A culture of anti-gay discrimination is costing Kenya up to KSh130 billion annually, a study by Open For Business, a coalition of leading global companies dedicated to LGBTQ+ inclusion, shows. 

The study that presents a comprehensive evidence base for LGBT+ inclusion in Kenya, demonstrates that successful businesses thrive in diverse, inclusive societies and the spread of anti-LGBT+ policies run counter to the interests of business and economic development.

“Open, inclusive, and diverse societies are better for business and better for economic growth. This is true for companies and economies all around the world, including Kenya,” the study says.

The study attributes the losses to missed tourism earnings, poor health, and less employment of LGBT+ people, significantly stunting the economy overally.

“This report demonstrates that openness and inclusion can aid Kenya in reaching its economic goals laid out in Vision 2030 and that businesses thrive in tolerant societies. A pivot toward LGBT+ inclusion not only saves the economy money it also creates the conditions for a more robust economy.”

“And that LGBT+ inclusion, in particular, sends a clear signal that a country is “open for business.”

More than 70 countries globally have homophobic laws. In Africa, 38 out of 54 countries have laws criminalizing same-sex relations.

In some countries like Sudan, Somalia, Nigeria, Qatar, Yemen, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, United Arabs Emirates, homosexuality attracts severe punishment ranging from death by stoning to long-term imprisonment, flogging or a death penalty.

Homosexuality is illegal in Kenya with a large majority of people holding negative views of LGBT+ people, especially male homosexuals.   In the work environment, open gays are frowned upon, face unfettered discrimination, and are socially disapproved, while in schools they get expelled.

The Kenyan Penal Code, which dates back to the British colonial time, holds liable to imprisonment any person involved in “unnatural offences” or “carnal knowledge against the order of nature” up to 14 years, and any males involved in “indecent practices” up to five years.

In 2018, during an interview with CNN President Uhuru Kenyatta stated that LGBT+ rights is not an urgent issue for Kenya – that it is counter to the cultural beliefs of a majority of Kenyans.

“I won’t engage in a subject that is of no importance to the people of Kenya. This is not an issue of human rights, this is an issue of our own base as a culture, as a people regardless of which community you come from,” the President said.

It now appears that the effects of homophobia and exclusion could be costing Kenya’s economy billions of dollars.

In the tourism and hospitality sector, between KSh6 billion ($64 million) and KSh15 billion ($140 Million) is lost annually in form of tourists avoiding countries deemed to discriminate or stigmatise gays. 

Tourism is one of the six sectors identified in Kenya’s economic blueprint, Vision 2030, as having the potential to deliver the 10% growth rate per annum.

According to the study, a destination’s gay-friendliness and the travel preferences of tourists with different levels of affiliation with the LGBT community impact the number of travelers. Several countries across the world including South Africa, Japan, and France are all working on their policies to improve the LGBTQ travel market.  These are Kenya’s competitors for tourism dollars.

Nairobi currently lags behind, as it’s rated a “D” for Open for Business City Ratings – more inclusion can boost the rating and innovation, talent, and quality of life – leading to reduced tourism attractiveness amongst the queer community.

The report further identifies 27 economic and business case propositions that show LGBT+ inclusion goes hand-in-hand with increased economic performance, business performance, and individual performance.

The propositions are listed in three categories either as economic performance, business performance, or individual performance.

Under economic performance, stronger growth and higher levels of entrepreneurialism are attained in societies that are inclusive and tolerant to the LGBT+.  Inclusion results in higher levels of entrepreneurship, creativity, and innovation, is associated with higher levels of direct investment; while LGBT+ discrimination results in a brain drain, leads to negative economic consequences as a result of poor health outcomes, impacts perceptions on a world stage, which drive tourism, talent attraction and export markets for consumer goods, as well as lower levels of national productivity.

“LGBT+ inclusion signals a diverse and creative environment, which creates the right conditions for urban economic growth. LGBT+ inclusive economies have higher levels of growth in Gross Domestic Product,” the report states.

Under business performance, the report asserts that companies that are more diverse and inclusive are better able to compete for talented employees and have higher rates of retention of talented employees. Such companies also have higher levels of innovation and creativity, as they create an atmosphere of trust and communication, which is essential for effective teamwork.

In addition, inclusive companies are better able to anticipate the needs of all customers, and access a broader client base, and have greater brand appeal and loyalty with consumers who want socially responsible brands.

Consequently, inclusive companies stand to benefit from the large, growing, global spending power of LGBT+ consumers. The net impact for such organizations is better share price performance, higher return on equity, higher market valuations, and stronger cash flows.

The report singles out Safaricom amongst Kenyan companies for its progressive policies on social issues.

“Safaricom has made a commitment to reporting on diversity and pushing for inclusion in the workplace. In December 2018, Safaricom CEO, Bob Collymore, published a post on LinkedIn discussing the business benefits of diversity and inclusion. In the post, he specifically mentions sexual orientation. To promote this post, the Safaricom Facebook page shared a post on 16 December that specifically mentions that sexual orientation is an aspect that produces better functioning workplaces,” the report highlights.

Safaricom has been consistently recognised as a top place to work in Kenya. Other Kenyan companies recognised in the report for the inclusive workplace are Sanlam Kenya, East Africa Breweries, Kenya Re, Kenol/Kobil, National Bank, Nation Media Group, KCB Group, and Standard Group.

In terms of individual productivity, between KSh4 billion ($42 million) to and KSh11 billion ($105 million) is lost per year on account of LGBT+ discrimination. LGBTQ exclusion from the society also affects people’s physical and mental health. Together, this diminishes productivity and the skills needed to make economies thrive.

The report further reveals that an increased level of LGBT+ inclusion can benefit Kenya’s tech sector.

“LGBT+ inclusion can help create “innovation ecosystems” necessary for start-ups and hubs like SwahiliBox and LakeHub to thrive,” the report says.

While the report clearly presents the economic and business case for LGBTQ inclusion, it lacks direct solid data to back up the claim and the figures presented. Nonetheless, globally, there has been a massive uptick in the percentage of people who say same-sex relationships should be accepted by society, maybe, time is ripe for Kenya to embrace these progressive policies.