2 low-risk ways to seek LGBT rights in Africa

Countries where homosexual activity is illegal.

Countries where homosexual activity is illegal. (Click image for list with links to each country’s news.)

Suzanne Nossel, a former U.S. diplomat, proposes two tactics could save the lives of LGBT people in anti-gay countries, especially in Africa, as the battle against homophobia continues there.  She proposes:

  • Listen to local activists
  • Enlist local straight allies

Nossel writes in Foreign Policy magazine:

The Closeted Continent

Suzanne Nossel (Photo courtesy of Democracy Arsenal.org)

Suzanne Nossel (Photo courtesy of Democracy Arsenal.org)

… The complex geography of the global fight for gay rights poses dilemmas for Western activists and governments eager to break new ground in vindicating rights, but also wanting to minimize the risk of backlash that can inadvertently put gay populations abroad at even greater risk than before.

Although it’s possible that gay rights advocacy is making life worse for gays in the short term, there are steps that may help keep gay people safer around the world and lessen the chance that the current standoff over gay rights goes on for decades.

Listen to local activists

On tactical questions like whether aid conditionality is effective, Western activists and governments should pay close attention to the views of local groups. In 2011, a large group of African social justice organizations issued a statement opposing a proposal to condition British aid, arguing, among other things, that doing so risked alienating local LGBT activists from [potential supporters in] other civil society groups. Although this doesn’t mean that every proposed set of LGBT-related conditions is unwelcome, it does underscore that opinions on the utility of aid conditionality are divided and that local views need to be carefully canvassed and considered.

[Editor’s note: This year, LGBTI activists in Uganda gave mixed messages about aid cuts, with some opposing them and some proposing cuts targeting anti-gay groups such as the Inter-Religious Council of Uganda, which had to lay off all its staff after losing its $34.5 million in U.S. aid.

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni

After the aid cuts, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni seems to have withdrawn his support for reinstating the Anti-Homosexuality Act, which was overturned in the summer on a procedural issues. In a recent public statement, Museveni denied being influenced by the aid cuts, but worried about whether  the anti-gay law would result in the loss of Uganda’s trade partners. The title of his statement was The way forward on homosexuality. Should we involve Uganda in endless wars with our trade partners on account of this?“]

Identify and enlist local straight allies

A second useful measure involves finding ways to broaden the domestic constituencies in favor of gay rights in places where governments are hostile. If the voices in support of fair treatment are limited to LGBT groups and foreign advocates and governments, they have proved relatively easy to dismiss. But if mainstream domestic social justice and civic organizations, religious institutions, intellectuals, trade unions, businesses, and other constituencies can be mobilized as well, the political price of repression will gradually increase. Rather than applying pressure directly, Western governments can seek opportunities to mobilize international businesses with in-country subsidiaries and partners, liberal church denominations, and academic and intellectual networks to sensitize counterparts in countries on the front lines of gay rights battles.

Display shows U.N. Human Rights Council votes on the SOGI resolution.

Display shows countries’ votes on the recent U.N. Human Rights Council resolution in favor of continued focus on discrimination and violence against sexual minorities.

A way for LGBT activists to lessen the danger of backlash is to build on the canny impulse that put Brazil, Uruguay, and Chile in the driver’s seat of the most recent U.N. gay rights resolution. By supporting representatives of non-Western governments and civil society leaders to engage directly with counterparts in regressive countries, the gay rights movement can continue to counter the construct of gay rights as a Western agenda.

If there were a government willing to fund, for example, a visit of Cuban gay rights activists or supporters to Russia, their message might get through in the way that advocacy originating in the United States or Europe would not. Brazil does more than $12 billion in annual trade with sub-Saharan Africa. If African governments suddenly confronted LGBT rights as an issue in their bilateral relations with Brasilia, they would take notice.

In the long run, history suggests that when human needs are framed as rights, political momentum tends to gradually and irreversibly build in their favor. There is little question that this is happening in the realm of gay rights, and it’s hard to fathom that, eventually, most parts of the world won’t begin to come around.

In the meantime, though, Western tactics can risk playing into the hands of bigoted leaders eager for an excuse to repress. As the global gay rights movement moves from strength to strength, it’s essential to keep in mind those most vulnerable populations whose stakes in ultimate success are greater than anyone else’s.

For more information, see Nossel’s full article about anti-gay Africa, titled “The Closeted Continent,” in Foreign Policy magazine. The article’s intro is pessimistic: “38 out of 55 African nations have laws punishing sodomy. And things may get worse before they get better.” That pessimism is understandable,  even though the total number of African nations with such anti-gay laws has dropped to 36.

Suzanne Nossel is executive director of the PEN American Center, a former executive director of Amnesty International USA and a former deputy assistant secretary of state for international organizations at the U.S. State Department.

Posted in Africa, Africa (Sub Saharan), Americas, Commentary, International pressure for LGBT rights | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Burundi: Harassment, then support for young lesbian

Bujumbura scene in Burundi on the shore of Lake Tanganyika. (Photo courtesy of LAfrique.com)

Beach scene in Bujumbura, Burundi, on the shore of Lake Tanganyika. (Photo courtesy of LAfrique.com)

This young woman’s story from Bujumbura, the capital of Burundi, comes courtesy of Quebec City-based journalist Ruby Pratka, who publishes the blog Year of No Fear. In Burundi, same-sex intimacy is punishable by up to two years in prison.

Dominique’s story

I’m going to tell you one girl’s story. For safety reasons, we’ll just call her Dominique, because she has had to deny who she is to keep from going to prison. Dominique is a Burundian girl like any other.

She loves her friends and family more than anything, but for her Burundi is nothing but a big hospital where she has been quarantined ever since the police told her she was sick and abnormal. She has all it takes for a successful future  in communications or in multimedia, she loves books and the arts, but to society she’s contagious.

They don’t want her to live happily anymore. Her family supports her but tells her to lay low, to leave this country. Burundians aren’t used to that. That’s what she hears every day, go biragoye kumva. [It’s hard for people to understand.]

Location du Burundi en Afrique.

Location of Burundi in Africa.

One day, she wants to dazzle this country where she was born, this country that she loves and respects. How is it her fault if she would rather have Joëlle than Christophe? Recently she’s been living in her bubble, because outside she feels their stares; they’re looking for evidence to lock her up.

When her friends protested the injustice, they were accused of letting her contaminate them. They were afraid they would be quarantined, so they stopped. Every evening they still bring her the news and gossip from Bujumbura, so she holds on, but  she would really love to be able to go out again in peace without Officer Michel from the judicial police tracking her every gesture and  hoping to see her crack.

She hangs on, because there’s nothing else she can do. As soon as she goes out, it’s terrible. She scares people, she’s contagious, people judge her for her clothes and for her walk.

She is a target, but her spirit is invincible. She has values and dreams of peace and humanity. She can shout all she wants that she’s normal, that she’s whole, that she can’t stand it when people treat her as if she is fighting them, that she doesn’t deserve to be deprived of the right to live and love freely. How can people judge love? She brings shame on society. She’s the enemy. She’s danger itself. Because she’s a 24-year-old Burundian woman and she loves another woman.

You’ll be all right, Dominique

Pratka writes:

One of many encouraging messages that distant supporters sent to Dominique via Facebook.

One of many encouraging messages that distant supporters sent to Dominique via Facebook.

I received this cri de coeur on Facebook, along with a few hundred other people, from a young woman I know in  Burundi who has connections in Burundi’s small, closed LGBT circles. In Burundi, having consensual sexual relations with someone of the same sex is a crime punishable by prison. As far as I know, no one has actually been charged under this law since it was passed in 2009, but the simple fact of the law’s existence has sent an understandable wave of unease and fear through the LGBT, questioning and allied community in Burundi.

Someone has created a Facebook group, Dominique ntaco azoba (You’ll be all right, Dominique) and a hashtag (#ntacoazoba) to support Dominique and others like her. The page has gathered nearly 300 likes in four days of existence. [Editor's note: The page was approaching 500 likes by early November.]

Since the original French version of this text was published on Facebook, it’s received dozens of comments, almost uniformly positive.

A Facebook group won’t change the world overnight, obviously. But let’s come together, like, share  and show our solidarity, if only to let all the Dominiques know they’re not broken, and above all that they’re not alone.

The text in italics above is (c) Dominique ntaco azoba. The non-italic text below the headline “You’ll be all right, Dominique” is (c) Ruby Irene Pratka. These accounts are used by permission of Ruby Pratka.

Posted in Africa, Africa (Sub Saharan), Harassment / murders, International pressure for LGBT rights, Positive steps | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Support LGBTI rights with a year-end gift

Contributions will help us spread the word

Two men jailed in Zambia for a year on homosexuality charges

LGBTI people are subject to arrest and imprisonment in 76-plus countries.

If you believe in the importance of expanding awareness of the repression of LGBTI people in 76+ countries with anti-gay laws, please support the work of Erasing 76 Crimes and its French-language companion, 76 Crimes en français.

The blogs’ publisher, editors and reporters all work on a volunteer basis. Only the reporters receive any money, and that is limited to reimbursement of expenses. Those include costs such as bus fare to reach locations where LGBTI defendants have been imprisoned for their sexual orientation, telecommunication costs, and sometimes the price of a soft drink for a government official who otherwise won’t agree to be interviewed.

Several of Eric Lembembe's articles appear in the book "From Wrongs to Gay Rights." (Click the image for a link to more information about the book.)

Click the image for information about purchasing the book “From Wrongs to Gay Rights” either in paperback or in e-book form.

So far, the editors of the blog have paid those expenses from our pockets, supplemented by very modest earnings from sales of the blog’s book “From Wrongs to Gay Rights.”

Now, for the first time, we are offering you the opportunity to contribute to this quest for justice for LGBTI people.

What will you receive in return for your donation?

  • An accounting of how contributions are used.
  • Realization that you are helping to make the world a better place.

In addition, for contributions of $150 or more, you will receive:

  • A signed copy of the book “From Wrongs to Gay Rights.”

To make a USA tax-deductible contribution, go to the St. Paul’s Foundation website and specify “Erasing 76 Crimes Blog” in the drop-down menu on the lower half of the page under the heading “Donated For.”

To make a direct, non-tax-deductible contribution, go to YouCaring.com. Include your mailing address in the optional email if you want to receive a signed copy of “From Wrongs to Gay Rights” in return for a donation of $150 or more.

Your donations will support the continued work of the blog’s reporting team and, if possible, will allow us to expand our news coverage to additional repressive countries and perhaps even replace the inadequate, aging equipment that our best volunteer reporters are using.

Thank you from everyone at Erasing 76 Crimes and 76 Crimes en français on behalf of the harassed, repressed, stigmatized and imprisoned LGBTI people of the world.

Posted in International pressure for LGBT rights | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Canadian tax-funded academic boosts Tanzanian homophobia

Dr. Gary Badcock (Photo by Todd Townshend via Twitter)

Dr. Gary Badcock (Photo by Todd Townshend via Twitter)

Throughout Tanzania, male same-gender intimacy carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment, and according to reports, Canadian taxpayer-funded academic and Anglican theologian Dr. Gary Badcock is urging them to keep it that way.

A Canadian English teacher reported about Dr. Badcock’s homophobic remarks in Tanzania after she returned from a recent trip there for the celebration of the 100th anniversary of St Philip’s Theological College. She taught at the college from 2001-2002, which  is owned and operated by the Anglican church of Tanzania.

The College was founded by a missionary sent by Huron College, now part of the University of Western Ontario. Therefore, Huron sent Dr. Gary Badcock as their representative.

During his keynote speech at the historic centenary celebration on Saturday November 8, Dr. Badcock is reported to have said that homosexuality was a “first world” problem and that Tanzanians should be worried because homosexuals will come and steal their children.  Dr. Badcock is part of the ultra-conservative Anglican Network in Canada that has objected to the full inclusion of LGBT people as equal members of the Anglican Communion.

As I have written before in Erasing 76 Crimes,  this is not the first time that Canadian taxpayers have helped to spread homophobia around the globe.  On March 6 this year, during Michigan’s marriage-equality case, economist Douglas Allen of the publicly funded Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, British Columbia, was called as an expert witness. Under oath on the witness stand, Allen claimed that same-sex parenting was detrimental to children, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.  Additionally, the Canadian government funded a notoriously anti-gay group in Uganda. This support was eventually suspended after an outcry by Canadian LGBT activists.

The Canadian government has made a point of declaring human rights for LGBT people to be a central plank of their overseas development agenda.  It is therefore surprising that Canadian public funds are being used to support the restriction, or elimination, of those very same rights.

Editor`s comment: 

Huron college and Western university are publicly funded by the Government of Ontario as the Provinces have exclusive jurisdiction for Education in Canada. The Government of Canada provides some funding generally to the Provinces through transfer payments which the Provinces decide how to spend.

Posted in Africa, Africa (Sub Saharan), International pressure for LGBT rights | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Report: Total of Gambia’s anti-gay arrests reaches 8

Map of Africa shows the West African location of The Gambia

Map of Africa shows the West African location of The Gambia

A police sweep of suspected LGBT people continued in Gambia, with a total of five men, three women and one teenage boy all in custody, according to the Fatu Radio website, run by Fatu (Fatou) Camara, a journalist and former Gambian official.

Gambia secret police reportedly went door-to-door with the teenager so he could identify more people suspected of being gay or lesbian.

The latest arrests were “two businessmen and three ladies,” Fatu Radio said.

No other articles about the arrests could be found on Gambian news websites.

Camara, who was once called the “Oprah of Gambia,” said on her Facebook page that she was withholding the names of the latest arrestees until their identities are confirmed.

“The continued arrest of people suspected of being gay is getting crazy, the last two victims are well-known businessmen in Gambia. I am beginning to get scared,” she said.

The reported crackdown on gays and lesbians began last weekend with a raid on the Duplex Nightclub in the capital city of Banjul.

All those arrested are in the custody of the National Intelligence Agency,Fatu Radio reported.

Many commenters on Camara’s Facebook page criticized her for opposing the arrests and called for harsh punishment, even death, for Gambian gays and lesbians.white

For more information on Camara, her clashes with Gambian President Yahya Jammeh, his frequent anti-gay threats, and the previous reports of recent arrests of LGBT people, see this blog’s Nov. 13 article “Report: Gambian arrests, detention, search for gays.”


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Victory in court for Botswana LGBTI rights group

The LGBTI rights group Legabibo won a crucial legal victory this week at the High Court in Botswana, gaining the right to be legally registered as an independent organization.

Coverage of the achievement is here:

A logo of LEGABIBO (Lesbians, Gays, and Bisexuals of Botswana)

A logo of LEGABIBO (Lesbians, Gays, and Bisexuals of Botswana)

  • “LEGABIBO triumphs in Botswana court”

LEGABIBO press release — … “This is a great victory for LGBTI people in Botswana,” said Caine Youngman, LEGABIBO Coordinator and one of 20 applicants in the case. “We have come one step closer to the full equality and justice that we seek.

“The judgment is important not just for LGBTI Batswana but everyone in
our country who wants to see our democracy grow even stronger,” he added. … [See full text below.]

Human Rights Watch –  … “The court’s ruling is a significant victory for the LGBT community, not only in Botswana but elsewhere in Africa where LGBT groups have faced similar obstacles to registration,” said Monica Tabengwa, LGBT researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The Botswana High Court decision is a milestone in the fight for LGBT people’s right to equality under the law.” …

Justice Terence Rannowane (Photo by Ogopoleng Kgomoethata courtesy of the Botswana Daily News)

Justice Terence Rannowane (Photo by Ogopoleng Kgomoethata courtesy of the Botswana Daily News)

Members of LEGABIBO submitted an application for registration on February 16, 2012. The application was rejected on March 12, 2012, on grounds that the Botswana Constitution “does not recognize homosexuals,” and that the application would violate section 7(2)(a) of the Botswana Societies Act. That section allows the government to deny an application for registration if “it appears … that any of the objects of the society is, or is likely to be used for any unlawful purpose prejudicial to or incompatible with peace, welfare or good order in Botswana.” …

In upholding the application, Justice Terence Rannowane of the Botswana High Court in his ruling said that freedoms of association, assembly, and expression are important values of society, and that the “enjoyment of such rights can only be limited where such limitation is reasonably justifiable in a democracy.” The decision continued: “The objects of LEGABIBO as reflected in the societies’ constitution are all ex facie lawful. They include carrying out political lobbying for equal rights and decriminalization of same sex relationships.”


BuzzFeed — This is the culmination of a 10-year battle in the Southern African country, where LEGABIBO’s fundraising and other activities have been hindered by its inability to get official sanction to operate. …

The ruling does not appear to affect Botswana’s sodomy law, which includes the same provision criminalizing homosexuality as most other former British colonies in Africa. But a ruling that it is discriminatory to deny LGBT people the right to form organizations could provide the foundation for a legal strategy that might later allow a direct challenge to the sodomy code.

This is the hope in Kenya, where a court ruled in July that authorities could not deny registration to the organization Transgender Education and Advocacy. Following this ruling and the defeat of the Anti-Homosexuality Act in the Constitutional Court of neighboring Uganda in August, the director of Kenya’s National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission announced a lawsuit would be filed to challenge Kenya’s sodomy statute. …

Press release from LEGBIBO:

LEGABIBO triumphs in Botswana court:
LGBTI rights group wins right to legal registration

LEGABIBO today won the right to be legally registered in Botswana, marking a decisive victory for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community in Botswana. The ruling of the High Court in Gaborone sends a message for human rights at a time when other African countries are restricting the rights of LGBTI people.

Caine Youngman, coordinator of Legabibo (Photo courtesy of the Botswana Gazette)

Caine Youngman, coordinator of Legabibo (Photo courtesy of the Botswana Gazette)

“This is a great victory for LGBTI people in Botswana,” said Caine Youngman, LEGABIBO Coordinator and one of 20 applicants in the case. “We have come one step closer to the full equality and justice that we seek.

“The judgment is important not just for LGBTI Batswana but everyone in our country who wants to see our democracy grow even stronger,” he added.

“With our independent judiciary and protection for human rights, Botswana is once again leading Africa. The judgment sends a message of
hope across a continent where the lives of LGBTI people have become more difficult and more dangerous in recent years,” Youngman said.

He said LEGABIBO, which has been working as part of the Botswana Network
on Ethics, Law and HIV/AIDS (BONELA) since 2004, will now become an independent legal entity.

Judge T.T. Rannowane ruled that the Botswana government’s “refusal to register LEGABIBO was not reasonably justifiable under the Constitution of Botswana … It violated the applicants’ rights to freedom of expression, freedom of association and freedom of assembly …”

“Lobbying for legislative reforms is not per se a crime. It is also not a crime to be a homosexual,” the judge said.

Youngman thanked the litigants, BONELA, OSISA and the Southern African
Litigation Centre (SALC), a human rights group, for their support in the case: “We could not have done it without the resilience and bravery of the litigants, the backing of BONELA, OSISA, SALC and our supporters in Botswana and around the world.”

“Above all, I am grateful to all applicants, who inspired many with their courage and determination,” he added. Many thanks to Thuto Rammoge who lead the applicants.


LEGABIBO stands for Lesbians, Gay, and Bisexuals of Botswana. Founded in 1998, LEGABIBO advocates the rights of LGBTI people – lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender and intersex people. LEGABIBO raises awareness, educates on health and psycho-social support and mediates between the LGBTI community and others.


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Report: Gambian arrests, detention, search for gays

Gambia President Yahya Jammeh (Photo courtesy of WIki Commons)

Gambia President Yahya Jammeh (Photo courtesy of WIki Commons)

Gambian authorities reportedly arrested two men and teenager last weekend on homosexuality charges and have held them for six days without taking them to court.

Fatu (Fatou) Camara, a journalist and former Gambian official who fled from the country last year, reported on her Fatu Radio website that the three were “arrested on suspicion of being gay at the Duplex Nightclub and are currently detained at National Intelligence Agency in Banjul.”

Gambian strongman Yahya Jammeh is virulently homophobic, often referring to LGBT people as “vermin,”  “satanic,” a threat to population growth, “anti-god, anti-human, and anti-civilization.”

Under Gambian law, homosexual activity is punishable by a 14-year prison term.  In September, the Gambia’s National Assembly passed a bill that would impose life imprisonment for some homosexual acts if Jammeh signs it, the Associated Press said.

According to Camara on Facebook and an article she published on Fatu Radio by Gambian writer B.K. Faal, after the Duplex Nightclub arrests in the Gambia, five other men and a group of lesbians fled the country for fear that they also would be arrested on homosexuality charges.

Camara, currently based in Atlanta, Georgia, added yesterday on Facebook:

Fatu Camara (Photo courtesy of Laral.net)

Fatu Camara (Photo courtesy of Laral.net)

I got word that the three men suspected of being gay are still held by The NIA for six days today without being released or brought before a court of law.

The constitution of The Gambia dictates that nobody should be held for 72 hrs without being released or charged, meaning that the rights of these three is violated whether they are murderers or gay.

What I am defending here is their constitutional rights, NOT what they are said to be, it is important that we get that.

I understand they are held in a very dark room with no light and that they can barely see each other, this is unfair.

She said that investigators are going door to door with a gay man, attempting to identify other gay men.  She also said that Jammeh supporters, whom she called “Jammeh’s black boys,” were looking for people they suspected of being lesbian or gay. “We all know the black boys are the ones engage in torture and killings for Jammeh,” Camara said.

She identified the two arrested men as Alieu Sarr and Morr Sowe. She also identified the 17-year-old and published photos of all three.

“I am calling on The Gambian Authorities to ‪#‎FreeAlieuSarr‬ ‪#‎FreeMorrSowe‬ ‪[and #‎Free (the 17-year-old)]. Let us not judge them, but instead stand by them and call for their release,” Camara wrote.

Sarr was previously arrested in the Gambia in April 2012 in a group of 17 people accused of homosexuality. All those defendants were released on bail; the charges against them were dropped in August 2012.

"Fatou Camara in crime scene" -- caption on photo of August 2014 incident from Sidisanneh.blogspot.com)

“Fatou Camara in crime scene” — caption on photo of August 2014 incident from Sidisanneh.blogspot.com

Camara served as Jammeh’s press secretary until she was arrested in August 2013 after being accused of publishing false news “with intent to tarnish the image of the president.” Previously she had been a TV host in the Gambia.

In August, during the U.S./Africa summit in Washington, D.C., Camara and other anti-Jammeh activists protested against the Gambian leader. Jammeh’s bodyguards reportedly assaulted the protesters.

The anti-Jammeh Jollof News, which covers Gambian news from its base in the United Kingdom, said of the incident:

The ex-Gambian TV talk show host Fatou Camara, who recently launched online news site Faturadio.com, was rushed to a hospital after she was repeatedly assaulted while a member of Yahya Jammeh’s security was taken for questioning.

The Gambian leader was among 50 African Heads of State who attended the Washington DC gathering, and his hotel was besieged by Gambian activists protesting against his dictatorial regime. The demonstrations resulted in President Jammeh missing most of the summit including important events such as the opening ceremony and the business forum.

To many observers, the attack meted out on Fatou Camara along with other activists, Sam Phatey, Coach-Pa Samba Jow and Ousainou Mbenga was a response to the humiliation that Jammeh and his entourage were subjected to by the protesters. The protests exposed the true face of a regime that promotes the abasement of the rule of law and civic liberties.

Posted in Africa, Africa (Sub Saharan), Harassment / murders | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments