An LGBTQ+ centre in Ghana shut its doors at the close of February 2021 after succumbing to pressure and blackmail from religious groups and state organisations. The Ghanaian national police raided the centre soon after its leaders were forced to flee from their office and hide themselves. Enraged citizens and supporters of this community took to social media to express their disgruntlement on the unjust treatment that the LGBTQ+ community has to endure on a daily basis not only in Ghana but across the entire continent.
Sub-Saharan Africa is notable for its conservative nature as a vast number of communities endorse traditional values where same-sex relationships are not tolerated and considered highly taboo. Herein, this explains the 32 out of 54 African countries that have chosen to outlaw homosexuality with extreme repercussions such as life imprisonment and death penalties to those found guilty of engaging in it. Perhaps more countries need to emulate South Africa’s and Cape Verde’s approach with regard to their liberal nature in accepting and treating those that belong to this community with the respect and dignity that they deserve.
Why is Africa such a difficult place for the LGBTQ+ community?
Religion plays a salient role in understanding this plight. Approximately 93% of Africans living in Sub-Saharan Africa either belong to the Christian or Muslim denomination thus religion has a remarkable effect on people’s beliefs and value systems, including their perception on homosexuality. Africans display a heightened sense of dedication when it comes to religion and their already existing conservative laws, this is depicted in their staunch opposition to homosexuality.
Homosexuality is primarily deemed as a western concept that permeated into Africa and corrupted it. ‘Western import’ or ‘white disease,’ are examples of negative connotations that are associated with it. Most leaders in Africa are strong advocators for homophobia and encourage it as a strategy used to preserve their cultures from Westernization and generate support from citizens.
What about policy reforms in the continent?
Regional commitments have been signed by a plethora of African governments which aim at the inclusion of all people and guarantee of human rights. One reputable commitment is ‘The African Charter‘ which was assumed in 1981 and ratified by all African governments except Sudan. This charter does not exclude anyone in the granting of its rights, with article 2 stating as follows:
“every individual shall be entitled to the rights and freedoms recognized and guaranteed in the Charter without distinction of any kind.”
The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights is also tasked with ensuring that the rights of African Union member states are protected. This framework operates on inclusivity adapting terms such as “all” and “everyone” with the aim of showcasing its commitment to “forgetting no one” as embraced in the Sustainable Development goals. These existing frameworks are integral in illuminating the rights of the LGBTQ+ society. In the past, they have been successful in providing a base for rational social action and progress because they champion for inclusivity in different aspects of life such as economic opportunities, equality and justice. However, a shortfall when it comes to these instruments is that they fail to mention and recognize the LGBTQ+ community as a minority group that is in need of protection. If we do not speak up about the LGBTQ+ community, it allows room for their continued mistreatment and discrimination.
It is crucial that within the African context, national governments that do not protect the LGBTQ+ start doing so with immediate effect and work towards incorporating them into their domestic laws. Those that already offer constitutional protection for LGBTQ+ people must ensure that the existing guarantees are a true reflection of the protection that is being practiced.
The continued use of social media in spreading awareness is vital and we are constantly urged to use whatever channels we have to speak up about major topics that continue to hinder Africans from living comfortable lives . The LGBTQ+ community should not live shadowy half-lives because of fear or even worse, flee their homes to settle in liberal countries where they can live in peace.
While some countries have taken the necessary steps in decriminalizing homosexuality and creating safe spaces for the the LGBTQ+ community, we still have a long way to go in our aspirations of becoming a homophobic free continent.