By Val Kalende
Last week, Ugandan gay activists announced February 10 as a Global Day of Action against the Anti Homosexuality Bill. In phenomenal world-wide outrage, the draconian proposed law has almost equaled Idi Amin and Joseph Kony in tainting Uganda’s image. So much that in 2012, the Ugandan government paid over $1 million to an Ireland-based public relations firm in a campaign to “whitewash” the country’s image abroad. While I still meet people who think Africa is a country, I meet many more who know about an East African country where “gays are killed.” While people may have flawed assumptions about Africa or what it means to be gay in Africa, these responses point to an undeniable fact: global solidarity is becoming one of the most powerful weapons against Africa’s homophobia.
I believe, as Dr. King believed, that “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Solidarity is not a sympathy-seeking, charity-seeking project calling for White messiahs to save the world. Solidarity, as I understand it, speaks to a hidden desire in every human being to be human. Simply stated, solidarity is the African concept Ubuntu. To stand in solidarity with a cause for which one is not directly affected takes more than recognizing it as a problem of the other.
At Kuchu Diaspora Alliance, a network of Ugandan LGBT people in the Diaspora, we are “amplifying the collective voice of our movement,” a slogan that is representative of the collective power of solidarity. With an African LGBT Diaspora beginning to emerge, we are organizing—in partnership with activists on the ground—for global action.
In the United States, the campaign against Uganda’s anti-gay bill has redefined what it means to stand in solidarity with LGBT struggles abroad. When Hilary Clinton made a historic statement in support of LGBT people everywhere, “LGBT rights are human rights and human rights are LGBT rights,” the importance of global solidarity began to resonate with most activists. In fact, there had been discussions on how to diminish harm should similar laws be proposed in other countries. And, as witnessed in the past four years, gay rights have come under attack in Malawi, Zambia, Cameroun, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Zimbabwe, and Russia.
In Cameroun, activists are under attack, and some have been killed. In Nigeria, the outcry of LGBT people is loud. And yet, only a handful of cases are reported. From current trends of events, backlash against HIV/AIDS interventions can be predictable. Witch-hunts, blackmail, arrests, and murder will continue to rise. One thing all these countries seem to have in common is the influence of religion and the pushback against Western imperialism.
In Russia, global solidarity and the Olympics have shed light on the country’s anti-gay “propaganda” law. In Uganda, politicians are beginning to respond to international criticism over the right-wing sponsored “Jail all gays” bill and are now turning to the Church to be at the forefront of the campaign against homosexuality. The church in Africa has become a safety net for homophobia mainly because it is safer to bash gays with the bible than it is to bash gays with politics.
Clergy in Uganda are mobilizing for a 2016 ballot on homosexuality whereby winning an election will be determined by a candidate’s stand on homosexuality. There is likelihood of growing fractions in the Anglican Church as African Archbishops move to respond to Canterbury’s recent communiqué on its stand on homosexuality.
But while Uganda’s upsurge of homophobia has provided reasons to investigate anti-gay laws elsewhere in Africa, I believe it is time for global solidarity against homophobia to move beyond Uganda. As a community organizer who has worked on the ground, I understand that words of encouragement from afar bring hope, even in hopeless situations.
Uganda’s anti-gay bill has galvanized global solidarity for gay rights on the continent. That is not a bad thing. Because while conservative evangelicals hail Uganda for “showing leadership” for its anti-gay law, Uganda has become the spin of Africa’s new gay rights civil rights movement because of its unique situation. My fear is that we seem to be using one country’s story to understand a continental problem. In the process, not much is known about the situation in other countries. The “global day for action” campaign can be applied to other countries where anti-gay laws are being debated or have been sanctioned. It should become a worldwide campaign with activists protesting anti-gay laws at embassies around the world. These actions can be coordinated with activists in African countries affected by such laws such that meaningful outcomes can be achieved.
Change is happening albeit not ostensibly. It is those small ripples of change that can be harnessed to long-term gains. A global day of action beyond Uganda might be just what needs to happen.