Christian and Islamic forces fought to eliminate the ‘unnatural damnation’ and left behind a trail of homophobia
Africa has 54 countries and more than a billion people. One of the most ridiculous myths about it is that homosexuality did not exist in the continent until white men imported it. Robert Mugabe is one such propagator, calling homosexuality “un-African” and a “white disease”.
Throughout history people everywhere have explored and experimented with their sexuality. The desire to do so has never been confined to particular geographical locations. Its reach is universal. Yet today the myth of a pre-colonial sexual innocence, or more fittingly, ignorance, is used to endorse anti-gay legislation and stir up homophobia and persecution in Africa. In my father’s country, Nigeria, a new law passed in January carries a 14-year prison sentence for same-sex marriage and up to 10 years for membership or promotion of gay groups. In Uganda, the Anti-Homosexuality Act can impose life imprisonment. Latter-day evangelicals from the US are partly to blame for this continuing persecution, but so are Africa’s political leaders such as presidents Yahya Jammeh of the Gambia and Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, who use rabble-rousing anti-gay rhetoric to increase their power base and popularity.
While much has been written about this dangerous turn of events, little has been written about its origins. Two trailblazing studies in the field –Boy Wives and Female Husbands edited by Stephen O Murray and Will Roscoe, and Heterosexual Africa? by Marc Epprecht – demolish the revisionist arguments about Africa’s sexual history. From the 16th century onwards, homosexuality has been recorded in Africa by European missionaries, adventurers and officials who used it to reinforce ideas of African societies in need of Christian cleansing.