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Which Way Progressives?

Yoweri Museveni and Reconstruction of a Homophobic Colonial Legacy in Africa

by HORACE G. CAMPBELL

As the legalization of hate towards same-gender loving persons gains traction in parts of Africa, it is the task of Pan African progressives and decent humans everywhere to expose this orchestrated destructive cultural war. This assault, fomented by some of the most conservative and racist Christian fundamentalists in America, is an attempt to reconstruct the divisive homophobic colonial legacy in Africa. This wave of extremism is in the same category as the activities of some of the most conservative Muslim fundamentalists who attempt to sponsor the imposition of archaic religious laws on Africans. In the midst of the confusion and moral façade under which these religious fanatics operate, the progressive Pan Africanist must speak up decisively.  Last week Pambazuka News carried a splendid issue opposing this wave of hate and I want to join in opposing this legislation of hatred and intolerance. More than thirteen years ago when the Black Radical Congress was still a vibrant political force in the USA it had issued the statement, “African Leaders Hide Political Woes Behind Homophobia.” [1]

On February 20, Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni signed into law the Anti-Homosexuality Bill also dubbed as  “Jail the Gays Bill,” criminalizing same-sex relationships with up to life imprisonment. This Anti-Homosexuality Act, 2014 (previously called the “Kill the Gays bill” in the media due to the originally proposed death penalty clauses), was originally passed by the Parliament of Uganda on 20 December 2013. Because of the international outcry over the death penalty proposal in the bill, this death penalty clause was dropped in favour of life in prison. One day after Museveni signed this bill into law, a Ugandan newspaper published a list of what it called the country’s 200 top homosexuals, outing some people who previously had not identified themselves as gay. This came only weeks after Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan signed into law a similar bill that would punish same-gender loving persons with up to 14 years in prison.

After signing the bill, Museveni referred to gays as “disgusting” human beings, while suggesting that his action was intended “to demonstrate Uganda’s independence in the face of Western pressure and provocation.” Museveni echoed an irony when he categorically stated that “we do not want anybody to impose their views on us.” Janet Museveni and Yoweri Museveni have been the supporters of the most conservative Christian fundamentalists in the USA and they have not been shy about their loyalty to these social elements in North America. [2] That Museveni was ready and willing to sign the original version of the bill was a reflection of the politics of retrogression in Uganda. That he equivocated with statement about seeking scientific evidence on the sources of homosexuality was a demonstration of his insecurity and opportunism. This opportunism has been the trademark of Museveni since the days in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania when he posed as the most radical anti-imperialist of the elements of the Dar es Salaam School. Ultimately, Museveni calculated that his alliance and loyalty to conservative Christian fundamentalists was more important than any kind of reasoning that he may have had with former Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa. The Anti-Homosexuality Bill was crafted with the help and influence of some white supremacist, right wing Christian fundamentalists from the USA.[3] Prominent among these extremists was Scott Lively. Lively has since been charged for crimes against humanity in US court for his role in engineering the Uganda Anti-Gay Bill.[4]

The activities of American fundamentalists and individuals who influenced Ugandan leaders and helped craft the country’s anti-gay bills have been chronicled by researcher Kapya John Kaoma in the publications titled, Colonizing African Values.[5]  (See also by the same author, Globalizing the Culture Wars: US Conservatives, African Churches, and Homophobia.)[6] As noted by Kaoma, pioneers of the present wave of homophobia in Africa are “U.S. Christian Right figures including the internationally prominent Baptist pastor and bestselling author, Rick Warren; Scott Lively, the anti-gay, Holocaust revisionist; and Lou Engle, head of the revivalist group, The Call, and a leader in the right-wing New Apostolic Reformation movement…. [T]hey are contributing to the atmosphere of intolerance that is resulting in ‘instances of harassment, discrimination, persecution, violence and murders committed against individuals because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.’”

This atmosphere of hate, discrimination, harassment, persecution, and lynching was perfected by the white supremacist bred in a country – USA – that for nearly a century enshrined in its constitution and justified the notion that the black personhood is only 3/5th of a normal human being. It is against the backdrop of this inherent dehumanization associated with the legalization of hate that African progressives must stand up and speak out against the wave of anti-gay laws blowing across the continent from Zimbabwe to Cameroon, Uganda, Nigeria and elsewhere.

Rights of same gender loving persons are human rights that are inextricably linked with the rights of every person in the society. Yoweri Museveni’s claim on the anti-imperialist mantle comes from the silence of the progressive Pan Africanist Left in Africa. Inside Uganda, Kizza Besigye, (a leader of the opposition) attacked the new laws signed by Museveni. He disputed the claim that homosexuality was “foreign” and said the issue was being used to divert attention from domestic problems. Three years ago the Ugandan scholar, Sylvia Tamala, published the book African Sexualities: A Reader. [7] This ground breaking reader is still not widely known, and it will be important for many to read such works to engage this debate. What is significant is the stunning silence of well-known radicals in Uganda and East Africa on this criminalization of Africa’s LGBT community. Where are the scholars of the Dar es Salaam school on this issue?

South Africa has a progressive constitution that guarantees all people’s rights. But anywhere leaders are insecure they turn to bigotry, hate and the politics of exclusion to gain popularity. The most outrageous was Robert Mugabe who called homosexuals “pigs and dogs.” And yet, many progressives still see Mugabe as a great revolutionary. More than ten years ago when I wrote on “Homophobia in Zimbabwe and the Politics of Intolerance,”[8] some sections of the global Pan African movement objected and continued to praise Mugabe as anti-imperialist. In Nairobi, at a public meeting in 2011, young radicals from Bunge la Wananchi (people’s parliament) were vociferous in their proclamation of intolerance to same gender loving persons even while they were loudly opposing all other forms of oppression in Kenya.

Progressives in Africa must resist the ostensible moral appeal of the religious extremists and be humble enough to admit that there are some complex phenomena about human sexuality that require the critical questioning of popularly biased sentiments. There has to be an in-depth anthropological interrogation of generalizations and assumptions in present day Africa, as well as the probing of pre-colonial African societies and practices that were overshadowed by colonial laws and ordinances. Precolonial African societies were not homogenous but rather complex, diverse, and multidimensional. In the book, Male Daughters, Female Husbands: Gender and Sex in an African Society,[9] anthropologist Ifi Amadiume sheds light on the fluidity of sexuality in a precolonial Ibo Society. This conceptualization of flexible gender relations was a real breakthrough and more work needs to be done to expose the myths that there were no same gender relationships in Africa before colonialism. Other works of anthropology have responded to Amadiume and have investigated the reality of sexuality in some precolonial African societies (see for example, Boy-Wives and Female Husbands: Studies of African Homosexualities).[10]

Across Africa, the Western hegemons imposed their religion, languages, cultures, and laws while demonizing or outlawing pre-existing practices. Most ‘educated’ Africans eventually internalized the Western ways, including the laws and religions that were bequeathed by colonialism. Societies such as Nigeria and Uganda were not an exception, and that is why same sex relationship was already not recognized by these countries constitutions which themselves were a colonial legacy. Thus, the promulgation of the anti-gay laws amounts to a reconstruction or reinforcement of a Western colonial legacy.

Many of the right wing American Christian fundamentalists that are financing and lobbying for the anti-gay laws in Africa are known for their eugenic agenda and were heavily in support of apartheid and destabilization in Africa during the Cold War. Some of them, including televangelist Pat Robertson, have not only opposed civil rights for Blacks in America but are also advocates of American exceptionalism and imperialism. It was the same Pat Robertson who at the time of the devastating earthquake in Haiti in 2010 said that there was the earthquake in Haiti because the people had signed a “pact to the devil.” This was his understanding of the Haitian revolution which overthrew slavery and colonialism in 1804.

These conservative forces and their corporate backers are still working hard in America to reduce voting rights for blacks and browns, assault women’s and minorities’ rights, increase military budget at the expense of funding for healthcare and education, as well as oppose programs and policies that benefit low wage workers and the exploited in the USA. They tend to be losing the culture war against the rising multi-racial tide in America, hence their intensification of the struggle in Africa.  As one analyst puts it “The U.S. culture wars are still not understood in African circles.”                                                                                                                                                                                                       While some tendencies within African Christianity share charismatic beliefs with U.S. Christian Right campaigners, the African Church in general is more social-justice-oriented and concerned about the exploited and the disenfranchised. Social justice and Human rights advocates must expose the U.S. Christian Right’s opposition to social justice initiatives in the United States—and their historic alignment with White supremacist and repressive regimes in Africa.”

Pan Africanists and progressives cannot sit on the fence at this decisive moment. They must choose to be either in alliance with conservative forces opposed to social justice and equality or join forces with those who want equal rights and social justice for all peoples. In Nigeria, Nobel Laureate Professor                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Wole Soyinka has spoken out against these laws – which he referred to as “Legislative Zealotry.”[11] In continuation of the tradition of their late father, the sons of Fela Kuti the Afrobeat maestro – Femi Kuti and Seun Kuti – have both made decisive statements against the anti-gay laws.[12] Author Chimamanda Adichie has done same from Nigeria.[13] It’s time for many more progressive Africans to take a stand.

Horace G. Campbell, a veteran Pan Africanist is a Professor of African American Studies and Political Science at Syracuse University. He is also a Visiting Professor in the School of International Relations, Tsinghua University, Beijing.  He is the author of Global NATO and the Catastrophic Failure in Libya, Monthly Review Press, 2013. 

Notes.

[1] Statement by the Black Radical Congress, http://monthlyreview.org/commentary/african-leaders-hide-political-woes-behind-homophobia

[2] Janet Museveni, My Life’s Journey, African Books Collective, 2011. See also the book by Yoweri Museveni, Sowing the Mustard Seed: The Struggle for Freedom and Democracy in Uganda, Mac Millan Books,  1997. Despite the sub title of the book about Democracy, the book exposed the deep rooted ideas about hierarchy that came from the Hima cattle keepers. The book by Janet Museveni exposed the deep conservatism of this first family of Uganda.

[3] See Kapya John Kaoma, Colonizing African Values: How the U.S. Christian Right is Transforming Sexual Politics in Africa, Somerville, Massachusetts: Political Research Associates, 2012. http://www.politicalresearch.org/wp-content/uploads/downloads/2012/10/Colonizing-African-Values.pdf.

[4] “Court Allows Groundbreaking Case Against Anti-Gay Religious Leader to Proceed,” Center for Constitutional Rights, August 14, 2013. http://ccrjustice.org/newsroom/press-releases/court-allows-groundbreaking-case-against-anti-gay-religious-leader-proceed. See also, Zack Ford, “Judge Allows Ugandan Suit Charging Anti-Gay Activist With Crimes Against Humanity To Proceed,” Think Progress, August 15, 2013. http://thinkprogress.org/lgbt/2013/08/15/2473391/judge-allows-ugandan-suit-charging-anti-gay-activist-with-crimes-against-humanity-to-proceed/

[5] Kapya John Kaoma, Colonizing African Values: How the U.S. Christian Right is Transforming Sexual Politics in Africa, Somerville, Massachusetts: Political Research Associates, 2012. http://www.politicalresearch.org/wp-content/uploads/downloads/2012/10/Colonizing-African-Values.pdf.

[6] Kapya Kaoma, Globalizing the Culture Wars: US Conservatives, African Churches, and Homophobia, Somerville, Massachusetts: Political Research Associates, 2009. http://www.publiceye.org/publications/globalizing-the-culture-wars/pdf/africa-full-report.pdf.

[7] Sylvia Tamale, African Sexualities: A Reader, Pambazuka Press, 2011. http://www.amazon.com/African-Sexualities-Reader-Sylvia-Tamale-ebook/dp/B0087HTLYO/ref=dp_kinw_strp_1

[8] Chapter in the book by Horace Campbell, Reclaiming Zimbabwe: The Exhaustion of the Patriarchal Model of Liberation, David Phillip, Cape Town, South Africa, 2002

[9] Ifi Amadiume, Male Daughters, Female Husbands: Gender and Sex in an African Society, NY: Zed Books, 1987. http://www.amazon.com/Male-Daughters-Female-Husbands-African/dp/0862325951.

[10] Will Roscoe and Stephen O. Murray, ed., Boy-Wives and Female Husbands: Studies of African Homosexualities, NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 2001. http://www.amazon.com/Boy-Wives-Female…/dp/0312238290 .

[11] Wole Soyinka, “Gays, Lesbians, and Legislative Zealotry,” YNaija, December 24, 2012. http://www.ynaija.com/wole-soyinka-gays-lesbians-and-legislative-zealotry/

[12] Femi Kuti, “The Right to Choose Your Own Sexuality is a Human Right,” Okay Africa, February 24, 2014. http://www.okayafrica.com/2014/02/24/femi-kuti-the-right-to-choose-your-own-sexuality-is-a-human-right/ ; Seun Kuti, “Why I Think The Gay Community Should Come Out,” OkayAfrica, February 5, 2014. http://www.okayafrica.com/2014/02/05/seun-kuti-why-i-think-the-gay-community-should-come-out/

[13] Chimamanda Adichie, “Why Can’t He Just Be Like Everyone Else?” The Scoop, February 18, 2014. http://www.thescoopng.com/chimamanda-adichie-why-cant-he-just-be-like-everyone-else/