|THIS IS HOW THE HEART BEATS: LGBTQ EAST AFRICA |
BY JAKE NAUGHTON AND JACOB KUSHNER With texts by Jacob Kushner, a foreword by Ruth Muganzi, and an essay by Cynthia Ndikumana
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THE NEW PRESS / FEBRUARY 2020 Part of a groundbreaking series of photobooks about LGBTQ communities around the world, a moving portrait of a group of queer East Africans who face abuse and discrimination because of their gender identity. “This book is a celebration of diversity, of resilience, of love, of standing up to one’s oppressors, and overcoming. This is the LGBTQ community of Uganda. This is my community. This is our reality.” — activist Ruth Muganzi.
|Same-sex relations are illegal in thirty-two African countries. Most, including Kenya and Uganda, were former British colonies, and the legacy of the colonialists’ anti-gay legislation can be felt to this day. In 2014 Uganda introduced a so-called “kill the gays” law that sought to broaden the criminalization of same-sex relations, making it punishable by life imprisonment and, in some instances, death. In 2019 Uganda’s Minister of Ethics and Integrity called to introduce such a bill once again. This Is How the Heart Beats (The New Press, February 2020) by acclaimed photographer Jake Naughton and noted writer Jacob Kushner is a powerful and intimate series of portraits of LGBTQ Ugandans, Kenyans, and other East Africans. Some have decided to stay in their homeland despite the discrimination and abuse they face there. Others have fled as refugees, applying for resettlement to a part of the world where they will not be persecuted for who they love. Jake Naughton’s images in this compelling photobook chronicle the lives of an oppressed people from their darkest moments to more hopeful ones, following them as they navigate an uncertain future. In a world with more refugees than ever before, and at a time when prejudice toward refugees runs high across the globe, this work illuminates the stakes for one group at the center of it all. The book includes supporting texts by Jacob Kushner, a foreword by Ugandan queer activist Ruth Muganzi, and an essay by Cynthia Ndikumana, a transgender activist from Burundi. Here are some story highlights from This Is How the Heart Beats:|
Left: Javan is a transgender woman near her home in Kampala. Javan spent six months as a refugee in Kenya after falling out with her family over her gender identity. She returned to Uganda and has since reconciled with her family. Since coming home, Javan has been arrested and abused a number of times and at one point beaten and stripped naked by an angry mob who forced her to walk home naked while they chanted “She’s a homo.” Center: Pamela at her grandfather’s house. A lesbian, she is out to her mom, who is supportive, a rarity in present-day Uganda. Right: Raj, a gay refugee from Uganda, in a park in downtown Nairobi. Since this photograph was taken, he has been resettled in the United States.
Left: Ricky, Isaac, and Sharp, three transgender men pictured left to right, during an outreach event for a local LGBTQ organization in Bugema, a village near Mbale, Uganda. Right: Despite their challenges, Isaac a transgender male, and his partner Irene, a lesbian, had been determined to be a family and provide a counterpoint to the commonly held ideas of what it meant to be an LGBTQ couple. Their house was full of warmth and love. Since the taking of this photograph, the couple has parted ways.
Left: Vinka, Hajjati, and Shamin, three young transgender women pictured left to right, at Icebreakers Uganda. Right: Club Envy, a dance club in downtown Nairobi that was known, at the time, as being a semi-safe place for the LGBTQ community to dance openly. In his closing text, Jacob Kushner reveals that only a small percentage of queer East Africans who apply to resettle in the West are ultimately successful. “Even the very few who win a ticket to a new life will usually have to wait several years before they are authorized to leave. ‘Most of the population of Kakuma will be here for life,’ a Belgian refugee worker for the UNHCR told me. The result is that the collection of huts where many of the LGBTQ Ugandans live has begun to feel permanent.” Activist Cynthia Ndikumana urges East Africans to persevere: “I want to tell all LGBTQ people-the people in Burundi, in Kenya, in the Kakuma Refugee Camp, in all of Africa-to be strong, to never give up. It can be a long and difficult process getting out of the country and finding a place of safety, but there are good, kind people along the way who will help you-in my case, people I can’t thank enough for all they did for me. And now I am here and I am safe.”
About the Contributors: JAKE NAUGHTON is a photographer focusing on queer identity in the present moment. He has been published by The New York Times, Time, Vice, Wired, and others. His first monograph, When We Were Strangers, an up-close look at queer love co-authored with his partner, Juan Anibal Sosa Iglesias, was published in 2019. JACOB KUSHNER is a journalist whose work has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Harper’s Magazine, The Atlantic, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Foreign Policy, The Guardian, among other outlets. He reports on migration and human rights in East Africa, the Caribbean, and Germany. RUTH MUGANZI is a lesbian activist and programs director for Kuchu Times, the only LGBTQ media outlet in Uganda. CYNTHIA NDIKUMANA is a transgender activist from Burundi, where he founded the LGBTQ organization Rainbow before being forced to flee to Kenya. He eventually obtained asylum and was resettled in the United States.
Book Details: The New Press, Paperback. ISBN: 978-1-62097-488-98 x 10, 152 pages. List Price: $21.99 (US). Media Contact: Andrea Smith / Andrea Smith Public RelationsCell: +1 646-220-5950 Email: email@example.com
MOMBASA, Kenya—In 2007, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation said it was committed to eradicating malaria across the globe. By then, it was late to the game.
That year, Chinese scientists working with a Chinese philanthropist and his company, New South, had already begun eradicating malaria from the small African nation of Comoros. Now they’re setting their sights on a more ambitious location: Kenya, the East African nation of nearly 50 million people.
As Western donors garner headlines for funding expensive, experimental malaria interventions, Chinese researchers are undertaking a far more tested approach. Read the full story at The Atlantic.
PODCAST: Listen to Jacob, Qian Sun and Anthony Langat discuss China’s anti-malaria initiatives in Africa on the China Africa Podcast.
Activists argue it is homophobia, not homosexuality, that has been imported from the West.
Same-sex relationships are not new to Africa. A century ago, it was not uncommon for a woman of the Igbo tribe in present-day Nigeria to marry another woman and cohabit. Similar women-to-women marriages have been documented in at least 30 different tribes across the African continent. Men of the Maale tribe in Ethiopia would sometimes have sex with other men.
But when Britain colonized large swaths of Africa in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, it imposed penal codes that punished actions “against the order of nature”—code for homosexual acts—with up to 14 years in prison. These would become the first anti-gay laws on the continent, laws that are now being targeted by African LGBTQ-rights activists who argue that homophobia, not homosexuality, was an import from the West.
That effort suffered a setback this week, as Kenya’s High Court unanimously ruled that the country’s own British-era penal code against unnatural acts, adopted into law at Kenya’s 1963 independence, does not violate the country’s 2010 constitution.
The law in question is a colonial-era ban on “carnal knowledge against the order of nature” is part of the penal code in dozens of former British colonies. Many of them are former British colonies with the exact same law on the books.
The activists who brought the case contend that the law is used to exploit and extort, and that it is used to justify discrimination against LGBT people. Opponents have said they will consider alternative measures if the law is overturned, including, potentially a referendum.
From conversations with a twenty-eight-year-old Kenyan refugee named Lucas. Since 2017 he has been living in Kampala, Uganda, where he fled after escaping from Kenyan police, who had kidnapped him for being gay. After Uganda passed what became known as the “kill the gays” bill, which was signed into law in 2014, hundreds of LGBT Ugandans began fleeing across the border to Kenya, where they lived in hiding while applying for asylum—but a few Kenyans, like Lucas, fled in the other direction.
Homosexuality is illegal in both countries. When the British colonized East Africa, they introduced penal codes criminalizing acts that were “against the order of nature,” which included homosexuality. Those codes remained on the books in countries like Kenya and Uganda even after they received independence. On May 24, Kenya’s High Court is expected to rule on whether those penal codes violate the nation’s new, progressive constitution.
Like Kenya, Uganda is conservative when it comes to gay rights. “In these countries, religion is really impacting on a lot of things. We have the Islam and the Christianity, which outlaw these acts,” says Lucas. “Uganda, I knew that there’s a law there, too. But I didn’t know the extent to which it’s really deeply rooted, to the citizens there.”
Born in Nyanza province in Western Kenya, close to the Ugandan border, Lucas corresponded from Kampala, where he was moving between different apartments and friends’ houses, about his life as an undocumented refugee and his attempts to apply for resettlement abroad.
Read the Oral History at Harper’s Magazine.
On a recent Friday, gay and lesbian couples, dressed in matching outfits, posed for photos outside of a Nairobi courthouse, in anticipation of a decision that they hoped would decriminalize gay sex in Kenya.
The country’s penal code punishes acts “against the order of nature”—usually interpreted as sex between men—with up to fourteen years in prison. It also prescribes up to five years in prison for “gross indecency with another male person,” which is often interpreted as other, undefined sexual acts between men. Worldwide, at least seventy nations—more than a third of all countries—still outlaw homosexuality, and it remains illegal in more than thirty of the fifty-four African countries.
After Kenya’s independence, these codes appear to have gone largely unenforced. For decades, homosexuality wasn’t widely talked about, Njeri Gateru, the director of the National Gay & Lesbian Human Rights Commission, one of the gay-rights groups litigating the case, told me. In the nineteen-nineties, when she was growing up in northeastern Kenya, “there was no name for a gay person,” she said. “There was also no name for a heterosexual. There was no separation. Nobody was speaking about it at all—there weren’t even the words for it.”
By the late two-thousands, religious leaders across East Africa had begun publicly denouncing homosexuality—sometimes with the encouragement of American missionaries. According to a Pew survey in 2013, ninety per cent of Kenyan respondents said that society should not accept homosexuality. Since homosexuality remains illegal under the penal code, family members and neighbors sometimes report suspected homosexuals to the police. The Kenyan government claims that, between 2010 and 2014, nearly six hundred people were criminally investigated under the unnatural-offenses penal code.
In 2016, L.G.B.T. activists looking for a way to curb discrimination began targeting the laws that criminalized homosexuality. Changing a society’s values would take generations, they reasoned, but striking down an unjust law could be accomplished in just a few years.
Read the full story at The New Yorker.
Bridge International Academies was conceived in 2007 to be the McDonald’s of global education, promising to better educate poor students using Nooks and standardized curriculums for as little as $6 to $7 a month. Using tablets and standardized curriculums in each country, Bridge operates more than 520 schools, teaching some 100,000 students in Uganda, Kenya, Liberia, Nigeria and India. It’s currently expanding in Asia with dreams of reaching an ambitious 10 million students across the world by 2025.
But Some African parents may be uneasy about the idea of a western-conceived company disrupting something they hold so dear: control over their children’s education. Bridge threatens to globalize—or perhaps, to westernize—the sector on which many Africans bank their families’ futures.
Read the full story at Columbia Global Reports.
Just a few years ago, Uganda, a calm East African nation of 41 million people, became known as the most antigay country in the world. Homophobic American evangelicals teamed up with Ugandan politicians and religious figures to warn against the impending global gay agenda. To keep the gays at bay, they claimed, Uganda needed stricter punishments. Fourteen years in prison—the maximum penalty for acts of homosexuality—was not enough. Under the 2014 Anti-Homosexuality Act, the original draft of which proposed the death penalty for “aggravated homosexuality,” sodomizers and anyone caught harboring them could be locked up for life. Although the legislation was overturned after only six months, the anti-LGBTQ sentiments that arose alongside it linger on.
Living in Kampala, the nation’s capital and home to 1.5 million people, turned into a nightmare for gay, lesbian and transgender Ugandans, some of whom were beaten and stripped in the streets, chased by angry mobs or jailed.
But you wouldn’t guess that from the relaxed atmosphere at Cayenne on Kampala’s north side. Few people seem to notice the transgender woman dancing by the pool, and if they do, they don’t seem to care.
Dressed in knee-length shorts and a loose light blue polo, Javan is tall and has a face that’s hard to read, punctuated by a small stud on the left side of her nose. She moves her elbows and shoulders like most men but her hips like most women. When the DJ plays “What’s Luv,” I start singing the Ashanti part of the chorus, and Javan sings the Fat Joe part. When I ask her how she knows the lyrics, she replies, “My dad loves old school.”
Javan is just 20 years old—young enough to think of Fat Joe as old school. She belongs to a generation of queer Ugandans barely old enough to remember when the antigay fever first erupted here, in 2009. Earlier in the week when I’d suggested we go to Arrival Lounge, a popular gay bar in town, she rolled her eyes. “Arrival? It’s fake. The vibes aren’t good.” She told me to meet her at Cayenne instead.
To be queer in Uganda today is to experience a jarring dissonance. By night you may feel safe dancing in a bar with your friends, but by day you may be attacked by a mob, as Javan was last year. It was shortly after that attack, in February 2016, that she joined hundreds of other LGBTQ Ugandans fleeing across the border to Kenya to escape their neighbors, their families and the police.
But just six months after arriving in Kenya, Javan made an unlikely decision: She chose to come back. No matter that her father had all but disowned her, ceasing to pay her university fees and refusing to see her. Javan returned to prove herself as a woman to her fellow Ugandans, her family and above all her father.
On the trail of police who stormed a village, burned down homes, stole livestock – and murdered an 80-year-old man.
One May afternoon along a dirt road in a remote swath of Kenya’s Baringo County lay the remains of an elderly man. Wild animals had eaten his flesh, torn off some of his limbs, and dragged his body – now mostly bones. A purple shawl and a yellow football jersey clung to the skeleton.
Witnesses say nine days earlier, several truckloads of police officers raided their village, burning their huts and stealing their goats. Officers then threw rocks at the elderly man who had tried to escape. They loaded him onto a truck, dumped him by the side of the road and shot him.
Reporting by Al Jazeera corroborates witnesses’ accounts that on May 9, Kenyan police murdered 80-year-old Ekurio Mugeluk and left his body to the wild.
Cornelius said the drive to Arabal would take an hour, but it’s been more like three. Already a full day’s journey from Nairobi, we chanced that by dark we could reach the Arabal river and make it back to the town of Marigat to sleep. But now the sun is inching westward and our car is running out of gas.
This isn’t a place you want to be stranded for the night. Baringo County is in the midst of a war over livestock. A severe drought has forced Pokot herders to drive their cows and goats from the dry flatlands up into the beautiful mountains above Lake Baringo in search of grass. But this land is inhabited by Tugen, and the Tugen are struggling to feed their own livestock as it is.
In central Kenya, grass and vegetation can be a matter of life and death, and not just for the animals. Pastoralists depend upon milk and meat for their livelihoods. Deprived of that income, entire communities can become food insecure. For many families, livestock are their only assets: they have no bank accounts, no land to farm.
Combine those stakes with the fact that experts believe there are 530,000 to 680,000 guns in circulation among civilians in Kenya. Guns have long been traded across Kenya’s porous border with Somalia, but some have recently been traced to Uganda and South Sudan. Most herders who carry them do so for self-defense—to protect their animals from raiders. But others use them to raid.
Some of the Pokot who have crossed into the administrative region of Arabal this year fall into the latter category. Since the drought began late last year, there have been dozens of shootouts between Tugen, Pokot, and the police. Thousands of heads of livestock have been stolen, though just how many thousands is anyone’s guess.
Survivors of these shootouts speak of the Pokot as if they were immune to bullets, as if they were sharpshooters who never missed, as if their ammunition were infinite. But survivors are hard to find.
Read the feature story at Roads & Kingdoms. Reported with Anthony Langat, photos by Will Swanson.