Black Looks - Including an African LGBTIQ+ Archive

Queer Politics

LGBTI activism in Kenya & strategies of intervention

Keguro Macharia provides an historical overview of LGBTI activism in Kenya which he states has taken place through “a strategy of association rather than an articulation of identity” specifically through health work and activism around HIV/AIDs. However as he points out this strategy has it’s problems…

By allying themselves to health work and activism around HIV/AIDS, and serving underserved populations, especially men who have sex with men (MSM), LGBTI activists have been able to raise funds and demonstrate their commitment to Kenya’s health and future. Donors have also found it easier to fund HIV/AIDS activism as opposed to more direct LGBTI causes, thus escaping scrutiny from government agencies.

While health work is important, it risks allying LGBTI practices and identifications predominantly with HIV/AIDS. Approached through the lens of pathology, LGBTI identity and identification might be seen as a vector for pathology: LGBTI populations spread HIV/AIDS; as caretakers for the sick: LGBTI activists nurse the sick; and as mourners for the dying and dead: LGBTI activists grieve for the dead. While these roles are important, they risk marginalizing LGBTI activism from broader national conversations.

Simultaneously, this focus on HIV/AIDS makes invisible other kinds of illegal actions against LGBTI people in Nairobi, who are often subjected to blackmail and other forms of harassment. Many of these illegal activities remain unreported or are carried out by law enforcement. The LGBTI community has yet to find effective ways to make existing laws work in their favor.

Keguro is also critical of a new initiative towards decriminialisation across Africa which requires of “internationalization’ of the struggle through external interventions such as in the case recently Malawi case of Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga who were pardoned.

Kuria is right to the extent that non-interference has been the dominant model of inter-African interaction. Even in the most egregious abuses of human rights, African organizations, from the now defunct Organization of African Unity (OAU) to the equally moribund African Union (AU), have been unwilling or unable to intervene in member state affairs.

However, Kuria’s strategy also reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of the relationship between the local and the global in the arena of human rights. Although the global might be the stage on which human rights are enacted and, ideally, upheld, global forces cannot enforce those rights in any sustained manner in any sovereign nation without taking away that nation’s sovereignty. Indeed, Kuria seems to be calling for a new rights-based imperialism, in which the object will be to protect sexual minorities against their sovereign nations.

More crucially, Kuria’s call reveals an ongoing weakness within LGBTI activism in Kenya. To date, LGBTI activists have not been able to articulate their claims within the frame of Kenya’s histories, presents, and futures. While they have certainly invoked pre-colonial paradigms in which some ethnic groups recognized same-sex relationships and welcomed transgendered individuals, LGBTI activists have not embedded their activism within Kenya’s anti-colonial struggles, nationalist pasts and presents, and future aspirations.

Read the full article on Kenya Imagine


  1. As always, thanks so much for sharing this information. I was recently discussing a similar LGBTQI organizing strategy (specifically in Nigeria) with some peers and social workers (affiliated with an AIDS/HIV prevention awareness NGO) and came to the same conclusion, but couldn't quite put my finger on it. This really helps.

    I've also often wondered what it would be like to organize around gender equality than the epidemic (due to the cited stigmas). The US is a far cry from Africa, but I've been successful organizing people of color around gender equality as far as side-stepping the pathology that is discussed in this article. We've been able to move beyond discussions primarily focused on HIV/AIDS and STD prevention, and include more dialog that has been critical to building community and engaging new/non-conventional allies around a plethora of intersecting social justice issues (e.g. youth development, the arts, internalized homophobia, sexism etc)

  2. Sokari

    Thanks for you comment. Your point on organising around intersecting social justice issues is crucial and one area that we have so far not managed successfully on the continent where organsing tends to be on single issues. We have no choice but to move in that direction and experiences such as yours are invaluable –