Anti-Gay Laws Are A Colonial Hangover

Horace Campbell


Some of the gays and lesibians
protesting outside ugandan
Embassy. feb 10

The Star [Kenya]

DECENT humans everywhere must expose the destructive cultural war that has led to the legalization of hate towards same-gender loving persons in parts of Africa.

This assault is orchestrated by conservative and racist Christian fundamentalists in America and is an attempt to reconstruct the divisive homophobic colonial legacy in Africa.

On February 20, Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni signed into law the Anti-Homosexuality Bill criminalizing same-sex relationships with up to life imprisonment. This Anti-Homosexuality Act was originally passed by the Ugandan parliament on December 20, 2013. After an international outcry, the death penalty clause was dropped in favour of life in prison.

After Museveni signed the bill into law, the Ugandan Red Pepper newspaper published a list of 200 Ugandan ‘top’ homosexuals, outing some people who previously had not identified themselves as gay. A few weeks earlier Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan had signed into law a similar bill to punish same-gender loving persons with up to 14 years in prison.

After signing the bill, Museveni referred to gays as “disgusting” human beings and argued that his action was intended “to demonstrate Uganda’s independence in the face of Western pressure and provocation.”

Yet ironically Janet and Yoweri Museveni have not been shy about their loyalty to the most conservative Christian fundamentalists in the USA. Pastor Scott Lively is prominent among the right wing Christian fundamentalists in the USA who helped to craft the Anti Homosexuality Bill during meetings with Museveni and his wife Janet.

The activities of these American extremists have been chronicled by researcher Kapya John Kaoma in his book Colonizing African Values.

Museveni’s adoption of retrogressive politics shows his insecurity and opportunism. Ultimately Museveni preferred the prejudice of conservative Christian fundamentalists to the compassion of Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa.

This atmosphere of hate and persecution was perfected by white supremacists who for nearly a century enshrined in the American constitution the notion that the black person is not a full normal human being.

Same gender loving persons have the same human rights as every person in the society. Inside Uganda, opposition leader Kizza Besigye has attacked the new laws signed by Museveni. He disputed the claim that homosexuality was “foreign” and said the issue was being used to divert attention from domestic problems. Three years ago the Ugandan scholar, Sylvia Tamale, published the book African Sexualities: A Reader that presents a much more complex picture of sexuality in Africa.

The silence of well-known radicals in Uganda and East Africa on this criminalization of Africa’s LGBT community is stunning. Where are the scholars of the Dar es Salaam school on this issue?

Ten years ago I wrote on “Homophobia in Zimbabwe and the Politics of Intolerance” after President Mugabe said that gays were worse than “pigs and dogs” but some sections of the global Pan African movement objected and continued to praise Mugabe as anti-imperialist.

Progressives in Africa must resist the appeal of religious extremists and be humble enough to admit that human sexuality is complex and requires critical questioning of popular sentiments. Traditional African societies and practices were overshadowed by colonial laws and ordinances. Precolonial African societies were not homogenous but rather complex, diverse, and multidimensional.

In her book Male Daughters, Female Husbands: Gender and Sex in an African Society, anthropologist Ifi Amadiume revealed the fluidity of sexuality in precolonial Ibo society. It is a myth that there were no same gender relationships in Africa before colonialism. Other works of anthropology have responded to Amadiume and investigated the reality of sexuality in precolonial African societies.

Across Africa, the Western powers imposed their religion, languages, cultures, and laws while demonizing or outlawing pre-existing practices. Most ‘educated’ Africans internalized the Western ways, including the laws and religions bequeathed by colonialism. Likewise in Nigeria and Uganda it is a colonial legacy that their constitutions do not recognise same sex relations. These new anti-gay laws therefore amounts to a reconstruction or reinforcement of the Western colonial legacy.

The same American Christian fundamentalists who are financing the anti-gay laws in Africa supported apartheid and destabilization in Africa during the Cold War. Televangelist Pat Robertson opposed civil rights for blacks in America and said the devastating earthquake in Haiti in 2010 was because the people had signed a “pact to the devil.” This was his understanding of the Haitian revolution which overthrew slavery and colonialism in 1804.

These conservative forces and their corporate backers are working hard in America to reduce voting rights for blacks and browns, to assault women and minority rights, to increase the military budget and cut healthcare and education. They are losing the culture war in America because of the rising multiracial tide which is why they are intensifying the struggle in Africa.

Pan Africanists must now choose to either support conservative forces opposed to social justice and equality, or to join forces with those who want equal rights and social justice for everybody. In Nigeria, Professor Wole Soyinka has condemned the anti-gay laws as “legislative zealotry” as have Femi Kuti, Seun Kuti and author Chimamanda Adichie. In Uganda Prof Joe Oloka Onyango, Sylvia Tamale and journalist Andrew Mwenda have just filed a suit to declare the Anti-Homosexuality Bill unconstitutional. It is time for many more progressive Africans to take a stand.

Horace G. Campbell, a veteran Pan Africanist, is a Professor of African American Studies and Political Science at Syracuse University.