Homosexuality not a Western import to Africa By JANET OTIENO | Wednesday, May 26   2010 at  13:44

The marriage of Kenyan gay couple Charles Ngengi to his longtime partner Daniel Chege Gichia (right) last year in London. Homosexuality is illegal in most African countries save for South Africa, Chad and Gabon. Photo/FILE 

The issue of homosexualitiy in Africa is once making screaming headlines.

Just days after a Malawian gay couple was sentenced to 14 years' jail with hard labour, two employees of the gay rights group in Zimbabwe were seized in a police swoop.

The Harare duo, now cooling their heels behind bars, are employees of the Gays and Lesbians Association of Zimbabwe (GALZ).

The Malawian ruling, not surprisingly, has attracted a round of condemnation from the international community.

In Kenya, it is a different scenario altogether as the Gays and Lesbians Coalition – Kenya (GALCK) have come out in the open to demand the protection of their rights. A fearless breed indeed, one may argue rather convincingly!

With all these new developments, many especially parents, are seething with rage since homosexuality was initially a hidden affair.

Evil and foreign

In as much as the boldness displayed by this group has won them a good number of admirers, others have tendered to differ for various reasons, not least of which is that it will be out of character for “God-fearing” Africans to legislate in favour of homosexual rights.

Lebanese author Khalil Gibran observed some years back that: “Humanity cannot change the will of God just as an astrologer cannot change the course of the stars”.

Thus, those with opposing views say homosexuals are trying to “corrupt” the ordained order.

African culture virtually detests homosexuality as a vice and anyone trying to root for its legalisation in statutes books and acceptance in the society is likely to be resisted.

Homosexuality is illegal in African countries, save for South Africa, Chad and Gabon. This mirrors the widespread homophobia within the continent, documented so clearly by statements made by Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe, who refers to them as ‘worse than dogs and pigs’, and Malawi’s Bingu wa Mutharika, who terms the practice as evil and foreign.

Uganda nearly passed a legislation mandating death sentence for sodomists. Former presidents of Namibia Sam Nujoma and Kenya’s Daniel arap Moi were well known for their hard stance on homosexuals.

Azande warriors

Ironically, there are records indicating that homosexuality is not a Western import after all. Ancient examples of the boy marriage tradition among Azande warriors of Central Africa region and the gay sex at the court of the Kabaka (king) of the Buganda support this concept.

History has it that different wars within the continent would encourage homosexuality in the pre-colonial Africa since it brought men together.

Further evidence for the existence of homosexuality is that pre-colonial African ethnic groups ascribed tribal classifications to gay people.

Certain tribes in pre-colonial Burkina Faso and South Africa regarded lesbians as astrologers and traditional healers, while a number of tribal groups in Cameroon and Gabon believed homosexuality had a medicinal effect.

In pre-colonial Benin, homosexuality was viewed as a boyhood phase that males passed through and eventually grew out of according to Zimbabwean Standard newspaper.

The Egyptian Pharaoh Akhenaten and his lover Smenkhkare were also documented as male couple in history. Their homosexuality does not seem to have bothered Akhenaten’s contemporaries, but his challenge to the clergy brought his downfall.

Although there is no data to substantiate a genetic or biologic basis for same-sex attraction, homosexuals prefer the biological explanations of hormonal imbalance, sexual abuse, prenatal hormone defect or lack of bonding with a same-sex parent as this helps to generate greater tolerance and building their case for minority status.

This would mean homosexuals need counselling and acceptance as opposed to the harsh penalties like imprisonment that will lead them to further isolation. Denying them the opportunity to live the way they have to, is total deprivation of their rights as human beings.

This puts the ball squarely on the parents’ court who have, for a long time, failed to instil appropriate sex education in their children at home, leaving the burden to teachers and clerics. The place for sex education is the home setting. Within their own families, young people should be aptly instructed about the dignity, duty, and expression of love.

Hateful and intolerant

There is no substitute for a personal dialogue of trust and openness between parents and their children, that is, individual formation within the family circle, which respects not only their stages of development, but also the children as individuals.

Sex education is a delicate subject and parents must find time to be with their children, making the effort to understand them and to recognise the fragment of truth that may be present in some forms of rebellion.

Such individual formation within the family means that sex education is indistinguishable from religious and moral development in other virtues such as temperance, fortitude, and prudence.

Africans should therefore not afford themselves the luxury of being hateful and intolerant to this particular group.

Whether Africa will face up the reality and accept homosexuals, or uphold its traditional values, remains to be seen as the debate rages on.