HOMOPHOBIA is the dislike or prejudice against homosexual people, and something the African continent has lately become famous for.
Of the 78 countries where homosexuality is illegal worldwide, 35 of them are in Africa.
In some of these countries there is often a leading figure who, even though he rages against homosexuals, in fact “loves” them. This is because top officials, figures and politicians have recognised the benefits that homosexuals can bring them. By fanning the flames of homophobia they can divert attention away from a serious issue, generate more support and unify - cheaply. For several leaders, they need and rely on homosexuals so much that they talk about them all the time!
Just take a look at the track record.
In 1995 Mugabe shut down a book exhibit organised by the Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe at the Harare International Book Fair, a move believed to have been made as a mobilising tactic for the 1996 elections where Mugabe sought to get Zimbabwe’s conservative church constituents to vote for him.
Mugabe also uses homosexuals as scapegoats, a tactic he’s used ever since he took the reins and a useful way of shifting the blame when things go wrong. In 2013 for example, anti-white rhetoric was getting a bit thin, when Mugabe was re-elected for the 7th time. Despite having just $217 left in the bank earlier in the year, Mugabe was able to devote time during his inaugural speech to address what he apparently saw as a far more pressing threat: homosexuals.
He is reported to have stated that it was homosexuality that “That destroys nations, apart from it being a filthy, filthy disease.” Without the emotive issue, Mugabe would have had to deal with something on which he has a hopeless record - the economy.
Climate of Fear
In The Gambia, Yahya Jammeh seems to be well aware of the valuable political pawns homosexuals can be in a conservative country where the atmosphere is all too often described as one with a “climate of fear”.
Jammeh seeks to maintain as much control as possible and there have been numerous reports of the repression of journalists and civil society, through “prolonged trials… on baseless charges” and “unlawful arrests, arbitrary detention and prosecution”. This climate of fear has contributed towards allowing Jammeh to win every presidential election in the country since he took power in a coup in 1996.
Homosexuality has increasingly become a carte blanche for Jammeh to use in order to maintain a tight grip and perhaps even silence opposition, with even fewer questions asked - particularly by rights organisations.
This is supported by evidence that some of these arrests are doctored - take for example in 2012,18 men had to go in to hiding after police officers raiding a nightclub and took pictures of them “wearing female clothes” and “walking like ladies”. They said they had been subjected to beatings and death threats when the charges were made public. Police subsequently dropped the case when it was revealed that the photos were faked.
“Slitting throats” of gay men
The violence of Jammeh’s threats were also recently taken up a notch with threats “to slit the throats” of gay men, claiming “no one will ever set eyes on you again, and no white person can do anything about it.” This during a speech on creating a healthy environment for the country’s youth, and at a time when the dictator is seeking to maintain his hold on power following a failed coup in December last year.
In the East African nation of Uganda, President Museveni - who has sat at the helm of the nation for 29 years now - has also carefully been playing with the gay question to his advantage.
His fondness for homosexuals lies in his ability to play the gay card depending on which way he needs it to go. In 2014, despite international condemnation and US pressure not to, Museveni signed an anti-gay bill into law in 2014. Though his reasons are put down to the moral or religious, it cannot be ignored that Museveni has been president for almost 30 years and PEW research shows that 96% of Ugandans do not believe homosexuality is acceptable. Museveni needed a ratings boost.
There is also speculation that he felt he could finally make this political move because of the recent oil discovery made in Uganda. The drilling operations are assigned to three companies: British Tullow, French Total and Chinese Cnooc, meaning Museveni could ignore the US’ warnings not to pass the homophobic bill. He hadn’t reckoned with fickle world oil prices, that have thrown the Uganda oil investments in a spin.
Now he is back-pedalling, helped by a Constitutional Court that declared the law void because it was passed without the required quorum in Parliament.
Despite signing the bill into law, Museveni’s public stance on homosexuals is actually quite ambiguous - he does not yet seem to be open to the idea that sexual orientations are not chosen nor changeable, but he does acknowledge that people can be gay without criminal intent. This position will serve him well as he appeases “Western friends” and seeks an unprecedented 7th term in 2016.
Over the past two weeks the homosexuality debate has raged in Kenya, highlighted when on May 4th reports came out that Kenya’s Deputy President, William Ruto, told worshippers at a church service in Nairobi that homosexuality had no place in the east African nation.
This comes at a time when Ruto, currently on trial at the International Criminal in The Hague accused of crimes against humanity, is seeking to get his charges dropped. Now Kenyans are focussed on his gay remarks, instead of the case, debating whether his comments were misplaced or not. The religious right is probably looking favourably at him too.
But this line needs to be treaded carefully in Kenya - and what could be the start of a loving relationship with homosexuality could go very wrong for the vice-President.
A recent article listing alleged “Top Gay, Lesbians” by a Kenyan tabloid “Citizen Weekly” has faced incredible backlash by Kenya’s online community. With many questioning the legitimacy of the claims, why the article was written and the violence it may incite.
All very valid questions. When I contacted the paper to interview the responsible journalist, Jared Opiyo, the request was quickly denied and the person who answered the phone said that Opiyo “is not an authority on the matter – he’s just a journalist”. The call was then abruptly ended.