Kenya’s pride and shame

I’ve been working on a story this week about Kenya’s digital future. It’s an inspiring tale about smart young people creating new opportunities. The developers, designers and engineers using Nairobi’s new iHub, which opens next month, will all be hoping to create the next M-PESA or Ushahidi, and turn Nairobi into Africa’s technology hub.

I love working on stories like this. It’s not what we expect from Africa. It’s uplifting, it’s positive, and there’s not an aid worker in sight.

And then there are stories which make your heart sink. Five men in Mtwapa, just north of Mombasa, were arrested yesterday for being gay. A rumour had gone round that two men were going to get married. how they were going to do that when gay marriage is illegal is not quite clear. According to the BBC:

District officer George Matandura said two of the men had been found with wedding rings, attempting to get married, in Kikambala beach resort. The other three men were handed to the police by members of the public; two of them had reportedly been beaten.

A human rights lawyer criticised the police, calling the arrest “an offence, an unnatural offence, and also their behaviour is repugnant to the morality of the people.”

Oh, no, sorry. That was the police officer talking about the men he arrested.

People protest against something that has no impact on their lives whatsoever (Photo: Laban Walloga, Daily Nation)

One of the most depressing aspects of the story is the protests. People tend not to go on demonstrations here – partly because the police don’t need much excuse to fire tear gas cannisters and live bullets. But the alleged gay wedding has brought hundreds onto the streets in Mtwapa. In the past week two big corruption scandals have been on the front pages of Kenya’s newspapers. Subsidised maize that was meant to go to some of the poorest, drought-hit parts of the country, has been stolen. So too has money meant to pay for free primary school education.

Guess how many protests there have been about that.


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