The Kenyan Parliament will decide tomorrow, 14 June, on the appointment of Dr Willy Mutunga and Nancy Baraza to that country's top judicial and public prosecutorial jobs. Both have a pro-gay history and that - plus Mutunga's earring - have led to an enormous fight between civil society and anti-gay forces, led by the Church. Mutunga supported the foundation of the Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya and Baraza is writing a PHD thesis on LGBT human rights.
In a 2003 interview with AFP, Mutunga said:
“I think the influence of religion in this country is very harmful. They don’t allow proper sex education in school; don’t allow condoms in a country with HIV/Aids. That kind of rubbish makes me very mad.”
However their appointments are not because they're pro-gay but because of their history as civil society and anti-corruption activists and are widely understood to be part of more general reforms in Kenya and aimed at 'cleaning up' the judiciary.
In hearings last week, MP after MP backed the appointments and harangued the church, telling them to 'stick to substantial issues that could affect the performance of the nominees'. Canon Peter Karanja, the general-secretary of the National Council of Churches of Kenya, has said that Mutunga and Baraza:
"have not indicated a commitment to the protection of family values and the right to life. Their appointment could lead to the constitutionalisation of immorality and murder of babies."
|Mutunga, as portrayed on |
one Kenyan blog
The nominations have been noticed by both US evangelical and Catholic groups. So their appointment and their near-unanimous political support in Kenya (as well as 78% approval in a public poll) would be a major blow for the project of taking the American cultural war to Africa.
In the hearings, broadcast live on Kenyan TV, Mutunga was forced to answer the question "are you gay?" (see NTV report above) following extensive speculation about his sexuality in the Kenyan media and by anti-gay forces.
"Let me say it straight up, I am not gay. However, I want to add here that I do not discriminate against the gay people," was Mutunga's answer to the question from MP Cecily Mbarire, a member of the Constitution Implementation Oversight Committee. He said the public should accept that homosexuality was a reality and mentioned that his nephew is gay.
"I'm not a lesbian. If I were a lesbian, there are some very good friends of mine in this room and I would have dated them," Baraza said amid laughter.
She also defended her activist background, saying:
"Activism is an attribute and it has taken us far. What has been lacking in the Judiciary is a drop of activism."
Asked why he wore an ear stud, Mutunga said he fitted the description of an African who was "notoriously religious" as defined by John S. Mbiti. "I practised traditional religion until ten years when I was baptized as a Protestant and named William Mutunga. I was later confirmed a Catholic and named William Jacob, before becoming Muslim and named Wale Mohamed," he said. Asked by Trade Minister Chirau Mwakwere to state under which religion he wore the stud, Mutunga replied, "All".
The Kenyan Muslim Human Rights Commission has said that while the organization supports Mutunga's appointment, they would hold private discussions with him to convince him that the ear stud was against the Muslim faith.
“Our religion clearly states that a man should not wear women costumes, or a woman wear male costumes, we will be holding private talks with him on this subject,” said acting director, Farouk Machanje.
The Mutunga Stud Debate: KTN TV
Mutunga has also been attacked by the church for his position on abortion. He told Parliament:
"If anybody feels I am going to interpret the law to that, then let them not give me the job. I don't see any law that will allow giving divorce and allowing abortion on demand."
Mutunga and Baraza have the President's support and are expected to receive near-unanimous support from Parliament tomorrow.