African leaders resolute against LGBTQ rights

Kenya President William Ruto

By Sifiso Sibandze

Generally, some African leaders are unbendable and they are resolute in denouncing same-sex marriage and they are not showing signs of giving in.

This is despite mounting pressure from the west, who claim to be the best defenders of human rights in general and LGBTQ rights in particular.

Overall, except for South Africa and Cape Verde, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights in Africa are limited in comparison to the United States, Canada, Western Europe, Australia, and New Zealand. Out of the 55 states recognised by the United Nations or  African Union or both, the International Gay and Lesbian Association stated in 2015 that homosexuality is outlawed in 34 African countries.

Human Rights Watch notes that the other two countries, Benin and the Central African Republic, do not outlaw homosexuality, but have certain laws which discriminate against homosexual individuals. Many of the laws that criminalize homosexuality are colonial-era laws.

Homosexuality has been decriminalised in AngolaBotswanaCape VerdeGabonGuinea-BissauLesothoMozambiqueSão Tomé and PríncipeSeychelles and South Africa. South Africa was the fifth country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage in November of 2006.

Notably, the western leaders and their media had long ago launched a horrid attack on African leaders who are uncompromising towards the acceptance of LGBTQ rights. 

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Former US President Barack Husain Obama and French President Emmanuel Macron are some of the ringleaders in chastising African leaders for not accepting same-sex marriages in their countries. 

Victims of their castigation and by the media, particularly CNN include but are not limited to the late Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, former Kenya President Uhuru Kenyatta, Rwanda President Paul Kagame, Zimbabwean President Emerson Mnangagwa, Kenya President William Ruto, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, Ghana President Nana Akufo-Addo and Senegal’s President to mention a few. Notwithstanding the scathing attack by some of the western leaders and the media, these politicians stuck to their guns and didn’t allow themselves to be bullied and compromise on a matter that is unconstitutional in their different countries.

Though His Majesty King Mswati has so far not been put in the spotlight about the decriminalization of homosexuality, the government has been widely criticised for its uncompromising constitution on homosexuality. The International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA), a pressure group, says they face pervasive discrimination and violence.

A couple of years ago, the Eswatini High Court heard a case involving an LGBTQ rights group’s (Eswatini Sexual and Gender Minorities) fight to register in the country.

The rights group approached the High Court with the support of the Southern Africa Litigation Center to overturn a Registrar of Companies ruling that did not allow it to register. The Registrar of Companies argued that allowing the Eswatini Sexual and Gender Minorities to register would violate the law because same-sex relations are considered illegal in the country. The High Court upheld the decision to deny Eswatini Sexual and Gender Minorities’ registration request but said no person should be discriminated against because of their gender or sexual orientation.

Conversely, most recently, Kenya’s Supreme Court made a landmark ruling, allowing an activist to register an LGBTQ rights organization. However, President Ruto came out guns blazing and reiterated that the country’s stance on same-sex marriage remained unchanged.  

The national board that oversees non-governmental organisations had denied the activist’s registration request. As reported by AFP, Kenya’s High Court and the Court f Appeal had said the board acted improperly.

Despite the ruling, Ruto said in as much as he respects the ruling of the Supreme Court, “our culture and religion does not allow same-sex marriages.” “It is not possible for our country Kenya to allow same-sex marriages. … It will happen in other countries but not in Kenya,” he said.

Similarly, the Ugandan Parliament has threatened to criminalise homosexuality. They are hellbent on making it illegal to pronounce that you are gay, lesbian or transgender. 

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The proposed new law will make it an offence to touch another person “with the intention of committing the act of homosexuality” and the “promotion of homosexuality.

Here is what some African leaders said against homosexuality.

Uhuru Kenyatta – Kenya

About seven years ago during a press conference, he held in the US alongside Barack Obama, Kenyatta remained unmoved by the pressure that was mounted upon him by the US President. President Obama has told Kenyatta to respect gay rights in his country. Kenyatta told Obama that it would be very difficult to impose something on the Kenyans that they don’t accept. He said for Kenyans, the issue of gay rights was really a non-issue as they wanted to focus on other areas that are day-to-day living for his people including health issues, education and infrastructure development. 

Kenyatta also told CNN anchor Kristian Amanpour he was not going to engage in a subject that was of major importance to the people of the Republic of Kenya. “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 that prohibits LGBTQ rights. This is not a subject that there are willing to engage on at this time and moment.”

Yoweri Museveni – Uganda

On the gay rights question, Museveni told CNN that Obama must respect African societies and their values. “If you don’t agree, just keep quiet and let us manage our society and if we are wrong we will find out by ourselves.” He went on to say that they should not interfere with Ugandan values the same way as they don’t interfere with theirs. He said he personally don’t like homosexual because they are disgusting and he doesn’t understand what type of people they are.

President Kagame – Rwanda

Kagame once said, “In Rwanda, homosexuality has not been t problem. And we don’t intend to make it a problem.” He said Rwanda was focusing on addressing challenges affecting Rwandans in their day-to-day lives, not on homosexuality. 

Emerson Mnangagwa – Zimbabwe

Speaking to CNN’s Richard Quest at Davos about five years ago, he said he is a constitutionalist and the current constitution has a provision that forbids same-sex marriages and he will uphold that until those people who want it canvass and if they win the majority can then change the constitution and amend it. “I will not be persuaded to breach my constitution because same-sex relationships are banned in Zimbabwe. Same-sex relationships have never been a priority in Zimbabwe but our priority is to embrace the international community and present Zimbabwe as an open economy for business and create jobs for our people.”

Macky Sall – Senegal

Sall defended the criminalisation of homosexuality three years ago, telling visiting Canadian President Justin Trudeau that his country’s law will not change regarding the homosexuality practice. Trudeau has appealed to Sall to stop the jailing of gays and lesbians which the Senegal leader remained uncompromising. He said society does not accept it and might accept it as society evolves.

William Ruto – Kenya

About eight months ago, Ruto told CNN’s Kristian Amanpour that: “We have Kenyan law and the Kenyan constitution. We have our traditions. We have our customs. And we will continue to respect other people’s customs as they respect our customs and traditions. I am very clear that we respect everybody and what they believe in. But we also have what we believe in and we expect to be respected for what we believe in. LGBTQ rights are not a big issue for the people of Kenya. When it becomes a big issue for the Kenyans, they will make a choice.” 

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