Gay Times February 13 - Issue 415
AFRICA’S HARVEY MILK
You probably haven’t heard of David Kuria Mbote. He isn’t a world leader or well-known diplomat, and you’re more likely to find him campaigning in secluded Kenyan villages than treading the international headlines.
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But in Africa, a continent thought to have 50 million gay black men and women, David is the very first to openly stand for political office.
“I don’t know why nobody has run before me,” he explained. “I think we really have a problem that gay people are completely invisible in Africa. It’s hard to give rights to people that you don’t see. And then you have these oppressive regimes: you have Uganda, you have Zimbabwe, you have the police raiding them. The whole thing is visibility.”
David’s candidacy has caused considerable controversy in his home nation of Kenya; a place where, according to the Pew Global Attitudes Project, 96% of the population consider homosexuality ‘a way of life society should not accept’.
“Many people have said things, like on the radio. People have said ‘you’ll never get elected, you are satanic. You are a sinner.’ Just last week on the radio someone said to me ‘close your eyes and I pray for you’. It’s sad, and you get a thick skin. But what you think has to be put. It has to be done.”
His unapologetic openness is all the more remarkable when you consider it remains a crime to be gay in modern Kenya. A man caught having sex with another man can face up to 14 years imprisonment. Or, in the worst cases, fatal persecution from within their own community.
“You have a lot of people who are attacked often and beaten up,” he told me. “It’s still very insecure to be gay in certain places and especially in slums. A place called Kibera: it’s very insecure to be gay there. If they suspect you, they can just beat you up on account of that.”
“There was a case of some men who were caught having sex in a bush, and one of them was killed.” He hesitates: “It was stoning. Yeah, stoning.” Kenyan news reported the two men were having sex in some secluded bushes, had been spotted by a passer-by and then stoned to death by a milling crowd. One had been discovered in a dumping site, the other was thought to have died of internal bleeding days later.
“You know, you have an incident like that almost every week.”
But David, 40, doesn’t seem phased by his own words. To him this has been the reality of Africa through his whole life.
Personal safety isn’t the concern – if it was, he’d probably have never courted publicity for the cause so unashamedly. “If you’re this visible, it’s a form of protection,” says David, seeming remarkably nonchalant to the true dangers faced.
“First of all when we started we had police following us. That at first, it’s a form of violation because you don’t want your space violated, but it’s also a form of protection as people can’t attack you when the police are following.”
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Words Benjamin Butterworth