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Gays in Francophone Africa (Part 3)

James Doughty
Student, French & Political Science Department
Montclair State University
New Jersey
Spring 2009

Peer pressures and city-mentalities are not the only things to blame in regards to the homophobia in Francophone Africa, the societies and governments immensely facilitate homophobia throughout the country. Whether it be through statements such as “silence is golden” stating that homosexuals should keep their mouths shut, and conform to society; or that homosexuals are a “crime against nature,” which crime is punishable by “life imprisonment. 22 ” These ideas, though may be felt by the citizens of Francophone Africa, are only enflamed by the governments and religious leaders of those countries. For example, Jacques Bertoin, in his article “Etre gay en Afrique” says that “Au nord comme au sud du Sahahara, la loi et plus encore la société sont devenues largement hostiles a des pratiques sexuelles que la tradition admettait parfois…L’interdit uniforme de l’homosexualité qui prévaut désormais dans toutes les nations indépendantes de l’Afrique…’’ He has basically surmised that it was the independent states of Africa that turned, what was once a socially acceptable practice of same-sex relationships, into a punishable crime. He, like the other authors mentioned previously, feels that the belief that homosexuality was a ‘sin’ brought over by invaders, is not only false, but massively unjust. He continues to say how it is the states and legislatures of ‘independent’ Africa that has changed the social and historical meanings of same-sex relationships, and that “…ni les mots ni les gestes n’avaient la meme signification23 .” He continues to use the very same arguments that other Anglophone writers have used, including the articles previously mentioned, about how colonialism did not ‘bring’ homosexuality to Africa or taint Africans with Western immorality, rather he states that same-sex relationships existed in different social, and historical contexts, and that it is laws and governments which have drastically changed, once again, African history.

Though many Africans and blacks feel that indeed, the West brought about the taint of homosexuality and same-sex relationships, they are not entirely wrong when they implicate that the West brought something to Africa. It just wasn’t homosexuality, rather the fear of it: homophobia and shame. As previously mentioned, it is not only widely believed, but confirmed that same-sex relationships existed in Africa prior to the colonial empires, however what many scholars, including Deborah Amory believe is that the colonials (all colonials including the Islamic and Arab conquests) laid the seeds of homophobia and bigotry which exists so dominantly today.

With their imperialistic superiority complexes, the colonizers saw these same-sex relations upon arriving in Africa, as not only strange and bizarre, but as an affront to God’s will. Amory feels that “it was the historical processes of colonization and missionization that consistently altered African sexual practices. Virulent homophobia may be the real western perversion at work here. 24 ” The stance of homosexuality, or any same-sex relationship in the Christian religion is well known, it doesn’t take a positive view of it, at all. Therefore, upon seeing these ‘primitive’ African peoples engaging in same-sex relationships, even though they were not homosexual, they nevertheless caused the missionaries and colonials distress.

Therefore, with their ‘superior knowledge’ and ‘advanced civilization’ the colonials and missionaries constantly ridiculed, berated and demonized the same-sex practices of Africa, as they did with all of the other native practices, creating an atmosphere of bigotry, intolerance and homophobia which exists to this day. In fact, the colonials and missionaries were so effective, that they were able to convince not only the Africans but the world as well, that same-sex relationships never existed on the continent, and that it was a ‘white’ or ‘European’ vice, inflicted upon the natives.

This blind ignorance and homophobia has not only made lives of gay Africans difficult, but down right dangerous. Aside from the stories mentioned above, about having to hide their sexuality, or the pressures of avoiding punishment from the law, there are actually mortal dangers to being openly gay in Francophone Africa. Amory gives two examples of these dangers, “For example, the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights campaign has recently confirmed the 1994 rape at gun point of four lesbians in Nigeria, who had sought refuge in a feminist center in Calabar,” she goes on to note, “I heard one friend describe with apparent humor the ambush and severe beating of one local man who was known to be a shoga, or homosexual…The point is that sexual orientation has become a cause, or perhaps an excuse, for political persecution and personal violence in diverse African contexts. 25 ” Though many share this attitude throughout the world, that homosexuals are simply humorous punching bags, the difference is that in other parts of the world, the punishments for these crimes are specific, and can result in serious and severe punishment. However, in most parts of Francophone Africa, as is noted with the four lesbians, judging by the fact that the IGLHRC had to ‘confirm’ the events, shows that little to no legal actions will be taken against gay related hate crimes; certainly no action was taken against the rapists. The effects of colonialism and the missionaries is indeed clear upon Francophone Africa, but what of the other major factor to homophobia and gay discrimination: religion.

As the focus is on Francophone Africa, it would be irresponsible not to include a major factor in the regions history, society and culture: Islam. Islam covers the majority of French speaking Africa, with a few exceptions, such as the Ivory Coast, Gabon and Rwanda. Likewise, just because Islam is the majority religion in this area, that doesn’t mean that other religions do not exist, rather that they are not in the majority, and would have little say on social policies, especially in relations to such a ‘taboo’ subject as homosexuality26 . However, before noting its effects and relationship with homosexuality in Francophone Africa, it is important to give a brief explanation of Islam’s basic principles and ideologies.

Islam is the religion of the Prophet Muhammad, who in 610 AD had his first revelation in a cave which brought about a religion that would sweep not only a region, but the world. There are five major pillars to Islam which include: acknowledging the existence of the one, true God Allah, praying five times a day in the direction of Mecca, fasting during the holy month of Ramadan, giving to the poor, and finally making a pilgrimage to Mecca, but only if finances and health conditions allow for such a journey. These five basic principles construct the foundations of Islam and what it means to be a Muslim. There is another aspect to Islam which, usually militant Islamists add to the pillars, that being of the Jihad. The Jihad is the holy war, which although is the mantra of Al-Qaida and other such militant organizations, moderate Muslims are quick to come to its defense saying that is it the fight against all forms of evil. There are essentially two types of Jihads: the first being in the cause of Allah, to spread his word and protect His faith and the other, is in a grander sense, is the attempt to achieve moral purity.

It is important to note again, that it is these five pillars that make a Muslim, a Muslim. Though there are other doctrines and ideas regarding Islam, the most basic requirement are the five pillars. However, the Qur’an and Hadith also play an important role in the lives of everyday Muslims. The Qur’an is the ultimate holy book of the Islamic faith, and the word of God. Unlike Christianity and Judaism, the Qur’an not only gives explicit details about how to live morally but also how to live socially. It includes laws and details covering the basics of what most think religion should cover: infidelity, piousness, etc. but also includes practical things such as banking, government and trade. The Hadith is a book of sayings supposedly by the Prophet. Though important, the Hadith serves second to the Koran, because the texts in the Hadith can never be verified. 27

With the basics of Islam addressed, the question of how it relates to homosexuality and same-sex relationships can now be discussed. It must be understood, that because Islam is a religion, there is, nor will ever be a clear cut answer in regards to homosexuality and its stance in Islam. For example, the Qur’an only says one phrase in its holy pages specifically regarding the issue of homosexuality, “And as for the two of you who are guilty thereof, punish them both. And if they repent and improve, then let them be. Lo! Allah is Relenting, Merciful. (4.16)” However, there are several other references, which many believe relate to homosexuality. For example, the Qur’an, like the Bible and Torah, mentions Lot and his people, the Sodomites. But what is at question here is whether or not the punishment of the Sodomites was for their sexual practices or other reasons: “What! Of all creatures do ye come unto the males, and leave the wives your Lord created for you? Nay but ye are forward folk…And we rained on them a rain. And dreadful is the rain of those who have been warned (26. 165-75) 28 ” These quotations do not specifically state that sodomy was the sin; what is important to remember is the interpretation of these passages changes.

The Hadith is a perfect example of the multiple interpretations of the Prophet’s word regarding homosexuals and same-sex male relationships. Jim Wafer in his essay “Muhammad and Male Homosexuality” gives some accounts of the Hadith and its various points of view regarding male same-sex behaviors. In one account, it says that “ ‘inverts{male homosexuals}’ were common in the Prophet’s own tribe, the Quaraysh, and the Prophet is supposed to have been particularly amused by the wit of one invert called Hayth. He is also reported to have permitted inverts to be in the same room as his wives when the latter were not veiled.” He goes on to list an opposing account which says that “the Prophet is supposed to have cursed the sodomite in several Hadith. Commentators on the traditions denounce anal intercourse in the most extravagant terms, for example, “Whenever a male mounts another male, the throne of God trembles…” Wafer goes on to say about the contradictory opinions that “there must, in fact, have been a diversity of opinion about the Prophet’s views on the matter, since sex between males was treated differently by the various legal schools. 29

Obviously the question of homosexuality according to the Prophet is complicated at best. However, what seems to be present is the idea of same-sex attraction. Never, does the Qur’an or the Hadith explicitly state that this attraction is alien or foreign, rather it is apart of human being’s nature. Even the Prophet was not immune to this attraction, according various passages in the Hadith where he warns his followers, saying “Do not gaze at the beardless youths, for they have eyes more tempting than huris30 Wolfe continues to state, quite interestingly that “It seems evident that, whatever susceptibility the Prophet may have had to the charms of beautiful youths, he disapproved of giving in to this attraction. But there is no evidence that he regarded the attraction itself as foreign to his own nature, rather the contrary…31

Of course there are those on the other end of the spectrum, who feel that homosexuality is a sin, inherent evil whose only suitable punishment is death. Those who feel this way undoubtedly use the Qur’an and Hadith to support their argument, but as can be seen above, a counter argument is just as easy to find. Therefore, it seems that indeed the formally, extremely opposing ideas of Islam and homosexuality existing side by side peacefully may not be that farfetched after all. As a matter of fact, the Hausa people of West Africa are a perfect example of an attempt, of an Islamic society co-existing with homosexual or same-sex relationship and practices.

Hausaland stretches from West Africa to about Nigeria, and Hausa is the largest spoken language in West Africa. 32 It encompasses a large group of people who are not only diverse ethnically and culturally, but also sexually. There are self-identified homosexuals and a prominent and large, by African standards, ‘gay scene.’ According to Rudolf Guadio “…I was especially surprised to find out that Hausa society has a reputation in Nigeria for homosexual activity. 33 ” They are, a Muslim society which acknowledges, although not as open as say Greenwich Village, that there is a lively homosexual sub-culture. Does this mean that they are ‘less Muslim’ than the rest of the Islamic world? Well, if the rest of the Islamic World had anything to say, they’d probably say yes, but the Hausa probably would feel that they are just as Muslim as those who reside in Egypt or Saudi Arabia.

As a matter of fact, the Hausa have a great sense of humor regarding not only their ‘open’ homosexuality, but also with the reactions of their fellow Muslims. Deborah Amory gives a perfect example of the Hausa sense of humor in her essay, saying that “Rudi Gaudio discussed the case of “Man marries Man in Northern Nigeria?” with a big question mark. He described an inflammatory newspaper article that reported a marriage between two Hausa men. Gaudios paper focused on the Islamist newspaper’s insinuation that this alleged marriage was the result of Western influences. Guadio noted that, at times, Hausa men do use words like ‘marriage’ to describe their same-sex relationships, but never without a great deal of irony and humor…The Islamist newspaper utterly missed the irony with which Hausa men talk about their lives…34

22Siewe, Alex. “Intolérance sans frontières” September 2005.

23Bertoin, Jacques. “Etre gay en Afrique” September 2005.

24Amory, Deborah p. 5

25Amory, Deborah p 5

26 A map of Islam in Africa can be found at

27 Information regarding the religion of Islam was taken from Paler, Monte. The Politics of the Middle East. 2nd Edition. Thomson/Wadsworth. Belmont, CA. pp 15-20

28Murray, Stephen O. Roscoe, Will p 88. in Islamic Homosexualites

29 Murray, Stephen O. Roscoe, Will p. 89 Islamic Homosexualities

30A woman of huris is to be a woman of paradise.

31Murray, Stephen O. Roscoe, Will p. 89 Islamic Homosexualities

32 Boy-Wives and Female Husbands: Studies of African Homosexualities p. 115

33Murray, Stephen O. Roscoe, Will. Boy-Wives and Female Husbands p.115-116

34Amory, Deborah, p. 7