Geopolitics

African LGBTQ Activists Fight To Undo Colonial Legacy

Both north and south of the Sahara, Africa's gay, lesbian and trans activists are fighting for their rights … and for many, that means returning to a much earlier history.

Namibia Holds inaugural Gay Pride Parade, June 4, 2016
Namibia Holds inaugural Gay Pride Parade, June 4, 2016
Genevieve Mansfield

Ten years after Tunisia's pro-democracy revolution, activists are continuing to fight for the rights of all … and that increasingly also includes members of the LGBTQ community. Like Tunisia, other African countries are confronting the challenge of overcoming conservative attitudes and the legacy of colonialism that too often still stands in the way of providing equal protection and dignity to gay, lesbian and transgender citizens.

History might surprise you

Back in 19th-century Tunisia, it would not be surprising to overhear a popular song referencing same-sex love or stumble upon a book with an LGBTQ love scene — or even hear gossip about the sexually diverse makeup of the Prince's court. Abdelhamid Larguèche wrote in his historical novel, Les ombres de Tunis, that pre-colonial society in Tunisia was "less repressive," as Ottoman penal codes did not mention homosexuality or sodomy. Today, however, even after the 2011 "Jasmine Revolution," homosexuality is a punishable crime.

Homosexual sex became illegal in Tunisia in 1913, with the passing of Article 230 while the country was under French proctorate. Since then, LGBTQ people have been subject to invasive anal probes used for ‘evidence" for arrests and eventual imprisonment. Yet several civil societies have emerged since the revolution to push for LGBTQ rights in the country. Their first goal: getting rid of the colonial era law, Article 230.

Tunisia

The organization Mawjoudin - We Exist, which began in 2014 is among the leaders in the battle. Ali Bousselmi, their co-founder and executive director, told French newspaper Le Monde that since the revolution, "there have been fewer arrests and the use of anal probes. But with article 230, we remain threatened."

Along with awareness campaigns aimed at repealing Article 230, Mawjoudin works to create a safe space for members of the LGBTQ community. Since 2018, the organization has successfully put on an annual queer film festival. After being canceled last year due to coronavirus, the festival will be back on from July 16-19.

For activist Rania Arfaoui, also a member of Mawjoudin, these measures are crucial for showing that activists are on the ground and leading the charge in their own communities. She told another French daily Liberation that "It is essential to make our struggle visible and to show that the movement for queer rights and feminism is not just the prerogative of Western activists. There are communities in the Global South who are fighting!"

National Women's Day in Tunis, Tunisia, 2016 — Photo: Chedly Ben Ibrahim

Angola

Tunisian activists are not alone in their fight to repeal colonial-era legislation and show how African communities are reclaiming their histories. Some 3,000 miles south of Tunisia, LGBTQ activists in Angola celebrated earlier this year when the portion of the 1886 Penal Code that outlawed "vices against nature" was officially repealed.

Though it was not frequently enforced, the colonial-era law effectively banned homosexual conduct in the country and allowed for greater harrassment and discrimination against LGBTQ people. Like Tunisia, Angola also has a prior history of acceptance toward the LGBTQ community, as its Ovimbundu tribe was known for having had traditions which involved homosexuality and cross-dressing.

Carlos Fernandes, an LGBTQ activist, told Híbrida magazine that the decision this year "removed barriers," and has given their organization a greater ability to dialogue with the government. Now, Fernandes is focusing on creating community spaces for mental health and well-being, as well as addressing the spread of HIV.

Botswana

Another country with a history of LGBTQ acceptance prior to colonization is Botswana, which has also seen the repeal of discriminatory legislation. The country's high court overturned anti-sodomy laws in 2017. The presiding judge, Michael Leburu, later told the The New York Times that the laws were a "British import," and that they had been developed "without consultation of local peoples."

Activists were excited to see the overturn: Anna Chalmers, the CEO for Lesbians, Gays and Bisexuals of Botswana told France 24 that the decision "goes a long way towards giving us our freedom."

Phransisko Kumedzro in Accra, Ghana, for British Vogue — Photo: Stephen Tayo

Ghana

Activists in Ghana, another former British colony, are still struggling to see homosexuality decriminalized. Same-sex relations have been outlawed since the colonial era, and the current criminal law uses similar wording to that which was enacted during the 19th century. LGBTQ activists in Ghana have made international news multiple times this past year, notably when law enforcement shut down the office of a rights group in February, and when 21 activists were arrested in June for "unlawful gathering."

Yet, despite these setbacks, activists have not given up. VOA Afrique reported that the organization, LGBT+ Rights Ghana, launched a fundraiser to "help them get out of prison." The hashtag #ReleaseThe21 has also been trending on social media. But the rise in homophobia, coupled with the President's outspoken opposition to decriminalizing homosexuality, has forced activists to be less vocal in their calls for complete legal decriminalization. Efforts instead have focused on education and legal challenges in the court system.

Like others, Ghana's activists are increasingly using the internet to create an safe spaces for the queer community. In reflecting on ways progress has been achieved in her country in recent years, Tunisian activist Ali Bousselmi said that "talking about it broke a taboo in society, and this has allowed the community to gain allies." Activists across the continent are following a similar path, one step at a time, even though they are rightfully ever impatient for change.

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Future

7 Ways The Pandemic May Change The Airline Industry For Good

Will flying be greener? More comfortable? Less frequent? As the world eyes a post-COVID reality, we look at ways the airline industry has been changing through a pandemic that has devastated air travel.

Ready for (a different kind of) takeoff?

Carl-Johan Karlsson

It's hard to overstate the damage the pandemic has had on the airline industry, with global revenues dropping by 40% in 2020 and dozens of airlines around the world filing for bankruptcy. One moment last year when the gravity became particularly apparent was when Asian carriers (in countries with low COVID-19 rates) began offering "flights to nowhere" — starting and ending at the same airport as a way to earn some cash from would-be travelers who missed the in-flight experience.

More than a year later today, experts believe that air traffic won't return to normal levels until 2024.


But beyond the financial woes, the unprecedented slowdown in air travel may bring some silver linings as key aspects of the industry are bound to change once back in full spin, with some longer-term effects on aviation already emerging. Here are some major transformations to expect in the coming years:

Cleaner aviation fuel

The U.S. administration of President Joe Biden and the airline industry recently agreed to the ambitious goal of replacing all jet fuel with sustainable alternatives by 2050. Already in a decade, the U.S. aims to produce three billion gallons of sustainable fuel — about one-tenth of current total use — from waste, plants and other organic matter.

While greening the world's road transport has long been at the top of the climate agenda, aviation is not even included under the Paris Agreement. But with air travel responsible for roughly 12% of all CO2 emissions from transport, and stricter international regulation on the horizon, the industry is increasingly seeking sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based fuel.

Fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund.

In Germany, state broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports that the world's first factory producing CO2-neutral kerosene recently started operations in the town of Wertle, in Lower Saxony. The plant, for which Lufthansa is set to become the pilot customer, will produce CO2-neutral kerosene through a circular production cycle incorporating sustainable and green energy sources and raw materials. Energy is supplied through wind turbines from the surrounding area, while the fuel's main ingredients are water and waste-generated CO2 coming from a nearby biogas plant.

Farther north, Norwegian Air Shuttle has recently submitted a recommendation to the government that fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund aimed at developing cleaner aviation fuel, according to Norwegian news site E24. The airline also suggested that the government significantly reduce the tax burden on the industry over a longer period to allow airlines to recover from the pandemic.

Black-and-white photo of an ariplane shot from below flying across the sky and leaving condensation trails

High-flying ambitions for the sector

Joel & Jasmin Førestbird

Hydrogen and electrification

Some airline manufacturers are betting on hydrogen, with research suggesting that the abundant resource has the potential to match the flight distances and payload of a current fossil-fuel aircraft. If derived from renewable resources like sun and wind power, hydrogen — with an energy-density almost three times that of gasoline or diesel — could work as a fully sustainable aviation fuel that emits only water.

One example comes out of California, where fuel-cell specialist HyPoint has entered a partnership with Pennsylvania-based Piasecki Aircraft Corporation to manufacture 650-kilowatt hydrogen fuel cell systems for aircrafts. According to HyPoint, the system — scheduled for commercial availability product by 2025 — will have four times the energy density of existing lithium-ion batteries and double the specific power of existing hydrogen fuel-cell systems.

Meanwhile, Rolls-Royce is looking to smash the speed record of electrical flights with a newly designed 23-foot-long model. Christened the Spirit of Innovation, the small plane took off for the first time earlier this month and successfully managed a 15-minute long test flight. However, the company has announced plans to fly the machine faster than 300 mph (480 km/h) before the year is out, and also to sell similar propulsion systems to companies developing electrical air taxis or small commuter planes.

New aircraft designs

Airlines are also upgrading aircraft design to become more eco-friendly. Air France just received its first upgrade of a single-aisle, medium-haul aircraft in 33 years. Fleet director Nicolas Bertrand told French daily Les Echos that the new A220 — that will replace the old A320 model — will reduce operating costs by 10%, fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by 20% and noise footprint by 34%.

International first class will be very nearly a thing of the past.

The pandemic has also ushered in a new era of consumer demand where privacy and personal space is put above luxury. The retirement of older aircraft caused by COVID-19 means that international first class — already in steady decline over the last decades — will be very nearly a thing of the past. Instead, airplane manufacturers around the world (including Delta, China Eastern, JetBlue, British Airways and Shanghai Airlines) are betting on a new generation of super-business minisuites where passengers have a privacy door. The idea, which was introduced by Qatar Airways in 2017, is to offer more personal space than in regular business class but without the lavishness of first class.

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

commons.wikimedia.org

Hygiene rankings  

Rome's Fiumicino Airport has become the first in the world to earn "the COVID-19 5-Star Airport Rating" from Skytrax, an international airline and airport review and ranking site, Italian daily La Repubblica reports. Skytrax, which publishes a yearly annual ranking of the world's best airports and issues the World Airport Awards, this year created a second list to specifically call out airports with the best health and hygiene standards.

Smoother check-in

​The pandemic has also accelerated the shift towards contactless traveling, with more airports harnessing the power of biometrics — such as facial recognition or fever screening — to reduce touchpoints and human contact. Similar technology can also be used to more efficiently scan physical objects, such as explosive detection. Ultimately, passengers will be able to "check-in" and go through a security screening anywhere at the airports, removing queues and bottlenecks.

Data privacy issues

​However, as pointed out in Canadian publication The Lawyer's Daily, increased use of AI and biometrics also means increased privacy concerns. For example, health and hygiene measures like digital vaccine passports also mean that airports can collect data on who has been vaccinated and the type of vaccine used.

Photo of planes at Auckland airport, New Zealand

Auckland Airport, New Zealand

Douglas Bagg

The billion-dollar question: Will we fly less?

At the end of the day, even with all these (mostly positive) changes that we've seen take shape over the past 18 months, the industry faces major uncertainty about whether air travel will ever return to the pre-COVID levels. Not only are people wary about being in crowded and closed airplanes, but the worth of long-distance business travel in particular is being questioned as many have seen that meetings can function remotely, via Zoom and other online apps.

Trying to forecast the future, experts point to the years following the 9/11 terrorist attacks as at least a partial blueprint for what a recovery might look like in the years ahead. Twenty years ago, as passenger enthusiasm for flying waned amid security fears following the attacks, airlines were forced to cancel flights and put planes into storage.

40% of Swedes intend to travel less

According to McKinsey, leisure trips and visits to family and friends rebounded faster than business flights, which took four years to return to pre-crisis levels in the UK. This time too, business travel is expected to lag, with the consulting firm estimating only 80% recovery of pre-pandemic levels by 2024.

But the COVID-19 crisis also came at a time when passengers were already rethinking their travel habits due to climate concerns, while worldwide lockdowns have ushered in a new era of remote working. In Sweden, a survey by the country's largest research company shows that 40% of the population intend to travel less even after the pandemic ends. Similarly in the UK, nearly 60% of adults said during the spring they intended to fly less after being vaccinated against COVID-19 — with climate change cited as a top reason for people wanting to reduce their number of flights, according to research by the University of Bristol.

At the same time, major companies are increasingly forced to face the music of the environmental movement, with several corporations rolling out climate targets over the last few years. Today, five of the 10 biggest buyers of corporate air travel in the US are technology companies: Amazon, IBM, Google, Apple and Microsoft, according to Taipei Times, all of which have set individual targets for environmental stewardship. As such, the era of flying across the Atlantic for a two-hour executive meeting is likely in its dying days.

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