Why Africa’s anti-gay laws will fail
The anti-gay laws recently enacted in Uganda and Nigeria will not achieve their intended aims. Similar laws elsewhere in Africa will also not achieve their aims. All laws made to root out homosexuality are bound to fail. They will not work because NOBODY can make laws against human sexuality. The sex drive in humans is too strong to be regulated by parliamentary edicts. There are strict laws against paedophilia – a patently evil act. Yet paedophiles still abound. How much less will laws against homosexuality (a non-evil act) work? These laws will fail to prevent homosexuality. They will only lead to the persecution of innocent people.
The laws in Uganda and Nigeria were informed more by religious fanaticism (Nigeria) and political opportunism than any real concerns for some ill-defined morality. If the same law makers were really concerned about the welfare of society as a moral imperative, they wouldn’t steal the people’s money, steal their votes and deny them clean drinking water or good hospitals. The fact is that, Africa has far more pressing needs than concerns about whether a man sleeps with a man or a woman kisses another woman.
Africans are still among those people making some of the silliest arguments against homosexuality. You can often see even very highly educated and accomplished Africans who are brilliant in their chosen fields exhibiting crass bigotry and gross conservatism when it comes to the question of homosexuality. You just can’t believe it!
Many Africans will ask you how the human race can reproduce if all people are homosexuals. The favourite line is: if your parents were homosexuals, how would you be born? This shows lack of knowledge of the basic precepts of evolution. Evolutionary theory says the main concerns of the species are reproduction and survival. This does not work on an individual basis but on aggregate over millions of years. Whether the human species will survive or not does not depend on the action of any one individual. Whether you, as an individual, have children or not will not affect the survival of the species. The supposition that all people will be homosexuals is irrelevant. There will never be a time when everybody is homosexual. It is not built into our genes. Even in the unlikely event of homosexuality becoming the norm, some people will want to differ from this “norm” by becoming heterosexual, just as today some people are differing from a so called “norm” by becoming gay. And why should the decision made by my parents to conceive me be my concern? I can be grateful to them for caring for me and letting me grow up but I can hardly be grateful (or ungrateful) to them for the decision they made, at a time that I did not exist, to conceive me. Whether my parents could have been homosexuals thereby preventing me from being born is of no consequence to me.
Another oft repeated argument from Africans is that even animals don’t behave that way. Robert Mugabe was famously quoted as saying that even dogs won’t do that. But who has really missed the point here? Why, on earth, would anybody expect dogs to be homosexual? Are dogs not dogs? They do not practice homosexuality exactly for the reason that they are dogs – not human beings. The corollary is also true. Only human beings practice homosexuality because they are human beings and not animals. We occupy a higher stratum of the animal kingdom which enables us to behave differently from animals. We are unique animals which is why we are the only species that can do things that other species cannot do. We are the only species that makes conscious decisions to interfere in the course of nature to make life better for us. We are the only ones capable of acting beyond our instincts. In all known existence, human beings have sought not to behave like dogs. Dog behaviour cannot, therefore, be held as a light to human behaviour. The fact that dogs don’t practice homosexuality does not prove a thing about human sexual behaviour.
A related argument to this is raised by people who claim they know what the purpose of nature is and it is not for men to sleep with each other. Nonsense! Who, really, knows the purposes of nature? Indeed, nature does not even have a purpose. Nature just is. It doesn’t make any elaborate moral arguments as to what is bad and what is good. It will adapt equally to anything that is “good” as well as “bad” according to the circumstances. It is we human beings, not nature, who make decisions as to purposes or what is bad or good. So far, we’ve not been too good at making such decisions. For instance, it is human beings, not nature, who decided that sex outside marriage is a sin even though there is nothing intrinsically sinful in a sexual act in or outside marriage. When people are out to suppress others for their own gains, then they start talking about nature’s purposes which they claim to have knowledge of.
Another African argument is that homosexuality is against our culture or not part of our tradition. A Ugandan MP was quoted as saying that the practice is so alien to African tradition that we don’t even have a name for it. This lawmaker actually believes that if something doesn’t have a name, it doesn’t exist! This line of reasoning wrongly supposes that we Africans have a culture that is exclusively ours over which we have proprietary rights. But the fact is that, many of us don’t even know what African culture is and will be hard put to it defining it. Ask any African to define our culture and you will hear something that gives you the impression that we have a set of practices and beliefs that were defined in a distant past and set in stone and has never, and can never, change. But culture is dynamic. Many Africans think homosexuality is part of western culture – their culture! But Europeans were even more against homosexuality than we are today. England made sodomy a civil offense punishable by death as far back as 1553. Oscar Wilde was imprisoned for two years for his homosexuality in England as late as 1887. Same-sex sodomy was decriminalized in that country only in 1967. In the US, decriminalizing homosexuality started only in 1983 effectively ceasing to be a crime in 2003 with a Supreme Court decision. Even today, there are many people in Europe and USA who are strongly against homosexuality. They, too, argue that it is not part of their culture. Homosexuality is, therefore, no more, or less, part of European culture than it is of a so-called African culture. After all, Africans too have been practising homosexuality for ages.
Some Africans also argue that the increasing occurrence of homosexuality in our societies is due to some people thinking it is a chic trend which they can follow. This argument is not convincing. How can somebody wilfully pursue a behaviour pattern for which he will be persecuted, insulted made fun of and even killed only because it is trendy? Anybody who becomes a homosexual because it is trendy will eventually cease to be one when the trend goes away. Homosexuality has not become trendy in African societies. What is trendy is the refusal to hide one’s sexuality. People of a homosexual bent in African societies are now increasingly deciding not to hide or suppress their sexual orientation but to be open and proud about it. And that is what is so irksome to the homophobes some of whom argue that if only gays do not display their sexuality openly, it will be ok with them. If straight people do not hide their sexual orientation, why should gay people hide theirs?
Many Africans are angry that some donor countries are dangling aid before their eyes and tying it to the non-passage of discriminatory laws. They view it as unwelcomed interference in our affairs. It is true that rich nations should not tell us what to do. It is also true that we should not be begging them for anything in the first place. But those truths don’t absolve us from making a decision, ourselves, as to the humaneness of the laws that we pass. The pressure for us Africans to resist all oppressive laws should come from us. We do not have to wait for someone to tell us that our anti-gay laws are inhumane. We should see that ourselves! The point is that even if you, as an African, don’t agree with homosexual practices, you should still be able to see that the particular laws we are passing against such practices are inhumane. We should summon the courage to fight all oppressive and discriminatory laws even where they are against people we don’t quite like.
There is a tendency for many Africans to argue that if someone is advocating for the rights of homosexuals, then the person is, by so doing, also homosexual. This argument is childish. What has my own sexuality got to do with the fight for sexual freedom for all? Should white people, who benefit from the effects of racism, not be involved in the fight against racial discrimination because they are white? This stand is often adopted by people who cannot find solid arguments for their homophobia. Bereft of any cogent points to support that homophobia, they resort to insults and calling of names. In extreme cases, they become even violent and threaten death to all gays and their supporters. But you’ll hardly find advocates of gay rights using insults to buttress their arguments.
The controversial position of homosexuality within Christianity that has blown out of late has caught the African church unprepared. The issue is most contentious within the Anglican Communion. Roman Catholics simply chose to hide the activities of their clergy with small boys that have been going on for years. The Bible clearly abhors homosexuality especially if one reads it literarily. But that is because the holy book, despite all the wonderful things it contains, just got it plain wrong on this point. Fortunately, the book itself is so vague that everybody can about find something in it that supports his view. The controversy is too involved to be taken up here. Suffice it to say that organised religion has been very instrumental in instilling homophobia in the populace. Some of those in the forefront of the fight against homosexuality in Africa are members of the clergy and the Muslim hierarchy. When they are at it, they conveniently forget that Christianity itself is a very strong component of European culture that we have been forced to swallow in Africa. And Islam is by no means an African invention. But homosexual organisations within organized religion in Africa are not strong and we hardly hear their voices. The Biblical and Quranic injunctions against homosexuality will hold only for those who believe in those books as the final arbiters of our moral values (if they can agree on what the books really say and mean). For those who don’t, they are irrelevant. And, by the way, the fact that both holy books rail against homosexuality just shows how ancient the practice is. Arabs, who invented Islam, have been one of the world’s oldest practitioners of homosexuality – unto this day.
The old sodomy laws that Ghana inherited from the British are still lying dormant on our statute books. We will have to specifically enact new laws decriminalizing homosexuality just like South Africa, alone among African countries, did in 2006. The problem is that our lawmakers are not better than their Ugandan and Nigerian counterparts and are not beyond passing similar anti-gay legislation. The gay vote is not important and can easily be dispensed with.
There are many ills in society that we have to fight tooth and nail. Homosexuality is not one of them. We must fight wrong doing, not sexuality. Who will not prefer a neighbour who is a law abiding homosexual pair to a heterosexual pair where the man is an armed robber whose wife helps him in his life’s “calling”? Indeed, the average citizen is in far greater danger of being mugged, killed, raped and persecuted in many ways by a heterosexual person than by a gay person!
As for me, I can foresee that in 50 years’ time, homosexuality will not even raise an eyebrow in Africa or elsewhere. Homosexuals will no longer be curiosities of humanity. Gay persons will no longer need to distinguish themselves in any way. They will not need to organise pride parades to highlight their plight just as heterosexuals don’t go on any sex parades. They will not have to fight anymore. Our children and the youth in general are more tolerant of such practices than us the old hounds. Yes, the world is changing, as it always has. It is changing in Africa too – whether Africa’s homophobes like it or not.
Kofi Amenyo (email@example.com)