kenya, Prime Minister Raila Odinga recently told supporters in
the Nairobi slum of Kibera that he would order police to arrest
gays. In Uganda and Malawi, debate is rising over the legality of
Long seen as a fringe societal taboo far from the realm of
African politics, homosexuality is emerging as a hot-button issue
throughout much of the continent. Kenya, East Africa's economic hub,
joined the trend in late November when Prime Minister Raila Odinga
told supporters in the Nairobi slum of Kibera that he would order
police to arrest gays.
"We will not tolerate such behavior in the country. The
Constitution is very clear on this issue, and men or women found
engaging in homosexuality will not be spared," Mr. Odinga said in
Swahili, in comments that were taped by several news organizations.
"Any man found engaging in sexual activities with another man should
be arrested. Even women found engaging in sexual activities will be
The statement - which brought cheers in the Kibera slum - has
created a sharp divide between Christian conservatives, who argue
that homosexuality is against religious laws and "the law of
nature," and human rights activists, who argue that stigmatizing any
minority is illegal. It serves as the latest example of an outlook
driven by the growing political assertiveness of powerful Christian
churches that bolster existing social stigmas against gays.
"Normally, we judge a country's development by its tolerance of
minorities," says Njeri Kabeberi, executive director of the Center
for Multiparty Democracy in Nairobi. "We've seen this same issue
come up in Uganda, in Zimbabwe, in Malawi, where gays are assaulted,
arrested, jailed. Anything like that, the prime minister should
condemn, but instead, he's encouraging it."
Ms. Kabeberi encouraged the prime minister to retract his
statement, if only because Kenya's newly enacted Constitution does
not, in fact, make homosexuality illegal. (Kenyan law merely states
that marriage should be defined as between a man and a woman.)
If the statement was Odinga's attempt to become popular with
Kenya's powerful churches, she adds, "the wrath of the civil society
is going to make him wish he wasn't popular on this issue. He should
be urging Kenyans to be tolerant, instead of himself being
While recordings of Odinga's speech have been made public online,
Odinga's spokesman Dennis Onyango issued a statement saying that
Odinga was misquoted.
Odinga said he intended to clarify that the Constitution was not,
as alleged by opponents, going to legalize same-sex marriages. …