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Study Finds Homophobia In Africa Often Political

A new study indicates that homophobia in Africa often has political reasons and says politicians use homosexuality to gain votes and to steer debate on critical issues.

Avatar of Alessia Valenza

22nd February 2013 16:07

Alessia Valenza

In an interview with DW, the study team said that African politicians would often use homosexuality to mobilize voters to swing or vote in their favor. The study findings were released Monday.

"Homophobia is used for political ends, especially in situations where governments fall because of the abuse of power, corruption or misappropriation of development funds under pressure from civil society," said Dr Rita Schäfer who headed the investigating team.

Dri Rita takes the example of Uganda’s Anti Homosexuality Bill that has been pushed by several politicians who have political aspirations. House Speaker, Rebecca Kadaga last year was an active supporter of the legislation.

It was found out, however, she wanted to gain political mileage as she harbored ambitions to succeed President Museveni.

However, the implication of the bill being signed into law is something that Ugandans have not comprehended, said Dr Rita.

"The bill has provisions for long prison sentences, not only for homosexuals themselves, but also for family members if they have a gay son or daughter as they are expected to report them to the police and if case they fail, they are liable for punishment," said Dr Rita.

A salient issue the study also found was that the use of anti-gay rhetoric is not only during campaigns or politicking and when politicians want to endear themselves to their electorates by taking a firm stand on what voters dislike, but more importantly in areas where key issues such as resources, corruption and money are being discuss. ‘Politicians will use homosexuality to distract their electorate from real issues.’

A case in point is Zimbabwe.

‘Zimbabwe in the early 1990s reduced the expenditure on health and HIV and AIDS dramatically – thus leading to an increase in HIV infections. To distract people from this archaic health policy, President Mugabe has given speeches and squarely blamed gays for AIDS,’ says Dr Rita.

Despite all attempts to stifle LGBT rights, there have been more and more groups in Africa, campaigning for the rights of homosexuals, the study says. It also found out that LGBT Africans get support from external countries and LGBTI groups once and if local interventions do not work.

Godwyns Onwunchekwa is one of them. He is co-director of "Justice for Gay Africans", a non-governmental organization that operates out of the UK.

"We see ourselves as a voice call to Western states to talk with African governments on the issue. Moreover, with "Justice for Gay Africans" I am in permanent contact with activists in Africa. So we find out how we can help them and support them," said Onwunchekwa to DW.

You want to show that homophobia is not a purely African problem. Much more it is stoked by politicians – and therefore needs to be tackled by political means, he remarked.

The study comes at a time when several kep African politicians have been accused of using homosexuality to gain followers.

Just recently, William Ruto, a politician from Rift Valley in Kenya went on national TV to claim gays are equal to dogs. His remarks were not surprising since Ruto has been consistently homophobic.

This past weekend, the Zambia VP, Guy Scott issued some remarks that alleged that when he was campaigning in 2011, the opposition parties said that his team would allow homosexuality if elected into power something he denied.

(READ: Zambia VP Alleges Opposition Said They Would Legalize Homosexuality)