The on-and-off controversy related to homosexuality in Africa is again in the air, thanks to some Western leaders who have publicly and shamelessly announced that they will tie part of the aid to African countries to observation of the homosexual rights benchmark.
Notorious for this kind of stand is British Prime Minister David Cameron, who used the recent Commonwealth Heads of Governments media limelight to vocally warn economically weak countries against the consequences of violating homosexual rights.
As expected, reaction to this stance has been instant in many African capitals. At home the President of Zanzibar, Dr Ali Mohammed Shein said at a press conference that the issue of gay rights is not acceptable in the society and amending existing laws or introducing new ones to guarantee gay rights is out of question.
The Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation as well as his cabinet colleague in-charge of the Gender, Children and Community Development Ministry, also came out vocally with one clear message - that Tanzania is not ready to be arm-twisted by the aid cutting threat and negate social principles its people hold dear.
Reaction is not only at top leadership level. Members of the elite, especially urban based professionals, religious leaders and some politicians have been deeply touched by these developments and are busy brainstorming them. Hence the ongoing hot debate in the media about homosexual rights in general, and David Cameron’s stand on the matter, in particular. It is a hot topic even among other urban dwellers, a good number of whom happen to know a few things on current affairs.
This development, like many other happenings, has two sides of the proverbial coin. Much as Mr Cameron and company have upset and infuriated many Africans, yet we can use this opportunity to work on a few things.
First, we can enlighten the so-called international human rights crusaders on the current feelings of many Africans on homosexuality and related issues, as well as on the folly and consequences of attempting to fast-track the controversial gays and lesbians rights in this kind of environment, especially when external forces seem determined to play a leading role in the ill-timed adventure.
Efforts should be made to make them understand that the African society in general, is not ready for the changes they are advocating, much as we already have some gays and lesbians in our midst, whose number is probably increasing, even as many people don’t admit this reality. Playing ostrich is the name of the game.
Those who have had the opportunity to live along the Indian Ocean coastal areas of East Africa, in Zanzibar and even some towns in the East African region know too well that male prostitutes are common, and even casually frequent some recreational centres.
Same sex relationships have existed in some boarding schools, prisons; commercial farms etc. for a long time and still exist. Let it be noted, however, that those involved in what are regarded as unnatural sexual encounters are very much frowned upon and condemned as social misfits. Extremists still equate them to animals, and you have self-appointed moral high priests who say the characters deserve death!
How does one expect the state to legalise homosexuality and same-sex marriages under such social environment, even when there are threats to curtail foreign aid? State actors know very well that mishandling this issue can easily put their careers at risk.
By the way, it should be noted that issues related to homosexuals and their rights are yet to be completely resolved even in developed countries and remain highly controversial.
Hence, entertaining the idea that gays and lesbians’ rights can easily be adopted in the diverse social, ethnic, and religious environment which define Africa is to expect too much, to put it mildly.
All said this development has a silver lining. It has woken up many and is creating awareness about dangers inherent in over-dependence on foreign aid.
This is good. If what is happening can make us engage in serious soul searching to find out why the continent rich in natural resources is surviving on handouts, then Mr Cameron and company will have made a good contribution to our continent.
Henry Muhanika is a Media Consultant. [email protected]