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In February, Pambazuka News plans to carry a special issue dedicated to the LGBTI situation in Africa. Send in your contribution

On 20 December 2013, Uganda’s parliament passed the Anti-homosexuality and Anti-pornography bills. The draconian bills were voted despite long-standing and vigorous opposition by civil society organisations and human rights groups in and outside the east African nation.

The Anti-Homosexuality Bill upholds the prohibition against consensual and private sexual acts between adults of the same sex and prescribes a penalty of life imprisonment for ‘repeat offenders.’ It also requires ‘persons in authority, including persons exercising religious or social authority, to report offences under the Act within twenty-four hours or else face imprisonment for three years or a fine.’ It further criminalises the ‘promotion’ of homosexuality with a seven-year sentence. Human rights defenders appealed to President Yoweri Museveni not to sign the two bills into law. He relented - although he still holds to the unproven and potentially dangerous claim that homosexuality is ‘curable’.

Uganda is not alone in Africa in attempting to legislate against the human rights of LGBTI persons. In the early weeks of 2014, President Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria signed the Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Bill 2011 into law. The bill states, among other repressive provisions, that persons who enter into a same-sex marriage contract or civil union commit an offence and are each liable on conviction to a term of 14 years in prison.

Throughout Africa, colonial era laws that criminalised ‘unnatural acts’ are being reinforced by independent governments, pushed by powerful lobbies, under the pretext that homosexuality is ‘un-African’. This despite the fact that there have always been LGBTI persons in Africa. Colonial legislators would have had no reason to criminalise homosexuality if it is the Europeans who introduced the practice to the continent.

In a particularly thoughtful cartoon a few years ago, Kenya’s celebrated caricaturist, Gado, wondered why nobody protested that Christianity was “un-African.” Or the English language.

Beyond repression through legislation, there are high levels of LGBTI intolerance throughout Africa. Homosexual persons have been attacked and killed or injured. Many have been forced into hiding, ostracised by their families, denied employment, have been unable to rent a house, etc. In South Africa the phenomenon of ‘corrective rape’ before killing has been perpetrated by men against lesbians as an alleged ‘cure’ of their sexual orientation.

Can it be acceptable that citizens of independent African nations who should enjoy equal rights and protections under the law are targeted in this way, merely because of their sexual orientation? Is this just? How is the clampdown on same-sex relationships a priority for African lawmakers?

We believe it is possible to make Africa a safe place for all citizens, regardless of their sexual orientation or any other identity markers. It is the responsibility of governments – and of every citizen – to respect and protect the life and dignity every person.

That is why in February, Pambazuka News plans to carry a special issue dedicated to the LGBTI situation in Africa. Our editorial team is agreed that this is an urgent and important issue, noting the large number of individuals who continue to suffer gratuitous violence, intimidation, discrimination and repression; but also noting the relentless efforts of individuals and movements now engaged in struggles for the rights of LGBTI persons across the continent. We would like to highlight these struggles, celebrate the successes, analyse the strategies, share inspiring stories of LGBTI human rights work and personal perspectives, attempt to map out the work that remains to be done.


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