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Homosexuality in Africa – Are You Safe?

Author: Jason Snyman
Date: 2017-10-25
According to ILGA’s 2017 State-Sponsored Homophobia Report – 32 of 54 African countries still condemn homosexuality, making travel dangerous.
Last week, two South Africans were among 13 people arrested in Tanzania for promoting homosexuality. Dar es Salaam police confirmed that the ‘criminals’ were apprehended at the Peacock Hotel. Two were South African, one Ugandan and nine from Tanzania. This included the hotel manager, for offering them a room. At a weekly press conference, the head of the Dar es Salaam police, Lazaro Mambosasa, said that the arrested men are being questioned ahead of appearing in court.
"Tanzania law forbids this act between people of the same sex, it is a violation of our country's laws," he said.
He urged citizens to notify authorities immediately if they had any information on these activities. Tanzania is one of many countries, particularly in Africa, where homosexuality is still outlawed. In this article, we have a look at the laws of these countries and what rights homosexuals, as free South Africans, are entitled to when travelling through Africa.
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The Tanzania Arrests

Last month, in Tanzanian archipelago Zanzibar, police arrested 20 people in a hotel. They were undergoing training with an officially-registered international Non-Governmental Organization working toward AIDS awareness. Back in February, Tanzania announced that it would be stopping 40 privately run health centres from offering AIDS-related services. The government accused them of promoting homosexuality in a country where gay male sex is criminalized and punishable by up to 30 years in prison. Now, since the recent arrests at the Peacock Hotel in Dar es Salaam, NGO CHESA (Community Health Education Services and Advocacy) has been suspended. They stand accused of involvement in the promotion of gay marriage in contravention of local 'customs, traditions and laws.' On 20th October, CHESA and ISLA (South Africa's Initiative for Strategic Litigation in Africa), a fellow NGO, released a joint statement. They insisted that the meeting was only to coordinate a 'legal consultation' to challenge the government’s decision to limit the provision of health services. Of the 13 arrests recently made, ISLA's executive director, Sibongile Ndashe, was included. All of them are back in custody after bail was revoked on Friday. The NGOs have insisted that the case against its workers has no legal basis. They demanded an end to state persecution. They added that Tanzania has, in fact, signed the African Charter on Human and Peoples' rights. This "recognises an individual's right to an appeal to competent national organs against acts violating his fundamental rights as recognised and guaranteed by conventions, laws and customs in force." Tanzania has also banned the import of some lubricant gels, saying that they are used exclusively by homosexuals and encourage gay sex. They’ve vowed to deport any foreigners campaigning for gay rights in their country.  

Homosexuality Punishable By Death

Every year, the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA) releases a State-Sponsored Homophobia report. In the whole world, 75 countries still criminalize homosexuality. According to 2017’s edition, it is illegal in 32 of 54 African countries. Of these, the law applies to both men and women in all except for Ghana, Kenya, Mauritius, Namibia, Sierra Leone, Swaziland, Tanzania, Togo and Zimbabwe – in which it applies only to men. Homosexuality is punishable by death in 4 countries. Mauritania, where it is codified in the law, but not same-sex specific. It is implemented provincially in the northern parts of Nigeria and southern parts of Somalia. Under Shariah law, it is condemned throughout the entire Sudan. In Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Nigeria, Somalia, Tanzania and Tunisia there are laws which target freedom of expression related to sexual orientation. South Africa is the only African country in which the constitution prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation. Likewise, since 2006, South Africa is the only African country in which same-sex marriage is legal and the only African country in which a gay couple may adopt a child. These stats make for perilous travel for South African LGBT people who wish to see the rest of Africa. According to Wikipedia – ‘Gay and lesbian travellers to Africa should use discretion. Public displays of affection should generally be avoided, advice which applies to both homosexual and heterosexual couples.’  

Notes From The Dark Continent

It is definitely worth noting that the ILGA left Egypt out of the countries in which homosexuality is illegal. Sexual relations between consenting adults of the same sex are not prohibited in Egyptian law. However, their laws on prostitution and against debauchery have been used freely to imprison gay men. As of late 2016, LGBT community leaders estimated that as many as 500 LGBT people have been sent to prison in Egypt. In Zimbabwe, President Robert Mugabe has previously said "Homosexuals are worse than dogs and pigs; dogs and pigs will never engage in homosexual madness." Ugandan President, Yoweri Museveni, has described homosexual people as "disgusting." In Gambia, President Yahya Jammeh has previously said that he would "cut off the head" of any gay or lesbian person discovered in the country. He also went on to say that "LGBT can only stand for Leprosy, Gonorrhoea, Bacteria and Tuberculosis; all of which are detrimental to human existence".

Travelling Through Africa

For lovers of wildlife, culture and the spirit of Africa, the continent can offer a safe and rewarding travel experience for LGBT travellers. It’s important, though, regardless of sexual orientation, that travellers need to be aware of the local laws and be sensitive to cultural differences. Some transexual travellers have also reported difficulties entering a country. This is because their passports bear a name and photo that no longer corresponds to their gender presentation. Discretion is often key. Travellers need to choose their destinations carefully, ideally working with tour operators or experts who know the continent well. You need to take any necessary precautions. These countries usually have a long list of complicated laws surrounding homosexuality and what they may deem as indecency or debauchery. Members of the LGBT community have often been cautioned against travelling through Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Sudan, Egypt or Uganda, because of how strict the laws are, but also because of how volatile and violent the locals may be toward them. LGBT travellers should always carry updated, important documents with them and look into getting travel insurance. Legal protection varies from country to country. Remember you are subject to the laws of the country you’re visiting. In many countries, consensual sexual activity, public gatherings, or dissemination of pro-LGBTI material may be illegal. Be cautious of potentially risky situations. Avoid physical displays of affection in public, particularly in conservative countries or regions. Be on the lookout for entrapment campaigns. Police in some countries monitor websites, mobile apps, or meeting places, so be wary when connecting with the local community. Criminals, likewise, may target or attempt to extort LGBT foreigners.

When In Trouble

As a South African citizen, you should register with ROSA (Registration of South Africans Abroad). ROSA is a software program developed by the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) allowing them to assist SA citizens in the event of an emergency. The registration is a free, voluntary service provided by the Government. It’s also a good idea to take note of South African representation in the country you’re visiting. Embassy officers will protect you as much as they can. Inform them of any inappropriate treatment or harassment you experience. If you are arrested, immediately ask the police to notify the SA Embassy.
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