Dear Dr. Kigwangalla,

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I write to you as a fellow proud African. A citizen of your neighbour country, Kenya. A person who has visited and loves the beauty that your country has to offer; the mountains, the lakes, the parks and most of all, the people. The unmistakably Tanzanian politeness makes me cringe every time I come back to Nairobi and see how we Kenyans relate to each other. And before any Kenyan reading this gets on the defensive, I should tell you, I am as Kenyan as we come. I am a gay man. At this point, you may want to stop reading this and dismiss it as western propaganda but I urge you to read on. It will only take a few minutes of your time and I assure you, this is far from any western propaganda.

The reason I write to you is because I have watched in awe how your government and a section of the Tanzanian population has been treating people of different sexual orientation and gender identity. From calling for their arrest to stopping the supply of lubricant to having sections of the society call for murder. This is a sad and scary trend and is no way for a society to treat a section of itself.

I’ll start by saying that the Tanzanian population (and in the same way, the Kenyan and Ugandan populations) has within it, people who are black, white, left handed, right handed, living with disabilities, living with albinism, gay, lesbian, transgender, intersex among many other identities. These people have existed in our society since time immemorial (except perhaps the white people who have also been a part of the human race). Homosexuality was not introduced by the west. Anthropological studies (which you may very well dismiss as western propaganda) have shown the existence of people of different sexual orientations and gender identities even before colonization. There are so many resources with this information and please feel free to contact me for links to them.

Having said that, you twitted yesterday, “I am a social justice activist. I am a professional. I know those stuffs. Same sex inclinations are not natural!” Allow me to tell you my story. A story that is the same for many, if not all, gay and lesbian people. At no point in my life did I make the choice to be attracted to people of the same sex as I am. As I grew up and began understanding myself and learnt about what sex is and what the feelings I had were, I realized that unlike the rest of the boys I grew up with, I was not attracted to girls. I am sure that the scenario is the same for people who are attracted to those of the opposite sex. You don’t decide to choose your attraction, you just have it. In my case, I tried to be different. I tried to fit in to what society wants me to be. It did not work. I prayed on it. I contemplated hurting myself. I finally got to the point of accepting that this is who I am. That was the only choice I made, not to be gay but to accept myself for who I am.

I was brought up in a Christian family. Most people in Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya were brought up in families of a certain religion. Most religions in one way or another condemn homosexuality. If my sexual orientation was determined by how I was nurtured, I would not have turned out to be what I am. My parents brought me up in a society that vilified me for the feelings I have towards other men. Feelings I cannot control. To this day, my mother does not like that I have these feelings. But there is nothing I can do about them. There is nothing any gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender person can do about the person they are. We are all as we are.

If you ever sat down with members of the community and listened, and I mean really listened to their stories, you will realize that my story resonates with them. Unfortunately, some of us never got to the point of self-acceptance. Some of us hated themselves so much that they decided that it would be better if they didn’t exist in this world any more. A world that hates them for who they love. A world that discriminates against them in access to opportunities because of the gender they identify with. A world that has government officials declaring them worse than terrorists and calling for their arrest and murder due to something they have no control over. These people took their own lives. Lives that might have amounted to so much had society allowed them a chance to prove themselves worthy.

Banning of the supply of lubricants will not curb homosexuality in any way. What that does, and as a medical doctor I am sure you understand is increase the number of risky sexual practices. Use of condoms without lubricant or using condoms with oil based lubricant will increase the risk of the condom breaking and increase the risk of transmission of HIV and other STIs. Now you may say that banning distribution of lubricant will stop people from having sex but that would be burying your head in the sand. People will still have sex and unfortunately the sex will be risky sex. Let me quote some statistics. As of 2015, There were 1.4 million people living with HIV with the number of new infections being 54,000. That accounts for 5% of the Tanzanian population. HIV prevalence among men who have sex with men was 22.2% and heterosexual sex accounted for the vast majority (80%) of all HIV infections in your country with women being particularly affected. Now due to the crackdown on the LGBTI community, men who have sex with men will try, like I did, to fit in to the society. They will get into sexual relationships and marry women but that will not stop them from having sex with other men. With the risk brought on by the banning of lubricants, HIV prevalence among men who have sex with men is going to increase from the 22.2% and the attempt by this population to adhere to society’s norm will increase the risk of transmission to women and other heterosexual men and the vicious cycle continues.

In your tweets yesterday you kept repeating that Tanzania has not signed the “Kyogo Protocol”. I have searched all over and haven’t encountered a Kyogo Protocol. I did find a Kyoto Protocol which has nothing to do with homosexuality but all to do with climate change. What I have found however is the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Tanzania is a state party to this Covenant. It says that all persons are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to the equal protection of the law. Having said that, the protection of the rights of every citizen of Tanzania, Uganda or Kenya should not be hinged on the ratification of any international instrument. It should come from us as human beings. We will never all be the same. We do not all subscribe to the same religion, we are not all of the same skin colour, we are not all of the same sexual orientation or gender identity. The one thing that binds us all together is the fact that we are all human beings. Our differences are what makes our society beautiful. We should all strive to understand our differences and accept them as a part of what our society is. That way, in the spirit of Ubuntu, we shall all live in harmony.

Please don’t hesitate to contact me at oluoch@gmail.com should you wish to engage in further conversations. I am sure there are many other Tanzanian individuals who would wish to tell you their story. Allow them to. Understand where they come from and the struggles they have to go through on a daily basis because of something they have absolutely no control over and think about what you as a leader, as a deputy minister for health and as a human being can do to improve the lives of not only the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex people in your country but the general population.

Sincerely,

Anthony Oluoch

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I Stand with the World

~Terrorism Has No religion

I have been watching this very necessary yet disgusting debate on social media in the wake of the attacks in Paris. I have observed. I have my opinions. Most of which may not be palatable to some, especially some fellow Kenyans. I’ll share them now. This is simply my opinion, one which I am entitled to and one that is meant to make you think.

Who is to Blame?

Islam of course. Most of these attacks have been carried out in the name of Islam and I therefore would have no qualms placing the blame squarely on Islam. This is a reaction anyone would have. It is a reaction that has already been had by many people. It is one that has been and will be used to threaten the lives of and discriminate against millions of Muslim individuals around the world. But wait, I am not done yet.

Reza Aslan in an interview with CNN said something that I have carried with me ever since I saw it. When he was asked whether Islam promotes violence, his brilliant response was that Islam does not promote violence or peace. Islam is just a religion and like every religion in the world, it depends on what you bring to it. If you are a violent person, your Islam, your Judaism, your Christianity, your Hinduism is going to be violent. He went ahead to give an example of what is considered the least violent religion, Budhism, being used to perpetrate the slaughter of women and children in Myanmar.

People, due to various reasons, are violent or peaceful. We therefore cannot, and should not condemn an entire religion based on the actions of a few individuals. There are 1.57 billion Muslims in this world. An estimated less than one percent of that population are at risk of becoming radicals. These are the people that need to be dealt with. They are the ones who perpetrate the kind of violence in the name of Islam that we see in the world today. To quote Dr. Aslan again, these kinds of oversimplifications only cause more danger. There is a very real problem. ISIS, Al Qaida, the militant Islamic groups like Hamas, Hezbolah and the Taliban have to be dealt with. But it doesn’t really help us to deal with them when instead of talking about rational conflicts and criticisms of a particular religion, we instead slip so easily into bigotry by paining everyone with a single brush as we have been doing in this conversation.

To also quote the Holy Qur’an as my good friend Michael Timm highlighted in his quest to educate the masses, revealed approximately 1400 years ago, the Holy Book states most categorically: “There is no compulsion in religion”. (Ch 2 V 257) and “It is the truth from your Lord, where fore let him who will believe and let him who will disbelieve.” (Ch.18 V.30). It is our individual interpretations of religious texts that makes us do what we do in the name of religion. And it is the violent people’s interpretations of these religious texts that lead us to witness 9/11, Garissa, Beirut, Syria, Paris and countless other lives pointlessly lost supposedly in the name of religion.

Has there been a disparity in reactions?

Absolutely. I have seen many Kenyans (and non-Kenyans) on my timeline say that they will not put up the Facebook filter in solidarity with France. Reasons for this range from the fact that there was no such solidarity shown the previous day when Beirut was hit. The Garissa attack back in April came back to haunt us. Some even went to the extent of saying that they will not show solidarity because some African countries still pay colonial taxes to France. I cannot comment on this as while these sentiments may be valid, stooping that low when lives have been lost is something I will not do.

Halima Saadi, 33, and Houda Saadi, 34, sisters from Tunisia were celebrating a birthday in a Paris café when they were attacked. Ludovic Boumas a French national, tried to save them but all three eventually died. Juan Alberto Gonzalez Garrido, 29 from Madrid, Spain was also at the Bataclan concert. He was an engineer living in France with his wife who managed to escape after they got separated amid the mayhem. Italian national Valeria Solesin, 28, of Venice, had been living in Paris for the last six years. She was attending the concert at Bataclan Friday night with her boyfriend who survived with a minor injury.

Ali Awad, a 14-year-old, ran outside to see what had happened after the first blast in Beirut and was caught in the second. Adel Tormous, hailed by many as a hero died tackling the second bomber. Khodr Alaa Deen, a registered nurse, was on his way to work his night shift at the teaching hospital.

Before making blanket statements on whether or not to stand in solidarity with France, or Lebanon or any other country hit by terrorism, think about the young lives lost. These people had families and friends. They had vibrant lives before the cowardly actions of a few individuals hell bent on destroying the world. Think about these people and stand in solidarity with them. Granted there are discrepancies in the level of concern shown by the global media on atrocities happening in Africa and the Middle East but when lives have been lost, this is not the time to think of our differences. It is the time to think as one. As a global community terrorized by extremists. As people who, at any given time, could fall victim to the same heinous acts.

I stand in solidarity with a world facing terror from all angles. The cause being that we refuse to embrace the diversity that makes this world beautiful. We refuse to understand that we will all never be the same. We need to end these petty squabbles about what Facebook did or didn’t do and start thinking about the people who lost their lives, those who lost their loved ones and those whose lives will be eternally different because of terrorism. We need to figure out a way that works to end terrorism because what we have been doing clearly hasn’t worked.