Global conflict: Gay rights, repression in Africa

As pro-LGBT-rights protests and anti-LGBT initiatives continue in dozens of countries, here’s a sampling of the news and commentary about what’s going on. A quick recap of news from Africa is below.  Also see updates on the Caribbean, the furor over Russia’s anti-gay crackdown as the Sochi Olympics approaches and new pro- and anti-gay activism by faith-based groups.

The current hotspots for anti-gay activism in Africa are Uganda, where President Yoweri Museveni is accepting advice on whether he should sign the hard Anti-Homosexuality Bill; and Nigeria (see below), where a crackdown on LGBT people followed enactment of the repressive Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Law.  In addition, Zambia continues its crackdown on homosexuals, harassment continues in Cameroon, and anti-gay violence has broken out in Ivory Coast.

UGANDA

President awaits scientists’ advice before deciding on anti-gay bill

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

President Museveni has said he will only sign the Anti-Homosexuality Bill if scientists convince him that homosexuality is a choice rather than a condition that occurs at birth, such as the birth of albinos.  He asked scientists to report to him this month.

Gay Star News cited reports that Museveni said, “Unless I have got confirmation from scientists that this condition is not genetic, but a behavior that is acquired, I will not sign the bill.”

The Monitor of Uganda quoted doctors who are also members of parliament in Uganda as stating that homosexuality is “acquired through training,” “a behavioural deviation,” “and “a result of adventurism.”

Many others disagree.  In response to Museveni’s request, a letter titled “Scientific Information About Homosexuality for President Museveni” was sent to him on Feb. 3 that stated that “sexual orientation is not a matter of choice.” The letter was signed by 200 clinicians, scientists, academics, and other experts from 11 countries (Brazil, Canada, Greece, Kenya, Mexico, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Poland, the United Kingdom, and the United States).

The letter added that “it is unlikely that there is one simple biological or genetic cause for homosexuality in all people, [but] there are neural, cognitive and personality differences between homosexuals and heterosexuals which appear to have at least some basis in biology.”  The letter also discounted “theories that claim sexual abuse or recruitment causes homosexuality.”


NIGERIA

Support for anti-gay law from opponents of same-sex marriage

Although Nigeria’s “Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Law” provides 10-year prison sentences for public displays of same-sex affection and for membership in LGBT organizations, those provisions have not attracted much attention. The law has received strong support from Anglican and Catholic religious leaders in Nigeria who oppose same-sex marriage.

Sting operation by Islamic police

In the wake of the enactment of the law, the country has embarked on a crackdown on LGBT people.  As many as 68 people were soon arrested on homosexuality charges.

Sharia police in Bauchi. (Photo courtesy of BBC)
Sharia police in Bauchi. (Photo courtesy of BBC)

In Bauchi state in northern Nigeria, the Islamic police started hunting for homosexuals after a newspaper reported that local homosexuals had formed an association, BBC reported. The BBC described a sting that led to the arrests of nine alleged homosexuals:

“Ishmael, the first man to be caught, was trapped in a sting operation, after striking up a friendship in an online chatroom. He was then forced to reveal names and numbers of close friends – details that were then handed over to the Hisbah [the Islamic police].

” ‘They would go to someone’s workplace and say ‘Do you know Ishmael?’ and pick them one by one,’ says John, who is currently in hiding, fearing arrest.
” ‘They would say, “Something has happened to Ishmael, we need your help,” and then take him.’

“As a result of the swoop, nine men are now in Bauchi prison awaiting trial.”

Nigerian activists form coalition (outside the country)

A group of 35 Nigerian LGBT rights activists and diplomatic observers met outside the country late last month to “develop a national strategy on the protection of sexual rights in Nigeria” in the wake of the enactment of the new law. They formed a new organization, initially to be known as the Coalition for the Defense of Sexual Rights, that aims to work with existing LGBT rights organizations to strengthen them; monitor arrests, prosecutions and other persecution of LGBT people; provide legal aid; and assess the effects of the law on health services.  (See “The Cotonou Communique,” a PDF file.)

At their retreat in Cotoneau, Benin, the group decided that, for now, the coalition is to be led by an interim steering committee of five people in Nigerian and two from the Nigerian diaspora. The committee is chaired by Dr.
Cheikh Eteka Traore, an independent public health consultant who has worked with UNAIDS on programs combatting HIV/AIDS among sexual minorities.

Not everyone at the retreat agreed to the plans for the new coalition, so the organizers announced that they would soon propose a new name for the organization.

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Written by Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart is a 45-year journalism veteran living in Southern California. He is the president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which supports LGBTQ+ rights advocacy journalism, Erasing 76 Crimes. Contact him at [email protected]

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