Nothing is seen as huge a threat as the gay lifestyle in most African countries. Homophobia is widespread and is nothing to be ashamed of—or so it seems. From the top leadership to the masses in the streets, support for gay rights is practically non-existent.
During a recent visit to Ghana, as part of her first official trip to Africa, the Vice President of the United States of America, Kamala Harris was asked to comment on the policy of the American government on the LGBTQ issue. She was asked to clarify the position of the American government on recent developments in a number of African countries in which the gay lifestyle is “not tolerated.”
According to the media person who asked the question, Ghana is in the process of passing anti LGBTQ legislation that would essentially criminalize the LGBTQ lifestyle. Uganda had already passed a similar legislation and Tanzania was actively pursuing the same goal of making the gay lifestyle illegal with the goal of sending gay people to serve long prison terms. The question was: did she intend to discuss the persecution of members of the gay communities with the leaders of the host countries in light of the fact that the American government supports and considers gay rights as a human rights issue?
She indicated in her response that she is personally committed to pursuing human rights for all, including those who identify with the LGBTQ community, and have to defend themselves against others who try to deny them of their rights to pursue their lifestyle. She also pointed out that the Biden-Harris administration has made it clear that they support human rights for the LGBTQ community.
Reaction to her response was fast and furious. Ghanaians and other Africans quickly responded to her remarks. They didn’t like her response and didn't shy away from stating their opposition to the gay lifestyle on social media and other media. They were disappointed and wanted the American government to know about it. They made it known that as far as they are concerned, the American government has no right to support gay rights in Ghana or anywhere else in Africa and are totally opposed to the notion that the American government considers gay rights in African countries a human rights issue.
President Museveni of Uganda has described it as a lifestyle that is being imposed on Africa and Africans by Europe and America. A video on social media shows him defending his country's passage of legislation that makes the gay lifestyle a criminal offense. Other African leaders have made similar statements indicating that they consider the gay lifestyle a threat to African society and will use their power and authority to stop it from spreading or totally eliminate it.
The remarks made by Vice President Kamala Harris had the unintended consequence of focusing more attention on questions that have been raised about the merits and demerits of foreign aid to African countries. Has foreign aid been effective in providing solutions to problems in Africa? Should African countries continue to seek and receive foreign aid when the guidelines necessarily involve accepting conditions that may be in conflict with their national interests, such as the case with efforts to make gay rights a human rights issue in some African countries?
To a certain extent, it makes sense that politicians and others involved with human rights matters in Western countries tend to be inclined to making gay rights a human rights issue. To them, anyone being denied the freedom to pursue a certain lifestyle is being deprived of a right to which they are entitled. People are supposed to be free to do what they want, even if others find their lifestyle distasteful or oppose it.
It is a different story when it comes to making gay rights a human rights issue in Africa. They made it perfectly clear to Vice-President Kamala Harris where they stand. They take pride in their own cultural norms and values and hold the view that they know what’s best for them, and have the right to make the choices they consider appropriate and relevant. The majority support efforts to create awareness about the threat posed by foreign cultures and have focused on the gay lifestyle as one of the major challenges they face.
The questions being asked now include whether any progress would be made with making gay rights a human rights issue in Ghana and other African countries. Will the visit of the US vice president have an impact and bring change? They are not easy questions to answer. Factors to consider include the fact that Ghana and other African countries may not have a choice. More than likely, they may continue to deal with seeking and receiving foreign aid that will be granted with conditions they don't approve of.
Criticizing America and other donor countries about the terms and conditions attached to foreign aid has not been effective in addressing their concerns. Furthermore, the American government’s support for gay rights in Africa continues to be a major source of conflict and has been made worse during and after the visit of Vice President Kamala Harris and the statements she made about the issue.
Whether the United States will continue to support gay rights in Africa and put pressure on African countries to do the same remains a decision to be made by the American government. All indications are that it won’t be resolved any time soon. All sides appear to be determined to stick to what they believe best serves them.
Public opinion in most African countries suggests that the majority don’t support gay rights and any plans to make it a human rights issue. They continue to be opposed to the gay lifestyle and are not likely to support any effort to make gay rights a human rights issue. The United States government has also not indicated any willingness on its part to change its support for making gay rights a human rights issue in Africa. Thus the stage is set for a conflict that will continue to be a problem between the American government and African countries. One thing is for sure. There is more debate ahead and a lot to be negotiated on this issue.