Uganda & the Gambia: Anti-Neocolonial Posturing and the People Who Suffer

The recent passage of yet another anti-homosexuality bill in Africa—this time in the small West African country of the Gambia—is being condemned by LGBTQ and human rights advocates around the world. The bill, which will likely be signed into law by President Yahya Jammeh, would amend the criminal code to increase the punishment for the charge of “aggravated homosexuality” to life in prison (currently the punishment for those convicted of “homosexual acts” is up to 14 years in prison).

Uganda president Yoweri Museveni (left) and the Gambia president Yahya Jammeh (right)

Uganda president Yoweri Museveni (left) and the Gambia president Yahya Jammeh (right)

Jammeh, who came to power in a 1994 coup, has made no secret of his anti-LGBTQ views. On the occasion of the 49th anniversary of his country’s independence earlier this year, Jammeh took the opportunity to attack his favorite scapegoats: “We will fight these vermins [sic] called homosexuals or gays the same way we are fighting malaria-causing mosquitoes, if not more aggressively,” he declared. “We will therefore not accept any friendship, aid or any other gesture that is conditional on accepting homosexuals or LGBT as they are now baptized by the powers that promote them. … As far as I am concerned, LGBT can only stand for Leprosy, Gonorrhea, Bacteria and Tuberculosis; all of which are detrimental to human existence.”

In 2008, Jammeh said he would “cut off the head” of any gay person caught in the country, though he later retracted this threat, according to Agence France-Presse.

While Christian missionaries from the U.S. and elsewhere are certainly present in the Gambia, it is a predominantly Muslim country, so their influence is limited. Unlike Uganda, the chance of infamous U.S. culture warrior Lou Engle successfully attracting a crowd of thousands for a prayer rally there is pretty slim. Nonetheless, the influence of the American Christian Right is unquestionably at play.

For starters, the text for the Gambia’s new bill contains language identical to Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act (AHA, formerly known as the “Kill the Gays Bill”), which was signed into law earlier this year (the law was later overturned by the country’s Supreme Court on technical grounds, but it maintains popular support and is expected to return soon). In Uganda’s case, the influence of American culture warriors in the creation and promotion of the AHA is thoroughly documented and crystal clear.

The saga of Uganda’s AHA has also served to influence the foreign relations strategies of numerous African leaders. Increasingly, Western nations are responding to a wider range of human rights abuses, including those that threaten the safety and humanity of LGBTQ people. On International Human Rights Day in 2011, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton boldly declared to an audience of U.N. diplomats in Geneva, “[G]ay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights.”

In its efforts to live up to that proclamation, the U.S.—along with several other Western nations—has begun taking diplomatic actions against countries that fail to protect the human rights of LGBTQ people. After Uganda’s AHA was signed into law, the U.S. was quick to impose visa restrictions and economic sanctions on the country.

With much-relied upon aid being withheld, LGBTQ people and their allies are no longer the only ones suffering as a result of these new laws. Concerned that the burden of these cuts will threaten their political standing, leaders are now seeking ways to defend themselves against Western critiques while maintaining their domestic power and influence. A primary strategy has been to leverage the threat—and historic harm—of Western colonialism, recasting themselves as heroic resisters who are bravely standing up to big, imperial, Western nations seeking to ‘impose their evil immorality.’ (Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni uses the term “social imperialism.”) This David & Goliath rescript gains broad support from constituents, securing—and further entrenching—the long-held positions of these questionably democratic leaders (Jammeh has been in power for 20 years, and Museveni has held the Ugandan presidency for 28 years).

Responding to post-AHA sanctions, Uganda government spokesperson Ofwono Opondo said “Uganda is a sovereign country and can never bow to anybody or be blackmailed by anybody on a decision it took in its interests, even if it involves threats to cut off all financial assistance.”

Similarly, Jammeh has declared, “One thing we will never compromise, for whatever reason, is the integrity of our culture, our dignity and our sovereignty. … Sometimes you hear of a lot of noise about the laws of this country or my pronouncements. Let me make it very clear that, if you want me to offend God for you to give me aid, you are making a great mistake; you will not bribe me to do what is evil and ungodly.”

Further highlighting his bold resistance to historic and present-day colonialism, Jammeh announced in March that English would no longer be the Gambia’s official language. While in some sense, Jammeh’s anti-colonial stance is deserving of praise and support, suggesting that homosexuality is a symptom of colonization is simply wrong. As PRA senior religion and sexuality researcher Rev. Dr. Kapya Kaoma has observed, “[I]t is not LGBTQ people who are foreign to Africa, but rather the anti-LGBTQ rhetoric that is being used against them.”

Kaoma goes on to say, “It is true that Western nations have not always acted in the interest of Africa (to put it mildly), but to use the West as an excuse to persecute and imprison innocent persons is appalling. Politicians like Mugabe and Jammeh, who have robbed their respective nations of billions of dollars, are also responsible for their countries’ dire economic states. These African leaders condemn the West and scapegoat gays to distract from real issues facing their nations and to hide their own incompetence, corruption, and despotism.”

The reality, however, is that Jammeh and Museveni are well-positioned to call out any sort of diplomatic bluff. Both Uganda and the Gambia play important roles in regional peacekeeping efforts. The U.S. Embassy in the Gambia notes that the Gambian government “has provided steadfast, tangible support for the war on terrorism,” and in its FY2014 budget justification submitted to Congress, the U.S. State Department called Uganda a “key strategic partner to the United States … instrumental to security efforts throughout the region.”

And even if they were to play their cards wrong and wind up getting cut off from Western aid entirely, Jammeh and Museveni both know that there are other options on the horizon. China is eagerly expanding and strengthening its political and economic ties across the continent, and stipulations regarding human rights tend to not come up in negotiations with Africa’s new favorite investor.

While it’s unlikely that LGBTQ Africans will ever be confronted by a Chinese version of Scott Lively, like the ongoing effects of colonial-era anti-sodomy laws, the impact of neocolonial American culture warriors is unlikely to disappear with any new economic—or political—regime change. The work of opposing and ultimately eliminating these laws and reversing this current trend toward increased persecution of LGBTQ people will require ongoing, dedicated, multifaceted, and necessarily African-led resistance. For those in the West who seek to support and be in solidarity with these courageous activists, there is a critical role for us to play that extends beyond providing financial resources and advocating for diplomatic sanctions: we must hold accountable the ones among us who lit the proverbial match, setting this anti-LGBTQ firestorm in motion.

These culture war culprits are based all across the United States. Learn more about who—and where—they are, and then let’s start talking about how we can effectively confront and contain their influence.

 Share on Twitte Button  Share on Facebook Button

Uganda President Faces Human Rights Protests During Texas Visit

Uganda President Yoweri Museveni is visiting Texas this weekend to meet with members of the local business community who are interested in investment opportunities and potential business partnerships in Uganda. It appears, however, that local activists have no intention of letting his history of human rights violations go unnoticed.

Uganda President Yoweri Museveni signs the Anti Homosexuality Actl into law  - James Akena/Reuters

Uganda President Yoweri Museveni signs the Anti Homosexuality Actl into lawJames Akena/Reuters

On Wednesday, the Dallas Voice, a local LGBTQ news outlet, posted a story about the President’s planned visit, noting that several members of the Ugandan immigrant community in Dallas were calling on the LGBTQ community for help in protesting his appearance. As word spread and pressure mounted, the Four Seasons in Irving canceled the President’s stay less than 24 hours later. The Irving Convention Center and the local police department were also beginning to express concern about the controversial head-of-state’s visit.

As of Thursday afternoon, the Gaylord Texan Resort and Convention Center in Grapevine was listed as the event’s new host, but according to Martha Neibling. a spokesperson for the Texan, “They did inquire about staying, but we’re not able to accommodate them because of the short-term notice and requirements that they had.”

Earlier this year, Museveni signed the infamous Anti-Homosexuality Bill into law, making it the Anti-Homosexuality Act (AHA). The AHA—originally dubbed the “Kill the Gays” Bill before the provision applying the death penalty for acts of “aggravated homosexuality” was dropped in favor a life sentences—was later struck down by Uganda’s Constitutional Court based on a technicality, but the legislation maintains popular support and is expected to return.

Activists in Uganda have been resisting these attacks for years, and have gained international attention and support for their efforts. Their opponents, however, are not limited to political and religious leadership in Uganda. PRA senior religion and sexuality researcher Rev. Dr. Kapya Kaoma has carefully and thoroughly documented the influence of U.S. culture warriors such as Scott Lively, Rick Warren, Lou Engle, Sharon Slater, and countless others in the creation and promotion of the AHA. Resistance, therefore, must also extend beyond Uganda’s borders.

The work of opposing and ultimately eliminating these laws and reversing this current trend toward increased persecution of LGBTQ people requires dedicated, ongoing, multifaceted, and necessarily African-led resistance. But Americans, too, have a role to play.

These culture war culprits are based all across the United States. David Dykes, pastor of Green Acres Baptist Church, for example, lives in Tyler, Texas. In 2012, Dykes traveled to Uganda as part of a missionary venture, and proclaimed his support for the country’s anti-LGBTQ stance on Uganda’s largest independent television station, NTV:

“I’m extremely upset that our state department is putting pressure on Uganda to recognize homosexual behavior. And I’m praying that Uganda will say, ‘We don’t want your money, America. It is blood money. It is sin money.’ I hope that you will continue to stand strong on what the Bible defines as the definition of a real marriage.”

Museveni will only be in Texas for a short period of time, but those who have helped choreograph the surge in anti-LGBTQ attacks that we’re seeing in Uganda, Nigeria, Russia, and elsewhere… they’ll still be here long after he leaves. Learn more about who—and where—they are, and then let’s start talking about how we can effectively confront and contain their influence.

UPDATE:

Diana Pfaff of the Irving Convention Center notified the Dallas Voice that the Ugandan Embassy had until the close of business on Thursday, Sept. 18, to get all paperwork back to them. Because embassy officials did not meet that deadline, it’s unlikely that the event will take place in Irving as originally planned.

 Share on Twitte Button  Share on Facebook Button

Museveni Plays Politics with Human Rights

On Friday, Uganda’s Constitutional Court struck down the country’s Anti-Homosexuality Act (AHA) on procedural grounds, ruling that it was invalid because Parliament lacked a quorum when it passed the legislation on December 20, 2013. (In Uganda’s Parliament, a quorum requires that at least one third of members are present when a vote is held.) Thanks to this decision, LGBTI Ugandans no longer face the risk of life imprisonment, and advocacy for LGBTI rights is no longer criminalized. While this ruling is a significant victory for Uganda’s LGBTI community, the road forward remains rocky and steep. And the timing of the decision raises concerns that President Museveni is once again playing politics with human rights.

It’s ironic that the court struck down the law based on an issue that President Museveni himself raised in his letter to Ugandan Speaker Rebecca Kadaga on December 28, 2013—the very letter that led many people to the incorrect conclusion that Museveni would not sign the bill into law. Despite his criticism of the Speaker, succession struggles in his own party compelled Museveni to sign the bill—making him the hero of Uganda’s highly influential anti-gay pastors.

With the U.S. Africa Leaders Summit in D.C happening this week (an event that Museveni is expected to attend, despite significant outcry from international human rights advocates), the timing of the court’s ruling should be viewed with suspicion. Some analysts claim that Museveni forced the courts to rush this ruling in time for his U.S. trip.

Quite probably, Friday’s ruling is Museveni’s attempt to silence the international outrage that has been directed against him and his country since he signed the AHA into law in February. Beyond that, it is an attempt to clear his path to yet another term as president. (He has already been in power for 28 years.) Since Uganda’s opposition candidates have condemned the law, this ruling works to the advantage of Museveni at home as well as internationally, allowing embargoed aid from the World Bank, the U.S., and other Western nations (approximately $118 million in total) to resume its flow into the country’s coffers.

The Court did not consider substantive objections to the legislation made by those challenging its constitutionality, ruling only on the technical issue of the quorum. That is, the ruling establishes no precedent with respect to human rights. The legislation could potentially be reintroduced. However, Museveni understands the cost of this law to his own image abroad and it seems unlikely he would welcome a re-tabling of the measure anytime soon. Regardless, sodomy laws imposed on Uganda during British colonial rule (which exact upon guilty parties a maximum punishment of seven years in jail) are still in place, and, more significantly, the anti-LGBTI, anti-woman ideologies imported and propagated by Christian fundamentalists from the West remain deeply entrenched.

Following the ruling, Frank Mugisha, director of Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) and one of the petitioners contesting the validity of the law, expressed relief. He also acknowledged, “Society won’t give in.” The LGBTI community in Uganda is braced for a surge in violent retaliation from supporters of the legislation.

Mugisha’s concern warrants reflection: the striking down of this law will not put an end to the violence and persecution experienced by LGBTI persons. If anything, demonization of sexual minorities is likely to escalate. Notorious homophobic pastor Martin Ssempa, a key promoter of the legislation, charged that the “gay lobby” bought off the judges. The reality is that a justice based on technicalities is not trustworthy. We need justice that accepts the full humanity of African LGBTI persons—a justice based on fundamental human rights.

But currently, there is no political will to put the persecution of LGBTI persons in Uganda to rest. It wasn’t long ago that the very same legal system that struck down this law callously threw out SMUG’s case against the Minister of Ethics and Integrity, Simon Lokodo—a person known for persecuting LGBTI persons in Uganda.

And we must not forget that all of this is happening on Museveni’s watch. For all of his flaws, Museveni is a clever politician, and he knows how to please the West. Now, at the U.S. Africa Leaders Summit, he is about to meet with the very people he has previously referred to as the “homosexual lobby”—and with the law out of play, he can once again feign innocence, alongside other African presidents who are busy imprisoning LGBTI persons using colonial anti-sodomy laws.

Rather than give these African leaders a pass at the Summit we must support African human rights leaders who demand that colonial-era sodomy laws (and their neocolonial expansions supported by U.S. conservatives) be struck down. If we miss this opportunity, we will have allowed Museveni to divert us from our commitment to justice for African LGBTI persons—a dream that will only be realized when sexual minorities are decriminalized.

The process of dismantling these systems of oppression is tedious and difficult, and it requires perseverance, courage, creativity, sacrifice, and steadfast commitment. To endure the journey, we need to pause periodically to celebrate our progress, and when a panel of five judges unanimously nullifies a law that violates the human rights of LGBTI persons—even if the ruling is based more on technicalities than true justice—we are assuredly seeing progress. But after we have paused, momentarily allowing a relieved exhale to quietly escape our lungs, we must inhale once more and cry out even louder than before—tirelessly working for a durable and lasting justice.

 Share on Twitte Button  Share on Facebook Button

Archbishop Tells Africa Homosexuality is a Human Rights Issue, Will American Culture War Exporters Listen?

During a working visit to Zambia on June 29, the head of the Anglican Communion, Justin Welby, showed true global leadership when he reportedly told Zambian journalists and Christians what they may not have wanted to hear. “Homosexuality is a global issue,” the Archbishop said. “We need to treat others with respect and dignity. It is a human rights issue… there is need to treat everyone with respect and dignity.”

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby. Image via The Sun

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby. Image via The Sun

For those who don’t know Archbishop Welby, he belongs to an Evangelical Wing of the Anglican Church, and is a highly respected leader in the evangelical community. In American Culture Warriors in Africa, I explain that unlike his predecessor, Rowan William, Archbishop Welby met with African leaders of the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON)—founded by American Conservatives opposed to LGBTQ advances in the Episcopal Church—on October 20, 2013,following the Westgate Mall bombing of September 2013, and again just before the official GAFCON (October 21-26) in Nairobi, Kenya. After leaving Kenya, he sent a video message to GAFCON participants explaining his absence at the conference. Part of his message addressed the issue of human sexuality. “We are dealing with very rapid changes of culture in the Global North and the issue of sexuality is a very important one,” he told the participants. “How we respond rightly to that, in a way that is holy, truthful and gracious, is absolutely critical to our proclamation of the gospel.” Anti-LGBTQ Archbishops of Uganda, Rwanda, and Nigeria and their counterparts in the United States—the very bishops U.S.-based pastor of Saddleback Church, Rick Warren, has long been working with in both African and here in the U.S. to promote and extend the culture wars—misinterpreted the Archbishop Welby’s words as endorsements of their anti-gay position.

This time, however, the Archbishop made it very clear—the issue of human sexuality is a human rights issue. His words attracted the attention of conservative pastors.

Addressing the local media, Rev. Pukuta Mwanza, Executive Director of the Evangelical Fellowship of Zambia, rebutted the Archbishop’s message and instead of heeding the calls for love and tolerance, encouraged sexual minorities to “cure” their homosexuality through prayers and counseling.

The Archbishop’s courageous words came at the time when Zambians were awaiting the ruling on a same-sex couple James Mwape and Phillip Mubiana, who were pulled from their home and arrested on charges of being homosexual in May, 2013. After spending over a year in jail, subjected to dehumanizing “medical tests” such as forced anal examinations by the state, the court finally ruled on July 3, 2014, that the state did not prove beyond doubt that Mwape and Mubiana had engaged in same-sex sexual relations.

James and Phillip’s acquittal also brought to the foreground what many Africans believe, thanks to the propaganda spread by U.S. conservatives who travel to their countries, that LGBTQ people are foreign to Africa.

“We, the Youths of Zambia Say No to Gay Rights,” and “Abash Homosexuality, —Leave Zambia,” were some of signs seen outside the courtroom the day of the acquittal. At the same time, the presence of family members of the couple—particularly Phillip’s grandmother, who courageously stood by her grandson—proved the Archbishop’s point, that persecution of LGBTQ persons in Africa is not a political issue; it is a moral issue; it is a human rights issue. It is time to stop playing politics with human lives. We all have the moral responsibility to stand up and be counted—gay rights are human rights! The Archbishop’s example is commendable, for religious leaders to hide behind diplomacy when human lives are being destroyed is a betrayal of our sacred calling.

Moreover, the persecution of LGBTQ persons in Africa is defended by the myth that they can somehow be “cured.” Alan Chambers, the American Evangelical leader who made his career claiming he could “cure” homosexuality, was one of the Speakers at the Evangelical Lausanne Conference in Cape Town in 2010, and whose presentation was later deleted from the Lausanne website. Yet although he later retracted his claims, and apologized for ever claiming that sexual orientation could be altered, African politicians and pastors are busy repeating these made-in-the-USA lies.

Let the sacred truth be said, LGBTQ persons are human beings with fundamental human rights to be protected and defended. To deny these rights is to dehumanize and harm ourselves. As the Archbishop said, this is a global issue, and it deserves a global response. As Africa’s problems multiply, LGBTQ persons have become the easiest scapegoat at political gatherings for African politicians eager to turn public attention away from issues of corruption or economic inequality. And some local religious leaders, who receive funding from these American culture warriors, then celebrate such demonization as courageous leadership.

Global religious institution such as the Anglican Communion and the Vatican need to speak out against such atrocities—failure to do so is to sanction the persecution and discrimination our fellow human beings, and a sin.

The Archbishop refused to separate our common humanity into camps—“us” (heterosexuals) and “them” (homosexuals). He did not say one thing in Africa, only to turn around and deny it to a Western audience (as did Saddleback pastor Rick Warren); he did not condemn the decriminalization of African sexual minorities to a Western audience only to allow local African clergy to support anti-LGBTQ legislation in Uganda and Nigeria (as the Vatican has done). He defended our common humanity, calling on all people to respect the dignity of every individual regardless of the person’s sexual orientation.

The story of the Good Samaritan is critical here. The Archbishop of Canterbury has done his part. Will Pope Francis, Bill Graham, and Rick Warren follow suit? I hope so!

 Share on Twitte Button  Share on Facebook Button

PRA Discusses American Culture Warriors in Africa on Last Week Tonight With John Oliver

PRA had the opportunity this last week to work with HBO’s Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, discussing the U.S.-based conservative evangelicals who are responsible for exporting the culture wars to Uganda and other African nations. Watch it below!

 Share on Twitte Button  Share on Facebook Button

John Oliver

RELEASE: Rev. Dr. Kapya Kaoma Applauds Obama Admin Sanctions on Anti-LGBTQ Ugandan Leaders

BOSTON, 6/19/14 – After the Obama administration announced new sanctions against officials responsible for human rights violations in Uganda on Thursday, PRA applauds the plan for targeted sanctions against officials responsible for human rights violations in Uganda, including persecution based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
From the administration’s press release:

Today, we are announcing several additional steps. Specifically, the Department of State is taking measures to prevent entry into the United States by certain Ugandan officials involved in serious human rights abuses, including against LGBT individuals. In addition, the United States will take steps, consistent with current authorities, to prevent entry into the United States by Ugandans who are found responsible for significant public corruption.

“This is a wonderful first step,” says Rev. Dr. Kapya Kaoma, whose groundbreaking research first brought global attention to the American right-wing religious groups behind Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act. “While we await the details of the State Department’s plan, we have been a critic of blanket sanctions on Uganda and support approaches that target the leaders most responsible for human rights violations. But this action must  be expanded. Uganda is not the only African nation with life-threatening human rights violations being passed by governments. We hope to continue working with the State Department to create similar sanctions against leaders in Nigeria, Zambia, Rwanda, Cameroon, and other nations.”

“What we need to be careful about,” added Tarso Luís Ramos, executive director of PRA, “is about falling into the trap of thinking this is a problem happening exclusively across the ocean in Africa. The exportation of homophobia and sexism comes from U.S.-based conservatives, and we would like to see the U.S. government take a closer look at American culture warriors like Scott Lively, Rick Warren, Lou Engle, and Sharon Slater, who are just as much responsible for these massive human rights violations against sexual minorities and reproductive autonomy as their African allies are.While one of them, Scott Lively, is going to trial for crimes against humanity, most have not been held accountable.”

It is not yet known which anti-LGBTQ political and religious leaders in Uganda will face the sanctions, but PRA is encouraging the State Department to include:

  • MP David Bahati, author of the Anti-Homosexuality Act
  • Pastor Martin Ssempa, who was instrumental in garnering support for the Anti-Homosexuality Act, including its original form which called for the death penalty for LGBTQ people
  • Stephen Langa, leader of the Family Life Network, who hosted the infamous 2009 anti-homosexuality conference in Kampala which featured U.S. Pastor Scott Lively
  • Gary Skinner, who used his position at Wototo church to host meetings with members of parliament to build support for the Anti-Homosexuality Act
  • Julius Oyet, who served on a 2009 task force to raise funding for anti-LGBTQ programs at the behest of MP David Bahati

Rev. Dr. Kapya Kaoma is the senior religion and sexuality researcher at Political Research Associates, and the author of Globalizing the Culture Wars, and Colonizing African Values (the primary research reports which exposed U.S. conservative influence and involvement in anti-LGBTQ and anti-reproductive freedom initiatives in Africa). He is also the author of the new book American Culture Warriors in Africa: A Guide to the Exporters of Homophobia and Sexism.

Kaoma is also featured in the award-winning documentary, God Loves Uganda.

Relevant Links: 
Globalizing the Culture Wars: http://www.politicalresearch.org/2009/12/01/globalizing-the-culture-wars-u-s-conservatives-african-churches-homophobia/

American Culture Warriors in Africa: A Guide to the Exporters of Homophobia and Sexism: http://www.politicalresearch.org/africa/book-american-culture-warriors-in-africa/

Exclusive undercover video of Scott Lively in Uganda: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e9F9k4guN3M

About PRA:
Political Research Associates is a social justice think tank based in Boston, MA, devoted to supporting movements that build a more just and inclusive democratic society. We expose movements, institutions, and ideologies that undermine human rights.
Media Contact:
Eric Ethington
Communications Director
617-666-5300 ext 19
press@politicalresearch.org

pra press release

Meet Seyoum Antonios, Ethiopia’s Martin Ssempa

In American Culture Warriors in Africa, I argue that the U.S. culture warriors in Africa are a diverse group. At the individual level, they range from Massachusetts’ Scott Lively, a Holocaust revisionist, to mainstream figures like California’s Rick

Seyoum Antonios

Seyoum Antonios

Warren, a megachurch pastor and best-selling author. Some are longtime leaders of the Christian Right, recycling old arguments for a new audience in the Global South, while others are relative newcomers to the national and international arena of culture-war politics. Institutionally, they range from small organizations, like Sharon Slater’s Family Watch International, to large and well-funded organizations with global affiliates, such as Focus on the Family and the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ). Yet the role of parachurch organizations, such as World Vision and Campus Crusade for Christ, is often overlooked, even as these groups are run by individuals who are allies of key culture war-exporters and African preachers of hate.

In January 2013, Campus Crusade for Christ sponsored the “Pamoja III” conference in Lagos, Nigeria, which drew thousands of attendees. There, Dr. Seyoum Antonios was introduced by Bekele Shanko of the Campus Crusade for Christ, and he gave a presentation on the international “gay agenda.” As has become a standard for these persecutors of sexual minorities and women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), Antonios criticized and blamed Western influence (for the existence of sexual minorities in Africa), while hiding the fact that his entire presentation was based on U.S. conservatives’ talking points.

Halfway through Antonios’ presentation, he shared a video clip promoting a meeting he had previously organized in Ethiopia, which he claimed was attended by over 2,000 people. According to Antonios, the audience included government officials and religious leaders from the Evangelical Fellowship, the Ethiopia Orthodox Church, the Islamic Affairs Council, and the Roman Catholic Church—among other organizations. In the video clip, Antonios could be seen telling the audience that homosexuality is the “pinnacle of immorality” and claims that the international “gay agenda”—which Antonios declares has taken over the whole world—is now attempting to claim Ethiopia, the Horn of Africa. He then told his audience in Nigeria that they should stand firm against this agenda:

“Ethiopia shall be the graveyard for homosexuality, not its bleeding ground. Ethiopia shall be the place where people from all other nations will be coming to—seeking healing from their homosexual life styles. Ethiopia shall present itself again as the beacon of hope and an emblem of freedom, by leading the fight against homosexuality in the continent of Africa—making Africa also the graveyard of homosexuality.”

Antonios’ presentation rejected LGBTQ rights as human rights—just as Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Baptist Church did in 2008, while visiting Uganda, Rwanda, and Kenya. Like notoriously anti-gay Ugandan pastor Martin Ssempa, as well as U.S. conservatives like Lively, Antonios warned his audience that gays were planning to take over Africa through the promotion of sexual immorality. Antonios may not be as charismatic as Ssempa or Scott Lively, but his Powerpoint presentation—filled with pornographic photos of gay sex and claims that “gays put on diapers for life” and “enjoy eating feces”—are almost identical to the ways Ssempa manipulates his audiences into a dangerous frenzy.

Also like Ssempa, Antonios presented LGBTQ persons in Africa as Western infiltrators who are working with foreign governments to impose homosexuality on Africa. He does not shy away from calling for the destruction of gays, while also promoting the myth that homosexuality can be “cured.”

But the persecution of African sexual minorities was not the only set of talking points Antonios borrowed from U.S. conservatives and Ssempa. He concluded his presentation by discussing women’s reproductive rights and abortion—again parroting U.S. Christian Right talking points. Mirroring language of the U.S. personhood movement, Antonios claimed that life begins on conception and showed graphic pictures of fetuses to further inflame his audience. Like his American right-wing counterparts, his message was simple: women’s reproductive and bodily autonomy is not a human right.

Many evangelical leaders seek to paint Antonios as a fringe element or outcast within the evangelical leadership, but that is not the case. Antonios was among those who gathered for the 2010 Lausanne Conference—the gathering of world evangelical religious leaders in Cape Town, South Africa—where American conservatives associated with the Exodus Global Alliance and the now-defunct Exodus International presented papers on homosexuality. He was even quoted by The Guardian newspaper in their coverage of the conference.

The partnership between Campus Crusade for Christ, Advocate International, and Alliance Defending Freedom in African sexual politics is just one among many networks of U.S. conservatives using their power to police sexuality around the globe. U.S. evangelical leaders’ claims that they do not share the views of these dangerous opponents sexual minorities and women should translate into official denouncements, but just as World Vision has found it hard to reject religiously based homophobia both at home and in Africa, well-meaning evangelical leaders have failed to officially condemn people like Antonios.

As my friend and Political Research Associate fellow Victor Mukasa has been known to say, “Homophobia kills, but so does silence.”

 Share on Twitte Button  Share on Facebook Button

HISTORIC: African Commission Acknowledges Need to Protect LGBTI People

The African Commission on People's Rights

The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights meets in Nigeria. Image via fiacat.org

The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) has taken a major step toward protecting the rights of LGBTI people by adopting a resolution condemning violence against individuals based on their “real or imputed sexual orientation and gender identity.”

Established by the African Charter in 1987, the Commission consists of 11 members elected by the AU Assembly, and is officially charged with three major functions:

  • the protection of human and peoples’ rights
  • the promotion of human and peoples’ rights
  • the interpretation of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights

In keeping with these commitments, during its 55th session held in Angola earlier this month, the ACHPR acknowledged the need to respond to the ongoing human-rights violations experienced by LGBTI people (documented and explained thoroughly in Rev. Dr. Kapya Kaoma’s new book, American Culture Warriors in Africa)  through the adoption of this historic resolution.

It’s impossible to stop that which is unseen. When we fail to acknowledge the existence of sexual minorities, transgender people, and intersex people, their oppression, too, remains invisible. By recognizing that the violence experienced by LGBTI people is real and distinct, the ACHPR has taken a major step forward in the fight for LGBTI safety, respect, and justice in Africa.

Many conservative lawmakers and faith leaders in Africa—urged on by their U.S.-based conservative benefactors—will undoubtedly argue that this resolution is part of some imagined international “gay agenda” to create new, special rights for LGBTI people. But the ACHPR has simply affirmed that the application of existing human rights standards should also apply to those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex. The work of ensuring the protection of human rights for all people is not a zero-sum game—addressing human-rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity takes nothing away from the ongoing efforts to combat discrimination based on race, religion, gender, socioeconomic status, and other grounds. In a 2012 report, ARC International observed, “There can be no hierarchies of rights, and it is our common duty to ensure that no person faces violations of their human rights on any grounds, including because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.”

As UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon reiterated on the anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, “It is not called the ‘Partial’ Declaration of Human Rights. It is not the ‘Sometimes’ Declaration of Human Rights. It is the Universal Declaration, guaranteeing all human beings their basic human rights, without exception.”

See the entire text of this historic document below:

 Share on Twitte Button  Share on Facebook Button

ACHPR Resolution on LGBTI People


Related:

American Culture Warriors Book CoverAmerican Culture Warriors in Africa: A Guide to the Exporters of Homophobia and Sexism is a new, popular-format guidebook designed to educate U.S. audiences and motivate all people of conscience to take action that interrupts the persecution of women and sexual minorities overseas.

Details Here

Homosexuality is Not Un-African

It is legalized homophobia, not same-sex relations, that is alien to Africa

Uganda President Yoweri Museveni signs an anti-homosexual bill into law  - James Akena/Reuters

Uganda President Yoweri Museveni signs an anti-homosexual bill into law – James Akena/Reuters

Guest post by Sylvia Tamale, professor of law at Makerere University in Uganda:

During a prime time interview with BBC’s “Hard Talk” show in March 2012, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni noted, “Homosexuals in small numbers have always existed in our part of black Africa …They were never prosecuted. They were never discriminated.”

Earlier this year, confronted by internal and external pressure, Museveni reversed himself and signed the Anti-Homosexuality Bill in the full glare of the media — declaring that homosexuality was Western-imposed. Before signing the law, Museveni asked a team of top-notch Ugandan scientists to help him make an educated decision. The panel’sreport did not mince words: “In every society, there is a small number of people with homosexual tendencies.”

Museveni’s bizarre actions can only be interpreted as a political ploy ahead of presidential elections scheduled for early 2016. Having been at the helm since 1986, Museveni faces serious competition both within and outside his party, not to mention a restless population afflicted by a high cost of living, unemployment and a general disgust with rampant corruption. By the stroke of a pen, Museveni succumbed to populist pressures and condemned an otherwise law-abiding sexual minority to maximum sentences of life imprisonment.

Uganda is not alone in its anti-gay crusade. Nigeria recently passed a law criminalizing homosexuality. Several other African countries — including Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Cameroon and Sierra Leone — have all expressed the desire to emulate Uganda and Nigeria. At least 38 African countries already proscribe consensual same-sex behavior.

The sad, tired but widely accepted myth that homosexuality is un-African has been valorized and erected on the altar of falsehood time after time. It is a myth that has been played out in numerous contexts, most recently over the debate on Uganda’s anti-homosexuality bill. However, historical facts demand that this fable be debunked once and for all.

African sexualities

The ‘homosexuality is un-African’ myth is anchored on an old practice of selectively invoking African culture by those in power. African women are familiar with the mantra. “It is un-African” whenever they assert their rights, particularly those rights that involve reproductive autonomy and sexual sovereignty.

The mistaken claim that anything is un-African is based on the essentialist assumption that Africa is a homogeneous entity. In reality, however, Africa is made up of thousands of ethnic groups with rich and diverse cultures and sexualities. As appealing as the notion of African culture may be to some people, no such thing exists. Moreover, even if we wanted to imagine an authentic African culture, like all others, it would not be static.

African history is replete with examples of both erotic and nonerotic same-sex relationships. For example, the ancient cave paintings of the San people near Guruve in Zimbabwe depict two men engaged in some form of ritual sex. During precolonial times, the “mudoko dako,” or effeminate males among the Langi of northern Uganda were treated as women and could marry men. In Buganda, one of the largest traditional kingdoms in Uganda, it was an open secret that Kabaka (king) Mwanga II, who ruled in the latter half of the 19th century, was gay.

The vocabulary used to describe same-sex relations in traditional languages, predating colonialism, is further proof of the existence of such relations in precolonial Africa. To name but a few, the Shangaan of southern Africa referred to same-sex relations as “inkotshane” (male-wife); Basotho women in present-day Lesotho engage in socially sanctioned erotic relationships called “motsoalle” (special friend) and in the Wolof language, spoken in Senegal, homosexual men are known as “gor-digen” (men-women). But to be sure, the context and experiences of such relationships did not necessarily mirror homosexual relations as understood in the West, nor were they necessarily consistent with what we now describe as a gay or queer identity.

Same-sex relationships in Africa were far more complex than what the champions of the “un-African” myth would have us believe. Apart from erotic same-sex desire, in precolonial Africa, several other activities were involved in same-sex (or what the colonialists branded “unnatural”) sexuality. For example, the Ndebele and Shona in Zimbabwe, the Azande in Sudan and Congo, the Nupe in Nigeria and the Tutsi in Rwanda and Burundi all engaged in same-sex acts for spiritual rearmament — i.e., as a source of fresh power for their territories. It was also used for ritual purposes. Among various communities in South Africa, sex education among adolescent peers allowed them to experiment through acts such as “thigh sex” (“hlobonga” among the Zulu, “ukumetsha” among the Xhosa and “gangisa” among the Shangaan).

It is ironic that an African dictator wearing a three-piece suit, caressing an iPhone, speaking in English and liberally quoting the Bible can dare indict anything for being un-African.

In many African societies, same-sex sexuality was also believed to be a source of magical powers to guarantee bountiful crop yields and abundant hunting, good health and to ward off evil spirits. In Angola and Namibia, for instance, a caste of male diviners — known as “zvibanda,” “chibados,” “quimbanda,” gangas” and “kibambaa” — were believed to carry powerful female spirits that they would pass on to fellow men through anal sex.

Even today, marriages between women for reproductive, economic and diplomatic reasons still exist among the Nandi and Kisii of Kenya, the Igbo of Nigeria, the Nuer of Sudan and the Kuria of Tanzania. Like elsewhere around the world, anal intercourse between married opposite-sex partners to avoid pregnancy was historically practiced by many Africans before the invention of modern contraceptive methods.

Clearly, it is not homosexuality that is un-African but the laws that criminalized such relations. In other words, what is alien to the continent is legalized homophobia, exported to Africa by the imperialists where there had been indifference to and even tolerance of same-sex relations. In Uganda such laws were introduced by the British and have been part of our penal law since the late 19th century. The current wave of anti-homosexuality laws sweeping across the continent is therefore part of a thinly veiled and wider political attempt to entrench repressive and undemocratic regimes.

Alien to Africa

Equally alien to the continent are the Abrahamic religions (particularly Christianity and Islam) that often accompany and augment the “un-African” arguments against homosexuality. African traditional religions were (and still are) integrated into the people’s holistic and everyday existence. It was intricately tied to their culture, including sexuality.

With the new religions, many sexual practices that were acceptable in precolonial, pre-Islamic and pre-Christian Africa were encoded with tags of “deviant,” “illegitimate” and “criminal” through the process of proselytization and acculturation. It is ironic that an African dictator wearing a three-piece suit, caressing an iPhone, speaking in English and liberally quoting the Bible can dare indict anything for being un-African.

The struggle to win full citizenship for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex groups is global. Even in countries where homosexuality has been decriminalized, the consciousness of the majority has yet to catch up with reformed laws. In order to completely dispel homophobia from Africa, we may have to employ radically new methods of advocacy that resonate with African philosophies such as Ubuntu. This concept encompasses many values — humaneness, solidarity, interdependence, compassion, respect and dignity. It rejects selfish, paternalistic and restrictive regulations issued by rulers riding high moral horses in complete disregard of the interests of their neighbors, their community and their fellow human beings.

The late Nelson Mandela described this philosophy as “the profound sense that we are human only through the humanity of others, that if we are to accomplish anything in this world, it will in equal measure be due to the work and achievements of others.”

The homosexuality-is-un-African mantra negates everything that African history and tradition has transmitted to posterity. A tenet of African philosophy holds that “I am because you are.” In short, it matters little about the differences that each one of us displays but much about the essence of humanity that binds us together. What really matters is the respect for human dignity and diversity.

**Originally published on Al Jazeera America. Republished with the author’s permission. Guest posts do not necessarily reflect the views of PRA**

LGBTQ Rights – African Politicians’ Biggest Scapegoat

President Robert Mugabe (left) and President Yahya Jammeh (right)

President Robert Mugabe (left) and President Yahya Jammeh (right)

On April 18th, as the Christian world gathered to mark Good Friday, Zimbabweans also celebrated the 34th anniversary of their independence from British colonial rule. President Robert Mugabe, the longest serving dictator in Southern Africa, used the opportunity to attack LGBTQ Zimbabweans.

“We did not fight for this Zimbabwe so it can be a homosexual territory,” he exclaimed, building upon the narrative (introduced by U.S. culture warriors in Africa) that LGBTQ Westerners are invading African countries to recruit children. He then threatened to expel foreign diplomats—including, presumably, the U.S. ambassador—who are sympathetic to the plight of sexual minorities: “If there are any diplomats who will talk of any homosexuality, just tell me. We will kick them out of the country without any excuse.”

Mugabe’s words came exactly two months after Gambian President Yahya Jammeh made similar commentsduring his country’s 49th independence anniversary. “We will fight these vermins [sic] called homosexuals or gays the same way we are fighting malaria-causing mosquitoes, if not more aggressively,” Jammeh declared. “We will therefore not accept any friendship, aid or any other gesture that is conditional on accepting homosexuals or LGBT as they are now baptized by the powers that promote them. … As far as I am concerned, LGBT can only stand for Leprosy, Gonorrhea, Bacteria and Tuberculosis; all of which are detrimental to human existence.”

The dangerous rhetoric from Jammeh and Mugabe isn’t new to the continent. Mugabe has previously referred to gay people as “worse than pigs and dogs,” a sentiment echoed by the late president of Malawi, Bingu Wa Mutharika, and many other African political and religious leaders.

Many people ask why these leaders and presidents are making such horrific statements about their own LGBTQ/I populations when many African sexual minorities are already living in hiding and fear for their lives. What needs to be understood is that these words are almost always used in the context of attacking the West or Western culture. By adopting the claim that homosexuality is foreign to Africa and only exists because of the West, their denouncement of homosexuality is seen as fighting back against historic neo-colonialism or imperialism—which, in turn, gains broad praise from their constituents.

It is true that Western nations have not always acted in the interest of Africa (to put it mildly), but to use the West as an excuse to persecute and imprison innocent persons is appalling. Politicians like Mugabe and Jammey, who have robbed their respective nations of billions of dollars, are also responsible for their countries’ dire economic states. These African leaders condemn the West and scapegoat gays to distract from real issues facing their nations and to hide their own incompetence, corruption, and despotism.

But this raises another question: Do we, as Africans, have moral standards for our own speech to which we hold ourselves accountable? Are we so blinded by hate for gays that we don’t see their humanity? Even those who may not agree that LGBTQ/I persons should have full equality under the law should, at the very least, all agree that it is immoral for the head of State to rob citizens of their humanity? Is it not immoral that our religious leaders sit back in silence as politicians compare our fellow human beings to dogs, vermin, leprosy, gonorrhea, bacteria and tuberculosis?

It is ironic that both Mugabe and Jammeh spoke their words during their countries’ independence celebrations, which recognized that they were once considered less than fully human by colonial governments. These leaders have forgotten that it is not long ago that it was we who were dehumanized—a time when murdering an African was viewed as lesser evil. Do none of my fellow countrymen see anything wrong with using the same words against our own people?

As Africans, we need no reminder that the first step on the path towards genocide is to erase your opponents’ humanity. In Rwanda, the Tutsi were dehumanized as cockroaches—helping thereby to justify their slaughter. Another historical parallel can be made to the Jews (and the gays) in Nazi Germany when their lives were reduced to reviled caricatures.

Of course, the ultimate irony of this sad tale is that it is not LGBTQ people who are foreign to Africa, but rather the anti-LGBTQ rhetoric that is being used against them. Jammeh’s and Mugabe’s words were so heavily influenced by U.S.-based conservatives—people like Sharon Slater, Scott Lively, Lou Engle, and Rick Warren, and U.S.-based organizations like the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ). They are all among hundreds of other U.S. culture warriors, who deny that LGBTQ rights are human rights, and work to spread their beliefs in Africa where there are already few legal, religious, or police protections for African sexual minorities.

It is time for all nations of the world, alongside religious leaders, churches, and organizations, to defend the humanity of sexual minorities on the African continent. LGBTQ individuals are human beings with human rights to be protected and defended, and to sanction their destruction is a crime against humanity. The global community must openly demand human rights for all humans regardless of their sexual orientation.

If we do not, then leaders like Presidents Jammeh and Mugabe will continue to use American conservatives’ words to incite the slaughter of their own citizens. Africa has entered a phase in which the genocide against sexual minorities is in sight.