African LGBTQ activism and a more differentiated view of colonial legacies

It is almost a truism that Africa did not inherit homosexuality from colonial occupation; homophobia is the actual colonial legacy. In a sense, this is almost trivial, yet not banal: this point is of utmost concern to LGBTQ activism across Africa. Scholars have now contributed evidence that tries to prove the existence of same-sex practices prior to the advent of colonialism, thereby trying to counter the traditionalist “argument” about homosexuality’s un-Africanness. Such arguments, seeking out an ethnographic archive for evidence, will hardly be heard, because adversaries and supporters of LGBTQ concerns are not engaged in a debate that strives to find out what is authentic, genuine or true. In fact, any attempt at providing more scholarly evidence in favour of “homosexuality’s Africanness” might rather backfire, since it might easily be interpreted by those opposing LGBTQ rights in Africa as trying to foster a western agenda. (Think of the fierce, yet understandable, reaction to western politicians trying to tie development cooperation to LGBTQ concerns.) Rather than pursuing similar arguments, we suggest to look at precise mechanisms by which maybe homosexual practices, but definitely homophobic regulations have left their imprint on popular views on same-sex relations. Entanglements between colonial legislation and postcolonial homophobia are similar across the African continent, but we miss local differences too easily. Public opinion gleaned from lusophone online media speaks of a different kind of attitude towards LGBTQ concerns. Thus moving beyond a simple binary of ‘colonial/Western’ versus ‘African’, we investigate the entanglement between (former colonial) Portuguese norms and actions and current public opinion in countries like Angola and Mozambique.


Axel Fleisch . University of Helsinki .
Lena Seppinen . University of Helsinki .

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