In the last millennium, Africa has been the site of some of the most egregious atrocities against humanity and the dignity that is supposed, at least in our time, to attach to it. First, there was the Trans-Saharan Slave Trade, the remnants of which are evincing a resurgence at the present time that ought to exercise our conscience in the extreme.
Then, there was the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, the victims of which were treated like chaff by their own people who sold them, sometimes, for trinkets, to slavers who sought to turn them into chattel in the Americas.
The Black Lives Matter Movement is a sordid reminder to a forgetful world that Africa needs to take seriously, that the descendants of that chapter in human history that the UN once tried to characterise as a crime against humanity still don’t have their humanity recognised, much less valued in what is now the country of their birth.
Following in the footsteps of those events was colonialism that had absolutely no redeeming dimension when it came to the humanity of its teeming African victims, which was degraded and whose lands were pillaged. Given these antecedents, we at PREMIUM TIMES are convinced that if there is one continent whose inhabitants, ruler and ruled alike, should be unstintingly exercised by the issue of human dignity and its protection, it should be Africa.
Yet, at the present time, when we look across Africa, it is very difficult to conclude that its inhabitants are seriously exercised by the exigency of human dignity. On the contrary, we regrettably witness rulers and the ruled continually evince zero concern, not to talk of investment in the inviolate dignity of the lowliest human in our continent.
These are the lenses through which PREMIUM TIMES views the recent law passed by the Ugandan parliament, and awaiting the assent of President Yoweri Museveni, which criminalises the mere identification as a gay person in Uganda. It can be considered an unfortunate reference and reflection of that passed into law in Nigeria under the President Goodluck Jonathan administration in 2014.
In this newer Ugandan iteration, not only is it criminal to engage in gay sexual relations, it is also, under this law, a crime to identify yourself as a gay or LGBTQ+ person, with this attracting a penalty of up to 20 years imprisonment. While the bill generally makes it illegal and bans homosexuality, it prescribes sanctions ranging from life imprisonment to the death penalty for what is defined as “aggravated homosexuality”, involving same-sex acts without consent or committed under duress. In the earlier Nigerian variant prohibiting gay or LGBTQ+ relationships, a penalty of 14 years imprisonment is prescribed for those found in breach of the law and a 10-year jail term for those who facilitate the union of gay persons.
Unfortunately, Uganda is merely the latest African country to demonstrate this terrible tendency to trifle with the inviolate dignity of the African person in its treatment of those of its citizens and other humans who happen to be homosexual.
READ ALSO: Court decision against alleged homosexuals ‘failure of justice’
The criminalisation of homosexuality never bodes well, immediately, for its targets, the individuals who are homosexual and whose very humanity and the respect due to it are thrown into jeopardy by this unnecessary law. Nor does it do so for the society that enacts it.
In an environment already saturated with antipathy towards homosexuals, a law criminalising it makes the lives of individual gay persons infinitely precarious. They become ever more vulnerable to blackmail, violence, domestic and external, discrimination in all areas of life and just a general diminution of their humanity and its pertinent dignity.
The society that enacts such a law becomes complicit in the violence and diminution of the humanity of a section of its citizenry. Indeed, that society tells the world that its homosexuals are permanent second-class citizens, given that what they are is what is being punished, rather than what they do. How anyone pretends that there can be any reasonable justification for this kind of law in a society that wants to be considered modern and committed to the doctrine of equal protection and equality of all before the law is what we at PREMIUM TIMES cannot fathom.
Yes, there are, even if unavailing, attempts at just. They mostly come down to (1) the so-called incompatibility of homosexuality with African culture and (2) the unnaturalness of homosexuality.
The earlier point can be easily dismissed. First, we refuse to believe that the idea of a singular African culture makes any sense, given the multiplicity of cultures abroad in a continent of 54 countries. Second, that we have countries such as South Africa, Botswana, Gabon, and Namibia, making room for their homosexuals to lead lives befitting their human status means that those who wish to say that homosexuality is not African must show either that these latter countries are not African or they have become afflicted with disease that has separated them from their “Africanity.”
Third, just as with child marriages and other forms of child abuse or gender-based discrimination that reduces women to non- or second-class citizens, no culture should be allowed to eviscerate the inviolate dignity of any human to protect itself. Human dignity, now that we know it and value it, must never again be trumped by cultural preferences. What is ironic is that the culture in the name of which Africans and their rulers are willing to trash the dignity of their fellow humans is Christianity: they are forever intoning, “God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.” They conveniently ignore the fact that at some point in the past, this same scripture was used to justify the enslavement, later colonisation and, ultimately, dehumanisation of our forebears. What is more, these are the same people who, in another breath, harp on the foreignness of Christianity. None of these alibis strikes us as reasonable.
The notion of the unnaturalness of homosexuality is no less vulnerable to dismissal. Homosexual behaviour is widely distributed in the animal kingdom; that is no longer an issue where people are actually curious about nature and do not depend on folk knowledge framed by culture and glibly accepted as well-founded. Such is the tragic display of ignorance masquerading as knowledge when, in his attempt at justifying his homophobia, President Yoweri Museveni called it a “deviance” from “nature”, in an address to the nation as part of the campaign for this law. And he is known to have held a similar opinion when versions of the anti-homosexuality bill came up in the Ugandan parliament in 2009 and 2014.
A call for the non-criminalisation of the rights of gay or LGBTQ+ persons is not an advocacy for its adoption by those who do not subscribe to these orientations. It is however a demand fundamental to a holistic notion of human rights, which should not be considered as open to being cherry-picked according to relative preferences. This is an advocacy against laws that promote attacks on or denial of the humanity of gay and LGBTQ+ persons anywhere in the African continent.
As such, PREMIUM TIMES is calling for a cancellation of this law in Uganda, and the abrogation of similar laws across the continent, including here in Nigeria. They have no place in any society that claims to be invested in and promotive of the inviolate dignity of its members. It’s time Africans stopped pandering to prejudice of any and every kind.
Support PREMIUM TIMES' journalism of integrity and credibility
Good journalism costs a lot of money. Yet only good journalism can ensure the possibility of a good society, an accountable democracy, and a transparent government.
For continued free access to the best investigative journalism in the country we ask you to consider making a modest support to this noble endeavour.
By contributing to PREMIUM TIMES, you are helping to sustain a journalism of relevance and ensuring it remains free and available to all.Donate
TEXT AD: Call Willie - +2348098788999