There is a widespread but unsubstantiated paranoia that the West is trying to spread homosexuality here in Africa. In the African political culture of the 21st century the enemy of African self-determination is not the mindless consumerism, exploitation of natural resources or military intrusion but 'the gays'. Ironically, homophobia is about the closest thing to an anti-imperialist movement in existence here today. This is the sick reality in a continent that has long-buried the progressive memories of Kwame Nkrumah, Samora Machel and Thomas Sankara.
Senegal is one of at least 38 African countries, which sentences homosexuals and their heterosexual allies to long-term prison sentences. The most infamous case has come as the Ugandan legislature moved to pass a strict bill that would detain and execute homosexual violators. There are several reasons to oppose this bill in particular for the social justice movement. For starters this legislation would be a huge setback for the fight against HIV and AIDS in Uganda; a country that has shown significant progress in fighting the disease in recent years. The stigma, criminalization and discrimination of men who have sex with men is likely to deter them from pursuing HIV prevention and treatment services from the government. This would no doubt be of minor consequence to an evangelical Christian, as many have come to Africa preaching Jesus' salvation as the cure for AIDS.
The Ugandan anti-gay legislation is yet another example of the impact ultra-conservative Christian missionaries have in Africa. The New York Times reported how in the lead up to the legislation, thousands of Ugandans, including police officers, teachers and national politicians, listened raptly to the Americans, who were presented as experts on homosexuality. Furthermore, although the Ugandan legislation has been the subject of bi-partisan rebuke in the U.S., there is a prominent right-wing movement there that uses similar hate-filled rhetoric freely on cable television and the pulpit with little criticism.
Of course, Western Christians are not the only source of homophobia in the continent. My predominantly Muslim 11th grade American Government class recently remarked to me their fears of a vast American conspiracy to spread homosexuality throughout Africa. To resolve the problem, half of the students recommended the punishment of death by a show of hands. A few discussed in great detail how to carry such executions out and quoted specific passages from the Islamic Hadith to justify the actions.
Homophobia is only one of several fruits born from the destruction of the African left. Throughout the continent there is routine violence against poor immigrants coming from neighboring countries. South Africa is one of the most extreme examples of reactionary violence toward other Africans who share virtually the same histories, and class struggles against neo-liberal globalization. Today, as Africa fights poverty, disease and external exploitation it must also face a growing and usually unchallenged right-wing political culture that pervades much of the continent's government's and civil society. When caught between the choice of cultural relativism and social justice, we should always choose the latter.