Thursday, December 05, 2019

Being Gay In Africa

Gay rights in  Africa has become a decisive issue. Of the 72 countries worldwide that criminalize homosexuality, 32 of them are in Africa, where punishments range from imprisonment to the death penalty in countries such as Mauritania and Sudan.

Zambia sentenced two men to 15 years in prison last week for having consensual sex in the privacy of their hotel room.

In late November, Ugandan police rounded up 125 people in a gay-friendly bar in the capital, Kampala, dozens of whom now face charges.

In Nigeria last week, 47 men pleaded innocent to charges of public displays of affection with the same-sex. They had been detained during a police raid on a Lagos hotel in 2018.
So why is Africa such a difficult place for the LGBTQ+ community?
There are many reasons, but colonial laws where colonial administrators introduced laws prohibiting "unnatural acts", religious morality, 93% of sub-Saharan Africans are either Christian (63%) or Muslim (30%), making the continent one of the most religious in the world. These beliefs influence many facets of people's lives, including their attitudes to LGBTQ+ communities. 
"Most religious texts say that homosexuality is problematic," writesAmy Adamczyk, an American sociologist, "More religious people are more likely to take these religious precepts seriously. When a large proportion of people are highly dedicated to their religion, everyone within the country tends to develop more conservative views." Muslim and Christian leaders are often vocally opposed to gay sex, and studies show that African media often quote a religious official when discussing homosexuality — much more so than in countries such as the United States. Some researchers also believe thatAmerican evangelical Christians are playing a significant role in shaping negative attitudes to homosexuality in countries such as Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe by deliberately promoting conservative religious agendas.
And also the idea that homosexuality is imported by the West are among the most influential, scholars say. Africa's elites, which include political, religious and community leaders, often claim that homosexual practices are an imported Western evil. The late  Zimbabwean leader Robert Mugabe called homosexuality "un-African" and a "white disease". Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has said it's a "western import." In the aftermath of the recent sentencing of the two Zambian gay men (which saw the US Ambassador to Zambia saying he was "horrified" by 15-year jail term ), a Zambian bishop called for fellow citizens to protect their own values and culture from outside influence
Uganda has seen a flurry of recent anti-gay arrests while The Gambia hasn't prosecuted anyone under its anti-sodomy laws since the change of government in 2017
Even when not enforced, such laws prolong the stigma attached to homosexuality and provide a "justification" for homophobic behavior, Alan Msosa, a Malawian researcher for the University of Bergen in Norway, told DW.
"They give people the chance to say: 'We don't like homosexuals because they are criminals."
But homosexuality existed in Africa long before the continent was colonized.  Before colonization, traditional African societies didn't seem to stigmatize homosexual practices.
"There are no examples of traditional African belief systems that singled out same-sex relations as sinful or linked them to concepts of disease or mental health — except where Christianity and Islam have been adopted," according to Boy-Wives and Female Husbands.
Extensive evidence collected by anthropologists and other scholars shows that same-sex practices and diverse sexualities can be found all over the continent and predate colonization. Ancient San rock paintings near Guruve in Zimbabwe dating back 2,000 years show explicit scenes between copulating males.
"It was an open secret" that Mwanga II, the 19th century King of Buganda in what is now Uganda, was gay, writes Ugandan scholar Sylvia Tamale in an article entitled Homosexuality is not un-African.
He wasn't alone. In northern Uganda, effeminate males among the Langi people were treated as women and could marry men during pre-colonial times whereas in Zambia, records show youths and adult men had sexual contact during the circumcision rites of the Ndembu. 
It also wasn't just men that were involved in homosexual relationships.
"Women to women marriage in which one woman pays brideprice to acquire a husband's rights to another woman has been documented in more than thirty African populations," finds the seminal book on homosexuality in Africa, Boy-Wives and Female Husbands
Homophobia has become a rallying cry that serves to mobilize and unite the masses.
"Political and religious leaders have exploited the issue to generate support," Alan Msosa told DW. He sees homophobia as "an elite project" that doesn't always reflect the reality of how people are engaging with LGBTQ+ communities on the ground.
In a just-released study on attitudes to homosexuality in Malawi, Msosa found 80% of respondents believed homosexual sex is wrong, but 33% still believe God loves people in same-sex relationships. "when we unpacked certain words using local languages, such as using 'justice, fairness and inclusion' over 'human rights' we found that Malawians were more tolerant in their views," Msosa said.
It's telling that those politicians who are often most vocal in their anti-gay sentiments, such as in Zambia and Uganda, lead countries where democracy is on the decline.
"The mobilization of latent homophobia is a strategy ... to divert attention when a regime's fate is at stake — in elections, due to public opposition, or internal power struggles," find Norwegian academics Siri Gloppen and Lise Rakner in a paper on backlashes against sexual minorities.
With the expansion of LGBTQ+ rights often tied to international development aid, African leaders can also gain points with voters by appearing to defy the West with a strong stance against homosexuality, points out Malawian researcher Msosa. 

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