Africa's Silent Slaughter of Gays and Lesbians Promoted by Leaders and Laws

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BYLINE: Gilbert Ongachi

KenyaN Prime Minister Raila Odinga has done it again. Like many African leaders, he's gone out of his way to endanger gays and lesbians in his country, increasing the likelihood of violence in a region racked with myriad problems.

Last week at a Nairobi rally, as the 16 Days of Activism campaign was launched across Africa, Odinga called on police to arrest gays and lesbians if caught having sex, noting homosexual activity was illegal.

Homosexual acts are illegal in many African countries, including Uganda, whose parliament has spent most of the year debating an anti-homosexual bill that could lead to gays and lesbians being executed.

It is Africa's silent slaughter. Hundreds of gays and lesbians a year are raped, abused and murdered, simply because of whom they choose to love. Meanwhile, Africa's politicians and leaders continue to attack the gay community while paying lip service to the African public, who are calling on them to end gender-based violence.

It is easy to understand why Africa's lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community live in fear.

In Uganda, a newspaper published the names and pictures of alleged homosexuals and human rights defenders, calling for their deaths. This led to several people being attacked in the country.

In Soweto, a march drew attention to the widespread rape of lesbians in townships, which rapists often try to justify as "correcting" the victims' sexuality.

In Senegal, bodies of gay rights activists who had mysteriously disappeared were exhumed from cemeteries and desecrated, while in Tanzania the corpse of a transgender woman was put on public display.

In many African countries violence that at times leads to the deaths of gays goes unreported because the media are also homophobic. Sometimes villagers or neighbours of victims refuse to report such incidents to police.

Bias and the stigmatising of homosexuals and other sexual minorities are rooted in deeply held cultural and religious values. These beliefs translate into abuses, are often enforced by vigilante violence, and are sometimes enshrined in law.

A case in point is Zanzibar's legal system. A vile law imposes a prison term of up to 25 years on anyone convicted of having gay sex. A gay sex sentence in Zanzibar is the same as for murder.

Paddy Stafford works with Stay Awake Network Activities, a human rights group, in Tanzania, and says there is a continuing campaign of harassment and violence against gays. …