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A family scarred by homophobia

Thursday October 22 2009


The family of Daniel Chege — whose gay marriage to Charles Ngengi last weekend in London set off a storm of controversy across Kenya — is facing a backlash from homophobic neighbours.

The harassment has taken a toll on Chege’s family in Gathiru village, Murang’a, said Ms Mary Muthoni, a neighbour.

“This thing has really affected the old parents. The mother no longer wants visitors in her homestead, and the old man is no longer the same,” said Ms Muthoni, 50.

Mr Gichia Gikonyo, Chege’s father, has all but lost his ability to speak ever since the pictures from the union emerged Sunday, she said.

And Wamaitha Gichia, Chege’s mother, has developed a fear for strangers and no longer welcomes them to the family home, Ms Muthoni said.

Constant harassment


Chege’s two brothers, Humphrey Gichia and Mwangi Gichia, said they had endured constant harassment.

Last weekend’s wedding, villagers said, was not surprising because it was a gay union. It was a shock, they said, because it was Chege’s second such relationship.

The earlier relationship was the subject of a string of insults yelled across the fence by a drunk neighbour, witnesses said. The family went to police after this incidence of harassment, they said.

The drunk man said the family’s wealth is paid for by homosexuality, the witnesses said. Even the family house – a simple three-bedroom home Chege, 39, built for his parents – and a plot were said to be “dowry” payments.

“We always knew he was married to a white man. But we did not know about this other second husband,” explained Ms Lucy Wanjiru, 43.
Chege’s sexual orientation has been the subject of whispers in the village since he moved to Nairobi, villagers said.

Leaving home with only Sh5, Chege moved to Nairobi in 1989 in search of employment. With the help of a relative, he first secured a job at a fruit kiosk in the city centre.

In a newspaper interview in 2000, he said he had always been attracted to men and it was while in the city that he was able to find his way into Nairobi’s gay community.

He left the country in 1994, first flying to Spain before moving to London where he met David Cleaves, his earlier partner. The couple visited Kenya on holiday several times and spent some time at Chege’s home in Murang’a.

The people who spoke to Nation said they knew Chege was gay and that he was living with a white man in London. The man, they said, built a house for the family, and helped them buy a farm.

“He built the house using the dowry paid by his first Mzungu husband. He also bought some land with it,” said Mr Gichia Muchira, a retired teacher, and a distant uncle of Chege.

“At first, we heard that he had been taken in by a white man; we thought he was working for him. We never knew he was getting married to him,” explained Judy Kabura, 30.

Daniel’s father protested at his son’s first relationship, said Muchira. “He really made some noise over it, but the boy would not listen,” Mr Muchira said.

Muchira said his nephew’s gay marriage had stained the family name, irreversibly. “What that boy has done has ruined the family name, it is wrong.”
The controversy has spread across the ridges of Murang’a and beyond.

“Everybody is talking about it, I heard it over the radio,” said Mr Julius Maina Mariara, 60, who lives more than 50 kilometres from Chege’s home village.

Passed over

Chege’s father, Gichia Gikonyo, was incoherent on Thursday at his home.

“You see that is a woman who just passed over there? She is going to the farm too,” he said in response to our question.

Humphrey Gichia the family’s last born son has not spoken to anyone for days, neighbours said.

He stopped the Nation’s interview with his father and – armed with a machete – motioned our staff out of the compound menacingly.