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Africa: the threats of homophobia 0

First come the Americans. Second, comes the law. Third, comes the protest. According to a recent article published by The New York Times, the Ugandan politician who promoted the blamed bill on homosexuality – the 2009 Anti-Homosexuality Bill – had been previously inspired by “his evangelical friends in the American government” and by the meetings which took place in Kampala to educate people in “curing gays”. But apart from the role of religious emphasis on this issue, which is breaking walls, uncovering sufferings, leaving scars and splitting the Ugandan community, it is the whole of Africa that has to face the anti homosexuality movement in its borders.

One of the most committed entities protesting and trying to defend gay rights is the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission with its base in Africa. Afronline interviewed Monica Mbaru, IGLHRC Africa Program Coordinator, to better understand the plight of the LGBT community in Uganda and Africa and get to grasps with the measures that will have to be undertaken in order to face the threats.

What is the situation in Uganda like now?

The Parliament is still discussing the bill, mostly because it is supposed to do a second phase of reading. After the first reading, the bill is given to a committee, but after the second reading it is also given to constitutional experts that should state whether it is in line with fundamental rights. After that, it comes out for a third reading and it is sent to the President for the final consent. By now, we still are in between the first reading and the second one, and because of the unusual attention this bill has attracted from different stakeholders, – this has never happened before – it has been given to two committees, the Parliamentary Committee on Legal Affairs and to the Presidential Advisory Committee.

Do you think that there are possibilities that the law will eventually be modified?

There has been a lot of groundwork. We are still deeply involved into getting the whole bill removed in its integrity. But there are also different actors that have come and said that since there is the death penalty they are campaigning only against the death penalty, which for us is not enough. It is not only about that, because Uganda already has legislation on homosexuality, so this bill will cover issues that are already covered. This is a law that bears a double discrimination for people because of their sexual orientation and gender identity. It needs to go in its integrity.

Are there other NGOs and associations that have joined you in this protest?

Yes. As the International Gay and Lesbian Commission we work largely with local organisations. We have, for example, Sexual Minority Uganda, AIDS Breakers and other national groups, some for lesbian and some for gays, for transgender people or for bisexual people. We call on them first of all to start a campaign and then we come in for support. The other thing that we have to take into account in Uganda and in the largest part of the continent is that homosexuality is viewed as a Western concept. We want to say that it is not so, that there are activists on the ground and that they need to be respected as equal citizens in the countries. That is why we employ this strategy of having local activists we support.

Where does this idea of homosexuality as a Western concept come from?

When politicians want to derail or take people’s attention away from a problem to another one, when they just don’t want to take responsibility or when it is convenient to push the idea that something is not African. And this is the routine. Let’s take corruption: it is not Western or African, it is a human thing, a human behaviour.

And is this a common idea, spread in different countries?

Yes, it is a rhetoric they use when talking in public that allows them to be pleasant to different sectors of the public. They say that it is not part of our culture, that it is not part of our religion. It is the idea that homosexual people are not human enough, because it is a western concept. Our leaders must recognize fundamental rights for us, because as a politician you have to promote a positive image of the people that you represent.

How many African countries have such severe legal measures against homosexuality?

There are different levels of measures within the region. Out of South Africa, which is open and is the only country where there is a constitutional mechanism that protects gay people, we have Mozambique as the next most positive country. Then we have another series of countries that still have death penalty. We are talking about Sudan, some parts of Nigeria and Mauritania. And then we have the level of imprisonment without specified length, in countries like Angola and Namibia. After that we have another level with imprisonment going from one month to ten years. This happens in Ethiopia, Somalia, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burkina Faso, Cameroon and Niger. At a different level we have other countries that have imprisonment from 11 years to life imprisonment like Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia. These different situations are often due to their background, to their colonialism past and it varies a lot.

Do you think that this case of Uganda could be a dangerous example for other countries too?

It is a very dangerous case. It could tempt countries around Uganda. Take for example Rwanda, who has discussed the penal code in the last year and was seeking to introduce the criminalization of homosexuality in itself. Fortunately it has been defeated and we are all celebrating this, which is the kind of little victory in the continent that we need to celebrate. However, recent developments in Uganda are negatively affecting Kenya too. A month ago a gay Kenyan couple married in London and the reaction in Kenya was really bad, particularly in the way media covered this situation. So what is happening in Uganda is moving to Kenya too, and the danger is that what passed to Kenya can be borrowed by other countries.

Could you make an example?

Take a country like Ethiopia, where homosexuality is punished from one month to ten years of imprisonment. When gay people are abused or violated, very little information comes out of the country and it is often the case that political leaders and the government become very outspoken against the local gay community. That is why I think that our main fear that the Ugandan law could affect other countries is real.

Continue reading the full interview – pdf version

By Chiara Caprio – Afronline

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Direttore Responsabile Giuseppe Frangi