The gay Ethiopian health worker forced to flee to Kenya
To escape homophobia and persecution, Efi moved to Nairobi, where life remains far from easy
by: John Aglionby
Efi compares his move to Nairobi to Lady Gaga’s song “Mary Jane Holland”, although his life is drug-free and he is certainly not as “rich as piss”. The resonance is more about the song’s first verse: not being a “slave … the culture of the popular”, and being able to “fly under radar tonight/make deals with every devil in sight”. For this Ethiopian public health worker, in embracing his gay identity, made a deal with one of his country’s most abhorred cultural “devils”.
“When I was in Addis Ababa the Orthodox Church published this VCD
about homosexuality in Ethiopia,” the 25-year-old explains in the one-bedroom flat he shares with two friends in east Nairobi. “We were having coffee and a lot of relatives were in the house. When they saw it my aunt made a comment like, ‘If I find one of them, I will kill them’. I shrugged. Everyone said these are like western imported devils. If they know who I am, they will not accept me.”
Yet it was more than just family and cultural pressures that prompted Efi (not his real name) to flee Ethiopia for the Kenyan capital together with three gay friends in April last year.
As in many African countries, homosexuality is a criminal offence in Ethiopia. However, in contrast to places such as Kenya, where gay sex is yet to be decriminalised but the law is very rarely enforced, the Ethiopian government — one of the continent’s most authoritarian — uses antiterrorism legislation to imprison homosexuals for up to 20 years. In early 2015, in the run-up to Ethiopia’s general election in May, the government was cracking down on potential subversives.
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