Africa’s LGBT Movement and Interest Groups
- Oluwafemi AdeagboOluwafemi AdeagboDepartment of Sociology, University of Johannesburg
- and Kammila NaidooKammila NaidooDepartment of Sociology, University of Johannesburg
The dominant belief in Africa is that same-sex intimacy is a child of modern civilization and Western culture. Hence, we see a high level of homophobia and continuous policing of same-sex relationships in most African countries, including those that have decriminalized them. Over time, different scholarly discourses have emerged about homosexuality in Africa. Although some writers believe that same-sex intimacy is fundamentally un-African, others argue that same-sex intimacy is inherent in African culture. Arguably, the introduction of Western religion, such as Christianity, which forms part of the colonization agenda, favors the monogamous, heterosexual relationship (the basis of the “ideal family unit”) as the acceptable natural union while any relationship outside it is regarded as unnatural. Given deteriorating socioeconomic and political situations in Africa, political leaders often find it expedient to use religious-based homophobic narratives to distract their impoverished citizens and muster popular support. Put together, this has led to the criminalization of same-sex unions in most African countries. Modern discourses in Africa on gender equality and sexual freedoms reveal more liberal attitudes, but the same cannot be said about how same-sex desire is viewed. Toleration of same-sex intimacy is seen as a threat to the dominant African definition of marriage, family, and patriarchal gender and power relations.
Despite the prevalence of homophobia, the establishment of gay networks and movements that championed the liberation struggles of sexual minorities in South Africa from the apartheid to postapartheid era have sharpened the sense of belonging of LGBTIA groups. While some countries (e.g., South Africa, Lesotho, Cape Verde, Rwanda, Mali, and Mozambique) have abandoned sodomy laws that criminalized same-sex relationships (often after much pressure was exerted), others (e.g., Chad, Sudan, Nigeria, Ghana, Egypt, Tunisia, Tanzania, Uganda, and Mauritania) have upheld the laws with stiff punishment—prison terms up to 14–30 years or death sentences for the crime of being homosexual. The first half of 2019 raised some hopes about LGBTIA rights in Africa when Angola (January 2019) and Botswana (June 2019) decriminalized homosexuality. However, Kenya, which had previously shown a “glimmer of hope” in decriminalizing same-sex relationships, upheld laws that criminalize homosexuality in May 2019. Currently, more than 30 of the 54 recognized African countries still have laws (with harsh punishments or death) that outlaw consensual same-sex relationships. Both theoretical and empirical insights into the current state of Africa’s LGBTIA rights and scholarship are discussed.