Homosexuality In Africa Is Still Taboo

The controversy surrounding Uganda's pending anti-gay bill has increased attention on homosexuality elsewhere in Africa. Saratu Abiola, a reporter for AllAfrica.com, reviews why homosexuality is already illegal in more than 30 African nations.

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LYNN NEARY, host:

Uganda is not the only African nation taking legal action against homosexuals. In Malawi, two gay men were arrested immediately following a same-sex marriage ceremony held in December. And, last week, five men in Kenya were arrested for helping plan a gay wedding. They were later released. Homosexuality is illegal in more than 30 African nations. South Africa is the only country on the continent to have legalized gay marriage.

Saratu Abiola is a reporter for allafrica.com whos been covering this situation. She joins us now in our Washington studios. Saratu, welcome to the program.

Ms. SARATU ABIOLA (Reporter, allafrica.com): Thank you for having me.

NEARY: So, how is the pending legislation or is the pending legislation in Uganda affecting homosexuals elsewhere in Africa right now?

Ms. ABIOLA: Its really hard to say. As you correctly mentioned, over 30 African countries already have laws on their books criminalizing homosexual conduct - activity. And as the...

NEARY: The activist, yeah.

Ms. ABIOLA: ...the activist mentioned, theres a sort of theres an attitude towards homosexuality thats, you know, basically based on otherizing(ph) homosexuality. And, you know, sadly its pretty much - its prevalent pretty much everywhere.

NEARY: Is has that sort of long been part of African culture or is this something new? Is something new happening thats bringing this to our attention? What do you think?

Ms. ABIOLA: Once again hard to say. Senegal, for example, has had a lot of issues with gay Senegalese stretching as far back as the early 2000s or perhaps even further than that. Nigeria: There was a young man named Bisi Alimi who was once people found that he was gay, ended up being expelled from the university. He couldnt finish his degree. He came out on national television - quite brave considering the society. And, you know, he was harassed so much he actually had to leave the country. He now lives in London.

NEARY: Yeah.

Ms. ABIOLA: So, this is not really a new thing per se. Homophobic sentiments have basically been prevalent for a while.

NEARY: Is it possible that the Western media, sort of, paying closer attention right now and that thats part of why...

Ms. ABIOLA: Exactly.

NEARY: ...were hearing so much about this?

Ms. ABIOLA: Yes, absolutely, I think another thing that gives this even more prevalence is, you know, with Uganda the news that American evangelicals could possibly be involved, and also the small section of people that believe that homosexuality can be cured. And their impact on, you know, the shaping of this bill in Uganda has also allowed, you know, there to be even more attention on Uganda specifically. But its not really a new thing. Its been happening for a while.

NEARY: Yeah. At the end of that interview with Julius Kaggwa, we were talking about the international community...

Ms. ABIOLA: Hmm.

NEARY: What can the international community do?

Ms. ABIOLA: Mm-hmm.

NEARY: But, you know, leaders in Malawi, leaders in Uganda, have said that the West needs to stop interfering...

Ms. ABIOLA: Hmm.

NEARY: ...in their countrys policy on homosexuality. So, is this sort of attention is being paid, and to some degree the uproar that were seeing in the U.S. and Europe, is that helping or hurting gay people in Africa, do you think?

Ms. ABIOLA: If I may zoom out a little bit, you find that in sexuality in general, in most African societies is not talked about, much less homosexuality. And when something isnt talked about, you know, and the people that are gay are not going to come out because you just dont talk about things like that, its easy to otherize(ph), you know, to say, oh, that only happens in America, you know, that only happens in England.

So, when you have that going on, yeah, and these people, you know, and these people are coming out, theyre basically - measures such as the ones taken in Uganda are seen as an effort to preserve the culture and preserve the national identity. And the narrative of Western media and Western governments, for example, the U.N. is thinking of pulling back funding for a major agency in Uganda because of the legislation. A U.S. Senator, I believe Ron Wyden, is looking into - if its possible to pull a AGOA funding U.S. Africa trade funding from...

NEARY: Some all these things could possibly backfire?

Ms. ABIOLA: Exactly.

NEARY: Yeah.

Ms. ABIOLA: I mean, not all possibly, yes.

NEARY: Yeah, all right, well, thanks so much for joining us.

Ms. ABIOLA: Thank you for having me.

NEARY: Saratu Abiola is a reporter for allafrica.com and she joined us in our studio in Washington.

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