LGBT – the African Perspective

The maelstrom over gay marriage these days is not only fascinating, but has international ramifications. Even if the legality of gay marriage is murky, the U.S. and many European countries often tout respecting the rights of all individuals regardless of their orientation as a universal human right around the world.

In Africa, even the protection of LGBT orientation in most countries is sorely lacking, let alone marriage or civil union. This is not too surprising for most northern African countries, some governed by Sharia laws – all the way down to the northern third of Nigeria, where the maximum punishment is the death penalty. However, the limited rights of LGBT extend to virtually all of Sub-Saharan Africa (except South Africa) regardless of economic development levels or whether the country is democratic, autocratic, well-governed, poorly governed etc…

Even from a global south perspective (ignoring the Middle East for a moment), Africa seems like an anomaly – at least compared to some parts of Asia and especially Latin America. Could religion be a factor? The Gallup Poll results (the last picture) do show some degree of correlation between the religiosity of the country and their LGBT rights. But to some extent, Africa, Latin America, South Asia, and Southeast Asia all have very religious populations. But the degree of tolerance in Southeast Asia and especially Latin America, at least on paper, seem to be higher. So there are other local/cultural factors that account for the differences, including arguably the degree of control by traditional leaders since the local chiefs in many Sub-Saharan African countries play a major role in dictating the rule of law in their jurisdictions.

In Ghana, at least what I’ve seen is a Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy. Although occasionally violence against LGBT individuals do flare up. In some African countries, there have been movements to grant more rights and protections to all citizens regardless of sexual orientation. This could be a positive sign that with stronger institutions, safeguarding the rights of all individuals can be strengthened independent of the country’s socio-economic levels or levels of religiosity.

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