Binyavanga Wainaina, one of Africa’s best-known authors and gay rights activists, has died in Nairobi after a short illness. He was 48.
Wainaina won the 2002 Caine prize for African writing. Credited with founding the literary magazine and collective Kwani? and advancing the fight for LGBTQ rights in Africa, he made headlines around the world in 2014, when he responded to a wave of anti-gay laws around the continent by publicly outing himself in a short essay, published to mark his 43rd birthday.
He also revealed he was HIV positive. Calling it the “lost chapter” of his 2011 memoir “One Day I Will Write About This Place”, the essay “I Am a Homosexual, Mum” reimagined the last days of his mother’s life, in which he went to her deathbed and told her the truth about his sexuality.
After Wainaina came out, Time magazine in 2014 named him one of its 100 most influential people, with Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie praising him for having “demystified and humanized homosexuality” after the death of a Kenyan friend, whose family were prevented from holding a church memorial.
Wainaina was also known for his biting essay How to Write About Africa, which included the advice: “Always use the word ‘Africa’ or ‘Darkness’ or ‘Safari’ in your title.
Ironically, this week in a unanimous ruling by a three-judge panel of the court, a Kenyan High Court upheld the criminalization of gay sex. “A sad day for the rule of law and human rights,” said Eric Gitari, a co-founder of the National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, a Kenyan civil rights group, who was one of the petitioners in the case. “We expect that the court of appeal will overturn this erroneous decision which in our view is very biased,” Gitari told reporters.
Téa Braun, director of the Human Dignity Trust, an international gay rights advocacy group, noted in a statement that Kenya’s constitution guarantees human dignity and freedom from discrimination.
“Yet in handing down this disappointing judgment, the court has ruled that a certain sector of society is undeserving of those rights,” she said.
The judges’ ruling was, however, welcomed by religious groups. Some of them clapped and thanked the judges.
The three judges said that while they respected changes to laws banning gay sex in other countries, it was the court’s duty to respect prevailing Kenyan values.
Many African countries still enforce strict laws governing homosexuality, in most cases a legacy of laws imposed by the colonial rulers.