By Walter Chari
Homosexuality and same sex marriages have become hot subjects in Africa. It has also become an emotional issue to such an extent that some gays have been arrested and beaten up while some Heads of State have come out in the open declaring gays as persona non grata.
In 2008, Gambiaâ€™s President, Yahya Jammeh threatened to behead homosexuals in that country.
In Malawi, the first gay couple toÂ publicly declare theirÂ status were arrested and sentenced to 14 years in jail after â€œtyingÂ the knotâ€ in 2009. However, they were later released following the intervention of President Bingu wa Mutharika through a presidential pardon. Others believe that the Malawian leader came under donor pressure to help the couple, though ultimately this did not really help because donors have pulled out of the country nonetheless.
President Robert Mugabe has been particularly scathing in his assessment of homosexuality and those who practice it. He has been quoted saying of the subject.
â€œ(It) degrades human dignity. Itâ€™s unnatural, and there is no question ever of allowing these people to behave worse than dogs and pigs. If dogs and pigs do not do it, why must human beings?
â€œWe have our own culture, and we must rededicate ourselves to our traditional values that make us human beings…What we are being persuaded to accept is sub- animal behaviour and we will never allow it here. If you see people parading themselves as lesbians and gays, arrest them and hand them over to the police.â€
Western sponsored Non Governmental Organisations have been at the forefront of getting Africa and its governments to accept homosexuality as something of a personal choice and thus a human right. South Africa recognises gay rights, but this has not resulted in a corresponding acceptance of the practice as homosexuals are the frequent subjects of attacks within their communities.Â
African culture and philosophy dictates that life and reproduction of life sit at the core of human society. This means that men and women should have children, thereby creating a community and continuity. As such, these beliefs do not accommodate homosexuality because the practice has no room for reproduction and continuity of the human race.
Some NGOs and activists maintain that this is a human rights issue but this has failed to gain much currency within the generality of African society, which largely remains very conservative on matters of sexuality.
Over the past months, Zimbabwe has been working on a draft of a new constitution and to that end, officials have been going around the country soliciting for peopleâ€™s views on various subjects for inclusion in the proposed supreme law. One of the issues that came up was that of gay rights.
President Mugabeâ€™s Zanu PF party has always been clearly and openly opposed to gay rights and this is in line with the general sentiment among Zimbabweans.
At the same time, the other major political party, MDC-T, has built its platform on opposing Zanu PF policy positions. But they had a hard time enunciating their position on gay rights during the constitution outreach programme. On the other hand, their liberal leaning would make it natural to support gay rights and thus maintain their anti- Zanu PF position, but doing so would alienate a huge section of the Zimbabwean electorate. Up to today, the party has a hard time in publicly defining its position on the issue.
Furthermore, the Anglican Church of Zimbabwe split in 2007 after the then Archbishop of Harare, Nolbert Kunonga, said he could not allow homosexuality to be recognised in the institution. He went on to form the Anglican Church of the province of Central Africa after some powerful figures in the church appeared to be intent on actively promoting homosexuality. The church remains split today and there are little prospects of reunion. In fact, the Anglican Church worldwide is in a crisis over gay rights and more such schisms are expected over the coming years.Â Â
In Uganda in 2007, the legislators were unanimous in crafting an Anti- Homosexuality Bill that would criminalise the same sex marriages. They wanted to impose the death sentence on those who break the law, while for â€˜touching another person with homosexual intent,â€™ a perpetrator could expect a length jail term.
That law caused quite an uproar among activists but as is usual with such matters, very little media space was given to those Ugandans opposed to homosexuality to air their views. All you will ever hear are the voices of the NGO projects.
So is homosexuality â€˜Africanâ€™? Should the rest of the African nations follow an example set by the South African government that legalised same sex marriages on November 30, 2006? What role do churches play in this whole debate? Some critics have said it is naive for Africans to accept same sex marriages as constitutional when the demand is made by Westerners and yet those same Westerners abhor polygamy and call Africans backward for recognising it. If they cannot accept our culture, why should we accept theirs?
African governments should be firm on those NGOs and their sponsors who are trying to promote homosexuality and are actively encouraging our children to accept and therefore practice such things.
Homosexuality remains an aberration in many African communities and as such, enacting laws recognising gay rights would be an academic exercise as these would not be respected by the generality of the population.
More so, any politician who publically declares support for gay rights in conservative Africa risks throwing away his or her career.
Africaâ€™s revulsion of homosexuality is not just based on traditional cultural practices but on Biblical and Islamic cultural practices and teachings as well since a large proportion of the continent follows one form of religion (Christianity or Islam) or another.Â Â Â Â
The article has also appeared in the Southern Times