By ANNA MMOLA-CHALMERS | Recently, in Botswana, Namibia, Uganda, Kenya and Malawi, the church has thrown the public into a moral panic with its anti-rights agenda that weaponizes LGBTQI+ human rights paddling the same narrative that homosexuality is a Western agenda intended to destroy African values, family, culture and procreation. These anti-gender movements have spread across Europe and the U.S. in recent years. They focused on what they themed “gender ideology,” framing gender as destructive and unnatural.
The main characteristics of the movement are that they lean towards a more conservative understanding of religion, are aligned with politicians, mainly the right-wingers, are anti-choice, emphasize the traditional family value and attack comprehensive sex education in schools. A similar modus operandi manifested in Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Namibia and Botswana, where they have infiltrated Parliaments to support anti-homosexuality laws in Uganda, undermine judicial decisions by introducing new laws to contradict judgements in Namibia, and manipulated Parliament to ignore the decriminalization judgement in Botswana.
The movement masquerades as representatives of public morality for the public good, but what is also clear is that these anti-LGBTQI+ groups are also anti-human rights and anti-women’s rights, and intent on keeping the status quo of inequalities, separation, and oppression of minorities, the poor and vulnerable.
On the surface, the narratives that the movement paddles are seemingly pro-African and care about African culture and norms. They frame homosexuality as un-African, and part of the Western culture intended to erode African values and cultural norms. They embrace anti-homosexuality legislation in Uganda and nod at African leaders who denounce efforts by civil society to decriminalize consensual same-sex sexual conduct and pronounce these laws as part of the African culture. In their hypocrisy, they purposefully ignore the historical fact that laws against homosexuality are a colonial relic inherited from colonial masters in the 17th and 20th centuries. The buggery laws are part of the vagrancy laws introduced by the colonialists to separate the local communities from the colonialists, slaves from masters — to keep lives in the colonies separate so that colonialists can exercise control over the natives, contain them in their territories and keep the streets clean. This form of oppression was characteristic of all the colonies in Africa.
Today, once again, history repeats itself, the modern imperialists in the form of church groups such as Family Watch International, a U.S.-based NGO, replicating similar tactics through an intense global campaign that uses homosexuality as an entry point to thwart equal rights and influence African leaders to oppress the most marginalized citizens through misinformation, trickery and pseudo-scientific research. This sounds familiar because it is the same colonial masters’ tactics used in the 17th century. These are the same far-right ideas of white supremacists, with anti-gender and anti-rights agenda.
Just like the colonialists, organizations and groups like Family Watch International are deliberately using family and children, ideals that are cherished in Africa, to reject LGBTQI+ members of the family and encourage governments to put in place the harshest penalties, including death, towards individuals identifying as LGBTQI+, and promote the most harmful practices such as conversion therapy, to “rehabilitate” homosexuals. A dangerous church culture of stigma, discrimination and hate has been cultivated and sanctioned. Botswana experienced this harmful practice during the Evangelical Fellowship of Botswana protest march, shaping negativity and hatred towards another human being in the public space. And here we are again, as Africans, centuries later, ambushed, manipulated and pitted against one another, and once again, the church is at the helm of yet another atrocity.
We have also seen that the anti-SOGIE (sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression) movement is anti-rights and seeks to influence and destroy any structure that represents human rights and attempts to protect the rights of marginalized groups, traditionally at the bottom of the family unit, women, children and the disabled. Recently in Africa, including Botswana, the courts have defended LGBTQI+ by making favorable decisions to protect their rights. Because of that, the judiciary is under attack, as we witnessed with the Namibia Parliament passing a bill that contradicts the Supreme Court judgement to undermine the judiciary. The legislators in all these countries where there is a religious backlash — Kenya, Ghana, Namibia, Botswana and Uganda — are responding to the influence and uncertainty raised by these groups, in the process undermining the rule of law, a trait characteristic of far-right conservatives who are intent on maintaining the status quo of inequalities and oppression.
The African public is tricked into believing that laws against homosexuality represent African cultural norms and beliefs, a fallacy engineered to convince Africans that colonial laws are our ideas. Our African values and norms are reflected in our post-colonial and post-apartheid constitutions, which embrace tolerance, dignity, compassion, nondiscrimination and inclusivity. Africa does not possess social norms that promote harm, hate, discrimination and indignity, those are the imperialist ideals, past and present, intent on wiping out the indigenous Africans. Unfortunately for the new imperialists, Africa has wised up and amassed new human rights jurisprudence in many African nations, including the African Court. In 2021, the African Court wrote an advisory opinion urging African governments to abolish colonial criminal laws, explicitly focusing on vagrancy laws, which treat the most marginalized in our society with contempt.
In conclusion, the African leaders are alerted not to fall into the same trap their forefathers found themselves in and allowed colonial masters to enforce laws that treat the most marginalized in their societies with contempt. The African leaders of then had no lessons to learn from, the current politicians should keep history from repeating itself.
Anna Mmola-Chalmers is the LGBTQI+ programs manager at the Southern Africa Litigation Center.