There are ongoing legislative attempts in Nigeria and Uganda to further restrict sexuality rights. There is a clamour for the removal and also the strengthening of sodomy laws inherited by Commonwealth countries in Africa. However, the call for sexuality rights in Africa by the international community is seen as another colonial invasion by many Africans.
Research on sexuality rights is a relatively new developing area in Africa. There is a strong coalition spreading across Africa by Africans advocating for sexuality rights and claiming it as not just any right but as fundamental human rights.
Sexuality rights remain a silent but controversial issue in many parts of Africa; it is not just a controversial issue but also a taboo subject. One of the most efficient ways patriarchy uses sexuality as a tool to create and sustain gender hierarchy in African societies is by enshrouding it in secrecy and taboos.
Many countries in Africa still criminalize homosexuality; sodomy laws are still part of the criminal laws thereby making it ‘legally’ possible to persecute people with different sexual orientation. For example Zimbabwe, Kenya, Uganda, Nigeria, Tanzania and Ghana all have laws under which homosexuality can be prosecuted. In South Africa, where the constitution recognizes same sex relationships, gays and lesbians are often attacked, molested and persecuted for their sexual orientation.
Many African societies do not provide enabling environments to discuss sexual orientation issues. Homosexuality has been condemned by many African leaders as immoral, un-African and a ‘white man’s disease’.
Africa is a large continent with diverse cultures and ethnicities, however homophobia fueled by religious intolerance and oppressive laws are remarkably similar issues most have in common.
The draconian bill was passed in a voice vote on Thursday 30 May, 2013 by members of the House of Representatives. The bill stipulates a 14 years jail term for same-sex marriage and 10 years imprisonment for public show of same-sex affection. The approved bill also stipulates a 10 year imprisonment for anyone who abets a gay person, witnesses a same sex marriage or advocates for LGBT rights.
The Same Sex Marriage Prohibition bill is a blatant violation of human rights of Nigerian gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transsexuals. It is a shame that such draconian bill was passed unanimously in both Nigerian Senate and House of Representatives.
Is homosexuality alien to Africa?
Culture and religion is usually used to support opposition to homosexuality, sexual and gender rights. These are viewed as ‘foreign imports’ that corrupts cultural values. Many often claim that homosexuality is alien to Africa; can someone please show me the proof? I am an African, I am bisexual, I was bisexual before I ever met any white person or stepped foot on any European shore, does this make me a fake African?
For how long shall innocent lives be the victims of ignorance, hate and power? Policy makers, religious leaders and politicians seek to make laws and statements that discriminate against lesbians and gay and portray sexual minorities as less than human. For example:
Ugandan Speaker, Kadaga, said the Ugandan homophobic bill which originally mandated death for some gay sexual acts, will be passed as a gift to Ugandans whom she claimed are demanding it.
The former president of Nigeria, Olusegun Obasanjo was widely quoted as saying: “Homosexuality is un-Biblical, unnatural and definitely un-African”.
President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe has for long branded gays as ‘less than human.’
Dr. James Buturo, the Ugandan Minister of Ethics and Integrity, stated that: “Homosexuality is a strange, unhealthy, unnatural, and immoral way of life.”
In South Africa in 2006, outside the Johannesburg High Court immediately after his acquittal on the charge of rape, President Jacob Zuma said: “Same-sex marriage is a disgrace to the nation and to God. When I was growing up, unqingili [homosexuals in the Zulu language] could not stand in front of me. I would knock him out”.
The legacy of colonialism should no longer be confused with cultural authenticity or national freedom. As Africans, we should learn about our history beyond what was fed us in missionary schools. Africa is the cradle of humanity; homosexuality existed since time immemorial, which logically means it started from Africa before some members of the human race migrated to other continents for greener pastures. Evoking ‘African culture’ as a justification for the continuous attacks on gays and lesbians is no longer tenable as the following arguments have shown.
“[W]hen you hear about attacks on minorities, whether sexual or whatever, it is not a good sign, because who is to define who is African? Such behavior usually leads to the closing down of the cosmopolitan nature of what is African.”
“How can one talk of ‘African cultural and moral values’ in a continent that has tens of thousands of different ethnic and linguistic groups?…What is ‘un-African’ about homosexuality when…‘homosexuality was not only a condoned but also an actively encouraged’ practice among young males among the Bahima peoples of Ankole?”
Sodomy law is a foreign import; it is a relic from the colonial era which all former British colonies inherited. The law, like most old colonial British laws, had a very high religious influence, the name of the law itself points to its biblical origin. Britain has since repealed sodomy laws in its homeland. Unfortunately Nigeria and many other African countries still cling to this antiquated law and many now think it is an original, home-grown, African law.
Unfortunately, neo-colonialism and mental slavery continue in Africa through the heavy influence of evangelical missionaries who, having lost ground in their western countries to Equality Rights Acts, have now invaded African churches and are inciting members against homosexuals. These evangelicals are also sponsoring bills against homosexuals in African countries; some of these churches are particularly from the USA.
The upsurge of homophobic bills springing up all over Africa is actually a calculated sponsored mission of foreign religious fanatics. Some Nigerian religious groups came to the public hearing with placards designed to incite and even threatened to beat up the few LGBT defenders that attended the hearing; how very Christian-like! Whatever happened to the holy commandment, “Love Thy Neighbor”?
The above picture of two men kissing is of Khnumhotep and Niankhkhnum. They were ancient Egyptian royal servants; they are believed to be the first recorded same-sex couples in history. It is the only tomb in the necropolis where men are displayed embracing and holding hands. In addition, their chosen names form a linguistic reference to their closeness: Niankhkhnum means ‘Joined to life’ and Khnumhotep means ‘Joined to the blessed state of the dead’, and together the names can be translated as ‘Joined in life and joined in death’.
“Normativity” is a social construct; it is neither biological nor medical. ‘Hetereo-normativity” may be the norm but that does not mean it is the only type of relationship that exists or is natural. Killing of twins, child marriage and female circumcision were once considered normal in some parts of Africa. Also women contesting elections and inheriting lands and properties were once considered abnormal in many parts of Africa. Times change and so do norms.
Humans are continuously evolving socially and politically to create new norms. Most importantly, we must recognize that some rights are inalienable rights, and all human beings are entitled to these rights by virtue of being human irrespective of gender, birth, race or sexual orientation. What is normal today might become abnormal tomorrow but what I am born with e.g. my sexual orientation remains an integral part of me whether the society or even I, accept it or not.
Homosexuality was embraced in many parts of Africa before the colonizers came with their Sodomy laws. So dear African homophobes, homosexuality is not what is Un-African. Sodomy law is an unfortunate western import and the homophobia that ensued from it is what is un-African.
For those who insist that Homosexuality can never be acepted in Africa, well I got news for you. Malawi’s new president, Joyce Banda announced that she will work to overturn Malawi’s law which bans homosexual acts. Banda said she wants to repeal “bad laws” when speaking at her first “State of the Nation” address to parliament.
LGBT rights are human rights. Lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transsexuals are humans and are therefore entitled to ALL Human Rights; let no politician, religious leader or any bigot tell us otherwise. As UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon rightly opined:
“When individuals are attacked, abused or imprisoned because of their sexual orientation, we must speak out. Where there is tension between cultural attitudes and universal human rights, universal human rights must come first. Personal disapproval, even society’s disapproval, is no excuse to arrest, detain, imprison, harass or torture anyone – ever”
Gender should not be a barrier to love or marriage. LGBT rights are Human rights and they are not optional.
State sanctioned Jungle Justice?
There have been many documented cases of public bullying and torture of gays and lesbians in Nigeria, yet we never heard a public condemnation of such barbaric threats and acts against LGBTs. Under Sharia law adopted by 12 Northern states in Nigeria, sodomy is a criminal offence punishable with death by stoning. Hate crimes are not uncommon in Nigeria as can be seen in the following cases and remarks:
- In Jigawa State, a Muslim state, in April 2002, a 22 year-old student at the Birnin Kudu College, was beaten to death by fellow students because they suspected he was gay.
- Anietie and Joy, lesbian Christian couple, were attacked with acid by some people through their bedroom window. Joy died as a result of the attack and Anietie was hospitalized.
- On 12 January, 2013 in Ekwe local government area of Imo state, Nigeria, seven men were stripped naked, beaten and paraded naked by a mob on the streets on allegation of homosexuality.
There are also reported cases of people kidnapped for their actual or suspected sexual orientations by unscrupulous Nigerians who are eager to make money from such discriminatory laws. Recently an intersex person was stripped naked in the market place because of his sexual organs.
It is unfair to encourage the oppression and discrimination of another while you demand that others respect your right to be free from discrimination. It is barbaric, unconstitutional and a blatant violation of human rights to demand that lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transsexuals be locked up for 14 years or for even a minute because of their sexual orientation.
Lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transsexuals have not committed any crime by being true to their sexual orientation, we have not harmed anyone and we constitute no harm to the society. If you insist on making us criminals, at least let us know the victim of our supposed crime
- Who are the victims of same-sex consensual adult relationships?
- Are you or the society harmed by the consensual adult relationships of others?
- What do you hope to achieve by jailing the gays?
- Is prison a reform or cure center for homosexuality?
You are not being oppressed when another group gains rights that you have always had. You should stop denying others equal rights which every human being is entitled to. When you demand that President or the State recognize your right to peaceful protest, freedom of association and freedom of expression, remember these rights belong to all of us irrespective of our gender, class, religion, ethnicity or sexual orientation.
Human rights are not the privilege of heterosexuals; every human being is entitled to human rights. These rights are called human rights, not heterosexual rights. In case you are in doubt, lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transsexuals are humans. All human beings are born free and equal in rights and dignity. No one should be discriminated against because of circumstances of birth, sex, gender, race, disability, sexual orientation or any other status.
Are you part of a progressive humane society for ALL or are you for retrogression? LGBT rights are human rights not extra rights. LGBT rights advocates are not demanding for extra rights. Equality for All does not take away the right of others; it only means no one is allowed to discriminate against another. It is about treating others the way we want to be treated.
Rights are never freely given but always fought for. Fundamental human rights have already been fought for and won; it should be accorded to everyone irrespective of race, gender or sexual orientation.
In the international arena, Nigeria has continued its homophobic campaign, openly calling for killing people who engage in homosexual conduct. At the UN Human Rights Council in September 2006, Nigeria ridiculed the notion that executions for offences such as homosexuality and lesbianism are excessive.
Also, recently at the United Nations, Nigeria was one of the countries that voted in support of removing sexual orientation as one of the grounds which extra judicial, summary and arbitrary execution would not be tolerated. Need I point out that extra Judicial, summary and arbitrary execution include jungle justice? Well, Nigeria actually voted that jungle justice be meted out to gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transsexuals.
When Nigerians have so much hate for LGBT persons who have not caused them harm in anyway, how can they even have an iota of humane feeling for those who actually harm them? Law enforcement agents are not sympathetic to sexual minority cases, the government seeks to further criminalize homosexuals and the majority of the citizens want to stone gays to death, what a country, what a continent! When leaders of our country, our security agents and the generality of our citizens have such mindsets, how can we even begin to expect a social justice conscience or envision a just society?
We must rid ourselves of mental slavery, self-righteousness and religious stupidity before we can truly empathize with another human being. We must break the need to justify our actions with quotes from some imported ‘holy books’.
Those of us who believe in equal rights and justice for all will keep on fighting fr equal rights and justice, it does not matter whether we are a majority or minority because LGBT rights are human rights and that is the beauty of democracy.
Some of our international colleagues and comrades ask what they can do to support LGBTs in countries where LGBT rights are criminalized. International solidarity is important because no country is an island unto itself. One way you can help is by talking about it and bringing it to the attention of your government. You can and also demand that your government act in ways that shows that they do not support criminalization of a minority.
One way they can do this is not issue visas or traveling documents to visiting government officials from countries that criminalize homosexuality. If a lawmaker voted in favour of criminalizing or putting gays in jail, you should put pressure on your government not to issue traveling document to such persons. Let it be clear that you do not want to associate with or open your borders to such persons. That will send a strong message to the lawmakers and the politicians that your country will not tolerate homophobia, will not tolerate human rights violations, and will not welcome dictators or human rights violators into your country. So it is important you stand with us because we know that this is one way our lawmakers do have to stand up and think twice before criminalizing sexual minorities. The Lawmakers are very fond of traveling abroad for shopping sprees, they travel out for every small headache because they can afford to have their health consultants outside the country. If you told them that they will not get traveling documents, because of their support of the violations of the rights of sexual minorities, they will think twice before passing such laws since it will have implication for them too.
We really appreciate your solidarity, keep on creating awareness on this issue, we are happy you are standing with us on this issue. LGBT rights are Human rights and an injury to one is an injury to all, so it is important that we stand together to fight this blatant violation of human rights.
FYI, I have a book out on Amazon titled Freedom To Love For All: Homosexuality is Not Un-African. The book takes a critical look at Nigeria’s Jail the gays’ bill and homosexuality in Africa. You can order your copy on Amazon. It is available in paperback, E-copy and on Kindle. I hope you will order your copy. Thank you. I hope you have enjoyed the presentation; looking forward to answering your questions. If you have any question or clarification you’d like me to make or areas you want me to further address, let me know during question time. Thank you.