By Wole Olaoye
There is no law that can railroad humanity into one narrow conceptual cubicle. What is meat to Europeans may be poison to the African. We all acknowledge that the world is changing but we also know that some so-called changes negate our essence and culture. In Africa, we do not condemn foreign values. We understand that there are many ways to skin bushmeat. What we can’t comprehend is that the understanding we extend to others is denied us because they think that their ways of life are superior to ours.
In recent years, there have been concerted efforts to force African nations to liberalise their laws to favour the US-led Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Transgender, Queer (LGBTQ) movement. Africans consider it strange that the same people who did their damndest to depopulate the continent via slavery, colonialism, wars and all sorts of unjust stratagems — that these same people are now hawking new wares: LGBTQ rights.
The problem with those marketing homosexuality and other deviant behaviours is that they do not recognise traditional boundaries and age-long cultural values. Indeed, they consider anyone who holds a different view as primitive or uncivilised.
When President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda signed the country’s anti-LGBTQ bill into law the other day, you would think he had detonated a nuclear bomb. The western world was up in arms. Why criminalise homosexuality? Why prescribe the death sentence for offenders? As personal preferences go, I have my own reservations about the death penalty, but that is where I part company with those condemning Museveni and the Ugandan parliament.
The law imposes the death penalty or life imprisonment for certain same-sex acts; up to 20 years in prison for “recruitment, promotion and funding” of same-sex “activities”, and anyone convicted of “attempted aggravated homosexuality” faces a 14-year imprisonment The UN high commissioner for human rights, Volker Türk, describes it as “shocking and discriminatory”.
The UK government said it was appalled by the “deeply discriminatory” bill, which it said will “damage Uganda’s international reputation”. President Joe Biden of the US decried the Act as “shameful” and a “tragic violation of universal human rights”. He threatened to impose sanctions and visa restrictions on Ugandan officials.
Uganda’s speaker, Anita Annet, urged the courts to begin enforcing the law immediately. “We have stood strong to defend our culture and [the] aspirations of our people,” she said, thanking Museveni for his “steadfast action in the interest of Uganda”. She noted that the parliamentarians had withstood pressure from “bullies and doomsday conspiracy theorists”.
The UN also voiced its objection: “We are appalled that the draconian and discriminatory anti-gay bill is now law. It is a recipe for systematic violations of the rights of LGBT people and the wider population. It conflicts with the constitution and international treaties and requires urgent judicial review.”
The Africa deputy director for Human Rights Watch, Ashwanee Budoo-Scholtz, weighed in: “Museveni’s signing of the anti-homosexuality bill is a serious blow to the right to freedom of expression and association in Uganda, where instead of being restricted they ought to be strengthened. The law is discriminatory and is a step in the wrong direction for the protection of human rights for all people in the region.”
It is always dangerous to rely on one single perspective in trying to understand socio-cultural issues. Unfortunately, those who take it upon themselves to lecture Africans about everything even though their crimes on the continent cry to high heavens, will never have the kind of influence they crave on the continent because they refuse to respect or even grudgingly acknowledge the African perspective.
In Africa, as in most parts of the world, marriage is between a man and a woman. The electrical charge of conjugal bliss is powered by both positive and negative terminals. Society, like the natural law of physics, does not accept positive and positive, or negative and negative. In this respect, Africans are in agreement with Christians and Muslims who insist that in the Garden of Eden, God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.
I wrote about this subject 12 years ago in the Daily Trust when the Nigerian Senate passed a bill outlawing same-sex marriage as well as banning public displays of affection between homosexual couples. The bill prescribed a 14-year jail term for anyone involved in same-sex marriages. Those who abet or aid such unions could be put away for 10 years, as would “any person who registers, operates or participates in gay clubs… or directly or indirectly makes public show of same sex amorous relationships.”
At that time, homosexual groups in the US besieged the Nigerian Embassy to protest the bill. Several other pressure groups mounted street campaigns and social media interventions. US President Barack Obama issued a Presidential Memorandum directing “all federal agencies engaged abroad to ensure that US diplomacy and foreign assistance promote and protect the human rights of LGBT persons.” Obama also directed government officials to “protect vulnerable LGBT refugees and asylum seekers.”
I laughed in vernacular at the time because Obama’s charge to US officials to protect vulnerable LGBTQ refugees had not gone unnoticed by our 419 kingpins. I predicted that thenceforth, every lay-about seeking greener pastures in America would claim to be fleeing gay persecution in Nigeria.
Marriage is a sacred institution in Africa. It is through the union of a man and a woman that children are brought into the world. Anything that attempts to sabotage this natural order is considered unacceptable. There are so many existential problems from Cairo to Cape Coast that a debate on same sex relationships is considered a luxury. Many Africans cannot even comprehend why an antithesis of the natural order is being flaunted as a fad.
Gay rights activists have done a yeoman’s job in carrying their campaigns around the world. I do not condemn them. Rather I am inspired by Pope Francis’ admonition in which he asks the world “to pray fervently for this intention so that Christ can take even what might seem to us impure, scandalous or threatening, and turn it … into a miracle” because “Families today need miracles!”
The 2010 judgment of the court of human rights in Strasbourg has recently been given new life on social media in response to the renewed gay rights debates worldwide. The court had ruled that, “There is no right to same-sex marriage”. Its decision was predicated on a myriad of philosophical and anthropological considerations based on the natural order, common sense, scientific reports and, of course, positive law. The Court decided that the notion of family contemplates not only “the traditional concept of marriage, that is, the union of a man and a woman”, but also that they should not impose on governments an “obligation to open marriage to persons of the same sex”.
The Quran contains several allusions to homosexual activity, which has prompted considerable exegetical and legal commentaries over the centuries. The subject is most clearly addressed in the story of Sodom and Gomorrah “after the men of the city demand to have sex with the (seemingly male) messengers sent by God to the prophet Lot (or Lut)”. The Quranic narrative largely conforms to that found in Genesis.
So, whichever route you take on this matter — traditional, Christian or Islamic, there is no place for the justification of homosexuality in Africa. Having said that, it is also part of our culture to respect the differences of other people. That is why Africans are not quick to condemn the Euro-American gay campaign. But if Africans are that accommodating, why does the West threaten fire and brimstone and withdrawal of economic aid whenever Africans assert their rights to stay true to their culture?
Some conspiracy theorists have suggested that the gay lobby in Africa is meant to depopulate the continent. Former President Robert Mugabe probably felt that way when he threatened that any gay couple caught would be locked up in prison until one of them became pregnant. Many Africans agree with Mugabe — and they wonder why gay couples are allowed to adopt children and spread their ‘virus’ to the younger generation.
In Africa, there is no confusion about gender. Men are proud to be men and women celebrate their femininity. That accounted for the outrage that greeted the recent Gender Switch celebration in Delta State University where boys turned out in girl’s outfits and vice versa. That is how confusion starts!
Expecting African countries to equate LGBTQ rights with human rights is a tall order. There is no self-respecting family in Africa who would invite kinsmen and neighbours to celebrate the wedding of their son to another man. This is not being judgemental; just plain honesty about who we are.
(Wole Olaoye is a Public Relations consultant and veteran journalist. He can be reached on email@example.com, Twitter: @wole_olaoye; Instagram: woleola2021
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