Should rights be based on sexuality, or by the virtue of being human? With the exclusion of South Africa, LGBTQ rights in Africa as a whole are very rare or limited, especially in the West.
LGBTQ Rights in Africa: A Little Bit of History
When we compare LGBTQ rights in West African countries to many other areas of the world, we would see that those rights are still very deeply out of enforcement. The attitude of the government towards these rights is a total dismay and one would wonder whether the LGBTQ community is a part of the citizens of these countries or not. It will be typically untrue to say that the act of homosexuality is absent from most traditional African societies since the historians have found facts about the very existence of homosexuality in traditional African setting. For instance, the ‘Yan Daudu’ community in the northern part of Nigeria, is a group of people belonging to the Hausa subculture, whose men act like women and engage in sexual relationships with other men.
Precolonial wise, among the Pangwe people of Cameroon in West Africa, homosexuality was practiced between men of varying ages and to this culture, it was a way of transferring wealth. In the 18th and early 19th century, Asante court which is now known as Ghana, allowed male slaves to serve as concubines who also dressed like women. The kingdom of Dahomey now known as the modern-day République du Bénin, the high officers or the chief of the inner court of the king were known as royal wives and played an important part at the court.
Transgender History in Africa
Even the contemporary fact of transgenderism, as we know it, is not entirely foreign to Africa. Due to the lack of modern science, transformation in the pre-colonial Africa was not all that advanced. In Ndongo Kingdom, there was a record of a woman who ruled as a king and was known as the Nzinga, which loosely translates to “warrior woman”. This ruler dressed like a man and surrounded herself with men who in turn dressed like women in her inner chambers.
This proves that it would be the most absurd statement to say that homosexuality was influenced by colonization, but we could say that homophobia was imported as a whole to the African region. During the late sixteenth century, for instance, an English writer and traveler by the name of Andrew Battell, wrote about an African community in the present day Angola: “they are beastly in their living, for they have men in women’s apparel, whom they keep among their wives”.
LGBTQ Community: The Present, and Beyond
With this early notion of homophobia about Africa and the prevalence of strong religious views, one would not expect anything less from famous African leaders who have adopted these homophobic thoughts and have publicly declared war against the LGBTQ community in this modern time. Zimbabwe’s president Robert Mugabe is known for saying things like “gays are worse than pigs and dogs”. Hence, most African countries have harsh laws pertaining to the LGBTQ community which are sometimes strengthened by severe anti-gay laws, especially in West Africa. Gay people in this part of Africa are not free to express their sexuality or share equal rights with other citizens. They are often targeted by mobs, often blackmailed, cheated and in some extreme cases, raped and beaten to death or stoned to death.
The governments of these West African countries have passed stern laws targeting the LGBTQ community, and one can’t even expect a friendly approach from other citizens who are not part of this community. For instance, in Ghana, same-sex sexual activity is a criminal offense that is punishable by the criminal code of Ghana of 1960, and the law of the country even go as far as endorsing sentences of up to twenty-five years of imprisonment to anybody convicted of the act.
The laws of this West African country also shuns the adoption of children by anyone involved in same-sex activity. These idiotic laws have aided several discriminating actions that were often overlooked by the judiciary of that country. In 2013, an individual who pretended to be a gay person visited another gay man and killed him out of personal hatred, in the Brong Ahafo region of Ghana. This is not particular to Ghana alone but the whole of West Africa.
Nigeria’s former president, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, heartily signed into law the Same-Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act. Nigeria as a country had already put in place punitive laws against its LGBTQ community, but upon the signing of the recent law, the populace has tacitly been encouraged to mob those who engage in homosexuality. The Nigerian law went to its own extreme by not only prohibiting the people from same-sex marriages but also endorsing a 14-year jail sentence for such offenders. The law also prescribes a 10-year sentence for any friend or ally “who administers, witnesses, abets or aids” in any form of “gender-nonconforming” or homosexual activity. Furthermore, the law prohibits the opening of gay clubs, organizations, strip clubs or societies, and also prohibits any public show of same-sex relationships and such an offense is liable to a term of 10 years’ imprisonment.”
With such harsh laws that pervade African countries, one would even question the existence of human rights in those areas, because if they truly were “rights” then why should it be only limited to one type of human?
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