There is a strange and disturbing cloud of homophobia that is hanging over the continent of Africa. It is one that is growing ever more pervasive and prevalent it seems. Just as the United States and Europe have seen a dramatic liberalization in attitudes and laws regarding gay citizens, there is a countervailing movement in Africa.
The most recent event was in Uganda, where president Yoweri Museveni signed into law a measure that would sentence people convicted of homosexual activity to life in prison. That law formally outlaws the promotion of same-sex activity and required citizens to inform police of anyone suspected of being gay.
"No study has shown you can be homosexual by nature," President Museveni said in a speech at the presidential palace near the capital, Kampala. “That's why I have agreed to sign the bill.”
He added: "Outsiders cannot dictate to us. This is our country. I advise friends from the West not to make this an issue, because if they make it an issue the more they will lose. If the West does not want to work with us because of homosexuals, then we have enough space to ourselves here."
Condemnation of the bill has been forceful from a host of parties, from President Obama to South African Bishop Desmond Tutu.
The Ugandan law follows a similar one passed in Nigeria and signed by the nation’s president, Goodluck Jonathan. It also follows similar legislation being considered in different countries, including Liberia.
These are countries with deeply set traditions and customs in addition to highly conservative Christian values. The situation had grown undoubtedly more vexing from the perspective of many in these countries because of the lightning-paced speed at which same-sex marriage and gay rights are being embraced in the United States and elsewhere.
To some degree, these legislative actions are the result of a strong and unsettling fear of the unknown. Openly gay activity is as foreign to African mores and sensibilities as it was to 1950 America.
But the world is a different place now. And enacting offensive legislation that violated the basic tenets of human rights in a frenzy of fanaticism will not change the fact that people need to be treated with dignity, respect and tolerance. These are legislative actions that are making it quite easy to institutionalize hatred in countries that have already seen their fair share of what hatred can yield.
One can only hope that the international pressure from the United States and elsewhere will ultimately lead to more humane revisions of those laws. It would be a welcome development, one that could remove a horrifying blemish on the Motherland.
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(Photo: AP Photo/Ben Curtis)