By Gabriel Otach
Kenyan rugby player Kenneth Macharia, who emigrated to the UK to escape homophobia, has won a five-year legal battle with the British Home Office which tried to deport him to Kenya where he feared he would be persecuted because of his sexuality.
Macharia recently learned that the Home Office will no longer be pursuing its case against him and that his asylum appeal has been allowed by an Immigration Judge.
Without refugee status, he feared he would be sent back to Kenya where the UK Government warns travelling British citizens against hostile laws and attitudes towards lesbian, gay and bisexual activities.
Now, the 41-year-old, who was born in Kenya but has lived in Britain for over a decade, has a message for the more than half of African countries that have anti-gay laws.
“There’s a misconception that homophobia is African. It’s not…Allowing the truth to be told will help end homophobia,” he told Nation.Africa.
In 2019, a High Court refused to scrap colonial-era laws criminalising gay sex. It upheld criminalisation of gay relationships on the basis that the 2010 Kenyan Constitution, which defines marriage as between those of the opposite sex, would be undermined if gay people could start living together.
According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), more than half of the countries in sub-Saharan Africa have anti-homosexuality laws, although others have moved towards legal tolerance.
Asked what he would tell Kenyan legislators and leaders regarding the anti-gay law if he had a chance, he says: “Those are harmful laws that should not exist anywhere. These laws make the life of people like me difficult. These laws allow police to abuse me. They also make it impossible for me to get help from law enforcement authorities if I am being harassed by some members of the community.”
Macharia arrived in the UK in 2009 as a student, renewing his visa under successive work permits as a qualified mechanical engineer until October 2016. Fearing persecution upon return to Kenya, he applied for asylum in May 2016 prior to his work visa expiring.
In 2019, Macharia was told his asylum claim had been rejected despite a petition to stop his deportation that had amassed over 180,000 signatures. However, after the case was reviewed, the UK Home Office has now granted Macharia permanent asylum.
In a statement released by his lawyers, Mr Macharia said: “When I tell people close to me the news, they are jumping with joy and excitement, I put on a smile and pretend to share the same level of enthusiasm. It’s been a very long struggle, since 2016. I have had my hopes crushed too many times. I can’t help wondering what will go wrong.”
In the ruling, a judge found that Macharia’s human rights would be breached and he would be at risk of serious harm as a gay man if he is sent back to Kenya where homosexual activity is illegal.
Although the #KeepKenHome social media campaign attracted both national and global media attention, his case had to be won based on law in both countries.
UK’s Home Office was relying on state protection in Kenya should Macharia be deported. His legal team, however, argued that laws in Kenya were anti-gay.
While in the UK, he joined Bristol Bisons RFC, a Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) rugby team as a photographer and later as a player.
In 2018, his club, protested when the Home Office issued a removal notice and detained him while deportation plans were made.
In a statement on Twitter, his teammates said he was “an integral part” of their group.
“His commitment to the ethos of rugby and inclusive gay rugby is second to none. We are at risk of losing one of the herd,” the statement continued.
Mr Macharia had contacted members of the team for help via text messages while being detained at Colnbrook immigration centre, near Heathrow Airport.
Mr Macharia was granted bail from an immigration centre in November 2019, after more than 180,000 people signed a petition to stop him from being deported. – nation.co.ke