Last month, the parliament of Uganda passed what queer activists are calling the most extreme anti-queer legislation in history. The law establishes new sweeping punishments for being queer, including a 20-year prison sentence for identifying as LGBTQ, and the death penalty for “aggravated homosexuality.”
This comes as bourgeois governments all over the world turn to queerphobic legislation as a way of distracting from the economic discontent that has bubbled to the fore in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Kenya, which is being rocked by anti-government protests over its suspension of several subsidies at the behest of the International Monetary Funds, has also introduced its own anti-queer law. The law was introduced after the Kenyan Supreme Court ruled that queer Kenyans had the right to freedom of association and that the Kenyan government was not allowed to infringe on those rights.
Ghana and Nigeria are among the growing list of African countries turning to queer criminalisation to shore up political capital. In 2022, an amendment to expand the Same-sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act was introduced in Nigeria’s National Assembly, and a sweeping bill that will see harsher punishments for queer Ghanians was introduced in Ghana’s parliament.
These bills result from a confluence of factors. The first is the slow but steady descent into economic crisis after decades of neoliberal mismanagement. The second is the desperation of the local ruling class, collaborators in the looting of Africa’s resources by the West, who have amassed wealth and power through their control of public offices that keep this system running the way it is. And finally, the third factor is millions and millions of US dollars pumped into lobbying for anti-queer laws in Africa by U.S. evangelicals.
The laws have drawn international condemnation, including by the U.S. government, which has hypocritically sent aid funds to religious organisations campaigning for these same discriminatory laws.
While Uganda is the first and only African country to pass an anti-queer bill this year, there is a possibility that if President Museveni signs the bill into law it would lend credence to other bills currently working their ways through parliaments.
Despite a steady and consistent pattern of using queer criminalisation as a shield to further neoliberal agendas, the left on the continent has continued to show a lack of commitment to opposing these laws. The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) of South Africa is one of the few leftist parties on the continent to condemn the law. A few feminist and civil society organisations have also announced their opposition to these laws, particularly in Ghana, Kenya, and Uganda. This lack of commitment to queer rights by progressive forces on the continent has continued to make using queerphobia to diffuse popular resistance, a possibility too alluring for neoliberal governments to ignore.
by Kayode Somtochukwu ANI