Thursday, July 31, 2014

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Homophobia is a Legacy of Colonialism

Africans have to reclaim their forgotten pasts as peoples who refused to hate but stood side-by-side and embraced their differences.
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At a gay pride march in Johannesburg, South Africa. Photograph by Niko Knigge.

At a time when more countries are moving towards inclusive human rights, Africa is taking steps backwards. Backwards, that is, specifically on the issue of gay rights, though sadly not to before colonialism, the era in which anti-gay legislation has its roots.

Most Africans don’t recognise homophobia as a colonial legacy even though before colonialism, many traditional cultures were tolerant of different sexualities and gender relations. For instance, in my tribe, the Ganda or Baganda, (Uganda’s largest ethnic group) women from the royal clan are addressed with male titles and may or may not be required to perform duties expected of women. More broadly, from the Azande of the Congo to the Beti of Cameroon, and from the Pangwe of Gabon to the Nama of Namibia, there is ethnographic evidence of same-sex relationships in pre-colonial Africa.

By preying on African values of inclusive difference, however, Africa’s colonisers rewrote its history, the effects of which haunt Africa to this day. Tribal chiefs and village courts of law which were traditionally the hallmark of conflict resolution were traded for a European Penal Code system which included the criminalisation of homosexuality. It is also important to stress that so-called sodomy laws would not have impacted African sexual politics without the influence of Christianity. Christianity was used to whitewash African culture as primitive and to demonise traditional interpretations of African intimacies. The bible became the credo of African morality, disordering African sexuality to missionary positions of heteronormativity (i.e. the idea that heterosexuality is the only 'natural' sexual orientation).

But sexuality is not all that the colonisers rewrote about Africa. European colonies were established through military conquest, perpetuated through the politics of divide and rule, and religion. The colonisers understood that to conquer Africa they had to turn Africans against Africans such that Africans would blame themselves for their divisions, most of which culminated in ethnic hostility. Amongst other things, colonial policies of divide and rule spurred ethnic tensions. For example, by dividing Rwanda along race and class, German imperialists turned the Tutsis against the Hutus. In Sudan meanwhile, British imperialists divided the Northern Muslim region from the Southern Christian region creating divisions that perpetuate ethnic tensions to this day.

US evangelicals

In today's postcolonial world, the influence of US conservative evangelicals on Africa’s sexual politics cannot be understated. They have picked up where their colonial predecessors left of and are providing the propaganda, by way of religious brainwashing, for Africa’s antigay campaigners to make the case for harsher laws against LGBT communities. This is why holding American missionaries like Scott Lively and Lou Engle to account is crucial to the protection of LGBT people in countries where they evangelise.

When Africans accuse Western countries of importing homosexuality, LGBT Africans become demonised as social deviants and criminals, and politicians turn to the law as the solution. What needs to happen in Africa is an honest discussion on human sexuality in the African context before, during and after the colonial period. This is a conversation local activists, civil society, academics, and the media should begin to shape.

Africans will have to reclaim their forgotten pasts as peoples who traditionally refused to hate but stood side-by-side and embraced their differences. Although needed and requested by African LGBT activists, outrage towards antigay African countries may not solve Africa’s homophobia. The pushback against Western interventions such as aid cuts is usually informed by an African resistance against neocolonialism. However, there is no going back. More than ever, what Africa needs is a global uprising for LGBT rights.

It is stories like Binyavanga Wainaina’s, the Kenyan author and journalist, who recently came out that could contribute to meaningful conversations on human sexuality in the African context. Although Wainaina’s story constitutes a personal choice that does not have to be politicised, his story could be the beginning of what is still a long walk to the acceptance of LGBT people on the continent.

Think Africa Press welcomes inquiries regarding the republication of its articles. If you would like to republish this or any other article for re-print, syndication or educational purposes, please contact: editor@thinkafricapress.com.

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Comments

This arguement that homophobia is a result of colonianism is weak. Africans have the capacity to make up their own minds!. There are many things the colonianist brought that we have rejected. In French speaking countries where there were no sodomy laws, are gay relationships widely accepted? I have not travelled the entire continent and I'm not familiar with all ethnic groups but I will speak about mine. I am a Nigerian Yoruba and as far as I know there is no Yoruba word to describe a homosexual relationship. I am not denying the fact that there are and have been Gay Yorubas, but I strongly disagree with this notion that it was widely accepted pre-colonianism.We are all entitled to our opinions, but the vast majority of Yoruba, Nigerian, African parents do not deem being gay, unmarried or unmarried with no children as things they want for their children. That doesn't make them homophobic, it makes them traditionalist.Most Africans would not support the lynching, killing or harrassment of gays, its plain evil. Gay people, some people will never support your lifestyle - get over it! Africa is not the West, where gay rights trumps freedom of speech, freedom of thought and religious freedom. There is enough room for gay Africans, religious Africans and socially conservative Africans.Peace and light!

It is one thing where someone comes from, yet another where someone chooses to go. Sexuality is a powerful source of existence, and so it is tempting to try to control it for political power, but the results prove to be disastrous way too often. (think Female Genital Mutilation, or foot-binding, or the demand for chastity) I believe anything bringing us away from understanding human nature and the myriad ways one can be, will only continue the dis-empowerment, be it post-colonial or otherwise - and let's not forget, that the EurAsian countries have millennia of exploitation of the local population for a few wealthy elites, just the same as was imposed by those in power there over the rest of the planet. Let's not ignore the resulting feeling of helplessness, and therefore the need for scapegoats on whom one can project one's aggression, trying to feel powerful for a short moment, whether against women, children, the elderly, animals, or whoever is targeted.

I agree with you Val, when you say ''what needs to happen in Africa is an honest discussion on human sexuality...." We could start there, and all sides could commit to listening actively. I disagree though with the notion of an African context of sexuality. Human sexuality has philosophical foundations and is objective, whether we find this hard to accept or not. Answers here will apply to all who are human in nature regardless of race or creed.The fact that homosexuality is not new to humans cannot, per se, make it right. It is also fallacious to conclude that Christianity whitewashed African culture as primitive and demonised traditional interpretations of African intimacies....What are your premises? And are you suggesting that homosexuality is in fact, an African idea?Honest discussions will lead to informed decisions when it comes to 'personal choice.'  Honest discussions will also bring to the fore the real impact of homosexuality on society (theoretical and empirical) if any. The argument you present here might be more forceful if you can demonstrate not only that there is a significant number of 'successful' homosexual couples, but also that children raised by such couples thrive and are not traumatized by this very thing. Unless it matters little... but seeing as you want to argue especially from an African perspective/context, it should matter. A lot. Also let's keep in mind that good is good even if no one supports it, and evil is evil, even if the majority were to condone it. It certainly is evil to make life unpleasant for homosexuals and to advocate for any sort of violence against them.Lastly this publication is titled Think Africa! All the peoples of the world, not only Africans, need to, more than ever, find the confidence to think for themselves and make good personal choices that help them move towards their best selves. So many questions remain in my mind after reading this article. I leave you with two.1. Where does pride in homosexuality stem from? What is it an achievement of?2. Might you have come across in your reading, colonialists/colonial settlers that were documented homosexuals? This could help you evaluate the argument in which you attempt to link homophobia with colonialism. @eamisi 

It's utter and complete rubbish to claim Homosexuality as pre-colonial when it's in fact an European soul disease forced upon Africa by colonialism. Many sexual perversions such as hands touching of gentials, oral sex, anal sex and homosexuality were unheard of in most African ethnicities prior to the conquests of Europeans/Arabs, etc. There were no words for these acts found in any enthnic language of Africa. Now the agenda is to push off homosexuality as Europeans wish now to occupy more of Africa after destroying their own homelands with war, raditation and social disorder, while Africa is making a return to traditions of our ancestors that fostered thousands of years of peace. Homosexuality is a mental disorder and the elite European secret cults who practice all manner of sadistic filth want to use this social weapon to destroy African families, then breakdown African socieities the same way they have African diaspora who are mentally enslaved in their nations. Africans have a right to choose their own laws, if that law is to put to death or imprison people for committing homosexual acts then that is their sovereign right, this is the diversity of mankind. The United Nations ran, controlled and owned by Europeans can't enforced upon Africa their culture of homosexuality, passed down to them by their ancestors, the Greeks and Romans were all homosexuals, who gave birth to the British and Americans. Africa is it's own unique continent and has a right to maintain it's unique cultural continuum.