Anti-gay rights crusade in Africa a distraction

2 1/2 years since it’s first reading in October 2009, the Ugandan Anti-Homosexuality Bill full texthas once again been tabled in parliament. The bill was shelved in 2010 at which time President Yoweri Museveni warned those advocating for the Bill that it was sensitive and would compromise Uganda’s international standing. Again the Bill was tabled in 2011 and was followed in April of that year by apetition signed by 2 million Ugandans in support of the Bill. Two international petitions opposing the Bill were circulated in May 2011 – Avaaz [1.6 million signatures] and All Out [500,000]. On May 13th the Bill was shelved but Ugandan activists were convinced it would return at some point. So it wasn’t exactly a surprise when on the 7th February 2012, the Anti-Homosexuality Bill was re-introduced to parliament amidst ominous cheering and clapping from MPs .

The day before the Bill was tabled, Melanie Nathan [O-blog-dee-o-blog-da] spoke by phone to the Bill’s author, David Bahati who sounded enthusiastic that the contents would be “more moderate”

“I asked about the death penalty and he told me that the Bill will be first introduced in its original form. What happens after that, he said, “would please you people as it would be more moderate.”  Yet he could not confirm what would be changed.
He told me that the most important thing is that once the Bill passes there can be no more “promotion of that behavior” in Uganda. That the government will clamp down on organizations and NGO’s which promote homosexuality.
He said, “but don’t worry the bill will not be harmful to you people; and it will protect the children of Uganda. “ We cannot mess up the future of our children.”
He told me that Ugandans will not be blackmailed by the West. He said that the West is bringing the idea of homosexuality to Ugandan and telling Africans what to do about homosexuality and that he said is “Imperialism; we will not be blackmailed by your few dollars.”
Despite Bahati’s insistence that the main focus of the Bill was to stop “promotion” when asked to give an example of a child / children harmed by homosexuality he was silent. Unfortunately too few Ugandans appear to be willing to ask Bahati these kind of questions – more a case of if I say it exists then it exists, you need no further proof!

Other changes Bahati might be referring to could possibly be the removal of the death penalty and the requirement to report people. However the “promotion” section covers every part of a person’s life such that it would be impossible to live and remain within the law. Mindful of the possibility of sanctions against Uganda, Museveni was quick to once again distance himself from the Bill stating it is a private members bill and not part of the governments legislative programme nor does it have the support of the cabinet. However it seems Museveni had forgotten to inform his ministers of the governments position, when days later the Minister for the Orwellian sounding Ministry of Ethics and Integrity interrupted a LGBTI workshop on leadership in Entebbe. One of the facilitators, Dr Hilda Tadria, described as “a law-abiding married mother of senior citizenship”, gave a report on what happened. ..

“The Minister introduced himself and proceeded to give a lecture on ethics and morality.  In addition, he accused the gathering of being an illegal assembly ‘recruiting’ people into homosexuality, even insinuating that we were having sex in the meeting room.  Then, in a strange twist of events, the Minister declared the meeting disbanded.  Everybody was just told to go home.  Kasha Nabagesera, activist and conference Convenor was threatened with arrest, while one of the participants who came from Sweden was challenged to explain how she had even entered the country.  Soon after closing the meeting, the Minister was heard telling somebody over the telephone, “Yes, I have just disbanded them.”

Dr Tadria went on to say, the Minister had “blatantly violated the law” – the right to free assembly, free speech and the right to education and crossed the boundary of rational behaviour in declaring that the government had the right and power “to stop any gathering that was taking place in any part of the country”.

West African politicians must have been on a “Uganda anti-gay” watch as within days politicians from two other countries had released statements against homosexuality. The first, reported in Jollof News, was made by President Yahya Jammeh of the Gambia during the swearing in of a cabinet minister. It is hard to see this as coincidence as there doesn’t appear to be any other contextual reason why the well rehearsed statement was made at this time.

“It’s not in the Bible or Qur’an.  It’s an abomination. I am telling you this because the new wave of evil that they want to impose on us will not be accepted in this country,” he said.

“As long as I am the president, I am not going to accept it in my government and in this country. We know what human rights are. Human beings of the same sex cannot marry or date — we are not from evolution but we are from creation and we know the beginning of creation — that was Adam and Eve.”

Sigh! Yes Mr President we have heard it all before but you do not have an indefinite hold on power in the Gambia, just look next door at your surrounding neighbour Senegal. Really my patience runs out with creationists – the most ridiculous and scientifically impossible story of the beginnings of planet earth. A The second came from Liberia. On the 8th February, the Liberia Times, reported that Rep Clarence K Massaquoi had introduced a draft Bill that would criminalise same sex marriage.

“Rep. Clarence K. Massaquoi (Lofa) introduced the draft bill on Tuesday, saying, Article 5 (b) of the 1986 constitution requires amongst others, the “protection of our cultural and traditional values”, which he said “should be preserved”.
He said the Act which will amend chapter 14 (d) of the New penal code in the country, will discourage the legalization of same sex practice by declaring it a “criminal offense.”
“I deem it expedient to introduce for your passage a bill entitle: An Act to amend the new penal code chapter 14 sub section d, and to add a new section 14.80…making same sex practices a criminal offense.
“Fellow colleagues, this bill is intended to protect our inherited cultural values, traditions and beliefs. In view of the foregoing, distinguished colleagues, I am kindly anticipating your indulgence for the passage of this bill,” Rep. Massaquoi urged plenary Tuesday.”
This was followed by an amendment prepared by Senator Jewel Taylor, former first lady and ex wife of Charles Taylor. The amendment to the Domestic Relations Lawwould make same sex marriage a felony. The Liberian LGBTI community at home and abroad together with other human rights defenders are already mobilizing to prevent this bill from happening. In an open letter to Leymah Gbowee, feminist activist, Stephanie Horton calls on the Nobel Peace Prize winner to speak out against the voices of hatred.

“I want to believe that you agree LGBT Liberians are included in this mandate. Your voice must be heard above the present uproar about LGBT rights, because there seems to be a collective dissociative fugue around the cruel ways the civil and human rights of gay, lesbian and gender-variant Liberians are violated.
You have said: “Reconciliation is like dressing a sore: You can’t bandage a sore without first cleaning it.”
LGBT Liberians live in fear, disempowered and daily imperiled. The war for them has not ended. Their lives are defined by danger and violence, persecution, hate speech and threats, discrimination and harassment. They are stigmatized, publicly rejected and almost completely abandoned by government. Their vulnerability affects all areas of their lives — church, school, employers, landlords, media, street mobs, rapists, predators, political actors, opinion leaders, family.”
Just last month a group of gay rights students and supporters from the University of Liberia were stoned by other students. Ms Horton makes a direct link between the attacks on students and the emergence of the new bill with the December Human Rights Day speech by Hilary Clinton

“US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s “gay rights are human rights” speech before the United Nation’s human rights group in Geneva on 6 December 2011 is what seems to have ignited this bitter and sometimes sadistic public debate in Liberia. The impression that the US will use foreign aid to promote gay and lesbian rights has unleashed a vicious torrent of homophobia. Thundering from their pulpits, some Christian ministers have equated homosexuality with immorality. Lawmakers allegedly have aggressively been threatened on the streets for so much as whispering about gay rights.”

It is a fact that all the statements made since December 6th by the anti-homosexuality proponents across the continent have made a direct reference to the content of the Clinton’s speech and an earlier declaration by the British Prime Minister, David Cameron in which he linked LGBTI Rights to aid conditionality. Of course all the pronouncements could be merely sabre-rattling on the part of African politicians but even if this is the case the fear and stress on the LGBTI community is huge.

Further north in the recently “liberated” Tunisia, the Minister for Human Rights , Samir Dilou made the comment in an interview that, where LGBTI people are concerned, “Freedom of expression has it’s limits”. “Fadi” founder of the Tunisian online gay site “GayDay” commented on the Minister’s words

“Since the launch of our website last March, we never caught the attention of anyone other than the LGBT population. Since last week, some Tunisians have discovered the existence of gay media and have reacted negatively to the idea. Between the comments made on the website and the private messages on Facebook, we are receiving all sorts of insults and sometimes even verses from the Koran to remind us that we are sinners and that we deserve to die. We have also received threats to pirate the site and even death threats. To tell you the truth, we always expected negative reactions, but not in this way. It’s frightening.”


© LGBTI LiberiaDespite the introduction of a anti-homosexuality bill in Liberia and the reintroductions in Nigeria and Uganda I sense a shift – not a big one, but still a shift in public opinion as expressed through blogs, social media, mainstream media and some public officials. For example, the content of the Nigerian Same Sex Marriage Bill 2011 differs from the original bill of 2006 in that it omits the sections on the prohibition of “gay clubs, societies and organisations”

“Any person who is involved in the registration of gay clubs, societies and organizations, sustenance, procession or meetings, publicity and public show of same sex amorous relationship directly or indirectly in public and in private is guilty of an offence and liable on conviction to a term of 5 years imprisonment.”

In Liberia, the President Pro-tempore of the Liberian Senate, Gbehnzongar Findley,appeared to oppose the proposed legislation and President Johnson-Sirleaf is on record stating she would veto any legislation associated with same sex marriage of LGBTI rights.

Pro-tempore Findley clarified that the Constitution of Liberia guaranteed the right of everyone including those involved in same sex practices. “Are these being any act of discrimination against any of them; is there any discriminatory law against them or have they been disfranchised or are people throwing stone at them?” Pro-tempore Findley wondered.

He said as President Pro-tempore of the Liberian Senate any act of infinitive whether for or against will not fall under his gavel. He noted that the Constitution does not in any way infringe on the right of anyone including gay and lesbians. He said the organic law of the country guarantees such right and will not be the one to decide.”

In Uganda also there has been opposition to the Bill from some women, religious leaders and an interesting OpEd by the editor of the Ugandan Monitor, Daniel Kalinaki. Speaking in an interview with Voice of America he makes the point of separating the moral [here I read religious] from the legal.

“You might have your views about homosexuality, you might detest homosexuality and people who choose to be homosexual, but you must be willing to defend the basic fundamental rights of association of assembly and of expression.  Because if they take those rights away from the homosexuals, nothing stops the government from taking those rights away from you.  So it starts with people who are easy to isolate and demonize but it eventually – and history is littered with hundreds of examples – it eventually catches up with everyone.”
It is this hijacking of the law by religious extremists which is driving the obsession with anti-homosexuality legislation rather than addressing the multitude of social and economic issues faced by 99% of Africa’s citizens.

African Queer / LGBTI related blogs with additional commentary on the Uganda, Nigeria and Liberia bills

African Activist – http://www.africanactivist.org/
Black Looks – http://www.blacklooks.org
Gukira – http://gukira.wordpress.com/
LGBTI Liberia – http://lgbtqliberia.blogspot.com
O-blog-dee-o-blog-da – http://oblogdeeoblogda.wordpress.com/
Sebasapce – http://sebaspace.wordpress.com

 

Originally published in Pambazuka News