LGBTQIA+ Advocacy in Africa to Move Forward
The Friedrich Naumann Foundation, FNF, on the last week of August took a group of African LGBTI activists and LGBTI Refugees to Germany on an International Visiting Program. The team involved around ten of such immaculate calibres, from South Africa to Nigeria, Uganda as well as eSwatini.
This was a first of its kind for an activist from eSwatini to join these giants on this journey of the LGBTI movement in the German perspective. Eswatini has only a Consular Liaison officer who has an office in Mbabane, the capital city. The consular liaison officer has supported the LGBTI movement in the country, by attending the in augural pride celebrations that took place in June of 2018. This is the only link with Germany we have enjoyed. This relationship and support is mostly felt from the EU Head of Delegation in the country, Ambassador Hernandez, who has continued to be a political supporter of human rights and equality in eSwatini.
The trip began in Munich, the otherwise gay capital in Germany. Not for being the most diverse city, but for their progressive stance and having so much LGBTI activations in the city. This is seen from some of their street lights which have a gender-neutral sign at cross roads. We had a welcoming dinner at one of the areas restaurants. We enjoyed the best cuisine the country had to offer before embarking on the entire planned activated.
Sunday was the first official day, where we had a full day of orientation on the history of Germany, with specifics on the LGBTI movement. We were amazed to note that this journey is over 150 years old for them, having begun in 1865, as far as recordings can be recollected. This was the first eye opening experience that we learnt about Germany. The only thing I could think of was how recent our movement started to pick up, and how much the German patience must be paying off for them to have to enjoy marriage equality only in the early 2000’s, for instance.
The history of the two world wars played an incredibly torturous role in the lives of LGBTI persons in Germany, and indeed the world over. It is easy to deduce. However, my experience is that there is a silver lining in the post WW2 era in Germany, where after the creation of the UN, with its Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Germany took it upon itself to be part of the leading countries to abide by these conventions. Save to say that the cold war had its role in further dividing the German society, it is equally easy to say the berlin wall fundamentally built more resilience and more need for social cohesion. This is seen in the post-cold war Berlin, where everyone is in harmony with each.
While in Munich, amongst other officials we met, we had the pleasure of meeting the Municipality’s LGBTI department. The most beautiful thing about them, is that they work closely with the lord mayor’s office. Which gives them the liberty to influence the right change that is going to be friendly to the LGBTI persons. Their work involves running campaigns that seek to make the city more LGBTI friendly using the human rights approach. This was quite an amazing experience for me, especially since in eSwatini city councils are not even able to have conversations about supporting LGBTI movements. As is, the hosting of Pride in the capital city has been a reason for some people being maligned in the city council. This was indeed a lesson on working within political spaces.
While we were able to meet so many LGBTI organisations across the city, we were also able to have some time to speak to an Awareness and Education on LGBTI issues. The stern contrast between the German curriculum and the Eswatini curriculum is shocking. In eSwatini we have a comprehensive sexuality education on paper, however no one wants to teach and government doesn’t want to address the issue. Learning that in Germany there are initiatives from civil society organisations that are embarked on educating school representatives and students on sexuality education, was quite exciting and encouraging.
The time has come for Eswatini to take the issues comprehensive sexuality education very serious. And the lessons from Germany are indeed to be treasured. One other exciting factor about Munich, is that there are less and as years are progressing lesser LGBTI spaces. This is because the city has been completely turned into a safe haven for all who live in it. Even more welcoming to the sexual and gender minorities. This is another sign that Germany has so much to share.
Before departing Munich, the foundation and its friends organised a public event where some of our delegates spoke in the panel, and a former German Member of Parliament also spoke. The discussions were centred on LGBTIQ in Africa, and the rocky road to equality. This event saw a very emotional and intellectual exchange between activists, refugees, and funders. The goal was to look at the status quo of Africa, and how Germany can play a role. There was so much shared on this exercise and eSwatini will benefit from the exchanges.
The next stop was Leipzig, where we discussed the difficult role of LGBTI activism in the rural, and how to work best with LGBTI refuges. There were so many parallels in the discussions on this stop, as the challenges that they face working in the rural, are almost similar to those we face in Eswatini. Though the extent to which the challenges play out is different, it is clear that the wins from Germany can be brought to eSwatini.
The final stop was berlin, where we got to see the realities of a post –world war, and post – cold war Berlin. There people of Germany are filled with such resilience, and courage to have lived in the eye of the storm, and still come out top. Though there is talk of the rise of the right – wing conservatives, it is clear to see that the German LGBTI community is ready to not only live in harmony and share that spirit of togetherness with the world.
The Amnesty International team in Germany was very helpful in supporting us in understanding the scope of activism and advocacy in the entire globe. The theme for our visit to their office was ‘Situation of LGBTIQ rights internationally.’ Through the sharing of what they are working on in the globe, we were able to pick out potential partnerships for Africa, and in particular eSwatini, where were declaring September, the Eswatini Pride Month. This is because of the independence that is celebrated in September, and yet LGBTI persons remain under the shackles of colonial common law.
We had so much to bring home, and there was so much we left, as we departed Germany. However, not before joining a skype call with Dr. Jens Brandenburg, a serving Member of Parliament, who is openly gay and married. The conversation had with him was fruitful as he walked us through the parliamentary processes of advocating for LGBTI rights in the polarised world we live in.
After various visits, with different groups in Germany, talking to LGBTI groups, and other allied groups has indeed opened and broadened my horizon. Not least because we had the pleasure of being workshopped on how to use digital communications technologies effectively for LGBTI rights. Perhaps one of my greatest highlight of the visit, having to learn how to use the modern inventions and not let go of the truth and value of our stories.
While the world moves forward, so should the LGBTI advocacy. This is the greatest lesson I have learnt from Germany. Where possible, we must be able to share our experiences with the world, and Germany has opened its doors to the possibilities of this.