Will homosexuality remain a dark secret in Africa?

Last Saturday, South Africa held its annual Gay Pride Festival in a colourful ceremony, an indication that homosexuality is no longer a dark secret and the debate would not go away anytime soon.

The topic has drawn extreme reactions from different parts of the continent with those who abhor it claiming that it is a foreign import, historical studies indicating that same-sex relationships existed in pre-colonial Africa notwithstanding. (Read: Homosexuality not a Western import to Africa)

The latter school of thought, however, did not stop gay and lesbians from coming out in large numbers, donning bright attires to celebrate their sexual orientation in the only African nation to allow same-sex marriage and full gay rights.

However, in the same country, corrective rape is on the rise. (Read: Corrective rape in South Africa: Zuma; why are you quiet?)

Lesbians are targeted to force them to 'go straight'. (Read: For South Africa's sexual minorities, the going just gets harder)

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex (LGBTI) are crawling out of the wardrobe to display the diversity in their sexualities and fight for equality.

Uganda remains the most hostile place for homosexuals following the murder of gay activist David Kato after a local newspaper exposed him. He campaigned against the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, when death sentence was mooted for gays in 2009.

It was subsequently dropped after an international outcry, but Kato did not live long as a free citizen thereafter as he was beaten to death last year.

However, it is not only in Uganda where homosexual acts are illegal, with punishments of 14 years in prison with hard labour. (Read:Nigerian actor gets months in jail for gay offence)

Sub-animal behaviour

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe is one of those known for his strong anti-gay stance that came out strongly in 1995, when he shut down a book fair organised by Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (GALZ) regarding them as worse than dogs and pigs. He went on to say the homosexuals were exhibiting sub-animal behaviour, and vowed not to allow it in the southern African nation.

“If dogs and pigs do not do it, why must human beings? We have our own culture, and we must rededicate ourselves to our traditional values that make us human beings,” President Mugabe reportedly said.

The Zimbabwe case is not strange in this homophobic continent when compared to the famous 2009 incident involving Malawian couple Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga, who were arrested and sent to prison for ‘gross indecency and unnatural acts’.

Those rooting for its legalisation have faced resurgent opposition for interfering with the ordained order. The opponents have since adopted the Malawian case as a strong reference point since 10 days after receiving presidential pardon; Mojenza dumped his gay partner to marry a woman, accussing hidden hands of engineering their gay union.

Lest we forget, last year the UK not surprisingly received a round of condemnation from several quarters in Africa when it threatened to withhold aid to the Commonwealth members who criminalised homosexuality. African countries urged their ‘wealthy brother’ to stop using the sterling pound to force stale food down their throats. (Read: Zambia tells UK off over gay laws)

From gay parades in Cape Town, to street protests in Cairo, homosexuality remains a controversial topic in the homophobic continent, resulting from a complex interplay of colonial history, religion and culture.

Email: ajotieno@ke.nationmedia.com / Twitter: JanetOtieno

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