While the celebrations of the New Year continued for many communities, devastating news on the loss of Edwin Chiloba sent shockwaves across Kenya’s LGBTQI community. Chiloba was a prominent member of the LGBTQI community in Kenya, a fashion icon, and an activist. With over 26,000+ followers on his social media, he was a very well-known figure in Kenya, and many were saddened to hear of his loss.
Margerita Afom | Alturi
On January 6th, 2023, Chiloba was found dead in a metal box on the side of the road near the western Kenyan town of Eldoret. Chiloba was a university student and was well known for his work in fashion as he ran his own business and was the nominee for the Pulse Fashion Influencer of the year in 2021. Chiloba was also an advocate for LGBTQI rights. Chiloba was last seen on New Year’s. Investigators announced that someone brutally killed him. Although there is no evidence of a specific motive, many human rights groups and communities believe his murder was linked to his sexuality. A few days after he was found, investigators announced they had made a few arrests, one being a photographer named Jackton Odhiambo. Odhiambo was found to have had a past with Chiloba and is now facing murder charges.
To the LGBTQI community in Kenya, this tragic instance is unsurprising as they have been at the forefront of violence and discrimination for centuries.
To give a bit of a background on Kenya’s LGBTQI community history, the British colonized Kenya. Before British colonial rule, same-sex relations and gender nonconformity were traditions within many Kenyan ethnic groups. However, in 1920 homosexuality was outlawed by British colonial law stating that it was “against the order of nature.” This ruling transcended borders as homosexuality was criminalized in India, Trinidad, Tobago, and Botswana, although the courts in each country have overturned it. However, Kenya still suffers from this colonial leftover as this discrimination has been integrated into society, with many leaders, since independence, fighting to uphold the law. In Kenya’s highly-conservative society, most people still don’t accept individuals who are LGBTQI. Despite this, support for the LGBTQI community is growing as many advocacy groups and communities have created vibrant organizations.
The first advocacy group was the Ishtar MSM, which explicitly fought for greater acceptance of gay men. Advocates founded Ishtar MSM in 1999, and in 2007 it became a member of The Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya, a coalition of Kenyan human rights advocates begun in 2006. In 2006 the first World Social Forum was held in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, marking the first public demands for LGBTQI rights.
Since then, many organizations have emerged, such as Minority Women in Action, along with artivism; artivists represented activism through art, as narratives and lives of LGBTQI individuals through film, books, music, and theater. It became a new venue of activism where individuals could express themselves through many art forms. This advocacy includes The Outlawed Among US, one of the first research case studies on the LGBTQI community in Kenya.
Many new organizations fight discrimination against LGBTQI communities in Kenya. In the past 20 years, LGBTQI Kenyans have made significant progress in the fight against the criminalization of homosexuality. They genuinely believe that one day LGBTQI people will be able to exist and live freely with recognition in the Kenyan constitution. This belief is why it is so important to highlight individuals like Edwin Chiloba. His work in fashion and constant advocacy for the LGBTQI community broke many barriers within society and the fashion world. He was part of the first uprising of the LGBTQI community in Kenya and was seen as an inspiration as he was unapologetically true to himself. His death was devastating for the community, and it displays how, for the LGBTQI in Kenya and individuals worldwide, the fight continues.
As Chiloba’s family, friends, and community mourn his death, we must continue to learn about Kenya’s history and how to support the LGBTQI communities in Kenya and around the world.