President Yoweri Museveni has done it. Against widespread expectation raised by his earlier pledge, the Ugandan leader turned around this week and signed into law the contentious Anti-Homosexuality Bill passed last December by a parliament his ruling party, the National Resistance Movement (NRM), controls. The bill had been opposed locally and internationally for a record four years, since its introduction to the legislature in 2009. It is a remarkable coincidence that Museveni’s executive action came in the week Pambazuka News has devoted to a special issue on the lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender and intersex (LBGTI) struggles in Africa. Our decision to dedicate a special issue to this subject was informed by the alarming reality that throughout Africa, colonial era laws that criminalised ‘unnatural acts’ are now being reinforced by independent governments, pushed by powerful lobbies, under the pretext that homosexuality is ‘un-African’ and harmful: this despite the fact that the existence of LGBTI persons in Africa since time immemorial is well documented. Colonial legislators would have had no reason to criminalise homosexuality if it is the Europeans who introduced it to the continent. Beyond repression through harsh laws, there is fierce LGBTI intolerance throughout Africa. Even in countries where the constitution proclaims non-discrimination on whatever grounds, politicians, the priestly class and other self-styled moral police are undeterred in inciting their followers against gays. Homosexual persons have been attacked and killed or injured. Many have been forced into hiding, ostracised by their families, denied employment, have been unable to rent a house, etc. In South Africa the horrific phenomenon of ‘corrective rape’ before killing has been perpetrated by men against lesbians as an alleged ‘cure’ of their sexual orientation. It is impossible to remain silent in the face of this epidemic of hate and violence against innocent people.
A dangerous new imperialism is on the rise in Africa and the Caribbean. It comes wearing a rainbow flag and dressed in pink. The recent wave of anti-gay laws on the African Continent and a two month visit to Jamaica where LGBT activists and homosexuals are in a battle for self-definition have helped to crystalize this suspicion. To be clear I am a Black, gay Jamaican male who has loved and lived for over 30 years in America. I identify myself thusly so you can understand that this is not a conclusion I come to easily. It comes from observing keenly the struggle for Gay Rights in America, Africa and the Caribbean for the past 30 years.
Coming out will not be easy or even an option for everyone, but if you do decide to come out, I wish you luck! Visibility definitely matters. The truth is, I never wanted to have a conversation about who I have sex with, but because the government and the population is having that conversation, I too am forced to. The simple fact at the end of the day is: I am human. I am Nigerian. I am gay. Now my social experiment may or may not work. What I do know is that I must try. I will attempt to change minds, tackle homophobia and let Nigerians see a real life gay person: one introduction at a time.
Nigerian gay rights activist, Bisi Alimi, who had to leave the country in 2007 out of fear for his life, spoke to CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on his feelings about the law and the fate of the Nigerian LGBT community.
18 Jan 14
Kill them. This sentiment has been expressed about homosexuals in Nigeria, both in the streets and in the media, especially since the Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act came into operation on January 7, 2014 – again, and again. And again.
Yet Smith fails to articulate the self-determination demonstrated on the part of LGBTQI Africans as proof against an imagined Africa where all people think negatively about queer and trans people. Even in Uganda, on the very day of the passing of the anti-homosexuality bill, queer and trans Ugandans, and their allies, are asserting their disapproval through a global media campaign aptly titled, #IAmGoingNowhere, according to Hakima Abbas, co-editor (along with Sokari Ekine) of the Queer African Reader. That there are those placing their lives on the line, today, should be ample enough proof that not all Africans are homophobic. It should also remind us to resist the urge to cast our critical gaze upon other geographical spaces before we cast it upon ourselves.
If Kenya is not Uganda or Nigeria, why are we at the brink of legislating laws that further criminalise same sex sexualities? Kenya will soon follow Uganda and Nigeria in enacting new anti-gay laws, my crystal ball predicts. And it might be sooner than you expect. According to several media reports on radio and TV, several lobby groups, politicians and religious associations, have come out publicly to call for stricter – read, extreme – laws against homosexuality in the country. Unfortunately, 90% of Kenyans support their decision if a Pew Research on attitudes towards homosexuality in Kenya is anything to go by. In December 2013, I highlighted 10 African countries that were going the Nigeria and Uganda way in proposing, debating, enacting and assenting new laws that targeted same sex sexualities among men and women.
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