ECAS 2015 Panel on Anti-Homosexuality Mobilisations in Africa

At the upcoming 6th European Conference on African Studies (ECAS 2015), I have convened a panel, together with Jorg Wiegratz (Leeds), entitled ‘Opposing the Liberal West? Anti-homosexuality Mobilisations in Contemporary Africa’. Here you find the panel abstract, as well as the details of the individual papers.

We gratefully acknowledge the support from ROAPE – Review of African Political Economy for this panel.

Panel Abstract
Various African countries have recently witnessed highly visible socio-political mobilisations against homosexuality and ‘gay rights’. The most well-known example is Uganda, where President Museveni in February 2014 signed the Anti-Homosexuality Bill into law. Similar anti-homosexuality legislation has been passed in Nigeria, while several other countries recently used existing laws to persecute people in same-sex relationships or advocating gay rights. Three characteristics of these cases appear to be crucial: 1) African politicians and governments oppose the West on what European and American governments, human rights and aid organisations, as well as the United Nations have presented as a key policy point 2) this stand-off with the ‘liberal West’ centres around a cultural issue, while so far most African countries have generally adopted Western liberal policy recipes on economic and socio-political matters 3) this stand-off happens in the face of severe Western sanction threats against African governments and other socio-political actors.
The papers in this panel present case studies and perspectives on these dynamics in specific East, Southern and West African countries. They explore and intersect various social, political, economic, religious and cultural factors, as the interplay of all of these issues is key to understanding the why and how of contemporary African anti-homosexual mobilisations.

Panel abstract (French)
Divers pays africains, comme l’Ouganda et le Nigeria, ont récemment été témoins de grandes mobilisations politiques et sociales contre l’homosexualité et les droits des homosexuels. Trois caractéristiques semblent être déterminantes : 1) Les hommes politiques et gouvernements africains s’opposent à l’Occident sur ce que les gouvernements européens et américains, ainsi que les Nations-Unies, présentent comme un point essentiel de leurs politiques en la matière 2) Cette confrontation avec “l’Occident libéral” se concentre autour d’un problème culturel, tandis que jusqu’à présent, la plupart des pays africains ont essentiellement adopté des recettes politiques libérales d’inspiration occidentale concernant les questions économiques, politiques et sociales. 3) Cette confrontation se déroule face à des menaces de sanction de la part des pays Occidentaux à l’encontre des gouvernements africains et autres acteurs de la vie politique et sociale.
Les articles de ce panel présente des études de cas et perspectives sur ces dynamiques dans des pays spécifiques dans Afrique de l’Ouest, Afrique de l’Est, et Afrique du Sud. Ils explorent et se croisent divers facteurs sociaux, politiques, économiques, religieuses et culturelles. L’interaction de toutes ces questions est essentielle pour comprendre le pourquoi et le comment de ces mobilisations anti-homosexuelles en Afrique contemporaine.

Presentation Abstracts

 Homosexuality, Pornography and other ‘Modern Threats’: Mobilizing Sexuality in Discourses on Social Change in Uganda – Julia Vorhölter (Georg-August-Universität Göttingen)
This paper analyzes recent measures adopted by the Museveni government to discipline and regulate the sexuality of Ugandan citizens. The much-debated “anti-homosexuality bill” is only one of such attempts. Further examples include legal measures, which are related to AIDS, defilement, prostitution and pornography. I argue that this recent proliferation of discourses and laws on sexuality must be seen in relation to broader socio-cultural changes and power struggles. Drawing on Foucault and based on ethnographic fieldwork, I show how a) sexuality is instrumentalized in various local and international power struggles, b) discourses on sexuality infiltrate various spheres of social life, and c) the sexual conduct of the population is taken as a target for intervention by local authorities, state officials and international actors. In contemporary Uganda, the interconnection between sexuality and power, individual and population, and related political strategies to produce and counter change becomes especially evident in the above-mentioned societal discourses on homosexuality, HIV/AIDS, youth sexuality, women’s sexuality and pornography. All these discourses link various local and national crises to the changed and ‘uncontrolled’ sexual behavior of the Ugandan population and thus imply that a tighter control of these ‘threatening’ forms of sexuality is necessary to re-establish social order and stability.

“For God and my Country”: Religious Lobby Groups in Uganda and their Role in Policy Making (Anna Fichtmüller)
By signing the “Kill the Gays” Bill in February 2014, President Museveni has been seen as standing up against Western donor domination, or making a turn towards the East, embracing China as a new partner. Yet, following events have drawn a rather blurred picture of these analyses, with the supreme court outlawing the law on procedural grounds. This paper suggests to read the series of events around the bill not as a clear stance against Western domination, but rather as a balancing act by the president between public opinion, the power of religious institutions and Western agendas. Today, the religious sphere in Uganda has well institutionalized lobby groups which have influenced a number of other bills as well, like the domestic violence bill or the Anti-Pornography Act. The main denominations unite nearly 100% of the population behind them and possess a big mobilization power. The paper is based on interviews conducted during a three month research in Uganda in 2014 with representatives of the principal religious umbrella organizations and politicians. After presenting these groups, this contribution puts the lobbying in the broader context of the connections between religion and politics in Uganda, through analyzing their mobilization power during the debate on the bill. In conclusion the paper highlights their role as shapers of the moral discourse of the country, while also showing their limits in an increasingly authoritative environment.

Beyond Homophobia and Tolerance: The Guardian’s Logic of Anti-homosexuality Mobilisation – Anthony Okeregbe (University of Lagos)
In recent years, influential media organizations in sub-Saharan Africa have been very vociferous in their mobilisations against homosexuality and gay rights campaigns. One of such media organizations is The Guardian, an independent, elitist, influential Nigerian newspaper. In selected recent editorials reacting to homosexual unions and gay rights, The Guardian elected to be in the vanguard of the anti-homosexuality mobilisations based on political and cultural grounds, despite its libertarian and people-oriented policy. While it recognizes the intrinsic worth of individuals and their right to sexual preferences, it invokes the Harm Principle and the law of cultural preservation to advance a simple argument: that homosexual unions and gay rights campaign, as being spearheaded by the west, are a cultural imposition and a subtle economic and political blackmail to undermine the sovereignty of African nations; and as such is alien to African culture.
Against the backdrop of proposals supporting homosexual relationships, this paper critically analyses the argument adduced by The Guardian against homosexuality. It argues that the strength of The Guardian’s anti-gay campaign lies in its deployment of moral arguments derived from western intellectual tradition to effect a powerful cultural mobilisation. This is a far cry from the banal religious sentimentalism and naïve bandwagonism that characterize popular anti-gay mobilisations. Keywords: The Guardian, Harm Principle, African Culture

‘Corrective rape’ and Extreme or Violent Anti-Homosexual Behaviour in South Africa: Sponsored or Spontaneous? – Rian Leith (Stellenbosch)
2014 marked 20 years of democracy in South Africa, following the historic multiracial elections of 1994. In 1996, a new Constitution was adopted, remarkable and lauded internationally – among other progressive characteristics – for its Bill of Rights, which forbids discrimination based on sexual orientation. South Africa became one of the first countries around the world, and indeed the first (and as yet only) country in Africa, to legalise same-sex marriage with the enactment of the Civil Union Act on 30 November 2006. However, despite these progressive developments, acceptance and tolerance of homosexuality remains worryingly low among large sections of the South African population. This paper examines the incidence of anti-homosexuality behaviour in South Africa against the backdrop of a spike in hate crimes targeting the LGBTI community in recent years, especially in the socio-economically underdeveloped townships and the widespread incidence of so-called ‘corrective rape’. Through the examination of quantitive and qualitative data, the paper aims to evaluate the extent to which extreme and violent anti-homosexual behaviour is prevalent; such behaviour is organised and/or mobilised, or whether it is the spontaneous consequence of a broader social and cultural conservatism at odds with constitutional progressivism. Finally the paper aims to explain the contradiction between law and practice, and explore ways in which this troubling tendency can be effectively countered.

Anti-homosexuality Mobilisation in the ‘Christian Nation’ of Zambia – Charlotte Cross (University of Northampton)
This paper explores reactions to attempts to establish a lesbian, gay and transgender rights advocacy organisation in Zambia. In 1998 the Zambian newspaper The Post featured an interview with the first Zambian to identify himself as gay in the national print media. The article and subsequent plans to register a non-governmental organisation (NGO), the Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual and Transgender Person’s Association (LEGATRA), with Norwegian funding, provoked a national debate. Familiar claims concerning the alien nature of homosexuality within African culture also stressed Zambia’s constitutionally enshrined status as a ‘Christian nation’, and the obligations this placed on leaders to uphold a biblical version of morality. Zambia’s position within the global economic order informed anxiety regarding the extent of Western donor influence on Zambian society, in both cultural and material terms, and critics sought to discredit LEGATRA’s founders by representing their motives as the pursuit of private profit through access to donor funding. The paper explores these reactions in the context of a broader crisis of social reproduction in the context of the HIV and AIDS pandemic and Zambia’s implementation of neoliberal economic policies.

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