The legal changes are not only an affirmation of the right of LGBTQ people in Africa to love whom they choose but also serve as an inspiration to other African countries.
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Support for LGBTQ rights. Credit: Les Afriques

Currently, Africa counts for almost half of countries worldwide which criminalise homosexuality. The data comes from a 2020 global review by the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, and Intersex Association (ILGA), which found of the 54 countries within Africa, only 22 have legalised homosexuality.

LGBTQ rights remain taboo throughout the continent and, in some parts are even punishable by death in countries such as Mauritania, Nigeria, Somalia and South Sudan.

The majority of African nations which heavily penalize homosexuality are often former British colonies, where laws have been implemented, ruling against what are deemed to be “unnatural acts”.

Africa is also heavily influenced by religion. Africans are among the world’s most religious people. In 1910, only 9% of Africans were Christian, whereas as of 2018, that number has jumped to 63%. In sub-Saharan Africa alone, 93% were either Christian (63%) or Muslim (30%).

Amy Adamczyk, Professor of Sociology and Criminal Justice at City University of New York, expanded upon this in her article for The Conversation, saying: “Most religious texts say that homosexuality is problematic,

“More religious people are more likely to take these religious precepts seriously. When a large proportion of people are highly dedicated to their religion, everyone within the country tends to develop more conservative views.”

Muslim and Christian leaders often vocally criticise gay sex, utilising bible verses in their justification. As reported by DW, research indicates that African media often recite religious texts and officials when discussing homosexuality – much more than countries similar to the United States.

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Members of the Anglican Church in Zimbabwe protesting against homosexuality. Credit: The Conversation

Consequently, many LGBTQ+ communities within Africa still face stigma, discrimination and rejection from their home countries. The impact left many with threats to life and even extreme violence or rape due to their sexual orientation and gender identity.

Although the road looks bleak, for many hedge-way has been made. In 2006, South Africa became the first country within Africa to legalise same-sex relationships. The nation’s constitution now works to safeguard LGBTQ communities from discrimination based on sexual orientation. A bill implemented in 2018 also criminalised hate crimes and hate speech, providing up to a 3-year sentence for first-time offenders. The country most recently progressed in 2020, which saw South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa pass into law the Civil Union Amendment Act, stopping marriage officers from refusing to carry out same-sex marriages.

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President Ramaphosa passing the Civil Union Amendment Bill Into Law. Credit: iAfrica

South Africa was a significant step forward for the continent and sparked many heated debates throughout the region.  While legalising same-sex relationships is just the first step, it is vital for equality. It vastly heightens the psychological, physical and mental well-being of LGBTQ+ communities and those around them.

Here are 5 other African countries which have legalised same-sex relationships so far.

  1. Angola

Angola is the latest African nation to legalise same-sex relationships. The country passed a new law earlier in February 2021, which lifted the ban on same-sex relationships. Going a step further, policymakers gave LGBTQ communities protection against discrimination for their sexual orientation. Thus, Angola is now one of the only seven countries throughout Africa with some form of anti-discrimination laws in place. Offences are punishable by up to two years in jail.

2. Botswana

In a landmark moment for the region, Botswana’s High Court lifted the ban on both male and female same-sex relationships in 2019, calling it discriminatory and unconstitutional. The law overturned the previous 1965 ruling, which criminalised “carnal knowledge of any person against the order of nature”, punishable by up to seven years in jail.

3. Mozambique

In 2015, Mozambique overturned one of its colonial-era clauses ruling that same-sex relationships were “vices against nature”. As a result, the harassment of gays has become more uncommon, according to the Globe and Mail. Although Mozambique’s capital, Maputo, is tolerant enough to allow gay people to live openly, there is less liberalism in smaller towns and rural areas. This is according to Danilo da Silva, the executive director of Lambda,- the country’s leading LGBTQ rights group.

4. Lesotho

Prior to the Penal Code, homosexuality remained illegal for men. However, in 2010, the ban against homosexuality was lifted in its entirety. As the new law came into process, activism work concerning HIV/AIDS was more widespread and thus reached more within the community, offering prevention strategies for those most vulnerable.

5. Gabon

Gabon formally decriminalised homosexuality in 2020 when the country’s president, Ali Bongo Ondimba, signed a bill that repealed the former 2019 law. According to Reuters, 59 members of the Gabonese Senate voted in favour while 17 opposed. Human Rights Campaign President Alphonso David said in a press release: “Today’s historic signing of a law decriminalising same-sex relations in Gabon is a pivotal moment in the global fight for LGBTQ rights,

“This critical win for basic human rights gives us reason to hope for more awareness and more victories across the continent.”