From 26 June to 3 July, US President Barack Obama will be visiting Africa. The visit takes him to Senegal, South Africa and Tanzania.
According a statement released by the White House, Obama will use his visit ‘to reinforce the importance that the United States places on our deep and growing ties with countries in sub-Saharan Africa, including through expanding economic growth, investment, and trade; strengthening democratic institutions; and investing in the next generation of African leaders’.
The statement further said Obama’s trip will ‘underscore the president’s commitment to broadening and deepening cooperation between the United States and the people of sub-Saharan Africa to advance regional and global peace and prosperity’. There was no mention of urgent human rights issues in the region.
Obama’s visit is happening at a difficult and challenging time for gays and lesbians in the region. President Obama will be doing the continent a great service if he could use his visit to condemn the rising wave of homophobia and rally support and solidarity for gay people, who are being persecuted across the region.
Obama is coming to Africa at a time Nigeria’s anti-gay marriage bill is awaiting the approval of President Goodluck Jonathan; at a time a similar bill is being considered by the parliament in Uganda, at a time sub Sahara African is experiencing an upsurge in anti-gay sentiments.
In many African countries, there are moves to tighten the laws against homosexuality. There is a general clamp down on gay people by state and non-state actors. In two ﾖ Senegal and Tanzania ﾖ of the three countries Obama is visiting, homosexuality is a crime. South Africa is the only country that has embraced gay rights and has legalised gay marriage. But many African countries are reluctant to emulate South Africa. They claim gay rights are un-African and are incompatible with ‘traditional African values’ as they understand them.
Many Africans say homosexuality is a western ‘immoral’ import to corrupt Africa. Obama should use his visit to reiterate his government’s unequivocal support for gay rights and opposition to violence and discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity.
“Obama should put it categorically… that a continent of people who suffered most from racial apartheid, should not now become a cauldron of sexual apartheid.”
During his visit Obama should send a strong message to Nigeria and Uganda and pressure them to set aside the proposed anti gay law, and instead get them to take measures to decriminalise homosexuality. He should let Africans know there will be no breakdown of ‘traditional African values’ or morality if homosexuality is decriminalised. That instead African countries stand to benefit and become beacons of human rights if homosexuals are treated and respected as human beings and if the rights of gay people are recognised and upheld as human rights.
He should try and disabuse the minds of Africans who think that gay rights are un-African, that gay rights are western, and let them know that some of the gay people are Africans and that gay rights are universal human rights.
Obama should make it clear to African governments it is in their own interest to stop persecuting gays, and state sponsored homophobia is antithetical to African development and progress in this 21st century.
Obama should put it categorically to Africans the continent stands to gain nothing, absolutely nothing from sanctioning violence and discrimination against people with a different sexual orientation, and that a continent of people who suffered most from racial apartheid, should not now become a cauldron of sexual apartheid. He should draw the attention of Christian and Islamic faith leaders in the region who use religion to fuel homophobia in the region to the great disservice they are doing to Africa and to humanity at large.
During his visit to Ghana In 2009, Obama emphasised the importance of Africa’s self-determination. ‘Africa’s future is up to Africans’ he said. President Obama should, this time, let Africans know the way to determine or shape their future is not to kill or prison Africans who are homosexuals; it is not to throw gay rights advocates into jail. It is not to portray traditional African values as if they stand for hatred, intolerance and persecution of sexual minorities, as if any thing African is backward, not forward looking, retrogressive not progressive.
He should ask Africans to pitch their tent with civilisation, not barbarism.
Obama should persuade African states to end immediately the gay witch-hunt and the scapegoating of homosexuals. Obama should emphasise the connection between gay rights and the quest for peace in the region.
Africa is currently grappling with many ethnic and sectarian conflicts. Obama should let African leaders know their governments cannot afford to add to the conflict situation on the continent by sanctioning antagonism, oppression, violence and discrimination against gay people.