It is no secret that the LGTBQ (Lesbian, Gay, Transgender, Bisexual and Queer) community in Africa is under severe strain, in as far as their rights are concerned.
Almost 34 countries out of the 54 recognised by the United Nations have criminalized homosexuality. In Africa, the legal consequence attached to homosexuality vary from country to country. This ranges from homosexuality being punishable by death in countries like Sudan, Somalia, and Nigeria, to life imprisonment in countries like Uganda, Tanzania and Sierra Leone. Not only is the criminalization of homosexual relationships widespread in Africa, but if you are considered an ally in countries like Nigeria, you could face jail time. According to Nigerian Law, a heterosexual ally “who administers, witnesses, abets or aids” any form of gender non-conforming and homosexual activity could receive a 10-year jail sentence.
In contrast, there has been development in support of the rights and practice of homosexuality in what are deemed as “liberal states”. Countries like South Africa, Cape Verde, and Ivory Coast are amongst countries that have been in support of the rights and practice of homosexuality. As of June 2019 Botswana was added to this list as section 164 of the country’s penal code from which homosexuality was punishable with imprisonment has been challenged.
In countries were homosexuality is criminalized, the rationale has always been about protecting the moral fibre of the country, especially were religion plays a big role in how the country is governed. Many African leaders view homosexuality a corollary of colonialism, and refer to it as a “western import” and not part of African traditional societies. This narrative perpetuated by African leaders proved to be a fallacy, as studies suggest that homosexuality was not an unknown behaviour over much of the continent before colonialism. In Ethiopia, it was reported that there were alleged homosexual relations amongst shepherd boys of the Cushistic-speaking Qemant (Kemant).In this same tribe lesbianism was practised in polygamous households. In the 18th century the Khoikhoi of South Africa used the word koetsire to describe men considered sexually receptive to other men, and soregus was the word they used for a friendship which involved same-sex masturbation.
Homosexuality is also recorded among the Siwa of Egypt. It was considered a boy’s rite of passage in Benin, and woman-woman marriages involving a bride price existed in more than 30 African societies from Nigeria, Kenya, to South Africa. In Southern Ethiopia, a minority of men called ashtime, dressed like and performed female tasks and are also alleged to have had sexual relations with men. In Kenya, Mugabwe, which is a person in a religious leadership role are reported to have been homosexual and some, were married to other men. “In the Azande of the Northern Congo ‘‘routinely married” younger men who functioned as temporary wives. This practice was later institutionalised and resulted in warriors paying ‘‘bride price” to the young man’s parents. These examples point to many pre-colonial practices in Africa, which serve as proof that homosexuality was indeed widely practiced and accepted within certain African tribal groups. Given how prevalent homosexuality was amongst African tribe’s prior to colonialization, can we then attribute anti discriminatory laws to colonialism and its ideals?
Amongst many of the focus points of colonialism, was a desire to “correct” native African practices. Despite the widespread acceptance and practice of homosexuality in European countries, anti sodomy provisions were introduced during colonialism in Africa, even though African leaders claim that homosexuality was introduced by the West. As part of creating moral reform through correcting native custom, laws such as the Queensland Criminal Code of 1899 were introduced in colonised African states during the early colonial period. This was later exacerbated by religion, which solidified the hostility towards what was regarded as “alternative sexual attitudes”. Both Islam and Christianity condemn the practice of homosexuality, through the Qur’an and the Bible. However, the attitudes and violence that comes with recognizing homosexuality as an inferior practice, cannot necessarily be linked to religion. As reiterated by Hewitt Ibrahim “Homophobia generally means a fear of homosexuals or homosexuality. The Islamic viewpoint is not homophobic; disapproval is different from fear. Heterosexism has been defined as heterosexuals believing they are superior which justifies imposing values. In Islam, it is not a question of superiority or inferiority, but one of right or wrong’. Tocqueville eluded in a similar stance as it pertains to Christianity when he shared that “Christianity is innately meant to foster a collective feeling of humanity rather than one of discrimination. Various Christian sectors regard the topic of homosexuality differently. Some condemn homosexuality while others willingly and openly accept homosexual members and are willing to ordain same-sex marriages within their church. Based on this, I continue to assert that a country with a majority population of Christians would be more tolerant of homosexuality and the laws governing that state would reflect this.”
For a truly progressive Africa, the important factor to take note of is the need of the protection of human rights and inclusivity. African states need to consider where the exclusion of the people who are homosexual stems from and its impact in creating an environment that protects the rights of individuals. In doing this, they can then accurately state their stance on homosexuality in a way that would not perpetuate homophobic attacks such as those that occurred in Tanzania were there was a hunt down and arrests of suspected homosexuals. The further impediment on human rights should be viewed as a threat in creating democratic states were the freedom of humans should be considered, as restrictive laws can perpetuate and further harm the realisation of an individual’s human rights.
Featured image | Jasmin Sessler | Unsplash
The views and opinions expressed in this piece are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Best of Africa.
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