If the plentiful anti-gay comments by Nigerians and other Africans on online platforms like Twitter, is all you have to go by, one will be hard-pressed to find any reason to say Gay Rights across the old continent are improving in unprecedented ways.
This reason however, is why we are here – to keep for public record the journey from blemished but emerging societies, to patchwork nation states whose growth was interrupted by imperialist interference. Also, to developing nation-states trying their best to reign in the course of their history and set a course for the future that best suit their lived realities.
Angola, in a new penal code that came into force on Wednesday, has decriminalised same-sex relations and prohibited discrimination based on sexual attraction. The central African country had in 2019 scrapped an old penal code that criminalised what it described as “vices against nature,” paving the way for the recent historic win for Gay Rights in the country. Angola isn’t alone in this.
A growing number of African countries have since the turn of the 21st century revisited the archaic laws that are a relic of the colonial past and tossed them aside to adopt inclusive laws that will see to the flourishing of their citizens regardless of their sexuality. Neighbouring Mozambique did the same in 2015, barely a year after Nigeria embraced the wrong side of history and enacted the infamous Same-Sex Prohibition Act (SSMPA) that prescribes prison sentences ranging from 10 to 14 years for same-sex relations and community mobilization.
Attitudes towards same-sex relations remain bleak on the continent, making these wins tremendous; no matter where they are found. Whether it is in Botswana that in 2019 struck down section 164 of the country’s penal code ruling it unconstitutional, discriminatory and against public interest, or Lesotho that legalized same-sex activity in 2012, or the 11 African countries where same-sex activity was never criminalized in the first place.
With each of these wins for Gay Rights, an opportunity for self-reflection arises for countries like Nigeria where legalized prejudice remains the order of the day.
There is usually a vague defence beyond a myopic understanding of the two imperialist imported Abrahamic faiths – Christianity and Islam, for the harmful laws against gay people.
The irony of using theologies that sell hope to set ablaze the hope of millions for a dignified existence. Especially for many who don’t subscribe to said theologies even to begin with, will continue to dangle a mirror for Nigeria and African nations like her to see their shame for as long as these harmful laws remain. Hopefully, that won’t be for much longer.
2021 is a good year to scrap the SSMPA.