President Obama calls out Kenya on LGBT rights, corruption

No one tells the President of the United States what to do.

Visiting Kenya over the weekend, President Obama — over warnings and objections and a naked protest — called out the country’s government for its shoddy record on human rights for its LGBT and female populations.

During the run-up to his visit, Kenyan elected officials warned Obama that if he spoke out in favor of LGBT rights, he would face all manner of negative reactions. He would be ejected from Kenya’s parliament. The country would refuse the foreign aid it receives from the United States. But Obama called their bluff, and was (unsurprisingly) allowed to stick around. No word on whether the country is sending our money back, but I doubt it.

Here are Obama’s full remarks from Saturday, with the video queued up for his specific remarks on LGBT rights:

Said Obama:

With respect to the rights of gays and lesbians: I’ve been consistent all across Africa on this. I believe in the principle of treating people equally under the law; that they are deserving of equal protection under the law, and that the state should not discriminate against people based on their sexual orientation. And I say that recognizing that there may be people who have different religious or cultural beliefs, but the issue is how does the state operate relative to people.

If you look at the history of countries around the world, when you start treating people differently — not because of any harm they’re doing anybody, but because they’re different — that’s the path whereby freedoms begin to erode. Bad things happen. And when a government gets in the habit of treating people differently, those habits can spread.

And as an African-American in the United States, I am painfully aware of the history of what happens when people are treated differently under the law, and there were all sorts of rationalizations that were provided by the power structure for decades in the United States — for segregation and Jim Crow and slavery — and they were wrong. So I’m unequivocal on this. Somebody is a law-abiding citizen who is going about their business and working in a job and obeying the traffic signs and doing all the other things that good citizens are supposed to do, and not harming anybody; the idea that they’re going to be treated differently or abused because of who they love is wrong. Full stop.

And the state does not need to weigh in on religious doctrine. The state just has to say, “We’re gonna treat everybody equally under the law,” and everybody else can have their own opinions.

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta responded to Obama in the joint press conference by calling LGBT rights a “non-issue” that should be addressed only after the country had tackled other, more pressing issues such as terrorism, health, education and economic development. In other words, the issue shouldn’t be addressed at all. Visibly uncomfortable being asked to addressed human rights concerns after being called out by the President of the United States, Kenyatta bristled at the concept of “imposing” American culture on Kenya by asking them to embrace LGBT rights.

President Obama speaks in Kenya, screenshot via YouTube

President Obama speaks in Kenya, screenshot via YouTube

President Obama did laud Kenya’s newly adopted constitution, which contains what Obama called “progressive” articulations of human rights, while encouraging Kenyatta to, you know, enforce those rights.

Kenya has been cited by Human Rights Watch as having a far from rosy record, with reports of “extrajudicial killings, arbitrary detentions and torture” that have not been addressed in recent years. Homosexuality remains criminalized in the country, while a bill that would increase the penalty to life in prison — with the death penalty for gay foreigners — has been introduced in Kenya’s legislature.

It’d be easy to cite Kenya’s anti-LGBT policies as simply a difference of culture, as President Kenyatta did, but to the extent that you can simplify it, that analysis is backwards. The virulent anti-gay culture in the country — and even the language used to classify sexual orientation — is in many respects an American export. Faced with decreasing support in the United States, Christian missionaries have taken their talents to Africa, specifically Kenya, bringing a Western brand of hatred to the country and continent.

Going beyond human rights, President Obama noted that cracking down on government corruption would likely accelerate the economic development President Kenyatta said he was so eager to cultivate. As Obama advised:

This may be the biggest impediment to Kenya growing even faster, and more people having even more opportunity. The fact that doing business, and ordinary people just moving along in their lives here, is constantly sapped by corruption at a high level and at a low level. International businesses are concerned if the price of investing in Kenya is 5 percent or 10 percent going to some place that doesn’t have to do with the project. It’s just a math issue.

Obama cited his hometown of Chicago’s struggle to overcome corruption as an example for Kenya to emulate.

Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

Share This Post

© 2021 AMERICAblog Media, LLC. All rights reserved. · Entries RSS