Late last year, I conducted a training on human rights for a group of activists from poor settlements in and around Lilongwe. It was a basic introduction to the topic, including a section on how rights are universal, indivisible, interdependent, and inalienable. On the universality of rights, we established that everyone has human rights, regardless of their gender, religion, skin colour and so on. Everyone was in agreement. Very much so. Nevertheless, when someone brought up homosexuals, many in the group weren’t quite so sure.
Sadly this seems to be the case in many places across the African continent. Places where children die of malnutrition and treatable diseases, places where access to water is limited or even non-existent, places where health care is so poor that even the morgue at the central hospital has stopped working (that would be at Kamuzu Central Hospital in Lilongwe this week, apparently the stench is unbearable). You’d think addressing the many aspects of poverty, not attacking and vilifying a minority, would be number one priority. Yet it appears to be otherwise.
Uganda’s anti-homosexuality bill is sadly only the tip of the ice berg. Nigeria’s is little more. Discrimination lies deep, but it is also fed by those with ulterior motives, to deflect attention and gain power. As the late Nelson Mandela wrote in a Long Walk to Freedom, “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate.”
Desmond Tutu has done well in equating discrimination against homosexuals with discrimination under apartheid and even in Nazi Germany. As quoted in The Guardian, Tutu has stated that:
“We must be entirely clear about this: the history of people is littered with attempts to legislate against love or marriage across class, caste, and race. But there is no scientific basis or genetic rationale for love. There is only the grace of God. There is no scientific justification for prejudice and discrimination, ever. And nor is there any moral justification. Nazi Germany and apartheid South Africa, among others, attest to these facts.”
Many people in Africa are Christian. They should listen to Tutu, not American Evangelists. And those of us who work in the field of human rights – and there are many of us in Africa of all races, creeds, and sexual orientations – need to stand strong and loudly state that human rights are indeed universal, and that that means that they are extended to homosexuals and any other sexual minorities too. As the Mandela quote ends, “if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”
And Uganda, even more than learning to love, why don’t you get your shit in order before you start hating on people?