Why Is Homophobia In Africa So Widespread?
Uganda's new law that calls for life imprisonment for gay sex is part of a wider crackdown against LGBTQ+ rights that is particularly harsh on the African continent.
Uganda has just passed a law that allows for life imprisonment for same-sex sexual relations, punishing even the "promotion" of homosexuality. Under the authoritarian regime of Yoweri Museveni for the past 37 years, Uganda has certainly gone above and beyond existing anti-gay legislation inherited from British colonization.
But the country of 46 million is not alone, as a wider crackdown against LGBTQ+ rights continues to spread as part of a wider homophobic climate across Africa.
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There is exactly one country on the continent, South Africa, legalized same-sex marriage in 2006, and another southern African state, Botswana, lifted the ban on homosexuality in 2019. But in total, more than half of the 54 African states have more or less repressive laws providing for prison sentences.
Even in countries where it is not prohibited by law, homosexuality remains a taboo, and LGBTQ+ people are in permanent danger.
There is a misunderstanding on the African continent: many consider homosexuality to be an imported phenomenon from the West. This is historically absurd and even contradictory — colonial legislation, especially British and Portuguese, was very severe for homosexuals.
But this idea of importation has spread with the fight against AIDS and the preventive and educational action of many Western NGOs or those benefiting from Western funding. Paradoxically, it is often in the name of conservative Christianity, a religion that came from Europe, that condemnation of homosexuality is made. The Anglican Church in Uganda voted to break away from the Church of England when it showed tolerance towards LGBTQ+ people.
The homosexual question has taken on a political dimension by being part of a rejection of Westernization, perceived as a liberalization of morals as much as an economic and ideological domination.
Ugandans LGBTQ demonstration
This is therefore a much broader issue, especially considering that Putin's Russia, in its rejection of the West, never fails to include same-sex marriage and what it calls moral depravity. And it uses this argument in its propaganda campaigns, whether open or indirect, in Africa. It makes homophobia a societal, and even civilizational, marker to discredit a West presented as decadent.
The international debate on LGBTQ rights is complex.
This makes the international debate on LGBTQ rights complex. It is not enough to point an accusing finger at African countries that repress homosexuality to advance their rights. It can, in fact, do more harm than good.
Remember the controversy last year around Senegalese footballer Idrissa Gana Gueye of Paris Saint-Germain, who refused to wear a rainbow-colored jersey? It is easy to condemn him from the comfort of liberal Europe.
How do we defend LGBT+ rights without falling into the trap of a counterproductive North-South divide or a moral judgment with neo-colonial overtones? It is difficult, however, to turn a blind eye when laws as repressive as Uganda's trample undeniable human rights.
This is one of the most difficult questions in the Europe-Africa relationship.