July 9 (GIN) – Despite a small but visible increase in public tolerance toward the gay community, African leaders continue to press for the criminalization of and, in a few cases, the death penalty for homosexuality.
Their latest condemnations come in the wake of President Barack Obama’s Africa trip and his praise for the Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage.
Senegalese President Macky Sall responded: “You said it; we have different cultures. We have different religions. We have different traditions. And even in countries where this has been decriminalized and homosexual marriage is allowed, people don’t share the same views.
“Senegal is a very tolerant country … but we are still not ready to decriminalize homosexuality. While we have respect for the rights of homosexuals, for the time being, we are still not ready to change the law.”
This week, a French initiative to fight discrimination against gays in the Ivory Coast was rebuffed by President Alassane Ouattara. “We have laws in Côte d’Ivoire,” he said during a visit to the city of Korhogo in the north. “We have traditions too; we will stick to them.”
Ivory Coast Minister Gnamien Konan commented on the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision on gay marriage: “It’s an aberration. It is a radical deviation from our moral and cultural values as a people.”
Gay rights organizations can be found all over the continent fighting laws that make their sexual preferences criminal. Under Kenyan law, homosexual acts are punishable by up to 14 years in prison.
Lawmakers in Nigeria and Liberia are currently reviewing bills to make their anti-gay laws even tougher.
In Uganda, a bill proposing the death penalty for homosexuals has once again resurfaced. In Cameroon, two men were sentenced to prison by a judge who said the suspects appeared gay, in part because they ordered Bailey’s Irish Cream at a bar. The sentence was later overturned.
Homosexual acts are a crime in 38 African countries.
Eric Ohena Lembembe, executive director of CAFAIDS, based in Yaounde, Cameroon, said: “Anti-gay thugs are targeting those who support equal rights on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Unfortunately, a climate of hatred and bigotry in Cameroon, which extends to high levels in government, reassures homophobes that they can get away with these crimes.”
South Africa, in contrast, was one of the first nations to approve gay marriage in 2006. It is the only country in Africa to have done so, though being openly gay can be challenging in more traditional communities.
On June 30, Duduzile Zozo, a 26-year-old lesbian, was raped and murdered in Thokoza, a township south of Johannesburg. Gauteng premier Nomvula Mokonyane called the act “brutal, senseless and unacceptable.”
“Our heartfelt condolences go out to the Zozo family. Our prayers are with you,” she said.