Acts of violence against members of the LGBT community are commonplace in East Africa. There have been several reported cases of LGBT individuals being publicly attacked and sometimes even gang-raped.
Such events are neither new nor are they unexpected by the members of the East African LGBT community. These cases are often than not reported to the authorities but nothing much is done to bring the offenders to justice. These individuals are accustomed to homophobia which is widely prevalent across the religious and conservative East African Nations.
With the general public and the government doing very little if nothing to protect the interests of these individuals, the civil society is all that they have left to rely on for their safety. In East Africa, there is a large number of community organizations as well as NGOs that are at the forefront of this war for legislation and inclusion.
Homosexuality is punishable by law according to the Kenyan constitution
Not only are there no laws that pertain to the protection of LGBT people’s rights, but homosexuality is also punishable by up to fourteen years of imprisonment according to section 162 of the Kenyan Penal Code. Kenyan citizens are hot on the topic with the majority of the population ranging from highly homophobic to mildly homophobic.
While the topic has been brought up severally in the country by civil societies, the main response has been that there are much more pressing issues than that of the protection of the rights of these individuals. This is often coupled with disapproving comments about these individuals on public tv.
According to a report by the Kenya Human Rights Commission, there have been many cases of gay male sex workers being asked for bribes and sexual favors by police officers. There have also been cases of unfair arrests made that had these individuals held in remand unconstitutionally without any charges against them.
The Kenyan law instead of protecting the human rights of LGBTQI people seem to place them in more danger of attack, discrimination as well as brutality by both the police and the general public. Many Kenyan Civil societies such as the Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya (GALCK) continue to defend the interests of this community but with little impact so far.
Uganda and Tanzania LGBT individuals could potentially face life imprisonment
Kenya’s neighbor Uganda has also faced its fair share of difficulties with regard to the LGBT legislation. There has been a number of cases where people from this community have faced violence from citizens as well as the police. A great example is a recent event where members of an LGBTQI organization were arrested and put through anal examinations. Both male and female homosexuality is illegal according to the Ugandan penal code.
In Tanzania, the situation is the same with LGBT rights being a socially taboo topic altogether. The punishment for LGBT individuals is life imprisonment whether it has consented and private or not. In the year 2018, a common occurrence in East Africa happened in Tanzania. A ‘witch-hunt’ targeting gay individuals in Dar es Salaam led to the arrest and forceful anal examination of several gay individuals.
The main aim of civil societies in the region is to oppose these laws that keep the LGBTQI community bound by the chains of a homophobic society. There is increased conversations about what little changes can be made to protect them from attacks and harassment. Increasing acceptance by the community is a vital step towards the decriminalization of consent same-sex relationships in the region.
Is there hope for the protection of LGBTQI civil rights in East Africa?
While the path to the protection of LGBTQI individuals’ rights in the region has been tumultuous, there is a lot of hope and activism towards the same thanks to increased participation by the civil societies in the recent past.
The civil society has done its fair share of work in protecting these individuals but it has faced major challenges with the government opposing a lot of their efforts. Overall, all hope is not lost but a lot more needs to be done.
The responsibility hugely lies with the civil societies to ensure that the public is made more aware, educated, mindful and accommodating of LGBTQI individuals in East Africa. Rome was not built in a day, and the future seems bright where legislation is concerned for the East African LGBTQI Community.