In an effort to identify and highlight LGBTI groups in small town Kenya, Behind the Mask Kenya Correspondent Melissa Wainaina interviewed the Upper Rift Minorities group founding member Ken, 28 (not his real name).
Please tell us about your group, when you began and a little information about your members.
Upper Rift Minorities is a LGBTI group that started four years ago. We began with three founding members. Two of the founding members however died in a road accident but the group has since then grown and now has seven members.
We started the group as a way to create a space that is favourable to come out amongst ourselves.
The group is quite mixed, two members are women and five are men. All are Queer. Two of our members are nomadic pastoralists. (People who farm in a system where animals such as cattle, goats and camels are taken to different locations in order to find fresh pastures.)
What activities do you hope to carry out in the group?
At the moment our main focus is increasing our numbers by having more members join us. We would like to use social forums to encourage others to join.
We are planning a singles party on August 13 in Lodwar town (the largest town in north-western Kenya) where people will come meet and mingle.
The culture of the people in this part of Kenya is primarily a pastoral one. We hope that we can increase health awareness, empower individuals on their rights and freedoms to create safe spaces.
Have you joined Galck, the national LGBTI coalition yet?
The group is still consultation on how to proceed with regards to joining Galck. We have a few concerns though. Our efforts in trying to get inclusion with workshops and forums that are carried out by Galck have proven fruitless so far.
We approached Ishtar-MSM for some lubricants and condoms for sexual health talks we had and while they were willing to provide these, they indicated that they had no funds to send the items to us in Lodwar.
The solution I have come up with is to pick up some of these from Liverpool VCT (a Kenyan NGO which utilizes research to inform policy reform advocacy and strengthen HIV service delivery) when I occasionally visit Nairobi.
Alternatively, we try to send gay friendly individuals coming to Nairobi to pick them for us.
We are still hoping that Galck extend to us an invitation for some of the workshops and capacity building initiatives that they carry out.
In Lodwar, we need serious empowerment and a lot of training of our rights and this can help us to know our options. In Rift Valley Province, Galck has a group they work with in Eldoret, but that is too far for us to access. We hope that this soon changes and we are included in the national movement.
What are the setbacks you face as a group? How do you think the challenges can be countered?
I live and work almost 100kms from Lodwar town. The town itself has three cyber cafes. One time we were writing a proposal for funding to an East African Grant Making Organisation, UHAI-EASHRI and when we printed out the document, the cyber attendant read the document and accused us of being immoral and bringing foreign cultures to Lodwar. The attendant shouted and held us back while calling the police to arrest us.
Since then we have had problems in putting up proposals and doing any LGBTI work in the cyber-cafés as they are not private like the ones in Nairobi. This incident happened a few months ago.
We have been hoping to get a donation of a used laptop or computer to help the group work on a website and put up proposals freely.
In this area we have limited electricity and solar is an alternative source of energy. We are hoping that we can get some assistance in this regard to help us.
One of the major crises we have recently faced was when one of our members went to a VCT for treatment of gonorrhoea. The attending nurse asked that he bring his sexual partners that led him to say that he was gay. On hearing this, the nursing attendant said to him, “Oh we don’t treat such kind of people” and sent him away.
He had to travel to Liverpool VCT in Nairobi to get treatment. That incident badly affected him and there are countless more that are in his predicament, afraid to go for help because the VCT clinics stigmatise MSM and WSW.
That being said, we have identified to gay-friendly health workers who are willing to help but have no training in specialised sexual minority health issues.
Any final words?
My hope is that the LGBTI movement moves out of Nairobi, Mombasa, Kisumu and Eldoret and visits other parts of Kenya. As it stands, LGBTI members are moving away from rural areas to bigger cities to live freely. I am committed in creating safe spaces in rural Kenya, we can’t all move to the cities.
Contact for Upper Rift Minority Group: firstname.lastname@example.org