Academic journal article African Studies Review

A Macro-Level Analysis of the Scope, Causes, and Consequences of Homophobia in Africa

Academic journal article African Studies Review

A Macro-Level Analysis of the Scope, Causes, and Consequences of Homophobia in Africa

Article excerpt


Although Africa has gained a reputation as one of the world's most homophobic areas, there are cross-national differences in the extent and intensity of antigay laws. This article assesses the factors that have been advanced in the literature -albeit unsystematically and often mostly implicitly-to explain the observed patterns of homophobia: conservative religious beliefs, delayed political and economic development and resistance to globalization, political leadership strategies, and the legacy of colonialism. It argues that a more robust analysis suggests that a British colonial past, a large Muslim population, and the absence of economic freedom and openness explain at least one-third of the variance in sodomy laws. This finding has implications for efforts to fight African homophobia.

Résumé: Bien que l'Afrique ait acquis la réputation d'être l'une des régions les plus homophobes de la planète, il y a des différences entre les pays dans l'étendue et l'intensité des lois anti-gay. Cet article évalue les facteurs qui ont été présentés dans les études-bien que de manière parsemée et souvent implicite-pour expliquer les schémas du phénomène homophobe: les croyances religieuses conservatives, le retard dans le développement économique et politique, la résistance contre la mondialisation, les stratégies politiques gouvernementales, et l'héritage du colonialisme. Cet article soutient qu'une analyse plus approfondie indique qu'un passé colonial britannique, une large population musulmane, et l'absence de liberté et d'ouverture économique expliquent au moins un tiers des variances dans les lois contre la sodomie. Cette découverte apporte des informations significatives pour informer les stratégies de lutte contre l'homophobie en Afrique.

Key Words: Africa; sodomy laws; homophobia; LGBTI; colonialism

State-sponsored persecution of gay people and popular hostility toward homosexuality in developing countries, especially African ones, have been capturing widespread attention from scholars, the media, and international organizations.^ jn 1995 President Robert Mugabe barred a display by the group Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe at an international book fair organized in Harare around the theme "human rights" (Stychin 2004). In the years since that event, multiple forms of official and societal persecution against gays have emerged across Africa.

The most infamous recent example comes from Uganda. In June 2008, several gay activists protesting the government's refusal to fund HIV programs for men who have sex with men (MSM) were arrested and detained at the HIV Implementers Meeting in Kampala. In the months that followed, a number of gay men were charged with "having carnal knowledge against the order of nature" (Mukasa 2009). Then, in October 2009, a bill was introduced into Parliament that would impose life imprisonment for the offense of homosexuality (which was already illegal) by nationals living in or outside Uganda, five to seven years in jail for anyone failing to report homosexual activity or supporting gay rights, and the death penalty for "aggravated" homosexuality-recidivism or homosexual activity while HIV positive, with a disabled person, or while under the influence of controlled substances.^ Similar legislation in Nigeria, another country where gays have been experiencing harassment and maltreatment (Van der Westhuizen 2009), was rebuffed in 2007; but it was reintroduced in 2011 and is still pending.

The list of antigay measures and incidents does not end there. The Ghanaian government banned a gay conference scheduled for September 2006 on the grounds that "unnatural carnal knowledge"-homosexuality and bestiality-"violently offends the culture, morality, and heritage of the entire people of Ghana" (Igwe 2007). Cameroon has attracted international attention for the frequency and intensity of antigay attacks in the country and the complicity of public officiais. Religious leaders in Kenya disrupted the work of a government health center providing HIV/AIDS services to the community, MSM included, in the coastal town of Mtwapa (Kilifi District) in February 2010. …

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