Homophobia and donour discourse threatening LGBTI activism in Africa

Three strands are discernible in African homophobia discourse: traditionalist, biologistic, religious. Their origins go back to the colonial experience in Africa, but differ. African traditionalism claims homosexuality to be un-African: an imperial colonial import. Religious LGBTI adversaries phrase opposition to homosexuality in terms of un-Godliness. Other adversaries try to frame their opposition to LGBTI activism in terms of biology and nature.  These positions have been blended into a discursive package that is difficult to unravel. African evangelical churches backed by western donours join the traditionalists’ view of Africa as originally void of homosexual practice. Biologistic arguments that ring of late 19th century Western science meet with traditionalist voices alluding to a pristine Africa. All three join in metaphors of purification – despite obvious cognitive dissonances between them. Meanwhile, the colonizing structure that once brought homophobic world views, religion, science and law to Africa has remorphed into donour discourses speaking of human rights: Development aid will end, if LGBTI concerns are not recognized. In this, they hijack LGBTI issues for their concerns, jeopardising African LGBTI activism. What range of action does this leave for members of the LGBTI collective? Some of the more subversive examples happen in liminal spaces, often hidden from the all too public observer. But at the same time there are interesting niches out of which some issues are catapulted into the mediatic mainstream. It is the latter which I find interesting as potential catalysts for open-minded, curious and potentially supportive members of the African civil society. I suggest this is the potential that needs to be tapped into, if LGBTI activism is to succeed.


Axel Fleisch . University of Helsinki . axel.fleisch@helsinki.fi
Lena Seppinen . University of Helsinki . lena.seppinen@helsinki.fi

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