- Homophobic Africa? Toward a more nuanced view
- African Studies Review
- Volume | Issue number
- 55 | 3
- Pages (from-to)
- Document type
- Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences (FMG)
- Amsterdam Institute for Social Science Research (AISSR)
The recent emergence of homosexuality as a central issue in public debate in various parts of Africa has encouraged a stereotypical image of one homophobic Africa, often placed in opposition to a tolerant or depraved West. What is striking is that this image of Africa as homophobic is promoted by both traditionalists who insist that homosexuality is a Western intrusion and by the Western media that focus on homophobic statements from African political and religious leaders. What both neglect, however, is the existence of internal debate and disagreements among Africans on the subject of homosexuality. In this article we try to counter this image of a homophobic Africa with a more nuanced discussion, including a comparison of different trajectories in the emergence of homosexuality as a public issue in four countries (Senegal, Cameroon, Uganda, and South Africa). The comparison highlights considerable variations in the ways in which the issue became politicized. There is a world of difference, for example, between the image of the homosexual as un Grand (a rich and powerful "Big Man") who imposes anal penetration as a supreme form of subjection (as in Cameroon or Gabon, where homosexuality is associated with witchcraft and other occult forces; compare Achille Mbembe's visionary evocation of a "phallocracy") and the often quite marginal persons who become victims of gay persecution in other contexts. More insight into the variations of what is loosely and inaccurately called "homophobia" can help connect international pressures for decriminalization and protection to local circumstances. Working through local activists is crucial for the effort to counter homophobia in Africa.
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