UvA DARE Digital Academic Repository Homophobic Africa

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COMMENTARY, Editors note The editors of the African Studies Review are pleased to publish. as this issue s Commentary a discussion of homophobia in Africa written by. three distinguished scholars Patrick Awondo Peter Geschiere and Graeme. Reid The editors are also planning a special issue on homophobia in Africa. for publication in September 2013 the special issue will feature several arti. cles compiled and guest edited by Ayo Coly of Dartmouth University. Homophobic Africa Toward A More,Nuanced View,Patrick Awondo Peter Geschiere and Graeme Reid. Abstract The recent emergence of homosexuality as a central issue in public debate. in various parts of Africa has encouraged a stereotypical image of one homophobic. Africa often placed in opposition to a tolerant or depraved West What is striking. is that this image of Africa as homophobic is promoted by both traditionalists who. insist that homosexuality is a Western intrusion andby the Western media that focus. on homophobic statements from African political and religious leaders What both. neglect however is the existence of internal debate and disagreements among Afri. cans on the subject of homosexuality In this article we try to counter this image of a. homophobic Africa with a more nuanced discussion including a comparison of dif. African Studies Review Volume 55 Number 3 December 2012 pp 145 68. Patrick Awondo is a researcher at IEDES Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne His 2012. Ph D dissertation at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales EHESS. Paris followed sexual refugees from Cameroon to Paris He is the author of. The Politicisation of Sexuality and the Rise of Homosexual Mobilisation in. Postcolonial Cameroun Review of African Political Economy 37 2010 Medias. Politique et Homosexualite au Cameroun Politique Africaine 126 2012 and. On the Narratives of African Sexual Migrants in Paris Africa forthcoming. At present he is working on a three country project Cameroon Burkina Faso. and Togo about sexual workers and men who have sex with men MSM as part. of a collaboration with the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. E mail pawondo2005 yahoo fr,146 African Studies Review. ferent trajectories in the emergence of homosexuality as a public issue in four coun. tries Senegal Cameroon Uganda and South Africa The comparison highlights. considerable variations in the ways in which the issue became politicized There is a. world of difference for example between the image of the homosexual as un Grand. a rich and powerful Big Man who imposes anal penetration as a supreme form. of subjection as in Cameroon or Gabon where homosexuality is associated with. witchcraft and other occult forces compare Achille Mbembe s visionary evocation. of a phallocracy and the often quite marginal persons who become victims of. gay persecution in other contexts More insight into the variations of what is loosely. and inaccurately called homophobia can help connect international pressures. for decriminalization and protection to local circumstances Working through local. activists is crucial for the effort to counter homophobia in Africa. Resume L emergence recente de l homosexualite comme question centrale des. debats publics dans plusieurs regions d Afrique a encourage l emergence du ste. reotype d une Afrique homophobe souvent placee en opposition a une culture. occidentale soit tolerante soit depravee II est marquant que cette representation. de I Afrique comme homophobe est soutenue aussi bien par les traditionalistes qui. insistent que l homosexualite est un phenomene importe de l Occident que par les. medias occidentaux qui se concentrent sur des declarations homophobes faites par. des chefs politiques et religieux d Afrique Ces deux courants negligent d admettre. l existence d un debat interne et de disaccords parmi les Africains eux memes sur. le sujet de l homosexualite Dans cet article nous tentons de contrer cette image. homogene d une Afrique homophobe avec une discussion plus nuancee en incluant. une comparaison des differentes trajectoires dans l emergence de l homosexualite. comme question publique dans quatre pays Le Senegal le Cameroun L Ouganda. et l Afrique du Sud La comparaison met l accent sur les variations considerables. dans les manieres dont la question de l homosexualite s est politisee Par exemple. un monde separe l image de l homosexuel comme un Grand un homme riche. et puissant qui impose la penetration anale comme une forme supreme de sou. mission comme au Cameroun et au Gabon ou l homosexualite est associee a la. sorcellerie et autres forces occultes et les personnes souvent marginales devenues. victimes de persecution dans d autres contextes Une meilleure comprehension de. ce qui est vaguement et incorrectement appele homophobie sera utile pour rap. procher la logique des pressions internationales de decriminalisation et de protec. tion de l homosexualite avec les cultures locales II est indispensable d obtenir le. soutien d activistes locaux pour contrer l homophobie en Afrique. Peter Geschiere is a professor of African anthropology at the University of Amster. dam and co editor of Ethnography Since 1971 he has undertaken historical. anthropological fieldwork in various parts of Cameroon and elsewhere in West. Africa His publications include The Modernity of Witchcraft Politics and the Occult. in Post colonial Africa University Of Virginia Press 1997 and Perils of Belonging. Autochthony Citizenship and Exclusion in Africa and Europe University of Chicago. Press 2009 and Witchcraft Intimacy and Trust Africa in Comparison University of. Chicago Press forthcoming E mail P L Geschiere uva nl. Homophobic Africa Toward A More Nuanced View 147, The first decade of this century brought a sudden propulsion of homo. sexuality as a burning issue on the public scene in many parts of Africa Of. course this had a much longer history certainly in the southern part of the. continent Presidents Mugabe of Zimbabwe and Nujoma of Namibia initi. ated their attack on homosexuality as an imported Western depravity in the. 1990s 1 Around the same time the struggle over the liberal South African. Constitution with its famous antidiscrimination clause that explicitly for. bids discrimination because of sexual orientation made homosexuality a. burning issue there But elsewhere in the continent it was only in the last. decade that there was an explosion of popular concerns often encour. aged by political and religious leaders about homosexuality and a sudden. intensification of government persecution notably of gay young men. The abruptness of this explosion came as a surprise to many observers. To mention just a few examples in Cameroon the government inten. sified persecution by police and judicial authorities from 2005 on after. several newspapers published lists of prominent homosexuals in order to. denounce certain practices among the elite Since then popular indigna. tion is still mounting In at least four countries Morocco Senegal Nige. ria and Malawi affairs of gay marriages two young men being photo. graphed during a fake wedding created great unrest among the popu. lation and had very troubling effects for the people involved In 2009 the. Ugandan politician David Bahati submitted a bill apparently with strong. support from American missionaries to impose the death penalty for. cases of aggravated homosexuality see Sadgrove et al 2012 Interna. tional pressure led President Museveni to declare the bill a foreign policy. issue and ensure that it would languish in Parliament despite strong sup. port for it among the MPs the last time it was introduced they erupted in. a chant our bill our bill In Ghana the 2011 declaration by U K Prime. Minster Cameron at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting. that certain forms of bilateral development aid might be reconsidered if. the country did not decriminalize homosexual behavior led to great indig. nation Pentecostal spokesmen in particular insisted that the government. should not sell out its principles in order to safeguard development money. Throughout the continent the strong pressure from international human. rights missions to abolish laws that criminalize homosexuality continues to. Graeme Reid is the director of the Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Rights. Program of Human Rights Watch He has published extensively on the subjects. of gender sexuality LGBT issues and HIV AIDS An anthropologist by training. he was the founding director of the Gay and Lesbian Archives of South Africa a. researcher at the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research and a lecturer. in lesbian gay bisexual and transgender studies at Yale University Recent pub. lications include Above the Skyline Reverend Tsietsi Thandakiso and the Founding of. an African Gay Church Unisa Press 2010 and How to Be a Real Gay Gay Identi. ties in Small Town South Africa University of Kwa Zulu Natal Press forthcoming. E mail reidg hrw org,148 African Studies Review, raise fierce reactions 5 The furor has led in many cases to the victimiza.
tion of young men but lesbians have also been attacked In some countries. South Africa Namibia gang rape of lesbians became a regular practice. and in these countries lesbian associations have been in the vanguard of. Indeed it is important to emphasize that this uproar has been rein. forced by the rapid growth throughout the continent of LGBT organiza. tions that could profit from the increasing availability of funding to combat. AIDS including among men who have sex with men MSM this has. helped to shape new networks and new forms of organizing among people. who identify themselves as gay Yet it is clear that this increased visibility. has been met with an increase in homophobic rhetoric It is also clear that. human rights interventions from the outside have been triggered by the. initiatives of a new type of local activists, These and similar matters have raised considerable international atten. tion They have also given new fuel to older debates concerning the issue. especially the question of whether homosexuality was and is un African. Politicians like the ones quoted above but also religious leaders and tradi. tional spokesmen insisted ever more strongly that the very idea of same sex. practices was foreign to Africa and that it had been imported from the. West Mugabe for instance chastised it as an immoral import in 1998 the. Zambian government even stated that homosexuality is a Norwegian con. spiracy since the Norwegian ambassador intervened when a Zambian gay. activist ran into trouble see Hoad 2007 83 Against this others empha. sized that same sex practices and identities have a long history in Africa. and even more important that homophobia rather than homosexuality. is a Western import After all the articles criminalizing homosexuality were. often copied from laws of the former colonial power The very idea of Africa. as a part of the world free from same sex contacts seems to go back to the. nineteenth century explorer Richard Burton 6 And the very language of. the attacks on homosexuality such as the word sodomy used by Mugabe. and others points to a Christian background Indeed Christian and. Islamic leaders are often a driving force behind attacks on homosexual. ity For Hoad 2007 84 this expression of a supposedly traditional aver. sion to same sex practices is a graphic illustration of an absolute refusal to. engage Christianity as a colonial legacy, However homophobia was also shaped by the postcolonial context. often in quite complicated ways For the Middle East Joseph Massad 2007. has warned that interventions by global gay activists he uses the term Gay. International for a conglomerate of mostly Western gay and lesbian orga. nizations may be well intentioned but have had highly destructive effects. on the spot He emphasizes that the discursive imposition of homo versus. hetero as a universal dyad as implied by the idea of a global gay iden. tity runs the risk of repressing same sex desires and practices that refuse. Homophobic Africa Toward A More Nuanced View 149, to be assimilated in to Gay International s sexual epistemology In. Massad s view there is a serious risk that the imposition of these Western. concepts will have dire consequences for the poor and non urban men. who practice same sex contacts and do not necessarily identify as homosex. ual or gay 2007 163 189 see also Gaudio 2009 182 African echoes of. Massad s fierce attack can be found in recent declarations by local activ. ists but also in academic debates A relevant question to which we will. return may be how exactly and by whom notions of homosexuality versus. heterosexuality are spreading This may be different in each situation. All of this debate has already produced a sizable literature including. journalistic reports and a growing corpus of academic studies It is impossi. ble in this short text to give a full overview of this work 8 We propose instead. to focus on what seems to be the most promising trend in this debate cer. tainly for academic studies the effort to overcome a simplistic opposition. between homophobic Africa and a tolerant or depraved West It is impor. tant to note that it is certainly not only African traditionalists who create. such an opposition As stated reports in the international press and other. media outlets also tend to reinforce this simplistic contrast by focus. witchcraft and other occult forces compare Achille Mbembe s visionary evocation of a phallocracy and the often quite marginal persons who become victims of gay persecution in other contexts More insight into the variations of what is loosely and inaccurately called homophobia can help connect international pressures

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