Friday, November 13, 2009

Did Someone Say 'Final Solution'?

I have read various articles about the proposal to carry out a 'gay census' in Kenya. But none of them shed any light on why the Kenyan government should suddenly be interested in identifying some of those most at risk of being infected with and of transmitting HIV. The best way to make gay people feel they are not being singled out is to make HIV and sexual health services available to all, without prejudice.

In fact, the proposal is not just to single out men who have sex with men (MSM). The proposal also aims to identify commercial sex workers (CSW) and intravenous drug users (IDU). That's hardly going to make members of these groups feel any better. They all have several things in common: they are all doing something considered to be illegal. They are also the subject of prejudice, discrimination and condemnation by political and religious leaders.

Men who have sex with men, commercial sex workers and intravenous drug users need access to sexual health services. They also need access to more general health services, the protection of the law from persecution by members of the public and by the police. But programmes involving what is often referred to as 'harm reduction' are not popular in Kenya. The possibility of decriminalising sex between people of the same gender, commercial sex work or even intravenous drug use is not even being discussed right now.

So what strikes me as most suspicious about the call to carry out this gay census, or census of people who are most at risk from HIV, is that it is being funded by the President's Emergency Plan for Aids Relief (PEPFAR). PEPFAR has always been vehemently opposed to harm reduction measures, such as the use of condoms, needle exchange programmes and other activities that are known to help reduce the spread of HIV and other diseases.

Why would PEPFAR now be interested in funding this particular approach? Are we supposed to believe that the initiative has changed to such an extent that harm reduction is no longer refused funding? And are we also supposed to believe that the Kenyan government has completely reconsidered its earlier views on gay sex, commercial sex work and intravenous drug use?

I suspect the motives behind PEPFAR's decision to fund any kind of 'survey' of some of the most vulnerable people in the country. I suspect the Kenyan government's motives, too. I have heard rumours that a number of powerful people in the US are not completely unrelated to Uganda's current discussions of an effective pogrom against gay people. This is not the way to reduce HIV transmission and it will have numerous other human rights consequences.

Unless many other things are in place that guarantee the safety of people affected by this proposed 'survey', and that will include people who don't actually fall into any of the targeted groups, the whole thing should be abandoned immediately.



George said...

So, who are those "... powerful people in the US ... not completely unrelated to Uganda's current discussions of an effective pogrom against gay people." Name and shame? Your insight and analysis has always seemed sharp. Can you draw the links (and keep your head)?

Simon said...

Hi George
The suspicion is mainly based on the fact that much of Ugandan spending on HIV/Aids, and that of most developing countries, comes from outside sources. Most of this funding is from the US or controlled by the US (World Bank, UN and others). Many of these sources of funding have been controlled by people who, for various reasons, ostensibly political, religious or moral, have long objected to harm reduction measures, whether they involve use of condoms, family planning, abortion, gender equality and rights, sex worker rights and others.

However, there is a suggestion that Bahati's anti-homosexuality bill in Uganda is supported by US right wing Christians in this article:

The way HIV/Aids funding and programmes have worked in Kenya makes me suspect the possible motives behind the Kenyan government suddenly deciding to approach men who have sex with men, commercial sex workers and intravenous drug users. To be frank, although there may be people with sincere intentions involved, I think the whole thing is a trick to expose people, persecute them and probably to use the fallout as a front for introducing laws like the Ugandan one.

The Kenyan and Ugandan governments are not suddenly free to make decisions about how to spend HIV/Aids funding, independently of what those who control the funding would like. It looks like each is trying out the good cop/bad cop options, but I think the same homophobia, misogyny and prejudice are behind both these sets of events.

Sorry, that doesn't amount to naming names, it's just a suspicion. But I wouldn't like to be one of the people who falls for the Kenyan 'survey' because I doubt if there is any person, body or law to protect those who do.