Homosexuality is an interesting topic to bring up to your African elder, they will either be very dismissive towards it or they will shout at you and tell you to never bring it up again and that it is “Un-African”. But I find it impossible to believe that for millions of years that Africans have existed, there was never an African LGBT before colonialism.
In 2012, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni said, during an interview with BBC’s HardTalk, that “Homosexuals in small numbers have always existed in our part of black Africa …They were never prosecuted.” Of course quoting Yoweri Museveni saying something positive about homosexuality is pretty ironic, since he still went on to sign an anti-gay bill which included life sentences for Gay sex and same-sex marriages.
The sad truth is, homosexuality in Africa at the moment is insanely taboo. Cell-phone videos in Countries like Nigeria showing gay people publicly beaten by mobs have been released online. There are obviously deeper issues behind why so many Africans are so scared of the idea of same sex relationships and the LGBT, but a lot of research also show that Christianity might have some roots to this.
Religion is not inherently new in Africa, a lot of African tribes had their own unique religions in the past and some of them even continued practising them well after colonialism. However back then, gender and sexuality were not as black and white as they are perceived now, gender roles and same sex relationships were a lot more complex than what most homophobes would like you to believe.
For instance, in Namibia, there has been ethnographic evidence of same-sex relationships in the Nama tribe pre-colonial era. In Uganda, the Baganda women from the royal clan are addressed with Male titles and were not expected to perform female duties.
There are even ancient cave paintings by San People near Guruve, Zimbabwe that depict two men engaged in a form of ritual sex. The very fact that there is vocabulary in so many African Languages that is used describe same sex relation is further proof that there is nothing western about it.
For instance in Namibia, the Oshiwambo word “Eshenge”, which of course is now mainly used as a negative connotation, refers to someone who is perceived as having changed their sexually orientated behaviour and character.
In many African societies, same-sex sexuality was also perceived to be a source of magical powers for good health and guaranteed crop yields. In Angola and Namibia, Male diviners, called gangas or Quimbanda, were seen as powerful carriers of female spirits which they would pass to their fellow men through anal sex. The Dagaaba people (Ghana) assigned genders not based on anatomy but rather how one presents themselves.
Even with all of these however, anti-LGBT attitudes in Africa still continue. When Christianity was brought to Africa, a lot of African tribes were told that their rituals and way of doing things was primitive and demonic.
A lot of African Cultures were white-washed and African tribes were made to feel ashamed of their own identity, something that is still very evident today. Whether or not African tribes were primitive as some Europeans would say, I believe there is a difference between trading knowledge and completely wiping out one’s identity so it can suit your own.
However, not all is bleak when it comes to Homosexuality and Christianity in Africa. As someone who has family members who are Christian and not hateful, I do believe that not all Christians are homophobic. In fact, in Nairobi, Kenya an LGBT church was launched in 2013.
The church was launched by a group of Kenyan activists who wanted to create a safe space for Kenyan LGBT people of faith. And yes LGBT people of faith do exist, I know more than a few myself. The church is created as an attempt to fight the influence that American Evangelical churches have on African mindsets. Even ArchBishop Desmond Tutu himself has been known to have fought for Gay rights in South Africa.
In the early 1900’s Christians in Africa made up only 9% in all of Africa. As of today, that number has skyrocketed to 63%. Ever since then anti-LGBT laws have been written into constitutions and burned into the minds of African people. While the very nations that brought us these hateful views move on to more progressive laws, we are still stuck in the past. I do not have an answer on how to end these hateful views, but I do not think using Christianity or the bible as an excuse is right. After all, Jesus did say “Love your neighbour as you love yourself” and unless you have an inherent hate for yourself; what really is your excuse?