LGBTQ Rights in sub-Saharan Africa

Perspectives of the Region from the Region
Analysis20.11.2019Gerbrandt van Heerden
LGBTQ Africa
Institute of Race Relations

LGBTQ rights in Africa: The current situation

As of June 2019, 32 out of 54 African countries outlaw same-sex activity, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW) (Komane, 2019). The situation in Africa differs signi cantly from Europe where same-sex activity has been legalised across the continent, and 28 of the 44 countries recognise either same-sex marriage or civil unions (WEF, 2019). Despite some recent positive developments in Africa, the continent as a whole remains one of the most hostile regions for LGBTQ people. Afrobarometer’s 2016 study showed that although Africans display high tolerance for people from different ethnic, religious and national backgrounds, the same cannot be said for attitudes towards gay people. Only 21% of Africans surveyed indicated that they would either like or be indifferent to having gay people as neighbours (Afrobarometer, 2016: 1). Furthermore, only in Cape Verde, South Africa, Mozambique and Namibia did the majority of the population display high tolerance for gay people (Afrobarometer, 2016: 12). Another global study conducted by ILGA, also attempted to gauge societal views of homosexuality and alternative gender identities. More than 96 000 respondents in 65 countries were surveyed on their perceptions of LGBTI (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex) people. On the question of whether same-sex desire is a Western phenomenon, nearly half (47%) in the African region believed that homosexuality was a foreign concept imported from the West (ILGA, 2016: 29). A number of in uential African political and business leaders espouse this belief. Rebecca Kadaga, Speaker of Parliament in Uganda, had the following reaction to efforts of some countries to include LGBT people in a declaration on migrants and refugees at the International Parliamentary Union (IPU):

‘‘We told you that if you insist, we are withdrawing… So if you are insisting on smuggling this issue, the Ugandan delegation… shall withdraw from the IPU’ (Igual, 2018).

Ezekial Mutua, CEO of the Kenyan Film Classi cation Board (KFCB), justi ed his efforts to clamp down on social media platforms with LGBTQ content by saying: ‘‘The bulk of these platforms are being run by foreigners bent on spreading vices such as homosexuality and promoting radicalisation among the youth’ (DeBarros, 2017). Commissioner Petunia Chiriseri said during a sermon in Zimbabwe:

‘As a church, you (Robert Mugabe) took a firm stand against unbiblical, uncultural, unacceptable practices which foreigners…seek to impose on Africa’ (Igual,2017).

The Ghanaian Times newspaper wrote that ‘…we are equally against LGBT rights and we at the Ghanaian Times will strongly support moves to reject the imposition of any foreign values on our country’ (Igual, 2018). Another question ILGA asked was whether respondents agreed that being gay, lesbian, transgender or intersex should constitute a crime. From the African region, 44% agreed or strongly agreed against 30% who disagreed and 20.0% who neither agreed nor disagreed (ILGA, 2016: 37). Same-sex activity carries a prison sentence for at least one year or more in South Sudan, Liberia, Senegal, Togo, Cameroon, Kenya,  Tanzania, Uganda, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Comoros and Zambia. Same-sex activity is also punishable by death in Sudan, Mauritania, Somalia and in some states in Nigeria. Also, a Human Rights Watch report, titled Dignity Debased: Forced anal examinations in homosexuality prosecutions, found that, in 2015, law enforcement of cials in six African countries worked in tandem with medical personnel to subject men and transgender women arrested on homosexuality-related charges to forced anal examinations as a way to prove homosexual conduct (HRW, 2016: 1). Less than a third of African respondents agreed that adults should be allowed to have private consensual same-sex relationships (ILGA, 2016: 37). The majority (53%) disagreed with the statement (ILGA, 2016: 37). In North African countries such as Algeria, Egypt and Morocco, majorities of more than 60% of respondents disagreed with the statement. As mentioned earlier, progress towards LGBTQ rights and anti-discrimination laws in Africa has been sporadic and uneven. The following is a brief summary of the situation in countries that have been at the forefront of cracking down on the LGBTQ community. This demonstrates some of the legislative and political hurdles the community faces.

Download the full version of the LGBTQ Rights in sub-Saharan Africa paper via the link below.