Culture, Opinion

Breaking The Silence

Nmesoma Okwudili


April 1, 2023

Struggles of The LGBTQ Community in Africa

The LGBTQ movement has its roots in the early 20th century when same-sex identities and relationships started to be recognised and celebrated in Europe and the United States.

The movement gained prominence in the 1960s and 1970s as a result of the Stonewall riots in New York City, which were sparked by police brutality against LGBTQ people. Since then, the LGBTQ movement has spread around the world, with activists advocating for equal rights and protections regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.

The emergence of the LGBTQ movement in Africa is a relatively new phenomenon. Few African activists began advocating for these rights in the early 2000s. Social media has been a significant contributor to instilling fear and raising awareness of these communities across the continent.

While the movement has grown in popularity around the world in recent years, Africa is no exception. Despite a growing push for LGBTQ rights and acceptance in recent years, homosexuality has traditionally been stigmatised, lambasted, and criminalised in many African countries.

This movement has been led by activists, community organisations, and international advocacy groups who have worked to spread LGBTQ+ awareness and promote equality and inclusion across the continent.

Africa is home to 33 of the 69 countries that prohibit same-sex relationships. These laws were frequently left over by colonial authority. Their ambiguous language, such as “carnal knowledge against the order of nature,” resonates with the times.

While same-sex relationships and non-binary gender identities have existed throughout the history of the continent, it is only in recent years that the aforementioned community and advocacy groups have begun to orchestrate and make their voices heard. This can be attributed in part to increased access to information and communication technologies, as well as global trends towards a massive level of acceptance and recognition of LGBTQ rights.

Despite some progress, this community of individuals faces significant challenges across much of Africa, and many leaders have been slow to address these issues.

There have, however, been some notable exceptions. South Africa and Seychelles, for example, have made strides in promoting LGBTQ rights and protections. South Africa became the first African country to legalise same-sex unions in 2006, and Seychelles repealed its prohibition on homosexual behaviour in 2016. South Africa, in particular, has some of the most progressive LGBTQ laws on the continent. Former President Nelson Mandela famously stated that “freedom cannot be achieved unless the LGBT community is set free from persecution.”

African leaders’ reactions to the LGBTQ movement have been mixed. Many people have publicly condemned homosexuality as unnatural and incompatible with traditional African values, while others have expressed support and called for greater recognition of their rights. South Africa is the only African country that allows same-sex marriage, and the constitution explicitly protects LGBTQ rights. Public displays of same-sex affection are frequently met with violence, harassment, and condemnation in other African countries.

The fight for LGBTQ rights has become increasingly contentious in many parts of the world, including several African countries where individuals who identify as LGBTQ face little to no legal recognition or protection.

Few African leaders have taken steps to address LGBTQ issues in their respective countries, but progress has been uneven and frequently met with opposition from conservative segments of society.

Other African countries, on the other hand, have taken a more hostile stance towards the LGBTQ community. Many countries still have laws that make homosexuality illegal, with penalties ranging from fines to life imprisonment. There have even been attempts in countries such as Nigeria and Uganda to pass legislation that would impose the death penalty for homosexual acts.

In Nigeria, the continent’s most populous country, several factors have stifled the growth of the LGBTQ movement, including;

  • Nigeria has strict laws that make homosexuality and same-sex relationships illegal. Infringement on these laws is considered a criminal offence punishable by up to 14 years in prison. This has made it difficult for LGBTQ people to openly express their sexuality or advocate for their rights.
  • Social stigma: Homosexuality is highly stigmatised in Nigeria, with many people considering it immoral and “un-African”. This means that this group of people is subjected to discrimination and violence, and as a result, they may be shunned by their families and communities.
  • Lack of support: The LGBTQ community faces a lack of support from the government, civil society organisations, and religious institutions. This means they may have difficulty accessing healthcare, education, and other essential services.
  • Violence and persecution: LGBTQ people face violence and persecution in Nigeria, including physical attacks, harassment, and even death. This has alarmed and worried many people.

Other African countries have also expressed their disdain for this movement in various ways, some of which are as follows:

In 2019, the Kenyan Supreme Court upheld the country’s sodomy laws, claiming that they were not discriminatory because they applied to everyone, regardless of sexual orientation. Activists have filed an appeal, but no court date has been set.

The legality of a Mauritius statute that punishes consenting same-sex behaviour with up to five years in prison is being challenged in three cases. The Mauritius Equal Opportunity Act of 2008, in particular, protects against sexual orientation discrimination in a variety of settings, including employment, education, and accommodations.

Cameroon vigorously implements section 347 of its penal code, which prohibits”Sexual intercourse between persons of the same sex,”. Infringing on this law can result in a five-year prison sentence. Cameroon detained at least 27 people in the first three months of 2021. At the same time this year, at least 11 victims of mob violence were arrested on suspicion of consenting same-sex conduct and gender nonconformity. Two transgender women who were in a relationship were sentenced to five years in prison in May 2021.

During protests in February 2021, Tunisian security forces arbitrarily imprisoned, physically abused, and threatened individuals involved in issues of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Egypt continues to jail, arrest, and torture LGBTQ people, according to a joint statement made in March 2021 to the UN Human Rights Council on behalf of 32 countries criticising Egypt’s human rights record.

In July, a religious police division upholding Sharia, or Islamic law, detained five men in Kano State, Nigeria, on suspicion of homosexual behaviour.

In 2016, Ghana’s UN ambassador, Sammie Pesky Eddico, stated that “Ghana’s Constitution prohibits all forms of discrimination” and that he had no objections to the appointment of a neutral expert on gender identity and sexual orientation. Ghana was demonstrating its tolerance in this manner. The human rights commission in Accra, Ghana’s capital, devised a reporting procedure that allowed LGBTQ people to report abuse and prejudice without revealing their identities, and certain police officers were trained in how to interact empathically with LGBTQ people.

However, this unofficial agreement was terminated in 2021. In February, religious and political authorities forced the closure of an LGBTQ+ centre in Accra. Then, in May, police detained 21 people attending a human rights workshop in Ho, Volta region. In August, lawmakers introduced an extreme bill (currently under consideration) under which simply coming out as homosexual or lesbian could result in ten years in prison or mandatory conversion treatment.

Rwandan authorities arbitrarily detained individuals they deemed socially undesirable in the months leading up to a planned Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in June 2021, including over a dozen gay and transgender people, sex workers, street children, and others, despite the fact that same-sex conduct is not prohibited in Rwanda.

Kenya’s freedom of expression was limited when the Film Classification Board banned the documentary “I am Samuel” on the grounds that it encouraged same-sex unions. The film is centred on a well-known theme: the bond between parents and their son as he navigates a developing romance with another guy in a remote area. A ban on the release of “Rafiki,” a love story about two young women whose parents are political rivals, was also imposed for 2020. Rafiki was temporarily unbanned and broadcast in Kenya for a week in order to meet a criterion for consideration for a prize at Cannes.

While progress for LGBTQ rights in Africa has been slow, there have been some encouraging recent developments, such as

Angola decriminalised homosexuality in 2019, with Gabon following suit in 2020. Both countries also prohibited sexual orientation discrimination.

In Africa, LGBTQ activists and organisations are becoming more visible, with many openly advocating for equal rights and visibility.

International support: Organizations such as the United Nations and the African Union are working to support LGBTQ rights in Africa. The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights published a resolution in 2019 condemning violence and prejudice against LGBTQ communities.

The growing public awareness and acceptance in Africa is perhaps the most significant development. More people are speaking up for LGBTQ rights. This has resulted in a sense of security and support in coming out and being themselves.

Various philosophical traditions around the world have undoubtedly praised and “tentatively universalized” the LGBTQ rights movement. This movement has been viewed as an essential component of the human rights movement and as necessary for revolution in black countries where many forms of social inequality remain.

However, it’s important to keep in mind that acceptance does not imply promotion, and that the LGBTQ Movement would do better if it focused on fostering acceptance in society rather than imposing a promoted order. As long as Western countries and Western-based organisations continue to use pressure and imperialist tactics to promote its prevalence in Africa, the LGBTQ rights movement will be seen as a symbol of Western culture and cultural hegemony. To put it another way, “un-African.”


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