AJUOK: How prejudice is used to mask real problems in Africa

Anti-gay agenda has recently become a tool of mobilisation for most African leaders.

In Summary
  • The MP sponsoring the Family Protection Bill to legislate on sexuality would have done well to instead bring a bill that proposes tougher penalties for corruption. 
  • Marginalisation is in fact more lethal the longer the non-marginalised maintain silence.
Uganda President Yoweri Museveni. He recently signed into law one of the world’s toughest anti-LGBTQ laws.
ANTI-GAY LAW: Uganda President Yoweri Museveni. He recently signed into law one of the world’s toughest anti-LGBTQ laws.

Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni recently signed into law one of the world’s toughest anti -LGBTQ laws, including the death penalty for “aggravated homosexuality”.

A quick look at countries around the world which retain the death penalty for LGBTQ people reveals an interesting cast of, among others, Afghanistan, Somalia, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Mauritania and Yemen.

Put differently, this is a list of the failed states, absolute monarchies and dictatorships. Some could say Uganda is in “good” company here.

At a press conference with US President Barack Obama at State House, Nairobi, in July 2018, a journalist asked President Uhuru Kenyatta what Kenya’s policy and his own views were on LGBTQ rights. President Kenyatta responded that Kenya had bigger problems than the matter of sexual orientation.

I suppose he meant to say that we could all live and let live, because confronted by problems such as famine, a shaky economy and divisions created by politics and politicians, there were bigger things to worry about. What he probably didn’t contend with was that as the world becomes more liberal, this is a topic that wouldn’t be swept under the carpet for long, or at all.

There is a noticeable pattern when it comes to LGBTQ talk in many countries across Africa. The anti-gay agenda spikes a lot when regimes experiencing a lack of legitimacy or a sharp drop in popularity, if they had that popularity to begin with, start seeking mass validation within the population.

Effectively, homophobia becomes merely a tool for mobilisation of what I would term “heterosexual nationalism”, an us-versus-them hate-fuelled attempt to find a rallying point for citizens when all else has failed. Predictably, many regimes that push the anti-gay agenda are usually the same ones that preside over rampant corruption, shrinking freedoms and poor governance.

The LGBTQ community has for long been framed as “unAfrican” and “unchristian”, a caricature aided in no small measure by Christian fundamentalists from foreign countries, who are said to spend top dollar on the anti-gay agenda.

Never mind the fact that Christianity itself, and indeed all major religions in this country, have foreign foundations that are patently unAfrican. Never mind too that in painting the perfect picture of African and Christian grounding, it is lost on the users of discriminative philosophies that the same African and Christian teachings abhor theft, killing of the innocent and blasphemy, among others, which “crimes” these governments are almost happy to live with.

Discrimination is largely a product of hypocrisy. There is a simpler way of looking at it. For instance, a thief considers the drunkard a worse human being. The drunkard probably sees the adulterous person as the worst person ever created. The adulterous person then sees the murderer as the greatest sinner. And so forth and so on. It’s a chain of self-righteous posturing all over the place.

Ultimately, this hypocrisy at the national stage is weaponised as a political tool. Historically, Kenya has been a 60-year theatre of tribal and cultural divisions. Election campaigns revolve around the tribes we come from, or cultural differences like which communities practice circumcision.

The mirage of superiority and inferiority is then cemented around these divisions. Discrimination based on sexual orientation works much the same way through the creation of the “we are better than them” phenomenon.

As a student of history, I am interested on how our country has been run down over the years. I am painfully aware that those who have killed the dreams of our freedom fighters and founding fathers are the same ones who have babysat corruption and the economic doom of the citizens for years.

The cancer of skewed appointments in the public service, based on tribe, continues to hurt the country. The pandemic of rape and child defilement lives with us daily. On any given day, citizens will troop to public hospitals and find no medicine and no doctors.

And none of these failures can be blamed on the LGBTQ community. If anything, the whodunit list of suspects will show a steady stream of characters who identify themselves as heterosexuals.

In fact, the Kenyan MP sponsoring the Family Protection Bill intended to legislate on gender and sexuality would have done well to instead bring a bill that proposes tougher penalties for corruption, tribalism, theft of public resources and climate change. For these are our real challenges as a nation.

I have already stated that discrimination is a product of hypocrisy. But it thrives on the silence of the majority. Marginalisation is in fact more lethal the longer the non-marginalised maintain silence. Because no one is born ready to hate, hatred is an “acquired taste”, taught and indoctrinated over time.

The problem is that since hatred targeting a particular group is never really sustainable in the long term, those who carry out such indoctrination have to keep finding other targets once the shark has tasted blood, so to speak.

This then becomes an indictment on our failure to speak out for the rights of others, because those who blatantly violate the rights of others, soon come for ours too.

Since Christianity is quoted a lot in the anti-gay agenda, it is impossible to discuss this without mentioning the elephant in the room. At the time of writing this, the bodies being dug out of the mass graves at what used to be the base of the infamous Pastor Paul Mackenzie’s church in Shakahola, Kilifi county, are approaching 300, with phase three of exhumations yet to begin.

Let me for a moment ignore the question of where the intelligence apparatus was when hundreds of citizens died following cultic indoctrination, and focus on the fact that from this saga, the larger church in Kenya has been on trial for teachings that fall short of the glory of Jesus Christ.

But the bigger picture is that quoting religion to advance discrimination, when religion itself, or sections of it, now stands indicted over activities that lead to mass deaths, is not logical. The same applies to the mesmerising references to our “Africanness”.

I don’t quite know the true measure of an Africa in the year of our lord 2023, but quite often, the guys who ask us to return to our African roots in a debate are characters who would never have made it even as village headmen in the true African setup.

A lot of the things that we considered African have since been abandoned. Otherwise, I would be meeting countrymen adorned in leopard skin in city streets, communicating using cow horns. There are new realities all over our world, and new sociocultural trends that my grandfather wouldn’t understand if he rose from his grave today.

It is massively hypocritical to nitpick which “African things” we want to hang on and which ones must go. At any rate, Africa as a community of hundreds of ethnic identities never came packaged as one culture with a standard for all.

But I’m sure the one philosophy that must have practiced across Africa was to live and let live, for that surely was an easier way to dwell, rather than perpetuating discrimination in the land.

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