By Paul Ndiho
Homosexuality is illegal in most African countries. It’s a situation that has drawn increasing criticism from many western nations. Human rights activists, along with church leaders say that the rights of homosexuals and other marginalized groups should be protected.
Across much of Africa Homosexuality is taboo. It is illegal in 37 nations on the continent. Africans who are openly gay fear incarceration, violence and to some extent, losing their jobs. Last year, on his first presidential trip to his father’s homeland Kenya, U.S. President Barack Obama addressed the issue at a joint press conference with President Uhuru Kenyatta.
“If you look at the history of countries around the world when you start treating people differently–not because of any harm they’re doing anybody, but because they’re different–that’s the path whereby freedoms begin to erode and bad things happen. And when a government gets in the habit of treating people differently, those practices can spread.”
Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta dismissed the issue of gay rights as a non-issue.
“It is very difficult for us to impose on people that which they do not accept. This is why I repeatedly said that for Kenyans today, the issue of Gay rights is a non-issue.”
In Uganda, an anti-homosexuality bill received mixed reactions in parliament. The draft law with death penalty clauses proposed in the original version was passed by the Parliament of Uganda in December 2013 — with life in prison substituted for the capital punishment.
The bill was signed into law by the President of Uganda in February 2014. However, in August 2014, the Constitutional Court of Uganda ruled the law invalid on procedural grounds. Ugandan Transgender activist Nikolas Mawanda, was repeatedly targeted back home because he is gay, he says more needs to be done.
“You may play right now but tomorrow you are playing with your life because tomorrow it will be your son, it will be your daughter. It will be your relative, it may be your mom, and it will be your dad. Today you’re busy passing a law to send someone to jail for life. But what if your son came out as a gay person? Would you send them to jail for life?
LGBT activists in Zambia are beginning to speak out about the treatment of homosexuals, and other marginalized groups. Zambia’s robust anti-homosexuality laws date back to the British colonial era — and public opinion remains firmly against gays and lesbians. I recently caught up with Jane Kulaba a renowned human rights activist for her thoughts on the subject.
“”Since we’re Christians, let’s us tolerate one another and let us allow for dialogue and call for precise dialogue to discuss these things and just create that relationship with the public.”
Zambian gay rights activist, David Musonda, says the government needs to create an atmosphere where the LGBT community, government, can meet and engage with each other.
“When you see a person who is gay, or who is a lesbian, who is intersex, let us not rush to killing them. They are a child to somebody; they are a father to somebody. Let us just look for remedies. What is the best remedy? If we have an understanding with them, let us strike that balance because then we will have gone and bow our head. The world is after all one world that all of us have to live in.”
In South Africa, Reverend Patson Kabala of Presbyterian Church of South Africa says that people who feel oriented towards people of the same sex should be embraced.
“They are human beings, and they also need to be protected. In my view, they need to be embraced. They need to be given space in society.”
Across the continent, the subject of gay rights remains a very sensitive issue. But despite opposition, there’s hope and victories for the LGBT community. Mozambique recently joined a small minority of African nations to decriminalize homosexuality.