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Africa’s Gay Resistance In The Face Of Economic Blackmail

By Kamal Tayo Oropo
05 July 2015   |   3:32 am
DESPITE poverty, same sex union is a crime in many African countries. While punishment ranges from imprisonment to ostracisation or even death, but the recent US Supreme Court approval of gay marriage may threaten continued resistance by African countries to deny official recognition for gay couples.
Malawian gay couple arrested in december 29, 2009

Malawian gay couple arrested in december 29, 2009

DESPITE poverty, same sex union is a crime in many African countries. While punishment ranges from imprisonment to ostracisation or even death, but the recent US Supreme Court approval of gay marriage may threaten continued resistance by African countries to deny official recognition for gay couples.

Reasons are not far fetched: Africa is home to the world’s top 10 poorest countries –– he who pays the piper dictates the tune.
For survival, these countries depend chiefly on Official Development Assistance (ODA) from abroad.

On May 10, 2010, 26-year-old Steven Monjeza and 20-year-old Tiwonge Chimbalanga bagged the maximum 14-year jail term from a court in Blantyre, Malawi, for being a gay couple. Passing down the judgement, the judge, Nyakwawa Usiwa-Usiwa, pronounced: “I will give you a scaring sentence so that the public be protected from people like you, so that we are not tempted to emulate this horrendous example.”

Barely 20 days later and after immense pressure from the international bodies, including the World Bank, the African Development Bank (AfDB), donor agencies and governments such as the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, Norway and the European Union, President Bingu wa Mutharika announced Malawi’s pardon of the “couple” after meeting with UN Secretary General, Mr. Ban Ki-moon.

The government of United States declared: “We must all recommit ourselves to ending the persecution and criminalization of sexual orientation and gender identity. We hope that President Mutharika’s pardon marks the beginning of a new dialogue which reflects the country’s history of tolerance and a new day for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights in Malawi and around the globe.”

Britain, Malawi’s major bilateral aid provider, followed in similar vein. “Human rights apply to everyone regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Britain has a close and strong partnership with Malawi and it is in this spirit that we raised our concerns about these convictions with the Government of Malawi,” the British government said. In quick succession it suspended over 19 million pounds of aid to the landlocked country. Malawi relies on donor support for up to 40 percent of its development budget and the salaries of it’s over 172,000 civil servants.

Within few weeks of coming to power after the demise of Bingu Mutharika, Mrs. Joyce Banda’s government received 33 million pounds from Britain. In quick succession, AfDB, the World Bank and International Monetary Fund followed suit. In return, Banda government imposed a moratorium on the laws banning same sex unions. While no fresh arrest has occurred ever since, the incumbent President Peter Mutharika-led government recently declared that it has no intension of changing its anti-gay laws.

Same sex union is illegal in at least 37 countries in Africa. A recent poll by the Pew Research Centre found that over 98 percent of people in Cameroon, Kenya and Zambia disapprove of homosexuality. The percentage of disapproval in Nigeria is about the same. But fear are rife that legal advances in the United States and South Africa, as well as, active support by international agencies, including the United Nations, might provoke a new wave of activist movements to push the boundaries in Kenya, Ghana, Malawi, Zimbabwe and other countries in ways unthinkable a generation ago. Gay and lesbian lifestyles are also much more visible.

Uganda became a central battlefield after legislation was proposed last year advocating punishments for gay sex that range from life imprisonment to the death penalty. Expectedly, the country immediately came under intense pressure from activists both inside Uganda and overseas, as well as international financiers.

In the face of these pressures, a special committee was organised by President Yoweri Museveni. Unexpectedly, and without much ado, the committee recommended that the bill be withdrawn, in what has proved to be an important victory for Kamapala-based same-sex organisations such as the Freedom and Roam Uganda (FARUG) and sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG).

Val Kalende of FARUG, which was set up in 2003, said: “I believe that now is the season and time for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights in the continent. The LGBT rights movement has grown and it has come to a point where people can no longer be silent about injustices.”

But if the government was forced to back down, a source told The Guardian that majority of Ugandans are still at pains to associate with anyone with gay inclinations. Kalende alluded to this when asked if the gay rights lobby is resulting in a surge of homophobia. He said: “Yes. Long before we built a movement here, no one bothered about us. We got away with so many things. When we decided to come out and claim our space, society came harshly against us.

“This implies that we are stepping on people’s toes. People hate to see us free and that’s why oppression of LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) people is on the rise. One of the indicators of a progressive social movement is when its enemies start organising against it.”

In Zambia, the government has reiterated its position not to recognise gay rights, saying that the practice runs counter to Zambian culture and is an affront to the Constitution, which recognises the country as a Christian nation.

Realising where the opposition would chiefly emanate from, the government urged foreign missions accredited to Zambia to respect the views of the country about gay rights, insisting that Zambia would abide by Christian values.

“I want to make it very clear here that as government, we have the Constitution to protect and in the preamble of our Constitution, Zambia is a Christian nation and as such we live by the Christian values and we will not be able to recognise gay rights,” a government spokesperson said.

“This is because it is untraditional to our culture, and we have appealed to our colleagues to respect our stance that as Zambians, we shall remain a Christian nation.”

Following in that heels, Kenya too has “no room for gays,” the country’s deputy president, William Ruto, said recently.

Ruto made the remark the day U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry arrived for talks in Nairobi. “The Republic of Kenya is a republic that worships God. We have no room for gays and those others,” Ruto told a Nairobi church congregation in the national Swahili language.

The Kenyan government believes that homosexual relations are unnatural and unAfrican.

It is yet to be seen, how long Kenya will maintain this stance as the United States is a valuable donor to Kenya, providing annual aid of almost $1 billion, some of it to help the security forces, but much of it to support treatment of HIV/AIDS victims.

Apart from South Africa, which constitution has the most liberal attitude towards gays and lesbians, which guarantees their rights, a number of African countries have never criminalised the practice. These countries include, Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, Chad, Republic of the Congo, Cote d’Ivoire and the Democratic republic of the Congo. Others are Djibouti, Gabon, Madagascar, Mali, Niger and Rwanda.

In Mauritania and Sudan same-sex is punishable by death. While the act attracts life imprisonment in Uganda, Tanzania and Sierra Leone. It t attracts 14 years in imprisonment in Nigeria.