In the coastal town of Mtwapa in Kenya’s Kilifi district, media hysteria and outrage by clerics over a rumored but non-existent gay wedding whipped up mob violence that began on February 12, unleashing a house-to-house witch hunt by anti-gay vigilantes, street attacks targeting gay men, the sacking of an AIDS-fighting medical center, and a widening wave of ultra-homophobic national media coverage.
Many gay men are in hiding or have fled the area.
Kenyans protest alleged gay wedding.
From Nairobi, the nation’s capital, Denis Nzioka, a prominent 24-year-old gay activist, told Gay City News, “Ever since the outburst of violence in Mtwapa, gay people have had to fear for their lives. Vigilante groups are hunting down gay men, going door to door, and anyone who is overly flamboyant is attacked in the street.”
That mosque’s imam then announced the so-called “wedding” to his congregation and instructed his flock to begin monitoring any community gatherings to insure that no gay weddings could take place.
After this, “a local radio station, Kaya FM, picked up the story and started a series of programs on gays,” according to the GALCK-KHRC (Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya/ Kenya Human Rights Commission) report, which Nzioka told this reporter included phone-in talk shows filled with homophobic discourse and incitements to violence. Other local radio stations also picked up the story.
Five days before the date of the alleged wedding, “many of the muftis and imams .... told their congregants to demonstrate and to flush out homosexuals from the midst of Mtwapa and to ensure that no gay wedding took place,” the GALCK-KHRC report declared.
According to a story in the Daily Nation about the press conference, “The clerics claimed that a large number of youths were being recruited into gay clubs and warned that ‘God is about to punish the fastest growing town in the Coast region. Come night, come day, we shall not allow that marriage to be conducted in this town tomorrow. We shall stand firm to flush out gays who throng this town every weekend from all corners of this country,’ the religious leaders said.”
The day after this inflammatory press conference, a well-organized mob of some 200 to 300 people armed with sticks, stones, and other weapons, and led by a vigilante leader named Faridi surrounded the KEMRI clinic, which was alleged to be the site of the non-existent wedding, and demanded that all the “shogas” come out of the building. “Shoga” is a Swahili word used as a pejorative against homosexuals — the equivalent of “faggot."
Later that same day, “after Friday prayers” in Mtwapa’s mosques, “mobs of individuals went to the homes of suspected homosexuals looking for them,” said the GALCK-KHRC report, which also recounted speeches to a large mob that had gathered outside the local police station. Sheikh Hussein addressed the crowd in a manner “that was inciting, and he kept talking about Sodom and Gomorrah and the need to root out all homosexuals from the Mtwapa area,” the report said.
A former member of Kenya’s parliament, Omar Masumbuko, was one of several politicians who also addressed the mob. “He said that homosexuality must be stopped and every means used to make that happen,” according to the GALCK-KHRC report. “He told the crowd they should not even bother to bring the homosexuals they find to the police station but should take care of the issue themselves,”
On February 12 a 23-year-old security guard was descending from a bus heading toward the center of Mtwapa when he was set upon by a mob that threatened him with death and beat him senseless. A female sex worker tried to protect him with her body and yelled at the crowd that they can’t kill people like that and that the man had not done anything, but the mob doused the man with kerosene, preparing to burn him alive. At this point the police arrived, but instead of arresting anyone in the mob, they arrested the man it had attacked. The bloodied, dazed man was incarcerated and denied medical attention.
The Mtawapa witch-hunt shows no signs of letting up: at the beginning of this week, Sheikh Hussein launched radio appeals for a mass anti-gay demonstration in Mtawapa on February 19.