By Ogova Ondego
Published September 22, 2008
This 148-page book published by UZIMA Press of Nairobi in 2004 appears to echo the concerns of Kenyans over gay and lesbian relationships.
Analysing gay unions from traditional, societal, medical, legal, and biblical perspectives and showing that homosexuality has damaging consequences, Same Gender Unions that sells for Sh500 per copy appears to be one of the few authoritative publications on the subject in Kenya so far.
Besides research, the writers of this book interviewed homosexuals, teachers, counsellors, lawyers, doctors, psychiatrists, writers, researchers, theologians, and members of most major Christian denominations–Anglican, Catholic, Coptic, Orthodox, African Instituted Churches–to find out their views on this subject.
The resounding conclusion is that African societies are inimical to homosexual tendencies because apart from upsetting the deeply entrenched values that have held society together, same sex unions do not lead to continuity. Consequently, homosexuality constitutes sexual deviance or perversion and is socially condemned, rendering practitioners vulnerable to societal stigmatisation.
From Africa’s more than 2,000 societies, an exclusively homosexual orientation may not be socially recognised while African traditional and religious systems neither condone nor approve of homosexual behaviour.
The book defines a homosexual as any one who in fantasy or reality habitually prefers sexual relations with a person of the same sex. Feelings alone, however, do not make one a homosexual.
Unless they are well socialised and guided on the proper use of sex, children could end up developing sexual deviance since pre-adolescents are commonly attracted to their own gender.
A domineering mother who ‘rules the home’ and ‘milk-toast’ father could lead children into sexual deviation.
Same Gender Unions disqualifies “gay unions” as marriage as the African concept of marriage is only between ‘a man and a woman’ and is meant for procreation.
From the indigenous African perspective, the passing on of life, viewed as the gift of the ancestral community, is through procreation. One lives forever through one’s offspring. Not to marry and procreate is seen as a negative and selfish stand, a stopping of one’s life that was given as a gift to be shared and passed on. Marriages in African societies continue beyond the grave unlike Western and Christian ones that end at death: “till death do us part.”
African tradition generally has not accepted homosexuality because of the strong link in African culture between sexuality and the giving of new life through procreation. Homosexuality is contrary to ‘essential’ and ‘sociological’ nature.
Although confusing notions like human rights, freedom of expression, and democracy pushed through the mass media are being bandied about in Africa, same gender sex still raises moral and social hairs on the mother continent whose largely conservative cultures are clashing with sexual liberation in an increasingly tolerant, post-modern world galloping headlong towards Westernisation.
Predictably, homosexuality is both a crime and taboo in most African countries and it is almost impossible to find any one who will readily and openly admit to being a homosexual here.
Saying homosexuality has always been associated with social extremes and crimes like drug abuse, blackmail and extortion, the book quotes University of Nairobi sociologist Ken Ouko as saying that homosexuality is a preserve of the well-to-do who use it to dehumanise and humiliate the poor; and that the practice perpetuates the gap between the rich and the poor. Whether by typology and causality, Ouko states, homosexuality remains socially digressive and spiritually nauseating.
But rather than appear as merely bashing gays and lesbians, Same Gender Unions calls for sympathy to homosexuals and lesbians. These people, it says, are human beings who need sympathy and understanding and not condemnation from their fellow human beings. It says society has a duty to develop mechanisms to help deviant members to break away from relationships like homosexuality that are unhealthy.
Same Gender Unions also tackles widow guardianship–what the uninitiated refer to derisively as widow inheritance–upon the death of a husband.
Although all the six writers of the book–Martha Mbuguss, Ogova Ondego, Oliver Simiyu, Zachariah Samita, Kiragu Wachira, Peterson Wang’ombe–may be experts in their field and where this is not the case thorough research has been carried out with experts, the various chapters needed to be harmonised to avoid repetition.
Some sources, for instance anthropologist Prof ABC Ocholla-Ayayo of the University of Nairobi, have been over-quoted as if they are the only ones with views to share.
Reading through the six chapters, one can’t help noticing that the writers used the same sources without ever checking to see what each one had written and thus resulting in confusing and often annoying redundancy.
Did the writers work as a team? But then the buck stops at the door of the editors who were duty-bound to read through what the writers had presented, summarise and harmonise it for the benefit of the reader.
Also, one may be forgiven for concluding that some writers ‘instead of tackling their chapters’ flew off tangent and became irrelevant. For example, why on earth would any one handling homosexuality have to present details on African marriage, divorce, or barren wives paying bride-wealth for younger women through whom they could have children when the said younger women related with men?
A reader may also feel it would have been better for the references to be presented at the end of the book instead of at the end of each chapter.