Mozambique ends ban on homosexuality, abortion - is it now one of the most liberal African countries?

New penal code finally does away with old Portuguese colonial laws; meanwhile homosexuality is punishable by death in Sudan, Nigeria and Mauritania.

MOZAMBIQUE decriminalised homosexuality on Monday when a new penal code came into force that swept away old Portuguese colonial laws, in a victory for campaigners for gay rights in Africa.

The old code, dating back to 1886, targeted anyone “who habitually engages in vices against nature”—but no known prosecutions took place after Mozambique became independent in 1975.

Breaking the law was theoretically punishable by up to three years of hard labour.

“It’s a symbolic victory, as social inclusion remains the main challenge,” Frank, a student gay rights activist who declined to give his full name, told news agency AFP.

The new penal code, which was announced last December by then president Armando Guebuza, also decriminalises abortion after lobbying by civil rights organisations.

The code came into force on Monday, though no official events or celebrations were scheduled to mark the occasion.

The majority of African countries outlaw homosexuality, but Mozambique has seen little anti-gay violence or social friction over the issue.

Dercio Tsandzana, an influential blogger and activist, said there had been an absence of public discussion over homosexual rights.

“The government instead abides by the external pressure put by some embassies and foreign donors,” he said.

“Most Mozambicans don’t deny homosexuality, but one can’t say either that it is accepted.”

Despite a seven-year campaign, the Mozambican government has not officially recognised Lambda, the only gay rights organisation in the country.

In neighbouring Zimbabwe, President Robert Mugabe is known for his crusades against homosexuality, and discrimination is widespread across the continent.

Homosexuality is punishable by death in Sudan, Nigeria and Mauritania.

In New York, hundreds of thousands of people attended the annual Gay Pride march on Sunday after the US Supreme Court legalised same-sex marriage. 

The United States is the largest bilateral donor to the country, while they in 2013 traded $382 million worth, mainly in energy and tobacco.

Mozambique has now avoided a potentially tricky situation that many African countries where homosexuality is banned could face in future; having a gay American couple for example, arriving as tourists and checking into a hotel, but then being arrested for committing a crime.

-AFP and Mail & Guardian Africa

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