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Homosexuality and the battle against African Conservatism

By Tsungai Chipato

When President Obama in his inaugural speech, January 2013 endorsed homosexuality as being equivalent to civil rights, a shot across the bow reverberated loud and clear to the rest of the World, Africa and especially to all anti-gay governments everywhere.

Mugabe is seen here with Yoweri Museveni
Homophobes: Mugabe seen here with Yoweri Museveni

At that moment, America had officially put them on notice, from thereon out gay rights would now be the new civil rights agenda to be championed for.

When Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni then went on and did a recent CNN interview calling out homosexuality as being nothing more than disgusting, his visible visceral disgust at homosexuality on camera inadvertently muddied the concise points he had been trying to elaborate; on why he had signed the anti-gay bill in Uganda.

The fallout from this diplomatic gaffe is already being felt by his administration with the World Bank revoking its US$90 million development fund.

If we were to actually peel away; the layers of the homosexuality debate and put aside the religious and scientific arguments commonly used; we would finally arrive to the real reason why homosexuality has such a long time to go in advocating; before it finally gains ground in Africa. To put it plainly; it would all come down to first understanding what African conservatism is; and what it constitutes.

As Friedrich Hayek succinctly said in his classic Road to Serfdom, everything in life has a cost attached to it, whether one chooses to see it or not, and moreover in life there are no solutions just tradeoffs. What the international world fails to realize; is that for many Africans, accepting homosexuality comes with a perceived cost of accepting very expensive tradeoffs.

Many gay activists fail to understand that Africans subconsciously fear that they will incur an unknown social cost by accepting homosexuality. It is a fact that the fundamental ethos and identity of what African culture is built and based upon would have to seismically shift in order to philosophically accommodate and support homosexuality within Africa’s social psyche. Talking points packaged under the guise of science and religion; really have very little to do with African homosexuality, because at its core, it is a purely spiritual problem.

Due to this subconscious problem; as President Museveni in his CNN interview pointed out, most Africans are willing to be wrong in their view of homosexuality; even if history later proves them to have been on the flawed side, most are still willing to take that chance so long as they are left alone.

To criticize African views on homosexuality when in the United States the Governor of Arizona had to veto a bill discriminating against gay people or where 70% of black people in California voted for proposition 8; a ballot initiative encouraging a constitutional amendment against same sex marriage in California, is just pure hypocrisy.

The hate and venom attached to homosexuality also confuses the arguments and causes unnecessary violence towards gay people; mainly because people fail to logically channel their emotions. In Africa’s past as stated by anthropologists, homosexuality has always been there albeit in small pockets.

Being gay never actually affected the belief system of the African community thus it was never taken seriously; homosexuality was considered taboo and one of those unspeakable acts that most people; had observed to occur in nature as well as humans, however due to its uncomfortable attributes it was therefore left for the ancestors to figure out. Most people in the village or kingdom left it alone because it rarely affected the way of life for the majority of Africans until colonialism.

Gay people actually have Christianity and Western culture to thank, for the hate and violence now attached to homosexuality. The dehumanizing manner in which we view gay people today is a throwback version of how Westerners changed the view of slavery in the Americas attaching it with violence and hate by dehumanizing Africans.

The majority of the discourse being used for and against homosexuality is based on inadequate propositions being hurled by both camps. African leaders argue that homosexuality is not natural and is not religiously acceptable; whilst gay rights activists argue that homosexuality has been part of African culture ever since the beginning of time and that colonialism and religion made it an abomination, all arguments are partly correct.

To truly begin arguing against homosexuality Africans need to frame the argument from where they really base their principles. Homosexuality is not considered kosher because it goes against certain key fundamentals of African conservatism. At its spiritual core it is seen as incompatible with the African way of life because it attacks African core beliefs.

Duty and responsibility come first in African values before love and choice, family is held supreme and extended family is considered essential unlike in the Western world were families are somewhat detached from their relatives. Anthropologists such as Stephen O Murray have found evidence showing signs of homosexuality in Africa’s past before colonialism, however these anthropologists have been quick to glaze over the context of which this homosexuality existed within the African way of life or how it was perceived by the community.

African conservatism is based on oral tradition and a spiritual psychology that is devoid of Western religion. Its main tenets rely in the belief of an interlocking family system cemented by a strong belief in procreation and reproduction; this is the starting point of African philosophy. Homosexuality was never taken seriously in the village because it failed to achieve these two basic principles.

Where homosexuality existed it was usually in the ether and not really understood so it became either taboo or spiritually above the pay grade of the community often left to the ancestors to deal with. Homosexuality however never really interfered with the fabric of the community and thus its people were still considered part of the African community. Again for the record it was Christianity and Westernization that brought a revisionist view of homosexuality and influenced the hate and violence towards it.

Actually whether homosexuality existed in Africa’s past is really beside the point, the main problem seen with homosexuality has always been on a subconscious level where, it is perceived as being directly in conflict with the belief system of family and reproduction.

The world needs to understand that forcing African countries to change their views will only result in more violence being targeted against gay people, if the Western world really wants to convince Africa they are going to have to do it the old fashioned way and put their money where their mouth is, roll up their sleeves and start winning the hearts and minds of people one African at a time.

Tsungai Chipato is a Journalist and blogger within Toronto Canada. You can contact him @: mugaradzakasungwa@gmail.com