Friday, October 8, 2010

A Vote For Minister Murugi is a Vote for Human Rights

There are senior people who still hold powerful positions, despite facing trial in the International Criminal Court; there are some who have stolen money intended for internally displaced persons; others who have stolen food intended for the starving. Education, health and infrastructure funds have gone missing, having passed through the hads of the most powerful leaders in Kenya. Yet calls for the resignation of these powerful individuals are rarely heard.

But one minister calls for greater acceptance of gays by society and religious leaders want her to resign. The part that religious leaders have played in various scandals in Kenya is often quite unclear and it is alarming to hear that when someone in authority advocates greater tolerance, it is religious leaders who protest the loudest. Condemnation precludes the tolerance that they only seem to preach when it suits them.

The word 'promote' is often used in these contexts. In this instance, Minister Murugi is said to be promoting 'un-African' acts. Do people think the minister is recommending that everyone should try having sex with someone of the same gender? If the minister is promoting anything, it is that people accept that there are others who are different from them. And you don't have to be gay to be different. Difference can refer to gender, tribe, religion, politics, wealth and much else.

And there is another message I am hoping Ms Murugi would like to spread and that is the message of thinking independently. Since when have churches and religious leaders adequately represented the interests of ordinary people? Religious leaders are apart from ordinary people, they are often rich, pampered, treated with deference and hold themselves aloof from everyone else. Ordinary people need to get by on their own resources, or what's left after the religious leaders have got their share.

Kenyans pay dearly with their hard earned cash, and in countless other ways, to keep religious leaders comfortable. But these religious leaders are not in those comfortable positions so that they can tell people how to live their lives. They are, from an ethical point of view, on a level with other people. Some may fall far below, some may live admirable lives. But it is not their place to judge, nor to command, only to advise, support and nurture.

This may even be a good time to renegotiate, or at least reconsider, the role that religious leaders play in people's lives and in the running of their country.

Minister Murugi has done what she was elected to do. What would people prefer? That they sack her and replace her with someone else, who will usurp a role of arbiter of good behavior and executioner of punishments for those who fall out of line? It's almost as if Kenyans want leaders who behave as they wish to but expect their electorate always to fall in line and never, never criticize what their leaders may get up to.

The current situation leads to a lot of fear, violence and discrimination. Is that what Kenyans want? There are few leaders in this country who have made any change for the better and, I agree, change for the better is difficult. But Minister Murungi has tried to make a change that might, eventually, make things better for a very significant minority. And in standing up for one minority, a precedent will have been set for other minorities. Causes that once seemed lost may be won, in time.

Every Kenyan should be calling for Minister Murugi to hold firm in her advocacy of greater acceptance of gays in society. People should be telling their religious leaders that they are overstepping their authority. Indeed, they are perverting their authority by failing to uphold tolerance and instead, spreading intolerance and possibly fanning violence and crime. Every Kenyan stands to gain from greater tolerance. Nor need one be gay to benefit from recognition of the legitimacy of difference, whether that difference be sexual, racial, political or anything else.


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