Kenya dispatch: LGBTQ persons win right to organise, but government rejects same-sex marriage amidst worsening economic crisis Dispatches
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Kenya dispatch: LGBTQ persons win right to organise, but government rejects same-sex marriage amidst worsening economic crisis

Aynsley Genga is a JURIST Staff Correspondent in Kenya. 

The Supreme Court of Kenya ruled last Friday that denying LGBTQ individuals the right to associate in a registered NGO to advance their collective interest was discriminatory. This came after a 10-year battle that began back in 2013 when the lower court originally denied potential members the right to freedom of association. The Supreme Court declared the lower court’s ruling  unconstitutional and further stated that all Kenyans, including those of belonging to sexual minorities, are protected from discrimination under article 27 of the Constitution of Kenya(CoK). The judgment has since sparked heated debates all over the country.

Many have voiced their disdain for the ruling and have demanded an appeal of the decision. A good number of the public has expressed their fears that allowing members of the LGBTQ community to form groups and associate will lead to a further increase of such people, which is considered taboo in the eyes of the vast majority of the public. People fear that the ruling will lead to more radical changes, such as the legalization of same-sex marriages. On the other hand, those who are for the ruling argue that the judiciary’s ruling is a step in the right direction after all, as members of the LGBTQ community are human just like everyone else. The government has also been very vocal in their opposition for the ruling. Many government officials argue that it is a ploy by the judiciary as well as those in power to get in the good graces of the Western superpowers. “Our culture is not going to be ruined by the West,” Member of Parliament(MP) Joshua Kimilu said. “If they cannot give donations to Kenyans without these conditions, let them keep it.”

MP Kimilu was further supported by MP Farah Maalim who strongly advocates that the LGBTQ community should not only be criminalised, but that any one practising homosexuality should be given the death penalty. “They should have their own capital punishment,” he said. “This thing is worse than murder for us Africans.” Meanwhile President Ruto says he won’t allow LGBTQ marriages in Kenya.

Another issue that has been plaguing Kenyans for quite some time now is the current high cost of living crisis and how the government plans to handle it. The prices of nearly all commodities have risen recently and Kenyans have been left at a loss on what to do. People are complaining that the government is not doing anything to help ease the situation.  The government seems to be more focused on dealing with the opposition party and its allies. A good number of Kenyans have lost faith in the government. The number of beggars on the streets has increased and the number of people losing their jobs has also risen since most employers lack the funding to pay their employees.

On March 1st, 2023, the president’s cabinet made a request for parliament to raise the public debt ceiling from 10 trillion Kenyan shillings (kshs) to 17 trillion kshs. This has caused further panic amongst Kenyans since many fear that the cost of living will become even more expensive. Others argue that the government keeps borrowing more money and yet the rate of development is not proportional to the amount borrowed. This stems from the fact that it was recently discovered that government borrows 25 billion every week and yet the public is not sure how exactly the money borrowed is being used. The rate at which Kenya’s debt is increasing has forced the Kenya Revenue Authority to lift all tax exemptions until further notice. This is inclusive of: owner-occupier reliefs for private sector employees with mortgages, motor vehicle import taxes for people with disabilities and those returning to Kenya after working abroad. The situation is quite dire. As it stands, the promises of the president such as the reduction of prices of cooking gas are the only things giving Kenyan a bit of hope. “Among the 70% of Kenyans who use firewood and charcoal, 99% of them are women and in order to reduce the gas prices we will, the gas cylinders you buy will move from Ksh.2800 to Ksh.300 or Ksh.500 from the month of July,” said President Ruto.

Something that has become prevalent especially since last year’s general elections is the use of religion in politics. Both the government as well as those in opposition have relied on religion to garner support from Kenyans. This was recently seen on Valentine’s Day when the president organized a prayer’s day so that Kenyans can come together to pray for the economy as well as rains since we are currently experiencing a drought. There were those who supported it and were quite pleased with having a president as prayerful as Hon. William Ruto. Those in support of his actions declared that his action would lead this country to even greater heights. However, those who were against it stated that instead of the president coming up with solutions to solve the current crisis facing the country, the president is busy occupying himself with other matters. There were even rumors on March 1st, 2023, that all members of staff in the State House would be forced to partake in fasting every Wednesday regardless of one’s religion or beliefs. Many on social media expressed their disbelief since article 32 of the Constitution advocates for one’s freedom of religion and beliefs. As it stands, nothing has yet been made official but it is very clear to see that religion is slowly becoming a major area of interest in the political arena.

Currently, the government is in the process of choosing who will be Kenya’s second Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Kenya (CBK). Controversy has began to arise since people have noticed that one of the candidates, Dr. Susan Jemtai Koech is the most likely person to win. Many are worried since Jemtai was charged in the 63 billion shillings Arror and Kimwarer dams case but was dropped from the trial by the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP). The scandal has left a permanent scar on Jemtai’s record thus many have their doubts about electing such a candidate. Rumors have already began to spread that she is only being elected due to tribalism. Thus, if Dr. Susan does win she will have a lot to prove in order to clean her image.

Due to the high cost of living, many in opposition as well as members of the general public have come out to voice their grievances. Moreover, threats of mass actions loom on the horizon. Among members of the public who have condemned the government’s lack of action against the high cost of living are entertainers such as Eric Omondi who has been arrested a second time due to providing maize flour to anyone who is willing to accompany him in his march to the State House to demand change. We also have political figures such as Babu Owino (Embakasi East MP) who has declared that next week there should be a nationwide strike to protest against the increase of school fees. Raila Odinga has also declared that there will be a nationwide strike to protest the high cost of living. Raila said that if his demands for policy changes are not heeded within fourteen days, “we shall lead Kenyans to massive mass action across the country to take their power back and restore sanity.”

His fourteen day ultimatum shall come to an end next week on Tuesday, 7th March, 2023. All one can hope for is that no one will get injured in case the strikes do actually happen.