The only similarities between Maurice Mjomba and David Kato are that they were both African and gay and died (for whatever reason) horribly. One was struck down with a fatal blow to the head and the other, suffered the most excruciating tortures and had his life squeezed out by strangulation.
I was particularly impressed by Mjomba’s humble and discreet demeanor when we both took a University course at Muhimbili in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania in late 2010. He sat behind me and was the meekest of the class of gays, human rights activists, health practitioners and one or two (straight) students who made their homophobia known at the last day. They too, like Mjomba were Tanzanian.
The next time I met Mjomba was at a convening of LGBT activists and donors in Nairobi. He looked vibrant and that bit of shyness I saw in Dar es Salaam had disappeared. He seemed at ease talking to people and when giving a presentation of LGBT persons in Tanzania. He mingled freely and smiled a lot.
Yet, despite his cruel death and untold contribution to the nascent and fearful Tanzanian LGBT community, I am worried that, compared to Kato, his memory has faded away. There will be no international outpouring, calls for investigations or mourning or even an award.
We, as LGBT activists and defenders and the larger inter-national queer movement has failed Mjomba by not ‘making enough noise’ about his death. Yes, perhaps, there was no Anti-Gay legislation in Parliament waiting to spell death penalties or perhaps there were no random raids and police crackdowns in Tanzania, but deep down, Maurice identified as gay (to his close friends and partner) and advocated, in his (culturally) humble way, to advancing the rights and well being of LGBT persons.
Courage is not measured by standing in front of a marching band of enemies. Its measured by that internal push brought about by much thought of the consequences of one’s action – as it were, jumping in the deep when one has to jump. The step to the unknown is but a product of that. Maurice needed not to announce to the whole world he was gay for him to be known he was. He lived a quiet life; permeated by his work with injecting drug users and responsibilities in the gay group he helped form. His human rights work at the Center for the Promotion of Human Rights was admirable.
One of Kato’s endearing legacies is the Vision and Voice Award, that recognizes those working to eliminate violence, stigma and discrimination and demonstrate courage and outstanding leadership in advocating for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people around the world.
Tanzania has been a ‘quiet’ country when it comes to LGBT. Rare are stories coming from this country of the abuses and violations that LGBT persons face – not because they do not happen but perhaps, there has been no one to shine the lens on them. The community, just now, is ‘coming out’ of the closet, albeit painfully slow and fearful. Yet, it is coming out.
What has pained me to the core is that not one single LGBTI or human rights or AIDS or drug user group, in Africa or the world, has come out to either offer condolences or condemn or call for investigations. Was it because Mjomba was not a ‘usual suspect?’
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