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Dissecting The 'Homosexuality Is Un-African' Myth

A new study says four out of five people in Africa don't want gay neighbors.

Khnumhotep and Niankhkhnum. Courtesy of Mohammed Elrazzaz.
While someone like three-thousand-and-twelve-year-old Zimbabwean President for Eternity Robert Mugabe might contend that homosexuality is a form of Yacubian trickery: a tool of western imperialism to destroy the African population through HIV/AIDS. The reality is, well, to the contrary.

We gonna do some fact-checking in a minute to see the extent to which this Yacubian conspiracy is true, but first let’s get to headlines.


Afrobarometer, a pan-African and non-partisan African-led research network that “conducts public attitude surveys on democracy, governance, economic conditions, and related issues,” recently released a report based on over 50,000 interviews across more than 30 countries in Africa titled, "Good neighbours? Africans express high levels of tolerance for many, but not for all." The ‘many’ being immigrants, people of different faiths, and folks of different ethnicities, while the ‘not for all’ refers to the LGTBQ community. Out of those polled, only 21 percent of people said they did not mind having a gay neighbor.

These attitudes have been fueled by a new wave of stringent anti-gay laws that have been sweeping the continent. One of these recent laws passed in Uganda in 2014 makes those convicted of being gay subject to life imprisonment. In Nigeria homosexuality is punishable for up to 14 years in jail. You can technically kill someone, get charged with involuntary manslaughter, and get away with less prison time. Back in 2014, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, in response to the then new anti-gay Nigerian legislation, said:

A crime is a crime for a reason. A crime has victims. A crime harms society. On what basis is homosexuality a crime? Adults do no harm to society in how they love and whom they love. This is a law that will not prevent crime, but will, instead, lead to crimes of violence: there are already, in different parts of Nigeria, attacks on people ‘suspected’ of being gay.

Last month, Akinnifesi Olumide Olubunmi, a man accused of being gay in the Ondo State of Nigeria, was allegedly beaten to death by a mob deeming themselves judge, jury and executioner.

The Afrobarometer study reports Senegal as taking the top spot for the least tolerant country they surveyed with a shockingly low 3 percent of Senegalese people not minding if their neighbor is gay. That’s a whole 97 percent of Senegalese people not wanting the LGTBQ community in their vicinity. Guinea is second, followed by Uganda, Burkina Faso, Niger, Malawi, and Sierra Leone, which is only 6 percent tolerant. The most tolerant countries in the study are Cape Verde with 74 percent of respondents having no problem with having a gay neighbor, followed by South Africa at 67 percent and Mozambique in third with 56 percent.

From Afrobarometer Report: "Good neighbours? Africans express high levels of tolerance for many, but not for all"
A’ight, let’s put our time travelling hats on and try and find (arguably) the first recorded homosexual relationship. Oh snap, Mugabe ain’t finna like this. We in ancient Egypt, the same continent Zimbabwe calls home, circa 2400 BCE, that’s approximately ten years before Mugabe was born. Here we meet Khnumhotep and Niankhkhnum. They were the "overseers of the manicurists" at the palace of King Niuserre during the fifth dynasty of Egyptian pharaohs. Although I feel strict gender roles should be done away with, their titles, in some circles such as one that Mugabe belongs to, could be viewed as a glaring clue to their sexuality.

The two men are depicted in ancient paintings as embracing and touching noses, which is argued to be the equivalent to kissing for ancient Egyptians. They changed their names at some point and when translated Niankhkhnum means “joined to life” and Khnumhotep means "joined to the blessed state of the dead”. Yup, their names when put together basically mean “joined in life and joined in death”.

Although both had heteronormative nuclear families, add in the whole cute matching name thing, and the fact that they made good on their promise and were buried together, there have been questions raised and a fierce debate within the egyptology community to the nature of their relationship and sexuality. According to polls by the Pew Research Center from 2013, 95 percent of current day Egyptians think that homosexuality should be rejected.

The idea that LGBT Africans did not exist prior to European colonialism is actually false. It was European colonialists that instituted some of the first anti-sodomy and anti-gay laws throughout the continent, gaining their supposed moral guidance from such texts as the bible. Previous to the introduction of these mandates, homosexuality and trans people existed and were to differing degrees tolerated throughout African societies. Alas, there is in fact a Yacubian conspiracy, but it is not what we have thought. Arguably, homophobia is what’s un-African and not homosexuality. It can be further argued that claiming something is un-african is a problematic statement within itself, considering the immense size and diversity that exists within the continent.

In even more recent news out of Kenya, gay rights, which was proclaimed a “non-issue” by President Kenyatta, has most definitely become (and was) an issue. Authorities demanded Google block access to a Kenyan rap group's cover of Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ 2012 gay rights anthem, "Same Love," because it doesn’t “adhere to the morals of the country."

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