Originally published in denisnzioka.co.ke

kitoThe Kenya gay community should be allowed to punish and deal with blackmailers, with whatever means necessary, it seems.

News that several alleged gay blackmailers have been killed or beaten by mobs was largely welcome by the gay community especially after suffering for years from a select group of gay men who extorted and stole money, and property from their victims.

The initial case was one where a notorious blackmailer was beaten and stoned to death by a mob that was answering to an alarm raised by one of the victim. Just this month, two other blackmailers were shot dead by police in what was allegedly a case of blackmail gone wrong after their victim alerted the police.

And last week, the last known hard-core criminal and blackmailer, Joseph Makau (pictures above), was beaten to near death by a mob in a failed blackmail attempt at Tassia estate in Nairobi.

Blackmail cases were first reported in 2006/2007 when some male sex workers started demanding money and other gifts from some of their clients, often closeted gay men. Some of their victims were married, non-Kenyans, clerics or students.

Often, they would lure them using gay dating sites such as Planet Romeo or through Facebook. Their plan involved getting the victim to a designated house, start to have sex and then have some people ‘break into’ the house and catch the two or three ‘in the act.’ At this point, victims would be photographed – naked – and asked to cough up money to be released or not exposed to their wives, families or work stations.

Unfortunately, most victims ended up paying. It was a lucrative business. A select few gay men, MSM and male sex workers, seeing how they can profit from this, begun to extort money using the same modus operandi. Some of the blackmailers connived with several errant police officers who would often be used to arrest victims and demand hefty sums of money to be released.

LGBTI activists and groups were overwhelmed by distress calls from people from as far as Lodwar to Rongai, Kahawa to Nakuru, all of them seeking for help after they got blackmailed. Despite the efforts of the activist groups to take the legal channel in dealing with blackmailers, they found it difficult to prosecute, successfully, any case since most victims were not willing to be dragged into a long court process and they did not want to be known as gay or MSM. Most demanded that their names and identities be kept secret.

The break came last year when one of the gang of blackmailers was stoned to death in Dandora. Then, using the social media, victims and activists began a series of ‘Name and Shame’ campaigns where the photos, names, addresses and aliases of know gay blackmailers were exposed in an effort to curb rising numbers of extortion and blackmail.

The campaign gained momentum in the early weeks of the launch and many stories and names were shared. Sensing danger, some blackmailers decided to see the light. In fact, one of them went on to become a paralegal in a noted LGBTI and Sex work organisation where he is currently involved in solving several cases of blackmail. Others decided to shift base to other locations such as Mombasa and Kisumu where they laid low.

However, a core number of this group stayed on. And they changed tact. Now, using young boys and unknown members, they lured victims to their homes and had them not only blackmailed but in some cases, beaten, sexually violated, and tortured.

Again, the breakthrough came. The so called leader of the blackmailing gang was thoroughly beaten in Tassia estate and the photos shared on social media and to several groups across the country. The response was overwhelming – the gay community demanded blood, they demanded death, they demanded a corpse! No one showed sympathy to the alleged gang member. Person after person wished and demanded for his death. The incident happened less than three days after another blackmailer was shot by police.

The ongoing ‘Name and Shame’ campaign is still on. Blackmailers are running scared. The gay community has taken matters into their own hands and dealing with their own issues, their own way. In the absence of the law’s protection, slum justice, it seems, must take its course.

Oh Nigeria, when will your gay community know such power, I wonder.