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Kenya vs Malawi; gays, Vagina Monologues and M-Pesa

Discussion in 'Kenyan News and Politics' started by nomasana, May 21, 2010.

  1. n

    nomasana JF-Expert Member

    #1
    May 21, 2010
    Joined: Aug 14, 2009
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    The Malawian commercial capital, Blantyre, is 1,616km from Kenya's capital Nairobi. But this week, they couldn't seem farther apart.

    In Nairobi, gay rights activists assembled to mark the International Day Against Homophobia, where they demanded recognition and fairer treatment. Metropolitan Community Church priest the Rev. Michael Kimindu was at hand to lead prayers at the event - which was held at the prestigious National Museum. And, yes, the Kenya Human Rights Commission hosted the function.

    In Blantyre, meanwhile, a judge sentenced a gay couple to 14 years in prison with hard labour after they were convicted of "gross indecency and unnatural acts". Steven Monjeza, 26, and Tiwonge Chimbalanga, 20, have been in jail since their arrest in December 2009 after holding an engagement ceremony.

    "I will give you a scaring sentence so that the public be protected from people like you, so that we are not tempted to emulate this horrendous example," Judge Nyakwawa Usiwa-Usiwa ruled.

    Public attitude

    Looking at these two events, you might be inclined to think that homosexuality is legal in Kenya or that mainstream public attitude is not hostile. You would be wrong.

    Homosexuality is illegal in Kenya, and public opinion is not in the least friendly.

    The difference in Kenya is that even people who are homophobic rarely get hysterical about it, and officialdom is happy to close its eyes because, for historical reasons, Kenyan governments have tended to be uncomfortable getting involved in very personal matters like sex.

    But it also says something else about Kenya, something that is not usually commented on. After living in Kenya as an "alien" for seven years, I am struck by how very different it is than most other African countries.

    Perhaps the best comparison would be with its neighbour and my own native Uganda.

    Any visitor seeing the way women dress in Kampala, what goes on at parties, and reads the soft-pornographic press like Red Pepper, would think that Uganda is a sexually permissive society. And, compared to Kenya or Tanzania, perhaps it is. But Ugandans are always quite conflicted and, even, confused with sex at the same time.

    Thus when Vagina Monologues, Eve Ensler's now viral play about sex and female empowerment, came to Uganda, in the supposedly more sexually open country, the government banned it. It didn't show.

    Vagina Monologues

    In Nairobi, meanwhile, Vagina Monologues came and showed to huge crowds, without any fuss. The play returned a few weeks ago, and this time it was so normal it did not even get coverage in the press.

    In the meantime, on the matter of gays, there is such a shrill campaign against it in Uganda, an MP recently introduced a bill that seeks to have homosexuals hanged, and would make it possible to hand a long jail term even to a parent who did not disclose to the authorities that her son was gay!

    So why the differences? To begin with, in the late 60s, through the 70s to the late 80s, when the rest of Africa was wallowing in misery brought by failed experiments with socialism and military rule, Kenya remained a largely thriving free market economy, and held regular elections (even if they were a sham during one-party). At one point, Kenya and South Africa had Africa's largest and richest middle classes. The legacy of this is that Kenya is a country that is fairly cocky, and doesn't suffer too many insecurities like other African nations.




    The intellectuals

    Secondly, the Mau Mau rebellion of the 1950s; the independent church movement of earlier periods; the anti-colonial movement, and the struggles by the intellectuals against the Jomo Kenyatta and Daniel arap Moi (witness the books and plays of Ngugi wa Thiong'o) were also an intense struggle for cultural freedom. Kenya thus became one of the few countries where the government banned travelling and village theatres, because they were subversive.

    One outcome of this is that there is a part of Kenya that is very tolerant and accepting of cultural difference and the freedom of minorities to practice their lifestyles, because the fight for these rights has significantly shaped the country.

    Thirdly, any observant outside will be struck by how ethnically and culturally diverse Kenya is. If you stand on a busy Nairobi street, you will see women in veils, who look like they are from the Middle East, Asians, tall dark, tall brown, short brown, European, all sorts of people. In other countries, most of these would be visitors. In Kenya, well, they are Kenyans. Of course, as the regional business and diplomatic hub (Unep is headquartered in Kenya), Nairobi also has a very large number of foreigners.

    Cosmopolitan mindset

    As a result of all these, there is a more cosmopolitan mindset than you would find in many African countries. For example, the mobile phone digital money transfer service, M-Pesa, was not only created in Kenya by the teleco Safaricom, but it has been more successful here than anywhere else.

    Next door in Tanzania, it was a flop. In Uganda, the uptake has not been spectacular. It takes a willingness to move away from the traditional way of managing and moving money, to embrace M-Pesa. Kenyans have had no problems with it, while most of Africa is still suspicious.

    So gay people will find that they still can't kiss on the street in Kenya, or marry. They can fully expect to be criticised and, possibly, even shunned by some. The one thing they don't have to be, is afraid.

    At the end of last year, there was a big gay party at one of the fashionable clubs in Nairobi's suburbs. Gays came from as far away as Kampala.

    The cars stretched over a kilometre, and as the night wore on, some high gay patrons made out in the open! The neighbours did not blow the whistle. The police did not drop in. And there was not a word of it in the media. Try that in Blantyre or Kampala.
    http://www.africareview.com/Blogs/The%20gay%20debate/-/825454/922274/-/item/0/-/49gy33/-/index.html



    what do you guys think about this article?

    note: please lets not make this topic into one of those senseless "my country is better than yours" arguments. lets be civil
     
  2. Dingswayo

    Dingswayo JF-Expert Member

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    May 21, 2010
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    I did not know that M Pesa has been a slop in Tanzania. How has this been so, and why? Someone educate me on this please.
     
  3. n

    nomasana JF-Expert Member

    #3
    May 21, 2010
    Joined: Aug 14, 2009
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    yeah, i had the same question too when i read that
     
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