Op-Ed: Demonizing Gays in Africa
As acceptance of gays and lesbians has grown in the United States and Europe, intolerance and persecution has been rising in other parts of the world. African nations are leaders in this cruel and dehumanizing trend.
The latest alarms were triggered by a ban in Nigeria on same-sex relationships that was passed by Parliament in May and signed by President Goodluck Jonathan on Jan. 7. Nigeria is a leading oil producer and Africa’s most populous country, and the ban is considered the most significant setback yet to gay rights on the continent.
Although gay sex has been illegal in Nigeria since British colonial rule, the draconian new law criminalizes homosexuality, banning same-sex marriage and prescribing years in prison to anyone who makes a “public show” of same-sex relationships or participates in gay organizations. Even people who simply support gays are subject to criminal arrest and penalties.
Before the new law was enacted, convictions for gay sex were rare in the southern part of Nigeria and occasional in the mostly Muslim north. But since the law went into effect, as Adam Nossiter has reported in The Times, arrests of gays have multiplied and some people have sought asylum overseas. According to Amnesty International, homosexuality is illegal in 38 of 54 countries in Africa. It carries the death penalty in Mauritania, Sudan and Somalia; in northern Nigeria, where Islamic law is practiced, the penalty can be death by stoning. In Senegal, the press regularly “outs” gays and same-sex relations carry a penalty of five years in prison. Another severe law has been passed by Uganda’s Legislature, but President Yoweri Museveni has not and should not sign it.
Such laws violate commitments made by United Nations members in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other human rights documents.
If these nations cannot do the humane thing, they should at least consider their self-interest. For any leader who values stability, it makes no sense to promote new laws that foment greater hostility among people, like in Nigeria, where there is already ethnic tension.
Even in countries where antigay laws are not enforced, they provide an excuse for abuse — including blackmail and extortion — by police, Amnesty International said. It is unlikely that any of these countries can reach their full economic potential because many foreign entities may find it too risky to invest in such hostile environments. These governments, in abusing their citizens, are moving in dangerous and destructive directions.