As Africa continues to advance, it is being forced to adopt many new ways of life, some of which are a complete change in what Africans believe in and how they do things. While some of these changes have had a positive impact, others have been met with serious resistance, mainly because they go against the traditional norms.
One of such practices is homosexuality. Although some African countries are slowly accepting same-sex marriages, many are still very categorical in their denunciation of the idea. Some have even made it a capital offense punishable by death.
Many members of the LGBT community in these countries have been forced hide their sexuality while others have fled their homes for fear of being attacked. In Uganda for instance, same-sex relationships have been illegal since British colonial rule, and in the neighboring Tanzania, the situation is not different.
A Change of Opinion?
In an unexpected turn of events, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni agreed last year to meet with the British Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, who has been very open in his support for same-sex relationships, when he paid him a courtesy call at State House in Entebbe, Uganda on Thursday. The prominent Archbishop had toured a refugee camp in Uganda, which is hosting refugees from the troubled South Sudan.
Although the two did not discuss the topic of homosexuality, their meeting was loaded with overtones given that President Museveni has been very critical of same-sex relations. But does this mean the autocratic head of state is finally rethinking his opinion on gay people? And is Africa finally ready to embrace same-sex marriages?
Going by the latest studies by international firms like the Pew Research Center, Africa is still quite far from accepting the idea of same-sex marriages. According to a study done by Pew Global Attitudes Project in 2007, at least 95 percent of Tanzanians believe homosexuality is an unacceptable way of life. In another report in 2013, the Pew Research Center concluded that, “Africans in predominantly Muslim countries remain among the least accepting of homosexuality”.
It is also estimated that at least nine in ten Nigerians believe homosexuality should be completely rejected by society. And in Senegal, Ghana, and Kenya, the percentages don’t change much.
Ray of Hope
As political landscapes continue to change across the continent, new ideologies are slowly taking shape and societies are becoming more accepting in as far as embracing same-sex relationships is concerned.
In Kenya for instance, a court in 2015 ruled in favor of the National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission – a non-governmental organization supporting the LGBT community – which had moved to court compel the Kenyan government to recognize it as a legal entity.
In its ruling, the court argued that refusing to register the commission was an infringement of the right of association for gay people. In Uganda, the controversial 2014 law criminalizing homosexuality has since been overturned, although the constitution still doesn’t recognize same-sex relationships.
New studies have shown a slight improvement in the rate of acceptance of gay people in many African countries, with only 87 percent of Nigerians supporting the legal ban on homosexuality. In South Africa, LGBT people enjoy constitutional and statutory protection from discrimination at work, school, and places of worship, as well as in provision of goods and services.
Full acceptance of gay people in Africa may take a while to happen but the few advances made so far point to a society that is slowly conforming to the new way of life. Some people actually see the struggle for gay rights as the same as the fight against racism.