Kenyan Anti-Gay Lawmakers Reject Obama’s Call to Respect Rights

Kenyan lawmakers formed a caucus to push for enforcement of anti-gay laws, spurning a call by U.S. President Barack Obama and other foreign leaders to recognize the rights of homosexuals in Africa.

Obama said this week that a decision by Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni to sign legislation that toughens punishments to as much as life in prison for homosexual acts may hurt ties with the U.S. His statement was a “key catalyst” in creating the Kenyan anti-gay group of legislators, member Irungu Kang’ata said by phone today from the capital, Nairobi.

The almost 20-member multiparty Kenyan caucus plans to summon Director of Public Prosecutions Keriako Tobiko and Attorney-General Githu Muigai to testify about why the government has failed to implement anti-gay laws, Kang’ata said.

“It is a reaction to a push by the Western countries for the relaxation of anti-gays law, that’s what really inspired us,” he said. Neither “Obama, nor other outsiders have the right to dictate our laws as a sovereign country.”

Under Kenyan law, convictions for gay sex are punishable by as long as 14 years in prison, according to Neela Ghoshal, a Nairobi-based senior researcher on gay rights at Human Rights Watch.

The law has rarely, if ever, led to a conviction in Kenya, meaning fear of arrest by police has been relatively low, said Ghoshal.

“You see there are strong activist communities and that has provided a degree of freedom,” she said.

Homosexuality is illegal in 38 of 54 sub-Saharan African countries, according to Amnesty International. Religious leaders, human rights groups and Western governments have condemned Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan for signing a law in January criminalizing same-sex marriages, gay groups and public displays of affection by homosexuals.

Kenyan author Binyavanga Wainaina announced last month he was homosexual in an essay that he called a “lost chapter” from his memoir, titled “I am a homosexual, mum,” adding an influential voice to the gay rights movement on the continent.

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