The past few months, LGBT rights across the world have been in the news more than ever. Most recently England and Wales legalised same-sex marriage, and the same goes for countries such as Uruguay, France and, to some extent, the US. In the meantime, countries like Montenegro were able to hold their first gay pride and in many more nations around the world LGBT rights have become a subject of discussion. In short: things are going pretty well.
Still, something that is hardly ever talked about are LGBT rights in Africa (and south-east Asia, but I’ll leave that for another time). We know that things are going very well in the two western continents, we generally know the situation in Europe and the Middle East and there’s even a bit of knowledge about the way it goes in eastern Asia, in countries such as China, Japan and both Koreas. Africa, on the other hand, remains in the background.
If you decide to look up information on Wikipedia, you’ll find yourself looking at extremely outdated and often contradictory statements. For example, on the one hand it is mentioned that Sierra Leone has legal repercussions for any kind of homosexual activity, while at the same time, it is stated that they have signed a UN bill that opposes those very laws. It seems like nobody has bothered to update those Wikipedia pages in a very long time, as if somehow it doesn’t really matter what the situation in Africa is.
But the truth is: it does matter. Not only because there are millions of people in Africa who deserve their freedom just as much as the rest of the world does, but also because, unlike those countries that do (for good reason) get a lot of attention from activists in the west, some African countries seem to be quite undecided. Whereas Putin has made up his mind and bringing up LGBT rights in the Middle East is basically just insanity, in countries such as Sierra Leone and Rwanda, things are not yet set in stone.
Of course, this is not some call to arms that comes down to the idea of “let’s go to Africa because we can change them!” I’m pretty sure Europeans have done plenty of that, and as you might know, it didn’t end particularly well. On top of that, unlike a few centuries ago, we shouldn’t think we need to go there because the people are somehow inferior, or less intelligent than the rest of the world. The fact that LGBT rights are not yet a hot topic on the continent doesn’t mean that we should go out there and push them in the right direction like a bunch of imperialist apes.
What we can do is address the issue in a more civilised manner. Activists and organisations from countries where LGBT rights are already established can try to reach out to African governments and organisations. There’s no need to start handing out pamphlets or to go from door to door, but it can be discussed with people who care. African countries are generally quite large, so surely, there will be someone out there who might be willing to set up an organisation of his or her own.
In the end, to me, it seems like many LGBT activists and organisations are forgetting about a large part of the world. Everyone deserves those rights, so that also goes for Africans. There are still many countries out there that are undecided or that have radically changed their views in the past few years, so there is plenty of opportunity. Millions of lives could be improved if only we broadened our perspective and thought of the lesser discussed regions in this world.
I’d like to add that unfortunately, in a lot of African countries any kind of homosexual activity is just a complete taboo, and in many countries it seems like the road will be a very long and hard one. However, Africa is big, and not every country on the continent is the same.
As an extra illustration, here are two images I took from Wikipedia. They are not extremely reliable, but they give us a decent idea of how different the situation is in Africa compared to for example the Middle East.
On the first map, you see the countries that have either signed or opposed an LGBT rights bill in the United Nations. Green means they signed it, red means they opposed it, and grey means no judgement was made. Although especially in Northern Africa a lot of countries are coloured in red, some of these countries have changed their mind, and south of Sudan and the Central African Republic, definite changes could be made.
This second map shows LGBT rights by law. The blue ones are all positive and refer to either legal same-sex marriage (full legal equality), or at the very least something close to legal equality. The colours from yellow to red, on the other hand, are very, very bad. The darkest colour means that the death penalty is possible for homosexual activity, and orange and red mean imprisonment is possible.
The maps don’t always completely match, though, which means opportunities. Also, in the yellow countries such as Namibia, Angola and Mozambique, there are legal measures against homosexual activity, but they are never enforced.
Finally, I would like to add that comments and remarks on this would be very much appreciated. Since I started this blog I have had a few African readers, and especially their/your insights would be great! This is a subject that not much is known about and although there are articles about it, many are outdated, vague or contradictory compared to other accounts. So any remark you might have would be very welcome!
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