In Uganda, there is a proposed law to be voted on this week that would call for stiff prison sentence for gays and the death penalty for repeat offenders (people convicted of having gay sex).
The realistic analysis is that the vote will not happen this week because of the change in the Parliament and the fact that its originator and champion, Pastor Ssempa (he of the showing gay pornography from the pulpit fame) has done an about face and rejected the death penalty clause. Most people agree that the sudden resurgence of the law (first proposed in 2009) is due to the Ugandan governments need to distract people from economic and social problems.
Needless to say, gay activists (both in Africa and in elsewhere) are rallying to the cause to try and bring pressure to bear on the government to drop the law entirely. One of the leading Ugandan gay activists, David Kato, was killed in January of this year as he pursued a lawsuit against the paper that was accused of “outing” him. To “out” someone means to publicize their sexual identity (gay, straight or otherwise) without their permission. It is a tactic used to bully and manipulate people, usually prominent people (celebrities, officials) into situations in which they either are discredited or are considered to be forced to behave in the manner that the outing source has defined for them as acceptable. Both pro- and anti- gay activists use this tactic; each has its own laundry list as to why this is a “noble” technique. From where I am placing the quotes in this blog you can safely assume where I fall on the spectrum of support for this tactic.
Now, activists from both sides make a common error in trying to understand the extreme nature of disproval of homosexuality that seems rampant on the African continent. They point their finger at the very conservative forms of evangelical, Anglican and Roman Catholicism as the primary source for the views with a secondary call out to African culture.
Without an understanding of where this strong belief came from it is hard to work to diffuse it and bring an end to the persecution of homosexuals in Africa. And with it comes an understanding of how things have evolved politically in Africa to the point that the majority of countries are either graced with severe instability or dictatorships (which usually are unstable, they just dress better on TV).
And with it comes the ability to project how easily it would be for the Middle East to assume the characteristics of Africa as far as instability, violence, poverty and gross human rights violations.
You see, in Africa, throughout its history and cross-cultures and indigenous populations – homosexuality was accepted. It was not until Europeans came that laws were introduced banning the acts. The same Europeans who then colonized the countries and set up long-term governments (usually led by a lifetime monarch) who used the country as a commodity to enrich themselves without thought for the population. The Europeans modeled the forms of government and set the standards for the laws and cultural opinions that we now see wrecking havoc across the continent.
Even when the colonization was over, the Western “help” provided to Africa to shape self-governing ignored their rich cultural heritage and imposed a European political culture. Western political culture is very different, antithetical almost, to any type of tribal inter-relations necessary to form cohesive governments. Like the Middle East, the deeply ingrained patterns of diplomacy between tribes is much different from Western diplomacy and where emphasis is placed upon what is valued as a governing outcome is also different.
If you go back to the short form of psychosynthesis (transactional analysis), you could think of it this way. When the Europeans invaded Africa, they fulfilled the role of parent to Africa’s child – that is not a judgment we are talking about influential roles in that time period. As the parent, Europe infused Africa with rules and laws that were based in the parent’s prejudices and fears. The child assumes those prejudices and fears as the means at which to guide their life until the child begins to connect and develop its Adult, which is when you take the prejudice we are trained to and ask ourselves, does the reality we see support this? Depending on whether we can overcome the child’s powerful fear of being rejected/punished for going against the rules of prejudice determines how strong our adult selves become. The adult, who recognizes emotional reactions are not based in the present and uses rational investigation to make sure that the decision is informed by what the emotions represent but matches the reality of the situation at hand.
As the West continues to strive to “introduce democracy” into the Middle East there is a risk of the Middle East, in its infancy away from dictators (the last incarnation of the West “introducing democracy”) will look to the rules of prejudice to guide their development. 50 years from now, the Middle East could become as disordered as Africa if they do not exert their ability to make their own choices based on what is needed, and not what they are told (and overcome the reality of the fear and potential harm of loss of aid by the punishing Western parent).
Africa has been showing evidence of entering adolescence these past 10 years or so. That is the precursor to becoming its own adult with a life based on choices and not prejudices. It would be a good thing to be mindful of the prejudices we carry when we advocate for something, especially in another culture. Sometimes, the best intentions can create long-term harm.
Navigating human rights is difficult. Which is funny when you consider that in essence it is the easiest thing around. But we have centuries of complex influences and interactions overlaying histories to understand in order to chose our directions wisely.
Rain again today. At least my fever broke, but this is remaining an unusually trying week. I wonder if there is something in the stars I should know about.
c.2011 Cassandra Tribe. All Rights Reserved.