Photo courtesy of Ming Lee Wikipedia commons
By Felister Makandi
Let’s talk about LGBT, and no today the discussions are not going to be about what is right or wrong. I am not one of those people known to take the high moral ground. It is evident that in many parts of the world lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender (LGBT) are subjected to discrimination, persecution, social marginalization and violence including sexual assault. In Africa most countries find the manifestation of same sex sexual orientation as an abomination, and a vice imported from the west that is ‘unafrican’. Most African countries choose to stay mum and look the other side while others vigorously formulate draconian laws that make homosexuality an offence that is punishable by prison sentence or even execution.
Stories of homophobia in Africa tell it all. In Zambia two men were arrested and charged with engaging in unnatural sexual acts. This is in a country where homosexuality attracts a jail term sentence of 14 years. The two men were taken through non consensual medical exermination that has been proved to be scientifically invalid, to establish if they had engaged in gay sex. In Malawi a gay couple was sentenced to 13 years in prison after holding an engagement party. They were later pardoned and freed after international pressure mounted. In Uganda being gay means a life or death struggle. Both political leaders and religious leaders have led a homophobic campaign to “kick homosexuality out of Uganda”. An anti-homosexuality bill famously known in the media fraternity as the “kill the gay bill” due to its death penalty has been formulated to criminalize same sex relations in Uganda. In an interesting twist, inhumane treatment is not only directed at gay people but to gay rights activists who are not necessarily gay. Paul Kasonkomona, a gay rights activist, was arrested after appearing live on TV calling for decriminalization of homosexuality. A lawyer in Cameroon, Michael Togue sought refuge in the United States after being threatened for fighting for gay rights in a country where homosexuality is associated with sorcery and black magic.
The biggest threats to LGBT in Africa are the opinion leaders who include political leaders, media, law enforcement agencies and religious leaders. These opinion leaders’ utterances fuel hate and violence towards this community and leave no room for people to understand the gay community. They use the argument that homosexuality is not African to justify their homophobia. But is it true that homosexuality is unafrican? Looking back throughout the history of Africa most of African culture has been documented through folklore, storytelling and it was passed orally from one generation to the next. The African culture does not speak so much about sex except that it is meant for procreation therefore it is possible homosexuality was not documented as part of African culture but its absence in history does not mean it did not exist. Besides, culture evolves over time with the help of the people practicing it.
Human rights have a way of bringing out people for who they are and when you know people for who they are it opens doors for changing the status quo. To me the rise of homophobia in Africa is a good thing for the gay community because how do you identify a cause whose ship has set sail? It by how much that cause generates discussion and arguments for or against it. The gay community in Africa may be described as a minority group but it has ignited a revolution in Africa in that no month goes without gay news in Africa. The rise of homophobia is not all bad news. It is a sign that the gay community activism is being felt. I have come to realize that gay rights activists are simply asking for their basic human rights and why not? Human rights are there to protect the marginalized in our societies.
Felister Makandi is an Intern at the African Women’s Development and Communication Network (FEMNET). You can connect with her on twitter @makandigitonga and email firstname.lastname@example.org