Magazine article The World Today

Creative Righting of Wrongs

Magazine article The World Today

Creative Righting of Wrongs

Article excerpt

Yesterday I got an email from a friend who tells me she is organizing a literary festival in the Gambia. I organized the Ake Arts and Book Festival in Abeokuta last year and I often reflect on the invited guests and how they created an unforgettable artistic vibe.

There was just something about the way they laughed at lunchtime, their openness at talks, the enthusiasm with which they shared their work, the chemistry between them and the city where Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka's Ake is set. With 79 authors, 10 artists and a Hollywood actor in Abeokuta last November, I remember distinctly the moment when time slowed down for me.

I'd joined the festival guests for breakfast as I did every morning. I was a teacher for many years so there's still something about noise that challenges me. I sat back and looked around, observing happy, animated faces. I caught bits of conversation here and there and tried in vain to lip read. I remember thinking how amazing it was to have all these accomplished individuals, most either African or in some way connected to Africa, exploring Africa's issues, on African soil.

Anti-homosexual laws

One of the guests at the Ake Festival, Kenyan writer Binyavanga Wainaina, came out as gay in response to Nigeria's President Goodluck Jonathan signing into law the Anti-Same-Sex Marriage Bill. With this new law, gay Nigerians will be jailed for 14 years if they are found to be engaging in 'crimes' such as PDA (public displays of affection), amorous relationships, attending gay clubs or forming gay societies. But that's not all. Being a liberal, easy-going, heterosexual writer, I could bag myself 10 years in jail for public advocacy for gay rights.

A lot of people have asked why this law was necessary at all, given that the Nigerian constitution already clearly defines marriage and states that it involves a man and a woman. Apart from this, not one Nigerian gay couple has ever requested a marriage licence.

President Jonathan's popularity has been on the decline for some time now and the disaffection has been palpable. Some have suggested that in signing this law, he was pandering to the lowest common denominator to boost his popularity ratings. It was a masterstroke because in a rare show of unity, Christians and Muslims, Northerners and Southerners are lining up to commend him for a law that introduces yet another layer of prejudice into a country already ravaged by religious intolerance. …

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