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Myth and Misconception about Homosexuality in Africa

In Africa, homosexuality is a taboo. Gay sex is a very sensitive and controversial issue and presents the black continent with one of the greatest moral, social, legal challenges and dilemmas in the 21st century. This is evident in the many myths and misconceptions about homosexuality in Africa.

Avatar of Alessia Valenza

16th December 2010 11:02

Alessia Valenza


Challenging Misconception

The debate over homosexuality has been bogged down by many myths and misconceptions, which must be corrected and clarified if Africa is to make progress on this critical issue. Some of the misconceptions include claims that homosexuality is un African, and that gay sex is unnatural and a form of sexual perversion imported to Africa from the West. These misconceptions have served the interests of homophobes and gay bashers on the continent and beyond. They have misrepresented African culture and conscience.
If homosexuality is un African, does it mean that heterosexuality is African? Are Africans the ones that exported opposite-sex relationships to other parts of the world? Should we blame Africa for the corruption, immorality and perversions that plague the world due to straight sex?
How does one determine what is African or un African? Who determines what natural or unnatural sex is? Who certifies what is sexually moral or normal? What makes a consensual same-sex relationship a taboo and consensual sex among heterosexuals a tradition?

Homosexuality in Africa
Homosexuals have always existed in Africa. In fact gay sex is as old as Africans in Africa, and predates the contact with Arab and western cultures. But as in other cultures, gays in Africa have until recently been in the closet, expressing their sexual emotions and orientation in private.
Heterosexuality is the norm. Due to the high mortality rate, Africans place a normal and natural emphasis on procreation, child-bearing and reproductive sex but have been accommodative of people with other sexual preferences. Homosexuals in Africa may also contract heterosexual relationship to bear children and to live ‘normal lives’. That is why some say there no gays in Africa.

Colonial Corruption
The persecution of homosexuals in Africa has some roots in the continent’s colonial experience. For centurie, Arab and western imperialists scrambled partitioned and colonized most parts of Africa. Western imperialists forced on these colonies their social, cultural and political ideologies. Unfortunately, at independence most African countries blindly adopted the laws and constitutions of their colonizers. For instance, the former British Colonies, Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda, Ghana, adopted the British common law which until the 1960s prohibited homosexuality; while the Islamic majority states adopted the Shelia law – introduced to Africa by Arab jihadists – which sanctions death for gay sex. So homosexuality is a crime in most African countries due to colonial legislation that African governments have refused to review, revise or abandon.

Christian and Islamic Homophobia
What prevailed in Africa was not necessarily religion-based homophobia because, before the advent of Christianity and Islam, Africans had and practiced their religion which was in agreement with their tolerant and secretive attitude to sex.
What we have today in Africa is a Christian and Islamic-based homophobia fuelled and fostered by the primitive changed teaching of the Bible and the Koran. For centuries, foreign missionaries and jihadist invaded Africa and forced the people to abandon their religion, culture and tradition, and embrace the outdated doctrines and dogmas of these homophobic faiths – which now dominated the continent.
For getting there’s Humanism I ideology and progressive outlook founded on liberal and civilizing values where one of them is that all human beings are equal in dignity and value.
The Humanist morality is based on concern for human dignity, happiness and fulfillment. It is not a set of absolutist edicts and a commandment handed down as eternal moral truths by some deity, but comprises principles and values discovered and informed by human knowledge and experience.
Humanism provides a viable moral framework for Africans to combat homophobia and establish the human rights of all gays and lesbians.
I therefore call upon you who have different ideology to champion the cause of challenging, exploding and dispelling the myths and misconceptions about homosexuality in Africa. Particularly, to embark on public enlightenment to reason Africans out of their ignorance, prejudice, hatred, absolutism, dogmatism and religion fanaticism.
To be at the forefront of the campaign to decriminalize gay sex, legalize gay marriage and abolish all forms of discrimination against individuals on the basis of race, ethnicity, religion, belief, sex or sexual orientation.

Credit should be given to this outstanding Coalition who managed the challenging task of gathering thirteen different LGBTI and women’s organizations from eleven countries of Africa as different as it is.
It was created in 2003 as an independent, non-profit ­organization to support the struggle of lesbian women for equality. It was the first NGO to promote equality for lesbians at continental level in Africa. Not all member organizations can define themselves as lesbian groups though, as in countries such as Nigeria being a lesbian is punished by death penalty. A positive note is that in other countries……
The thirteen members decide on the Coalition’s programme. The Coalition defines itself as African radical feminist. And its six main objectives are in line with the definition:
– To advocate and lobby for the political, sexual, cultural and economic rights of African lesbians by engaging strategically with African and international structures and allies;
– To build and strengthen the voices and visibility of lesbian women through research, media ,literature and through participation in local and international forums.
– To build the capacity of African lesbians and our organizations to use radical feminist analysis in all spheres of life;
– To build a strong and sustainable lesbian coalition supporting the development of national organizations working on lesbian issues in every country in Africa;
– To support the work of these national organizations in all the foregoing areas, including the facilitation of the personal growth of African lesbians and the building of capacity within their organizations.

By Naome Ruzindana
Director and founder member, the Executive board member of Coalition of African Lesbians and the Executive of Pan Africa ILGA.


See also Overview of Survey on Rwandan LGBT Realities in the document attached