An opinion piece puts recent anti-gay legislation in Africa in context

Thursday, January 23, 2014

This editorial, published by an American doctoral student in South Africa, examines the recent anti-gay legislation in Nigeria and Uganda, and the wider anti-feminism and anti-homosexuality movements that are taking place across the African continent. She argues that a lot of responses to this trend, even the well-meaning ones, perpetuate the image of "backwards Africa" and miss a larger context:
The developments have been condemned by Western governments and have predictably sparked outrage amongst many people in South Africa. Purse-string holding countries in the north have threatened to withdraw millions of dollars in aid for the enactment of these laws, with Germany having already withdrawn aid from Uganda, citing the law as a main concern. While some may say that this is a useful strategy in protecting LGBTI rights in Africa, this is also a problematic response that draws on colonial-era assumptions of Western superiority.

These “progressive” responses, like their conservative counterparts, assert and assume the legitimacy of the West to dictate to African people and countries, furthering the idea that it is in the best interest of African people to do as the West instructs.

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Disappointingly, many commentators on the airwaves and in social media have asked a question that usually goes something like – “Why is it that African countries are banning homosexuality when other parts of the (‘developed’) world are in the processes of legalising it?” This question feeds into discourses that arose during colonialism, and which still circulate today, of African “backwardness”. We should therefore be highly suspicious of this question and the responses it prompts.

And the arguments that either a) agree with the laws or b) say that Nigerian and Ugandan governments must be allowed to make their own decisions simply perpetuate ignorance on the topic. The homophobic attitudes supporting the laws are violent, dangerous, and terrifying in terms of the future of sexual politics. And, in this context, the argument that countries like Uganda and Nigeria must have the freedom to make their own decisions is correct, but misleading. In reality, Uganda and Nigeria have not passed these laws alone, or without influence from the West.
She goes on to explain that the force responsible for this trend comes from the American "Christian right" and the advocacy of such groups across the continent.
In order to understand the anti-gay and anti-feminist legislation that is developing across the continent (Burundi, Cameroon, Tanzania are on the paths taken by Uganda and Nigeria), we must also understand the ways in which the American Christian Right, and its neo-liberal supporters, are shaping and nurturing the anti-gay laws that countries like Uganda and Nigeria are making. American evangelist Scott Lively (Author of The Pink Swastika: Homosexuality in the Nazi Party, which blames the holocaust on gays) has been sued by Sexual Minorities Uganda for crimes against humanity for his influential involvement in the “kill the gays” bill.

Scott Lively is not the only one – there are many well-resourced US based organisations that are building inroads into African sexual politics. Rev. Kapya Kaoma’s Colonizing African Values: How the U.S. CR is Transforming Sexual Politics in Africa is a useful introduction to how the US Christian Right is working successfully to drive the homophobic and anti-feminist “Family Values” agenda in Africa.

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