If elected to the Kenyan senate, Mbote, 40, would be Africa’s only openly homosexual black man to hold national office, according to the Kaleidoscope Trust, a non-profit organisation focusing on gay rights.
However a cabinet minister warned of a “revolt’ if Mbote were elected, a clear sign that attitudes towards the gay community in Kenya, reflected across much of Africa, remain vehemently anti-gay.
“It’s not a vote-getter,” said Mbote, a prominent gay rights activist who is seeking a senate seat in Kiambu County, which neighbours the capital. “If anything, you say you hate gay people to get votes,” he told Reuters.
Homosexuality is illegal in most African countries and same-sex relationships are often seen as a Western fad and an affront to traditional African culture and moral values. Under Kenyan law, homosexual acts are punishable by up to 14 years in prison, but police say they would have to catch someone in the act to prosecute successfully.
When Uganda and Malawi tried to introduce tough anti-homosexuality laws, outraged Western donors threatened to cut aid, pitting them against fiery local politicians and African church leaders.
Neighbouring Uganda is planning to pass an anti-gay law, criticised by rights groups for its draconian penalties, including life imprisonment in certain circumstances. But the threats have done little to influence mostly anti-gay attitudes in the highest levels of government.
Kenyan Trade Minister Moses Wetangula has warned there would be a “revolt” if voters elected Mbote, telling the BBC that homosexuality “simply doesn’t fly” in Kenya.
An openly gay man should not “have an opportunity or privilege to lead a country that is founded on religious morality”, Wetangula said in reference to Mbote, who is running as an independent candidate.
Even if his sexual orientation were not a factor, Mbote is unlikely to win in a county where vast sums of money are needed to mobilise 1.6 million inhabitants to vote