Category Archives: Africa

Bernadine Evaristo – Mr Loverman

Diriye Osman interviews Bernadine Evaristo author of Mr Loverman

In a revealing interview with Salon, Donna Tartt once said, “I had a fairly well-known editor tell me that The Secret History would never be published because no successful book by a woman had ever been written from the point of view of a man, and that I would have to change it to a female narrator.”

Although it’s tricky for both male and female writers to write from the point of view of the opposite gender, there have always been a number of tremendously talented and successful female authors who have not only risen to the challenge but, in doing so, have completely demolished deeply-embedded social codes that should not have existed in the first place.

British-Nigerian novelist and poet, Bernardine Evaristo is not only a master of literary gender-bending but she’s also adroit at subverting well-worn tropes from slavery to stifled sexuality in a way that feels new, visceral, vital. Although Evaristo has always been an innovative stylist, her latest novel, the critically acclaimed, award-winning smash, Mr. Loverman, is her chef d’oeuvre; a masterful dissection of the life of a 74 year-old, British-Caribbean gay man. It is a book about secrecy and self-protection, freedom and fear, history and the future, family and faith, repression and renewal.

For Evaristo, this extraordinary act of ventriloquism was necessary. “I knew this was an explosive mix for fiction”, she says. “Not only is black homosexuality all but invisible in British fiction, but the idea that a septuagenarian is actively gay is potentially very controversial.”

“I like the challenge of writing beyond my own culture (I’m not Caribbean), gender, age, sexuality and so forth, but it does mean that I have to work hard to create authenticity with my characters. To make them totally believable and convincing.”

Evaristo, who originally trained as a stage actress, nurtured her writing talent by penning roles for black actresses “because few parts existed for us in the early 80s.” She dropped acting but fuelled the fire to keep writing. “The magic of writing,” she says, “the emotional, intellectual and imaginative connection I feel to it, is addictive. My influences are wide and varied, and certainly many writers inspired me to tell my own stories when I was very young – Gloria Naylor, Ntozake Shange, Keri Hulme, Toni Morrison, Michelle Cliff, Audre Lorde, Alice Walker.”

With the recent anti-gay legislation in Nigeria and throughout a depressingly large part of Africa, does she feel there’s been enough of a response from African writers in terms of exploring the issue of homosexuality in fiction or non-fiction?

“I’d say not,” she says. “It’s still quite a taboo subject in many communities and certainly not enough people speak out. You’re probably one of the very few writers writing black African stories with gay characters. When I chaired the Caine Prize for African Fiction a couple of years ago we shortlisted a gay story by Malawian writer Stanley Kenani. Lola Shoneyin’s super novel The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wivestouches on lesbianism, as did Monica Arac De Nyeko’s Caine Prize winning “Jambula Tree”, which won the Caine in 2007. But essentially, when you can list such stories on one hand, there is a problem. I wrote a piece for The Guardian about the long history of pre-colonial homosexuality in Africa when the recent anti-gay legislation was passed in Nigeria, my father’s homeland. We need more voices out there, gay or straight, writing stories that include homosexual characters.”

Aside from her work as a novelist and poet, Evaristo teaches creative writing at London’s Brunel University, where she spearheaded the creation of the prestigiousAfrican Poetry Prize, which offers a powerful platform for gifted poets on the rise.

Part of what makes Bernardine Evaristo such an important cultural figure is that she’s an intellectual who’s unafraid to take creative risks. Every book that she has written doesn’t feel so much a progression as a complete re-invention of style, subject matter and genre. Once you add a hearty dose of compassion and energetic forward-thinking to the mix, what you get is not only an artist who repeatedly resists status quos and shoots straight for the jugular but a bonafide literary rebel with a cause. This in itself is worthy of celebration.

Bernardine Evaristo’s Mr Loverman (Akashic Books) is out now as is Diriye Osman’sFairytales For Lost Children (Team Angelica Press).

This piece was originally published on the Huffington Post

Healing in the Homeland – Haitian Vodou Tradition

‘As a child in Haiti laying in my bed, I heard the Tams Tams of the Vodou drums beating all nights. These beats were telling the stories of my African ancestors, of their struggles, and their survival, their self determination and resistance to domination to keep their dignity. However, the Christian schooling system and the social setting alienating children from their African Traditional heritage and demonized it. As an adult I have decided to go and make a difference. Thus my Doctorate in Conflict Analysis and Resolution reflects this conflicts and the healing that followed.’ Margaret Mitchell Armand

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Margaret Mitchell Armand is a Haitian scholar, poet, artist and trained psychologist. Born in Haiti and raised between Haiti and the US, Margaret’s’ life and work are framed by her faith in the African religious traditions and a celebration of Haitian Vodou.

Two of her most recent publications are a poetry collection “Finding Erzili” [English, French and Haitian Kreyol] and “Healing in the Homeland – Haitian Vodou Tradition”. In addition to writing, Margaret is an artist whose work is grounded in Haitian culture, which is to say it is grounded in Haitian Vodou. She creates art using scraps of wood, branches from palm trees, rocks, calabash, seeds and whatever else she finds in her garden. Her garden is also a lush collection of herbs and plants for healing and soothing the body and spirit.

‘Healing in the Homeland: Haitian Vodou Tradition’ explores the possibility of attaining decolonization through reconnecting with the past and reclaiming knowledge, particularly for the Affranchi descendent / bourgeois / elite class in Haiti. This is achieved through a series of narratives of formally educated Haitians who have ‘transcended their class and elite status’ to openly embrace Vodou, Haitian Kreyol and African-Haitian culture. I say openly, as Margaret points out that most Haitians practice Vodou in secret whilst dismissing it publicly. The narratives provide an insight into how social and cultural mores act to oppress individuals and take on a life of their own.

The work is an ‘indigenous intervention’ which begins by honoring the Taíno people who were murdered by the Spanish. Margaret alerts us to the failure of Western scholarship to acknowledge the Taínos as well as their relationship to African peoples both prior to Columbus and during the colonization.

‘All the ideology, the connections to nature, cosmology, what it means to be human, traveling with the stars. These were shared by Taíno and Africans.’ [MMA: Healing in the Homeland]

Although she is a Haitian scholar and Vodouizan, her position as researcher from a privileged social class highlights class divisions and assumptions around language, religion, and political affiliation. Margaret tells us how she had to recognize these issues but at the same time acknowledge to herself as she powerfully states:

‘Voice gives us, as writers, a presence in our writing. Our voices can thus position us as part of the humanity we write about or as separate and coolly detached. In this study, my position is as part of that humanity I am studying. I belong to the struggle because I was also a victim of it.’ [MMA: Healing in the Homeland]

In the conversation Margaret underlines the importance of historical knowledge in the decolonization process. She asserts that for Haitians and people of African descent or any indigenous people who suffered colonization, the decolonization process must begin around the Poto Mitan. That is to say, decolonization must be grounded in our historical knowledge and belief systems as African peoples and drawn from the spirit of the Haitian revolution and our ancestors knowledge. In particular she emphasizes that to reclaim one’s culture and identity through the Vodou tradition is a liberation from colonial mentality and a way to bridge the cultural gap between bourgeois and the popular masses.

‘The spirit of the Haitian Revolution was based on African and Taíno philosophy and ideology, a tradition of ancestral remembrance, a connection to nature, reparation of past wrongs and the fundamental principle of equality and justice for all through collaborative effort and consensus-based problem solving ….

‘Indeed the Haitian Vodou tradition is the cohesive force of the African Haitian revolution, the rallying point of resistance against colonial ideology continues to be the Poto Mitan of Haitian identity, which is the fulcrum of this study.’ [MMA - Healing in the Homeland]

 

The Haitian Vodou tradition began on the Atlantic crossings of enslaved Africans. On reaching Haiti, the enslaved men, women and children from across west and central Africa shared their belief systems, knowledge of the spirit world and rituals, with those of the indigenous Taíno peoples of Ayiti.

An awareness of the origins and the centrality of Vodou and Kreyol to Haitian identity formation, enables us to understand why both have been maligned and desecrated by Europeans from the beginning of the Transatlantic slave trade. The colonizers and plantation owners realized very quickly that Vodou Tradition was critical to freedom and from then until now, they have never ceased in attempts to destroy the essence of Haitian culture.

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SOKARI EKINE: You have been a Manbo for over 25 years, why did it take so long before you had the idea to write this book and what kind of challenges did you face?

MARGARET MITCHELL ARMAND: It was never an idea to write a book. You know I am a Manbo, I initiated but it was not easy because the society I’m in was not supportive. Vodou was not part of my childhood experience but my grandmother and great grandmother were both Manbos. As young adult I had little to say about being Haitian and I felt diminished because of this. So I returned to Haiti and with the support of Ati [url=https://vimeo.com/64228572Max Beauvoir[/url] as my spiritual father, I was initiated in the Peristyle of Mariani in Haiti. I am an avid learner and when I decided to get my Ph.D, I knew that my dissertation would be something that has deep meaning to me. One day, a colleague came to visit who had just finished her PhD and I said to her ‘oh I cannot do this, I cannot do the qualitative work, I am stuck’. She said to me ‘Margaret, don’t you have Vèvè, don’t you have Lwas, Don’t you have Vodou ceremony? I said ‘yes I do’ [Laughs] ‘Then do it!
SE: In terms of the structure of both your poetry and ‘Healing in the Homeland’, you choose to use the Vèvè and Lwa’s as a way of introducing the chapters. Why did you do this and what is the importance of the Vèvè ?

MMA: Vodou is about life itself in its many forms. It is also about art, music, and dance. Vèvès are everywhere, they are part of our spiritual, artistic and cultural expression, and also they are found in other indigenous communities. There they are called in terms of that culture. They are also used to depict the design and energy that you want to connect with. Just like in other religious beliefs systems. A Vèvè could be the design of a business card, it could be the symbol of a belief, so we cannot pin point the Vèvè.

The Vèvè has a spiritual element to it if one wishes. The design of the Vèvè varies according to the Lakou,[2] or the Peristyle; it has a structure but within that, it is flexible. It is an evolving process and we can create our own vèvès just like I have done with my business cards.

SE: You include in ‘Healing in the Homeland’ a series of participatory interviews with formally educated Haitians who have decolonized themselves through embracing Vodou. Each interviewee takes the name of a Lwa also depicted with their Vèvè, to represent themselves? Whose idea was this and why?

MMA: During the interviews, as part of the reclaiming of identity process, it seemed fitting that the interviewee chose a name for themselves and they chose a Lwa name. For others, I picked a name that would fit their personality.

SE: And that is what gives the book character, you are talking about Haiti, talking about Vodou, culture and language and you frame it all within the Vèvè, the Lwa and the Poto Mitan. One question we have discussed before is the chapter ‘Decolonizing the Poto Mitan’. How is the Poto Mitan the sight of decolonization, of Haitian decolonization in particular and even beyond that because you can take the idea of the Poto Mitan as the central force, of our very essence as [Black] people?

MMA: The Poto Mitan is the seed that grows into the tree of knowledge, that is the tree of Loko Atisou.[3] It is our seed, so when the seed comes up as Poto, the tree is our Poto Mitan in nature. This is our communication where the energy of a Lwa comes to communicate with us. It is under the Poto Mitan that we draw the Vèvè to say which spiritual energy [Lwa] we want with us. It is around the Poto Mitan that we find our peace and we can learn about our ancestors and our stories are told, and we pray, we dance we sing, we communicate with our Lwas. Here we are no longer colonized, that is why it is the place of decolonization.

Anything can be a Poto Mitan; in my Lakou, a mango tree or palm tree. When you put your ear to the palm tree you can hear the energy so its our connection to nature, to the energy and with spirits and our respect for nature. Around the Poto Mitan even from the time of the Taínos, it is here that we sit, we discuss and make plans. Its a collaborative consensus thing. And that is why I say it is a place of decolonization because this is the place of our truth.

SE: Our senses become numb when you live in certain environments not necessarily the west but in Haiti too. One of the things I learned from your work is the need to be aware and not to fear because then you are unable to feel or see.

MMA: Yes, you have to be aware that we have ancestors and we have some energy around us, you don’t have to see it, you have to feel it and have that sense but you have to work on this by being more observant. You have to accept it and trust it.

SE: From the interviews it is clear that many of the Haitian elite who become Vodouizan do so as a way of reclaiming their Haitian identity which is part of the decolonizing process. For example Marinèt Bwa Chèch [one of the interviewees] life struggle was a struggle to be Haitian and like many elite, her decolonizing journey began by discovering a hidden family history of Vodou practice.

‘Ah it felt good. I felt good to know that I had a Manbo and Hougan in the ancestral family. ….then I wanted to give myself a Haitian Lwa name. Give myself a name that could link me directly, not only to the Haitian Vodou religion but put me right there in it. Therefore I gave myself the name of a Lwa, you know Ezili Freda and Danto and Dahomey…’

Out of all the interviews which was your favorite?

MMA: I respected all their stories because they are all powerful. However, I admire a lot Grann Ayizan Velekete. [Standing Tall] She has moved to the world of the ancestors, I miss her, but she has done so much work and I identify with her in so many ways. It was a hard time, she had the whole society against her, she went to the countryside, to the Manbo’s house. Even today her family refuses to admit that she said these things but its all on tape, thats her voice. So Grann Ayizan to me was a fighter.

SE: She was my favorite too. She had so much to fight against because she went against the grain of her social class and because she was a woman too. I wonder why she chose Grann Ayizan?

MMA: Her strength was obvious. Whenever I asked her how is she doing she would reply “I’m still standing tall”! And the tree for Grann Ayizan is the royal palm and the royal palm always stands tall. It is also the palm in the Haitian flag.

SE: Grann Ayizan along with the other interviewees is a descendent of Affranchi which is a pejorative term used for the bourgeoisie. Could you explain the concept and the relationship of Affranchi with class in Haiti?

MMA: The Haitian elite do not like the word; they like to think they are French. Affranchi is not based on color, it is social status from pre-independence, someone of African descent who paid for his freedom. This is why in the book I did not use race as a variable because everyone is Black [Dessalines declared every Haitian to be Black]. I remember when I asked my aunt to tell me the story of our family, I said I know we were Affranchi. She got upset with me and did not want to talk about it because the Affranchi suffered a lot too. They were caught between two worlds and penalized by both. The affranchi were abused. They were used as prostitutes, humiliated, beaten.

They were eager to have families but seeing the Black families so denigrated they wanted to be like the white family. The Affranchi and the ‘mulatto’ had huge psychological problems. Petion [Alexander Petion] went to find his father who said “who are you”? But then when he ruled Haiti, he was just as bad as his [white] father. So being an Affranchi came with suffering but at the same time you had the space to survive, make money and have status.

My poetry is a reflection of the journey of my soul in particular time and space that brings magic to my life. It is often thought-provoking as it interrogates, shares, brings into perspective, writes back, questions, talkback, defends, speaks out, brings close, teaches, shows gratitude, understands, nurtures, remembers, dreams, honors, gives hope, cherishes and above all Heal and LOVE. It is a medium through which the creative energies of ancestral legacies flow in their relentlessness to provide immense satisfaction while transforming what I feel to a clearly defined outcome. The poems coalesce with the sacred arts of the Vèvè that offer the testimony of spiritual powers’. [Margaret Mitchell Armand - Finding Ezili]

SE: All your work is extremely personal and your poetry too; it is a self-exploration and very touching as you write about the loss of your son and the loss of your parents but you also celebrate them. So there is grief but also joy of life. How has your work as a writer, poet and artist impacted on your life as a Haitian American?

MMA – My poetry is personal. It is about celebrating life – love, joy and grief. Being an immigrant, coming to a different country I felt free because in Haiti then we were persecuted by the Haitian Government. Becoming an immigrant was an opportunity because in Haiti at that time there were limited opportunities in terms of higher education. I was glad to be in America and was able to adjust very fast. Then I realized also it was not as easy because of racial tensions. But when my culture and Haitian Vodou was attacked, I saw the ignorance and I wanted to change it but first I had to accept who I was and learn about Haitian Vodou and decolonize myself as well.

Many family members and friends showed their displeasure about me becoming a Manbo while introducing my children to Vodou. I did not care, I listen to the energies of the Lwas and I began to write poetry. So when I work it is the energy that talks to me. I don’t sit down and say I’m going to write a poem today. I just follow my instinct. As an example I miss my son who passed away and one day I saw some flowers that he loved and I wrote the poem. I feel something and I write it, these are my healing processes. I do not think of myself so much as Haitian American or American or Haitian. I just feel that where I am is where I need to be in this world. So I write, I dance, I paint
SE: In 1999 you traveled to West Africa. Why did you go, why was it important?

MMA: I wanted to make that connection so I travelled to West Africa. Afterward I did my DNA with African ancestry to find my roots to a specific area where my ancestors lived. The DNA revealed that I am connected to the Yoruba people [this is the Kingdom Nago / the Oyo Kingdom, during the time and prior to slavery,] and the Hausa and Bamileke people from Cameroon which was South Kongo prior and during the slave trade. This knowledge is found in the Vodou songs. I travelled to Benin in 1999 and to Senegal, Ghana Ivory Coast and to Cameroon in 2010. These are the most memorable places for me. I am grounded. I am Free.

 

‘Transformation is only valid if it is carried out with the people, not for them. Liberation is like childbirth and a painful one. The person who emerges is a new person: no longer either oppressed or oppressor, but a person in the process of achieving freedom’. Paulo Freire [MMA - Healing in the Homeland]

END NOTES

[1] Grann Ayizan – a powerful Lwa who cares about the weak and the unprotected and establishes order and peace.

[2] Lakou – a compound of traditional extended family and spiritual living

[3] Loko Atisou – the Lwa represented as the tree of knowledge of the Vodou tradition.

 

ADDITIONAL READING:

Margaret Mitchell Armand – http://www.margaretmitchellarmand.com

 

Interview with Dorothea Smartt, Brit born Bajan literary activist, live artist & poet

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Dorothea Smartt is a literary activist, live artist, and an established and respected poet with an international reputation. Born and raised in London she is of Barbadian heritage. Described as a ‘Brit-born Bajan international’, her work typically bridges the islands of Britain and Barbados, effortlessly shuttling between local and global scenes as it weaves a diasporic web. With two full collections, Connecting Medium and Ship Shape [Peepal Tree Press] her twenty years of experience, includes been engaged by the British Council and travelling to Bahrain, South Africa, Egypt, and Hungary. In 2013 she was keynote speaker at the Frank Collymore Literary Endowment Award, the premier literary award in Barbados. She is an honorary team member and advisor to Cambridge University’s Caribbean Poetry Project. She is Co-Director of Inscribe, a national writer development programme, Associate Poetry Editor of “Sable Litmag” and guest co-editor of their LGBTQI issues, and an Advisory editor to “Scarf”, a global arts & literature magazine. In her forthcoming third collection she continues to rework standard narratives, this time examining same-sex relationships and cross-gender experiences as push-pull factors behind ‘West Indian’ émigré workers on the Panama Canal.

In this interview, Dorothea underlines her relationship to her Bajan voice as a critical medium for her poetry. She reflects on her South London birth and upbringing in a Bajan household and the process of finding her voice and creating her place in the world as a Black girl in Britain. In the course of discussing her depiction of specifically located characters and their particular voices within her poetry collections, she repurposes historical and mythological figures, from Medusa to “Samboo” whom she renames Bilal. She engages us in her practice of historical “healing, restitution, recovery, re-membering and re-calling” in the excavation of overlooked and erased voices in past and present contexts. Her philosophy as a cultural practitioner is revealed through her treatment of cultural narratives as they impact individual and collective memory and consciousness, and implicate themselves in geographical landscapes. Her work re-inscribes a gendered, multiply located, lived and mythologized individual, familial and collective healing space.

She concludes by reading the introductory poem to her latest publication, “Reader, I Married Him & Other Queer Goings-On”, which was launched in Barbados at the Bim LitFest held on May 15-17, 2014.

Kagendo Murungi is a Kenyan writer, video producer and activist with a background in international sexual and gender rights advocacy. Her writing has been featured in the Queer African Reader (2013), Kwani? 07 (2012), United Nations Days of Vesak/International Association of Buddhist Universities Conference Journal (2012), Yellow Medicine Review (2011/2010) Sing Whisper Shout Pray: Feminist Visions for A Just World (2002), Role Call: A Generational Anthology of Social & Political Black Literature & Art (2002) and a range of other publications and multimedia productions.

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The ‘Diversity Test’: Is the London LGBT Film Festival a white-only affair?

The ‘Diversity Test’: Is the London LGBT Film Festival a white-only affair? by Christina Fonthes

Rag Tag (2006) directed by Adaora Nwandu
Rag Tag (2006) directed by Adaora Nwandu

Now in its 28th year, the highly-anticipated London Lesbian Gay Film Festival returned to the Southbank this year boasting a new name:  BFI Flare: London LGBT Film Festival.

The festival, which is headed by the British Film Institute (BFI), is one of the longest running festivals of its kind in the world, and is much-loved by Queer folk and cinephiles alike. This year’s festival-goers were treated to three gala films -Hong Khaou’s Lilting; Sophie Hyde’s 52 Tuesdays; and Antonio Hen’s The Last Match -, over 50 feature films from 20 countries, as well as a number of expositions and panel discussions.

The head of BFI’s Cinemas and Festivals, Australian-born Claire Stewart, said the rename was to

“reflect the increasing diversity of the programme and the people who identify with and embrace it”.

Alarm bells immediately set off whenever I hear that one of our formidable British institutions decides to be more ‘diverse’. The term diversity’ is usually followed by words such as ‘multicultural’, ‘celebrate’, ‘embrace’, ‘heritage’, ‘inclusive’, ‘equality’and other mundane and unoriginal terms and phrases that have been recycled so much by politicians, the media and arts organisations that they have become meaningless.

The festival received criticism for removing the words ‘lesbian’ and ‘gay’ from the name, and has been accused of appealing to a straighter and younger audience. As a black queer woman, the biggest qualm, for me, remains the issue of race. From the organisational structure to the audience that attend the screenings, the festival is, and always has been, a celebration of white Queer culture.

The ‘Diversity Test’

Out of the 122 features, shorts and archive films that were screened at the festival, only six have two or more (named) main characters that are black:

  • The Abominable Crime – a documentary exploring homophobia in Jamaica
  • Veil of Silence – a documentary exploring homophobia in Nigeria
  • Trans Lives Matter! Justice for Islan Nettles – a moving document of a community vigil for Islan Nettles, a victim of transphobia
  • Born This Way – a documentary about homophobia in Cameroon
  • Fashion Girls – a documentary about a group of gay men and transwomen in Brazil talking about their lives and their dance troupe
  • Big Words – a feature film about a group of black American men who used to be in a hip-hop band

And of the six films, four are about black homophobia/transphobia, and two are about black people singing and dancing.

From this short list, it is safe to say that the BFI Flare: London LGBT Film Festival is inline with the mainstream media’s agenda to keep black faces invisible. And like with all the other media organisations in the UK, when it comes to the representation of black people on screen – the representation we have become so accustomed to it seems, at times, futile to challenge it – we are presented with the same one-dimensional images of black people who are either engaged in violence and criminal activity or entertaining (through the mediums of sports and music) – the latter usually being within the form of dancing or singing/rapping to Hip Hop and/or RnB music accompanied by images of hypermasculine men and over- sexualised women.

The LGBT (Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender) community are not exempt from racism (be it institutional or otherwise), and the conversation about stereotypes and the limited narrative of black people must also include them. To me, it comes as no surprise that less than five per cent of the festival’s films featured black people; but is worth noting that the invisibility of black queer faces and voices within LGBT spaces fuel the stereotype that black queers do not exist and that all black people are homophobic.

Film is a powerful medium for raising awareness of social and political issues, and whilst it is extremely important to highlight the homophobic and transphobic violence that occurs within black communities, it is just as important to ask why it is that the only narratives about black queers are centred around black homophobia/transphobia and violence.

The under-representation of black people at the festival, and within the wider context of queer cinema, says that black queer lives are not significant enough to document. I ask: where are the short films about our first same-sex school crushes? Where are the comedies about our coming-out experiences? Where are the dramas about being turned away from nightclubs because the bouncers do not think black people are gay? Where are our biopics? Where are our films about suicide, depression, sex, love, romance and friendship? Where are the insights into bisexuality, polyamory and gender-non-conforming identities?

Difficult Love by Zanele Muholi
Difficult Love by Zanele Muholi

Funding and the ‘White Saviour Complex’

The lack of representation and the misrepresentation of black queers can be attributed to two key factors: first, the lack of funding and fiscal sponsors; black filmmakers (both queer and non-queer) struggle to secure funding from sources that are easily accessed by their white counterparts. Of the few films that are out there, the majority have a black cast and a white production. The recent wave of cutbacks from the government and arts organisations will no doubt contribute to this problematic situation.

The second factor is the White Saviour Complex - although the term was originally used to refer to white Americans, its characteristics can also be applied to white British people. The white saviour complex allows the white LGBT community to view black queers not as equals facing homophobia but as an ‘other’, an oppressed people who need to be saved. This is illustrated in the news and media coverage of the anti-LGBT laws and policies that were recently introduced by Nigeria and Uganda, which differed immensely to the coverage of the draconian laws introduced in Russia. The latter is presented as a modern country whose harsh laws call for international support and solidarity with Russian LGBT people, whilst the other nations are presented as barbaric, backwards and in need of help.

As Britain and America continue to hold themselves up as the beacons of civilisation and the LGBT voice of reason, we ought to remember that same-sex marriage was only made legal last month in the UK. And, Texas, Louisiana, South Carolina and several other states in America have always had anti-LGBT laws and policies identical to those recently introduced in Nigeria and Uganda.

The need for collaboration and solidarity

In twenty years time when black queer youth are trying to find images and representations of themselves, they will Google ‘black gay films’, and the only thing that will come up will be films about violence and homophobia/transphobia. They will not know about studs and femmes; they will not know that Angela Davis and Bayard Rustin, two great leaders of the civil rights movement, were queer. They will not know about the plethora of black queer night clubs in the streets of London; they will not know of the work of fine art photographer Ajamu or his ‘Fierce: Portraits of young black queers’

Nor will they know of the music of Angolan transgender artist Titica and American rapper Leif.

Audre Lorde’s revolutionary phrase:

“For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us to temporarily beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change”

should be the mantra of all black writers, creatives and activists. It would be irresponsible of us to leave it up to organisations like the BFI, who deemed it appropriate to host a prison-themed after party, to have more representations of positive black queer and non-queer experiences. At best, all they can offer is tokenistic gestures. The only real way to challenge the absence of black queer stories and the over-representation of white male narratives is by pooling resources and collaborating and supporting one another in order to create, publish and distribute our own stories.

 

Christina Fonthes is a Manchester-based translator, and Afrofeminist blogger. Born in Kinshasa, Congo and raised in London, she is an advocate for LGBTQ (Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Queer) rights. She is  a founding member of Rainbow Noir, a safe space created for and by Queer People of Colour in Manchester. Christina is a regular contributor at Black Feminists Manchester She can be found on Twitter at @CongoMuse and Musings of a Congolese Lesbian blog .  Also see her article British Film and Television: Where Are All The Black Gays?

 

***This article is published with the permission of the author and was first published on Media Diversified

Ending the Gay Witch Hunt

From Pambazuka News, Henry Makori calls for an end to the persecution of LGBTI people across Africa which goes beyond laws to a fierce intolerance by society at large.

 

President Yoweri Museveni has done it. Against widespread expectation raised by his earlier pledge, the Ugandan leader turned around this week and signed into law the contentious Anti-Homosexuality Bill passed last December by a parliament his ruling party, the National Resistance Movement (NRM), controls. The bill had been opposed locally and internationally for a record four years, since its introduction to the legislature in 2009.

It is a remarkable coincidence that Museveni’s executive action came in the week Pambazuka News has devoted to a special issue on the lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender and intersex (LBGTI) struggles in Africa. Our decision to dedicate a special issue to this subject was informed by the alarming reality that throughout Africa, colonial era laws that criminalised ‘unnatural acts’ are now being reinforced by independent governments, pushed by powerful lobbies, under the pretext that homosexuality is ‘un-African’ and harmful: this despite the fact that the existence of LGBTI persons in Africa since time immemorial is well documented. Colonial legislators would have had no reason to criminalise homosexuality if it is the Europeans who introduced it to the continent.

Beyond repression through harsh laws, there is fierce LGBTI intolerance throughout Africa. Even in countries where the constitution proclaims non-discrimination on whatever grounds, politicians, the priestly class and other self-styled moral police are undeterred in inciting their followers against gays. Homosexual persons have been attacked and killed or injured. Many have been forced into hiding, ostracised by their families, denied employment, have been unable to rent a house, etc. In South Africa the horrific phenomenon of ‘corrective rape’ before killing has been perpetrated by men against lesbians as an alleged ‘cure’ of their sexual orientation. It is impossible to remain silent in the face of this epidemic of hate and violence against innocent people.

And now with the stroke of a pen at a ceremony witnessed by state officials and journalists on Monday, President Museveni has left no one in any doubt about his personal approval of the flaming hate and violence meted to LGBTI persons in Uganda and Africa. Quite poignantly, Museveni’s Uganda is the home of David Kato, the iconic gay rights defender who was brutally murdered on 26 January , 2011. One can only imagine the gleeful smiles on the faces of Kato’s killers and other homophobes. The new law has surely emboldened them.

Uganda’s sweeping Anti-Homosexuality Act 2014 is draconian, no question about that. Among other provisions, a person convicted of the offence of homosexuality, which includes touching, faces life in prison. Conviction for same sex marriage earns one life imprisonment. Attempted homosexuality attracts seven years behind bars.

A Ugandan occupying premises where a homosexual affair takes place could be jailed for five years. Directors of media houses and organisations, property owners or bloggers convicted of promoting homosexuality will be jailed for up to seven years. Ugandans abroad can be charged with homosexuality and extradited to face the law at home.

Reading through the new law, one can not escape the impression that a disaster of apocalyptic proportions was unfolding in Uganda solely because of homosexuality, hence the need for such a ruthless legislative action to save the nation. But where is the evidence?

PURITCANICAL POSTURING

Explaining his decision to assent to the bill, President Museveni did not point to a national catastrophe but instead cast himself as the paragon of African culture and anti-imperialism. It is a tired line of reasoning. ‘It seems the topic of homosexuals was provoked by the arrogant and careless Western groups that are fond of coming into our schools and recruiting young children into homosexuality and lesbianism, just as they carelessly handle other issues concerning Africa,’ he said. Museveni further accused Western organisations of ‘recruiting normal people’ ‘to get money’.

Very well, Mr President. ‘Normal people’ are being recruited into homosexuality for money. Who has complained? What problem does that cause Uganda? Prior to the new law, it was already a crime to be gay in Uganda, the penalty being seven years in prison. Are Ugandan prisons teeming with homosexuals and their foreign recruiters? How many people from the West has Uganda prosecuted for recruiting children into homosexuality?

Scientists from within and outside the country, ‘after exhaustive studies’, had found that no one could be homosexual ‘purely by nature,’ Museveni claimed. Yet the president cited a study done on identical twins in Sweden (Sweden is not part of the West, right?) that showed that 34 percent 5 – 39 percent were homosexual on account of nature and 66 percent were homosexual on account of nurture.

The ‘Scientific statement from the Ministry of Health on homosexuality’, dated 10 February , on which Museveni claimed to have based his decision makes interesting reading. It deserves quoting at length.

‘Homosexual behaviour has existed throughout human history, including Africa’, the statement, signed by 11 top government-appointed Ugandan scientists, affirms. ‘Homosexuality existed in Africa way before the coming of the white man. However, most African cultures controlled sexual practices be they heterosexual or homosexual and never allowed exhibitionist sexual behaviour.’

‘Studies in sexology have shown that sexual phenomena exist on a normal distribution continuum like most human attributes e.g. height – most people are in the middle but others may be taller or shorter. Thus also in sexuality there are spectrum of sexual behaviors. Some people are less fixed in one form of sexuality than others. Thus sexuality is a far more flexible human quality than used to be assumed in the past, demonstrating the biological variability within the human race.’

Significantly, the experts state that, ‘Homosexuality is sexual behaviour (not a disorder) involving sexual attraction to people of the same sex. It is not clear whether this differing physiological response exists at birth or [is] developed after homosexual experience later in life. The conclusion from the current body of scientific evidence is that there is no single gene responsible for homosexuality and there is no anatomical or physiological data that can fully explain its occurrence…In summary, homosexuality has no clear cut cause; several factors are involved which differ from individual to individual. It is not a disease that has a treatment.’

There you have it. But Museveni is not only opposed to homosexuality. At the signing ceremony on Monday, he fulminated against oral sex and public displays of affection, pontificating that ‘Africans are flabbergasted by exhibitionism of sexual acts’. He then advised the nation on the appropriate ‘Ugandan’ way to get intimate. Etc, etc…One could simply dismiss the President of Uganda as being obsessed with sex! Except that his views now have grave implications for gay people’s enjoyment of the fundamental right to personal dignity and the freedoms of expression, belief and association enshrined in the Constitution of Uganda and in international conventions to which Uganda is a state party.

Museveni’s puritanical and anti-imperialist posturing fools no one, of course. First, the truth is that there are – and there have always been – homosexual persons in Uganda, Africa and elsewhere in the world, existing quite independently of Western or other influences – a sexual minority which Museveni’s own experts affirm. Why he and his ilk refuse to accept this reality is beyond reason.

Second, even if homosexuality was a Western influence, so what? What qualifies Museveni and other African elites to determine which cultural borrowings are good or bad, where the matter concerns individual private choices that harm no one?

Third, isn’t it astounding that, in a continent witnessing so much bloodletting caused by fundamentalist groups such as Boko Haram and Al Shabaab who claim to oppose Western influences, parliaments can pass – and presidents assent to – draconian laws on the same grounds?

And fourth, LGBTI persons pose no threat to anyone whatsoever by the mere fact of being gay. A person’s sexual orientation can never be criminal. Punitive laws targeting LGBTI persons are therefore entirely unjust. What problem in society is an anti-gay law supposed to cure? How, for example, would Ugandans benefit from the imprisonment for life, or even the violent death, of a hundred gays?

WHAT HOMOPHOBES ARE UP TO

If homosexuality threatens no one and is a natural phenomenon, why are gays being hunted down everywhere in Africa? One, there is fear of difference, arising from ignorance. There are many persons who have spent all their lives believing in exclusive heterosexuality and who have no knowledge about the existence of other sexual orientations. Their narrow view of sexuality, often based on religion, cannot countenance difference. Two, as veteran Uganda journalist Charles Onyango-Obbo writes, politicians use homophobia as a tool to divert public attention from pressing national issues, or to win support in conservative societies. Three, ultimately the war on homosexuality is about maintaining male dominance in society. Certain articles in this special issue ably argue this point.

And four, there is imperialism, which homophobes claim to be fighting. Behind the anti-gay crusade in Uganda – and many African countries – lurks a powerful American evangelical lobby out to ostensibly protect Christian values and traditional family life in Africa – yet another evidence of the colonial notion of the white man’s burden. Museveni’s wife Janet, who is also a Cabinet minister and an NRM member of parliament, is an ardent evangelical. In the 21st century, Western do-gooders must still paint Africa as the dark continent to justify continued imperialist intervention, in this case disguised as missionary work.

A month before the Ugandan Anti-Homosexuality Bill was drafted, three American evangelicals had held a conference in the country on homosexuality. Thousands of Ugandans, including police officers, teachers and politicians listened raptly to the Americans, who were presented as experts on homosexuality. The visitors discussed how to make gay people straight, how gay men often sodomized teenage boys and how ‘the gay movement is an evil institution’ whose goal is ‘to defeat the marriage-based society and replace it with a culture of sexual promiscuity.’

Uganda’s anti-gay law follows a similar one signed by Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan early last month, to the great jubilation of the Catholic bishops there. These two developments have certainly poured fresh petrol onto the fire of homophobia raging across Africa. There will surely be more attacks on gay people and more egregious violations of their rights with impunity. Harsher legislation or more aggressive enforcement will be demanded in countries where the so-called anti-sodomy laws already exist since the colonial times. Already in Kenya a group of members of parliament have launched a caucus against homosexuality, vowing to ensure strict enforcement of existing laws.

JOIN THE STRUGGLE

It is not all gloom, though. Despite widespread repression, the struggle for LGBTI rights as human rights is gathering pace in Africa as homosexual identifying persons refuse to be silenced. Throngs of enlightened Africans from every village and town should pour out in solidarity. You do not need to be gay to defend the rights of gays to live as free persons, anymore than you need to be a child or parent to champion children’s rights, or disabled to fight stigma and discrimination of disabled persons. Moreover, many heterosexual persons in Africa are going to suffer harassment under the harsh anti-gay laws, as eminent Kenyan scholar Prof Calestous Juma experienced.

In South Africa, Archbishop Desmond Tutu helped launch Africa’s first gay political party in January called the Democratic Religious Alliance Against Minority Antagonism (DRAAMA). The new party will champion minority human-rights issues the current ruling party, ANC, has failed to address since coming to power twenty years ago. Archbishop Tutu, an indefatigable LGBTI campaigner, has previously stated that he would not go to heaven if God is homophobic. ‘I would refuse to go to a homophobic heaven… No, I would say sorry, I mean I would much rather go to hell… I would not worship a God who is homophobic and that is how deeply I feel about this,’ he said.

Archbishop Tutu is not alone. Weeks ago, the Southern Cross, a weekly published by the Catholic Church in Southern Africa, carried a bold editorial condemning homophobic laws in Africa and calling upon the church to speak out in the defence of LGBTI rights. The paper deplored the fact that ‘the church has been silent, in some cases even quietly complicit, in the discourse on new homophobic laws.’

‘The Church cannot sponsor the criminalisation of matters of private morality, and much less the advocacy of human rights. Prejudice and the persecution of homosexuals are in defiance of Catholic doctrine,’ the editorial stated. ‘While the Church’s teachings prevent her from standing with homosexuals on many issues, especially same-sex marriage, she has an obligation, mandated by Christ, to be in solidarity with all those who are unjustly marginalised and persecuted.’

‘African bishops especially ought to speak out, as loudly as they do on same-sex marriage, against the discriminatory legislation and violence directed at homosexuals, many of whom are fellow Catholics. Where is the prophetic voice of the church in condemning the general homophobia in society?’

In Kenya, Rev John Makokha responded to this challenge ten years ago by establishing Other Sheep-Africa, a faith-based organisation to fight religious homophobia. Last year, the organisation won in the ‘Dini’ (Religion/Faith) Category of the Kenya Upinde Awards for promoting dialogue on faith, gender, sex and sexuality. Upinde Awards are organised annually by the yet to be registered National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission.

The virulent homophobic campaign sweeping Africa must be stopped. It is unacceptable that innocent citizens of independent African nations who should enjoy equal rights and protection under the law are targeted for criminal prosecution or wanton violence, merely because of their sexual orientation. Africans need to understand that homosexual persons are normal human beings who experience their sexuality differently. Any laws, policies, attitudes and practices that criminalise or stoke hate against adults engaging in consensual same sex sexual relationships are irredeemably unjust. Every reasonable person should resist them. Vigorously.

* Henry Makori is an editor with Pambazuka News.

Interview with Haitian historian Bayyinah Bello

Bayyinah Bello with Professor Leonard Jeffries
Bayyinah Bello with Professor Leonard Jeffries

Bayyinah Bello first traveled to Africa at the age of 12 to join her father in Liberia. She later returned as an adult first to Nigeria where she lived for four years and later to Benin, Togo and other countries in the region. In total she spent 15 years living on the continent. In retrospect, her journey was a circular one in search of Ayiti and it’s indigious belief system, Vodou. Bayyinah discusses her experience and research into religions beginning with Islam, Hinduism and later African belief systems including Vodou as practiced in the Kingdom of Dahomey [now Benin]. She is founder of Fondasyon Felicite, named after the wife of revolutionary hero Jean Jacques Desslaines, Marie Claire Heureuse Felicite Bonheur Dessalines, The foundation is part of Bayyinah’s insistence that to ” knowing is doing” or to know is to do. In this case to know the true history of Ayiti beginning before colonization, before slavery, before the indigenous Taino peope were wiped out by the occupaying forces of Europe, up to the present post 2010 earthquake and invasion of new colonizers in the form of NGOs and missionaries. For Bayyinah, Ayiti’s future is bound with the past, a past born in Africa and lived through African belief systems and not those used to colonize our minds.

Area Scatter – “”Ugwu Anya Engbulam”

From Likembe: Cross – Dressing Fun with Area Scatter

 

 

I’ve recently learned that several years ago the Igbo traditional musician Area Scatter was killed in an auto accident. Area was a performer who achieved renown throughout Ala Igbo, and even drew some international notice. One of the more memorable sequences in the acclaimed television documentary series Beats of the Heart came during “Konkombe,” the segment on Nigerian music. It featured Area Scatter, who had a performing style that was unique, or unique for Nigeria, anyway. Let’s read the description of him in the book Beats of the Heart (Pantheon Books, NYC, 1985):

 

“. . . we headed off into the forests to the hut of an infamous ‘witch doctor,” or shaman, called Area Scatter. His home was filled with bones and skulls and paintings of the power of good and evil. A muscular, humorous man, he explained how, after living through the civil war, he had gone into the wilderness for seven months and seven days and had reappeared transformed into a woman. The day we visited him he headed off, dressed in white smock, polka-dot skirt and a shamanist bone necklace, to the residence of his Royal Highness Eonunnoke to play for the local king and queen.

“Area Scatter was a highly accomplished performer on his thumb piano which was decorated with a distinctive skull and crossbones. When the king and his wife ceremonially entered and seated themselves on their thrones, Area Scatter bowed deeply and started to sing in a soft, rich voice. . .”

Of course, in the United States there are well-known transvestite performers like Ru Paul or Divine, but I understand that this sort of thing is rather odd for Nigeria, at least among the Igbo. I’m not aware of any tradition of theatrical cross-dressing in Nigeria (as for instance in Chinese opera or during Shakespearean days), nor should we assume that Area was gay. While homosexuality in Nigeria is certainly not unheard of (a reading of Hints or any of the other Nigerian “True Confessions” – type magazines should dispel that notion!), it is surrounded by so many layers of scandal and condemnation that the idea that any Nigerian would flaunt his or her gayness is, frankly, mind-boggling. So let’s just say that Area Scatter was a guy who literally marched to his or her own drummer, and leave it at that.

Uchenna, from With Comb and Razor, was kind enough to rip that segment from Beats of the Heart for us, and here it is:
When my wife, Priscilla, returned from Nigeria a few years ago, she brought back an actual Area Scatter LP, Ugwu Anya Egbulam Musical Group led by Area Scatter (Namaco ENLPS 56), excavated from a used-records shop in Ajegunle. The name of the group, “Ugwu Anya Engbulam” means roughly “The Evil Eye Will Not Kill Me.” I was originally going to put up just one track from it, then decided that posting the whole album would give listeners a better feel for the talent of this unique artist, Area Scatter.

In the first song, “Uwa Marala Okaa Ome Nwachukwu,” or “the well-known Nwachukwu does what he says he’ll do,” Area Scatter sings the praises of a certain Mr. Nwachukwu, who built a big house, who helps widows, and who pays the tuition for needy students, among other things:

Ugwu Anya Egbulam Musical Group led by Area Scatter – Uwa Marala Okaa Ome Nwachukwu

The title and refrain of this song, “Nwa Nnem Uwam Gbulam,” means “my brother, my sister ["nwa nnem," literally "my mother's child"], I am just fed up with this world”:

Ugwu Anya Egbulam Musical Group led by Area Scatter – Nwa Nnem Uwam Gbulam

This is a long testimonial to the “Great Chief” (“Eze Ukwu”) of Ngwa-Ukwu, a township near Aba. The final part of the song apparently deals with a love triangle – there was a struggle, police were called, etc:

Ugwu Anya Egbulam Musical Group led by Area Scatter – Ajelele Eze Ukwu of Ngwa-Ukwu / Akwa Goddy Uwalalula

Many thanks to Priscilla for interpreting the lyrics. Albums of Nigerian traditional music like this are not rare – thousands of recordings of Igbo traditional music alone were issued during the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s. What is unusual is to find any of them outside of Nigeria. To be honest, I just love the stuff, so I will be posting more of it in the future.

If you would like to see “Konkombe,” or any of the other episodes of Beats of the Heart, you can order the DVD here.

Museveni and reconstruction of homophobic colonial legacy in Africa

From Pambazuka News,  “Museveni and reconstruction of homophobic colonial legacy in Africa: Which way progressives?”  Horace Campbell on the passing of ‘legizlations of hate” in Uganda and Nigeria exposes the historical roots of right wing American Christian fundamentalists which goes back to lynching of Black Americans, a Eurgenic agenda  support of Apartheid and demonisation of Haitians and the 1804 independence.

As the legalization of hate towards same-gender loving persons gains traction in parts of Africa, it is the task of Pan African progressives and decent humans everywhere to expose this orchestrated destructive cultural war. This assault, fomented by some of the most conservative and racist Christian fundamentalists in America, is an attempt to reconstruct the divisive homophobic colonial legacy in Africa. This wave of extremism is in the same category as the activities of some of the most conservative Muslim fundamentalists who attempt to sponsor the imposition of archaic religious laws on Africans. In the midst of the confusion and moral façade under which these religious fanatics operate, the progressive Pan Africanist must speak up decisively. Two weeks ago Pambazuka News carried a splendid issue opposing this wave of hate and I want to join in opposing this legislation of hatred and intolerance. More than thirteen years ago when the Black Radical Congress was still a vibrant political force in the USA it had issued the statement, ‘African Leaders Hide Political Woes Behind Homophobia.’ [1]

On February 20, Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni signed into law the Anti-Homosexuality Bill also dubbed as ‘Jail the Gays Bill,’ criminalizing same-sex relationships with up to life imprisonment. This Anti-Homosexuality Act 2014 (previously called the ‘Kill the Gays Bill’ in the media due to the originally proposed death penalty clauses), was originally passed by the Parliament of Uganda on 20 December 2013. Because of the international outcry over the death penalty proposal in the bill, this death penalty clause was dropped in favour of life in prison. One day after Museveni signed this bill into law, a Ugandan newspaper published a list of what it called the country’s 200 top homosexuals, outing some people who previously had not identified themselves as gay. This came only weeks after Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan signed into law a similar bill that would punish same-gender loving persons with up to 14 years in prison.

After signing the bill, Museveni referred to gays as ‘disgusting’ human beings, while suggesting that his action was intended ‘to demonstrate Uganda’s independence in the face of Western pressure and provocation.’ Museveni echoed an irony when he categorically stated that ‘we do not want anybody to impose their views on us.’ Janet and Yoweri Museveni have been supporters of the most conservative Christian fundamentalists in the USA and they have not been shy about their loyalty to these social elements in North America. [2] That Museveni was ready and willing to sign the original version of the bill was a reflection of the politics of retrogression in Uganda. That he equivocated with a statement about seeking scientific evidence on the sources of homosexuality was a demonstration of his insecurity and opportunism. This opportunism has been the trademark of Museveni since the days in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, when he posed as the most radical anti-imperialist of the elements of the Dar es Salaam School. Ultimately, Museveni calculated that his alliance and loyalty to conservative Christian fundamentalists was more important than any kind of reasoning that he may have had with former Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa. The Anti-Homosexuality Bill was crafted with the help and influence of some white supremacist, right wing Christian fundamentalists from the USA. [3] Prominent among these extremists was Scott Lively. Lively has since been charged for crimes against humanity in US court for his role in engineering the Uganda Anti-Gay Bill. [4]

The activities of American fundamentalists and individuals who influenced Ugandan leaders and helped craft the country’s anti-gay bills have been chronicled by researcher Kapya John Kaoma in the publications titled, ‘Colonizing African Values’. [5] (See also, by the same author, ‘Globalizing the Culture Wars: US Conservatives, African Churches, and Homophobia’.) [6] As noted by Kaoma, pioneers of the present wave of homophobia in Africa are ‘U.S. Christian Right figures including the internationally prominent Baptist pastor and bestselling author, Rick Warren; Scott Lively, the anti-gay, Holocaust revisionist; and Lou Engle, head of the revivalist group, The Call, and a leader in the right-wing New Apostolic Reformation movement…. [T]hey are contributing to the atmosphere of intolerance that is resulting in ‘instances of harassment, discrimination, persecution, violence and murders committed against individuals because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.’”

This atmosphere of hate, discrimination, harassment, persecution and lynching was perfected by the white supremacist bred in a country – USA – that for nearly a century enshrined in its constitution and justified the notion that the black personhood is only 3/5th of a normal human being. It is against the backdrop of this inherent dehumanization associated with the legalization of hate that African progressives must stand up and speak out against the wave of anti-gay laws blowing across the continent from Zimbabwe to Cameroon, Uganda, Nigeria and elsewhere.

Rights of same gender loving persons are human rights that are inextricably linked with the rights of every person in society. Yoweri Museveni’s claim on the anti-imperialist mantle comes from the silence of the progressive Pan-Africanist Left in Africa. Inside Uganda, Kizza Besigye, (a leader of the opposition) attacked the new laws signed by Museveni. He disputed the claim that homosexuality was ‘foreign’ and said the issue was being used to divert attention from domestic problems. Three years ago the Ugandan scholar, Sylvia Tamala, published the book ‘African Sexualities: A Reader’. [7] This ground breaking reader is still not widely known, and it will be important for many to read such works to engage this debate. What is significant is the stunning silence of well-known radicals in Uganda and East Africa on this criminalization of Africa’s LGBT community. Where are the scholars of the Dar es Salaam school on this issue?

South Africa has a progressive constitution that guarantees all people’s rights. But anywhere leaders are insecure they turn to bigotry, hate and the politics of exclusion to gain popularity. The most outrageous was Robert Mugabe who called homosexuals ‘pigs and dogs.’ And yet, many progressives still see Mugabe as a great revolutionary. More than ten years ago when I wrote on ‘Homophobia in Zimbabwe and the Politics of Intolerance,’ [8] some sections of the global Pan African movement objected and continued to praise Mugabe as anti-imperialist. In Nairobi, at a public meeting in 2011, young radicals from Bunge la Mwananchi (people’s parliament) were vociferous in their proclamation of intolerance to same-gender loving persons even while they were loudly opposing all other forms of oppression in Kenya.

Progressives in Africa must resist the ostensible moral appeal of the religious extremists and be humble enough to admit that there are some complex phenomena about human sexuality that require the critical questioning of popularly biased sentiments. There has to be an in-depth anthropological interrogation of generalizations and assumptions in present day Africa, as well as the probing of pre-colonial African societies and practices that were overshadowed by colonial laws and ordinances. Precolonial African societies were not homogenous but rather complex, diverse, and multidimensional. In the book, ‘Male Daughters, Female Husbands: Gender and Sex in an African Society’, [9] anthropologist Ifi Amadiume sheds light on the fluidity of sexuality in a precolonial Ibo society. This conceptualization of flexible gender relations was a real breakthrough and more work needs to be done to expose the myths that there were no same-gender relationships in Africa before colonialism. Other works of anthropology have responded to Amadiume and have investigated the reality of sexuality in some precolonial African societies (see for example, ‘Boy-Wives and Female Husbands: Studies of African Homosexualities’). [10]

Across Africa, the Western hegemons imposed their religion, languages, cultures and laws while demonizing or outlawing pre-existing practices. Most ‘educated’ Africans eventually internalized the Western ways, including the laws and religions that were bequeathed by colonialism. Societies such as Nigeria and Uganda were not an exception, and that is why same sex relationship was already not recognized by these countries’ constitutions which themselves are a colonial legacy. Thus, the promulgation of the anti-gay laws amounts to a reconstruction or reinforcement of a Western colonial legacy.

Many of the right wing American Christian fundamentalists that are financing and lobbying for the anti-gay laws in Africa are known for their eugenic agenda and were heavily in support of apartheid and destabilization in Africa during the Cold War. Some of them, including televangelist Pat Robertson, have not only opposed civil rights for Blacks in America but are also advocates of American exceptionalism and imperialism. It was the same Pat Robertson who at the time of the devastating earthquake in Haiti in 2010 said that there was the earthquake in Haiti because the people had signed a ‘pact to the devil.’ This was his understanding of the Haitian revolution which overthrew slavery and colonialism in 1804.

These conservative forces and their corporate backers are still working hard in America to reduce voting rights for blacks and browns, assault women’s and minorities’ rights, increase military budgets at the expense of funding for healthcare and education, as well as oppose programs and policies that benefit low wage workers and the exploited in the USA. They tend to be losing the culture war against the rising multi-racial tide in America, hence their intensification of the struggle in Africa. As one analyst puts it: ‘The U.S. culture wars are still not understood in African circles.’

While some tendencies within African Christianity share charismatic beliefs with U.S. Christian Right campaigners, the African Church in general is more social-justice-oriented and concerned about the exploited and the disenfranchised. Social justice and human rights advocates must expose the U.S. Christian Right’s opposition to social justice initiatives in the United States—and their historic alignment with White supremacist and repressive regimes in Africa.

Pan-Africanists and progressives cannot sit on the fence at this decisive moment. They must choose to be either in alliance with conservative forces opposed to social justice and equality or join forces with those who want equal rights and social justice for all Wole Soyinka has spoken out against these laws – which he referred to as ‘legislative zealotry.’ [11] In continuation of the tradition of their late father, the sons of Fela Kuti the Afrobeat maestro – Femi Kuti and Seun Kuti – have both made decisive statements against the anti-gay laws. [12] Author Chimamanda Adichie has done same. [13] It’s time for many more progressive Africans to take a stand.

Also see the Pambazuka Special issue : The Struggle for Homosexual Rights in Africa

 

Implications of the anti-homosexuality Act on the work of Human Rights Defenders in the Republic of Uganda

The Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders in Africa, Commissioner Reine Alapini-Gansou, received information that on 24 February 2014, “The Anti-Homosexuality Act, 2014” was promulgated in the Republic of Uganda.

The Special Rapporteur notes that some of the provisions of the Act, in particular Section 13, prohibit, on penalty of imprisonment, the promotion of homosexuality and provide that the certificate of registration of any association or international organization which violates the Act shall be cancelled.

Such a law is likely to endanger the life and safety of persons alleged to belong to sexual minorities, as well as human rights defenders working on this issue, since it undermines their activities and freedom of expression, association and assembly, all of which are rights guaranteed by the Ugandan Constitution, and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, in particular Articles 2, 9, 10 and 11.

The Special Rapporteur is deeply concerned by the cases of intimidation and threats against some persons considered as Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals and Transgendered (LGBT) following the promulgation of the law. She further notes that some newspapers are already publishing the names and photographs of individuals considered as homosexuals, a situation which further increases the feeling of insecurity among the persons concerned.

The Special Rapporteur regrets the promulgation of the law whose consequences seriously undermine the work of human rights defenders and endanger the safety of sexual minorities who are already vulnerable as a result of social prejudice. She strongly condemns any interference in the privacy of these individuals as well as acts of violence and harassment they are subjected to.

The Special Rapporteur urges the Ugandan authorities to take the necessary measures to abrogate or amend the law.

She reminds the Ugandan Government of its international obligations, including those under the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.

She calls on the Ugandan Government to take the necessary steps for the effective protection of all persons against discrimination and violence, regardless of their sexual orientation, and to maintain an atmosphere of tolerance towards sexual minorities in the country.

The Special Rapporteur further calls on the Ugandan authorities to ensure that human rights defenders work in an enabling environment that is free of stigma, reprisals or criminal prosecution as a result of their human rights protection activities, including the rights of sexual minorities.

By the same token, she encourages the Ugandan political authorities to continue dialogue on this sensitive issue of homosexuality in Africa.

The Special Rapporteur urges the Ugandan Government to spare no effort to ensure the security and physical integrity of all human rights defenders in Uganda.

Banjul, 10 March 2014

Homosexuals sacrificed for political ambition in Uganda: A Statement from Freedom and Roam Uganda [FARUG]

KAMPALA: Freedom and Roam Uganda (FARUG) with dismay and regret condemns the Anti Homosexuality Act accented to by the president of Uganda on Monday 24th, February 2014. The Act contravenes the fundamental national and international human rights standards and the constitution of Uganda which calls for the protection of the right to privacy, equality and non-discrimination. The law also denies Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) persons the rights to freedom of association and peaceful assembly.

While assenting the Bill, the President said that the country can’t be forced to do something “fundamentally wrong.”

The (AHB) which was infamously known as the Kill The Gays Bill was first introduced to parliament by Ndorwa west Member of Parliament; Hon. David Bahati in 2009 with the objective of establishing a comprehensive and consolidated legislation to protect the traditional family by prohibiting any forms of sexual relations between persons of the same sex. “The people of Uganda should know that they have been duped for political ambition. The debate surrounding the Act has been a diverse measure to divert attention from real issues of national concern. This bill will never solve Uganda’s real problems like lack of drugs in hospitals, poor education services, bad roads or corruption. The Act will not change how we feel or who we love. It will make life extremely difficult for us but will change nothing” Said Junic Wambya, the Executive Director of Freedom and Roam Uganda.

This law deals a major blow to public health access and information for LGBTI persons in Uganda especially in regards to HIV prevention and care. Criminalizing the funding and sponsoring of health related activities and policies will not only affect homosexuals but Uganda as a whole. “It is very sickening to listen to the head of the State degrading the people he is supposed to protect. He has distorted the medical reports from around the world to justify his hold on to power in quest for votes from locals at the expense of lives of homosexuals. It’s really a pity that now more than ever we have to watch our backs; but maybe this is a blessing

in disguise. I see that it has now made us move faster to the much anticipated decriminalization since now we shall be heading to the constitutional court which will dismantle even the penal code. That’s my consolation from this madness.” Said Kasha Jacqueline; The founder of FARUG.

Legal implications of the Law

All laws should have a commencement date but the Anti Homosexuality Act doesn’t have a designated commencement date. That means it can only be operational after it has been gazetted which could be

anytime from the date of assent. Before that, no person can be charged under this Law. The Law cannot be used to penalize any person who committed the crimes therein before the Bill was

signed into Law. The Bill was amended to take out the death penalty for acts of aggravated homosexuality but life imprisonment for acts of homosexuality and aggravated homosexuality still stands. The law imposes a sentence of seven years for attempted homosexuality, aiding and abetting homosexuality and recruitment of minors into homosexuality. Any organization found promoting homosexuality stands to serve a sentence of 5 years imprisonment or pay a fine of UGX100million or both.

Call to action

In coming days many LGBTI persons will be assaulted, arrested and detained. As of yesterday, 25th February; a gay couple was attacked and one of them killed while the other is in critical condition in hospital. Many have been thrown out of their houses by landlords and yet others will continue to lose their jobs. In the midst of all this we request the general public to desist from radical and irrational acts of violence towards suspected LGBTI persons. We demand that security agencies including the police and prisons endeavor to investigate any cases of violence perpetrated against LGBT persons and refrain from making arrests based on meagre hearsay and or suspicion. Uganda during the Universal Periodic Review in 2012 in Geneva committed to:

  • ? Investigate and prosecute intimidation and attacks on LGBTI community members and activists.
  • ? Investigate thoroughly and sanction accordingly violence against LGBTI persons including gay rights activist.
  • ? Take immediate and concrete steps to stop discrimination and assault against LGBTI persons. Media organizations should also refrain from sensational reporting which is fuelling hatred and attacks on persons suspected to be homosexuals.

We demand that donors channel funds to Civil Society Organizations carrying out, Social, Economic and human rights work rather than to a corrupt institution that has no remorse in not protecting its citizens. It is very unfortunate that we have to make such a call but Uganda should be isolated to prevent this passing of laws with impunity from spreading across the continent. This is very crucial to protect other countries in Africa. Finally we urge the international community to continue supporting the LBTI community, morally, financial and technically in response to security treats and human rights violations. To contribute to FARUG security fund please donate through our PayPal on our website: http://www.faruganda.org/paypal.html .

For more information contact:

Kasha Jacqueline: 0772463161

Jay Abang: 0782628611

For more on the medical report:

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/warrenthrockmorton/2014/02/23/exclusive-changes-made-in-final-report-of-the-ministry-of-health-committee-on-homosexuality/

Museveni’s speech at signing of Bill

http://www.monitor.co.ug/News/National/Museveni-s-Anti-Homosexuality-speech/-/688334/2219956/-/item/0/-/6t248n/-/index.html

https://pdfzen.com/c12275be8591a372.

FREEDOM AND ROAM UGANDA [FARUG], IS A MEMBER OF THE COALITION OF AFRICAN LESBIAN

Phumzile Mtetwa & Val Kalende on Anti-LGBTI Legislation

On Africa Today with Walter Turner, Phumzile Mtetwa  and Val Kalende discuss resistance strategies around the recent legislation from Uganda and Nigeria criminalising LGBTIQ people in those countries.

 

 

 

 

 

When Militarism Wins – Uganda and Aid Farce

From Paper Bird, an  excellent report  by Scott Long on who are the winners and losers in the AID game – the dice are loaded!

Victory! .. isn’t it? On February 27, the World Bank announced it was “indefinitely” delaying a scheduled $90 million loan to Uganda to improve health care, in response to the passing of the comprehensively repressive “Anti-Homosexuality Bill.” “We have postponed the project for further review to ensure that the development objectives would not be adversely affected by the enactment of this new law,” a Bank spokesman said.

In the circles where I move  – international (that is, North-based) activists working on LGBT rights — rejoicing burgeoned: finally the big funders are getting serious about queer people’s oppression! Politicians joined in. Nancy Pelosi, ex-speaker of the US House, tweeted joyfully:

pelosi wb copy

Jim Yong Kim, President Obama’s appointee to the lead the World Bank (an organization Washington still disproportionately funds and dominates) brought home the message with an op-ed the next day:

Institutionalized discrimination is bad for people and for societies. Widespread discrimination is also bad for economies … Legislation restricting sexual rights, for instance, can hurt a country’s competitiveness by discouraging multinational companies from investing or locating their activities in those nations.

Let’s pause to bask in the exhilarating effect of having a powerful institution intervene for LGBT people, with a leader in global development saying the “s” word — sex, as in “sexual rights.” Yes: it feels good.

Still, this is Africa. And this is the World Bank. For international activists to laud its actions so unreservedly involves a wretched show of amnesia.

We think that debt has to be seen from the standpoint of its origins. Debt’s origins come from colonialism’s origins. Those who lend us money are those who had colonized us before … Debt is a cleverly managed re-conquest of Africa, aiming at subjugating its growth and development through foreign rules. Thus, each one of us becomes the financial slave, which is to say a true slave.

Probably few of my international colleagues will recognize those words– another leftist rant, right? But many Africans know them. It’s Thomas Sankara, then president of Burkina Faso, speaking to the African Union in 1987. Sankara had rejected the mandates of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund and launched on a development path that promoted economic equality, gender justice, education, and health care as basic rights. Three months after saying that, he was dead: murdered in a coup. France and other creditor nations tacitly endorsed his killing. He’s remembered and mourned across Africa today. His successor brought the country back under World Bank and IMF tutelage; as a result, as a South African analyst remarks, “Today Burkina Faso remains one of the least developed countries in the world.”

 

For twenty-five years, the World Bank has pushed essentially unvarying policies across the developing world: privatization, cutting the public sector, fostering an export-based economy (so that poor countries become suppliers of raw materials to the industrial North, and don’t grow their own industries and markets). It imposed these restrictions as conditions for loans; that debt, in addition to crippling Southern economies, then became a weapon to enforce more conditions. Poverty spread, not development. The Bank has been friendlier to civil society than its IMF sibling; but their ideologies and impacts have been the same. Praising a World Bank intervention for LGBT rights in Africa while forgetting this history is like praising Putin’s tender concern for Crimean Russians, while forgetting the Ukrainians next door.

You can use the power of international lenders for certain instrumental ends. That doesn’t mean you have to love them. We shouldn’t just hail what they do, we should scrutinize it. And please. You cannot condemn (as indeed you should) the neocolonialism of foreign evangelists exporting homophobia to Africa, and ignore the neocolonialism of foreign financial institutions that enforce neoliberal economics on an abject continent. Why is it wrong to import one devastating ideology, and OK to import another? Sorry. You need to be consistent.

So in the spirit of scrutiny, some questions arise about what the World Bank did.

First of all: why postpone this loan? Mainly, the $90 million was earmarked to combat maternal mortality: aimed at ”maternal health, newborn care and family … through improving human resources for health, physical health infrastructure, and management, leadership and accountability for health service delivery.” It entailed funding to expand and train medical staff, to “professionalize and strengthen” management, for obstetric equipment and medicines including contraceptives, and for renovating hospitals. These goals are unlikely to be “adversely affected” by the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. The real reason for the selection is that this loan was up for board approval on February 28. The Bank seized on the first loan that came along to postpone. It was a matter of convenience, not strategic targeting.

Progress, but not enough: Uganda maternal mortality rate, 1990-2013

Uganda maternal mortality rate, 1990-2013 (from http://www.countdown2015mnch.org/reports-and-articles/2013-report)

Second point: Maternal mortality is serious in Uganda — and a political issue.

The country’s rate of maternal mortality is extremely high. In the Millenium Development Goals — endorsed by nations at a UN summit back in 2000 — countries committed to reduce the level of maternal mortality by 75% by 2015. For Uganda, this would mean cutting a rate that hovered appallingly around 600 per 100,000 live births in the 1990s, to 150. A 2013 report found the rate had fallen to 310 per 100,000 live births — around a 3.2% reduction every year, the UN said, but still well above the goal. Fewer than half of mothers had adequate antenatal care, and only a third had sufficient postnatal care. Less than 60% had a skilled attendant at delivery. Despite the government’s loud promise of a National Minimum Health Care Package (UNMHCP) for all Ugandans, health services still fail to reach many poor and rural women.

Statistics on maternal health care in Uganda (from http://www.countdown2015mnch.org/reports-and-articles/2013-report)

Statistics on maternal health care in Uganda (from http://www.countdown2015mnch.org/reports-and-articles/2013-report)

By some estimates, between 6,500 and 13,500 women and girls in Uganda die each year due to “pregnancy-related complications.” That means at least sixteen women die every day.

In 2011, a coalition of NGOs petitioned Uganda’s courts to intervene. They argued 

that by not providing essential health services and commodities for pregnant women and their new-borns, Government was violating fundamental human rights guaranteed in the Constitution, including the right to health, the right to life, and the rights of women.

The case has stayed stalled in the legal system. At a September 2013 hearing, the government simply failed to show up, forcing an indefinite postponement. In May 2012, an emotional procession of women and health-care providers marched through Kampala’s streets to support the lawsuit. They got an apology from the judiciary for delays — too few judges, too little time — but the delays continued. They also met with Finance Ministry officials to demand increases in the health sector budget; those didn’t happen. Leonard Okello of the International HIV/AIDS Alliance Uganda told the press, “Dying mothers are not a priority in Uganda.”

Marchers in Kampala, May 22, 2012

Marchers in Kampala, May 22, 2012

Corruption and cronyism are undoubtedly at issue (top government officials waste a small fortune traveling for health care abroad), but the basic question is budgeting. Museveni has successfully battled back the political pressure to reorder his priorities. In 2001, African Union countries signed the Abuja Declaration, committing them to raise health spending to at least 15% of budget. (The development field seems particularly prone to these lofty professions of faith, which multiply like theological credos in the early Church.) Despite all its challenges, including one of the world’s best-known AIDS crises, Uganda has rarely made it much more than halfway to this target. The figures for recent years show a large decrease in the health sector’s budget share — from just over 10% in 2010 to under 8%:

On the right: health care as a percent of overall budget (from "Citizen’s Budget: The Civl Society Alternative Budget Proposals FY 2013/14 - 2017/18), at http://www.csbag.org/docs/Citizens_Budget_FY2013_14.pdf

On the right: health care as a percent of overall budget (from “Citizen’s Budget: The Civil Society Alternative Budget Proposals FY 2013/14 – 2017/18?, at http://www.csbag.org/docs/Citizens_Budget_FY2013_14.pdf)

Who gets the money instead?

Interesting question. Here are the allocations by sector from Uganda’s budgets for the last two fiscal years.

Uganda budget by sector, FY 2013/14 (from "National Budget Framework Paper," Ministry of Finance, at http://www.psfuganda.org/new/images/downloads/Trade/budget%20%20framework%20paper%202013-14.pdf)

Uganda budget by sector (from “The Background to the Budget, Fiscal Year 2013/14,” Ministry of Finance, p. 104, at http://www.budget.go.ug/budget/content/background-budget)

(Note the percentage figures on the right, and ignore the numbers in shillings, which are made irrelevant by inflation.) Health’s share goes down again, to less than half the Abuja Declaration goal. Other losers are education, agriculture, water and the environment. Huge shares of the budget are taken up by “Energy and Mineral Development” and “Works and Transport.” These partly reflect the growing exploitation of Uganda’s oil reserves. They also reflect the priorities neoliberal lenders like the World Bank have always urged on developing countries: go produce raw materials for export to the industrialized North! and go build the infrastructure to get them there! One commentator says the country is “focusing on physical capital at the expense of human capital.” That’s an understatement.

But the other big factor is the security sector.

Security doesn’t look so massive: only 8.2% of the latest budget. That’s only the tip of the AK-47, though. Many defense expenditures remain hidden. Uganda’s Independent newspaper noted that the “the budget for Defence in the BFP [Budget Framework Paper] has always been smaller” than the reality:

[I]n real terms that figure excludes monies accrued to Defence from external sources. The figure also does not include classified expenditure that is usually Defence’s biggest component. Because of national security, the army does not reveal certain expenditures.

The 2013/14 budget featured “about ten new taxes… introduced partly to finance the Ministry of Defence.” These included a value-added tax (VAT) on water and on wheat and flour, regressive imposts designed to squeeze money from the poor. Security is Museveni’s “topmost priority,” the Independent says, and it’s the great enemy of health. In 2012, rebel parliamentarians proposed cutting the military’s largesse by 15 billion shillings (about US$6 million) and boosting health spending by 39 billion (US$15.5 million). Museveni quashed the move in fury. He snarled that he “couldn’t sacrifice the defense budget for anything.”

The President prizes his troops: “a large military war-chest increases Museveni’s regional and international leverage, and helps cow opposition to him at home.” But the US loves the Ugandan military as well. America wants to see plenty of money spent on it.

David Hogg, Commander of US Army Africa, inspects Ugandan troops in April 2011. Photo: U.S. Army. .

David Hogg, Commander of US Army Africa, inspects Ugandan troops in April 2011. Photo: U.S. Army. .

I wrote two years ago about the US’s aims for strategic hegemony in Africa, driven by the promise of buried resources and the threat of China. Uganda, as ally and partner, is key to this design. Obama actually sent US troops to Uganda in 2011, to join its army in chasing the warlord Joseph Kony, loathed by well-meaning white people everywhere. This was a small reward for Museveni’s larger services in bringing a desolate stability to Somalia. In 2012, the Pentagon “poured more than $82 million into counterterrorism assistance for six African countries, with more than half of that going to Uganda.” Money and equipment keep flowing to Museveni’s forces. Obama showers Uganda with “lethal military assistance,” writes the pundit Andrew Mwenda, because “America’s geostrategic interests in our region, and Museveni’s pivotal role in them, demand that the American president pampers his Ugandan counterpart.” 

And here is where we can start to understand some ambiguities in the World Bank’s actions.

The $90 million loan for “Uganda Health Systems Strengthening” that the Bank was on the verge of giving drew on two earlier Bank analyses of Uganda’s health crises. There’s a 2009 paper, Uganda: A Public Expenditure Review 2008, With a Focus on Affordability of Pay Reform and Health Sector. A longer 2010 working paper, Fiscal Space for Health in Uganda, elaborated on this. (Peter Okwero, task team leader for the loan, helped compose both.) They’re fascinating documents that reveal much about Uganda and much more about the Bank. It’s an honest institution in many ways, frank with figures and often good at diagnosing what’s wrong. But its prescriptions seem to come from a different place from its diagnoses — one permeated with politics and ideology. Its medicines rarely match the disease.

The findings are unsurprising. Aside from considerable waste (caused by theft of drugs but also poor procurement and storage practices) the main problems in health care stem from lack of funds. Capital spending in hospitals has shrunk; many hospitals are old and decaying. Medical costs are rising: “Growing resistance to the existing treatment for malaria (and more recently for TB), is forcing Uganda to adopt more expensive treatments.” Meanwhile, ”Uganda faces a serious shortage of health personnel in the workforce,” with only 8 doctors per 100,000 population. Staff are underpaid (even drug stealing, a major component of waste, is surely related to salaries, though the reports don’t draw the connection). And many sick people need resources just to use the system: 

65 percent of women reported lack of money to pay for treatment as a constraint to seeking treatment. Other problems included travel distance (55 percent), the necessity of taking public transportation (49 percent), concern over unavailability of medications (46 percent) …

“Preliminary health sector modeling work carried out under this study suggests that Uganda clearly needs to increase public health spending for non-salary cost at clinics and hospitals.”

Student nurses in the caesarean section ward of Rukungiri hospital, 2007: ©  Patricia Hopkins, ABC news (Australia)

Student nurses in the caesarean section ward of Rukungiri
hospital, 2007: © Patricia Hopkins, ABC news (Australia)

Except the conclusion is, weirdly, Uganda can’t. Here’s where the medicine stops fitting the diagnosis. “[Only] limited opportunities for additional public funding seem to exist,” the 2009 report says. The reports adduce this from looking at the national budget, and finding there’s just no flexibility there.

Can Uganda increase the share of its Government budget devoted to health? Reprioritizing health spending at the expense of other sectors seems unlikely. It is not clear which other sector budgets can feasibly be cut in order to increase allocations to health. Government policy has emphasized fiscal consolidation, whilst agriculture, energy, roads and USE [universal secondary education] are each identified as priorities in the coming years. … The best option for generating more health outputs in Uganda would seem to be through improved efficiency of Government spending rather than increasing Government spending. [Emphasis added]

So much for those lawsuits based on human rights! Instead … blah, blah. “Uganda’s health policymakers must identify a combination of efficiency savings and re-prioritization to sustain progress towards health targets … Efficiency gains will be needed and can be found …  The most pressing priority is to utilize the existing funding for health more efficiently.” (Italics added.) The reports show that Uganda needs increased health spending. But they end with “Recommendations to reduce the growing pressure to increase health spending.” They remind you mothers are dying, and then offer Museveni advice: how to tell those irritating women who march about dying mothers to get lost.

In Mbarara Regional Referral Hospital, 2012, from http://journey-to-uganda.blogspot.com/2012/07/no-irb-approval-no-research.html

In Mbarara Regional Referral Hospital, 2012, from http://journey-to-uganda.blogspot.com/2012/07/no-irb-approval-no-research.html

And it’s very interesting what budget sectors the World Bank looked at. They examine “agriculture, energy, roads” and education and find there’s nothing there to give to health care (even though Uganda’s most recent budgets managed to cut the first and last items). What the Bank doesn’t mention — not once – are defense and security, the military and police. Shifting money out of those sectors isn’t even under consideration. For the Bank, Museveni’s guns are sacrosanct. It’s the butter that needs trimming.

It’s tempting to say the Bank is showing a delicate sensitivity to Museveni’s feelings here. Why antagonize the old dictator by menacing his pet Praetorians?  But the World Bank has never hesitated to tell governments to cut their favorite projects. Instead, we need to recall the Bank’s political situation. The US is its largest shareholder; the American President appoints its head; the Yankee-led Bank put the Washington in the Washington Consensus, balancing off the European-dominated IMF. The Bank’s approach to Ugandan budgeting reflects the US’s priorities. The US gives its share of support to health care in Uganda, through PEPFAR and other programs; but its main interest is Museveni’s military, and it has no desire to see money for soldiers shifted to obstetricians. The Bank, likewise, is not going to threaten the defense sector. If that’s the choice — and they don’t even dare to suggest it — health care has to fend for itself.

The Washington Consensus: Street art from Argentina

The Washington Consensus: Street art from Argentina

The $90 million loan was meant as a way out of this dilemma, giving the Ugandan health system a bit more breathing room. It’s interesting, then, how the Bank moved so quickly to suspend it. According to BuzzFeed, the Democratic leader of the House herself called the Bank:

“Yesterday, Leader Pelosi [a curiously North Korean locution] spoke with President Kim to express the concerns of Members of Congress about the legislation enacted in Uganda,” Pelosi’s spokesman, Drew Hammill, told BuzzFeed in an email. “While we appreciate the difficult decisions President Kim has to make and their impact on the lives of many in the developing world, many Members believe that such a blatant act of discrimination should not go unnoticed.”

How odd that Pelosi phoned the Bank about its aid package before dialing her own government’s agencies. Yet it makes a certain sense; for Obama was under pressure to do something about Uganda, and some were pointing to that sacred military aid as a tempting target. Just one day earlier, Stars and Stripes — the US Army’s own newspaper – suggested as much.

[D]owngrading cooperation with Uganda’s military would be a way to send a signal to the leadership in the country, said J. Peter Pham, director of the Atlantic Council’s Africa Center. … 

“Military assistance is the one area where the U.S. has options,” Pham said. “[T]he Ugandan People’s Defence Force remains one of the few bastions of professionalism in the country, and its leadership is about the only check on Museveni and his ambitions to impose his son as a successor; hence, a shot across the UPDF’s bow might get some attention from those best positioned to get the president’s attention.”

The paper quickly backtracked: “Some experts, however, say that military ties are unlikely to be cut. Given the role the Ugandan military plays in promoting regional stability, dramatic cuts in aid should be avoided.” Lovely stability! You can see how the World Bank’s loan postponement was a happy distraction. It ended any pressure on the US government to trim its military commitments to Kampala. Uganda was already suffering, and Obama no longer needed to pile on. Pelosi’s call served its purpose.

This is stability: Ugandan soldier in Mogadishu, 2007

This is stability: Ugandan soldier in Mogadishu, 2007

The gesture is more a symbolic than a real one. The World Bank is unlikely actually to cut the loan, with four years of planning behind it. Sheila Gashishiri, the Bank’s spokesperson in Kampala, told the AP on February 28 that “the project run by Uganda’s Health Ministry will continue despite the postponement.” That probably means the funds will come through after a suitable interval.

In fact, Museveni’s regime will benefit. The whole brouhaha gives him wonderful room for rhetorical posturing. “The West can keep their ‘aid’ to Uganda over homos,” the ruling party’s press man Ofwono Opondo said, adding both that “Africa must stand up to Western domination” and that “Western ‘aid’ to Africa is lucrative and profitable trade they cannot cut off completely.” The politicos can have their cake of indignation — and ultimately eat their cake of $90 million credits too. Their rage, their language, pits LGBT people against pregnant women — a terrible side-effect of the Bank’s action. Surely that can only help brutal violence against the former spread.

Moreover, even a brief interruption in the health care loan gives Museveni ammunition. He can stand up to NGOs, Parliament, and even the courts if they demand more funding for the health sector to fight maternal mortality. “What money? The World Bank money? Where is it? There is no cash.” Those marching women can just go away. His security budget is even safer now from niggling jealousies.

And yet all this aid-cutting and health-care gutting is, we’re told, a blow for equality, against discrimination. We talk so much about “equality,” in the Western LGBT movement! The word is our fetish; we raise up those rosy equal signs as if they were the Black Madonna of Cz?stochowa.  But maybe we need to think more deeply about equality’s meaning.

Here is the logo for the State Department’s Global Equality Fund, which supports LGBT organizing around the world.

GlobalEqualityFund_blog

You have to love that rainbow circle: it’s seductive as the One Ring. So, too, is the call for dialogue. But what if that sphere dialogued with this one – a chart of global inequality, prepared by no less impeccable a capitalist center than a famous Swiss bank:

oct18_global_wealth

It’s a bit more … detailed. As are these circles:

Top: Wealth shares by country, 2000 (from Wikipedia; data from  http://www.wider.unu.edu/research/2006-2007/2006-2007-1/wider-wdhw-launch-5-12-2006/wider-wdhw-press-release-5-12-2006.pdf; Bottom: Wealth shares by region, 2010

Top: Wealth shares by country, 2000 (from Wikipedia; data from http://www.wider.unu.edu/research/2006-2007/2006-2007-1/wider-wdhw-launch-5-12-2006/wider-wdhw-press-release-5-12-2006.pdf; Bottom: Wealth shares by region, 2010

You’ll notice that Africa, with one-sixth of the world’s population, has one percent of its wealth. Uganda is a tiny, tiny sliver within that. I want the rainbow ring, but there’s something missing. How do these visions of equality connect?

The US-based Human Rights Campaign, which gave those iconic equality symbols to the world, also weighed in on the World Bank’s statement, inveighing at recalcitrant countries that

you will pay a high price for discriminatory practices. Whether viewed through a moral or economic lense [sic], discrimination does not pay. … HRC applauds Secretary Kerry and World Bank President Kim for taking a stand on LGBT equality. But the work is far from done.

HRC’s international work, of course, is mainly supported by the profits of vulture funds, exploiters who traffic in Third World debt and immiseration. Equality can mean so many things.

VULTURE 9So who won, and who lost? The World Bank won. They’ve sent the US a message that they are pliable to its political requirements. They’ve sent Uganda a message that there will be Consequences, but the Consequences won’t affect the programs Museveni most loves — the ones with guns. Then, messages mailed, the World Bank can finally produce the loan, which will take it off the hook (except to collect the interest). Uganda’s government is also a winner. They get to stand up theatrically to the blackmail of perversion; in the end, they probably get the cash. They also get an excellent argument against shifting money from the security establishment, or ending the deaths of pregnant women.

To these you can add the US government, which can rest confident that its military aid to Museveni has again evaded question. And you can add Western gay movements — especially those in the United States, allied not-quite-knowingly but easily with the administration’s interests. They’ve flexed their macho muscles and proven that they have some power, power to make the poor pay for what other people have done. I mean, it’s true that LGBT communities in Uganda are still laboring under oppression, and we haven’t done so much about that; but at least we get to oppress someone too. Isn’t that a consolation?

The losers are all in Uganda. They’re folks whose voices, though sometimes ventriloquized, are too faint or peripheral to be heard: mothers, children, LGBT people. Here’s to the victors! Great job.

Policing our Sexuality: The Conservatives War Arsenal Grows {Uganda, Anti-Pornography Act}

 “Policing our Sexuality: The Conservatives War Arsenal Grows” by Happy Mwende Kinyili for the Queer African Network

The recently passed bills in Nigeria, the Same-Sex Prohibition Act, and in Uganda, the Anti-Homosexuality Act and the Anti-Pornography Act, have raised the furore of activists around the world. In particular, organising around the Same-Sex Prohibition Act and the Anti-Homosexuality Act has been loud and concerted around the world, with some leaders on the one hand cautioning the passing of these Acts, while other leaders have lauded the passing of these Acts as shining examples of the upholding of African values.

While it may not have garnered as much attention, the Ugandan Anti-Pornography Act presents an enormous challenge to significant gains made on the legal front around ensuring the freedom to inhabit one’s body and enjoy one’s sexuality free from government and patriarchal oversight. Media houses have dubbed this the ‘mini-skirt ban law’, indicating that the passing of this bill bans the wearing of mini-skirts. However, a reading of the Act does not include any such stipulation, as there is no part that talks about the dress code of women. The Act addresses many other aspects that are serious violations of freedoms, but this – the supposed mini-skirt ban – is not the force of the act, contrary to news reports. Unfortunately, the erroneous reading and reporting of this Act has led to several women and men in Uganda being stripped by mobs for wearing mini-skirt and low-slung trousers.

The fixation on the “mini-skirt ban law” had diverted attention away from the truly problematic portions of this Act. The Act places limitations on sexual freedoms by using vague language to open the door for mischievous interpretations of the Act. The definition of pornography in the Act “any representation through publication, exhibition, cinematograpy, indecent show, information technology or by whatever means, of a person engaged in real or stimulated explicit sexual activities or any representation of the sexual parts of a person for primarily sexual excitement” is extremely broad and just about anything could be interpreted as pornography. This is particularly so as the definition of ‘sexual’ is left open in the Act and the naming of anything as pornography is to be done by the Pornography Control Committee.

This Pornography Control Committee is open to individuals from the legal profession, media industry, publishing houses, arts and entertainment industry, education professionals, health professional, religious leaders and cultural leaders, who demonstrate high moral character and proven integrity. The assumption that only individuals from these formally recognised industries are in a position to define pornography and sexual is presumptive, and leaves huge segment of society ineligible to participate in defining these terms. Further, the determination of high moral character and integrity is again left open to the interpretation.

A significant caveat on the functioning of this committee is buried deep in the Act, in part 5, section 21. The functioning of this committee is contingent on funds that will be approved by both Parliament and other monies donated for the performance of functions of the Committee. This avenue makes for an extremely powerful Committee that can be swayed by a well placed donation, as it leaves open the possibility of donations from individuals and organisations who are seeking interpretations of pornography that would benefit their political, financial or social aims and causes.

Other aspects of the Act that are particularly heinous are the provisions that require Ugandan ISP providers to enforce the recommendations of the Committee to ensure the suppression of pornography. In the event that the ISP provider fails to control and suppress the passage of pornography through their services, they could face the suspension of their business. Furthermore, through this Act, there shall also, be the creation and maintenance of a Register of Pornography Offenders. Hence, any person who is convicted of an offence under this Act shall have their name entered into the registry. The Act fails to mention the use of this register other than declaring that it shall be created. This leaves yet more avenues for mischievous actions aimed at controlling the actions of individuals.

While people’s views on pornography and its use and access are varied, this Act leaves too many avenues open for abuse and harassment. For example, two women who appeared in court over a breach of contract case were jailed for three hours and their case hearing postponed because they appeared in court wearing mini-skirts. The judge presiding over their case declared that the wearing of their mini-skirts was disruptive to the session since the two women had attracted attention of people around the court who declared that their dress code was in violation of the recently passed Anti-Pornography Act. The mischief has already begun. Clearly, the ambiguity in the Act leaves it open that anything and everything can be deemed to be pornography…or go by the old adage; you know its pornography by looking at it.

Organising and protests around these three bills have been loud and concerted around the globe. Activists in the two countries have warned that the respective governments have used the passing of these bills to distract the general populace from agitating for change following significant failures by the governments to provide their citizens with essential services as well as divert public attention away from disclosed cases of corruption and mismanagement of funds by government officials. While there is significant evidence to demonstrate that distraction may be one of the reasons the governments have passed these bills, it is also important to remember that these Acts are direct attacks on gains made against patriarchal policing and control of our sexuality. Sex is used to distract attention because it can distract attention. These Acts are additional arsenal in the war chest of those who are struggling to uphold the patriarchal policing of sexuality. The passing of these bills into law are very deliberately curtailing and controlling sexuality and ensuring that the state’s gaze can at any moment be turned on you and your sexuality should you step out from the prescribed rules and regulations in any way.

5. Jjingo,. M. “Women get three-hour jail term for wearing miniskirts,” Daily Monitor March 7, 2014

Uganda Anti Pornography Act of 2014

 

“Throughout history people everywhere have explored and experimented with their sexuality.

From the Guardian Africa Network, Nigerian / British writer, Bernadine Evaristo dismisses the mantra that homosexuality in Africa is a ‘western import’ and provides examples of  same sex relationships and multiple gender relations.  “Throughout history people everywhere have explored and experimented with their sexuality. The desire to do so has never been confined to particular geographical locations. Its reach is universal.”

 

Bernadine Evaristo
Bernadine Evaristo

Africa has 54 countries and more than a billion people. One of the most ridiculous myths about it is that homosexuality did not exist in the continent until white men imported it. Robert Mugabe is one such propagator, calling homosexuality “un-African” and a “white disease”.

Throughout history people everywhere have explored and experimented with their sexuality. The desire to do so has never been confined to particular geographical locations. Its reach is universal. Yet today the myth of a pre-colonial sexual innocence, or more fittingly, ignorance, is used to endorse anti-gay legislation and stir up homophobia and persecution in Africa. In my father’s country, Nigeria, a new law passed in January carries a 14-year prison sentence for same-sex marriage and up to 10 years for membership or promotion of gay groups. In Uganda, the Anti-Homosexuality Act can impose life imprisonment. Latter-day evangelicals from the US are partly to blame for this continuing persecution, but so are Africa’s political leaders such as presidents Yahya Jammeh of the Gambia and Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, who use rabble-rousing anti-gay rhetoric to increase their power base and popularity.

While much has been written about this dangerous turn of events, little has been written about its origins. Two trailblazing studies in the field – Boy Wives and Female Husbands edited by Stephen O Murray and Will Roscoe, and Heterosexual Africa? by Marc Epprecht – demolish the revisionist arguments about Africa’s sexual history. From the 16th century onwards, homosexuality has been recorded in Africa by European missionaries, adventurers and officials who used it to reinforce ideas of African societies in need of Christian cleansing.

The Portuguese were among the first Europeans to explore the continent. They noted the range of gender relations in African societies and referred to the “unnatural damnation” of male-to-male sex in Congo. Andrew Battell, an English traveller in the 1590s, wrote this of the Imbangala of Angola: “They are beastly in their living, for they have men in women’s apparel, whom they keep among their wives.”

Transvestism occurred in many different places, including Madagascar and Ethiopia. Among the Pangwe people of present-day Cameroon and Gabon, homosexual intercourse was practised between males of all ages. It was believed to be a way to transmit wealth. The Nzima of Ghana had a tradition of adult men marrying each other, usually with an age difference of about 10 years. Similar to the pederasty of ancient Greece, Sudan’s Zande tribe had a tradition of warriors marrying boys and paying a bride price, as they would for girl brides, to their parents. When the boy grew up, he too became a warrior and took a boy-wife.

In this same tribe lesbianism was practised in polygamous households. In the 18th century the Khoikhoi of South Africa used the word koetsire to describe men considered sexually receptive to other men, and soregus was the word they used for a friendship which involved same-sex masturbation.

Homosexuality is also recorded among the Siwa of Egypt. It was considered a boy’s rite of passage in Benin, and woman-woman marriages involving a bride price existed in more than 30 African societies from Nigeria to Kenya to South Africa.

How far back can homosexuality be traced in Africa? You cannot argue with rock paintings. Thousands of years ago, the San people of Zimbabwe depicted anal sex between men. The truth is that, like everywhere else, African people have expressed a wide range of sexualities. Far from bringing homosexuality with them, Christian and Islamic forces fought to eradicate it. By challenging the continent’s indigenous social and religious systems, they helped demonise and persecute homosexuality in Africa, paving the way for the taboos that prevail today.

The main character in my latest novel, Mr Loverman, is a 74-year-old black gay man, Barrington Walker. Married with two daughters, he has been in the closet for 50 years. Soon after the book was published, a young gay man emailed me from Nigeria expressing his fear that his life would turn out like Barrington’s. I didn’t know what to suggest except that, if he wanted to live openly and legally as homosexual, he had to leave his homeland. What else could I say?

Millions of gay people living in Africa face a similar choice. If they stay, they can either repress their natural sexuality or risk losing their liberty and their lives. The legacy of colonialism is alive and well. As another character in Mr Loverman says: “It’s homophobia, not homosexuality, that was imported to Africa.”

 

Guardian Africa Network

Coffin of Love and Loss

muholi-sm_1409

 

Via Inkanyiso – Zanele Muholi “Of Love and Loss” An exhibition

African groups call for the African Union to urgently respond to gender and sexuality rights violations in Africa, and particularly to anti-gay laws recently passed in Uganda and Nigeria

African groups call for the African Union to urgently respond to gender and sexuality rights violations in Africa, and
particularly to anti-gay laws recently passed in Uganda and Nigeria

As African civil society organisations whose members live and work to improve the lives of all Africans, we condemn in the strongest terms, the disturbing increase in sexuality and gender-related rights violations and abuses, especially those aimed at women and gender non-conforming people, and people in same sex relations including lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans-identifying African people.

Specifically, we condemn the signing of the Nigerian Same-Sex Marriage [Prohibition] Act and the Ugandan Anti-Homosexuality Act, both of which were passed into law this year by Presidents Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria and Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, respectively. We also strongly condemn the Anti-Pornography Law, which was passed in Uganda last year.

In defence of African people whom these laws target, we seek recourse through the African Union (AU) and its organs.

We also call on the AU Chairperson, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, to make a public statement condemning both the Nigerian and Ugandan laws, and providing African citizens with a roadmap for how the AU Commission plans to address laws that violate gender and sexuality-related rights amongst member states.

EXTREME VIOLATIONS
Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act criminalises homosexuality—defining it as “same sex or gender sexual acts”—with punishment ranging from seven years to life imprisonment. Those who are found guilty of “aiding and abetting homosexuality” also face up to seven years in prison. Uganda’s Anti-Pornography Act places limitations on ‘appropriate’ dress code for women, specifically banning miniskirts and any other clothing deemed to “cause sexual excitement”.

The Nigerian Same-Sex Marriage [Prohibition] Act goes further than its stated purpose by criminalizing the registration of ‘gay clubs, societies and organisations and banning the public show of a same sex ‘amorous’ relationship either directly or indirectly, carrying a ten year prison sentence for such acts.

These laws have already forced people from their schools, work and homes out of fear and due to their safety being threatened. The levels of violence, threats, and abusive and hate speech have escalated dramatically as homophobic laws have been put in place. We note with alarm that in both Uganda and Nigeria,  the passage of these laws have been accompanied by acts of murder, rape, assault, arbitrary arrest and detention and other forms of persecution of persons on the basis of their imputed or real sexual orientation and gender identity. The climate of fear and hate was further escalated in Uganda by the publication of a list of “200 Top Homosexuals” in Red Pepper Newspaper, with the headline “Exposed”, immediately following President Museveni’s signing of the Anti-Homosexuality Act. This constitutes a gross violation of media ethics and of human rights, both of which, we argue, are punishable under Ugandan law.

States have an obligation to protect the rights of all citizens, regardless of gender or sexuality. States have a responsibility to protect the rights of all who live in their borders. States should not be creating the conditions in which violence by non-state actors are justified or encouraged. Nor should the state set itself up as a threat to its own citizens and block them from living with basic levels of freedom as both Uganda and Nigeria have done.

We reject arguments made by the heads of state of both Uganda and Nigeria, that consensual same-sex relations are “unAfrican”, and we condemn in the strongest terms the comments of political, religious and cultural leaders who have used similar rhetoric to incite hatred against persons perceived to be homosexual.

We celebrate and echo the strong voices of African leaders who have rejected these claims and who continue to condemn discrimination, violence and human rights violations based on real or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity. We align ourselves with all Africans who have spoken out in the face of these unjust laws and who have continued to call for respect for diversity and for all Africans to embrace the African idea of Ubuntu –our shared humanity.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, stated in respect of the Nigerian law, “Rarely have I seen a piece of legislation that in so few paragraphs directly violates so many basic, universal human rights.” Former President of Mozambique, Joaqium Chissano, in an open letter to African leaders said, “I encourage leaders to take a strong stand for fundamental human rights, and advance the trajectory for basic freedoms…This simply means granting every one the freedom and the means to make informed decisions about very basic aspects of one’s life – one’s sexuality, health, and if, when and with whom to have relationships, marry or have children – without any form of discrimination, coercion or violence.”

Given its mandate as the human rights organ of the African Union, we call upon the African Union Commission, as well as the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, to condemn all homophobic and anti-gay laws that have either been passed, or are being proposed, throughout Africa, and further respond urgently to the increasingly violent acts that precede and follow these laws.
– Statement by African civil society organisations listed below.

Contact:
Lucinda van den Heever, Sonke Gender Justice : (+27) 72 994 3138
Kene Esom, African Men for Sexual Health and Rights : (+27) 11 242 6801
Sheena Magenya, Coalition of African Lesbians : (+27) 11 403 0004/7

List of signing organisations:
African Men for Sexual Health and Rights (AMSHER)
Africa Regional Civil Society Platform on Health
AIDS Accountability International
Coalition of African Lesbians (CAL)
Gay and Lesbian Memory in Action (GALA)
Gay and Lesbian Network (Pietermaritzburg)
Gender DynamiX
HOPEM (Men For Change) Mozambique
Signing organisations (continued):
International HIV/AIDS Alliance
MenEngage Namibia
MenEngage Zimbabwe
MenEngage Zambia
MenEngage Kenya
Out in Africa
SANAC Women’s Sector
Sonke Gender Justice
South African Council of Churches Youth Forum
Triangle Project
World AIDS Campaign
Women’s Global Network for Reproductive Rights
Background for Editors
Provision of the laws
While there are close to 40 African countries that criminalise consensual sexual conducts between persons of the same sex, the new laws enacted by Nigeria and Uganda goes further by criminalising peoples’ sexual orientation and identities regardless of sexual conduct. They also include such egregious provisions.

The Nigerian Same-Sex Marriage [Prohibition] Act [A1] includes:
•             a provision for a 14-year prison term for anyone who enters into a same sex union,
•             a ten-year prison term for anyone who ‘administers, witnesses, abets or aids’ a same sex marriage or civil union ceremony.
•             The law states that ‘a person or group of persons who … supports the registration, operation and sustenance of gay clubs, societies, organizations, processions or meetings in Nigeria commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a term of 10 years imprisonment.’

The Uganda Anti-Homosexuality Act: [A2]
•             introduces a series of crimes listed as “aggravated homosexuality” – including sex with a minor or while HIV positive;
•             criminalises lesbianism for the first time;
•             makes it a crime to help individuals engage in homosexual acts;
•             makes homosexual acts punishable with life in prison.

African LGBTIQ do not need a ‘get out of Africa’ escape route!

Gays in Africa Need Our Support” by Melanie Judge, calls on the South African government to produce a counter narrative to the “homosexuality is unAfrican” being peddled by religious and cultural fundamentalists across the continent.

Certain groups are creating opportunities for LGBTI people to escape Africa, but if the causes of the hate are not addressed, nothing will change, writes Melanie Judge.

The recent passing of the Anti Homosexuality Act (AHA) in Uganda and the South African government’s mealy-mouthed reaction to it demand attention.

South Africa sponsored and is leading the first ever UN resolution on sexual orientation and gender identity. South Africa also boasts a constitution that explicitly affirms equality and non-discrimination on the basis of sexuality and gender. Yet our government cannot muster the political stealth to speak against (rather than just about) homophobia when it really counts – as is the case now.

Shortly after the act’s passing, the government stated that “South Africa takes note of the recent developments regarding the situation of lesbians, gays, bisexual, transsexual and intersex persons (LGBTI) worldwide… (and) will, through existing diplomatic channels, be seeking clarification on these developments from many capitals around the world”.

What’s to clarify? This indicates a deep reluctance to name recent events in Uganda and to take a position on them.

It also implies, through the seeking of clarification, that there is some legitimate rationale for criminalisation of members of that country’s population because of their sexual or gender identity.

The SA Human Rights Commission took a bolder position and “strongly rejects the notion that the freedom to live and love without fear of violence and regardless of one’s sexual orientation is part of a rights framework from Western countries. The struggle for these and other freedoms has been at the heart of liberation struggles throughout (Africa)”.

The ANC blocked a motion in Parliament against the AHA, reflecting its ambivalence to speak out. On the contrary, the former president of Mozambique Joaquim Chissano’s open letter to African leaders is an example of the kind of leadership present persecutions demand.

The AHA and other legislation of its kind give state legitimacy to violence against people on the basis of their real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. The AHA will prompt the forced migration of some LGBTI people.

The AHA feeds a narrative that positions citizens with non-conforming sexualities and genders as outsiders to the dominant culture of the nation. This is linked to the false notion that homosexuality is unAfrican and homophobia isn’t.

In its self-appointed leadership role on LGBTI equality internationally, the government should readily offer a counter-narrative to those who peddle prejudice in the name of “Africanness”.

Homophobia in Africa represents a set of complex and intersecting issues – deeply routed in the continent’s colonial past. Violent inscriptions of race, sexuality, ethnicity and gender took place under colonialism and are linked to present-day norms around sexuality. These historical continuities, and how sexuality is racialised, are mostly entirely absent in discussions on homophobia.

Drawing on the “savages-victims-saviours” construct of law professor Makau Mutua, the West has a keen interest in homophobia that is often framed within these sets of relations. Lurking within much of the public discourse on homophobia in Africa is the notion of the civilising mission of Eurocentric culture (and its human rights frameworks) that will save African culture, and its victims, from its barbarism and its savagery.

One example of this is a recently launched online fundraising effort initiated in the US. It is a “Rescue Fund to Help LGBT People Escape Africa” and is aimed at “Gays, lesbians, bisexual and transgender people persecuted and trapped in African countries that criminalise their sexuality”. The campaign states that “by contributing to this rescue fund you will help me (the initiator of the fund) to save more gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex people from Africa (sic) escape terrifying persecution”.

An online counter shows the money is flowing in. If one donates to “save” an LGBTI person in Africa, one is granted a status recognition originally titled as “ultimate saviour”. There are also “prizes” for donors such as “Nelson Mandela coins” for “passport providers”.

Promoting an “escape” from Africa to “greener” US pastures, without simultaneously addressing the underlying conditions that force this migration, is dangerous and opportunistic. Dislocated from Africa-based struggles for social justice, these feel-good interventions offer no long-term solution to the systemic issues that drive homophobia. At best they are palliative and patronising, at worst they reinforce the victimhood of Africans and the saviour status of Westerners. This is part of the logic that keeps the “homosexuality is unAfrican” discourse in play.

Other more pernicious saviours are those US religious conservatives who have actively promoted homophobic ideologies across the world and are now pushing such legislation in the US. There is much to be done to challenge these religious groupings and leaders on their home soils, to expose their active undermining of sexual and gender rights.

State-sponsored homophobia serves to keep certain power relations intact. Battles over power and identity are increasingly being played out on the bodies of LGBTI people.

These battles relate to, among others: contestations around what it means to be “authentically” African; citizens’ pressuring for democracy, inclusion and leadership accountability; basic needs being met in a context of global inequality wherein rich elites govern over the poor; and women increasingly asserting their sexual rights.

In this context, South Africa’s tiptoe diplomacy on homophobia in Africa exposes the troubling underbelly of current leadership on democracy and human rights. Whilst Jon Qwelane remains ambassador to Uganda, in the face of his imminent high court appearance for homophobic hate speech, perhaps the government’s tread is more firm-footed than it might appear.

* Melanie Judge is an LGBTI activist.

Isiphiwo Sami – An exploration of Black Queers in SA [Video]

Isiphiwo Sami a short film by Zanele Muholi – an exploration  of Black Queers in SA (Beauties)… Queerizing Public Spaces.  Produced in Durban in 2013, an exchange between black trans/ femme gay identifying persons from Durban and Johannesburg.

Guidelines to Ugandan national, regional & international partners on support around the Anti-Homosexuality Bill

GUIDELINES TO NATIONAL, REGIONAL, AND INTERNATIONAL PARTNERS ON HOW TO OFFER SUPPORT NOW THAT THE ANTI-HOMOSEXUALITY LAW HAS BEEN ASSENTED TO

Web site:  Civil Society Coalition for Human Rights and Constitutional law 
March 3, 2014
Introduction
Dear Partners, Friends and Colleagues,
We thank you for all the support you have accorded the Civil Society Coalition on Human Rights and Constitutional Law (CSCHRCL) in its fight against the Anti-Homosexuality Bill (the Bill) over the years. We specifically thank you for the support since the Parliament of Uganda passed the Bill on 20th December 2013.
Unfortunately, despite the intensive work that has been done since 2009 to stop the passage of this draconian bill into law, President Yoweri Museveni Kaguta of the Republic of Uganda on Monday 24th February 2014 signed the Bill into Law. We now have to work with the reality of the Anti-Homosexuality Act (2014).
These guidelines are intended to all our partners on how to support the CSCHRCL in this new context:
1. Speaking out: It is very critical that we continue to speak out against the law and its implications in terms of security of the LGBTI community, their allies, and the general implications of the Act on the work around public health and human rights in general.
Important to Note: In all communication about the impact of the law, please refer to the shrinking and deteriorating policy space that civil society is experiencing; not only about this human rights issue, but about “mainstream” human rights as well: Uganda’s track record is bad, and is getting worse, and these issues are related. In this regard please also be aware of the Anti-Pornography Act and the Public Order Management Act when discussing the situation of civil society activists in Uganda.
2. World Wide demonstrations. We call upon all partners, friends and allies to organize demonstrations in different cities around the world now as this Act is set to have detrimental effects for all of us. We all MUST continue to speak out. These could include demonstrations at the Ugandan embassy in our country, or asking your place of worship to
organize a vigil.
3. Call on Multinational companies that have businesses in Uganda to go public about their
concerns on the Act and their future economic engagements in Uganda. For example
Heneiken, KLM, British Airways, Turkish Airlines, Barclays Bank, and other companies with
important interests in Uganda and that already respect and value LGBT rights in their own
internal policies, should note the risk that these laws pose for the safety of their own
employees, as well as the impact on their brand image of continuing to do business in
Uganda.
4. Issue statements condemning the passage of the Bill into Law. We need the Government to
know that they shall not get away with their actions. These statements should reflect the
other human rights violations in the country, not just about LGBTI rights. Please always alert
us to any such statements, whichever language they are written in, such that we may either
post them on our website (ugandans4rights.org) or a link to your website.
5. The question of cutting Donor AID has arisen. Our position on this is very clear. We do not
support General Aid Cuts to Uganda. We do not want the people of Uganda to suffer
because of the unfortunate Political choices of our government. However, we support
Strategic Aid Cuts to specific sectors, such as the Dutch Government’s decision to withdraw
funding from the Justice Sector. We encourage urgent review of Aid to organizations and
government institutions that have failed to demonstrate respect for Human Rights and those
that have been actively supporting this bill. We DO NOT support cuts in support to NGO’s
and other civil society institutions that offer life saving health services or other important
social services to the People of Uganda.
6. Partners should expand investment in funding for service delivery and advocacy in defiance
of the law, targeting LGBT populations, to attempt to mitigate the harmful impact this law
will have on access to services, and on human rights.
7. We encourage you to lobby your Government’s Immigration Services to adjust their asylum
policy with regard to LGBTI persons from Uganda, Nigeria, Russia, Cameroun and other
countries in which levels of state-sponsored homophobia are rapidly rising.
8. We further request that you send us information on which organizations can be helpful in
assisting the individuals who are at risk if the situation gets worse and they have to get out
of the country and seek asylum or relocation elsewhere.
9. We request you to prepare for Urgent Actions given that LGBTI people or people doing work
around LGBTI rights are increasingly liable to being arrested. Urgent actions could include
sending messages to the Uganda Government to protest such arrests, use of social media
such as Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp, to raise awareness that arrests have happened,
contacting your own embassies in Uganda to voice your concerns.
10. Call for your governments to issue travel advisories on Uganda, and remind them that they have a duty to protect and therefore should take responsibility for alerting their own LGBTI citizens to the risks of traveling to Uganda.
11. Contact travel companies to urge them to also routinely issue such travel advisories to their customers (on the same principle that tobacco products must have a health warning visibly displayed, so flights and package holidays should have warnings of the risks of traveling to Uganda!)
12. Get more foreign leaders in foreign governments to say something about the Act as they have not come out strongly as it was expected.
13. Get celebrities to say something against the Act. We need more voices that Ugandans recognize and revere socially to speak out against this Law.
14. Get more international Aid groups especially those responding to HIV/AIDS work to say something for example: USAID, Pepfar, CDC, Global fund and others.
15. Use your influence and work or networks to encourage and Pressure more African leaders to speak out against the rising levels of homophobia through state sanctioned Anti Gay laws.
16. Engage with any non-LGBTI partner organizations in Uganda that you may collaborate with or whom you fund to issue statements condemning the passage of the AHB and its implications to the work of Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs). Remind them that this Bill is going to further shrink NGO spaces and is bound to affect the work they are doing.
17. Draw international public attention to issues such as corruption, human trafficking, nodding disease in northern Uganda, land-grabbing, as well as the suppression of media freedom and civil society space, the Public Order Management Act so that attention shifts to where it properly belongs; in the best interests of the country’s population as a whole. We need to step up public criticism to other negative trends in Uganda and remind the world that this Act is being used as a tool to divert attention from other pertinent issues that Ugandans are facing.
18. Get religious leaders of all faiths (Catholic, Anglican, Muslim, Protestant, Seventh Day Adventists, Quakers, etc.) to issue statements encouraging tolerance and respect for human rights for all Ugandans and Africans.
19. Call for your governments to ‘recall’ ambassadors back to their respective Capitals for at least one week for strategic consultations on how to move forward when dealing with Uganda and Nigeria in regards to the two draconian laws. This will give the Ugandan government food for thought.
20. Contribute physical, financial, or technical support to the Coalition and the LGBTI community as well as the exposed Human Rights Defenders working on LGBTI rights who are likely to begin to be arrested and charged or otherwise persecuted. Financial and technical support for challenging the Act in the Constitutional Court and the East African Court of Justice.
For More information Contact:
Jeffrey Ogwaro : jogwaro AT gmail.com /ahbcoalition.coordinator AT gmail.com
Clare Byarugaba: clarebyaru@gmail.com /ahbcoalition.coordinator AT gmail.com
Kasha Jacqueline: jnkasha AT gmail.com
Frank Mugisha : frankmugisha AT gmail.com
Pep Julian Onziema: onziema AT gmail.com

C/o Refugee Law Project
Plot 5, Perryman’s Gardens
Po Box 33903, Kampala-Uganda
Tel: +256774 068 663/+256782 176 069
Fax; +256-414-346491
Email : ahbcoalition.coordinator AT gmail.com

Statement from the Wits University on Anti-Homosexuality Legislation in Africa

MESSAGE FROM THE OFFICE OF THE VICE-CHANCELLOR AND PRINCIPAL

DATE: MONDAY, 3 MARCH 2014

STATEMENT FROM THE UNIVERSITY OF THE WITWATERSRAND PERTAINING TO ANTI-HOMOSEXUALITY LEGISLATION IN AFRICA

The University of the Witwatersrand notes with dismay and concern recent legislation in Nigeria and Uganda that criminalises women and men who express themselves through relationships other than those defined as heterosexual. It also decries the targeted violence that has accompanied this legislation in these and other countries.

While academic debates may focus on the extent to which human sexuality is a result of nature or nurture, or whether it is inherent to Western or African culture, the reality is that diversity in terms of sexual orientation is part of the recorded history of virtually all societies.

Tolerance and acceptance of such diversity has not been easily secured, but those nations that have afforded equal rights to sexual minorities alongside a multitude of other diverse identities can justifiably claim the benefits of an equitable and just environment for their citizens who live in, and actively contribute to an inclusive and productive state.

The University of the Witwatersrand values diversity and believes that its student and staff body should reflect a multiplicity of race, gender, socio-economic background, urban and rural geographic origin, culture, ethnicity, disability, religion, national origin and sexual orientation. Indeed it believes that everyone has a role to play in furthering human development and that diversity can only enhance learning and the generation human knowledge. Such principles are the foundation of university policies and are underpinned by values enshrined within the constitution of South Africa.

It is the University’s view that recent legislation in Africa and elsewhere that seeks to criminalise sexual minorities, runs counter to these values and in addition contravenes key articles contained within the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is apparent that these legislations are driven, not by a desire to address true criminality but rather are projected by an incomplete understanding of human sexuality compounded by an orchestrated campaign of hate towards vulnerable groups. South Africans understand only too well the damaging legacy that hate founded on institutionalised prejudice can deliver and that while the seeds of hate are easy to sow, they can take generations to uproot once they have spread and taken hold.

Leadership carries with it a huge responsibility, not least of which is protection of minority rights from the ebb and flow of opinion amongst the “moral majority”. The University (that counts amongst its staff and students, thinkers from across the continent of Africa), stands with other academic institutions in urging leaders to reflect carefully on what they have allowed to pass and points out that history will judge harshly those who are responsible for imprisoning others as a result of whom they love. We strongly urge that these laws be rescinded and encourage others who value the sanctity of Universal Human Rights to call for the same.