Over the last six months there has been a worrying surge of institutional homophobia in a number of African states.
In October 2009, Uganda proposed an Anti-Homosexuality Bill that if enacted would introduce the death penalty for those who are HIV-positive and homosexuals with multiple convictions. In addition, South Africa is set to appoint an openly homophobic journalist, Jon Qwelane, as the country’s ambassador to Uganda. Qwelane has published several articles in which he expresses his disdain of gays and has even likened homosexuality to bestiality.
Meanwhile, in Malawi the first gay couple to marry openly was arrested in early January 2010 and faces up to 14 years in prison if the prosecution prove they had sexual relations; and lawmakers in Nigeria are drafting a bill to outlaw same sex marriage.
Gay activists affected by the continued criminalization of their sexuality have written about daily life under the shadow of the proposed Ugandan bill.
From GayUganda, commentary on “sexual minorities in Uganda and Africa”:
We live like ostriches, heads buried in the sand. We party and dance, and forget that we can be deprived of life and freedom. Because we are what we are. I was with some friends who are HIV positive. Asked them what they think about the bill. Silence.
I think I lost my temper. Told them in detail what the bill says. If they are ever caught having sex, them, because they are positive, then they are due to have the death penalty. I don’t joke, because those are the facts.
GayUganda also writes that the planned bill targets more than just homosexual males and makes no concessions to individual circumstances:
[T]his bill is hell on earth. We can’t fight it from the shadows. And, we have to fight it in the face of people who are ready to tell lies, even to the text of the bill, even when it is absolutely specific in language. Have gay sex when you have HIV, doesn’t matter whether you a man or woman. On conviction, life in prison, or death. It doesn’t matter that you have used any protection. It doesn’t matter that you have a partner who is a consenting adult. It doesn’t matter that you don’t know that you are HIV positive.
The Ugandan Member of Parliament responsible for the bill, David Bahati, acceded on January 21 that he will “amend some clauses” in the face of domestic and international opposition and President Yoweri Museveni has distanced himself from the proposed legislation. Observers and activists are concerned, however, that despite the setback to the bill, it will be put before parliament in the near future.
From AfroGay, commentary on gay rights in Africa:
[D]o you remember that the bill was going to be presented to the floor of Parliament in January 2010. Well, keep your eyes open for it. You are not going to see this bill tabled in Parliament this month. February perhaps? Ah, maybe, but most likely not. March? Oh, who is counting?
Others are concerned about the bill’s potential to influence African countries where homosexuality remains a criminal offense.
From BlackLooks, a blog on African affairs:
The Ugandan Anti-Homosexuality Bill remains in place. It will set a dangerous precedent across the continent if it gets passed on any level let alone with the death penalty. It could influence and encourage those behind the Nigerian Bill as well as the governments in Gambia, Senegal, Malawi, Kenya and Zambia which have all taken a draconian stance towards same sex relationships in their countries.