Let’s discard prejudice against those we deem to be different

Gay rights activist Edwin Chiloba has been brutally murdered. Our opinions will filter his death as a hate-crime, grim murder or another example of a state that failed to protect its own citizens.

Ultimately, only criminal investigators will pinpoint by who and why Edwin was killed. The broader context however is not so vague.

Kenya has centuries of discrimination and violence embedded in its soil. So much so, we tell our children, one of the three main colours in our flag honours our bloody history.

Colonialism was not a civilising mission, the veterans would tell us. It was a dismembering, dehumanising and operation that sought to divide and disorient us. The scars it left, go deeper than the marks on bodies of the former Mau Mau who still live among us.

These scars are the source of the sexism, ableism, and homophobia that we currently experience 60 years after the colonialists ceded political power to the nationalist leadership in 1963. Colonialism is not responsible however for the perpetuation of discrimination and violence today. For this, we must look more closely at our own mindset and behaviour as citizens and the character of the state that governs us.

We have normalised prejudice, stigma, and violence. Most of us think nothing of blaming victims when they are subjected to body shaming, sharing of intimate photos or touching on public matatus without consent. This privacy bar overlooked, some do not even think groping complete strangers, grades, jobs or favours for sex, raping dates or married spouses is wrong. In fact, these stories are told for amusement.

In so doing, we mix the drama of the reality television shows with everyday horror experiences for millions. Sexism, ableism and homophobia have one common thread. This thread is the desire to destroy the autonomy and independence of human beings we think are different from us.

Some men fear and loathe independent women. The idea that they could not be entitled to women’s bodies and be rejected is deeply troubling. Heterosexual persons desperately and vainly cannot understand the idea that love, marriage and family choices could be different for others. Abled people ignore and scorn those who think, move, see, or don’t see in the ways they do.

In the last few weeks, the lives of male baby Sagini, Karatina University female student Phyllis Jepleting and queer Edwin Chiloba of Eldoret have been ripped apart.

We can make no comparison in terms of the counties they came from. Neither their age, class, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, life aspirations or experiences are similar. Three different human beings yet, the discrimination and violence are horrifically similar.

We must actively disrupt the normalisation of prejudice and pain in all our spaces. Until we succeed, it doesn’t matter whether you are an infant, student, or fashion designer, old or young, rich or poor, generations of prejudice will visit those around us with vengeance.

As mass conflict experts tell us, it is those micro-aggressions, the isolated incidents and the quiet trends that grow into the tornados of gang rape, genocide, and outright war.

All human beings are born free and fully self-expressed. The rest of our lives are dedicated to expanding this freedom. Being independently in control of our life-choices and safe in our relationships with others, is key to this.

Our Constitution is built around these foundational ideas. Article 26 upholds the right of everyone to dignity, respect, and protection.

Our 47+1 governments are obligated to protect these freedoms for all. As investigators secure the crime-scene, gather forensic evidence, interview the witnesses, and assemble the cases against killers of student Phyllis and designer Edwin, let them devote the same level of professionalism. Both our laws and our victory over colonialism demands as much.

We must also demand speedy investigations into the brutal murder of these very different but equal human beings. Then perhaps, one day we can strike the red from our flag.

First published in The Standard on 07th January 2023. Kindly reproduced here with permission from The Standard.

Irũngũ Houghton is Amnesty International Kenya Executive Director and writes in his personal capacity. Email: [email protected]