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“Lower than pigs and dogs,” shouted Robert Mugabe.
“More deadly than all natural disasters put together,” hollered Yahya Jammeh.
“Death! Death!” yells the law of northern Nigeria.
“Life imprisonment!” screams the laws of Uganda, Tanzania and Sierra Leone.
“Decapitate them, lynch them, set them ablaze and destroy their properties.”
With this kind of denouncement from our leaders one would think they are targeting child molesters or terrorists. One could even be forgiven for thinking that this bile is being flung at green-coloured aliens, with big heads and short legs, from Mars; aliens who have come in giant saucer-shaped space ships to colonize earth and harvest our organs.
But this kind of hostility has been hurled at a nurse who spends her days delivering babies, and a teacher who dedicates his time to pouring knowledge into young minds. Despite the positive things they do for their communities, they are being hunted down like rabid dogs. Simply because of the people they love and desire.
Homosexuality is a hot button in Africa today. Much of the fervour, however, is fuelled by demagogic politicians who want to distract their subjects from the real issues that matter, like runaway corruption and nepotism. Many politicians today are in office because they are riding high on the rampant homophobia they’ve created.
Not long ago it used to be tribal politics: us against them. If they take office they will steal our cattle, land and wives and make us wear shorts. If they take office, we will be carrying them on our backs to and from work – so as a tribe we needed to pull together to curtail them.
Today, tribalism is highly frowned upon, on the surface that is. Publicly denouncing another tribe can be considered hate speech. Therefore, our leaders have found a new target, another group that we can all hate. A people we need to see as less human, a common evil that will galvanize and mobilize the masses. It was Anton Chekhov, the short story writer I most revere, who said that love, friendship and respect do not unite a people as much as a common hatred for something.
Throughout history, humans have sought to other groups we need to blame for all the problems in our society. If drought is upon us, it’s because of the homosexuals. If there is an outbreak of disease such as cholera, it’s because of them too, and if your child is failing at school, why not? For Hitler’s Germany it was the Jews. For the Hutu it was the Tutsi. In Myanmar it’s the Rohingya Muslims. In America it started with the Native Americans. Today in Trump’s reign it’s everyone who isn’t a White Protestant. In Europe it’s the refugees; that’s why the British voted for Brexit.
During the two world wars the British found it difficult enlisting fighters and carriers from their African colonies. Africans were not too jazzed about fighting another man’s war. The British found a quick solution by painting the Germans as cannibals with big jagged teeth, long forked tongues and horns. The British claimed that if Germany won the war, they would come over to Africa and butcher whole villages for meat. Thus, many African men enlisted to save their families. But once the men reached Europe, they realised they had been tricked. The German was so similar to the English man they could have been brothers.
This is the same kind of propaganda being peddled today by our political and religious leaders. But this time, it isn’t about wars or tribes, but about whom people are allowed to love. These so-called leaders stir a hornet’s nest with their speeches. One of these vilifying speeches snakes its way one afternoon into a dingy bar where it finds a bunch of loafers and shakes their hands.
“I tried chatting up Awinja the other day,” one says, “but she thinks she’s too good for me.”
“Who is Awinja?” another asks.
“She’s that long-legged close-shaven girl who lives near the pork butchery.”
“Oh, but I hear she likes girls,” yet another says.
“That’s because she’s never been with a real man like me,” boasts another.
“Girls like Awinja need to be cured of their disgusting lesbianism and hatred for men, just as our MP says,” says another. “What do you say, boys?”
The gang seeks out Awinja to cure her by brutally raping her; they are doctors and that is the remedy. As she cries out, one informs her that bitter medicine works best. When she reports to the police, nothing is done. She is a “misfit” who got what she “deserved.”
“Un-African” – this is how much of the hate speech against homosexuality is justified. “White man’s disease,” it is called, brought in by ship when the white men colonized our lands. Dismissing homosexuality like this, though, is hypocrisy of the highest degree. Almost on a level with the hypocrisy of the African Union, which claims to advocate for democracy and human rights and in the same breath elects chairmen like Idi Amin, Mugabe and Teodore Obiang.
Today not much of us or our lives can be described as “African.” An urban African wakes up in a house with indoor plumbing, toasts their bread, fingers their smart phone, clad in suits/pantsuits and boards a matatu or an okada to work. Let’s not forget that many of us favour Western names over our own, opt to speak in Western languages, as that way one is deemed progressive and educated, and prefer wigs over our African hair, and even bleach our skins.
Homosexuality is not new in Africa. It didn’t come with the white man during colonisation as some people would want us to believe. Many African cultures have a name for homosexuality as old as the cultures themselves. Unlike the new words that have recently cropped up in African languages like feminism, ambulance and catch-22.
Individuals of many communities across Africa have practiced homosexuality in one form or another. The earliest recorded homosexual couple lived about 2400 B.C. in Egypt during the reign of the sixth pharaoh. These were royal court manicurists named Khnumhotep and Niankhkhnum. Their love for each other was so strong that when they died they were buried in the same tomb. Other classic examples are the cave paintings of the San of Zimbabwe, thousands of years old, depicting homosexual acts between men. In fact, homophobia was bred by the missionaries who curtailed most of our sexual practices, calling them savagely and demonic. For instance: No sexual relations during the day, and lie with your wife only once in a night and only in the missionary position.
Another line of argument against homosexuality is referring to it as taboo. Any worthy sociology student will tell you that what is taboo today will not necessarily be taboo tomorrow. In many cultures it was taboo in the past for women to divorce their husbands. A woman with a violent husband had to endure his fists, kicks and vile tongue till the end of her days. Today marriages are dissolving without raising eyebrows, and battered women are taking their husbands to court.
Interracial couples were once taboo, and for the young generation it’s almost unfathomable to visualize that tattoos and women wearing pants were as well. The last example is one I know many shy men are grateful for. Today it’s common for a woman to ask a man out. In the past women wouldn’t have dreamt of such forwardness, because they were socialized to believe they would appear desperate and sluttish. The cogs of time are moving fast.
Many Africans are of the inclination that homosexuality is against their religion. But in truth, mainstream religions in Africa such as Christianity and Islam cannot in all honesty be called “our” religions. These are religions that are heavily laden with Western and Middle Eastern practices and are highly critical of black people. White Christians have quoted verses from the Bible to justify the chaining, enslaving and oppression of black people. Colossians 3:22–25 states that slaves should obey their earthly masters in everything, and do it with all their hearts as if working for the Lord. In so doing they will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward.
Many religious Africans have the tendency of taking everything religion says at face value; and this has proved to be highly problematic. That’s why it’s common for demented persons to misinterpret the doctrines of these religions: An African will slaughter another, or blow himself up in a crowded market over these imported religions. When I was a teenager we lived next to a staunch Christian woman who had three small children. Her husband worked in the city and didn’t come home for months at a time. Because her church believed that people who die young, before they reach the age of accountability, are given a free pass to Heaven – she drowned her poor kids in the local dam.
In Africa one is Catholic or Protestant or Muslim mostly because that religious group reached their village first before any other during the scramble for and partitioning of Africa. In my village, Njogu-ini, in Central Kenya, it was the Presbyterians to reach it first at the turn of the twentieth century. My paternal great grandmother was a little girl then. She was baptized and christened Tabitha.
Since then my family and the entire village at large has been Protestant, passed down from generation to generation. I’ve always wondered what my life would have been like if it was the Muslims or the Buddhists who reached our village first. I’m greedy by nature so I would have relished the opportunity to marry up to four wives, or to put aside the heaven or hell teachings for the power of reincarnation.
I once had a homosexual friend who was in the closet for most of his young life. Kamara (not his real name) and I were as close as brothers. Many found him a bit strange. As nursery-school kids I noticed he loved to play mother when we played house. As the years progressed, I noticed he was acutely conscious of his image. I remember constantly rebuking him for spending too much time in front of the mirror.
We went to the same boarding boys’ high school. He made the rest of us look like a bunch of greasy mechanics. His clothes were always cleanest and he took a shower daily. He had long polished nails that always got him in trouble with the teachers, and he loved to plait his hair on weekends. Sometimes when he walked you would think he was cat-walking. Some boys hated him at first but gradually came to like him for his uniqueness.
When we talked about girls he seemed quite bored. When one of the boys managed to smuggle a dirty magazine to school, Kamara was never among the hordes fighting to get at it. In form three Kamara and I were appointed dorm captains. He was the Batian and I was the Lenana captain. Every Saturday we did general cleaning of the dorms and there was a competition overseen by teachers on duty to see which dorm was the neatest and tidiest. Batian almost always won among the eight dorms.
Being a dorm captain came with benefits. Our school had a policy of random locker searches by our teachers. Dorm captains were exempted from this degrading ordeal. (Nothing is more uncomfortable than your chemistry teacher feeling your underpants checking for contraband.) Therefore, many students would hide their illicit goods like marijuana, snuff and the dirty magazines in the lockers of dorm captains, for a small fee of course.
Dorm captains were entrusted with making duty rosters and some rich students did bribe us handsomely to be exempted from duties. Kamara was the only upright dorm captain who didn’t condone such criminality. Even on Wednesdays when one piece of meat was thrown in our boiled and badly cut cabbages, he shared the meat equally among his subjects. The other captains, I included, piled our plates high with meat till some students missed their one piece.
As I chewed my bowl of meat I would contemplate: Kamara will make a brilliant politician in future – incorruptible, altruistic, neat and organized.
Kamara and I attended the same college and shared a room. That’s when I knew my best friend suffered from the “white man’s disease”. Seeing how he had no game in wooing the female species. I went out one evening to a party and came back with two tipsy voluptuous ladies, one for me and one for him. Kamara broke down in tears and I had to kick the girls out. He made a clean breast of everything.
“Why on earth would you choose to be gay?” I asked.
Kamara looked daggers at me. “You tell me, why would anyone choose to be gay?” I didn’t have an answer. So I kept mum and paced about the room, arms akimbo.
“Being gay in Africa is like living with leprosy,” he said. “Why would I wish that on myself?”
“I just don’t get it,” I said. “We were brought up in the same village, attended the same schools. Where did you lose a step?”
“I didn’t lose a step anywhere. I have always been this way,” Kamara said. “Think about it. Who would choose to be a homosexual and go through all the hatred, danger and ridicule that comes with the tag?”
Seeing that Kamara was somewhat making sense, and remembering all the odd mannerisms he had since childhood, I did my research in the coming weeks and came to realise what a fool I had been. I apologized profusely. Condemning one for being gay is as illogical as condemning one for being left-handed, I learnt. Science says homosexuality is natural. Religion calls it an abomination. Remember it is science that saves lives in hospitals, not the hundred hands clasped in prayer.
I sadly read of how doctors in the past had subjected homosexuals to cruel practices, trying to “cure” them. Men were castrated and women had their wombs removed. Other doctors, thinking it was a mental illness, cut into patients’ brains and submitted many others to session upon session of electrocution. Nothing worked of course.
After college Kamara and I were scattered by the winds in pursuit of bread but we talked regularly over the phone. In his mid-twenties Kamara’s parents began pressuring him to settle down. This Christmas do not come home without a lady in your arms, his mother would often say; and if her belly is protruding, all the better.
When I visited the village from time to time and happened to bump into Kamara’s mother, she would whisper into my ear. “You have been friends with my son since childhood. You know how shy he is in the presence of ladies. Why don’t you introduce him to some of your lady friends, my child?”
“I will, mother,” I’d lie. I knew she would cry out that demons had possessed her son and roll in the dirt and pull at her hair if I revealed to her he didn’t swing that way. I would try dropping clever quotes to defend him; like how heterosexuality is not normal, it’s just common. That homosexuality is neither a sickness nor a choice. It’s innate and unchangeable. But I held my tongue in her presence. It wasn’t my place anyway to shove Kamara out of the closet.
A week before Christmas 2016, Kamara’s boss got wind of his sexual orientation and fired him. Kamara went home without a woman in his arms. Everyone was disappointed, but not as much as when he told them it was because he was gay and was tired of living a lie, and hoped they would accept him as he was.
His father shouted it was better his mother had given birth to a frog than to a son like him who brought such shame to the family. “Get out and never come back!” his father screamed. “The day you hear me call you my son again, take my name and give it to a dog.”
Kamara hung himself on New Year’s Eve 2017 in a cheap motel. On that day, Africa lost a gifted young man. He would have made a noble leader – something that is greatly needed in our dear continent. But alas, the prevalence of homophobia has robbed us of his talent.
Homosexuals are like poetry. They are hated simply because they are not understood. Anyone should be able to love and be loved by a member of whichever sex, as long as they are two consenting adults. It should be a fundamental right, a civil right.
In this modern era, homophobia is reminiscent of racism in Jim Crow America and Apartheid South Africa; when restaurants had posters outside shouting – DOGS AND BLACKS NOT ALLOWED. A racist dentist then would not pull out a rotting tooth from a black person. Today a homophobic dentist will act similarly when presented with a known homosexual patient. I once overheard a dentist swear he’d rather stick his hands in a street dog’s mouth.
In those unfortunate days, two black men sauntering joyously along the streets bothering nobody would invite a beating from white men; the same treatment would be visited today on a gay couple walking the streets holding hands, but by black men. White men raped black women to humiliate them, show their contempt of the black race and enforce racial domination. As shown above, black men are today raping lesbians to show their contempt of the woman’s orientation and to try to shame her into heterosexuality.
In 1954, the United States Supreme Court decreed a law desegregating public schools. Three years later nine African American children became the first students to be enrolled in an all-white high school. The school was Little Rock Central High in Arkansas. What followed is the Little Rock Crisis: The local white community rose in revolt taking it as an insult that their children would be sharing the same classrooms with black students.
There was a mighty showdown between the Arkansas Governor, Faubus, and the American President, Eisenhower. The Governor deployed troops at the gate to bar the children from entering the school. The President assigned the federal army to escort the nine children through the gates of the school; as parents and students pelted them with rocks, spat at them and called them all manner of names.
In class, these nine students still got hit, abused and had their hairs pulled. At meal times hot coffee and ketchup was poured on their heads and the washrooms had graffiti that bore lines like “Monkeys go back to Africa.” The teachers turned a blind eye to all this. Actually if one of the nine fought back, he or she would be punished by the teachers. After classes, rope-carrying lynch mobs would patrol the streets trying to get at them.
Journalists took photos: Of members of the rope-carrying mobs, and of the white parents and students yelling and throwing acid in the faces of the black students. Being a racial bigot was cool then for white people, but the times have changed. History has not been kind to those white students featured in these historic photographs. One of the snaps features a girl named Hazel Massery. The rain started beating her in the 1980s. She and the other white students are now seen as the outcasts, members of the Ku Klux Klan. They are now elderly but the photos are still fresh. A few of them, like Hazel, out of shame apologized to their victims in the Oprah Winfrey show in 2011. The nine African American children grew up to be educators, journalists and human rights activists.
Below is an iconic photo of one of the Little Rock Nine, fifteen-year-old Elizabeth Eckford, as she tries to enter the school. The girl shouting behind Eckford is Hazel Massery. The photo was taken by Will Counts, a photographer of the segregationist newspaper Arkansas Democrat.
Today the trend is of bashing homosexuals and denying them their civil rights. But the wheel of time is turning, and soon, those who condemn homosexuals will be viewed as poorly as the parents, students and teachers of Little Rock High.
I have a dream that one day homosexuals in Africa will no longer be treated as second-class citizens. That they will be permitted to go about their lives as freely as heterosexuals: not hide their sexuality from their employers and landlords, to walk hand in hand in the streets, run for elective posts, get married and start families. Let the cogs of time find you on the right side of the track. Don’t be a Hazel Massery.