Judge appointments spark gay rights debate in Kenya


A fierce debate has
erupted in Kenya over the country’s proposed new Chief Justice and deputy Chief
Justice. Although opinion polls say that the vast majority of Kenyans are happy
with Dr Willy Mutunga and Nancy Baraza, Christian groups are up in arms.

Here is the
background: according to a new constitution approved by referendum last year, a
judicial commission nominates candidates, who have to be approved by the
president and the parliament. The president has given them a thumbs-up and this
week they will be grilled by a parliamentary committee.

The nominee for
Chief Justice, Dr Mutunga, is co-founder of the Kenya Human Rights Commission,
which receives funding from a German aid agency to foster gay rights and get
acceptance for sexual orientation. The Commission also supports liberal moral
views on the right to life. In 2003 article, Mutunga wrote: “I think the
influence of religion in this country is very harmful. They don’t allow proper
sex education in school; they don’t allow condoms in a country with HIV/AIDS.
That kind of rubbish makes me very mad.” In 2006, he facilitated the
registration of the Kenya Gay and Lesbian Trust.

He has changed his
religious beliefs several times and is now in divorce proceedings in relation
to his second marriage. A stud in his left ear has provoked dark mutterings
from his opponents.

The nominee for
deputy, Nancy Baraza, is doing her PhD thesis at Kenyatta University on gay
rights. She was head of an international organization of women lawyers called
FIDA (Kenya). FIDA has made positive moves for women’s rights, but it also supports
abortion rights and is campaigning to liberalize the legal status of marriage.

The new
constitution requires all judges to be “of high moral character, integrity and
impartiality” – qualities which the Catholic bishops questioned, in
a hard-hitting statement:

“We need people with a judicial philosophy that reflects natural law,
the Kenyan religious and African cultural values, including our universal
respect for life, our recognition of the importance of family wellbeing and our
appreciation of the role of religion in public and private life… The excessive
emphasis on academic excellence and radical reformism is not sufficient.
Justice fundamentally involves moral order.”

Why has there been
so little reaction? Why is Kenya so different to neighbouring Uganda where a
draconian bill punishing homosexual acts has been tabled in parliament?  

Kenya, and
especially Nairobi, is much more Westernised. Nairobi hosts the world
headquarters of UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme), has good
communications, is more cosmopolitan, more secular, more disciplined and better
organized. For example, the birth rate in educated, middle-class families has
been declining for several years, whereas Uganda still has one of the highest
birth-rates in the world despite the growth in prosperity of the past two

Since independence
thousands of Kenyans have gone abroad for studies and many of them have
returned with views they picked up in London and New York. Add to that an
aggressively liberal media, political leaders without ethics or principles, and
you have a cultural revolution.

Furthermore, Kenyans
were grossly deceived in debate over the constitution. Their political leaders
told them (and too many Kenyans do as their leaders tell them) that,
admittedly, imperfections would be ironed out in parliament later; that they
should vote to build national unity and to get rid of the antiquated attitudes
in the old constitution.

In Uganda opposition
to gay law reform was spearheaded by the Pentecostal churches, who took it to
the university campuses and other forums with great success. Other churches and
the Islamic community supported the bill too, apart from its more severe
penalties. The educated elite openly backed it. Only journalists half-heartedly
and very cautiously opposed it. Political leaders did not need to say anything;
in this the people had spoken. Uganda is more traditionally African and
respects much of its age-old culture – and abortion and homosexuality are not
part of it.

Kenya, on the
other hand, stands to lose its good African values, and within a few years
could be facing many of the social, moral problems of modern Western society. I
just hope I shall be proved wrong.

Martyn Drakard writes from Kampala, Uganda.


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