(Image from The National Geographic)
“We don’t accept homosexuals here”
This was the chant that Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe found appropriate to utter during his 90th birthday commemoration. And with that, a round of applause followed. Though speaking with regards to his own nation, such a phrase rings true throughout Africa.
If each African nation represented the door of a home that a homeless gay man was to knock on, he would be met with that exact response; “we don’t accept homosexuals here”.
The lack of human rights for the LGBT community in Africa is the real impediment, which hinders true development within the African continent.
While many African nations, such as Nigeria, are developing rapidly and growing, their lack of acknowledgement of homosexuals only jeopardizes all of the progress made. In some parts of the continent, a rapid witch-hunt is currently being carried outin order to stamp out “the gays” from the country, as in Uganda with local newspapers like the Red Pepper. The paper lists on the first page names of suspected “homos” in order for others to call them out and “bring them to justice”. In Uganda, even supporting or having a gay relative and not informing the local authorities can give you up to seven years imprisonment.
A multitude of NGO’s and international organizations, such as the UN, have denounced many African leaders for their lack of tolerance towards their country’s LGBT community but the explanation of these leaders is quite simple; “we don’t accept homosexuality here”.
(Map from The National Geographic)
In Africa, homosexuality is considered “un-African” as it goes against traditional views of the male; strong, fierce, and dominant. To the African mentality, homosexuality is considered a European or “Western” concept, introduced during colonization and through the ever-increasing connectiveness of the world through globalization. Homosexuality is considered to be week, submissive, and unmanly. And as what was done with the European colonizers, these African nations wish to evict gays off their map.
Not all African nations are as harsh on gays; South Africa actually accepts gay-marriage and the LGBT community there is much safer than in any other place on the continent. However, to many it only seems that wealthy and “white” South Africans only enjoy gay rights. The Zulu people of the country still have a hard time stomaching the concept.
Côte d’Ivoire and Mali are two other African nations which has not criminalized homosexual or same-sex acts, but the concept of being gay is still not well digested.
In London, there is a sizable Ugandan community given that Britain had once colonized the nation. The community is split between two; gay Ugandans and straight Ugandans. A gay Ugandan friend of mine (we’ll call him John) comes from Kampala and early one Saturday, we found ourselves speaking about gay rights in Africa. He left when he was 18 years old and has never returned since. “If I go back, they’ll kill me,” he says nonchalantly, as he downs the espresso macchiato that our friendship has taught him greatly to appreciate, thanks to my Italian roots. He goes on to explain that he left after his sister caught him sending text messages to his then boyfriend. Cruel as it was, it was she who told her parents and they who called the police. “And I just ran away. With nothing on my back.”
The story on how John managed to get to London and survive the ordeal he endure prior to landing on British soil was harrowing in its own right yet it rings the reality of gays throughout the African nation who undergo a nonstop persecution fueled by a population’s desire for their complete suppression.
Africa can only advance once gay rights are accepted, but until then development in the nation is rendered weak given this mentality of close-mindedness, which spreads through many of its nations.
I asked John if he felt that Ugandans would change their views on homosexuality.
“Never,” he said without hesitation. “You can’t force a dog to be a cat.”
And with that, Mugabe’s quote resonates through my head once more; “we don’t accept homosexuals here”.
Scott Mills of the BBC travels to Uganda to understand the severity (and apparent consequences) that comes with being gay there. He presents it in a compelling documentary in which he even puts his own life in danger (Mills himself is gay). You can view it here.
The Guardian’s Bernadine Evaristo explores further the belief in Africa that homosexuality is a European export. To read more about her explanation of this concept, click here.