After widespread public outcry, suspects have been arrested for the killing of Kenyan LGBTQ+ activist and fashion designer Edwin Chiloba, whose body was found last Wednesday.
Five suspects were arrested this past weekend and will be detained for 21 days as police investigate Chiloba’s murder, MSN reported. The main suspect was Jacktone Odhiambo, a 24-year-old photographer who was thought to be a close friend of Chiloba. Other suspects included Odhiambo’s friend and cousin, as well as a cab driver who may have helped dispose of Chiloba’s body, which was found mutilated in a metal box near Eldoret last Tuesday. The body had been discovered after people reported seeing the box being thrown from a moving car.
“He died a painful death,” a police officer in Eldoret told Agence-France Presse.
John Odhiambo, the police commander of Kapsaret, the constituency where Chiloba’s body was found, told Citizen TV that the murder may have been romantically motivated, though he didn’t elaborate.
Kenyan LGBTQ+ rights groups decried Chiloba’s murder, with some connecting the killing with a pattern of rising violence against LGBTQ+ people in the East African nation.
“Edwin’s death reminds us that queer bodies continue to be under attack all over the country,” the Kenya-based National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (NGLHRC) said in a statement posted to Instagram on Friday. “NGLHRC grieves with the LGBTQ+ community and joins the voices of all those agitating for fast and concrete action!”
The Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC) expressed similar sentiments in a post on Twitter.
“It is truly worrisome that we continue to witness escalation in violence targeting LGBTQ+ Kenyans. Every day, the human rights of LGBTQ+ persons are being violated with little consequence for perpetrators,” the KHRC tweeted on Friday. “This is a frightening crime, but it’s becoming common in Kenya—evidence of a growing epidemic of violence in the country.”
While it isn’t illegal to be openly LGBTQ+ in Kenya, queer people lack any legal protections from discrimination—and are even actively persecuted by the government. Gay sex in Kenya is criminalized, and those charged with it can face up to 14 years in prison. Same-sex marriage isn’t legal, and same-sex couples are barred from adopting children.
The laws reflect widespread antipathy toward LGBTQ+ people in Kenya. A Pew Research Center poll conducted in 2019 found that 83 percent of Kenyans surveyed said that society shouldn’t accept homosexuality. Paralleling these findings is a 2016–2018 Afrobarometer poll found that over 85 percent of Kenyans said that they wouldn’t tolerate gay people as neighbours.
The Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya reports that 53 percent of queer Kenyans have been assaulted. Last April, Sheila Lumumba, a non-binary lesbian, was murdered; in 2021, Kenyan mainstream media reported on at least three murders or suspicious deaths of LGBTQ+ people.
“We’ve seen increased homophobia, especially online,” Kenyan LGBTQ+ activist Fahe Kerubo told The Advocate. “We’ve seen a lot of increased violation of incidents among the queer community or that is directed toward the LGBTQ community.”
Chiloba was an advocate for LGBTQ+ rights in Kenya. A model and fashion designer, Chiloba owned chilobadesigns, a clothing brand that promoted diversity, inclusivity and self-expression.
“If you’re going to live, leave a legacy,” Chiloba wrote in a November post on Instagram. “Make a mark on the world that can’t be erased.”