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Can Africans accept gays?

Last update - Thursday, April 8, 2010, 13:02 By Ukachukwu Okorie

The issue of gay rights is the latest to kick up a storm of controversy across Africa. The notion of homosexuality has always turned the faces of most Africans pale; however, South Africa made great strides towards enshrining equal rights for gays and lesbians when it became the first country in Africa to recognize same-sex marriage.

But South Africa’s beacon of hope burns alone in the continent. As I write this, anti-gay sentiment is spreading rapidly across Africa, allegedly fuelled by inflammatory sermons from US preachers. At present a gay couple is on trial in Malawi over charges of “unnatural acts and gross indecency”. Meanwhile, countries like Uganda and Nigeria are planning to enact penal laws to serve as deterrents for gay people, the former even proposing the death penalty.
Africa today has become the focus for advocates of gay rights, from Malawi to Kenya, Uganda and now Zimbabwe, where even Morgan Tsvangirai is striving to ensure that gay rights are not enshrined in the new constitution. But why is he backing his long-time adversary Robert Mugabe on this issue? And what are the consequences?
President Mugabe once infamously said that “homosexuals are lower than pigs and dogs”. He has also lambasted demands for gay rights to be recognised in the proposed new constitution as “total insanity”. And he has an unlikely supporter in the form of his opposition’s leader.
In the western media, Tsvangirai looks certain to get into trouble with his main backers on the international front. Columnists and bloggers are calling him all sorts of names – but they don’t know the reality on the ground.
It is important for people to understand that there are some things many African communities cannot accept, and homosexuality is one of them. Tsvangirai could support the struggle for gay rights and continue his good lad status with the west  – for all we know that could be exactly what he wants to do – but it would be political suicide in a country where the vast majority detests the idea of same-sex unions. Most definitely, the Zimbabwean Prime Minister is stuck between the devil and deep blue sea.
As the constitutional brouhaha rages on, it will be vital to watch the issues unfold – as they speak not just for Zimbabwe, but for Africa as a whole.

Ukachukwu Okorie is originally from Nigeria and writes weekly for Metro Éireann. Visit his website at

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