This mid-October Albert Nabonibo, 35, was sacked from a beverage firm based in Kigali, Rwanda’s capital, where he held a job as an accountant after publicly declaring he was gay on a Christian YouTube channel, a month earlier. Further compounding Nabonibo’s tribulations was his landlord who arbitrary terminated his tenancy of his rental, underscoring the risks faced by gays in a region where homosexuality is widely criminalized.
Ironically homosexuality is not criminalised in Rwanda but same-sex marriages are banned. In neighbouring Uganda, plans are underway seeking to impose the death penalty on gay people in a move by the government that has stunned LGBT+ and human rights activists. The bill – colloquially called “Kill the Gays” in the country – was thwarted on a technicality five years ago.
But ethics and integrity minister Simon Lokodo told Reuters News Agency that the government is thawing the bill to curb the rise of “unnatural sex” and could become a reality for the East African country in just a couple months. Uganda’s current president, Yoweri Museveni, first signed the draconian Anti-Homosexuality Bill in February 2014. In East Africa’s biggest economy a high court ruling in Nairobi, the capital, this May 24 declined to decriminalize homosexuality after presiding judges ruled the petitioners had failed to prove discrimination and violation of their rights.
Emboldening the anti-LGBTI narrative is the country’s political class, an influential grouping whose rhetoric steers the national psychic. On April 21 2018 President Uhuru Kenyatta said gay rights were not a burning issue for Kenya at the moment.
“I won’t engage in a subject that is of no importance to the people of Kenya. This is not an issue of human rights, this is an issue of our base as a culture, as a people regardless of which community you come from,” said Kenyatta, a Catholic leaning Christian during a televised interview with Christiane Amanpour, an anchor with CNN.
Ms. Amanpour pressed the President about his personal opinion on the issue.
Kenyatta further said: “This is not about Uhuru Kenyatta saying yes or no, this is an issue of the people of Kenya themselves who have bestowed upon themselves a Constitution after several years of clearly stating that this is not acceptable and is not a subject they are willing to engage in at this time and moment.”
This was not the first time the President was dismissing gay rights as a non-issue in public. During a visit to Kenya in 2015, Barack Obama, the then US president, directly challenged Mr. Kenyatta, on the need for equality for the LGBT community, suggesting that “bad things happen” when countries do not accept their citizens’ right to be homosexual.
“That’s the path whereby freedoms begin to erode and bad things happen. When a government gets in the habit of treating people differently, those habits can spread, “warned Mr. Obama. Unconvinced Mr. Kenyatta bluntly shut down Mr. Obama’s discussion on gay rights terming it “a non-issue” and that Kenya was not keen on embracing homosexuality.
“We share a lot of things but gay issues are not among them… We cannot impose on people what they don’t accept,” Mr Kenyatta said.
Deputy President William Ruto also has been unequivocal that Kenya has “no room” for homosexuality. “The Republic of Kenya is a republic that worships God. We have no room for gays and those others,” he is quoted saying on May 4 2015, coincidentally — the day former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry had arrived in the country for bilateral talks.
And in Ethiopia, Africa’s second-most populous nation, a controversy is brewing after a US-based tour firm known as Toto Tours, which describes itself on its website as “the only gay tour company in existence” received death threats after announcing a 16-day trip to Ethiopia beginning end of this October for its clientele, which includes visiting numerous historical religious sites.
Dan Ware, the proprietor of the tour firm told the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) this June that they were “ … humble and loving people, we come with no harm in mind, nothing we do is going to harm anybody, and yet we are being threatened with harm.”
Mr Ware said he was afraid, and urged the Ethiopian tourism ministry “to be careful”.
“The eyes of the world will be on us when we come and whatever is done to us will reflect tremendously on the Ethiopian culture and its tourism industry.” Ethiopia has strict anti-gay laws, punishing homosexual acts with up to 15 years in prison.
In June meanwhile, the gay rights movement in Africa scored a victory when a court in the Southern state of Botswana, upheld the rights of LGBT people by overturning laws criminalizing consensual same-sex relations. But the country’s Attorney General, Abraham Keetshabe, has since said he would appeal against the court’s ruling, potentially threatening to resuscitate a law that punished gay sex by up to seven years in prison.
Within Africa, South Africa became the first nation to decriminalize homosexuality in 1998, when a Johannesburg High Court ruled that the nation’s sodomy’s laws violated the country’s newly adopted, post-apartheid Constitution. In 2006, the country legalized gay marriages, becoming the fifth country in the world to do so.
Beginning 2010, several more countries in Southern Africa have decriminalized same-sex relations, including Mozambique, Angola and Lesotho. Further north in Egypt, Mohamed al-Ghiety, a TV presenter was this January sentenced to a year in prison for interviewing a gay sex worker on his show. He was found guilty of encouraging immorality over an August 2018 segment in which the guest described his profession.
Egypt has waged a crackdown on perceived homosexuality in recent years, imprisoning people on vague charges of “debauchery.” Homosexuality is not a crime in Egypt, but is widely seen as taboo in the conservative, Muslim-majority country. Prostitution is illegal.
In West Africa, Nigeria, the continents’ most populous nation gay men are portrayed as cancers eating deeply into the fabric of society—tumours that must be obliterated. With the federal Same-Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act of 2014 saying anyone found guilty of homosexuality faces up to 14 years in prison. While Shari’a law, which is practised in 12 northern states in the country imposes a penalty of death by stoning.
While in neighbouring Cameroon, a study by the Thomson Reuters Foundation, carried out in October 2018 detailed the extent to which lesbians faced violence and ‘corrective rape’, often orchestrated by their family members. An Exemplar being a 14-year-old girl known as Viviane – tired of wrestling with her sexual attraction to girls – resigned herself to an unhappy conclusion: she was bewitched.
“At school and church in Cameroon’s capital, Yaounde, she had long been told that liking someone of the same sex was not only a sin, but could also be a sign that a sinister spell had been cast on you,” partially reads the report.
“I didn’t see girls like everyone else – I thought it was a bad spirit that had invaded me,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation with a rueful laugh by phone from France, where she sought asylum last year with her girlfriend’s help.
“So I started praying to make it go away.” But her prayers failed. Four years later, Viviane was chained to the wall and violently raped by a man who her family forced her to marry after discovering that she was a lesbian.
Within Africa same-sex acts are illegal in 34 of the continent’s 54 countries or 63% of all the states found in Africa, which is an appalling and worrying indicator signifying the perilous status of LGBTI members in the mother continent. Thirty-five other countries outside Africa and who are members of the Commonwealth maintain laws on their books that criminalize same-sex relations. Routinely African leaders often cite culture and religion as reasons for outlawing homosexuality.
Uganda’s President Museveni, for example, has called gays “disgusting” and labelled homosexuality “a western import”.
“You cannot call an abnormality an alternative orientation. It could be that the Western societies, on account of random breeding, have generated many abnormal people,” the president said in 2014.
While in the neighbouring state of Tanzania, John Magufuli, the President believes “even cows disapprove of” homosexuality.
“Those who teach such things do not like us, brothers. They brought us drugs and homosexual practices that even cows disapprove of,” he is quoted by AFP saying in 2017.
Two years earlier ousted Zimbabwean leader Robert Mugabe had called homosexuals “worse than pigs and dogs”. Extreme measures of punishing LGBTI members with death have been reported in Mauritania, Sudan, Northern Nigeria and Southern Somalia.
With this sort of gloomy background, the LGBTI community in Africa stands scant chance of receiving legal recognition.