Kenya

Error message

  • Deprecated function: The each() function is deprecated. This message will be suppressed on further calls in _menu_load_objects() (line 579 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/menu.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Deprecated function: implode(): Passing glue string after array is deprecated. Swap the parameters in drupal_get_feeds() (line 394 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).

How Kenya Became the World’s Geothermal Powerhouse

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 26/09/2022 - 6:00pm in

Geophysicist Nicholas Mariita remembers when Kenya’s geothermal sector wasn’t the high-tech powerhouse it is today. In the early 1980s, he regularly joined teams of scientists on expeditions into the country’s Great Rift Valley to survey for potential sites where the Earth could be tapped for a prime subterranean energy source. They weren’t looking for oil or coal — they were looking for heat, the key resource in geothermal power.

The Great Rift Valley was still wild then, so dodging snakes and buffalo was part of the job. “One in a while, we’d be chased by a buffalo and have to climb into a tree, and if it was a clever one, it’d flick urine at you with its tail,” Mariita recalls. “Those were the kind of funny things we went through.”

Their risk has yielded results. In 2020 and 2021, some 48 percent of all electricity generated in Kenya came from geothermal — the highest share of any country. And as the world seeks to increase both the quantity and cleanliness of its electricity, it’s a cheap, bountiful and low-carbon option Kenya plans to increasingly rely on.

Rising megawatts

The idea of geothermal generation in the Olkaria Area — located 44 miles northwest of Nairobi in the Great Rift Valley — was first considered in the 1950s. A consortium of power companies, led by the East African Power and Lighting Company, drilled two test wells. But efforts to make power from them were stymied by technical problems. By the turn of the decade, the wells — and the dream of geothermal power — had largely been abandoned.

In 1972, steam pours from a hole drilled at Olkaria in the 1950s as attempts to harness geothermal energy restarted after a two decade hiatus. Credit: Geo Rising / Flickr

“In those days, almost 90 percent of our electricity came from hydropower,” says Mariita, now the director of the Geothermal Training and Research Institute of the Dedan Kimathi University of Technology. 

By the mid-1970s, however, leaving geothermal resources untapped became untenable. A fickle hydroelectric grid and the global oil crisis left the country, then in its second decade of independence, starved for power. “To avoid power rationing,” says Mariita, “the government had to change its strategy.” 

With assistance from the United Nations, the public-owned Kenya Power took charge of the effort in 1977. 

Kenya's Olkaria 2Geothermal plant Olkaria 2 came online in 2003. Credit: Frank van der Vleuten / Flickr

The first geothermal plant in Africa came online in June 1981. Upon its inauguration, the Olkaria I plant comprised just one turbine with a generating capacity of 15 megawatts (roughly 2.7 percent of nationwide capacity at the time), but expansion followed. In 1982, Kenya’s parliament passed the Geothermal Resources Act, which established a formal legal framework for geothermal investment, siting and licensing. That same year, a second turbine, also 15 MW, was added to Olkaria I.

In 1997, Kenya Power Company became the Kenya Electricity Generating Company (known as KenGen), and investment ramped up significantly. In the last two decades of the 20th century, Kenya installed some 93 megawatts of generating capacity. In the first two decades of this century some 531 megawatts of capacity came online. With the July 2022 opening of Olkaria V and a sixth turbine added at Olkaria I came some 258 MW of new capacity — bringing the country’s total to some 882 MW.  

Graph of Kenya geothermal capacityCredit: Eric Krebs

Looking forward, some 300 MW of capacity are expected to come online upon the completion of new projects both at Olkaria and beyond. By 2030, in line with the country’s green development goals, Kenya hopes to have 1,600 MW — almost double today’s total — up and running.

That energy is needed to achieve Kenya Vision 2030. The government plans rapid industrialization so the country can rise to middle-income status by the end of this decade.

Of all renewables, geothermal energy is especially useful for industrialization, a goal shared by countries across Africa. For one, unlike sources such as wind and solar, it provides a reliable stream of power critical to energy-intensive industrial processes. Moreover, geothermal need not be converted to electricity at all: Direct applications — where geothermal steam itself is used — abound. 

Crushed by negative news?

Sign up for the Reasons to be Cheerful newsletter.
[contact-form-7]

Around the world, geothermal wells are used to heat buildings, can food and process textiles. In Kenya, the Naivasha-based Oserian Development Company has used geothermal steam to heat its flower-farm greenhouses, which are among the largest on Earth.

Heat seeking

Geothermal energy is not a green panacea, of course. For one, the construction of new wells, like any infrastructure, can encroach upon natural ecosystems and displace communities. The Olkaria plants, for instance, have forced hundreds of semi-nomadic Maasai families indigenous to the Great Rift Valley to relocate, though KenGen has made efforts to both employ Maasai people and mitigate the effects of displacement.

Moreover, the geothermal potential of any given area is determined by immutable geologic characteristics. 

Map of Kenya geothermal stationsBy 2030, Kenya hopes to have 1,600 MW of geothermal generation capacity — almost double today’s total. Credit: Eric Krebs

For the last 20 million years or so, the Somali minor tectonic plate has been crawling southeast, shearing Africa’s westernmost edge from the rest of the continent, which sits on the northwest-bound African plate. Diverging plates form gaps in the Earth’s solid outermost layer, the lithosphere. From within those gaps seeps the layer beneath, the asthenosphere. Those bits of asthenosphere fill the void left by the parting plates, and a few millimeters — and million years — at a time, become a new crust.

But the patch job is not perfect. Just as tectonic collisions form mountains, divergence creates swaths of crust just a bit thinner and more porous than average. Those who live on that thin crust live closer to what’s underneath: heat.

Not every country falls on a tectonic rift. However, massive amounts of geothermal potential remain untapped in the world.

Kenya has built not only world-leading physical geothermal infrastructure, but the human capital to support it. Credit: frank van der vleuten / Flickr

This May, a group of Egyptian geologists — led by Mohamed Abdel Zaher, a geologist at the National Research Institute of Astronomy and Geophysics in Cairo — created a first of its kind analysis of high geothermal potential regions in Africa, using data on faults, heat levels and magnetic forces. They found 14 areas of interest, from Algeria to Namibia to Malawi, South Africa, Liberia and beyond. “Africa has very high potential,” says Zaher.

Geothermal’s impact is not just measured in megawatts in Kenya today. When Nicholas Mariita began his career, its then-nascent geothermal sector relied on outside expertise. “In those days, we used consultants from the United States, Japan and New Zealand,” says Mariita.

In the 40 years since, Kenya has built not only world-leading physical geothermal infrastructure, but the human capital to support it. Through geothermal energy, Kenya has found an unshakeable source of power — in all its meanings.

“Now, Kenyans actually do the exploration work, the impact assessment, the project planning, the design of the plants and so on,” says Mariita. “You go to one of our projects, and you see Kenyans are in charge.”

The post How Kenya Became the World’s Geothermal Powerhouse appeared first on Reasons to be Cheerful.

‘I Am Scared’: LGBTIQ and Abortion Activists Respond to Kenya’s Elections

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 19/08/2022 - 8:36pm in

Speaking exclusively to Byline Times, LGBTIQ and pro-choice activists express their fears for a William Ruto presidency in Kenya. Sian Norris reports

GET THE CURRENT EDITION OF BYLINE TIMES

SIGN UP TO EMAIL UPDATES

“I am scared,” says Marylize Biubwa, a non-binary lesbian activist living in Nairobi. “Ruto has a history of making homophobic statements, he is a Christian fundamentalist who says he was prayed into power. We know how homophobia and religion relate”.

It took six tense days before the votes were finally counted and William Ruto was declared Kenya’s fifth president, winning 50.5% of the vote. His rival, Raila Odinga, has said he will use “all legal options” to challenge the result as four election commissioners refuse to endorse the outcome, saying the way the count had been handled was "opaque". 

The self-styled ‘hustler in chief’ formerly served as the Deputy President and was accused of orchestrating crimes against humanity in the international criminal court following 2007 electoral violence – the case was later terminated.

But it’s Ruto’s statements about the LGBTIQ community and reproductive rights that are causing worry and upset for people like Biubwa and Arya Karijo, a transgender activist. The pair recently staged a lesbian wedding in a positive stand for queer visibility.

Back in 2015, Ruto stated that “gays are not allowed here” because Kenya is a “country that worships God”. More recently, in the run-up to the election, Ruto told the media that “my position as a Christian is that Bible teaches us against homosexuality and related matters”. He added, however, that “the law in Kenya becomes the guiding principle. Whatever is within the constitution and the law I will respect”.

But in a country where homosexuality is criminalised, such statements offer little comfort, explains Karijo. 

“We have survived so long as a community because no one is really enacting the law that criminalises us,” she told Byline Times. “We have a law that says 14 years imprisonment but it is rare to see any queer people go to court over it. Now we have someone in power who could make that law effective and that is scary. People heard that statement and thought he meant he would be fair to our community but my worry is he is actually going to follow the law”.

FUND MORE INVESTIGATIVE REPORTING

SUBSCRIBE TO BYLINE TIMES. CLICK HERE TO FUND MORE INVESTIGATIVE REPORTING

Help to expose the big scandals of our era.

Ruto said in the same interview that "no Kenyan should be subjected to any form of harassment or any form of harm. The only authority that can take action over anybody is the authorities that are permissible within the law and if a Kenyan has not broken any law, nobody should harass them". 

The concerning implication is, of course, that if a Kenyan has broken the law, they can be harassed. Even if the law is not more strictly enforced, the risk is that nothing improves for the LGBTIQ community in the coming years. 

“I keep thinking, how will I leave the house as a queer person,” says Biubwa. “I speak to friends who are asking, will we have to take off our rainbow bracelets, will we have to go back in the closet? But some of us have paid a big price to not be in the closet. We cannot go back. That would give the homophobes power”. 

Both Biubwa and Karijo warn that Odinga had also made homophobic comments in the past, including in 2010 when he said that any Kenyan found engaging in homosexuality or "lesbianism" would be arrested and jailed.

However, the pair saw Odinga as a better option due to his commitment to human rights, something he shared with his running mate Martha Karua, who was campaigning to become the first female vice president. “He has made statements that are detrimental to the LGBTIQ community but for the longest time his ideologies are founded on human rights,” says Biubwa. 

Who is Celebrating

While Ruto’s election has left LGBTIQ activists fearful for the future, anti-gender organisations welcomed the vote. CitizenGO’s Africa Campaigner Ann Kioko called his election a “win for the Church in Kenya” and denounced Martha Karua as the “most radical homosexual activist ever”. 

Kioko also called the elections a “George Soros loss” and said Ruto’s win meant “Soros is defeated”.

“Tell George Soros that Kenya is a pro-life and pro-family country,” she wrote

Such statements tap into an antisemitic conspiracy theory that Soros, a Jewish billionaire known for supporting progressive causes, is a ‘puppet master’ – a trope that has a long and ugly history and has been used to justify antisemitic hate. He has been accused of funding Black Lives Matter protests, causing the Coronavirus pandemic, interfering in elections and much more. None of the conspiracies have any basis in reality and are generally shared by the far-right, although he is also a victim of far-left antisemitism.  

Kioko has worked for CitizenGO since 2017. The radical anti-abortion, anti-LGBTIQ Spanish organisation has become increasingly active in the Global South where it exports its model of asking “concerned citizens” to sign petitions primarily relating to issues around LGBTIQ rights, abortion and sex education. 

Earlier this year, it was revealed how the platform, founded in Spain by Ignacio Arsuaga and linked to US and European anti-gender leaders, "likely manipulated Twitter conversations in Kenya about reproductive rights".

In the run-up to Kenya’s elections, it asked its followers to “vote with your values” by inviting candidates to fill out a questionnaire asking if they support banning sex education, banning pornography, will “protect the lives of all unborn children”, and recognise only heterosexual marriage. Neither Ruto nor Odinga completed the questionnaire. 

However, in an email from Kioko to CitizenGO’s mailing list, seen by this paper, the organisation ranked parties based on their attitudes to sexual and reproductive rights. Ruto’s Kenya Kwanza coalition were marked as saying “homosexuals have no place in Kenya”, while Odinga’s and Karua’s Azimio La Umoja party is accused of “embracing homosexuals”.

On abortion rights, Ruto’s party is “only in emergency” while Azimio La Umoja are marked as saying reproductive healthcare is “open to discussion”. 

Safe abortion is recognised as a constitutional right in Kenya in cases of emergency or if the life and health of the mother are in danger, however, it remains governed by the penal code. 

Abortion Rights

Echoing Biubwa, the founder of sexual and reproductive rights NGO the Zamara Foundation Esther Kimani told Byline Times “I am scared”. 

She’s concerned that Ruto’s win, and the popularity he has with Christian fundamentalist groups, will make it harder to advocate for women’s rights. 

“It’s not going to be good for us as a movement,” Kimani explained. “We know that his supporters will try to sabotage work on sexual and reproductive rights. We have already been seeing a pushback on issues to do with abortion rights and comprehensive sex education. So me, I’m scared, as a sexual and reproductive rights advocate who believes in women having bodily autonomy and choice”.

The pushback Kimani is referring to relates to the recently introduced Reproductive Health Policy 2022-2032, which has been much criticised by abortion rights activists. The policy failed to deal with issues around safe abortion, and promoted the work of anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centres.

“Religious opposition to the policy was so strong,” said Kimani. Groups such as CitizenGO and the Kenya Conference of Bishops all lobbied the Ministry of Health over the policy. 

While Kimani is concerned that Ruto’s win could hinder progress on women’s rights, she also sees this as an opportunity for the reproductive rights movement to “re-strategise, to be really strategic and creative as we anticipate the backlash we are going to get”.

“The overturning of Roe v Wade in the United States shows us that the religious and anti-choice movement is strong,” she warned. “We have to be ready”. 

CitizenGO declined to comment.

ShareEmailTwitterFacebook

SIGN-UP TO EMAIL UPDATES

OUR JOURNALISM RELIES ON YOU

Byline Times is funded by its subscribers. Receive our monthly print edition and help to support fearless, independent journalism.

SUBSCRIBE TO THE PRINT EDITION OF BYLINE TIMES FROM AS LITTLE AS £3.75 A MONTH

SUBSCRIBE TO BYLINE TIMES & GET THIS MONTH’S DIGITAL EDITION IMMEDIATELY

Get the Bylines App for iPhone and iPad

SIGN UP TO BYLINE TV PLUS

Kenya Elections: Have Social Media Companies Learnt from Past Mistakes

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 10/08/2022 - 11:52pm in

Harvey Pitt looks at the role social media has played in Kenya's 2022 election and finds that the social media giants are failing to learn from the errors of the past

GET THE CURRENT EDITION OF BYLINE TIMES

SIGN UP TO EMAIL UPDATES

Voters went to the polls in Kenya this week, in a battle of the ‘hustlers’, represented by former Vice President Willian Ruto, against the ‘dynasties’ represented by Raila Odinga.

In a surprise move, the current President Uhuru Kenyatta – son of Kenya’s first leader after independence – lent his support to Odinga, despite Ruto formerly serving as his VP. Odinga's father served alongside Kenyatta's father in the post-independence Government.

Such a contest allowed for Ruto, whose campaigning posters were emblazoned with the slogan “every hustle matters”, to position himself as the political outsider, standing against the men that have ruled Kenya for generations. His narrative has intensified and mainstreamed feelings that these dynasties are conspiring to keep hard-working “hustlers” out of the corridors of power. In a recent press conference, he referred to those so-called conspirators as the “deep state”, which has been the soundbite of this campaign.

Kenya has a dangerous history of election violence – not least in 2007 when 600,000 people were displaced and many killed. In 2013, its election results were contested and in 2017, the Supreme Court was forced to nullify the results and force a re-run.

Part of the issue of 2017 was the influence of social media and the involvement of disgraced data analysis firm Cambridge Analytica, not least because Kenya has one of the highest internet penetration rate in East Africa. Further – as Ruto has shown – its political discourse relies on narratives, not policy.

Social media is a place where politically dangerous narratives can flourish and take hold. This is what makes it vital to cast a watchful eye over the social media platforms and their tepid efforts to have a net-positive impact on the Kenyan Election.

FEARLESS, INDEPENDENT JOURNALISM
& INCREDIBLE VALUE

Receive the monthly Byline Times newspaper and support quality, investigative reporting.

SUBSCRIBE TO BYLINE TIMES FOR AS LITTLE AS £3.75 A MONTH

Narratives of Distrust

The political narratives of 2007, 2013 and 2017 focused on ethnic faultlines, helping to fuel violence and unrest. On social media, these tensions often manifested as misinformation campaigns focusing on ethnic variances and the candidates representing each grouping.

This year, the stories the candidates tell have been arguably less dangerous. That said, Ruto’s celebration of the hustle, his attacks on the establishment, and his statements about the deep state risk undermining trust and surety in Kenya’s democratic institutions. 

After some concerns about how social media platforms like TikTok were giving a platform to those eager to stir up ethnic tensions in the run-up to the election, there has been an improvement when it comes to the electoral discourse on social media, due to a growth in fact-checking organisations with local expertise that aren’t afraid to hold politicians to account publicly.

Eric Mugendi, Africa Program Manager of Check Global at Meedan, a group supporting various media literacy initiatives and fact-checking organisations, explained to Byline Times how “there has been a slight improvement on social media at this election. The consequences for false claims are more severe".

Mugendia adds a note of caution, however. "While this has improved discourse in the public channels of social media it may have driven divisive discourse to private channels that are more of a challenge to monitor".

Praise should be reserved for these local groups keen to enforce accountability and clean up politically divisive discourse. The social media companies themselves have not been so pro-active. 

A joint investigation by Foxglove and Global Witness found that, of the 20 adverts they submitted to Facebook containing hate speech, every single one was permitted. This was in spite of the content violating Facebook’s own community standards.

Further, the level of ethnic tension, while diminished on social platforms, should not be underplayed. Research by Shujaaz Inc., a network of youth-focussed social ventures in Kenya, found three in five young people continue to observe election-related discrimination and hate speech.

What Next for Kenya

The final election results have yet to be announced. But already, fear is focussed on how Kenyan institutions will cope in a post-2020 world, and what this campaign says about the future of democracy in the country. 

The chief concern is that political candidates will increasingly utilise Trump’s playbook to undermine democratic institutions where trust is already low.

“The question now is what impact does a post 6 January world have on such a divisive environment?” Nelson Kwaje, of #DefyHateNow and 211Check told Byline Times. “In Kenyan elections, judges are already a constant, existing and publicly facing feature”.

Social media has become the battleground for public opinion on the outcome of this vote, and the discussions that take place there puts pressure on Supreme Court judges to strike their gavel down in favour of one argument or another. 

Attention may be focussed on combating the ethnic tensions that marr every election in Kenya. But there’s a second crisis concerning social media platforms, civil society and the Kenyan people: democratic legitimacy. As Kwaje suggests “the seeds have already been sown”.

That this election has, so far, been an improvement on years gone by is thanks to the growing power of civic fact-checking organisations like Check Global at Meedan, #DefyHateNow and 211Check. These groups establish the accountability and media literacy necessary for democracy to function. 

But while these initiatives are vital, it’s inexcusable that social media giants continue to fail to enforce their own guidelines and under resource moderation teams in parts of the world where they know the PR fallout will be less damaging to their brand. They must no longer ignore how democratic principles are valuable regardless of where in the world they are, and they need to be protected as such. 

Harvey Pitt is Head of Digital Responsibility at ADDVERT

ShareEmailTwitterFacebook

SIGN-UP TO EMAIL UPDATES

OUR JOURNALISM RELIES ON YOU

Byline Times is funded by its subscribers. Receive our monthly print edition and help to support fearless, independent journalism.

SUBSCRIBE TO THE PRINT EDITION OF BYLINE TIMES FROM AS LITTLE AS £3.75 A MONTH

SUBSCRIBE TO BYLINE TIMES & GET THIS MONTH’S DIGITAL EDITION IMMEDIATELY

Get the Bylines App for iPhone and iPad

SIGN UP TO BYLINE TV PLUS

‘I See a Lot of Hope’: How Kenya’s LGBTIQ Community Is Coming Out of the Shadows

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 02/08/2022 - 9:04pm in

Reporting from the ground in Nairobi, Sian Norris speaks to LGBTIQ activists fighting for visibility in a country where homosexuality remains criminalised

GET THE CURRENT EDITION OF BYLINE TIMES

SIGN UP TO EMAIL UPDATES

“It looks like we have repealed the homosexuality laws on Kenyan TikTok,” laughs Alvin Mwangi, sipping a ginger and lemon juice in a central Nairobi café staffed by deaf people. The 26-year-old writer and activist campaigns for sexual and reproductive rights in the east African country.

“The support that people who identify as queer are receiving on TikTok is mind-blowing, it’s unbelievable," Alvin says. “There used to be a lot of fear. Now the young people are out there, speaking out about their issues, showing off their skills and talent. When I think about the LGBTIQ community, I see a lot of hope.”

Same-sex activity between two men remains criminalised in Kenya, with a 2019 ruling upholding the laws that date back to British colonialism. Echoing that colonialist era, women are not specifically mentioned in the laws (sexual activity between women was never criminalised in the UK).

The law does refer to ‘persons’, however, which some argue could include women, and LGBTIQ people are not specifically protected in Kenya’s 2010 Constitution. The LGBTIQ community experiences stigma and discrimination and can struggle to access healthcare. 

But, despite the barriers, the LGBTIQ community in Kenya is, as Alvin describes, becoming increasingly visible and confident, using social media to build communities while tackling prejudice and hate. 

“The young people we have now are very progressive,” says Alvin. “In how we think about each other, how we work together, and how we relate to one another.”

In another branch of the same café, not far from the United Nations building in Nairobi, 41-year-old trans activist Arya Jeipea Karijo agrees. She has faced a long and hard road to transitioning and accepting her true self.

“When I started to realise I was trans, I didn’t even have a word to describe it,” she admits. “It took me 10 years to get to the world ‘transgender’. Now, young people have all this information online and on social media. They are challenging everything.

"They see this British law and they are saying 'this is wrong, why do we have it?' They are visible and saying that it’s not us who shouldn’t be here, it’s the laws that shouldn’t be here.” 

While both Arya and Alvin are optimistic about increasing visibility and open conversations about sexual rights, horror and tragedy haunts Kenya’s LGBTIQ community. In April, the non-binary lesbian Sheila Lumumba was raped and murdered, with a suspect finally charged in July. The violent death of this 25-year-old was a stark reminder that homophobia still poses a real danger. 

Their death followed the murder of Joash Mosoti, a gay man who was killed in Mombasa last year, and of an intersex woman, Rose Mbesa, in Trans Nzoia County, 380 kilometres northwest of Nairobi.

LGBTIQ organisations in Kenya have called on the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) Kenya to ensure there is progress in all of these murder cases. The community also faces the threat of conversion therapy and so-called corrective rape – when lesbians are raped by men to ‘turn’ them heterosexual.

FUND MORE INVESTIGATIVE REPORTING

SUBSCRIBE TO BYLINE TIMES. CLICK HERE TO FUND MORE INVESTIGATIVE REPORTING

Help to expose the big scandals of our era.

Wedding Bells

One of the boldest acts of queer visibility took place two days after Byline Times’ conversation with Alvin, in one of Kenya’s beautiful coastal resorts. 

Non-binary activist Marylize Biubwa tied the knot with Arya in a ‘lesbian wedding’ intended as a political message about LGBTIQ rights by queering social rituals and narratives. The ceremony has no legal status, same-sex marriage is not recognised in Kenya.

Dressed in a shimmering lehenga, with her rainbow braids piled on her head, Arya beamed at Marylize, who sported rainbow eye make-up and a white waistcoat over white trousers.

“We are all human,” the officiator said, as the pair held hands on the beach. “It is not your fault that religion has broken your perception of true love. That your cultural traditions have made you unkind, that you insist your way is the only correct way. You are envious of how people can love their same sex and gender.”

Marylize and Arya at their 'wedding'

Chatting in a Nairobi hotel bar over coffee the day before she travelled to the coast for the wedding, Marylize explained why it was an important act of protest and visibility. 

“When it comes to LGBTIQ rights, the Government and wider society invalidates our rights to things like weddings and marriages,” they said. “The reason we want to do this wedding is to challenge the perspectives of people and to challenge the notion of what marriage is all about.”

Part of this, they feel, is about the way society frames unconditional and romantic love. “We say love is unconditional and we live in a society that puts a lot of emphasis on unconditional love. But we are demanding that if you are a woman, you must feel romantic love towards men.”

Challenges Remain

Beyond the beach wedding, and the LGBTIQ community continues to face challenges in Kenya that go beyond criminalisation – with both Arya and Marylize experiencing direct discrimination from loved ones, as well as from healthcare professionals and other state institutions. 

Access to healthcare remains a key issue for the trans community in particular. Trans people often cannot easily access hormone treatments, leading to some taking risks with their health.

Lesbian women and non-binary people also face discrimination when it comes to accessing healthcare. Marylize described to Byline Times their frightening experience of being assaulted by a male doctor when they told him about their lesbian identity during a routine appointment.

“As someone who has survived rape, I felt so triggered,” Marylize explained. “I couldn’t shake the feeling I had been violated. Healthcare is not women-centred and it’s not queer-centred.”

One of the main battlegrounds now facing the LGBTIQ community in Kenya and the east Africa region is over comprehensive sex education, a cause which Alvin is passionate about. His work has taken him around Kenya, talking to young people about these issues. “The sessions explore everything from friendship and health, to sex and sexuality,” he said.

But doing so is controversial, as the recent row over a new bill being discussed by the East Africa Legislative Assembly has proven. 

The Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare Bill, introduced by South Sudanese Assembly Member Ayason Mukulia Kennedy aims to “promote and provide for age-appropriate sexual and reproductive health information and services of all persons, including adolescents and young people”. It also seeks to eliminate unsafe abortion and promote responsible sexual behaviour. 

The bill and Kennedy himself have faced attacks from CitizenGO – a Spanish-based organisation that has set up a regional branch in Kenya run by Ann Kioko. Launching petitions to block the bill and to recall Kennedy from the East Africa Legislative Assembly, it claims the proposals “promote anal and oral sex” and “promote sexual pleasure and promiscuity as a right for children”. 

“The information we offer young people is age appropriate,” Alvin said. “We teach about respect and when to recognise that something is a bad touch or causing harm. These organisations that oppose sex education take everything out of context.”

“One of the key things these anti-gender groups do is spread misinformation,” added Alvin, including in the petitions against the EAC SRH Bill. “This is a progressive bill but CitizenGO relabel it as the abortion and sexualisation bill."

This was not the first time CitizenGO had tried such tactics.

When the Kenyan politician Millie Odhiambo tried to introduce a bill that supported couples to access IVF, CitizenGO called it the “baby manufacturing bill”. A failed Reproductive Healthcare bill proposed by Senator Susan Kihika in 2019 was condemned as trying to “legalise abortion through the back door”. It in fact allowed for abortion in cases of emergency; if continuing the pregnancy would endanger the life or health of the mother; and in cases of severe or fatal foetal anomaly. 

Misinformation can lead to hate, Alvin suggests, pointing to the online abuse directed at the LGBTIQ community and its advocates in Kenya. He tries to be hopeful but he knows there’s a long way to go before equality is achieved.

“I want to be hopeful it won’t be that long,” he said. “But when you see the influence of the church, of the programmes they have, particularly around conversion therapy, and the work of opposition groups, they are trying to brainwash people.”

CitizenGO did not respond to a request for comment.

ShareEmailTwitterFacebook

SIGN-UP TO EMAIL UPDATES

OUR JOURNALISM RELIES ON YOU

Byline Times is funded by its subscribers. Receive our monthly print edition and help to support fearless, independent journalism.

SUBSCRIBE TO THE PRINT EDITION OF BYLINE TIMES FROM AS LITTLE AS £3.50 A MONTH

Front page July 22

SUBSCRIBE TO BYLINE TIMES & GET THIS MONTH’S DIGITAL EDITION IMMEDIATELY

Get the Bylines App for iPhone and iPad

SIGN UP TO BYLINE TV PLUS

Kenya’s Pro-Choice Movement Faces Emboldened Threats in a Post-Roe World

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 22/07/2022 - 7:58pm in

Reporting from the ground in Nairobi, Sian Norris meets the pro-abortion activists fighting for reproductive healthcare in East Africa – and exposes the forces determined to stop them

GET THE CURRENT EDITION OF BYLINE TIMES

SIGN UP TO EMAIL UPDATES

“Girls in my university would drink disinfectant and other concoctions if they had an unplanned pregnancy,” says Quin, a young graduate in Nakuru, Kenya. “They use pens, or go see quack doctors. You would hear of foetuses being dumped in bins”.

Quin volunteers at RHCO, a sexual health project agitating for greater access to reproductive healthcare in a country where unsafe abortions are estimated to kill 2,500 women and girls each year.

The project operates from a small and sparse office at the end of a dusty track, where goats, roosters and motorbikes congregate and street sellers offer water and phone credit to passers-by.

Now, with the decision to overturn Roe v Wade, Quin and women’s reproductive rights activists all across Kenya know the forces resisting them – many linked to the same global organisations that campaigned for the Supreme Court decision – are about to get a whole lot stronger.

“It worries us,” says Quin. “The US is a superpower. The decisions it makes on the issue of protecting a pregnant woman's liberty to choose to have an abortion can greatly affect our state of reproductive health in Kenya”.

Outside RHCO's office, Nakuru, Kenya. Photo: Sian Norris

100 miles from RHCO’s rural office, and Mwikali Kivuvani, Executive Director of the Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights Alliance in Nairobi, is categoric about the threat the Roe decision poses. “With Roe overturned in the US, it will take everything we’ve got to legalise safe abortion in this country. Those who are anti-abortionists here will argue, if the US overturned the abortion ruling, why would we be allowing it”.

Her colleague in the movement and founder of the grassroots feminist Zamara Foundation, Esther Kimani, agrees. “We’re really, really scared”. 

Abortion has been a constitutional right in Kenya since 2010, in cases of emergency and when the mother’s life is in danger. But it remains governed by the penal code, and a lack of a legal framework for when a woman’s situation is considered an emergency makes it challenging for healthcare workers to know when they can intervene. 

That ambiguity is exploited by the anti-abortion organisations encountered by Quin – those who spread the message that "blood thirsty abortionists" want to "sneak in the murder of our children"; that terminations are against African values; and reproductive care is harmful to women’s health

FUND MORE INVESTIGATIVE REPORTING

SUBSCRIBE TO BYLINE TIMES. CLICK HERE TO FUND MORE INVESTIGATIVE REPORTING

Help to expose the big scandals of our era.

On the Attack

Leading the charge against reproductive rights in Kenya is CitizenGO – a radical anti-abortion organisation based in Spain and supported by prominent US allies. Having petitioned against Roe v Wade, it celebrated the Supreme Court decision as a ‘victory’.

CitizenGO’s strategy of launching petitions and social media campaigns designed to attack reproductive rights and those who champion access to abortion was honed in the West, where it campaigned against plans to promote reproductive rights in the European Parliament, petitioned against LGBTIQ "indoctrination" in Disney movies, and supported Spain’s far-right Vox Party in its campaign against sex education

Since 2017 it has been expanding its operations into the Global South, hiring its regional representative Ann Kioko – who was recently arrested after causing a disturbance in a bank. It sees Kenya as a key battleground.

Its notorious ‘gender ideology’ bus travelled to Nairobi in 2018, and earlier this year it was revealed it had paid local social media influencers in Kenya to target progressive causes. It now has the country’s August elections in its sights, launching a petition urging voters to support political candidates who would promise to “protect the life of unborn children”.

“CitizenGO doesn’t really have a market in the west anymore,” says Imran Ahmed, from the Washington D.C based Centre for Countering Digital Hate. “It’s having to take its model to places where they’re not so used to having their email inboxes flooded, where they haven’t got their defences yet”.

A month after Roe, and the anti-abortion movement scored another victory when Kenya’s Ministry of Health launched its Reproductive Health Policy 2022-2032. Pro-choice activists criticised the policy for obscuring the issue of unsafe abortion. In contrast, Kioko tweeted how she was “happy to see this day” and called it a “prolife win”. She took part in the public consultation for the policy. 

Ann Kioko shares a photo from the public consultation on the
Reproductive Health Policy

Reproductive health campaigners are clear: since CitizenGo became active in Kenya the debate around women’s reproductive rights has become increasingly febrile. “Ever since we had CitizenGO really having roots in Kenya, the debate around abortion has become really bad,” says Kimani. “It has been adamant in perpetuating misinformation and that has made having a constructive debate around unsafe abortion much harder”. 

Western Influences 

Part of CitizenGO’s and Kioko’s strategy to root itself in East Africa is to argue that reproductive rights are a Western agenda being imposed on Kenyan values. 

“The way it is being portrayed is that we are pushing Africa to adopt white people’s practices but this is not necessarily the case,” obstetrician and Vice President of the Kenya Medical Association, Dr Amos Otara, told Byline Times. “Traditional abortifacients were used by our great, great grandparents before colonialism”.

But CitizenGO is a Western entity in itself. It has ties via the shadowy Agenda Europe network to Poland’s Ordo Iuris group, which lobbied the Polish Government ahead of the passing of draconian abortion laws in 2021, and to Spain’s far-right Vox party. Through the same network is has links with Alliance Defending Freedom, the US ‘religious freedom” organisation which has campaigned against abortion rights in the US and around the world. On the most basic level, it allows Western individuals to sign petitions focusing on East African legislation. 

“The export of CitizenGO’s agenda and tactics to the Global South should raise major red flags not just for civil society, but for governments who have long sought to cast off colonial influences,” says Gillian Kane, Senior Technical Lead for Policy and Advocacy for global reproductive rights organisation IPAS.

One of its closest allies is the anti-abortion, anti-LGBTIQ activist Brian Brown – the US President of the World Congress of Families which took place in Nairobi in 2018. Brown allegedly provided seed funding to CitizenGO, while his Act Right organisation – which offers support to conservative causes with petitions and email campaigns – gave advice “every couple of months or so” from a “senior expert” in fundraising and technology who is “paid by Brian Brown”, according to reports in openDemocracy.

Both Brown and CitizenGO’s founder Ignacio Arsuaga sit on each other’s boards, and are directors of the Political Network for Values. The increasingly influential group of global anti-abortion actors lists Kenyan MP Christiantus Wamalwa as an advisor, and its board also includes Sharon Slater from Family Watch International. Slater supported those pushing for Uganda’s ‘kill the gays’ bill and claims LGBTIQ people are “more likely to engage in paedophilia”. 

Arsuaga, Brown and Slater are joined by Benjamin Bull, formerly of Alliance Defending Freedom and listed in 2014 as a member of the Council for National Policy. According to the Southern Poverty Law Centre, the CNP “​​mixes large numbers of ostensibly mainstream conservatives with far-right and extremist ideologues, mostly from the far fringes of the religious right".

New Hopes, New Fears

Pro-choice activists in Kenya are now putting their energy into backing the East Africa Community’s Sexual and Reproductive Health Bill (EAC SRH) – a regional piece of legislation sponsored by South Sudanese member of the East Africa Legislative Assembly (EALA) Ayason Mukulia Kennedy. The bill seeks to eliminate unsafe abortion, to widen access to contraceptives and expand access to emergency abortion services for women in countries across East Africa – as well as to improve sex education in the region. 

Despite claims made by the anti-abortion movement, the Bill does not legislate for abortion on demand, and instead calls for all EAC member states to allow terminations in cases when the mother's health is at risk.

While the Bill offers hope to the pro-choice movement, it has given the anti-abortion opposition a fresh chance to go on the attack, with CitizenGO launching petitions to prevent its passing and to recall Kennedy from the EALA. On Twitter, Kioko called him a “traitor”. Over on Facebook, CitizenGO spread disinformation that the EALA was a “den of child sexualisation” and it was a bill for "blood thirsty abortionists".

It started the year as it meant to go on: sending an email to potential donors on 1 January declaring its intentions for “destroying all attempts to erode African culture and defeat the abortion bill at the East Africa Legislative Assembly”. 

A CitizenGO Facebook post spreads misinformation about the EALA

“CitizenGO directly attacked me,” Kennedy told Byline Times. “They try to portray me as an abortionist. It definitely has an emotional impact. They post pictures of me with a red cross over my face. They tried to have me recalled from my position which was quite terrible”.

Kioko took part in the public consultation on the bill in July, claiming it would “sneak in the murder of our children”. But frustration with the Spanish organisation’s attempts to influence the hearings was also on display. One audience member demanded to know why a Western organisation was taking part in a debate about reproductive rights in East Africa, saying “there is nothing African about CitizenGO”. 

Pro-choice activists know that with Roe overruled, CitizenGO and the increasingly active and international anti-abortion movement in Kenya will be emboldened. But they are prepared for the fight. It’s one that Betram Odhiambo of the African Youth Action Network, understands better than most that they can’t afford to lose.

Based in a residential block in Kisumu, on the shores of Lake Victoria, the organisation offers advice on reproductive healthcare. According to Odhiambo, “the mental health impact of having an unplanned pregnancy is huge. We know of girls who have taken their own lives”.

One in four women in Kenya having an unsafe abortion suffer complications such as high fever, sepsis, shock and organ failure. This has allowed Kioko to share tweets sharing misinformation that abortion is harmful to women's health. But the danger comes from denying women access to healthcare, leading to the illicit abortions such as those described by Quin. In Britain, where abortion is legally accessible, the NHS states that "abortions are generally very safe and most women will not experience any problems".

It's the risk to health from unsafe abortions and unintended pregnancy that Kennedy wants to prevent by eliminating the practice through his bill.

“The failure of the bill will be a slap on the face of the millions of girls who drop out of school due to early pregnancy and lack of access to contraceptives,” says Kennedy. “My bill is to protect and facilitate the sexual and reproductive health rights of all persons. It may save millions of lives across the region”.

CitizenGO did not respond to our request for comment.

Lake Victoria, Kisumu, where AYAN is based. Photo: Sian Norris ShareEmailTwitterFacebook

SIGN-UP TO EMAIL UPDATES

OUR JOURNALISM RELIES ON YOU

Byline Times is funded by its subscribers. Receive our monthly print edition and help to support fearless, independent journalism.

SUBSCRIBE TO THE PRINT EDITION OF BYLINE TIMES FROM AS LITTLE AS £3.50 A MONTH

Front page July 22

SUBSCRIBE TO BYLINE TIMES & GET THIS MONTH’S DIGITAL EDITION IMMEDIATELY

Get the Bylines App for iPhone and iPad

SIGN UP TO BYLINE TV PLUS

Emboldened Opposition and a Galvanised Movement: What the End of Roe v Wade Means for Abortion Around the World

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 29/06/2022 - 6:00pm in

The overturning of the seminal 1973 ruling by the US Supreme Court has been met with a mixed reaction by pro-abortion activists globally, reports Sian Norris

GET THE CURRENT EDITION OF BYLINE TIMES

SIGN UP TO EMAIL UPDATES

“The decision to overturn Roe v Wade is extremely grave in the impact it will have across the US,” Leah Hoctor, senior regional director for Europe at the Centre for Reproductive Rights, told Byline Times. “The retrogressive nature of the decision is completely unprecedented in the global arena, in terms of the move to remove a constitutional right for abortion that has existed for 50 years.”

The announcement that the US Supreme Court had decided to overturn Roe v Wade – the 1973 case that allowed for nationwide access to safe, legal abortion – sent shockwaves around the world.

Since the decision was published, nine states have implemented abortion bans and a total of 26 states with a female population of 64 million are expected to ban or severely restrict abortion in the coming months. 

In the decades since Roe v Wade, 55 countries have introduced policies improving abortion access, including Spain, Ireland, Argentina, Kenya, Romania, Nepal and South Korea. Only four have introduced new restrictions on abortion in that time – the fourth being the US. 

The implications of the decision go beyond US borders.

Since Roe v Wade was introduced, America has occupied a dual role of being both a beacon of progress and freedom, and a world-leader in opposing access to safe, legal abortion – with opposition groups using their wealth and influence to attack reproductive healthcare in the US and around the world.

“The decision overturning Roe v Wade opens the home front in the US and Europe to autocracy’s war on democracy,” Monique Camarra, co-host of the Kremlin File podcast, told this newspaper.

The unprecedented nature of this decision now risks undermining progress on abortion across the globe. But there is a flipside too. The renewed focus on the fragility of human rights – with women and girls’ rights often a canary in the backlash coalmine – could galvanise progressive movements and law-makers to take positive action to protect abortion rights from further attack.

FUND MORE INVESTIGATIVE REPORTING

SUBSCRIBE TO BYLINE TIMES. CLICK HERE TO FUND MORE INVESTIGATIVE REPORTING

Help to expose the big scandals of our era.

An Emboldened Opposition 

When news of Roe v Wade being overturned hit the headlines, anti-abortion groups and think tanks celebrated.

Heartbeat International – a crisis pregnancy service accused of spreading disinformation about abortion – called it the moment it “had been praying for”. Radical-right think tank The Heritage Foundation, which has multiple links to the UK Conservative Party, said it gives states “the power to fix America’s extreme abortion laws and enshrine protections for the unborn in law”. 

Across the Atlantic, extremist anti-abortion group CBR UK said “the UK is next” and Right to Life UK called it the “overturning of an unjust law”. 

“The main impact we are going to face is an emboldened opposition,” Martin Onyango, associate director of legal strategies for Africa at the Centre for Reproductive Rights, told Byline Times. “And an emboldened opposition movement is dangerous anywhere in the world. The opposition groups are getting bolder and braver. We expect them to intensify trying to influence other countries, including in Africa.”

In Kenya, where Onyango is based, abortion is protected as a constitutional right but is only permitted when there is a recognised threat to the mother’s life or health, or in emergency situations. It remains restricted by colonial era laws in the penal code. A recent constitutional court case, won by Onyango and his colleagues at the Centre, saw the High Court affirm the right to abortion under the constitution. The case involved a minor and a healthcare worker in the town of Malindi being arrested, after the healthcare worker provided post-abortion care. 

That the US was able to overturn abortion as a constitutional right after 50 years concerns Onyango, not least because the means that the anti-abortion movement used to win its battle could potentially be replicated elsewhere.

Roe v Wade as a judicial precedent and the setting up of abortion as a constitutional right has been used by Kenya and other countries,” he said. “In the Malindi case, we brought in the same principle reasoning that supported Roe v Wade – that forcing women to carry an unwanted pregnancy amounts to a violation of their rights including right to privacy.

"So when Roe v Wade falls, it means the reasoning for constitutional positions in countries like Kenya has fallen. That opens up a direct challenge to those constitutional provisions – although in our case, a referendum is required to change the constitution.”

In Europe, there are fears that opposition groups, including from the US, will use the overturning of Roe v Wade to push forward their own agendas. Between 2009 and 2018, US anti-abortion groups spent at least $81.3 million in Europe

“For decades, we've seen US fundamentalist organisations and the Christian-right working in the European region,” said Leah Hoctor. “There are active anti-abortion organisations in the European region who will seek to capitalise on this, and who will seek to grow support for their beliefs and their anti abortion activism.”

The majority of countries in Europe allow women access to safe, legal abortion, but there are exceptions.

Last January, Poland extended its already draconian abortion bans to include a ban on terminations in cases of foetal anomaly, while in Malta the procedure is banned in all cases. In Italy, where abortion is permitted, there has seen a concerning backlash against a woman’s right to choose, with increasing numbers of doctors refusing to perform abortions and populist leaders such as Matteo Salvini blaming abortion for causing a “demographic winter”. 

Room for Hope

While the overturning of Roe v Wade will embolden anti-abortion actors, the global trend when it comes to reproductive rights is a positive one. 

In June, Germany overturned a Nazi-era law that had prohibited the advertising of abortion services. France, the Netherlands and Spain have also taken steps to improve access to reproductive healthcare – despite fervent opposition from Christian fundamentalists. 

"The decision out of the US Supreme Court could actually galvanise the potential for even increased progressive reform across European countries,” Leah Hoctor told Byline Times. “We are calling on European leaders that support reproductive rights to put this support into action now, and to really take steps to bring European laws and policies into line with World Health Organisation guidance.”

Progress on reproductive rights is also happening in the Global South. In Kenya, the Malindi case was “a great milestone, because gradually we are chipping away at the restrictions we have, when it comes to abortion care in this country,” said Onyango.

Meanwhile, in Latin America, more and more states are liberalising abortion laws in what has become known as the 'green wave' movement due to the green scarves, flags and sashes worn by pro-abortion activists.

In 2020, Argentina legalised abortion, while abortion is now available on request to any woman up to 12 weeks into a pregnancy in Mexico City and the Mexican states of Oaxaca, Hidalgo, Veracruz, Colima, Baja California, Sinaloa, Guerrero and Baja California Sur. Colombia legalised abortion on demand up to 24 weeks in February, while Chile is planning a referendum on making abortion a constitutional right. 

“The green wave across Latin America is a movement that has had so much impact in terms of systemic change in that region,” Hoctor added. “It's very important to underline that the global picture is a very hopeful one, and a very progressive one.” 

Additional reporting by Heidi Siegmund-Cuda

ShareEmailTwitterFacebook

SIGN-UP TO EMAIL UPDATES

OUR JOURNALISM RELIES ON YOU

Byline Times is funded by its subscribers. Receive our monthly print edition and help to support fearless, independent journalism.

SUBSCRIBE TO THE PRINT EDITION OF BYLINE TIMES FROM AS LITTLE AS £3.50 A MONTH

SUBSCRIBE TO BYLINE TIMES & GET THIS MONTH’S DIGITAL EDITION IMMEDIATELY

Get the Bylines App for iPhone and iPad

SIGN UP TO BYLINE TV PLUS

Tolerating Intolerance: UK Military Failing its LGBTQ Personnel

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 26/04/2022 - 6:00pm in

Murray Jones reports on the Government’s failure to offer information on its acquiescence to the repressive rules of foreign militaries

GET THE CURRENT EDITION OF BYLINE TIMES NOW

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) allows gay and unmarried personnel to be barred from serving in foreign militaries, but refuses to reveal which ones, an investigation by the charity Action on Armed Violence (AOAV) for the Byline Intelligence Team can reveal.

Every year some 200 British troops serve abroad as ‘loan service personnel’ (LSP), often under the command of a foreign military. Around a-third of these are stationed in Oman, even wearing the Gulf nation’s uniform.

The Government claims that they are used for training other nations’ forces, but very little is known about their role. Host nations for British military personnel in the past 10 years include Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Brunei, Nigeria and Kenya. 

However, a recent series of Freedom of Information (FOI) requests has found that British military personnel who are considering to apply for Loan Service are told: 

“Applicants are to note that due to cultural and religious differences, a number of host nations will not accept single personnel, married unaccompanied personnel, personnel with same-sex partners or personnel with children from previous marriages with surnames that are different to that of the head of the family.”

A further FOI request asking for the names of these host nations was refused, as were other requests regarding the role, conduct, disciplinary action and uniform protocol of Loan Service personnel. They were rejected on the grounds that it would “adversely affect relations with our allies”.

An MoD spokesperson said: “The MoD is committed to being an inclusive employer and is proud to encourage diversity in the Armed Forces. However, where MoD personnel are deployed on Loan Service to support the UK’s operational objectives, they must adhere to the entry requirements and laws of the host nation. 

“Personnel who volunteer for a Loan Service tour may be subject to the laws of the host nation when not on duty and are required to consider the implications on them and their families.”

A Shortlist of Repression

Despite the MoD’s refusal to declare the names of host nations that restrict the backgrounds of foreign military personnel, likely candidates emerge when the strict anti-LGBT laws in a number of the applicable countries are considered.

In Oman – the largest destination for Loan Service personnel, with 65 personnel stationed there in July 2021 – consensual sex between two men is punishable by up to three years’ imprisonment, although it is thought that prosecutions will only come from incidents that create a ‘public scandal’. 

In 2018, four men were arrested for posting a video of two of them cross-dressing. The two men in the video were sentenced to four years in prison, while the pair that had filmed and posted it online received a three-year sentence. 

Some consider Oman to be one of the more LGBT-friendly Gulf states, but when an Omani newspaper made this suggestion it was censored, forced to apologise and the editor was barred from leaving the country.

The UK has close ties to Oman. There is a permanent British naval base in Duqm, which is currently being tripled in size, as well as nearly 100 British military personnel typically loaned to the small Gulf state. 

DON’T MISS A STORY

Be the first to receive all the latest updates from Byline Times.

STAY INFORMED... SIGN-UP TO EMAIL UPDATES FROM BYLINE TIMES

Oman’s police are trained and armed by the UK; exports of £17.9 million worth of tear and pyrotechnic ammunition were received by the autocratic state in the past five years. In May last year, Omani police used British-made tear gas to repress peaceful protests. 

The UK’s close relationship with Saudi Arabia also has long been questioned due to the Kingdom’s appalling human rights record, particularly its bombing of Yemen. When it comes to LGBT rights, this is no different. Same-sex sexual activity, as with all sex outside marriage, is outlawed with a maximum sentence of death. Last year, 35 British loan service personnel were based in Saudi Arabia. 

Kenya similarly has very close ties with the UK military.

The British Army Training Unit Kenya hosts thousands of UK troops every year for large exercises in extreme weather conditions. Last year, it received a £70 million refurbishment. 

According to the Human Dignity Trust, same-sex sexual activity in Kenya is prohibited under the Penal Code 1930, which criminalises acts of ‘gross indecency’ and ‘carnal knowledge against the order of nature’. These provisions carry a maximum penalty of 14 years’ imprisonment. Only men are criminalised under this law.

The small Gulf state of Kuwait also hosts a deployment of 35 Loan Service personnel.

Homosexual activity is punishable in the state by up to seven years in prison. A court ruling in February overturned a law against ‘imitation of the opposite sex’ that was being used to prosecute transgender people. The appeal was sparked after Maha al-Mutairi, a transgender woman, was arrested after she posted videos online accusing police officers of raping and beating her during a seven-month period of detention in a men’s prison in 2019, after she was convicted under the discriminatory law. 

Lesbian, gay and bisexual people can seek asylum in the UK if they face persecution in their home country due to their sexual orientation. Between 2015 and 2020, there were more than 10,000 such applications. 2,956 were initially granted, with a further 1,875 allowed after appeal. In other words, there was a 47% success rate for these applications. 

After Pakistan and Bangladesh, Nigeria was the most common nationality of lesbian, gay and bisexual people seeking asylum during this period, with 898 applicants from the west African nation. Some 189 lesbian, gay and bisexual people also sought asylum from Kenya. 

In Nigeria, the maximum penalty for same sex sexual activity is 14 years’ imprisonment. The country’s laws criminalising ‘carnal knowledge against the order of nature’ and ‘gross indecency’ were inherited from the British during the colonial period, in which the English criminal law was imposed upon Nigeria.

Nigeria retained these provisions after independence, and further criminalised LGBT people through additional legislation.

British loan service personnel have maintained a consistent presence in Nigeria for more than a decade. 

The UK has been criticised for its stance towards repressive regimes – with Prime Minister Boris Johnson recently travelling to Saudi Arabia in an attempt to boost energy exports amid Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Responding to a question about the execution of three people by the Saudi state as he arrived in the Kingdom, Johnson said: “In spite of that news you’ve referred to today, things are changing in Saudi Arabia. We want to see them continue to change and that’s why we see value in engaging with Saudi Arabia and why we see value in the partnership.”

Despite the Prime Minister's rhetoric, circumstances do not seem to be changing quickly in the Kingdom, with its rulers continuing the brutality that led to the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.

Iain Overton, executive director of AOAV, also leads the Byline Intelligence Team

This article was produced by the Byline Intelligence Team – a collaborative investigative project formed by Byline Times with The Citizens. If you would like to find out more about the Intelligence Team and how to fund its work, click on the button below.

FIND OUT MORE ABOUT THE BYLINE INTELLIGENCE TEAM

ShareEmailTwitterFacebook

SIGN-UP TO EMAIL UPDATES

OUR JOURNALISM RELIES ON YOU

Byline Times is funded by its subscribers. Receive our monthly print edition and help to support fearless, independent journalism.

SUBSCRIBE TO THE PRINT EDITION OF BYLINE TIMES FROM AS LITTLE AS £3.50 A MONTH

LIMITED TICKETS AVAILABLE HERE

BECOME A PATRON OF BYLINE TV

SUBSCRIBE TO BYLINE TIMES & GET THIS MONTH’S DIGITAL EDITION IMMEDIATELY