This rant is about the airing of the NTV news feature #TheTrend last night during the 9 PM news. The “gay debate”, if you can call it that, was between Lawrence Mute who is a commissioner of the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights and Charles Kanjama who is Vice Chair of the Kenya  Christian Professional Association. The subject of the debate was a report by the KNHRC which proposed decriminalisation of homosexuality and prostitution as a means of enabling access to sexual and reproductive health by LGBTIQ identified Kenyans. The report also dealt with issues of sex education and other issues about access to health as per Section 43 of the Constitution (all this I got from Lawrence Mute because I haven’t got a copy of the report which isn’t available online in PDF form as yet). I first put up this rant earlier today on the QueerTalk mailing list and thought it would be great to channel my anger here also. Here we go:

Can we even call what went on yesterday evening “debate”? Can we say it contributed in any way to debate about sexual minorities? Can we claim that viewers were left with a sense of the kind of balanced conversation and articulation in which understanding of sexual orientation, gender identity and sex work has to take place? I think not! Kanjama went home with all the won talking points and with the homophobes/transphobes/anti-women of the religious associations having captured the willing minds of many Kenyans. And it is very unfortunate that this was not because Lawrence Mute didn’t say anything of importance in the show but because the terms set and enforced by the “moderator” clearly supported the views espoused by Kanjama the orator for family values and African traditions and the Christian god.

Did Denis, who spent the afternoon at Nation Centre prior to the “big debate”, just talk about the sexuality spectrum in a 5 second clip? I don’t know *exactly* what we should do about this, but I am sick and tired of seeing the same shit said over and over again about “homosexuality” and “prostitution” and the same Sheikh Khalifa saying the same things about “uchafu” and “ushoga” or the Karanja person from NCCK which is a shadow of its former self trying to earn points at the expense of real people with real problems. I mean, the “moderator” actually linked the report, prepared over the course of many months and released a week before, with Obama’s announcement of his “evolution” towards the support of same sex marriage and the had the nerve to ask about whether the report was informed by the American Agenda! Sick and tired.

We should reconfigure the terms of debate in which our names, our bodies, our choices and our lives are invoked. If this is what LGBTIQ persons have to deal with in order to be “passed” to the national limelight by Kenyan big media then I think we can do without it. We can choose to lend our voices to other spaces where our voice and how we articulate OUR problems are respected. There are many websites that deal with gender, sex and body in Kenya, run by queer people, sex workers and allies. We seriously don’t need this shit.


  1. This is ludicrous in ten million ways.. very disheartened to hear about the how the interview went as i missed TheTrend. And yes, you do make a point.. if you are not given your due opportunity to articulate what you stand for then why bother.

    Yet, keep at it. There are some learnings here so far.. Like, LGBT or is it LGBTIQ are more than the sum of their parts, so act like. Act like a corporation. Act as a unit. Be organised. I dont know how much prepping went into TheTrend- from what i understand.. there is usually non- coz its meant to be real improv and spontaneous.

    SO the next time there is such an opportunity – send in (all celebs do this) your terms. What you are open to talking about.. or better still.. what you will NOT be talking about e.g (the sexuality angle – everyone’s first thought is there ) vs other elements orientation, religious or spiritual links, its not African (despite the fact that history is rife with gay animals or communities from time immemorial within African communities).

    Support, a tag team.. especially in an open forum such as TheTrend- someone to continue as you catch your breathe.

    Know what you are getting into. Yes this is allowed! You can ask the presenter before hand, that before you committing to coming, whats their angle? what do they hope to gain? what are they trying to show? who will be there especially in the opposing team? SO that you are better prepped from all angles.
    ANyhoo, looking forward to the momentum after yesterday’s slanted session.. where next?

  2. Novia Olam · · Reply

    Mumbi, I quite like the way you think and articulate yourself. Kenne does have a point about how skewed such debates are bound to be now and in the near future, but it must not stop at the rant. We need to move on and try to fight our ‘battles’ on home ground and with your strategy, we will have better chances of flipping any future media attacks- sorry, debates- in our favour.
    Also getting or arranging for a truly neutral moderator would be in order.

    1. Yes, Mumbi has sound advice for the way people who are interacting with the media should carry themselves and i quite agree with her that if what she said was actually followed, even though we couldn’t have secured a major victory for the lives and rights of queer persons, some of the viewers could at least now have some information and perspectives which they could make a decision regarding LGBTIQ and sex workers with. I think what my anger in the post registers is the complete breakdown of even any chance of this happening and this is rather unfortunate. During the time the show was aired, two other networks had roughly the same thing going on and all of them came with the same conclusions and viewers left with the sets of beliefs they had before the show, and that’s a bad thing for queer people, because nothing changes and the media gets off without carrying out any of the duties expected of it.

      I guess the real challenge now is for how we can beat this deadlock. It will mean addressing some institutional challenges within Kenyan media itself and I would think that this isn’t a problem for Kenyan queers only. I also think there is a huge dependence among Kenyan LGBTIQ activists and organisations on the media and the belief that anything the media says about queers is a good thing because at least people get to know that we are out there… That needs to change.

  3. Novia Olam · · Reply

    @Kenne, the media is very important and it will remain the main way through which we can channel our message and create awareness so the dependence is not likely to end. I guess what you mean is that we need to be responsible for the message we send? I don’t know. I got a bit confused on that last sentence…

    1. My question is: why is there this need for recognition in the mainstream media? From what I have seen from the past few years is that it has actually relayed news about LGBTIQ people and issues in such a way that they create little or no impact. With this in mind, I find it counterproductive that people still harbour hope that the media, as it is now, can bring any meaningful change in the way citizens talk about LGBTIQ people and issues. What I am saying is this: Kenyan media must change the way it treats LGBTIQ people and issues. If it doesn’t or is seems not able to, queers will have to direct their energies in telling their stories themselves and i believe that we already have quite a number of resources at out disposal.

  4. Novia Olam · · Reply

    Ah, now I see.
    The problem with the media in Kenya is that it tells the people only what they want to hear and completely leaves out other aspects of what is actually happening but people do not want to hear.
    I agree. We need to supplement using media so heavily with other ways of telling our stories. But I still think that it we cannot entirely abandon the media. We should quietly seek to change the way things are while at the same time using the alternative resources. The media remains a very important form of communication in Kenya, so getting them to at least be objective about us would be a great victory. A lot of work remains to be done but at least we are trying to learn from our mistakes.

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