The use of music and the Internet as a tool of resistance in influencing popular culture away from hetero-conforming power structures in Kenya: Presented at the panel on Same Sex Sexualities and Intimacies in Contemporary Africa: Resistance and Change

European Conference on African Studies: University of Sorbonne, Paris France, 8-10 July 2015: The use of music and the Internet as a tool of resistance in influencing popular culture away from hetero-conforming power structures in Kenya: Presented at the panel on Same Sex Sexualities and Intimacies in Contemporary Africa: Resistance and Change

Sheena Gimase

The arts, in the form of music, dance, drama and theatre, have been and continue to be a safe site for queerness and gender non-conformity in East Africa generally and in Kenya more specifically. Music and the performing arts especially have been spaces where women and men can safely take on other gender roles, without the threat of being labelled as homosexual or gay. Sports, to a lesser extent, have also served as a safe social space, especially for women non-conforming to gender, whether or not they ascribe to a non-heteronormative sexual orientation or gender identity. Usually, outside the cross-gender performance in the arts, the actors are rarely required to explain their sexual orientation to the public. Often, when men publicly play the roles of women in various spaces, they display a caricature of femininity or being woman in the society. This is done deliberately by overstuffing a bra or panties to show disproportionate buttocks and breasts. Basically, society will allow these men to ‘pretend’ to be women because they are not fooling anyone. Popular thought leader and columnist Oyunga Pala shares:

Shaniqua, the alter ego of the talented Kevin Mwangi is not the first man to earn a living as a performer dressed in female clothing. Cross dressing for the purposes of entertainment has been alive and well in school theatre stage for decades. In mainstream Kenya, the pioneering duo of Nyengese who performed in public in downtown Nairobi to huge crowds, in late 90s wore skirts, make up, wigs and stuffed parts. The hilarious Redykyulass crew dressed as women on several occasions. Tony Njuguna pulled off a convincing Oprah Winfrey skit and John Kiare (KJ) did a mean Mama Lucy Kibaki impression. While drag is mostly associated with gay men and the gay culture, in Kenya cross dressing for entertainment is tolerated, which paints the country as more liberal than most dare admit. A man can walk around in a tight skirt and heels as long as he makes people laugh. After all, the point of comedy is to push our levels of comfort, take us to places we fear and laugh at our ironies and absurdities. In Shaniqua’s rise to prominence is another social revelation. Some women in the city have become so made up and addicted to enhanced parts that it is really easy for a man with patience to doll up and pass as a woman.” Oyunga Pala, Of Men Who Wear Dresses, March 2nd 2015

These conversations however have never spilled over to a space where men [mostly], who drag [perform gender] can talk honestly about whether they actually hold or have some kind of same-sex desire or non-heteronomative leanings and whether this performance in all its hyperbole offers a temporary reprieve from the constraints of gender performance.

Over the years, in East Africa, music has grown, actually exploded, with a multitude of new artistes emerging almost on a weekly basis. There are constant collaborations between Kenyan and Ugandan artists, who sing about a range of issues, from the economy, health issues, of course love as well as sex, sex, and more sex. The emergence of social media and other platforms such as YouTube and the Internet as a whole as game changers for the music industry have made it easier for young people, in fact more people to self-produce and publicise their own music and music videos. Along with YouTube are a host of easily accessible Opensource software, as well as affordable internet access and infrastructure in these two countries.

Without the need for airplay on public broadcasting and mainstream spaces to make their musical mark, more young, and not-so young people are using free, online, social platforms to create and publicise the kind of music that they want to make. This of course has seen the rise in the production of music videos and songs, as well as the emergence of music groups that bend gender, and often deliberately. Like in many other places, images, role plays and performances that depict same sex desire are used.

In almost all cases where same sex desire is depicted, it is shown as female-same sex desire, with two women dancing, kissing or touching each other. Same sex desire is never shown between two men in music videos. The permissiveness of the exhibition of same sex desire between women in music presents and problem, and a solution.

The Problem: is of course the objectification and commodification of same-sex desire between women, which is not seen as a legitimate desire by many people in Kenya. In a conversation with a young, butch identifying lesbian woman living in Nairobi, she said:

“It’s actually a safe space to be a young butch dyke here. Really it is. Because, everyone thinks this is a phase, ati let her try this lesbian thing for a while, and after a few months she’s going to get tired of the pretending and decide to go back to men. So, I just be me. But I worry when ten years later I don’t change back into a straight girl and people realise that this isn’t a phase.”-Rose

The women in the video that will show desire for each other, also show desire for the men in the music video. Whether this is done deliberately to show that the desires are balanced between the sexes or whether it was the script isn’t known. This allows women in the videos some leeway or safety in negotiating their performance in the world. But it also seeks to illustrate the ‘phase’ nature of same-sex desire among young women in Kenya that Rose spoke about. This further cements in the psyche of the audience that women who desire women, can and should also desire men.

The [sort-of-solution]: Another issue that emerges in popular music are lyrics and politely homophobic content. I use the term ‘Politely Homophobic’ because the content in music that others the same-sex desire is presented in an almost harmless way by the musicians. An example is a very popular song by Ugandan artiste Keko, featuring Kenyan rapper Madtraxx.   Make You Dance is a party and club anthem that was wildly popular in Uganda in 2012 and 2013. Keko, who is rumoured to be lesbian [because in the context of Uganda and Kenya they can only always be rumours]-is allowed the space to make and publicise her music, even though she allows a homophobic rhyme in her song where Madtraxx says ‘No Obama’ as a reference to the general and public rhetoric denouncing America’s stance on same-sex relationships and more recently, same sex marriage. As a woman that is not completely conforming in her gender identity and who has not tried to defend her presentation as lesbian in tabloid media, being a musician and an artist offers her the opportunity to participate in public life and even to work with musicians that have homophobic tendencies and undertones. Music, in this instance helps bridge perceptions, if we assume that the collaboration between Madtraxx and Keko can be perceived as tolerance on Madtraxx’s part of Keko’s non-conformity. Also reflecting this tolerance, is the popularity of the song across two countries that have rampant public intolerance for gender non-conformity and sexual diversity.

Apart from popular mainstream artists, 2014 saw the emergence of Kenya’s first lesbian music group, I AM. They identify themselves in all spaces as out lesbians who are passionate about music. Their music has received airplay in Kenya, as well as on Pride Radio in the UK. They made it to the top 5 on the Reverbnation charts as well. While their performances in Kenya are largely limited to LGBTI spaces, they still garner enough support and interest in their music to overshadow the fact that they are an all lesbian band.

An interview with a poet that writes for the group:

SgM: When was your proudest moment after I AM released How We Feel?

MM: I was walking down the street [in Nairobi], and I heard someone humming the tune to our song. I was so proud.

The arts, with the help of the Internet, and other forms of telecommunications have an invaluable contribution to encouraging and allowing queer expression in spaces where this kind of non-conformity is not welcome or allowed.



Walking the Tight Rope: An African LGBTI Anthology


Walking the Tight Rope: An African LGBTI Anthology

Call for Submissions in Prose and Photography

 Thanks to the high interest in the new African LGBTI Anthology and the engaging poems we received in our original call for submissions in poetry, we’ve decided to expand the focus of the anthology to include prose – more specifically short fiction and short (creative) lyric essays – and some photography.

As before, we encourage writers who identify as gay, lesbian, queer, bisexual, or transgender, living in Africa and first or second generation Africans living in the Diaspora (i.e. if you are African or one of your parents is African) to send their best work for consideration. Works will be chosen solely on merit.


We prefer works that are unpublished. All prose should be no more than 600 words (exceptions can be made in rare circumstances) and in English or English translations. All submissions in photography should be in either JPG or TIFF format.

We encourage writers to submit photography and prose addressing the following themes: 1) Relationships, 2) Body, 3) Self, and 4) (Re)Definition. Works addressing other themes will also be considered.

Since we have a good representation of Nigerian and South African writers, we especially encourage writers from other parts of Africa to submit their work. Also, we urge the use of pseudonyms where writers feel threatened.

Submissions should be sent through Submittable under African LGBTI Anthology.

Questions can be sent to Abayomi Animashaun via email at . Please include “African LGBTI Anthology” in the subject line.

Our deadline is April 15.

Solidarity Statement from the Coalition of African Lesbians with Ugandan LGBT on the Global Day of Action Against the proposed Anti-Homosexuality Bill

ProtestPicStatement of Solidarity with LGBT people of Uganda

Johannesburg – South Africa

10 February 2014

The Coalition of Africa Lesbians (CAL) and its allies condemn in the strongest terms the Ugandan parliament for passing the Anti-Homosexuality Bill (AHB). It is the responsibility of the Ugandan government to respect, promote, protect and fulfil all human rights of all people.  The passing of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill went ahead without quorum and in the absence of prior mandatory inclusion on the Parliament Order Paper.

The combination of the historical failure of the Ugandan government to respect, protect and promote human rights based on sexual orientation and gender identity and expression and the news of the passing of this Bill has had the effect of aggravating the human rights situation of people who are gender non-conforming and those who engage in same sex relations.  Already, reports indicate that since the passing of the Bill, there have been increased levels of violation and abuse of the rights of people who are gender non-conforming and those who engage in same sex relations in Uganda. If the President signs this Bill into law, the gains achieved towards the HIV prevention, treatment, care and support, access to health services and doctor-patient confidentiality, will all be eroded and eventually lost as people affected by the legislation will not seek services for fear of prosecution.

After the passing of the Bill, it was sent to President Museveni for signature, which would bring the Bill into force as an Act of Parliament.

Should the President sign the Bill, far reaching and wide ranging oppressions of many Ugandans will be legitimized:

•             The prohibition of consensual same sex acts between adults with a prescription of a penalty of life imprisonment for so-called repeat offenders

•             A requirement that  “persons in authority, including persons exercising religious or social authority, report offenses under the Act within twenty four hours or else face imprisonment for three years or a fine.”

Essentially, the Bill violates the rights of an already marginalized group as well as curtailing the rights of those who defend human rights related to sexual orientation and gender identity and expression.

Just one day before the Anti-Homosexuality Bill passed, the Ugandan parliament passed the controversial Anti-Pornography Bill purportedly as a means of curbing sexual crimes against women and children including rape, child molestation and incest. Instead, the law introduces serious constraints on the autonomy of women over their bodies and lives – outlaws particular forms of dress that are seen to encourage sexual excitement or any indecent act or behaviour tending to corrupt morals, among other things.

The Coalition of African Lesbians (CAL) urges President Museveni not to sign both bills and to act in accordance with the responsibility to protect all human rights of all people in keeping with the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights as well as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, both of which Uganda is party to. We further draw the attention of the President to the Statement by the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders in Africa, Mrs Reine Alapini-Gansou, where she warns in a statement issued on 5 February 2014, in reference to the recently passed Nigerian Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act, about the consequences laws such as these may have on sexual minorities who are already vulnerable as a result of social prejudice.

We further urge all states, the Ugandan National Human Rights Institution and the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights to

1.            Condemn the Anti-Homosexuality Bill of Uganda and the Anti-Pornography Bills

2.            Call for the immediate scrapping of the Bills

3.            Persuade the Ugandan President and government to establish and sustain a constructive human rights dialogue with groups of people affected by the legislation and who are gender non-conforming and those who engage in same sex relations and all women.

The Coalition of African Lesbians also calls on all artists, leaders and human rights defenders in Africa to publically denounce both Ugandan laws, the Nigerian law and any other national legislation along these lines.

 For more information, please contact Dawn Cavanagh


Landline:  +27-11-403 0004/7/114/158

Cell: 071 104 1718

Issued on behalf of Forum for the Empowerment of Women, Wits Youth Group, Uthingo, Vutha LGBT, Ekhuruleni Pride Organising Committee, Thusa Tshireletso, Trendsetters, Gay and Lesbian Memory in Action, Johannesburg People’s Pride, the One in Nine Campaign and the 30 organisational members of the Coalition of African Lesbians in 19 countries in Africa.




/* Style Definitions */
{mso-style-name:”Table Normal”;
mso-padding-alt:0cm 5.4pt 0cm 5.4pt;


CALL TO ACTION: 10th February 2014


Photo courtesy of

On 20th December 2013, The Lesbian and Gay Bisexual Transgender Community in Uganda woke up to the grim news that the Anti Homosexuality bill, which had been shelved at the end of 2012 had been passed by Parliament. The bill was passed without Quorum and without Prior mandatory inclusion on the Parliament Order Paper. The bill, if passed into law will be a disaster to the Human Rights of LGBT people, a disaster to public health and the fight against HIV/AIDS.
Recent reports in the national and International Media have indicated that the President ‘will not sign’ the bill and hence it is generally believed that the bill is no longer a threat.
We would like to reiterate that this bill is still a huge threat and a treasure to the majority of Ugandans.
It is also worth to note that the power of ascension of a bill doesn’t lay primarily with the President of Uganda. The Parliament of Uganda can also pass the bill into law!
The Constitution provides that the president shall within 30 days after a bill is presented to him/her either:-
• Assent to the bill
• Return the bill to parliament with a request that the bill or a particular provision of it be reconsidered by parliament; or
• Notify the speaker in writing about the decision
The bill may be reconsidered and then presented for the president’s approval. However it may become law without the president’s assent if he/she returns it to parliament two times. It should have the support of at least two-thirds of all MPs.

Why the Day of Action?
If we remain silent, we shall suffer at the hands of Ugandan leaders that have no respect for Human Rights! Silence will not protect us!! We need to speak out against Injustice; We need to speak out FOR Human Rights! We need to speak out against the Anti Homosexuality Bill. We need you to Let Uganda know, through this Day of Action, that the world is watching. We Must demand Justice and respect for Human Rights for all Ugandans.

Reach out to your family, your co-worker, your friend, your partner; Make sure they join you in speaking out for Human Rights.

Thanks You for the Solidarity!

Civil Society Coalition on Human Rights and Constitutional Law

First they came for the Jews. I was silent. I was not a Jew. Then they came for the Communists. I was silent. I was not a Communist. Then they came for the trade unionists. I was silent. I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for me. There was no one left to speak for me.Martin Niemoller

Report: Expanded Criminalisation of Homosexuality in Uganda: A Flawed Narrative [Empirical evidence and strategic alternatives from an African perspective]


Image courtesy of

Richard Dawkins once said that ‘Science replaces private prejudice with public, verifiable evidence.’ This was especially true, and necessary for sexuality and gender activists in Uganda, when they launched, and presented their report, Expanded Criminalisation of Homosexuality in Uganda: A Flawed Narrative [Empirical evidence and strategic alternatives from an African perspective. With Ugandan president only recently refusing to sign the proposed Anti-Homosexuality Bill, and calling for ‘scientific proof that homosexuality is not genetic’. Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) presented the President’s office with their report-which could not have come at a better time.

 The situation for homosexual, gender-non conforming and transgender people is precarious, and not just in Uganda, but all across the African continent. There have been increased reports of hate crimes targeted at people who are either perceived to be homosexual or people that publicly affirm their non-heterosexual orientation and identity. The attacks on these women and men in Africa are carried out systematically-by organs of the state that suppress people’s rights to access and live constitutionally guaranteed rights and freedoms; and also privately and in social and public places where members of the public intolerant and ignorant to other’s rights and freedoms, attack, assault, injure and in in cases, kill people. These hate crimes go unreported, uninvestigated and ultimately unsolved. State law enforcement machinery, for one, should be compelled to protect vulnerable citizens that are attacked for the crime of being different. But in Uganda, it appears, the police themselves are the aggressors, and using tip-offs from the public target Ugandan citizens perceived to be homosexual, and parade them in-front of media, thus subjecting them to even more humiliation.

 Anti-homosexuality propaganda is wrought with superstition, whole lies and myths. Without the proper information on different sexual orientations and gender identities, and rapidly shrinking spaces for having these conversations-the SMUG report has come at the right time, to help Ugandan lawmakers, members of government and the general public separate the chaff from the wheat-and have true, factual and scientific evidence.

This report uses scientific, historical, anthropological and comparative social data from other sub-Saharan African states to debunk the theories behind the Anti-Homosexuality Bill passed by Parliament as not only factually unfounded but also essentially un-African.

 Below is an outline of the findings of the report:

 i. Uganda’s own Human Rights Commission, in its Annual Report of 2009, indicated that the proposed law would violate Uganda’s international human rights treaty obligations and fail to address issues such as HIV prevention and coercive or forced sexual relations.

ii. Historical and anthropological evidence shows that same sex relationships existed throughout Africa, including in the territories that now make up Uganda, long before colonisation by Western powers.

iii. Current homophobic attitudes date from the colonial period and are strongest in those countries that were once part of the British Empire. Uganda’s laws criminalising homosexuality stem entirely from laws introduced by the British colonial administration in 1902 and 1950 in an attempt to counter what was seen at the time as dangerous sexual tendencies among Ugandans. Ubuntu (or ‘African humanism’) extends tolerance towards and acceptance of other sexualities, including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people. Consequently, it is more correct to see homophobia as alien to Africa rather than homosexuality.

iv. According to the widespread consensus of psychiatric and psychological bodies, same-sex attraction is not an alterable mental disorder.

v. Homosexuality does not affect the traditional Ugandan Family Unity. The two countries with the highest fertility and birth rates in the world do not criminalise homosexuality. Countries such as Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso and Congo, which have never criminalised homosexuality, do not have ever-increasing populations of gay men and lesbian women, and the traditional African family unit which forms part of their respective societies is alive and well.

vi. Incontrovertible scientific data, which has been acknowledged by various African and international figures, shows that the spread of HIV is actually facilitated by expanded criminalisation of homosexuality.

vii. Child sexual abuse will not be prevented by this bill banning sexual relations between two consenting adults. Instead, sex with minors, who are by definition under the age of consent, should be criminalised.

viii. Gay and lesbian people are not seeking special privileges or rights, they are simply seeking enforcement of the rights enjoyed by all Ugandans under the 1995 Constitution of Uganda.

Drawing on this data the report makes four recommendations as political and legislative alternatives to the Anti-Homosexuality Bill:

 a. Amend sexual offense laws to ensure offenses and sentences are gender neutral so all perpetrators can be brought to justice.

 b. Implement a system of mandatory reporting of suspected child abuse. c. Increase access to health services without discrimination

Download a copy of the report here.

Is Homosexuality Un-African?

homosexuality in africa

This conversation is a very chicken-and-egg kind of conversation. What are you first? An African? A woman? Or a lesbian? What identity do we value the most above all the ones that often lead to controversial conversations? This has been something that has always come up for me, even in the most social spaces-where my activism is questioned, and I am told that the fight for racial equality is bigger than the fight for gender equality. I am TOLD that I am first a black, African, woman-and everything else that attaches to this seemingly primary identity cannot have more importance. Like many other things in a patriarchal world, anything that is not supported by a predominantly male heterosexual majority, is quickly pushed to the back.

But my sexuality matters, always has and always will. And my sexuality is as important as my womanhood and my ”Africanness.

In an attempt to start a discussion about the homophobia in Africa-this clip of the World debate on whether homosexuality in  un-African. Participating in the conversation is Fikile Vilakazi, who was representing CAL.

Feel free to share with your friends and comment.


Sadly, when people look at people-people see what they wish to see. Some people see race, some people see class, some people see gender, and others see sexuality. At first glance we are all shoved into boxes that we either don’t want to belong to or we might not have known we belonged in. We too are guilty of putting people into these boxes-gender, class, race, sexuality, and anticipating the stereotypes that the boxes come with to be played out.

But lets imagine for one day that we looked beyond what we see. Let’s for one day imagine that people meet people, and see beyond the associated stereotypes that come with the boxes-and people are allowed to see and be MORE than everything that people see.

Imagine a world that sees MORE of what makes us the same, and less of what makes us different. A space that allows for MORE diversity and less intolerance. A political space that allows for MORE viewpoints, and opinions and less double-standards and politricks.

We are MORE than what we seem. MORE than what we think we are. MORE than we ever believed we could be.

What are YOU MORE than?