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Is Africa’s LGBTQ+ community truly safe in 2022?

Let’s face it, the African continent is still not a safe haven for the LGBTQ+ community. In almost every African country, homosexuality is considered a taboo.

Africa identifies itself with traditional customs and beliefs that date centuries back.

According to the Human Rights Watch, most African nations are still traditionalist and consider the LGBTQ+ community a taboo or ‘curse’. This has led most to shun away from protecting the rights of those who consider coming out or expressing themselves authentically.

More than thirty Africa countries have outlawed homosexuality and in some countries, like South Sudan, Somalia, Somaliland, Mauritania and Northern Nigeria, the maximum punishment is death.

In other areas like Tanzania and the Gambia, an LGBTQ+ individual could face life imprisonment.

However, there has been some progress in the last few decades. South Africa, for example, was the first African country to legalize gay marriage and the fifth in the world back in 2006. Its constitution protects against discrimination based on one’s sexual identity, or any other form.

Despite South Africa constitutionally identifying LGBTQ+ community rights, social discrimination and hate crimes are still common in rural areas and other minor cities. According to local reports, violence is rife and murder cases have been on the rise.

Major cities such as Cape Town and Johannesburg are considered friendly, however, and are ideal destinations for the LGBTQ+ community to visit.

What are some of the challenges Africans face?

In Kenya, a homosexual relationship can lead to a 14 year jail term as a criminal act. Members of the LGBTQ+ community face hate, discrimination and violence, either online or through physical abuse.

Government leaders have previously condemned homosexuality in rallies and in church. Just two months ago, an LGBTQ+ member was murdered in Central Kenya after being sexually assaulted.

The incident caused a sensitive online debate that lasted for weeks. According to the Kenya Human Rights Commission, such cases end up unsolved and no justice served.

Similarly, discrimination is present in most public hospitals and the community finds it difficult to access medical health care.

In Tanzania and Uganda, there is an enforcement law of up to life imprisonment. In 2019, Uganda proposed a bill to criminalize the promotion and recruitment of homosexuality.

Tanzania has further banned distribution of condoms to LGBTQ+ members in health facilities. There are no laws protecting these members against any form of hate or violence. Local reports indicate there are still arrests and numerous persecutions to LGBTQ+ members during crackdowns that are ordered by government officials.

A high portion of the African population is religious, which encourages widespread discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community on the basis that it does not ‘align’ with the values of faith.

The African media often pushes this discriminative narrative when reporting on different sexual orientations and demonstrates biased against the legitimacy of LGBTQ+ rights.

What has been the government response?

Despite the efforts by various African governments to protect the community, little has been done to advocate for their rights and for genuine progress.

In the past ten years, only five countries (Angola, Lesotho, Seychelles, Botswana, Mozambique)  in Africa have legalized the same-sex marriage. Early last year, Angola became the latest nation to decriminalize same sex engagements.

LGBTQ+ activists from Africa have voiced their concerns online and through peaceful demonstrations to advocate for the human rights of the community and for laws to be passed to protect them.

Despite the heavy criticism of the government, little has been accomplished. Recently in Ghana, demonstrations were held after murder cases linked to LGBTQ+ members became more frequent.

Africa should be a hub for all humanity and a champion of human rights advocacy. Inclusivity of every sexual orientation should promote love and global unity – we may have a while to go before that becomes a reality.