Joaquim Chissano

Joaquim Chissano

In a significant move, Joaquim Chissano, the former President of Mozambique (1986 – 2005), has urged African leaders to respect the rights of LGBT people.

In an open letter, Chissano, who is now the co-chair of the High-Level Task Force for the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), wrote that leaders should “take a strong stand for fundamental human rights, and advance the trajectory for basic freedoms”.

He went on to say that this “means granting every one the freedom – and the means – to make informed decisions about very basic aspects of one’s life – one’s sexuality, health, and if, when and with whom to have relationships, marry or have children – without any form of discrimination, coercion or violence”.

According to Chissano, “We can no longer afford to discriminate against people on the basis of age, sex, ethnicity, migrant status, sexual orientation and gender identity, or any other basis – we need to unleash the full potential of everyone.

“As an African who has been around a long time, I understand the resistance to these ideas. But I can also step back and see that the larger course of human history, especially of the past century or so, is one of expanding human rights and freedoms. African leaders should be at the helm of this, and not hold back. Not at this critical moment,” he said.

Chissano ended off the letter by quoting the late Nelson Mandela, who said: “To be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”

Chissano’s call echoes one made by former Botswana President Festus Mogae in 2011 for Africa to decriminalise homosexuality. Like Chissano, he only spoke out on the issue after he was no longer in office.

During a BBC debate on homosexuality in Africa, Mogae revealed that during his ten year tenure as president he ordered police not prosecute gays and lesbians under his country’s anti-gay laws.

He explained that he had not attempted to decriminalise homosexuality while president because “I did not want to lose an election just for gays”.

Homosexuality is not specifically illegal in Mozambique or Botswana but same-gender sex can be prosecuted as a “practice against nature” or an “indecent practice,” although prosecutions are rare. 

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