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.

Tanzania joins call for Anti-Gay legislation

1. Tanzanian Officials Want a Bill to Stop Gays “Recruiting”

Tanzanian Member of Parliament Ezekiel Wenje has said that he believes that the country’s current laws do not adequately prevent gay people from “recruiting” younger citizens. Currently, Tanzania criminalizes homosexuality under Section 154 of its criminal code, which states that any person who has “carnal knowledge” of another that is “against the order of nature” can be given 20 years to life in prison.

However, Wenje has said that the law doesn’t stop gay people supposedly inducing others or promoting gay “behavior.” Wenje therefore intends to introduce legislation that would penalize said perceived offenses with 20 years to life sentences.

The legislation as described is concerning because it would appear to give the government a broad tool-set to hound and punish people for offenses that could be as small as recommending books with LGBT themes, while at the same time effectively stifling all attempts at LGBT-positive human rights work and sexual health outreach.

2. Ugandan Men Imprisoned and Subjected to Dehumanizing Medical Tests

Reports say that two Ugandan men, Maurice Okello, 22, and Anthony Oluku, 18, were recently arrested under Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Law. What’s more, reports say the pair were then subjected to dehumanizing anal screenings to “prove” that they had repeatedly engaged in homosexual sex. These so-called medical tests have been heavily criticized for violating an array of international human rights standards, and carry absolutely no medical authenticity whatsoever.

3. Ghana Official Say Gays are Satanic Attack on the Country

Ghana’s Former Deputy Speaker of Parliament Mike Ocquaye, who still holds considerable influence in the country, recently said that “We consider this [homosexuality] an abomination. We don’t want a [mustached] man marrying another bearded man and it is the right of the children to call a man father and a woman mother. … Indeed the family is under satanic attack and we should take great care to protect it.”

With many nations emboldened by Uganda and Nigeria’s anti-homosexuality legislation, Ghana may feel it can also now proceed to further terrorize the LGBT community. Ghana has repeatedly flirted with enacting stronger anti-gay legislation, and this kind of rhetoric seems to validate fears that some kind of legislation might not be far away.

4. Ugandan President Leads Anti-Homosexuality Celebration

If there was ever any doubt that Museveni’s original hesitance to pass the Anti-Homosexuality Bill was a political farce, his recent actions more than serve to dispel those feelings. On Monday, March 31, Museveni presided over what essentially was a party with 30,000 in attendance celebrating, among other things, the passing of Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill.

Said Museveni at the event, “There is a fundamental misunderstanding between us and the liberal west. They say that homosexuality is sex. But it is not sex.” This speaks to the way Museveni and his supporters have manipulated rhetoric around the bill to recast this battle as that of Africa standing up against the tyrannical West.

5. Gay Men Allegedly Tortured and Burnt to Death in South Africa

Reports say that a 21-year-old South African man named David Olyn was tied up with wire, beaten and then burned to death by a suspect who has now been arrested. Add to this the fact that several teenagers were reportedly at the scene and did nothing to stop the accused from setting Mr Oly alight, nor did they run for help. The incident, which happened on Saturday, March 29, has been called a hate crime by LGBT rights groups as Olyn was a well known gay man. The killer is also believed to have used anti-gay epithets while attacking Olyn. The police have yet to formally characterize this as a hate crime, however.

This atrocious crime has happened despite the fact that South Africa has firm constitutional protections for gay people whom it recognizes as equal to heterosexuals in almost every respect. However, there has always been a question about a lack of willingness to enforce these constitutional protections. This is incredibly concerning, and not just for South Africa. Human rights groups have previously stated the importance of South Africa and how it is probably only through South Africa’s outreach that North African countries might be challenged on their anti-gay laws and, in time, decide to change their stance.

Meanwhile international commentators, while always cautious about being alarmist, are concerned that the anti-LGBT crackdown in North Africa is snowballing, and that we haven’t seen the worst of it yet.

State of LGBTI Rights in Zambia

Iranti-org met with Juliet Mphande, the Director of Friends of Rainka, an LGBTI human rights organisation based in Lusaka. Jabu C. Pereira, the Director of Iranti-Org asked Juliet about the current threats facing LGBTI activists in Zambia. In October a homophobic blog in Zambia reported that LGBTI activists were in Sweden, soliticing money for the promotion of homosexuality. This was factually incorrect and clearly aimed at getting the activists arrested under the Zambian penal code.

Over the months we witnessed the increased arrests of LGBTI activists such as Paul Kasonkomona he was charged under section 178(g) of the Zambian Penal Code which provides that “every person who in any public place solicits for immoral purposes” is deemed an idle and disorderly person, and liable to imprisonment for one month or to a fine.

We urge you to support and highlight the struggles in Zambia and work todays a decriminalised state and a recognition of sexual orientation and gender identity as a human rights.

With Matsheko Acey Manik at Wits Art Museum.

Sally Gross Memorial – Wits Art Museum, Johannesburg

All Wits Art Museum Photographs by Germaine de Larch 

Sally Gross - portrait by Gabrielle Le Roux, 2013

Sally Gross – portrait by Gabrielle Le Roux, 2013

Remembering and celebrating the life of Sally Gross, our beloved friend, comrade, teacher, philosopher – a great soul who is missed by many and remembered for her role in so many struggles. Sally was a comrade in the anti-apartheid struggle, part of the ANC in exile, she was part of the Palestinian struggle and she made history writing intersex rights into South African legislation and thereby making ours the first country with a Constitution that protects intersex people’s rights……Gabrielle Le Roux

 

With Selogadi Ngwanangwato Mampane and Kezia Lewins at Wits Art Museum.
With Selogadi Ngwanangwato Mampane and Kezia Lewins at Wits Art Museum.

 

With Matsheko Acey Manik at Wits Art Museum.
With Matsheko Acey Manik at Wits Art Museum.

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Young Sally Gross
Young Sally Gross

 

 

Selogadi Ngwanangwato Mampane with portrait of Sally Gross
Selogadi Ngwanangwato Mampane with portrait of Sally Gross

 

With Carla De Bouchet
Carla De Bouchet with portrait of Sally Gross

 

Gabrielle Le Roux with portrait of Sally Gross
Gabrielle Le Roux with portrait of Sally Gross

 

Bongi covering the event in spite of not feeling well himself. Thanks Bongi.
Matsheko Acey Manik was there both as photographer representing Inkanyiso, and to mourn Sally. Here Ace’s shadow falls on the first portrait I did of Sally Gross, onto which she wrote “I am what I am” .

 

Sally Gross in the time she worked at the Regional Land Claims Commission
Sally Gross in the time she worked at the Regional Land Claims Commission

Cultural and Traditional Values in Human Rights

Some states and other actors are increasingly claiming that ”traditional values” should take precedence over universal human rights for all. In addition ”cultural practices” are used to limit the rights and freedom of women who do not given any say in the issues surrounding their right to live.

All women and in particular lesbian and bisexual women and trans people are particularly targeted by these so-called ”traditional values”.

This cross-regional panel explores the discourse around ”traditional values” and harmful cultural practices. In focus are the strategies used to fight back against the patriarchal structures aiming to limit the freedom and rights of women on the basis of their sexual orientation, gender identity,
gender expression and sexuality.

Via Iranti-org

Interview with Haitian historian Bayyinah Bello

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

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

Haiti: Collateral Alibis – NGO Watch

Last year I was alerted to the website Turning World @Turning_world by some friends here in Haiti. The site is run by photojournalist Brad Workman who has an ongoing photo documentary project in Haiti. We took issue with the language, his profitmaking approach, and the fact that there is no acknowledgement let alone giving back to those whose lives he invades under the guise of social documentary. I wrote a post on this that asked the question: Photo Journalism or Poverty Porn?

In a similar vein, many of us are now questioning the website content of the Foundation for International Development Assistance – Productive Cooperatives Haiti (FIDA-PCH), a Canadian NGO operating in Haiti which purports to have set up a number of agricultural cooperatives and literacy projects in rural areas. Below are a set of photographs  and text , defining what they, the colonial missionaries, imagine it means to be Haitian.

There are different ways to tell a story without invading peoples’ lives and assaulting their dignity. The photos chosen by Haiti’s Camp Acra residents on their blog should be a lesson on how Haitians see themselves – see here and here. In the 1805 Constitution written by the first President of the Black Republic, victorious revolutionary Jean-Jacques Dessalines (also called JanJak Desalin), declared that to be Haitian is to be Black (Article 14). In other words, being Haitian and being African are one and the same –inseparable. The Constitutions also states freedom of worship and no religion shall dominate.

With this in mind, consider the Western colonial narrative that writes Haiti as “the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere” composed of suffering, dysfunctional victims, both pathetic and resilient at the same time, lacking autonomy, waiting desperately for “white saviors” to arrive. And so they arrive, with the bible in one hand and stale bread in the other, to live like masters on the plantation in charge of childlike natives whose savage proclivities must be held in check. In their heads, like all previous colonizers, they need justification that goes beyond the practical. In the case of FIDA-PCH, this justification can be found in their photos and text.

This is important as in order for colonialism to function—and let’s be clear, FIDA-PCH and others like them are colonizers—its targets have to be written as passive, incapable, simple and in need of salvation. This pathologizing is necessary to recruit funds and gain acceptance in the home countries of the NGOs and missions. It is also necessary to create this narrative within Haiti to enable domination and recruitment into these fundamentalists groups.

FIDA-PCH and those like them come to Haiti and view the Haitian culture as inferior, and the Haitians as uncivilized. They assume Haitians need to be taught farming and the Western way of life, which of course is not supposed to include Vodou or any African religion that survived the Middle Passage. The country which is the most African of all the Diaspora is, in one slash of the white supremacist machete, disconnected from her ancestral roots. Haiti is presented in the most insidious racist terms, as inherently barbaric, and Haitians as inherently hateful of each other.

Like most NGOs and missionaries, FIDA-PCH’s presentation has no understanding that KREYÒL along with Vodou are the Poto Mitan* (Center Post) of Haitian culture – the latter a permanent historical presence whether practiced or not. The devaluation of Vodou throughout Haiti’s history is the one constant that can be found amongst the vast majority of foreign NGOs, missions and western media that shapes the views of the many who come to “help” Haiti.

Nonetheless, it is important to note that despite all the foreign interventions, the Poto Mitan has never been colonized!  Instead of Haiti written as victims who hate sections of the population such as LGBTIQ people, Vodou writes Haiti as a continuing revolution and one where the core principle is an assumption that I am a living being and it is here that my merit lies.

There is so much violence and destructiveness in the FIDA-PCH text, photos and the actions that must stem from this mindset, and contrary to what they state, it is this which leads to the breakdown of traditions and causes much friction between groups. FIDA-PCH believes that Haitians, and therefore Black people, Africans, have no sense of community or agency.

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Colonialism, imperialism, the ongoing exploitation and genocidal legacy of AmerEuropeans is dismissed. The enslaved and exploited are the ones judged and blamed. But the truth lies elsewhere. At the beginning of the revolution in 1791, the enslaved peoples of Haiti were united in purpose, language and belief systems; overthrowing plantation slavery could not have happened otherwise.

The text accompanying the photo below is particularly vile.

screenshot343-300x181What really happened was quite the contrary.

FIDA-PCH: “She was born into a culture yet to wash its self-esteem of the stains of slavery.”

NO: Haiti “washed” itself clean of the “stains of slavery” when Dessalines led an army of formerly enslaved Africans and beat back the British, French and Spanish to form the first Black Republic – a communal act of courage and bravery referred to as “the first great social revolution in the hemisphere.”

FIDA-PCH: “She remembers that her own tribal chief sold her family into slavery.”

NO: She remember that YOUR ANCESTORS sold her into slavery, transported her chained hand and foot in the bowels of hell, and then proceeded to torture, rape and use her as a beast of burden and dog bait!

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In the above photo, the text claims “he [the Haitian] is acted upon. He turns passive. He resigns. Responsibility seems to him to belong to everybody else.” This is the exact scenario of power and control being created by NGOs, particularly those with Christian agendas and evangelical missions that seek to erase Haitian culture and demonize Vodou. These attacks   have been on the increase since 2003 when President Aristide decreed Vodou as a national religion and “an essential part of national identity.

The first proverb misrepresented on the FIDA-PCH website states, Depi nan Ginen neg pa vle we neg, which they translate as “Back in Guinee and ever since, Africans have no use for Africans.”

The correct spelling is: Depi nan Ginen nèg pa vle wè. It is clear they simply do not understand that the essence of a proverb is in its coded meaning. But we cannot simply dismiss this as an error. We must look at the intent, which is so twisted with toxic consequences. What we see is the inability to imagine that Africans/Haitians use language to express satire, irony, double meanings and a philosophical worldview and existential condition.

The correct translation is: Since Ginen, people don’t want to see people: Since coming from Guinea, the spiritual and ancestral homeland, people don’t want to see people. “Nèg” definitely does NOT stand for Africans; the Kreyol word for African is “Afriken.” The translation of “having no use” is invalid, as wè is to see. “People” and its literal meaning is “Negro,” but in Haiti “Negro” is also used for people that don’t have African ancestry. There is also ti nèg: ti means little and refers to a common person, for example a laborer or peasant;  and gwo nèg, which refers to a rich and influential member of society or a person from the elite class. Not connected to ancestry or ethnicity.

One has to understand that after Haiti’s revolution, Dessalines said that there were only two types of people: blacks, which included all people of non-African ancestry that sided with the freedom fighters against oppression and slavery, and whites, which were all those on the opposing end. This meant, for example, that Polish settlers in Haiti who defected from the colonial troops to side with Dessalines and stay in Haiti were considered as blacks. In so doing, Dessalines made all Haitians equal, and therefore of the three revolutions of the time—French, US and Haitian—Haiti was the only country to live up to the ideal of equality and of freedom. Black for Dessalines was less a racial identifier and more about consciousness and a conscious awareness of justice against the global white supremacist structure of oppression.

The second proverb FIDA-PCH misrepresents is Abitan pa janm konnen, which they translate as, “He pretends he knows nothing even when he knows.” They interpret this revisionist lie as, “a fitting statement of Haiti’s scarred history.” Again agency is removed, history is erased, identity is rendered invisible, and we are presented with a cowering Haitian hiding from their words, life, community.

The correct translation is: The peasants never know. The meaning of which is: the opinion of the poor, the common people, is never sought nor consulted. This is in stark contrast to the meaning given on the website. FIDA-PCH’s Haiti is one full of mistrust, slavish dependency and self-hate whilst they present themselves as the savior in bringing to Haiti a cooperative environment where Haitians are TAUGHT to share and work together.

FIDA-PCH completely undermines indigenous social systems such as the concept of community, helping and trusting others and family in the Lakou system of shared agricultural and living compounds, and the Konbit, a get-together in which everyone donates their labor to help accomplish a common goal for community improvement, or to help out an individual. There are many Haitian proverbs that stress community and mutual help. The often cited Men anpil chaj pa lou, Many hands lighten the load, means things are easier to accomplish when a group works together. So here again you have a proverb that is in stark contrast to the reframing of Haitian cultural identity given on the FIDA-PCH website.

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NGOs, missions and assorted visitors have had free reign in Haiti for too long. There are no visa requirements and no questions asked, no accountability to the public. Their profits are hidden and they can make whatever spurious claims about projects they run, the people they work with or have met. Agricultural projects in particular have a habit of making claims that do not exist in reality. Often they operate using questionable labour practices, in addition to forcing workers and their families to abandon their indigenous belief systems for Christianity in return for food and shelter. This culture of entitlement and ownership of Haiti’s future became entrenched following the January 2010 earthquake when NGOs and so-called humanitarian organisations felt they were beyond accountability, and fundamentalist attacks on the Haitian identity by evangelicals from the United States escalated.

Haiti, Africa and other parts of the African Diaspora are under attack from self-appointed white saviors and religious fundamentalists. The miracle is that the Haitian people have been able to survive at all. The voices of Haitians are no more than what filmmaker Raoul Peck describes in his film “Fatal Assistance” as “collateral alibis.” The outcome of 500 years of the EuroAmerican cultural tradition is one of genocide of indigenous peoples and the genocide of our minds.

We reject this in all its entirety and demand it STOP NOW!

We demand that all the photos and text on the FIDA website are removed and the proverbs replaced with the correct translations.

We are watching!

Written in collaboration with the following organizations and individuals :

Chanjem Leson,

Coalition Pour Humaniser Les Actions Aux Logements (CHAL),

Alyssa  Eisenberg @alyssa011968,

Dominique Esser @dominique_e_,

Stephanie Horton @ducorwriter,

 

* References for the Poto Mitan:

It is the centerpost around which rituals and ceremonies unfold in a Vodou temple.  It represents a great tree which reaches into the heavens, and through it’s roots, it grows deep into Africa, “Vodou Songs in Haitian Creole and English” edited by Benjamin Hebblethwaite]

Resisting  Freedom in “Invisible Powers: Vodou in Haitian Life and Culture” edited by Claudine Michel and Patrick Bellegarde-Smith.

Ethiopia planning to extend homosexuality law

EthiopiaIn June 2012 a national conference “Homosexuality and its associated social disastrous consequences” took place in the Africa Union headquarters, Addis Ababa.  The conference was organizers described themselves as “Christian,  pro-life, pro [heterosexual] marriage.  The conference was attended by some 2000 people including religious leaders and government officials one who stated..

‘Recently, the US President Barak Obama, British Prime Minster David Cameron and other western leaders are trying to establish ties between aid and the rights of homosexuals, but this will never happen in Ethiopia.

‘We don’t want their aid as long as it is related to homosexuality, I assure you that Ethiopia has no room for homosexuality and our country will be the graveyard of homosexuality.’

Nearly two years later, lawmakers in Ethiopia are now set  to pass a Bill that effectively makes homosexuality, which is illegal in the country, “nonpardonable” under its amnesty law.

Ethiopia’s Council of Ministers last week endorsed a measure by lawmakers to put homosexuality on a list of offences considered “non-pardonable” under the country’s amnesty law, and is widely expected to pass the Bill when it is put to the vote next week.

In Ethiopia, same-sex acts are illegal and punishable by up to 15 years in prison. A 25-year jail term is prescribed for anyone convicted of infecting another person with HIV during same-sex acts.

Ethiopia’s president often pardons thousands of prisoners during the Ethiopian New Year. When the Bill becomes law, the president will lose his power to pardon prisoners facing charges ranging from homosexuality to terrorism.

 

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.

Sexual rights- Cutting across sexualities; intersecting orientations

 

Photo by Zanele Muholi
Photo by Zanele Muholi

From Joseph Sewedo Qkoro

Sexual rights- Cutting across sexualities; intersecting orientations

By RADHIKA CHANDIRAMANI

It may be useful to visualize sexual rights as a large tree with deep roots and a vast canopy of leaves. Or as a giant umbrella. Or a big tent. Whatever tickles your imagination and allows you to see it as a conceptual and practical tool to make claims for any aspect that relates to how we express sexuality. It has to do with obvious aspects linked to our sexuality such as the freedom to choose one’s partner, to say yes or no to sex, to decide on whether one wants to have babies or not, to be heterosexual, gay, lesbian, bisexual, asexual or however one identifies one’s sexual orientation, to seek sexual pleasure, to have access to information and health services, to not have one’s body violated, etc. All of these are based on underlying human rights principles of autonomy, bodily integrity, liberty, dignity of the person, equality and so on. Nothing new. So why then are sexual rights such a volatile issue and why do they attract so much opposition?

Sexual rights apply to all people, so in that sense they are an equalizer. But as with all rights, mostly it is those people who are being oppressed who will shout loudest for their rights to be respected. So we hear more about LGBTQI people, than about straight people. In most parts of the world, straight people don’t need to claim their right to an identity because a straight identity is bestowed on everyone whether they want it or not! Nor do they need to fight against discrimination at work or on the streets or in the kinds of services they receive. But sexual rights are not restricted to LGBTQI people – they are for all people. They apply also to the straight man or woman who falls in love with someone of another community or religion or nationality, or who does not want to have sex with their spouse. They apply to the woman who does not want to get pregnant or to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term. They apply to the young person who wants accurate information about sexuality. They apply to gender non-conforming people. They apply also to all people who conform to everything society expects them to.

That is why there is so much opposition to sexual rights by religious institutions and people of different faiths and by the upholders of a static, unvarying idea of ‘culture’. What we may see as liberation, is viewed as pure hell by them. What are they afraid of?

Amongst other things, they do not like the idea of women having control over their own bodies and desires, women saying no to sex when men want it,and people marrying across the boundaries of gender, class, religion, caste, race, and all other social ‘barriers’. Why is that so scary? Because to their minds, there is no knowing what the outcome of these alliances may be – not just in terms of kids with ‘mixed blood’, but also in terms of future allegiances like same-sex couples co-habiting, marrying, and so on. If the old barriers are not in place, anything can happen and the powers-that-be will no longer be powerful and able to dictate how people, especially women (remember women are the ‘vessels that transmit culture’), ‘should’ behave.

But it is not just ‘old men with beards’ who oppose sexual rights. It is also ordinary people who misunderstand the meaning of sexual rights. That may be because they equate rights with the freedom to do whatever you want and they imagine that what people want most is to have sex with everyone. And anyway, what’s wrong with that (as long as it is consensual and safer sex being practised)? But that aside, sexual rights are not a license to ride roughshod over other people.

At the very heart of sexual rights is the notion of consent. In fact, sex without consent is a violation of rights. So, unlike what its detractors say, sexual rights is not about people running amok, conjugating with every passing stranger. But you might well ask, if the passing stranger is amenable, then why not? Which brings us to the question of ‘intimacy’. Intimacy is given a high value in certain societies and groups of people. For instance, sex with a stranger is considered ‘worse’ than sex with someone known. In the framework of sexual rights there is no judgment about this. No form of sex is ‘better’ or ‘worse’ than any other. And here lies the subversive potential of sexual rights and perhaps what its opponents fear most – the complete lack of judgment about other people’s sexual desires, aspirations and practices as long as they are engaged in with mutual consent.  So they apply equally to the person who seeks sexual pleasure through what others may regard as ‘kinky’ sex as they do to any one else.

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Banjul, 10 March 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

Legal implications of the Law

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

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

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

Call to action

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

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

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

For more information contact:

Kasha Jacqueline: 0772463161

Jay Abang: 0782628611

For more on the medical report:

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

Museveni’s speech at signing of Bill

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

https://pdfzen.com/c12275be8591a372.

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

Phumzile Mtetwa & Val Kalende on Anti-LGBTI Legislation

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

 

 

 

 

 

When Militarism Wins – Uganda and Aid Farce

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

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

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

pelosi wb copy

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marchers in Kampala, May 22, 2012

Marchers in Kampala, May 22, 2012

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

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

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

Who gets the money instead?

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

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

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

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

But the other big factor is the security sector.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Washington Consensus: Street art from Argentina

The Washington Consensus: Street art from Argentina

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is stability: Ugandan soldier in Mogadishu, 2007

This is stability: Ugandan soldier in Mogadishu, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

GlobalEqualityFund_blog

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

oct18_global_wealth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Uganda Anti Pornography Act of 2014

 

Who is listening to African queers?

From Keguro Macharia – “Listening to African Queers”

 

A few weeks ago, I broke a longstanding personal rule and left a comment on a mainstream, very popular, award-winning U.S. gay blog. A long string of comments by mostly gay men (if web identities count for anything) supported the U.K.’s decision to consider sexual rights in granting aid. Many of the commentators condemned not simply homophobia and transphobia in Africa, but African governments and African citizens, the former explicitly the latter implicitly. “My tax dollars should not fund homophobia,” was a typical comment.

Against these certainties about African governments and African citizens, I pointed out the wealth of blogs and articles by African queers on the state of sexuality and rights in Africa and suggested that it would make sense if those pronouncing on Africa engaged with these sources. I also directed readers to the recent statement produced by African queer activists and organizations about aid conditionality. (But also see David Kuria’s dissent from this statement.) My attempt to suggest that African voices are worth listening to was ignored for the most part by those who considered themselves to be, variously, authorities on Africa, authorities on gay rights, defenders of gay rights, and defenders of aid conditionality.

At this particular table, there was no room for an African guest.

And because such online encounters are more common than not, this particular African guest returned to his online conversations with fellow African queers, musing about the futility of conversations with queers in the Global North who already know too much, want to save Africans but don’t want to listen to Africans, and want to cling to the (imperial) illusion that the Global North leads the way in gay rights—one wants to point out that, at least legislatively, South Africa is way ahead of the U.S. But let me not cloud the issue with facts.

I recount what is by now a tedious, too-familiar story, and adopt the position of the African in this particular story rather disingenuously. I am, after all, as much a product of the Global North as I am of the Global South. In a few short years, I will have spent as much time in one space as I have in the other. My education, my frameworks, my labor are in the Global North. And I am, for many, an unlikely person to speak for Africans or even to speak as an African. I know all too well that were my English less fluent, were my manners more diffident, were I more reliant on the salvific goodness of helpful foreigners, I would be more palatable to certain kinds of philanthropists who want stories about the awfulness of Africa and the chance to save another African.

Alas: I read Fanon at a formative moment.

Following the U.K.’s example, the U.S. has bought into aid conditionality tied to so-called sexual rights. It’s not yet clear what this will mean. But it is worrying.

Multiple blog posts from the U.S. have celebrated this “victory” for gay rights, this assertion that gay rights are human rights, universal rights: the U.S. is now on board with gay activism.

I am not celebrating.

In fact, I am disheartened by what feels like myopic celebrations that confirm, or suggest, that what is at stake in such a decision has nothing to do with helping African queers and everything to do with domestic U.S. feeling and neo-imperial machinations. I have no problem with U.S. queers celebrating this decision as an advance for U.S queer struggles; but let’s not confuse the issue and claim this decision has anything to do with African queers. Or that African queers were in any way consulted—not that we need to be, of course: knights in shining armor rarely ask whether the maiden and the dragon are engaged in an inter-species romance.

I am not suggesting that some African queers might not support aid conditionality. I am suggesting that such decisions can often accomplish more harm than good. While I am not interested in repeating tedious blather that Africans are “communal” while “westerners” are “individualistic,” I do want to emphasize that we all live deeply embedded lives. Aid conditionality based on sexual rights, and, really, gay rights, risks marginalizing the many kin-based, friend-based, and neighborhood-based networks inhabited by African queers. For the most part, African queers do not live in gay enclaves: cutting off major arteries to save tiny capillaries does not work. It simply cannot work.

More to the point, and to repeat something I’ve written before: positioning African queers as economic threats or as economic competition to other local, regional, and national projects renders us more vulnerable. In a country like Kenya where money is King, telling government agencies that money will not show up for a government project because queers are not treated well will most probably not result in better legislation or, more practically, better living conditions for queers. (Given Kenya’s strategic importance in the region and that we are happily killing Somalis for the Americans, I think our aid is safe.)

I realize that aid conditionality often has nothing to do with those populations deemed to be at risk. Or, rather, is based on information provided by “experts” who have “conducted studies” to “determine what is needed” and rarely, if ever, takes into consideration local needs and local situations, except as these are filtered through really fucked up lenses. I have sat through multiple presentations where so-called “experts” diagnosed Africans—yes, such collective terms are used too often—and heard myself described in ways I found utterly bewildering, reduced to a helpless, clueless child. When one speaks up at such meetings, one is told that one is an exception; no doubt, my U.S. education helped me grow toward civilization.

These too-frequent encounters (and once a year is too frequent for my taste) cost too much psychically for me to engage them. Thus, I skip most Africa-focused forums advertised in DC and most talks advertised by “well-known” Africanists—these are, strangely, also in short supply.

After all, how can I remain a happy African when others are so determined to infuriate me?

Who is listening to African queers? Who is listening to those who traverse local and international spaces, who understand local needs not because they spent 2 weeks on a grant-funded trip, but because they receive phone calls at 3 in the morning and spend countless hours making sure that queers find safe housing? Who is listening to those who through years of activism and study have developed methods for how to engage with political leaders?

Are efforts to save African queers ever really about African queers?

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.