NAIROBI, KENYA – ACTIVISTS have raised the alarm over the increasing cases of attacks targeting gay men, male sex workers and transgender women especially at the Coast.
This follows three attacks, all within the span of several weeks, with the victims identifying as gay, MSM, male sex workers or as transgender women.
It is unclear if these incidents were planned in advanced but activists now say they may be related to the several media reports that indicated Coast and Kisumu had the highest number of men who have sex with men in the country.
According to records, several media houses mid this month reported that the National AIDS Control Council (NACC) had released figures purporting that Nyanza county had the highest number of ‘homosexuals’ compared to other regions sparking off debate.
Another newspaper carried a report claiming that Coast was the region with the highest number of homosexuals.
Religious leaders were roped into the debate that ensued with Muslim clerics arguing that NACC was promoting gay rights. Despite this furor, NACC came out to strongly oppose the article on the ‘number of homosexuals’ in the country saying they never released those figures. (READ: Clerics Slam NACC Over Same-Sex Report)
They further denied they were promoting homosexuality and clarified that they were focusing on HIV and that meant dealing with populations most at risk of HIV, mostly men who have sex with men (MSM), sex workers and drug users.
However, the reactions spilled over with the first reported cases of gay men and male sex workers being assaulted coming from Kisumu County in Nyanza.
Polycarp Okeyo, a gay male sex worker in Kisumu, said there has been security concerns after the media highlighted the report and interviewed several residents of Kisumu.
‘I was personally threatened by people. Two of our members have been threatened and beaten. We do not operate freely.’
‘We have had several attacks by a group of very hostile men. They look like a vigilante and the police even fear them. No one dares question them for fear of reprisal,’ he added saying that they are worried that the vigilante group might be planning further possible attacks.
As this was going on, Mombasa became hostile to with cases of assault and murder being reported. Sadly, they were more extreme.
According to reports, Samwel Karanja alias Sakina, a gay male sex worker, was stabbed in the neck by man who picked him along Digo Road.
He said his client refused to pay him an extra Sh1000 for his services. He said the man was to pay him extra money after he spent more hours than they had agreed with him. Initially, the client was to pay him Sh2000 but he was required to top up with another Sh1000 for the extra hours.
Speaking from his hospital bed, Karanja said he regrets going to bed with the man. “I was a bit drunk and therefore I cannot remember even the registration number of the vehicle that the man was driving,” he said.
Friends of the victim visited him in hospital and threatened to take to the street to protest what they claim are increased cases of assault on members of the gay community.
A friend, Amina Ali alias Hassan Juma, who is also gay, said Karanja was picked up by a man driving a tinted Toyota Prado at around 10pm. He said that the two spent several hours in a guest house but they differed when it came to payment.
As this was going on, a second incident was reported. It occurred when a transgender woman who was a sex worker was allegedly slashed to death this week by unknown people and who was buried according to Islam traditions thus not allowing time to fully investigate the cause of death.
However, Evans Ndungu from Mtwapa Initiative for Positive Empowerment (MIPE), an LGBTI and sex work health advocacy group in Mtwapa, the second case was more extreme as the victim died at the Coast Provincial General Hospital after she was admitted with ‘almost similar slash wounds’ to the first case of Sakina. Unfortunately she did not make it and passed on.
Evans further said that one radio station was receiving calls from ‘agitated callers openly saying that they were on a mission to “clean” Mombasa of sex workers especially MSM/MSWs and organization that are pro-LGBTI.’
‘It may possible that the two cases may be isolated and not related to each other however, it is also an indication of possible homophobic attacks going on at community level. If at all it’s true then something urgent need to be done to address the situation.’
The second attack was reported by Gay Kenya Trust (GKT) in collaboration with the Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya (GALCK) who have been following the developments at the Coast.
‘The second and most unfortunate incident which occurred on Tuesday,’ the groups’ said in a security advisory issued mid this week, ‘has resulted in the death of a transgender woman sex worker. Very little is known about the incident except that she hailed from Malindi and had travelled briefly to Mombasa. She was living in an area with no address (homeless).’
‘She was picked up by the client from around Fontanella. Onlookers who found her and brought her to the hospital claim that she had been thrown out of a moving vehicle. Her throat had been slashed. The damage was so extensive, that she had passed away before medical help could be administered. Her remains have since been picked up by family members from Malindi where she has been laid to rest,’ the group’s statement said.
‘Radio Rahma, a Mombasa based radio station, hosted a call-in show in which listeners claimed that they would rid Mombasa of sex workers, and especially MSM/MSWs and organizations that are supportive of these persons,’ added the statement confirming earlier reports by activists that FM stations are partly to blame for the attacks.
The advisory further cautioned male sex workers and LGBTI members to exercise caution as the situation develops and to be alert. They also published a list of areas and spots within Mombasa where such cases have occurred.
‘We encourage community members to be more conscious of their safety, even as we keenly monitor the situation. Documenting any cases is also important and any cases should be reported immediately.’
Martin Kyama, the Programs Coordinator for HAPA Kenya, a male sex worker group bases in Mombasa, further advised there was need to engage the security apparatus in the area to better mitigate attacks and to follow up on cases of violence.
Commenting on the attacks, Kyama said there was need to engage the radio stations as well as set up community watchdogs that would identify areas that may be deemed as dangerous for their members.
‘We should engage the media especially our local radio stations to get them to understand more about the LGBT community,’ he said. ‘It also important to organize sessions with the area’s security apparatus especially chiefs, sub chiefs and the police station commanding officers to ensure we have effective response during attacks and liaise incase of an emergency.’
‘We further need security sensitization especially on personal security of members of LGBT groups and the activists. And it would be of paramount importance if we had a contingency fund that would actually cater for these attacks and rapid response.’
In Nairobi, several cases of gay men and male sex workers being attacked have been recorded.
The latest attack occurred when a male sex worker was attacked by a client last week for refusing to pay for services rendered.
According to the victim – Jeremiah – who spoke to Identity Kenya, he was attacked by the client in Huruma estate after he demanded payment for services he had provided overnight.
Jeremiah said he asking for his dues when the client came out brandishing a knife and a hammer then attacked him.
Jeremiah suffered multiple cuts to the head and arm and was given medical attention at a SWOP clinic in Nairobi’s CBD.
The case was reported to the Central Police station for further investigation and possible prosecution. The case was further reported at Huruma police station, OB Number 7. The assailant is said to be known to the victim.
Condemning the attack was John Mathenge, Director of HOYMAS Kenya, an organization of male sex workers based in Nairobi. ‘It is unfortunate that we have seen an increase of these cases and we are hoping to put into action measures to mitigate them. I would urge all victims to report the cases to the relevant authorities.’
A report released by Amnesty International this week on same sex criminalization in sub-Saharan Africa, says Kenya ranks among the countries where there are cases of violence and murder as well as assault targeting LGBTI members.
Analysts argue that the past month has seen an increase in ‘stories’ on homosexuality and gender identity further causing tension and may be partly to blame for the rising cases of violence.
Several newspapers have published, what LGBT critic, Queer Watchtower, described as ‘high profile’ pieces. Some, he said, were very stereotypical and may be blamed for the attacks on transgender women so far reported.
For example, The Standard did a piece on male bisexuality saying there was a ‘secret’ society of heterosexual men who are ‘experimenting’ sexually with other men. It did not pass that the way TV stations reported on the matter was highly stereotypical.
Tabloids have not been left behind either with several of them posting about celebrities rumored to be gay.
However, it is on social media that the vitriol is seen, according to Brenda Sausage, a lesbian writer and contributor with Identity Kenya.
‘Our social media monitoring has revealed that FM station, personalities and celebrities, as well as pages, are to blame to inciting hate and violence against LGBTI persons,’ she said.
‘We have seen that social media has been awash with derogatory, hateful, inciting and threatening messages against lesbians and gay men in particular. The case of Audrey Mbugua, the transgender woman suing the state for a name change, is a good example. There was much discussion and debate on social media regarding her gender and nothing on the case. She was reduced to an ‘object.’’
Ms Mbugua, who is suing the National Examination Council to have her name changed in her academic papers, was publicized this month with her giving countless interviews to several media houses.
‘With much media exposure and highlighting, comes risks, especially for a minority group such as LGBTI or sex workers,’ said Brenda. ‘The ball is in each individual’s court. It is important to be safe where we are and in what we do.’
Denis Nzioka is the Editor of @IdentityKenya; reach him on @DenisNzioka