Category Archives: Nigeria

The human security implications of anti-gay law on sexual minority in Nigeria

The human security implications of anti-gay law on sexual minority in Nigeria by Toyin Ajao

Introduction

On 7th January 2014, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan signed an anti-gay bill into law, with punishments including 14 years imprisonment for anyone that enters into same-sex marriage, 10 years for any organization or people that support gay rights as well as any individual who displays same-sex affection in public. This invasive law made Nigeria the 36th country in Africa to prosecute gays. Following suit, Uganda passed its own anti-gay law on the 24th of February 2014. This development is perturbing as it empowered the population and provided a common ground on which to unite and persecute sexual minority. What the law has validated is the homophobic stances of religious and cultural beliefs that homosexuality is ‘unnatural’, ‘unAfrican’ and ‘immoral’, without a critical engagement with its human rights and human security implications.

It is very germane to reflect on the Nigerian anti-gay law in the context of peace and conflict, particularly through the lens of human security. This is because the current discourse has largely captured the human rights paradigm, rather than its human security element.

The emerging paradigm of human security was promulgated in the ‘Human Rights Report’ by the UNDP in 1994.[i] The imperative components of Human Security as encapsulated by Abass are: freedom from fear and want, and the guaranteed fulfilment of individuals. ‘Human security’ has similar components to the human rights concepts, but human security has more far-reaching practical implications from the perspective of peace and conflict. The difference however is in the approaches of these two concepts. This is a shift in the traditional state-based approach to security where the rights of one group can be placed above the other to protect their political interest at the expense of the other group. Human security focuses on human crises that need practical interventions without which there will continue to be obstacles to human development. The practical components of human security include the individual protection from internal and external threats, access to food security, health care, education, environmental security, personal safety, human rights, effective governance and absence of violent conflicts.[ii] This makes it pertinent to look at the anti-gay law in the contemporary discourse from the human security perspective.

 The case of homosexuality in Africa

Many scholars have squashed claims that homosexuality is ‘unAfrican’. As Tamale argues, colonization came with draconian rules and laws that categorized many practices including homosexuality in Africa as horrendous and ‘barbaric’.[iii] Tamale further challenged the claim that homosexuality is not part of African culture with ‘culture’ in contemporary Africa being an interpretation and construction of the colonialists and patriarchs.[iv] This dilemma within African communities essentially states the white ‘other’ construction of their reality. Ilesanmi also debunks the myths of the ‘UnAfricanness’ outcry in her reflection that homosexuality existed in African society before the advent of imperialism and colonialism.[v] She argues that the multi-cultural nature of African society embraced diversity and tolerance in its practices before the importation of foreign religions, which has subsequently dominated the discourse and rhetoric of African identity and society.[vi] Furthermore, in the Amnesty International report on criminalization of same-sex conduct in sub-Saharan Africa, it was highlighted that African colonizers brought the laws that criminalize homosexual practices in Africa with a determination to expunge what is considered ‘unnatural’. [vii]

Dlamini also argues the ‘compatibility of homosexuality with African culture, cosmology and spirituality’ by reviewing selected critical texts of ‘homosexuality in Africa’.[viii] Dlamini states that western colonization imported homophobia, and not homosexuality, to Africa.[ix] This he justified by citing homosexual practices in Africa before the spread of ‘civilization’ by the West. Some of the examples are: Sango the effeminate Yoruba deity in the pre-modern history of Africa revered and worshiped with his affinity for cross dressing and ‘feminine’ hairdo; the Azande warriors in Congo, known to marry other warriors and serve as temporary wives; and lastly, the Hausa ‘Yan Daudu’ men in Northern Nigeria recognized as individuals whose gender expressions are very effeminate and displayed strong affinity for cross-dressing. These aforementioned practices were not frowned upon or criticized until Africa’s colonization.

The new waves of western missionaries have built on the homophobic rhetoric and strengthened it. This is due to the proselytization of Africans during and after colonization: a classic enabling factor for the promotion of the anti-gay agenda in Africa. With the contemporary understanding of ‘culture’ and the less well-understood pre-colonial history of Africa, many Africans’ believed that homosexuality was a ‘Western invention’. The international community, witnessing the impediment of gay rights in Africa, has been making attempts to prove that homosexuality is not their invention but a human reality. Nevertheless, Western evangelicals are influencing anti-gay campaigns in Africa as homophobic funding trickles in from Western Christian Organizations.[x]

Furthermore, the religious fundamentalist’s alignment with state power has intensified homophobia in Africa.[xi]Nigeria is a case in point. Apart from losing the rich historical culture on sexual diversity, the incessant conflict of interests between the African leadership and the West is a key area of interest influencing decisions on gay rights. Syed argues that, ‘pressure from the West only emboldens the religious fundamentalists and their political allies’[xii] to victimize the already marginalized group. Another very central reason is the leadership of patronage and the institutionalization of religious belief in Nigeria.[xiii] Consequently, the growth of Christian and Islamic fundamentalism in Nigeria has a strong impact in the criminalization of the Nigerian sexual minorities.

What then are the threats to this human security?

By passing the anti-gay law in Nigeria, the Nigerian government has strengthened the penal codes that exist in Northern Nigeria to execute, jail or punish anyone considered homosexual. This has helped widen the scourge of discrimination that Nigerian sexual minorities already endure.

 There has been a known culture of open antagonism, discrimination and hatred for sexual minorities in Nigeria, with the government legitimizing this discrimination and hatred. As a result, there are continuous incidents of gays, or people perceived to be gay, being evicted illegally from their homes, stripped naked, tortured, or beaten. A recent example was the five alleged gays stripped, beaten and paraded naked in Warri in March 2014.[xiv]

 Furthermore,the Nigerian police force that is notorious for abuse and exploitation of their citizens has now gained more legal status to continue this act as a result of the passing of anti-gay bill into law. Arbitrary arrests and detention of real and perceived homosexuals have continued to take place. This law has exponentially compromised the personal safety of Nigerian sexual minority, or those perceived or accused of being gay.

Some NGOs that render support to sexual minority are under threats because of the clause in the anti-gay law that spells out 10 years for any organisations caught supporting this group. In the wake of the anti-gay laws, a few organizations working for the defence of LGBT rights fear recriminations and have to be extremely careful about their interventions as not to risk jail terms imposed by the law. Many organizations that have done incredible work in advocacy, lobbying and service provision for the protections of sexual minorities are been forced into silence by this law. This is a breach of the constitutional and democratic freedoms of non-governmental organizations in Nigeria. With most organizations clamped down upon by this law, exploitation and illegal prosecution of perceived and real homosexuals can only rise.

Another significant threat is access to quality health care. Available statistics revealed that there are about 3.7 million Nigerians living with HIV.[xv] With this new law, homosexuals living with HIV/AIDS are likely to go underground for fear of prosecution. The likelihood of spreading HIV/AIDS with those forced underground will increase thereby leading to a greater health hazard. NGOs working on issues of sexual minorities and providing health services will have trouble delivering adequate services as well. Unfortunately, the anti-gay discrimination may fuel the African HIV/AIDS epidemic in Nigeria. Part of the ongoing efforts with the World Health Organization, ‘to eliminate health disparities across board, notably including those impacting the LGBT community’ will be hampered.[xvi]

Fuelling more threats both internally and externally is the media.As the mainstream media highlights awareness on gay rights, so also is the platform used for promoting hate and discrimination. The effect of media ‘sensationalist tabloids’ on gay rights has been negative.[xvii] Through some media outlets the categorization of homosexuality as ‘unnatural’, ‘ungodly’, ‘unhealthy’ and ‘unAfrican’, as gained high profile debate and prominent visibility.[xviii] Some Nigerian TV stations and online newspapers are culprit. Also, traditional media in so many ways have contributed to ‘witch-hunting’ of gays by ‘linking same-sex attraction with incest, paedophilia, bestiality, and adultery’.[xix] Negative reporting can only further endanger the lives of sexual minorities who are already marginalized.

 Finally, there is growth in the number of asylum seekers from Nigeria. Ilesanmi in her interview on ThisDay newspaper explained that many homosexuals have been forced to seek asylum outside their country, leading to more ‘brain drain’.[xx] This has increased rapidly since the bill became law. Sadly, many skilled individuals who were contributors to Nigeria’s economic development and growth are fleeing persecution by their government.

 Conclusion

It is unpalatable that sexual minorities in Africa are used as collateral damage in the global war of power and self-determination. We live in a global village, with opposition and support for homosexuality, which is not totally strange in human relations. However, the Nigerian government has not shown objectivity or understanding of the threats to human security in the position taken against its sexual minorities. The atmosphere of tolerance and acceptance has dimmed significantly. Both the political and religious leaders have been part of the crusade of homosexual persecution and prosecution. Nigeria needs conversations that are open to change and that demonstrate respect for human rights and diversity.

Whilst it would help for political leaders to repeal the laws that criminalized sexual minorities, a move towards evidence-based research on sexuality issues is crucial. This is an important step that will be useful in educating the Nigerian society. Until such moves are made human rights and human security will continue to suffer imminent threats and Nigeria will continue to be seen as a retrogressive nation.

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Toyin Ajao is a Peace and Conflict doctoral fellow and an assistant lecturer at the University of Pretoria. She is also an alumnus of the Africa Leadership Centre at King’s College, London and Obafemi Awolowo University. Her research focus includes: human security, conflict transformation, citizen journalism and gender and sexual rights.

NOTES

[i] See Abass, A. (2010) An Introduction to Protecting Human Security in Africa. In Protecting Human Security in Africa. 1-20.
[ii] Ibid.
[iii] See Tamale, S. (2009) A Human Rights Impact Assessment of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. Public Dialogue.Kampala: 1-6.
[iv] Ibid.
[v] See Ilesanmi, Y. (2013) Freedom to Love for All; Homosexuality is not UnAfrican!
[vi] Ibid.
[vii] See Amnesty International (2013). Making Love a crime: Criminalization of Same-sex conduct in Sub-Saharan Africa.
[viii] See Dlamini, B. (2011) Homosexuality in the African context. Agenda: Empowering women for gender equity : 128-136.
[ix] Ibid.
[x]See http://www.voanews.com/content/lesbian_gay_rights_in_africa_hit_roadblocks/1512357.html
[xi] See Ossome, L. (2013) Postcolonial Discourses of Queer Activism and Class in Africa. In Queer Africa Reader. 32-47.
[xii]Seehttp://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-16068010
[xiii] See Sampson, T. I. (2012) Religious violence in Nigeria: Causal diagnoses an strategic recommendations to the state and religious communities. AJCR Volume 12 No. 1: 103-134.
[xiv]See http://www.humanrightsfirst.org/blog/gay-men-publicly-stripped-and-beaten-nigeria.
[xv] See http://www.avert.org/hiv-aids-nigeria.htm
[xvi] See Daulaire, N. (2013) The Importance of LGBT Health on a Global Scale. LGBT Health 24 July: 1-2.
[xvii] See Johnson, C. A. (2007) Off the Map: How HIV/AIDS Programming is failing Same-sex Practicing People in Africa.
[xviii] Ibid.
[xix] Ibid.
[xx]See http://www.thisdaylive.com/articles/our-senators-are-hypocrites/104344/

African LGBTs Speak For Themselves in June 13-15 Pride Month Activities

African countries passing harsh laws against LGBTs and our allies have been much in the gay press over the past year. But all too often African LGBTs have appeared as mute objects of repression, rather than people organizing to win their own freedom.
A consortium of Chicago area groups is working to change that by featuring African LGBT activists speaking out in a long weekend of activities about issues facing LGBTs on the continent, and how allies elsewhere can help improve conditions.  The Friday, June 13th through Sunday, June 15th activities include forums, a film showing, a television program, a wine and cheese reception with activists, and a worship service:
Friday, June 13 – Free symposium on “Theological Resources for LGBTI Liberation,” 2 PM to 4 PM at the Broadway United Methodist Church, 3338 N. Broadway Avenue, Chicago with South African activists Judith Kotzé and Ingrid Schoonraad from Inclusive & Affirming Ministries.  Participants will explore the intersections of North American liberation theology and South African post-apartheid theology as they relate to the liberation for LGBTI people.Friday, June 13 – “LGBTI Solidarity in Africa”  Rev. Judith Kotzé joins the Gay Liberation Network‘s Brent Holman-Gomez to discuss issues of LGBTI solidarity in Africa, and preview the Saturday and Sunday events in Chicago.  6:30 PM to 6:55 PM, cable channel 21 in Chicago.

Saturday, June 14 – Free “Chicago Forum on LGBTI Solidarity in Africa” featuring a panel of African LGBTI activists from Inclusive & Affirming Ministries and CLASP (Chicago LGBT Asylum Support Program) discussing how to provide advocacy and support.  Breakout roundtables will allow everyone to get involved in discussing U.S. policy, worldwide/church advocacy, pathways to safe haven, and Chicago re-settlement.  2 PM to 5 PM at the Episcopal Church Center, 65 E. Huron Street, Chicago.
Reception Fundraiser and Film Screening of “Call Me Kuchu” – Join African LGBTI activists for a wine and cheese reception and the screening of the acclaimed film, “Call Me Kuchu,” about martyred Ugandan activist David Kato.  Reception at 5 PM, film screening at 6 PM, also at the Episcopal Church Center, 65 E. Huron Street, Chicago.  Suggested donation: $25.
Sunday, June 15 – Worship Service of Solidarity and Welcome for LGBTI Activists from Africa – 10:30 AM to 12 Noon at St. Luke’s Lutheran Church Logan Square, 2649 N. Francisco, Chicago.
The Global Interfaith Network for People of all Sexes, Sexual Orientations, Gender Identities and Expressions.  Representatives from Inclusive & Affirming Ministries will introduce the new interfaith network which was inaugurated this past January with an international conference in South Africa.  2 PM to 3:30 PM, also at St. Luke’s Luther Church Logan Square, 2649 N. Francisco, Chicago.
Featured participants in the weekend’s activities include:
Victor Charles Aweke, a 31-year-old Nigerian who worked openly as a volunteer HIV and human rights advocate in his home country until recent threats of violence forced him to flee.  Mr. Aweke previously worked with Heartland Alliance for Human Needs & Human Rights as an Outreach Coordinator, Center for the Right to Health as the diversity program officer, on HIV Prevention Intervention Program for most-at-risk persons, Institute of Human Virology as the liaison officer on the trust research for most at-risk persons within the Abuja metropolis in Nigeria.  An experienced public speaker in Nigeria, the United Kingdom and the United States, Mr. Aweke currently working with the Center for Integration and Courageous Living and the Chicago LGBT Asylum support program (CLASP).
Rev. Judith Kotzé, is a lesbian from South Africa who in 1995 qualified as one of the first woman ministers in the Dutch Reformed Church (DRC). She served the DRC from 1996 to 2000 in the multi-disciplinary ministry regarding prostitution. She has a Master’s degree in Missiology, working on Interreligious Dialogue as a model for the Intra-faith Dialogue around sexual orientation. Rev. Kotzé became Director of the Inclusive & Affirming Ministries in 2011, having served in IAM in various capacities since 1997, and has traveled widely in southern Africa as part of her activism.
John Adewoye is a Nigerian/American gay man resident in Riverdale, IL. He came to the United States in 1999 as a Catholic priest with a secret agenda of pursuing anti-gay “conversion therapy” but discovered it to be false. This discovery and the U.S. environment emboldened him to accept himself and come out as a gay man, but at the cost of his homeland and by choice, the priesthood.  He is the founder of Courage Nigeria and the Center for Integration and Courageous Living, and a co-founder of CLASP. Despite his exile, Mr. Adewoye is an active member of two coalitions working hard to overturn the “Same-sex Prohibition Act  2013” signed to law in Nigeria January 2014. He is a Chaplain at the University of Chicago Medicine, a member of Chicago Gay Men Chorus, the Arch-diocesan Gay and Lesbian Outreach and Adodi National. He became a US citizen on April 7 of this year.

The Chicago “LGBTI Solidarity in Africa Weekend” is a joint effort of several organizations, including the Chicago Coalition of Welcoming ChurchesCLASP – Chicago LGBT Asylum Support Program, the Gay Liberation NetworkInclusive and Affirming Ministries - South Africa, St. Luke’s Lutheran Church Logan Square, and Truth Wins Out. Endorsed by World Can’t Wait-Chicago.

http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-6eDnYWpuKGM/UKIrjSYf3sI/AAAAAAAAAQ0/uYT_8fvkpdI/s320/Bisi+01.jpg

Twitterview with Bisi Alimi – Living Positively with HIV for 10 Years

Via Elnathan John

Transcript of a Twitter interview conducted by Elnathan John on May 7, 2014 with Bisi Alimi.

Bisi Alimi, a human rights campaigner and health advocate who rose to notoriety when he first came out as gay on NTA. He started his advocacy work at the height of the HIV epidemic within the Nigerian MSM community in the late 1990s. In 2004, Bisi’s open declaration of his sexuality, caused a turning point in the discussion on sex and sexuality in Nigeria. In July 2012, he was invited to the White House by President Obama for his work with black gay men in Europe. On May 7, 2004, Bisi was diagnosed with HIV. He continues to passionately do his advocacy work from his base in the UK. This interview marks 10 years of Bisi living ‘positively’.

I first interviewed Bisi in November 2012

Bisi Alimi

EJ: My first question Bisi, what was your first reaction when you got the test results saying you were positive?

 

BA: Honestly, considering the number of friends I had lost before then, I was sure it was going to be positive. Still, I was shocked and upset when I was told I was HIV positive. It was like a big cloud of a broken dream.

 

EJ: Were you in Nigeria at the time?

 

BA: Yes I was in Nigeria. Actually I was tested at the National AIDS Conference in Abuja in 2004.

 

EJ: What was the climate like at the time with regard to access to HIV care? Where did you first receive treatment?

 

BA: You see prior to that time, I didn’t even know much about treatment at all in Nigeria. I was so naïve. Also because of the fear, shame and guilt, I didn’t even tell anyone about my status apart from people present. I was waiting to die. I had seen friends dying, so I was like, well it’s a matter of months until I am gone.

 

EJ: Many people link HIV to homosexuality. However health sources cite over 80% of HIV transmission from heterosexual sex. How, in your experience does ignorance about HIV affect stigma?

 

BA: You see the conversation that HIV is homosexual disease is right and wrong and I will try to explain. HIV as we now know it was first discovered among gay men in America in the late 1970s to early 1980s. So it was kind of okay to link the virus to that community, however further digging around found that it is not so true. Scientists had found out that a similar virus had wiped out a community in the Congo around the late 1960s to early 1970s. So then the global interest started. However depending on who is telling the story the answer is different. The good thing about ownership of the virus by the gay community is that it brings the right sentiment. I guess you can only face one stigma at a time. So they [gay people] wanted to remove the HIV stigma as a pathway. But in the context of Africa, it is a different story. Heterosexual couples are driving the virus. [About ignorance and stigma], this is multilayered. First there is the image of HIV you see on TV. You know the skull and the two bones – it is scary. Then there is the religiosity or morality around the whole sex thing. HIV is seen as being a punishment.

Continue on Elnathan John

It is legalized homophobia, not same-sex relations, that is alien to Africa

From Al Jazeera America, Ugandan academic,  professor of law at Makerere University in Uganda, Sylvia Tamale on legalized homophobia in Africa.  Professor Tamale is the editor of African Sexualities published by Fahamu Press.

 

During a prime time interview with BBC’s “Hard Talk” show in March 2012, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni noted, “Homosexuals in small numbers have always existed in our part of black Africa …They were never prosecuted. They were never discriminated.”

Earlier this year, confronted by internal and external pressure, Museveni reversed himself and signed the Anti-Homosexuality Bill in the full glare of the media — declaring that homosexuality was Western-imposed. Before signing the law, Museveni asked a team of top-notch Ugandan scientists to help him make an educated decision. The panel’s report did not mince words: “In every society, there is a small number of people with homosexual tendencies.”

Museveni’s bizarre actions can only be interpreted as a political ploy ahead of presidential elections scheduled for early 2016. Having been at the helm since 1986, Museveni faces serious competition both within and outside his party, not to mention a restless population afflicted by a high cost of living, unemployment and a general disgust with rampant corruption. By the stroke of a pen, Museveni succumbed to populist pressures and condemned an otherwise law-abiding sexual minority to maximum sentences of life imprisonment.

Uganda is not alone in its anti-gay crusade. Nigeria recently passed a law criminalizing homosexuality. Several other African countries — including Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Cameroon and Sierra Leone — have all expressed the desire to emulate Uganda and Nigeria. At least 38 African countries already proscribe consensual same-sex behavior.

The sad, tired but widely accepted myth that homosexuality is un-African has been valorized and erected on the altar of falsehood time after time. It is a myth that has been played out in numerous contexts, most recently over the debate on Uganda’s anti-homosexuality bill. However, historical facts demand that this fable be debunked once and for all.

African sexualities

The ‘homosexuality is un-African’ myth is anchored on an old practice of selectively invoking African culture by those in power. African women are familiar with the mantra. “It is un-African” whenever they assert their rights, particularly those rights that involve reproductive autonomy and sexual sovereignty.

The mistaken claim that anything is un-African is based on the essentialist assumption that Africa is a homogeneous entity. In reality, however, Africa is made up of thousands of ethnic groups with rich and diverse cultures and sexualities. As appealing as the notion of African culture may be to some people, no such thing exists. Moreover, even if we wanted to imagine an authentic African culture, like all others, it would not be static.

African history is replete with examples of both erotic and nonerotic same-sex relationships. For example, the ancient cave paintings of the San people near Guruve in Zimbabwe depict two men engaged in some form of ritual sex. During precolonial times, the “mudoko dako,” or effeminate males among the Langi of northern Uganda were treated as women and could marry men. In Buganda, one of the largest traditional kingdoms in Uganda, it was an open secret that Kabaka (king) Mwanga II, who ruled in the latter half of the 19th century, was gay.

The vocabulary used to describe same-sex relations in traditional languages, predating colonialism, is further proof of the existence of such relations in precolonial Africa. To name but a few, the Shangaan of southern Africa referred to same-sex relations as “inkotshane” (male-wife); Basotho women in present-day Lesotho engage in socially sanctioned erotic relationships called “motsoalle” (special friend) and in the Wolof language, spoken in Senegal, homosexual men are known as “gor-digen” (men-women). But to be sure, the context and experiences of such relationships did not necessarily mirror homosexual relations as understood in the West, nor were they necessarily consistent with what we now describe as a gay or queer identity.

Same-sex relationships in Africa were far more complex than what the champions of the “un-African” myth would have us believe. Apart from erotic same-sex desire, in precolonial Africa, several other activities were involved in same-sex (or what the colonialists branded “unnatural”) sexuality. For example, the Ndebele and Shona in Zimbabwe, the Azande in Sudan and Congo, the Nupe in Nigeria and the Tutsi in Rwanda and Burundi all engaged in same-sex acts for spiritual rearmament — i.e., as a source of fresh power for their territories. It was also used for ritual purposes. Among various communities in South Africa, sex education among adolescent peers allowed them to experiment through acts such as “thigh sex” (“hlobonga” among the Zulu, “ukumetsha” among the Xhosa and “gangisa” among the Shangaan)…. Continued on Al Jazeera America

Call Me Kuchu, Victor Mukasa Speaking Out Against Misrepresentation of African Activists

Victor Juliet Mukasa

Victor Thick Skin Mukasa speaking at Dartmouth College,US, criticises western activists and organisations for misrepresenting and disrespecting African activists.

African LGBTI Human Rights Defenders – Public statement of warning!

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Nigeria: Chibok, A Living Nightmare, Find our Daughters

Relatives of Kidnapped Girls [Source: TheGuardian.com]
Relatives of Kidnapped Girls [Source: TheGuardian.com]
 Women across Nigeria are protesting the abduction of 234 schoolgirls from Chibok, in north east Nigeria, which took place on Monday April
the 14th. Starting from Wednesday the 30th of April, protests and rallies are planned in Abuja, Ibadan, Maiduguri, Kano, Lagos, Kaduna,
Benin.

A Living Nightmare, Find our Daughters – Statement by Women of Peace And Justice

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Since Monday 14th April 2014 when over 200 young female students from the Government Girls Secondary School Chibok, Borno State were abducted by heavily armed men, millions around the world have been unable to come to terms with the loss and the implications of this loss. Today, millions of Nigerian women and men call on the Federal Government and the security agencies to find and bring back these girls currently living in captivity.

These young girls are daughters, sisters, nieces; tomorrow’s women and mothers. Those directly affected grieve, and we as Nigerians and human beings, join them in their anguish and distress. We want them back. Safe in their homes where they belong.

The trend of conflicting information about the exact number of girls who are still missing and even the operations are regrettable. The fact that as yet, no credible claim of responsibility for the abduction of these girls has been made is equally disturbing. This makes it an imperative for all Nigerians to amplify and demand of those with the responsibility for the safety of all Nigerians to ACT and CONSTRUCTIVELY engage to find and return these girls to their parents.

As citizens it is our right and responsibility to ask the following questions which have been on the lips and on the minds of millions around the world. This is even as we wait, with baited breath, to be informed about the fate of these young girls whose only crime is striving for an education:

How is it possible in the age of drones, Google Maps, and aerial surveillance that over 200 girls will vanish without a trace? Is this suggestive of the weaknesses of security operations covering soft targets such as schools even after clear indications of their vulnerability?
Why was protection for our children in schools in the N.E not intensified even after the devastation and pain of the 59 innocent children murdered in FGC Buni Yadi on February 25 2014?
How is it that security is not upgraded around institutions even when warnings of potential threat or imminent aggressions are issued? The warning after Buni Yadi that girls would be targeted or that Giwa Baracks in Madiguri are two cases in point.
What is the rational explanation that in a location (Borno State) under a state of emergency; 4 trucks and numerous motor bikes can deploy, move in convoy, unleash terror on the school at Chibok and then flee with over 200 girls to a location yet to be determined by Nigeria’s security institutions?
Where are or what has happened to the much mentioned assistance to the Federal Government or collaboration with friendly governments ?
Why, despite the massive increase in security spending, (up to N1trillion in 2013 and N845 Billion in 2014), are Nigerians not safer; while our security and military personnel are said to be under equipped and ill prepared to face the ever growing security challenges confronting Nigeria?
What support plans are being made to cater for the emotional needs and management of the trauma the parents of these girls must be going through?
The Chibok incidence is CRITICAL as well as a stark reality of the vulnerability of all Nigerians but most especially innocent children seeking to actualize their right to education towards a potential improvement of quality life. There is a need to scale up security efforts and sustain vigilance until ALL the girls are found. They cannot be abandoned and all Nigerians must share in their agony and in the anguish of their immediate families. The media must step up its act especially in reporting and constructive investigative journalism.

We recognize the complexities and dangers in security and military operations, however it is our firm belief that these institutions hold in high esteem the value of Nigerian lives as well our sovereignty being their primary mandate. The reading from Chibok is WE, ALL, including the military and security personnel are at great RISK of being consumed by the aggression of those in ambush of our peace and prosperity. Extra measures that remain within the legal limits of operations and counter insurgency/terrorism must be employed. Citizens must remain vigilant and supportive of the institutions of security at all times.

We speak out today and will do so every day until these girls are ALL accounted for. As mothers, fathers and siblings we call for the urgent and complete end to the politicization of the insecurity in Nigeria. OUR pain and solution are collective.

Updates on twitter at #BringBackOur Girls and #FreeOurGirls

Behind the Christian Right in Africa

From Foreign Policy in Focus,”It’s Not Just Uganda: Behind the Christian Right’s Onslaught in Africa” by Nathalie Baptiste

In Uganda, being gay can now earn you a lifetime in prison.

Last month, the East African country was again thrust into the international spotlight after President Yoweri Museveni signed into law a draconian bill that criminalized homosexuality. The high profile, on-and-off battle over the so-called “kill the gays” bill has drawn headlines for years as the most extreme example in a wave of antigay legislation on the continent. But homophobia in Africa is not merely an African problem.

As the gay rights movement has gained traction in the United States, the more virulently homophobic ideologies of the religious right have been pushed further out of the mainstream and into fringe territory. But as their influence has waned at home, right-wing evangelists from the United States have been flexing their sanctimonious muscles influencing policymakers in Africa.

For years now, evangelical activists from the United States have been injecting themselves into African politics, speaking out against homosexuality and cheering on antigay legislation on the continent. The influence of these groups has been well documented in Uganda. The now-defunct Exodus International, for example, sent Don Schmierer, a board member, to Uganda in 2009 to speak at a conference alongside Scott Lively, a pastor who was later sued by a Ugandan gay rights group for his role in promoting human rights violations against LGBTQ people. The two participated in a disturbing anti-gay conference, where speakers blamed homosexuals for the rise of Nazism and the Rwandan genocide, among other abhorrent acts. Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, a hard-right Christian group that is active in U.S. politics as well, similarly supported anti-gay laws in Uganda. At the peak of controversy over the “kill the gays” bill, Perkins praised the Ugandan president for “leading his nation to repentance.”

But such groups aren’t just active in Uganda. They have promoted antigay legislation in Kenya, Nigeria, and Zimbabwe, just to name a few other places. The support ranges from popular agitation and sideline cheerleading to outright intervention.

In 2010, for example, when Zimbabwe began the process of drafting a new constitution, the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ)—a Christian law firm founded by evangelist Pat Robertson—launched a Zimbabwean counterpart called the African Centre for Law and Justice. The outpost trained lawyers for the express purpose of putting a Christian stamp on the draft of the new constitution.

The African Centre joined forces with the Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe (EFZ), an indigenous organization, to promote constitutional language affirming that Zimbabwe is a Christian nation and ensuring that homosexuality remained illegal. These and other hardline views are outlined in a pamphlet distributed by the EFZ and ACLJ. Jordan Sekulow, the executive director of ACLJ, announced that his organization would lobby for Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe in political and religious circles in the event of any controversy over the provisions, despite the fact that the Zimbabwean president has been sanctioned by the United States and the European Union for violating human rights. Last year, Zimbabwe’s new constitution, which includes a ban on gay marriage, was approved by an overwhelming popular vote.

ACLJ’s Kenyan-based offshoot, the East African Center for Law and Justice (EACLJ), made an effort to lobby against Kenya’s progressive new constitution as well. In April 2010, a report on the group’s website called homosexuality “unacceptable” and “foreign” and called for the Kenyan constitution to clearly define marriage as between a man and a woman, thus closing the door on future laws that could attempt to legalize same-sex marriage. In this case the ECLJ was unsuccessful, and the new constitution was approved without any language regarding same-sex marriage.

Pat Robertson’s entanglements in Africa go well beyond Zimbabwe and Kenya.

In 1960, Robertson created The Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN), which broadcasts through cable and satellite to over 200 countries. Robertson is a co-host on the 700 Club, arguably CBN’s most popular show. From his perch on the show, Roberts has made a seemingly endless variety of inflammatory remarks about LGBTQ people and just about everyone else that does not fall in line with his own religious thinking.

In the United States, Robertson’s vitriol can be brushed aside as the antiquated ravings of a fringe figure. Not so in much of Africa. A survey conducted in 2010 found that 74 million people in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, had watched at least one CBN show in the previous year. That’s a remarkable reach considering Nigeria is home to over 80 million Christians…….

Robertson’s influence plays into an increasingly hostile political climate for gays in the country. Last January, Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan signed into law the Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act, which provides punishments of up to 14 years imprisonment for a gay marriage and up to 10 years for membership in or encouragement of gay clubs and organizations. The enactment of the law was followed by a wave of arrests of gay men—and widespread denouncement from the international community. Continue Reading

 

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.

A Veil of Silence [Video]

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The Veil of Silence produced by the TIER and directed by Habeeb Lawal documents the experience of sexual minorities in Nigeria and discusses issues of sexual citizenship, violence and stigma.

On the brink of an impending law that could re-write their destinies, young groups of sexual minorities in Nigeria defy all odds in the pursuit of happiness. In the midst of all, their strength, resilience, vulnerability are brought to fore in this informative and mind-blowing documentary.

A few of the many men and women who appear in the documentary as themselves, sharing their personal experiences and opinions on the subject, include Ayo Sogunro, Ifeanyi Orazuike, Dorothy Aken’ova, Abayomi Aka, and Valentine Crown Tunbi.

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

 

The year of the homophobes

The Anti-Gay Law in Uganda and the Miracle of Denial from MarkFiore on Vimeo.

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

 

The Rabid Virus {Poems of Resistance}

The Rabid Virus

1

It is a global epidemic
Somehow causing fitful laughter
Mainly causing fearful slaughter
In the selfsame flock
Fearful but if you said as
Much it’s enough excuse
They set children they’ve
“Dog train,” kids on you.
Those without children
Will just infect their dogs
“Definitely!” assurance of
Fear. Gender role is the
Unnamed virus human’s
Live with daily viral form
They call it, “the order of
Things!” It reeks dosorder.
Rumi calls it, “consumptive”
‘Akiarapa calls it, “ailment”
Buddha calls it, “suffering,”
Ignatius calls it, “in-breeding”
Descart call it, “chains,”
Fearfully a friend asked
“Why is everyone giving
you dirty looks?”
They are fearful of the uncertainties
My existence provokes in them…
Enough said only humans
Can live in occupation so &
Say, “that’s why we are here!”
& rabidly believe it…

2

Away and home team up
Always at each others throats
Only setting time out for
The outsider they see in me
The virus that holds them together
Irritates others like me robbing us
Of breathing space. Questioning
Our right to basic human rights,
Questioning our rights to use designated loos
Question our right to our own voices
And then turning it into an imaginary
Cow prod to keep us in line
“You need to bleach wash your brain
Out!” they’d say calling other on board.
Or the rabid virus would say at
Our expense. Hell, some of us out
Of fear out of a craving for acceptance
Out of desire for approval.
“How do they do it? How do they?”
They thunder the rabid virus does
The neocolonial craze is in the air
Neocolonialist come in all colours
No use pointing out colonialist alone
We all take part in the demise
Of soul of spirit of our role in to true self

3

If in doubt listen again when out and about
If in doubt listen to your heartfelt pelt
We, some of us, call ourselves women
We, some of us, call ourselves men
But do not forget some call ourselve trans
Some intersex some queer some neuter
But wherever the leaf drops
The cancer is the same.
Bornstein calls it, “the either/or” system
Agbaje calls it, “Okun n’b’obirin”
Raymond calls it, “the transsexual empire”
In an attempt to apportion blame
The band wagon followed her lead
Inagije called it, “eat make a eat jo!”
Diaspora (African) call it, “white supremacy”
And still dem go bone when a say
A no be dis a no be dat a don tell una
A no be bai, bai not to be mistaken for bi
“Are you trying to be a pariah?”
A guy asked me once when I answered
NO! I’m a woman only loving neuter
He barred me from existence if he could.
Cousin Warrior took one look and asked
The ground under his feet to swallow him whole.
Later cousin Warrior told aunt Mope
“He said he is no longer Home”
“How dare he?” she responded blaming
Her near rape by my father on me
It happened even before I was born
“Inkan se!” she said thinking “like father like son”.

4

Efen multicultural nonentities go put mouth
Dem go say, “na paranoia dey kill am”
Dem no fit speak the truth wey dey
Kill dem small, small for body
Dem no sabi say na di epidemik wey dey dem
Heart. Dem no sabi say because of di
Paranoia wey dey dem heart dey so so
Wey dem for heart
Dem know sey somtin dey
Wey dem sef dey call dem rabid virus dem
We dey chop dem since so na ma
Palava dem com put for head…
What is it about gender role?
How dare you say you are a woman?
How dare you say you are a man?
What was that? Trans?
How dare you say you are
Trans, intersex or Queer?
Chides the mob of sufferers
Upgrader to gender role police
It is unnatural it is unAfrican.
No it isn’t.
Gender role is unafrican it enslaves
Women gender role is unnatural it
Makes monsters of men
Gender role is the rabid virus
It makes cowards of us all
Before you become slaves to disorder
Question what evils you sow.
The rabid virus is gender role.

5

It is a global epidemic gender role
Check it out causing fitful laughter
In some causing fearful slaughter mainly
In the selfsame flock so
Fearful but if you said as
Much it’s enough excuse for them
To set their children they’ve
“Dog trained” kids on you.
Those without children
Will just infect their dogs somehow
“Definitely!” assurance of
Fear. Gender role is the
Unnamed virus human’s
Live with daily viral form
They call it, “the order of
Things!” It reeks disorder.
Rumi calls it, “consumptive”
‘Akiarapa calls it, “ailment”
Buddha calls it, “suffering,”
Ignatius calls it, “in-breeding”
Descartes call it, “chains,”
Fearfully a friend asked
“Why is everyone giving
you dirty looks?”
They are fearful of the uncertanties
My existence provokes in them…
Enough said only humans
Can live in occupation so &
Say, “that’s why we are here!”
& rabidly believe it…

Mia Nikasimo (c) March 2014

“Walking With Shadows” by Jude Dibia [A Review]

From the Nation, Kenya a review of Nigerian novelist, Jude Dibia’s novel “Walking With Shadows

If I were to write a novel to respond to the anti-gay politics seeping through the Ugandan border into Kenya, it would probably be like the Nigerian author Jude Dibia’s Walking with Shadows. But I’d write mine in my mother tongue.

Dibia’s novel is a fearless book that is reputed to be the first work by a Nigerian literary artiste to explore in detail the theme of male homosexuality.

Dibia is a bold writer. One of the many admirers of Kenya’s Binyavanga Wainaina, the Nigerian writer does not shy away from taboo topics, including writing graphically about incest. His other favourite authors include Toni Morrison, James Baldwin, and Virginia Woolf.

Besides Binyavanga, among Dibia’s contemporaries the Nigerian novelist is most closely drawn to the Zimbabwean Petina Gappah (author of An Elegy for Easterly) and NoViolet Bulawayo (pen name of Elizabeth Tshele, author of We Need New Names).

Born in 1975, Dibia belongs to the “third generation” of Nigerian writers, a loose group of artistes that comprises such household names as Chris Abani, Helon Habila, Sefi Atta, and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Adichie is the best known in Kenya among these writers.

Dibia’s Walking with Shadows was first published in Nigeria by Blacksands Books in 2005.

Noting the pervasive presence of subversive queer desire, one of the leading queer theorists in the world today, Tavia Nyong’o (cousin to our golden Lupita), urges us to take seriously that “figure of absolute abjection that is, paradoxically, part of our everyday experience.”

Dibia uses language exquisitely to examine an issue that many writers would give a wide berth: homosexuality among married men in Africa.

Sympathy for gay people in Wole Soyinka’s The Interpreters (1965) is very oblique. It took Gaurav Desai’s essay, ‘Out in Africa’ (1997), to clarify to most critics that Soyinka’s novel is not homophobic in its portrayal of one of its characters, Joe Golder, as both African American and gay.

Like the South African K. Sello Duiker — author of The Quiet Violence of Dreams (2001) and Thirteen Cents (2000) — Dibia is more open in his sympathies towards gay men than Soyinka in The Interpreters. However, Dibia avoids the confrontational tone we encounter in Duiker, some of whose passages read like angry pornography for the queer oppressed.

Dibia’s novel is a deftly told story about Adrian, a Nigerian head of a risk business unit. His job description connotes the “risks” he has to negotiate around, as he is also a gay man in the closet, married to a beautiful woman, the father of gorgeous daughter, and a respected mentor to many young men.

It becomes public that Adrian is gay, thanks to Tayo Onasanya, a former employee whom Adrian had sacked for corruption. Tayo learnt about Adrian’s sexual orientation from a lesbian mutual friend.

The narrator depicts in detail and with great sympathy the crisis that hits Adrian when his wife, Ada, is told about his sexual past.

His relatives’ responses are varied. Younger people sympathetically reach out to Adrian, but his elder brother, Chiedu, engages a priest to exorcise the ghost of gayness from Adrian.

The novel broaches several issues about sexuality. It demonstrates that even the most liberal people might become suddenly conservative when it comes to homosexuality.

Adrian’s wife, an innovative interior designer, is not one to believe in such a thing as an immutable African culture. But it is impossible for Ada to even begin to wrap her mind around her husband’s non-normative sexual desire.

Although he insists he had not slept with a man since he met his wife, Ada cannot believe what she has heard about her husband’s sexuality even without waiting for him to put everything in context.

She asks: “You knew this and still deceived me and still married me and still had the guts to make love to me and put your thing in me!”

The infelicitous repetition of “still” signals her shock, anger and bewilderment. The narrator rubs in her disbelief to also underscore her coldness towards a man she had claimed to love.

“She could not bring herself to look at him,” the narrator says. “She kept trying to wipe out the mental image in her head about him and another man.”

Queer theorists mostly see sexual identity as socially constructed. But Dibia’s novel seems to present Adrian’s gayness as congenital. He has always liked boys and enjoys playing girls’ games as a kid.

In presenting Adrian’s homosexuality as somewhat in-born, the author is trying to enhance our sympathy towards the character. There is nothing Adrian can do about his gayness. He would even want to leave it behind him, to no avail.

MANY VIRTUES

The novel has many virtues in its characterisation. While men are usually presented negatively in novels critical of patriarchy, African feminist novels usually depict at least one good man who is sympathetic to women’s issues in order to avoid demonising all men as gender-insensitive.

Following this trajectory, Dibia added an episode in a revised edition of the novel published in South Africa in 2007, in which a straight young man, Rotimi, stands by Adrian in his troubles at work.

We learn from Rotimi, one of the novel’s voices of reason, that right-thinking straight people should always stand with the oppressed minorities.

From its inception in the 1950s, African writing has always painted the folly of a society that mistreats its minorities. For example, in Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, the society disintegrates partly because it pushes its minorities to defect to new religions.

Male gay novels tend to represent women negatively, including lesbians. Although we don’t see many positive traits among female characters in Dibia’s Walking with Shadows, Dibia is deferential to the few women who feature in the novel.

His next novel, Unbridled (2007) is, to the best of my knowledge, the only African novel by a male writer that convincingly uses an autobiographical female voice. It is hard to tell from the story itself that the author is male.

Reminiscent of Nuruddin Farah’s Ebla in From a Crooked Rib (1970), Ngozi in Dibia’s Unbridled narrates with great candour her experiences in abusive relationships. But unlike Farah’s novel, Dibia’s work uses the first person narrative voice.

Besides Walking with Shadows and Unbridled, Dibia is the author of Blackbird (2011), an equally provocative novel about the moral and political corruption in Africa.

Dibia’s Walking with Shadows demonstrates that queer is the new colonised. But it does not explore in detail the factors behind homophobia among African elites, except suggesting that homophobes are either stuck in the past or are negatively influenced by American Pentecostalism.

According to Richard Ryan, a professor of psychology at the University of Rochester, homophobes are usually closeted gay people.

The all-male anti-gay caucus in Kenya’s Parliament and the equally comical all-male Maendeleo ya Wanaume should be read in a similar light when they make statements dismissing “gayism” (sic) and “resbianism” (sic): they are acting out their repressed homosexuality.

“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

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.

Call for the repealing of Nigeria’s Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act 2013

12.01am, 7th March 2014, Nigeria: The New HIV Vaccine and Microbicide Advocacy Society (NHVMAS) calls for the repealing of the Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act 2013. NHVMAS notes that this act has caused escalation of human right abuses and violence for men who have sex with men (MSM) in many communities in Nigeria. It has led to individuals taking laws into their hands and unleashing terror on others who they assume or know to be homosexuals. An example is the attack on 14 men in Abuja in February. There had been other reports of attack in Portharcourt and Nassarawa following the Act. At least 10 detentions in four of Nigeria’s 36 states have been recorded.
NHVMAS notes with sadness that since the signing of the bill into law by the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, President Goodluck Jonathan, individuals and organisations working with the LGBTI community have felt a sense of loss: particularly regarding n the gains made in recent years in addressing the HIV epidemic concentrated within this  community. The 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria already contains clauses that prohibit same sex relationships. The Same Sex Prohibition Marriage Act further aggravates the anti-human right stance of the clause in the constitution.
The HIV response and the public health good of working with MSM have only started to gain momentum in recent years. The national HIV prevalence of 17.2% within the MSM community based makes provision of HIV prevention, treatment, care and support services to the community a top priority: MSM have heightened risk of HIV infection and are a critical population for HIV interventions.
Criminalising MSM and those that association with MSM simply as contained in the Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act implies that ongoing work within the community which focuses on ensuring access to prevention and treatment services would ground to a halt: uptake would be poor even when services are provided, and less NGOs/CBOs would likely be working with the community in view of the provision of the Act.  Health-care workers are not assured of protection to treat homosexual patients in confidence and will have to deal with actual or perceived duress to report members of the homosexual community to authorities. The Act holds implications not only for the HIV/AIDS community, but the medical community as a whole. ‘They threaten both the trust placed in health-care professionals and their efforts to achieve universal health coverage’ writes Aston Bernett-Vanes in his Lancet publication.
Beyond the public health good, the Act also infringes on the rights of members of the LGBTI community. It contravenes the provision of the 1999 Constitutions that upholds the rights of all its Nigerians. It also contravenes the various treaties that promotes the peace and security of lives and properties of Nigerians to which the country is a signatory.
NHVMAS hereby calls on:
1.    1. The Nigeria Bar Association and the Human Rights Commission to review the Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act and advice the President on its implication as per the infringement on the rights of men and women in Nigeria.
2.    2. The Nigeria Medical Association of Nigeria to review the Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act and advice the President on its public health implication.
3   3. The media to create spaces for public dialogue on the Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act and its implications on the rights of citizens in the country.
4.     4. The President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to repeal the Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act and uphold the Spirit of the Country’s 1999 Constitution.