Fighting the Wrong War – Africa is wasting time on the “gay rights” debate

Amnesty International warns that homophobic attacks have reached dangerous levels in Africa and that leaders are losing their grip on the economic development of the continent while shifting their focus to homosexuals. ELVIS MBOYA, The Southern Times’ Correspondent in Nairobi, asks: Is Africa fighting wrong war by exhausting energy to fight homosexuals instead of using the same passion to fight impunity, dictatorship, poverty, unemployment, diseases, and mass economic disparities that undermine development in the continent?
Africans are at war. Not war against colonial powers, a scramble for agricultural land, for rich mineral resources or against despotic regimes laced with endemic impunity.
No. This is a war against homosexuals.
And as leaders embark on choruses of anti-gay sentiment, they have lobbied lawmakers to pass harsh anti-gay laws including the death penalty.
In many countries, homosexual activity is illegal and punishable by several years in prison and/or a heavy fine.
One survey has said more than 90 per cent of Africans consider homosexuality a taboo.
This is why during his visit to Senegal, American President Barack Obama was publicly snubbed by that country’s President, Macky Sall – a US ally – when he took to the podium to champion same-sex marriage.
The Senegalese leader rebuffed Obama, saying that although his country is “very tolerant,” it is not ready to decriminalise homosexuality.
In Senegal, for example, gay sex is punishable by up to eight years in prison; and in Tanzania, the final destination of Obama's trip, it carries a sentence of 30 years to life.
In Ghana, a 2003 law makes “unnatural carnal knowledge” punishable by five to 25 years in jail.  In Nigeria, legislators recently approved a Bill calling for a 10-year sentence for any public show of affection by a same-sex couple.
Amnesty International reports that in the last five years, South Sudan and Burundi have introduced new laws criminalising same-sex relations.
Legislators in Uganda, Liberia and Nigeria have draft laws before them that seek to increase penalties.
In 2010, Uganda's Rolling Stone magazine published a photograph of gay rights activist David Kato next to a headline reading “Hang Them”. Just a month later, he was killed in his home. Police say they have no evidence that this was a hate crime.
In Cameroon, people are regularly arrested after being denounced as being gay or lesbian because of their “appearance or conjecture, rather than evidence”, Amnesty says.
In Kenya, people told Amnesty that sometimes the police threaten to arrest them under provisions in the penal code related to same-sex relations in order to obtain a bribe, the report adds.
In South Africa, at least seven people – five of them lesbians – were murdered between June and November 2012 in what appears to have been targeted violence related to their sexual orientation or gender identity, the report says.
Homosexuality is legal in South Africa and gays and lesbians are allowed to tie the knot.
Which begs the question: Is Africa fighting wrong war by exhausting their energies and resources to fight homosexuals instead of using the same passion to fight impunity, dictatorship, poverty, unemployment, diseases, and mass economic disparities that undermine development?
According to World Health Organisation (WHO) report, no fewer than 100 million Africans slip below poverty line each year while trying to survive illnesses.
The United Nations’ Human Development Index indicates that 22 of 24 nations identified as having “Low Human Development” were in Sub-Saharan Africa. And 34 of the 50 nations on the UN list of least developed countries are in Africa.
In many nations, GDP per capita is less than USD$200 per year, with the vast majority of the population living on much less. In addition, Africa's share of income has been consistently dropping over the past century by any measure.
Whether or not we like homosexuality is neither here nor there: the important thing is that we have more important things to occupy ourselves with.
In a paper titled “Pan-Africanism – Re-thinking Key Issues”, which he presented as part of the “Sustaining the New Wave of Pan-Africanism” workshop at the University of Namibia in December 2010, renowned African power thinker Chinweizu had this to say about Africa’s pre-occupation with homosexuality and other “red herrings”.
“Back in 2006, I responded as follows to an African-American Afrocentrist who was aggressively campaigning against homosexuality: You see, from the paramount framework of Building Afrikan Power, I can’t quite see the Afrocentric relevance of these matters of sexual preference – whether homosexual, heterosexual, lesbian or whatever else – that obsess some Pan-Africanists.
“I can’t see how any particular sexual preference helped cause our powerlessness; or how it can help or impede the building of Afrikan power.
“So, for me, these are irrelevant, and even decoy, issues that would keep us diverted from where we should be focused – Afrikan power.”
In short, Africa has too much on its plate to be concerned about sexual proclivities.
From Chinweizu’s perspective, governments and legislative bodies are not being told to legalise gay marriages, but rather to simply ignore the matter and focus on these things that improve the standards of living of Africa’s citizenry.
Chinweizu suggests a simple rule with which to filter issues that should take primacy in African affairs: does the issue advance our development cause in any way? If it doesn’t, discard it.

July 2013
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