By Charles Onyango-Obbo
If I may be permitted to tweak the title of the film No Country for Old Men, Africa is becoming “No Continent for Gays”.
Take Nigeria. President Goodluck Jonathan is besieged. He is facing a rebellion in his governing Democratic People’s Party (DPP) ahead of next year’s election.
Governors have been defecting from the DPP, and a few hours ago Jonathan sacked four ministers.
Meanwhile, the militant group Boko Haram has upped its terror and violent attacks and is slaughtering an average of 60 Nigerians a week.
Amid all this, Jonathan just found time to sign an anti-gay Bill, and in Lagos there have been reports of mobs beating down homosexuals.
In Zimbabwe, “Uncle” Bob Mugabe has had it in for gays for a long time.
In Uganda, President Yoweri Museveni is a platinum card-carrying member of the Anti-Homosexuality League.
With all the problems Uganda has (youth unemployment is over 84 per cent), and with the country having more troops involved in active combat (Somalia, CAR, eastern DRC, South Sudan) than any other country in the world, today including the US (whose troops are still fighting only in Afghanistan), you would think these would preoccupy the leaders in Kampala.
No, Parliament took precious time to pass an anti-pornography Bill (which has been signed by President Museveni), and an extreme anti-gays Bill (which the President said he will soon sign).
Yesterday, the Daily Nation reported that “Five [Kenyan] MPs have declared an onslaught on homosexuality”.
Why do we hate gays so much? First, it would seem we, the heterosexual majority, do not get it. A clever scholar once argued that the right of dissent, or freedom of expression, is only meaningful for those who do not think or act like the majority. The same could be said of gays.
Barring rape and defilement, there is no risk to being heterosexual in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, name it. No one will arrest you or refuse to rent you an apartment because you are heterosexual.
Therefore, we do not need protection, and you could argue that freedom of sexual expression or choice is not necessary for us to get by. But if you are gay, it is hell.
And this brings us to our first point, which might seem counter-intuitive. The people who really need freedom of sexual choice are those to whom it is denied most â€” gays.
Secondly, on these matters of sexual rights and repression, I would like to introduce Dr Sylvia Tamale of the Faculty of Law at Makerere University in the Ugandan capital, Kampala.
Dr Tamale is a clever feminist and the scourge of the patriarchal Establishment and male power in Uganda â€” indeed Africa. She wrote a book called When Hens Begin to Crow (from its title you can discern its subversive content) and edited a tome entitled African Sexualities with incredible stories and insights on the matter of sexualities on this fair continent.
She went to all the good schools and universities, including Harvard University, so she can be quite formidable in argument.
Dr Tamale’s controversial view is that the anti-gay thing is all about power. She uses some dramatic examples and words that we cannot deploy here, but the general idea is that historically, heterosexual sex and its rituals has been based on the woman being subordinate to a man.
Therefore, lesbian sex becomes problematic because the dominant male has been removed from the picture.
Women are, therefore, introduced to a world in which they do not submit to male authority. Sex between men is even worse because not only is it without a subservient woman in the room, but at least one of the men has to be in a position where men are not supposed to be in these affairs â€” in subordination. Or if not that, both men will be equal.
Now, these are the things that could turn the world as we know it upside down. Once you dismantle the sexual hierarchy in which men are at the top of the food chain and women lower down, then you cannot maintain a political system in which men monopolise power and women have little or none.
You cannot justify an economic system where a few are very rich and the majority poor. You cannot have religions where bishops are up there and the flock are just flock.
In other words, anti-gay politics is nothing more than a fraud perpetuated to maintain privilege.
Charles Onyango-Obbo is a columnist/editor with the Nation Media Group. This article first appeared on Africa Review on February 19, 2014.