US HELPING US? Looking inward, and asking the real questions about present and future directions for LGBTQ activisms in Africa

P24 – US HELPING US? Looking inward, and asking the real questions about present and future directions for LGBTQ activisms in Africa

Cheikh Traore 

Despite small breakthroughs in certain countries, we face continued difficult environments for LGBTI people across the African continent. We see tenacious refusal by states to open spaces for dialogue, or even an appetite for increased repression and criminalization. This has not deterred the birth and growth of organized LGBTI groups, organizations and movements. Activists are at the heart of these developments, but few are questioning the tactics and modus operandi for the struggle. Even fewer are looking inwards  to question the slow pace of change, or lack of progress in securing breakthroughs and the societal status quo. Is this related to ways in which movements have emerged and the models they chose for organizing? What is the role of North-South relations and donor-recipient relations in this situation?  Are we really challenging the deep structural realities of patriarchy, class and sexisms that exist in our midst and our surrounding communities?


On the 7th of January 2014, the then President of Nigeria declared the Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act, a national law after 7 years of it being in transit under both houses of assembly. Asides criminalizing same sex marriages and civil unions with punishment of 14 years imprisonment, the Act states that anyone who ‘supports the registration, operation and sustenance of gay clubs, societies, organizations, processions or meetings in Nigeria’ is liable on conviction to 10 years imprisonment. This has forced many human rights NGOs and groups to shut down their activities and has lead to a  ‘crackdown on LGBTI groups and individuals who already faced astronomical incidences of human rights abuses even before the Act was passed. Freedom of Association is recognized as a fundamental human right under International Human Rights Law and has been described as a prerequisite for a true democracy. It can only be limited under a number of stated of grounds. The paper seeks to analyze the implication of the law on the right to Freedom of Association and more importantly on how civil society in Nigeria through activism has been able to fight for and defend this right.


Jake Okechukwu Effoduh  . Council on African Security and Development .



When African States like Senegal ratify international human rights treaties and supposedly new instruments of protections for vulnerable groups become available, the steps taken in the sense of increasing individual rights are seen as socially progressive. The rate of ratification of such instruments has been high in the country, to such an extent that certain people state that Senegal is a country of human rights. Gender rights and sexual and reproductive rights have been widely promoted both at the governmental level and at the grass-roots level, but not those of LGBTQ people. The rights of LGBTQ contrast absolutely with this scenario and violence upon people belonging in this category is very common. Public humiliation, social commentary made by local personalities and high profile religious leaders, and at times even forthright violence like lynching, are outcomes of a very stressed relation of Senegalese society with non-normative sexual identities, especially homosexuality. The country, seen as a “good student” in human rights is at the bottom of the scale of respect for the rights of LGBTQ people. Despite the pressure from the international community for the country pass new laws, it has stood ground, choosing as the interlocutors of the political debate religious groups of pressure and society at large. This ‘non-compliance’ stance can be explained by looking further into the sociocultural context under appreciation. This communication will explore the general framework of gender and intergenerational relations, as well as provide examples, that will help to give meaning to why LGBTQ movements in Senegal haven’t been able to come through.


Ricardo Falcão . CEI-IUL .




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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