William Ruto & Ken Mehlman

In a recent editorial, Minister for Education, Honorable William Ruto, argues, “What is unjust to one citizen is atrocious to the entire country.” The sentiment would be far nobler were it not uttered by a man who tried to secure votes by spreading homophobic panic. As he campaigned against the new Draft Constitution, Ruto claimed that it paved the way for homosexual marriage. Regrettably, those arguing for the Draft Constitution refuted his claims (actually, refudiated his claims) by arguing that it did not. Homophobia became a shared platform for both Yes and No sides of the referendum.

Former Bush Pimp, Ken Mehlman, has announced that he is gay. And that he is moving to Chelsea. It was, of course, under Mehlman that 11 states passed anti-gay legislation in 2004. And Mehlman’s declaration that he now feels “comfortable with himself” is actually quite irrelevant. And his declaration that he will now work to advance gay rights is even more irrelevant.

It would be a mistake, though, to read these two instances as idiosyncratic. They are, in fact, clues to our political cultures. And they tell us stories that we might not want to hear.

When I heard that Mehlman planned to move to Chelsea, I immediately thought of Charles Nero’s essay, “Why are all the Gay Ghettos White?” Quite apart from the question of race, which we cannot discount, I wondered, “What’s the problem with Chelsea?” What about it makes Mehlman disclose his relocation there. After all, it was not necessary for him to tell us where he was moving. But, obviously, he felt “comfortable” enough with himself and with Chelsea to disclose his location.

Those who travel to used-to-be-gay Dupont Circle, will recognize, I think, the reason for Mehlman’s confidence. So-called gay ghettos have long dropped anything ghetto, as they became more gentrified, more expensive, more apolitical, less interesting, less radical, less innovative. Arguably, Mehlman is moving to a place transformed to make people like him “comfortable.” White. Connected. Gay. Comfortable.

Indeed, his entire “transformation” hinges on one word. Not gay. Comfortable. We have to ask what it is about Chelsea that makes him “comfortable.” Because that is a far greater problem than his coming out. And seeking redemption or tricks through his public coming out.

Beyond spreading homophobia, Ruto’s recent very smart editorial on the value of dissent in a democracy permits him to refute (refudiate) the many accusations leveled at him for spreading ethnic division and, according to some, being one of the masterminds of the post-election violence. A name in the infamous Waki envelope.

Democracy, he argues, requires free speech and dissent. I have uttered these sentiments, as have many other Kenyan progressives.

And while Ruto might be seeking political redemption, I suspect the stakes are far higher. When those accused of anti-democratic ethnic chauvinism begin championing dissent and free speech, something is rotten in the state of Denmark. As with Mehlman, we will have to ask what it is about Kenyan politics that permits the constant resurrection of political figures.

We have a vampiric political system. Those thought long dead and buried rise again to feed on us. And we have yet to figure out how our particular breed of vampire hybrids can be destroyed. If it is possible.

Ruto, unlike Uhuru, is savvy. Much more so than we grant. If our politicians are hybrid vampires, he represents an advance in the evolutionary cycle. One wishes that it were possible to grant him an implant (like Spike’s) that would prevent him from causing harm. In the absence of such technology, he merits close, very close scrutiny.