Last year, Uganda was usurped in a conflict regarding anti-homosexual legislation and a clause mandating the death penalty. Rwanda contemplated criminalizing homosexuality until rapid-fire global campaign spread via internet forcing Paul Kagame’s government to announce that they would not be intervening in the private lives of its citizens. Today, Malawi faces the same conflict. Malawian president recently pardoned two young boys who were sentenced to 14 years of hard labor for being gay. Despite claiming the pardons were a result of “humanitarian grounds,” the pardons were more likely on “diplomatic or expedient grounds” given that Malawi is almost entirely dependent on foreign aid. Malawi president was under intense pressure for the state-sanctioned homophobia that is spreading across the African continent.
What is happening is clearly a cultural clash of two worlds. Western views of human rights are being forced upon countries in Africa who are reliant on the aid and relief provided by the western donors. Oddly enough, it was the colonial British who first criminalized sodomy (it is illegal in 38 of 53 countries) in Africa which prior to that largely ignored homosexual behavior. The article points out, “Homosexuality is certainly not a Western import, but both legislated homophobia and gay identity are.” For young urban people, sexuality is often a matter of identity and youth focus on being treated as equals in light of these new emerging social norms and traditions. Globalism is forcing the traditional groups in African to confront more-western ideals.
I have taken courses in African and African American studies. Most significantly, we discussed the concept of double-consciousness of African Americans growing up in the United States. Despite the facts that many Africans came to American centuries ago, the African American community still maintains a dual identity. African American youth are constantly pulled by the collectivist culture that extends back to the community based approach that echoes throughout the African continent. Likewise, African American youth are constantly drawn to the individualistic approach that “western societies” like the United States, Canada, and Europe impose. This tension between individualism and collectivism has been termed double-consciousness. I say all of this to say that the conflict that many African Americans face is now one that many Africans are being forced to grapple with.
From Richard D. Lewis’s book “When Cultures Collide,” Africans generally have strong values that parallel the multi-active and reactive cultures with overriding sense of family and kinship ties with a social obligation to the group. Despite poverty and dependence on the West, Africans take pride in their values and morality—which can sometimes mean scapegoating unpopular minorities in the name of a battle against Western decadence. Africans take to violence. Westerners turn to social and financial pressure. Western pressures only heighten the sense of African powerlessness that provokes homophobia in the first place and confirms that gay support is “western agenda” (and should therefore be discouraged). This vicious cycle is not a viable long-term solution. With the help of Desmond Tutu, South Africa has folded “gay rights” into a broader conception of “human rights.” The cultural conflict collides with political conflicts which is only heightened in light of powerful Globalism. This multi-faceted conflict will continue to rage until a concerted effort is made to create consciousness about the nature of the conflict and the underlying causes.
by Mikita Weaver
This article is in response to “Homosexuality and the battle for Africa’s soul” by Mark Gevisser (Mail & Guardian Online)