Press Conference Meant to Condemn Homosexuality Cancelled

Addis Ababa,  ( –  On Tuesday this week, religious leaders in Ethiopia called a press conference to condemn an upcoming meeting planned for Saturday organized by an African gay lobby group, African Men for Sexual Health and Rights (Amsher). The meeting is being held ahead of the 16th International Conference on AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STIs) in Africa (ICASA). The meeting by Amsher, which will be held at Jupiter Hotel in Addis Ababa, seeks to increase attention on Men Who have Sex with Men (MSM) and HIV related issues in Africa, to reflect on the state of the response in MSM communities in Africa and to identify ways to scale up MSM and HIV interventions.

However, the press conference called by almost all religious leaders was cancelled a few minutes before its start. According to some reports, the meeting was cancelled by the interference of Ministry of Health Minister Dr Tewodros Astnahom. The reports say that before the press conference began, while the reporters were already in the pressroom, the Minister had a closed-door meeting with the religious leaders. After the meeting, one of the religious leaders from Ethiopian Protestant Church, Pastor Eitefa Gobena told journalists the press conference is not taking place.

The Reporter newspaper on its Wednesday issue reported that a photographer for the newspaper was forced by government security to delete some of the pictures he took in the press conference room. This might suggest that the agreement between the minister and the religious leaders is to consider the idea of the press conference has never happened.

The government seems to be worried that the condemnation of Saturday’s event by religious groups will eventually affect the turn-out of the ICASA. For the conference, which will take place on Dec 4-8 in Addis Ababa, the city administration and concerned bodies are busy in preparation for one of the huge international conferences Ethiopia had ever hosted. Roughly, around 10,000 people are expected to come to Ethiopia for the ICASA conference.

However, whether the religious leaders and the state intended it or not, the cancellation of the press conference to condemn the meeting on the coming Saturday got it more publicity.

Homosexuality in Ethiopia is not only illegal but also strictly immoral. For the majority, it is one of the things that reminds them of Sodom and Gomorra. In a society where religion plays the role of determining social behaviors, it is often preached that the idea itself is the sin of all sins. All religious leaders who condemn the act and suggest serious punishment for those who are engaged in it reflect that several times. For example, Abune Paulos of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, in the past called for a constitutional ban on homosexuality, which he once termed as “the pinnacle of immorality.”

“For people to act in this manner, they have to be dumb, stupid like animals,” he told reporters in 2008. “We strongly condemn this behavior. They have to be disciplined and their acts discriminated, they have to be given a lesson.”

Perhaps, for Ethiopians, it is too early to consider the matter as a human rights issue and accord it a forum as is done in many other countries. For that matter, for many it is too early to talk about it in the public sphere. However, many are suggesting the cancelled press conference and the coming event on Saturday might be the spur needed for the public to stop running away from the issue that is obviously establishing itself in the society and discuss it in a civilized manner.

by Seble Teweldebirhan –