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

    US-Russia Tensions Complicate Syria War

    With a shared enemy and opposing allies, Russia and the US are working to avoid confrontation

    Video Re-opening Old Wounds in Beirut's Bullet-riddled Yellow House

    Built in neo-Ottoman style in 1920s, it is set to be re-opened in Sept. as ‘memory museum’ - bullet-riddled walls and bunkered positions overlooking city’s notorious ‘Green Line’ maintained for posterity

    Cambodian-Americans Lobby for Human Rights Resolution

    Resolution condemns all forms of political violence in Cambodia, urges Cambodian government to end human rights violations, calls for respect of press freedom

    By the Numbers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Brexit Vote Plunges Global Markets Into Uncharted Territoryi
    X
    June 24, 2016 9:38 PM
    British voters plunged global markets into unknown territory after they voted Thursday to leave the European Union. The results of the Brexit vote, the term coined to describe the referendum, caught many off guard. Analysts say the resulting volatility could last for weeks, perhaps longer. Mil Arcega reports.
    Video

    Video Brexit Vote Plunges Global Markets Into Uncharted Territory

    British voters plunged global markets into unknown territory after they voted Thursday to leave the European Union. The results of the Brexit vote, the term coined to describe the referendum, caught many off guard. Analysts say the resulting volatility could last for weeks, perhaps longer. Mil Arcega reports.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.
    Video

    Video Tunisian Fishing Town Searches for Jobs, Local Development Solutions

    As the European Union tries to come to grips with its migrant crisis, some newcomers are leaving voluntarily. But those returning to their home countries face an uncertain future.  Five years after Tunisia's revolution, the tiny North African country is struggling with unrest, soaring unemployment and plummeting growth. From the southern Tunisian fishing town of Zarzis, Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at a search for local solutions.
    Video

    Video 'American Troops' in Russia Despite Tensions

    Historic battle re-enactment is a niche hobby with a fair number of adherents in Russia where past military victories are played-up by the Kremlin as a show of national strength. But, one group of World War II re-enactors in Moscow has the rare distinction of choosing to play western ally troops. VOA's Daniel Schearf explains.
    Video

    Video Experts: Very Few Killed in US Gun Violence Are Victims of Mass Shootings

    The deadly shooting at a Florida nightclub has reignited the debate in the U.S. over gun control. Although Congress doesn't provide government health agencies funds to study gun violence, public health experts say private research has helped them learn some things about the issue. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
    Video

    Video Trump Unleashes Broadside Against Clinton to Try to Ease GOP Doubts

    Recent public opinion polls show Republican Donald Trump slipping behind Democrat Hillary Clinton in the presidential election matchup for November. Trump trails her both in fundraising and campaign organization, but he's intensifying his attacks on the former secretary of state. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.
    Video

    Video Muslim American Mayor Calls for Tolerance

    Syrian-born Mohamed Khairullah describes himself as "an American mayor who happens to be Muslim." As the three-term mayor of Prospect Park, New Jersey, he believes his town of 6,000 is an example of how ethnicity and religious beliefs should not determine a community's leadership. Ramon Taylor has this report from Prospect Park.
    Video

    Video Internal Rifts Over Syria Policy Could Be Headache for Next US President

    With the Obama administration showing little outward enthusiasm for adopting a more robust Syria policy, there is a strong likelihood that the internal discontent expressed by State Department employees will roll over to the next administration. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports.
    Video

    Video Senegal to Park Colorful ‘Cars Rapide’ Permanently

    Brightly painted cars rapide are a hallmark of Dakar, offering residents a cheap way to get around the capital city since 1976. But the privately owned minibuses are scheduled to be parked for good in late 2018, as Ricci Shryock reports for VOA.
    Video

    Video Florida Gets $1 Million in Emergency Government Funding for Orlando

    The U.S. government has granted $1 million in emergency funding to the state of Florida to cover the costs linked to the June 12 massacre in Orlando. U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced the grant Tuesday in Orlando, where she met with survivors of the shooting attack that killed 49 people. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video How to Print Impossible Shapes with Metal

    3-D printing with metals is rapidly becoming more advanced. As printers become more affordable, the industry is partnering with universities to refine processes for manufacturing previously impossible things. A new 3-D printing lab aims to bring the new technology closer to everyday use. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Big Somali Community in Minnesota Observes Muslim Religious Feast

    Ramadan is widely observed in the north central US state of Minnesota, which a large Muslim community calls home. VOA Somali service reporter Mohmud Masadde files this report from Minneapolis, the state's biggest city.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora