History will be made across the African continent on Tuesday, 9th August, 2022 during the Kenyan General Elections as for the first time queer persons will observe the election process formally. Our team spoke to Emma Mengo, the Research and documentation Officer of Initiative for Equality and Non Discrimination (INEND) the organization behind #QueeringTheBallot.
A survey held in 2020 and experience with the Kenyan Queer community showed that queer people do not vote for one reason; the state does not recognize our existence. INEND carried out a two day workshop sensitizing Lesbian, Bisexual, Queer womn and Gender Non Conforming persons on civic education and voter education. Before we are queer we are citizens the country and it is our constitutional right to be a part of the election process. The #QueeringTheBallot initiatives officially begun in January 2022 and the first step was to identify a number of monitors who could help INEND to map out the trends especially during the campaigns. According to observations from previous campaigns in Kenya; like any other African country, campaigns are full of violence. Politicians usually play at the homophobia in the community and use minority groups to generate support from the church and conservative groups.
INEND partnered with three other organizations i.e. The National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission in Nairobi, Western Kenya LBQT Feminist Forum in Kisumu and Empowered Ladies for Equality in Busia. Together the organizations applied for accreditation of the observers they identified within the community and these observers were strictly LBQ womn or GNC persons. 3 out 4 of the organizations in the partnership were approved for observer status and the total number of approved observers is 46. The role of these observers will be to fill out monitoring tools that were already developed at the start of this year. The tool to be used on Election Day is intended to record the election process as it goes on, record any cases of violence and also record if they saw any openly queer people going to vote.
The four organizations in partnership launched the #QueeringTheBallot situation room on Friday, 5th August, 2022, whose major roles will be rapid response in terms of security issues, deal with any press conferences that may arise and an information sharing center. An online poll ran by INEND in June this year to find out if registered queer Kenyans were going to vote or not and what were the reasons. Most queer Kenyans stood by the grounds to not vote because they felt like as queer Kenyans the state couldn’t care less about their existence. Post the elections INEND and her partners intends to carry out another poll to assess the impact of the #QueeringTheBallot campaign and if more queer Kenyans changed their minds and participated in the elections.
Emma says she feels this will revolutionize the position of sexual and gender minority in the civic space as they have received a lot of questions on the how’s of a queer organization being accredited to observe a general election. INEND would like to give credit to the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IBEC) of Kenya because even as sexual and gender minorities, the board did not treat them as less human, once they followed the process as advised; they received their emails, invitations and badges like everyone else that applied. INEND would love to thank the members of the Kenya Magistrates and Judges Association who are part of the Friends of INEND project. These were also present at the launch of the situation room on Friday.
The African queer community congratulates INEND and her partners upon this great milestone. We are cheering you on and excited for the possibility of this rippling throughout Africa.
PS: To read more about #QueeringTheBallot, download the booklet below.