By CHIKA ONYEANI
Snippet: What is certain is that Africa will continue to remain a very hostile continent to the gay community. There is not only the fact that Africa considers homosexual acts unnatural and a bane to African culture, the continent sees it as an example of the West again trying to impose their will on a continent whose member-countries are dependent on handouts from the West, that even Malawi has resisted the pressure brought on her. As Africa sees it, there is barbarism in America with capital punishment, execution of convicts, which many African countries have outlawed and which Africa has not tried to foster on America. There should be a quid pro quo here. Africa says leave us alone just as we have left you alone on capital punishment.
From east to west and north to south, African countries have enacted laws banning the practice of homosexuality. Their contention is that homosexuality, same-sex marriage and their attributes are western-cultural lifestyle inimical to the African culture, and any attempt by the western world to impose this kind of lifestyle on Africans in the African continent will be vigorously resisted, even at the cost of sanctions, e.g. withdrawing funding assistance. Currently, about 37 countries in Africa out of the 54 countries have laws that prohibit homosexuality, laws that are described as quite harsh with jail sentences running into many years.
This resistance to the gay lifestyle in Africa was heightened recently when on the 13th of January this year, news broke that President Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria had signed into law the Same Sex (Prohibition) Act, which the Nigerian National Assembly had passed in May 2013. Though the news was made public on the 13th, President Jonathan had actually signed the law on January 7th. There had been anticipation on the part of its opponents that, by taking so long not to sign it, that Jonathan must have reconsidered and acquiesce to the pressure that was being exerted by western nations. Hence the surprise and what is perceived as a terrible blow to the advancement of the cause of LGBT in African countries, with Nigeria being seen as leader that could have stemmed the tide of rejection of that community.
The Nigerian law provides that a marriage contract or civil union entered into between persons of the same sex is prohibited in Nigeria, and shall not be recognized as entitled to the benefits of a valid marriage. The law makes it clear that only a marriage contracted between a man and a woman is recognized as valid in Nigeria. Also, registration of gay clubs, societies and organizations, their sustenance, processions and meetings is prohibited.
The penalties for people contravening the law include, (a) a person who enters into a same sex marriage contract or civil union commits an offense and is liable on conviction to a term of 14 years imprisonment; (b) a person who registers, operates or participates in gay clubs, societies and organization, or directly or indirectly makes public show of same sex amorous relationship in Nigeria commits an offense and is liable on conviction to a term of 14 years imprisonment; and (c) a person or group of persons who administers, witnesses, abets or aids the solemnization of a same sex marriage or civil union, or supports the registration, operation and sustenance of gay clubs, societies, organizations, processions or meetings in Nigeria commits an offense and is liable on conviction to a term of 10 years imprisonment.
Within days of the signing of the law being made public, homosexuals were rounded up in some cities in Nigeria. On the 15th of January, 11 Muslims were arrested in the state of Bauchi and put on trial for violation of their religion; a 12th person was to be tried under the new act. The next day, a Muslim man was given 20 lashes, though he committed the act seven years prior to being sentenced.
Nigeria is not the only country in Africa that has vigorously resisted the pressure from western nations to recognize the LGBT community, even as from a person a man as President Obama of the United States. On his second visit to Africa, and a day after the United States Supreme Court expanded benefits for the LGBT community, which Obama called “a proud day for America,” he tried to pressure Senegalese President Macky Sall into having Senegal extend the same benefits to gays in that country.
Said Obama, “My basic view is that regardless of race, regardless of religion, regardless of gender, regardless of sexual orientation, when it comes to the law, people should be treated equally. And that’s a principle that I think applies universally.” But President Macky Sall rebuked him, saying, “Senegal is a very tolerant country, but is still not ready to decriminalize homosexuality.” Macky Sall went on to point to the issue of capital punishment which is still practiced in the United States, which Senegal outlaws and which Africa is not pressuring America to change to adapt to the African standard or Senegal’s in particular.
There was universal condemnation of Obama’s speech by African leaders. Kenyan Cardinal John Njue, Archbishop of Nairobi and president of the Kenyan Episcopal Conference, dismissed Obama’s urging of Africa to accept same sex marriage. “Those people who have already ruined their society… let them not become our teachers to tell us where to go,” said the Cardinal. “I think we need to act according to our own traditions and our faiths.”
The Cardinal Njue’s comment was followed by Kenyan Deputy President William Ruto who said, “Those who believe in other things, that’s their business…We believe in God. This nation, the nation of Kenya is sovereign and God-fearing.”
Ruto went on to say, “America has made tremendous contribution to Kenya’s well-being and we are very grateful and as a government we are ready to receive any help from America that will improve the lives of our people. But for these other things we hear, it is none of our business as it goes against our customs and traditions.”
Since 1995, President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe has been employing vitriolic language to describe gays. After shutting down the gay book fair in Harare, he lambasted the gay community by saying, “Homosexuality degrades human dignity. It’s unnatural, and there is no question ever of allowing these people to behave worse than dogs and pigs. If dogs and pigs do not do it, why must human beings? We have our own culture, and we must rededicate ourselves to our traditional values that make us human beings. What we are being persuaded to accept is a sub-animal behavior and we will never allow it here.”
In 2012, Mugabe humorously said he was afraid to equate gays to pigs and dogs as the animals would be angry at him because the animals could identify their female mating partners, and maintained that “gays are worse than pigs and dogs.” “I said they are worse because I have pigs in my farm. They can identify their mating partners. I also have a small dog notorious for getting neighbors’ dogs pregnant. I can’t compare these animals to gays because they will be angry at me.”
“Unlike gays, they know who to mate with.”
In the Cameroon, same-sex sexual activity is illegal and banned. In May 2005, 11 Cameroonians were arrested at a nightclub for suspicion of sodomy. And in 2011, two gay men were sentenced to imprisonment for homosexual acts. And in 2012 a Cameroon court upheld the conviction of a man found guilty of “homosexual behavior” for sending a text message to another man saying, “I’m very much in love with you.” Despite U.N. criticisms, Cameroon has refused to change its anti-gay laws.
In February 2011, Malawi which already had laws criminalizing homosexuality among men, also enacted one criminalizing women for lesbianism. If convicted, a defendant could receive up to five years’ imprisonment. When President Joyce Banda came into office, she promptly announced that she was going to review the law, and the Justice Minister said that the police had been authorized to stop arresting same-sex offenders.
But despite the heightened pressure on the country, which depends on donor aids for much of its budget, the law seems to have been still in the books. Four days ago, in a rare move, the United Nations AIDS taskforce announced that it would pursue legal action against Malawi for its laws criminalizing homosexuality. This is regarded as judicial overreach by the world body, and it is assumed to be a bullying tactic by the UN over a country that is unable to fight back, unlike Nigeria and Cameroon that basically are not dependent on aids.
Supporters of same-sex sexuality are not folding their arms and letting what they call “their civil and constitutional rights” be summarily violated. One of the most prominent Africans to speak up for the LGBT community is Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa. At an UN event on homosexual rights in South Africa, Archbishop Tutu said that he would rather go to hell than a “homophobic heaven.” “I would refuse to go to a homophobic heaven. No, I would say sorry, I mean I would much rather go to the other place,” Tutu said, speaking at the launch of U.N.’s “Free and Equal” campaign.
The United Nation’s “Free and Equal” campaign is another example of using international muscle to force African countries to comply with what is becoming one of the practices of the most powerful lobbies in the world. Taking the country of Malawi to court is quite an extraordinary measure.
Just as droves of prominent Americans are suddenly ‘coming out’ of the so-called ‘closet’, a celebrated African author, Kenya’s Binyavanga Wainaina declared on January 21, that “I am homosexual.” Wainaina is an author, journalist and writer who won the Caine Prize for African Writing. He said he has received many encouraging words of support from many people in Africa.
Will the coming out of prominent author like Wainaina be a prelude to the same avalanche of coming out in the U.S.? And will this begin to force Africans to reconsider their anti-gay sentiments? Only time will tell.
What is certain is that Africa will continue to remain a very hostile continent to the gay community. There is not only the fact that Africa considers homosexual acts unnatural and a bane to African culture, the continent sees it as an example of the West again trying to impose their will on a continent whose member-countries are dependent on handouts from the West, that even Malawi has resisted the pressure brought on her. As Africa sees it, there is barbarism in America with capital punishment, execution of convicts, which many African countries have outlawed and which Africa has not tried to foster on America. There should be a quid pro quo here. Africa says leave us alone just as we have left you alone on capital punishment.
Dr. Chika Onyeani is the Publisher/Editor-in-Chief of the African Sun Times, author of the internationally and critically-acclaimed No.1 bestselling book, “Capitalist Nigger: The Road to Success,” as well as the blockbuster novel, “The Broederbond Conspiracy,” adapted by the San Francisco State University to teach students “how to write a spy novel.” He is the chair of the Celebrate Africa Foundation. He hosts the “StraightTalk with Chika Onyeani” on WPAT-AM 930 every Friday night at 12 midnight.