Kenya: Nairobi's Gay Community Rattled by Bar Bombing Incident

Published: October 24, 2011

The Kenyan gay community has been rattled by the news of Monday morning’s grenade attack on a Nairobi city bar, Mwaura’s, frequented by MSM and male sex workers.

The explosion left at least 12 people injured.
The attack occurred around 3am when the bar was already “closed” but patrons inside continued to drink.

According to one report from Nairobi, “Because of recently-passed controversial law which prohibits “after hours drinking,” private club and bar owners have resorted to ‘private parties’ to circumvent arrests, closures and license forfeitures.”

Many Kenyans immediately assumed the bombing was the handiwork of the Somali group, al-Shabab, in revenge for a controversial incursion into Somalia by the Kenyan military.

According Kenya’s Daily Nation newspaper website police linked the bombing to the Somali militants. The Nairobi police boss Antony Kibuchi said, “Yes, we are linking the grenade attack to the threats that have been issued by al-Shabab and that is why I am appealing to city residents to be vigilant and cooperate with our officers.”

However, by mid afternoon the BBC was still reporting that Kenyan police were saying investigations had shown no links with the Somali militant group al-Shabab.

Al-Shabab had last week threatened reprisals and revenge attacks in Kenya following the cross border operation against al-Shabab forces by the Kenyan military and while security was visibly stepped up in major hotels, resorts, businesses, office buildings and restaurants, some of the smaller local establishments may have been slow in following recommendations by Kenya’s security officials on how to improve safety.

On Saturday the US Embassy warned their citizens of an “imminent and credible terror threat” in Kenya.

Denis Nzioka, editor of Kenya’s new LGBTI and sex workers magazine, Identity, explained that though not exactly a well known gay hangout like other bars in and around Nairobi, Mwaura’s was popular with male sex workers and men who have sex with men who liked the bar for its “cheap keg beer and mutura (an African blood sausage).”

Nzioka said, “It had a good turn outs especially from male sex workers and MSMs. Like any keg joint there were older men there looking for a shag from the younger ones. Most of the old patrons were mostly married, living in rural areas (farmers) or were unemployed. There was also a noticeable presence of mid-level income earners especially from nearby offices, as well as students.”

He added, “So far, no one I know from [the MSM or male sex worker community] has been hurt; however, I would confidently say that of the [people injured], there must have been some MSMs in there. There were some female sex workers who were hurt too.”

Nzioka however pointed out that due to differences with the management in 2010, many regulars from the MSM and male sex worker communities had stopped frequenting the bar for a time until recently when the management realised banning the queer element from the bar had had a negative impact on the profits and so had begun welcoming the community back.

On a Kenyan electronic mailing list for the Queer community, there was a debate all day long on the significance of the bombing, one contributor asked: “What I don’t understand is why Mwaura’s in particular was targeted. From what I know of “terrorist” organizations (which admittedly is not much), they usually target either very busy places, or places that are highly “Westernized”. Mwaura’s is a very small place where mostly low-income Kenyans go to drink. Surely it couldn’t have been that busy on a Sunday night.”

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