Africa has a million problems, multiply that by the prevalence of inept leadership and you have a billion problems but being gay is not one of them. In African culture, until very recently, (last two decades) public display of affection, even between married couples is awkward at best if not laughed at mockingly or viewed as immoral.
Now I am not taking a position on whether such views on public displays of affection are right or wrong, neither should you. The underlying culture is what our focus should be on. If we understand that, that matters of intimacy are not for public display in African culture, we will understand why the issue of “legalizing” (normalizing) gay marriages is greeted with such condemnation across Africa.
The debate unfortunately is a glaring manifestation of a fallacy of argument; either/or. One is either a homophobe or a human rights defender, culture and societal values be damned. “This is the 21st century, we should do away with archaic traditions and embrace liberal views!” This is often the argument advanced by liberal commentators and self-proclaimed human rights defenders. The debate unfortunately is not so narrowly confined to a choice between accepting human rights or opposing them, or about being liberal or conservative.
At the heart of the issues lie our very values and identities as a people. What defines us as Africans? Must we throw our values and cultural identities to the wind in order to be seen as progressive societies fit to live in the 21st century? What price does Africa have to pay for it to be worthy of the respect of others?
When Africa opened her doors to the outside world, it has been a constant battle against one form of exploitation or another; one form of abuse or another. First went our religions, followed by our traditional institutions and our languages. Only in Africa are people governed by alien languages. Now the battle is on ridding us of what remains of our values and identities.
Curiously, our religions were never studied to be understood, we were heathen needing salvation through Christ. Our institutions, that were set up around our values and sense of community were never studied and applied as governing instruments over us. No! Democracy is superior and traditional institutions had to be dismantled and replaced by western ideologies on how a state is to be structured and what democracy means. Now, the crusade is against what is left of our cultures and values as a people, and like religion and institutions of state, the people fighting hardest to rid Africa of its values and identities are Africans themselves. Africans who know nothing about African value systems and do not care to listen to people they deem inferior to themselves because those adherents to tradition never sat in a classroom and hence have nothing to offer or should not be listened to if they want to speak for themselves.
If the battle is indeed about human rights, why is polygamy illegal in all the countries whose diplomatic representatives tell us that we must accept homosexuality as a part of our mainstream culture? Why is our traditional value of being able to marry multiple wives not acceptable to them? They have convinced themselves that it is wrong, but what they deem right, we too must accept as right without question despite our reservations about it. That is the height of condescension and disrespect, and that is what has always been directed towards Africa and Africans everywhere around the world, even on the continent itself thanks to our spineless leaders and brainwashed “intellectuals”.
Feeling attraction for, being desirous of companionship or sexual intimacy with the same sex is not a new phenomenon that began in the 20th and 21st century, they are as old as anyone can remember. We know people have been so inclined in Africa as well but never were treated any less than they deserve as humans, so being gay in and of itself is not the issue. Just like the husband and wife mentioned above, who had to restrain themselves from displaying affection for each other publicly, so too do we expect discretion from people and their sexual preferences. It is impractical and silly for any state to try to regulate people’s sexual preferences and no state should have powers to make such choices for people.
But like the condescending, and disrespectful European Union representative in the Gambia, a lot of those advocating for disregard of African values when it comes to gay rights see no value in an African worldview neither do they consider African values as worthy of respect hence do not deem such views or the people who hold them as worthy of their respect.
Africans, generally speaking DO NOT have a problem with anyone’s sexual preferences; that is why it has never been a subject of public discourse, not because it does not exist. Let’s flip the coin, why is there no public discourse about polygamy in western countries? Does that mean there aren’t people in western countries married to multiple women or so inclined? Of course there are, the various states across Europe only recognize one as legal. Why is it a crime for Africans to say people can be with whomever they want to be with but we do not recognize certain unions as marriages based on our values?
Because you abhor polygamy as an African, do you abhor those who practice it? Do you view them as less than you? Do you think they are less deserving of opportunities than you? I would bet not; but I will bet that such a woman hopes and prays that her husband does not practice it or even a member of her family. In the same vein, no one gets a heart attack upon seeing a man or woman who prefers same sex relationships, some may pray none of their children turn out to be one but they don’t view them as any less human than themselves and they have no control over it.
What Africans are against, and which they have a right to, is attempts at mainstreaming same sex relationships which is what “legalizing” it is effectively advocating for; general acceptance. What the pushback is effectively saying is, be with who you want to be with but do not attempt to impose a forced embrace from society. Just like the husband and wife scenario cited above, such matters are personal and should remain so.
Well over 90% of marriages in The Gambia and across much of Africa are not registered with any court or state law entity, including the heterosexual marriages of those promoting gay rights. This is because marriage is still an entirely traditional institution where recognition of the union from members of the community is all that is required to validate/ “legalize” a marriage. The only exception to this is when a couple needs documented proof of their marriage for travel or other purposes, which still is obtained only for formality sake but in addition to the already established traditional union. So why does the European Union feel that they are so mighty that they should tell us what our traditions should look like or what values we should uphold? Why is there so much fuss about “legalizing” gay marriages? The only reason there is any pushback is because the campaign is viewed as targeting that traditional institution rather than any institution of state and THAT is unacceptable.
It is high time our beggar leaders grow some spine and tell the world to its face that Africa has given more than enough of its fair share to the world and we are not giving any more.