April 22, 2024

In our series of letters from African journalists, Tanzanian writer Sammy Awami considers what is behind recent moves against homosexuality in East Africa.

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From banning schoolbooks in Tanzania to passing the harshest of laws in Uganda, to disputing a Supreme Court decision in Kenya, there seems to be a wave of anti-homosexuality sentiments sweeping through the region.

While there is nothing unusual about the homophobic and apocalyptic tone that always accompanies the subject, it appears there is also a rise of genuine belief, especially among those who would generally pass as liberals or open minded, that the West is on a systematic mission to shove this “homosexuality agenda” down the throats of Africans.

Most of those holding this belief can hardly substantiate it with any facts or concrete examples.

Khalifa Said, a Dar es Salaam based journalist and editor for an online outlet The Chanzo, believes that “Tanzanians’ perception towards members of the LGBTQ+ community is very negative and it’s getting worse every day”.

“There is currently no anti-gay hysteria in African countries with high economic growth rates or which are able to manage their debt,” he tweeted. “Anti-gay crusades are a sign of African surrender. It’s the waving of white flags. Those that have given up on solving their problems are scapegoating global gay forces for their failures.”

Many politicians have often used homosexuality narratives to deflect the public from real issues, launch their political comeback or cement their relevance. This is because an attack on homosexuality exploits cultural or religious beliefs and appeals to voters’ emotions.

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Kenyan President William Ruto’s comments on homosexuality made frontpage news

Following the decision by the Kenyan Supreme Court that the government could not lawfully refuse to register a rights organisation, President William Ruto said in a speech that he can be trusted to protect the nation’s culture and traditions.

“You know me very well, I am a God-fearing man,” he said.

“Whatever happened at the court, even if we respect the court, our culture, values, Christianity and Islam cannot allow women to marry each other, or men to marry fellow men… That will not be possible in the nation of Kenya. Therefore, don’t worry.”

In a motherly appeal, a fortnight ago, President Samia told university students to be careful with foreign traditions. She argued that human rights are not universal.

“These human rights have their limits. Everywhere, there are customs and traditions. We should not be forced into things that are not our customs and traditions,” said the president, who is also fondly referred to as Mama Samia.

It is interesting that these politicians ignore the fact that it is actually the harsh anti-homosexuality laws – not homosexuality – that were imposed on us by the colonial government.

Indeed, the original anti-homosexuality law was first introduced across Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda by the British colonialists, after successfully using it in India about 150 years ago.

The provision punishes homosexuality, stipulated as “carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman, or animal” with imprisonment up to life.

One would have expected politicians to abhor this colonial legacy and seek to defend their constitution.

This constitution is not only above the oppressive colonial law but also guarantees their people’s equal rights and treatment. It is this document that they have sworn to defend, not some elusive cultural, traditional, or religious beliefs.



Credit: bbc.com

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