Wednesday February 9 2011

There are ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ reasons to kill gay activist Kato

By Charles Onyango-Obbo

This article is likely to upset, so if you are thin-skinned, don’t read it. According to the Uganda Police, Sydney Nsubuga has confessed to killing Ugandan gay rights activist David Kato in his home in Mukono last week. Nsubuga had, according to the story, been having an affair with Kato and killed him in anger when the latter failed to give him the glittering presents he had promised.

Many don’t believe that account. First, because of the Uganda government’s rabid anti-gay views. Second, because a gay-hating tabloid called Rolling Stone was allowed to publish names of alleged gays or their supporters and call for them to be hanged, until a court stopped it. The government wasn’t going to lift a finger. In fact, it was suspected that some homophobic elements in the state might have been secret backers of Rolling Stone.

Because of this, the prevalent view in most of the international media is that Kato was assassinated for his gay activism. Even US President Barack Obama doesn’t seem to fully believe that there was nothing sinister.

However, in all this those who support gay rights and believe that Kato was assassinated, and the homophobes who think he was the Devil and Nsubuga was doing God’s work in allegedly killing him, are the same in several respects.

Some of the gay rights supporters don’t want to consider that Kato died in a normal lover’s quarrel that got out of hand because, privately, they probably don’t believe that a homosexual relationship is emotive enough to kill over.

And the anti-gays folks think it is unnatural. That gays should be got rid, or that we pray to God to turn their sexual orientation in the “right” direction. Both the pro and anti forces, therefore, don’t think that gay love is normal.

If, particularly those who support gay rights, saw it as equal to a heterosexual relationship then they would treat it as such (the specific hostile environment that Kato worked and lived in notwithstanding). Kato’s death demonstrates the complex situations that progressives on many issues in Africa face, and why the general state of our individual freedoms and rights are in such a shameful state.

Most social progressives who are parents, for example, would rather give away their daughters at a colourful wedding, and spend the last years of their lives spoiling their grandchildren. They might live with their children being gay, but only as a second, not first, choice.

In most traditional (and modern) societies, we are inclined to be more committed to our children, than those of other men or women. In many of our societies in years gone by, when a man married a woman when she was pregnant with another bloke’s child – or she went behind him and got a child from a hunk in the neighbourhood – the tradition was to kill the child, especially if it were a boy. One misty morning the boy would be sent to the well, alone. Some village strongmen would waylay and strangle him, and bury him secretly. It is a practice that, I read, is still practiced in some parts of Africa.

Its distorting effects are evident in Kenya today where at an orphanage of 100 children, you will find less than 10 girls! Why? Because, even fellows who are child rights activists, fear that boys are problematic when they grow up. They can easily murder you for your property. Girls, well, if push came to shove, you can marry them off. Or they can become harmless prostitutes. However, the boys could turn into dangerous robbers.

These strange things thrive because men, even those with good hearts, care more for their children than other men’s. The women live with these dark secret first, because there is a part of them that accepts that an “illegitimate” child has fewer rights. Secondly, because in the past the power equation did not give them voice to protest.

We see it in politics today. We are less willing to oppose a despotic president if he is from our district, or if we are directly benefiting from his rule because we see him as one of us. However, if he carries on exactly the same set of policies and repression but we happen not to be from his district, we are more likely to see him as a corrupt dictator.

For many gay rights people, it is easier to see Kato as a martyr, a hero for a greater cause. It not as easy to see his relationship with Nsubuga as being on par with that of a Tom who loves Mary, marry, live happily, until one day one of them kills the other in a jealous rage.

So, here comes the hard part. It is possible Kato was murdered by the anti-gay brigade. The Uganda Police is not famous for its great investigative skills, so any time they quickly parade suspects who confess to a crime, the public has every right to be suspicious that the whole show has been fixed.

Still, it would be better if it turned out that Kato was actually murdered by a heart-broken Nsubuga or whoever. Because then he would have been killed for love, not politics.