LGBT+ inclusion is an economic imperative for Kenya

by Yvonne Muthoni | Open For Business
Monday, 25 February 2019 14:00 GMT

An LGBT activist holds the rainbow flag during a court hearing in the Milimani high Court in Nairobi in Nairobi, Kenya. February 22, 2019. REUTERS/Baz Ratner

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Discrimination against LGBT+ people costs Kenya as much as $1.3bn annually.

Yvonne Muthoni is Kenya programme director at Open For Business, a coalition of global companies promoting LGBT+ inclusive socities

February 22 was supposed to be the day that would change Kenya forever.

The High Court was set to rule last week on Section 162, which discriminates against members of the LGBT+ community in Kenya. A positive ruling would have fundamentally changed the lives of millions of gay and transgender Kenyans.

However, the High Court announced it would postpone the ruling by more than three months, until the end of May.

While this decision was met with dismay from the LGBT+ community, it enables us to continue making the case for equality and build support among powerful new allies.

Many arguments from groups opposing gay and trans inclusion are rooted in ideology and hyperbole. Very few are grounded in fact. And none consider one aspect that impacts the lives of every Kenyan: economic development.

New research by Open For Business changes that.

The coalition of global companies, which makes the case that inclusive, diverse societies are better for business and essential for economic growth, released a report on Monday that shows that LGBT+ discrimination has huge costs for Kenya’s economy.

It makes clear that gay and trans inclusion is an important growth catalyst that can help Kenya achieve its economic ambitions put forth in the country’s development plan, Vision 2030, which aims to create “a globally competitive and prosperous country with a high quality of life by 2030”.

The research, which was released at an event in Nairobi on Monday, shows that LGBT+ discrimination is costing Kenya as much as Kes.130bn ($1.3bn) per year, or 1.7 percent of Kenya’s annual gross domestic product.

This is equivalent to approximately 30 percent of the country’s total spending on education and 144 percent of government spending on healthcare in 2018.

Three main symptoms of LGBT+ discrimination make up these costs:

1.    Poor health outcomes are costing the country roughly Kes.105bn per year in lost years of productive economic output;

2.    Kenya loses up to Kes.14.3bn per year in missed tourism dollars, from discriminatory laws diminishing our national reputation in countries which are our main sources of tourism;

3.    The inefficient allocation of human capital due to discrimination is causing about Kes.10.7bn per year in economic inefficiencies.

Not only does the report illuminate how LGBT+ discrimination is a drag on economic growth, it also illustrates the vast economic potential and business opportunities that could be unlocked with greater gay and trans inclusion.

Evidence in the report shows that open and inclusive societies attract a litany of economic benefits. They tend to be more innovative, attract top talent, have higher quality of life, are magnets for foreign direct investment and have a better global reputation.

These benefits would be a boon for Kenya’s cities (Nairobi achieves a low score of “D” on Open For Business’s city ratings), start-up community, and companies operating in the country.

Kenya is at an inflection point.

It has the opportunity to become a more inclusive society, not only because it is the right thing to do, but also because it yields clear economic and business benefits. Discrimination, if allowed to persist, would only hold the country back from realising its full potential.

Kenya has proven itself to be a forward-thinking and innovative nation that is progressive and leading the charge for Africa. By embracing LGBT+ inclusion, it would mark the beginning of a new era for the country that is looking bright with economic growth potential, and the country will position itself in a much stronger stead to compete with other leading countries on the global stage.

The next three months are going to be some of the most crucial in Kenya’s path towards LGBT+ equality as the country is at a critical juncture between inclusion and continued discrimination.

We now know that the only path forward, for the good of all Kenyans, is the path towards equality.