News / Africa

Lesbian, Gay Rights in Africa Hit Roadblocks

Members of Uganda's gay community lead a choir during a memorial service for David Kato, one of the country's most visible gay campaigners, on his first death anniversary in Kampala, January 26, 2012.
Members of Uganda's gay community lead a choir during a memorial service for David Kato, one of the country's most visible gay campaigners, on his first death anniversary in Kampala, January 26, 2012.
Rizwan Syed
The arrest in Uganda of British theatre producer David Cecil, who staged a play about a gay man despite a ban by the country's media authorities, has raised questions about the influence of some Western Christian groups in Africa. Analysts say this influence has had a part to play in a number of African governments cracking down on gay rights.

Released on bail Monday, after being arrested two weeks ago over a play about a gay businessman who was killed by his staff, David Cecil’s case highlights the recent homophobic activity across Africa.

“On the one hand there is a noticeable increase of homophobia on the continent but that's also a reflection of the growing strength of the LGBT movement,” said Graeme Reid, the Director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Rights Program at Human Rights Watch.

Phil Clarke, a lecturer in comparative politics at the School of Oriental and African Studies, says the main reasons behind this apparent increase in anti-gay activity are religious lobbying and African governments’ desire to express self-determination.

“I think the reason we're seeing crackdowns in some countries is that firstly politicians are reacting to very powerful religious lobby groups that they need to curry favor with and there's also, I think, a sense that this is one way in which African governments can express some degree of self-determination and difference from western interference,” he said.

According to a report released earlier this year by the progressive group Political Research Associates, or PRA, Western Christian groups such as Human Life International, Family Watch International and the American Center for Law and Justice have been building up influence across the region.

Clarke says much of this funding is promoting homophobia.

“We've seen, especially in Uganda and Kenya, the very powerful influence of  Western churches which have poured a great deal of funding into these anti-homosexuality campaigns in Africa," he said. "So an anti-homosexuality stance has become very lucrative for many Ugandan and Kenyan parishes. Those churches on the ground in Africa have often made homosexuality a bigger political deal than they may have in the past.”

Members of religious groups campaigning against homosexuality hold placards during a rally in Kampala, Uganda, August 21, 2007.Members of religious groups campaigning against homosexuality hold placards during a rally in Kampala, Uganda, August 21, 2007.
x
Members of religious groups campaigning against homosexuality hold placards during a rally in Kampala, Uganda, August 21, 2007.
Members of religious groups campaigning against homosexuality hold placards during a rally in Kampala, Uganda, August 21, 2007.
Kapya Kaoma, a Zambian Anglican priest and researcher for the group, says African homophobia is being encouraged by American conservatives.

“The growth of the evangelical or Pentecostal movement across sub-Saharan Africa has also brought about the growth in homophobia because of the teachings which have been promoted by the conservatives in America across Africa," said Kaoma.

The Catholic group Human Life International disputes these claims. According to the PRA report, the group has been involved in drafting amendments and constitutions in Zambia and Kenya, as well as working against the decriminalization of abortions in the Congo and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Stephen Phelan, a spokesman for the Catholic group, says the group’s message on sexuality agrees with African values.

“The term homophobia is itself a Western import," he said. "We're the ones who tend to speak very naturally to African values so there's little conflict in what we have to say. We just want to reaffirm them and let them know that the culture wars that we're having in the west are sadly coming to Africa, being imposed not by Africans a lot of the time but by western governments who are much better funded than the small Christian and Catholic organizations like ourselves.”

Despite speeches and statements made by a few Western countries and groups threatening to withdraw aid unless African governments recognize gay rights, Clarke says that Western leaders aren’t likely to act on their threats because they have other priorities in the region.

“I wonder how much this is talk from international donors as opposed to action," he said. "I haven't seen a case yet where this has actually translated into a deliberate cut of international aid. I think because the countries in Africa where we're seeing these anti-homosexuality laws become an issue are also countries that are considered to have been very successful in how they've used international aid and so issues of anti-homosexuality laws simply aren't big enough to change the policies of major donors. They have other incentives for being involved in these countries.”

Meanwhile the charges against producer David Cecil in Uganda are still in place as the movement for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender rights comes up against traditional African religious beliefs and the influence of several large Western conservative religious organizations.

You May Like

Sydney Hostage-taker Failed to Manipulate Social Media

Gunman forced captives to use personal Facebook, YouTube accounts to issue his demands; online community helped flag messages, urged others not to share them More

UN Seeks $8.4 Billion to Help War-Hit Syrians

Effort aimed at helping Syrians displaced within their own country and those who've fled to neighboring ones More

Who Are the Pakistani Taliban?

It's an umbrella group of militant organizations whose objective is enforcement of Sharia in Pakistan 'whether through peace or war' More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Putin: Russian Economy to Rebound in 2 Yearsi
X
December 18, 2014 5:13 PM
Russian President Vladimir Putin held his annual end-of-the-year news conference Thursday, tackling questions on the Russian economy, the crisis in Ukraine and Russian relations with the west. VOA's Jeff Custer reports.
Video

Video Putin: Russian Economy to Rebound in 2 Years

Russian President Vladimir Putin held his annual end-of-the-year news conference Thursday, tackling questions on the Russian economy, the crisis in Ukraine and Russian relations with the west. VOA's Jeff Custer reports.
Video

Video Nigerians Fleeing Boko Haram Languish in Camp Near Capital

In its five-year effort to impose Islamic law in northeastern Nigeria, the Boko Haram extremist group has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee. Some of those who ran for their lives now live in squalor on the edges of the capital, Abuja. Chris Stein reports for VOA.
Video

Video Detained Turkish Journalists Follow Teachings of US-Based Preacher

The Turkish government’s jailing of critical journalists has sparked international condemnation and is being seen as an effort to undermine the followers of an ailing Turkish preacher based in the United States. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky has more.
Video

Video Will Pakistan School Shooting Galvanize Pakistan Against Extremism?

The attack on a military school in Pakistan’s northwest city of Peshawar left 141 dead, including 132 children. Strong statements of condemnation poured in from across the world. The country announced three days of mourning, and the leadership, both political and military, promised retribution. VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem looks at how likely the Pakistani government is to clamp down on all extremist groups.
Video

Video ‘Anti-Islamization’ Marches Increase Tensions In Germany

Anti-immigrant rallies in Germany have been building in recent weeks, peaking Monday night in the city of Dresden where tens of thousands of people turned out to demonstrate against what they call the ‘Islamization’ of the West. Germany has offered asylum to more Syrian refugees than any other country, and this appears to have set off the protests. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.
Video

Video Refugees Living in Kenya Long for Peace in the Home Countries

Kenya is host to numerous refugees seeking safe haven from conflict. Immigrants from Somalia face challenges in their new lives in Kenya. Ahead of International Migrants Day (December 18) Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.
Video

Video Turkey's Authoritarianism Dismays Western Allies

The Turkish government has been defiant in the face of criticism at home and abroad for its raids targeting opposition media. The European Union on Monday expressed dismay after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan lashed out at Brussels for criticizing his government's action. Turkey's bid to be considered for EU membership has been on hold while critics accuse the NATO ally of increasingly authoritarian rule. Zlatica Hoke reports.

All About America

AppleAndroid