The issue of homosexuals is still a sensitive one in many African countries. Sexual minority groups continue to be suppressed, and homosexuality is considered “Un-African. It is regarded as a crime and is prosecuted under many African laws.
In 2019, Zambia sentenced a gay couple to 15 years in prison for having consensual sex in their hotel room. The couple was later pardoned in a presidential amnesty in 2020 after the sentence triggered a diplomatic row with LGBTQ+ friendly countries like the US.
In late November 2019, Ugandan police arrested about 125 people in a gay-friendly bar in Kampala, the capital city.
These cases are not unique to just Uganda and Zambia. Many other African countries continue to treat homosexuality as a taboo, and those caught are prosecuted, making these countries a tricky territory for the LGBTQ+ community. Read along to learn why many African countries remain unfriendly to LGBTQ+.
Colonial Era Laws were Anti-Homosexuality
There’s a common perception that homosexuality is a foreign idea brought about by Westerners. This is not untrue, as many Africans embraced homosexuality before colonization. The view that homosexuality is Un-African is inaccurate, and unfounded and is just a way for African readers to justify homophobic sentiments. The truth is that the colonial laws are to blame for the emergence of homophobia in Africa.
A vast percentage of countries that criminalize homosexuality are from Africa, and most of them are former British colonies. The colonialists introduced laws that prohibited “unnatural acts,” which guides most African countries to date.
Homosexuality attracts punishments, ranging from imprisonment to death in countries like Sudan and Mauritania.
Each African deals with homosexuals differently. For instance, as stated earlier, Uganda has seen anti-gay arrests recently, while some countries like Gambia haven’t prosecuted any sodomy cases under their law since 2017. However, even when the laws are not exercised, their existence creates a lot of stigma to homosexuality and provides ground for homophobic behavior in the respective countries.
Most religious beliefs consider homosexuality taboo or against societal norms. About 93% of sub-Saharan Africa are Christian or Muslim, making Africa the most religious region globally.
Religious beliefs shape many things in people’s lives, including their view of LGBTQ+ communities. Both Christianity and Islam are known for their conservative and orthodox beliefs and view homosexuality against the norm.
Most religious people take these ideas seriously and thus oppose anything associated with homosexuality. Most people quote a religious leader when giving their reasons for being against LGBTQ+ communities.
Homosexuality is “Un-African”
It is not uncommon to hear African political and religious leaders claim homosexuality is an imported Western culture. An excellent example of this is former Zimbabwean president the late Robert Mugabe, who constantly claimed homosexuality is “un-African” and a “white disease.”
Following the arrest of two Zambia gay men in 2019, which caused an uproar from the US Ambassador, a Zambian bishop was not hesitant to call on fellow citizens to protect their original values from western influence.
Recent studies in Africa show that many Africans are against homosexuality as it goes against their culture.
Homophobia is a Tool to Gain or Retain Power
Besides being “un-African,” political leaders use homosexuality for political gains. By calling their fellow citizens to protect their culture from external or Western influence, homophobia has been a great campaign tool to mobilize and unite the masses. In other words, many religious and political groups use homophobia to manipulate citizens to support them.
This can be seen in Uganda, where politicians are vocal in their anti-LGBTQ+ sentiments, but democracy is at its lowest. In a world where the rights of LGBTQ+ are tied with international aid, political leaders can gain political mirage by appearing to defy what is seen as decolonization from the West by having a solid view against homosexuality.
Sexuality is a Private Affair
The lack of adequate sex education in many African countries could explain why the continent is anti-gay. Sex education in schools in countries such as Uganda is unspoken. In fact, in most of these countries, sexuality is a private affair that is rarely discussed in public. As long as it is done behind closed doors, anything is okay, including homosexuality. However, it becomes very sensitive in the daylight.
Sexual orientation in Zambia was a grave issue in the 80s and early 90s. Things started changing when Frederick Chiluba took power in 1991 and proclaimed Zambia to be a Christian nation, making homosexuals come under fierce attack.
Currently, human rights and LGBTQ+ supporters face the risk of prosecution for promoting actions that are “un-African” or against nature. Human rights groups have changed tactics to navigate this situation and now put a medical angle on homosexuality.
Although they mean well to these minority groups, it is also problematic. This is because homosexuality is now seen as a medical problem, increasing the stigma for homosexuals and LGBTQ+ people.
Not All Countries Consider Homosexuality a Taboo
All hope is not lost for homosexuality in some African countries, some have even decriminalized same-sex relationships. Some countries in South Africa, including South Africa, Angola, and Mozambique, do not decriminalize homosexuality.
For instance, every citizen in South Africa has the right to make sexual choices. South Africa has the most progressive constitution, giving all people equal rights, including sexual minorities. However, there’s a gap between the law and its implementation. The rights are accessible to people with influence and money, in most cases, the white population. Black people living in poor conditions are the most vulnerable and receive the least protection from the legal system.