Behind the Mask LGBT African website
21 July 2011 – MSM Global Forum
The Human Rights Status of Lesbians, Gays, Bisexual in East Africa 2009-2010
by Andiah Kisia and Milka Wahu
Introduction to LGBTI life In East Africa
On January 26th 2010, three weeks after the above judgement was made, David Kato, one of the complainants in the case and one of the people mentioned in the Rolling Stone tabloid as one of 100 homosexuals in Uganda, was assaulted and killed in his home in Mukono District, 27 kilometers outside Kampala.
Until very recently, the lives of LGBTI people in East Africa have been characterized by silence and invisibility. So little was known about the lives of sexual minorities in the region that it was easy for the larger society to imagine that they did not exist at all. So it was that in 1999, during an acceptance speech at a ceremony recognising the Uganda government’s efforts to combat HIV, President Yoweri Museveni could say that male to male transmission of HIV in Uganda was not a problem because “we do not have homosexuals in Uganda.” Within a week of President Museveni’s comments, Kenya’s then President Daniel arap Moi weighed in on the issue, describing homosexuality as unchristian and un-African and vowing not to “shy away from warning Kenyans against the dangers of the scourge.”
For years, public discourse on sexual minorities has been largely confined to vague references to the “problem” of homosexuality in schools and prisons. This, coupled with a lack of representation in any media of individuals self-identifying as gay, lesbian or transgender means that the dialogue has been driven by long held and unquestioned assumptions of the newness and un-Africanness of homosexuality and other sexual and gender minority identifications and practices.
Only within the last decade have sexual and gender minorities in Africa as a whole and East Africa in particular began to speak up against the misplaced notions of who and what they are and by so doing, to stimulate debate within their societies, not always informed or productive, but always spirited, about the nature and rights of same-sex practicing citizens. Unsurprisingly, the increased visibility of LGBTI individuals and groups has resulted in a strong backlash by a conservative society…
View complete report here
8 August 2011 – African Activist
Rwanda Leads East Africa on the Progress of LGBTI Human Rights
Rwanda is leading the progress on human rights for LGBTI persons in East Africa. Last year Rwanda eliminated the criminalisation provision from its draft code and recently signed two UN resolutions on sexual orientation and gender identity, only one of six African nations to do it. "The main reason is that Rwanda has a very strong historical memory of what discrimination can do to any particular group." Dr Aflodis Kagaba is the executive director of Health Development Initiative Rwanda, a health-focused non-governmental organisation located in Kigali that spearheads a coalition of over 40 groups conducting campaign and advocacy work for sexual minorities within the country.
He told The East African the campaign began a couple of years ago in 2009, when Rwanda started to talk about criminalising same-sex relationships as part of revisions to its Penal Code.
“Around that time in the region, there was a drive to criminalise homosexuality — not only in Rwanda, but also in Uganda and Burundi,” he said. “All the parliaments in the region took up the cause to create articles to criminalise [it], and so when the article was introduced, there was a lot of pressure. In the beginning, of course, it was very challenging. We were experiencing hate speech, people phoning in to radio programmes saying ‘Kill them, take them back to the West — they’re not part of us.’ But the media themselves were fanatical at that time — so it required more of an individual engagement, talking to them and discussing the issues involved. It was also important to educate them on some of the documents (in the Constitution) showing that people have rights. So for me, there’s an issue of lack of awareness, and of ignorance of human rights, that needs to continue to be addressed.”
At least in Rwanda, the coalition’s efforts have paid off. After much debate, Rwanda moved to eliminate the criminalisation provision from its draft code last year, and sign the UN Statement on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity — one of only six African countries to do so. The others are the Central African Republic, São Tomé and Príncipe, the Seychelles, Sierra Leone, and South Africa.)
Why has Rwanda taken the lead in East Africa?
Rwanda’s stance is in stark contrast to its East African neighbours…But it is perhaps curious why Rwanda — a country where Christianity, and especially Catholicism, still represents a strong influence — should have taken the lead in this respect. Kagaba suggests the country’s recent past is a factor in the government’s willingness to crack down on discrimination. “Recently, I was in Kenya at the Changing Faces conference, which had activists from all over Africa. Mostly, they advance cultural reasons for the difference; religious reasons, too. But I think the main reason is that Rwanda has a very strong historical memory of what discrimination can do to any particular group, which for me is why I think their response has been very positive, in contrast to the other countries in the region. [It seems] the government has learned from its history that any discrimination against any particular group can cause more negative consequences, and I think that’s why the leadership was very responsive on this issue.”
There is still much work to do in Rwanda and Kagaba believes that an assertive move by the government to legally protect LGBTI persons is critical. Ultimately, eliminating that stigma is difficult — perhaps impossible — while the government remains passive. “The key is that the government provides protection,” Kagaba said. “If the government can go ahead and provide a protective legal environment, then the activists will do their work throughout East Africa, easily. But at the moment, without that framework, there is a lot of pressure on them not to speak, or in the case of Uganda, give negative statements. But the Rwandese case shows it doesn’t have to be the case.”