Gay Rights in Africa

Recent arrests of homosexual men in Cameroon and a proposed new law there which, according to activists, equates homosexuality with paedophilia, have re-focused attention on the issue of gay rights – and the lack of – in Africa.  

Both Human Rights Watch  and Cameroon’s Association pour la Défense de l’Homosexualité (ADEFHO) said the men were arrested for appearing feminine and were tortured while in custody. Jeune Afrique carried an interview with Alice Ngom, lawyer and ADEFHO president .

Homophobia is widespread in Cameroon, with gay men frequently subjected to legal prosecution. In March, Jean-Claude Roger Mbede was jailed for three years for homosexuality after apparently falling victim to entrapment by the security forces. Amnesty International, which has made Mbede into a prisoner of conscience, reported that he was serving his sentence at Kondengui central prison, known for its overcrowding, poor sanitation and inadequate food supplies.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) rights in Africa are limited in comparison to other areas of the world, with homosexuality outlawed in 38 African countries. Homosexuality is often seen as an imported foreign lifestyle choice and a moral aberration.

In Mauritania, Sudan, northern Nigeria and parts of Somalia, homosexuality can be punishable by death. South Sudan, the world’s newest country, may also impose the death penalty.

In Uganda, offenders can get life imprisonment. Back in May, Uganda shelved controversial legislation (known by activists as the  ‘Kill Gays Act’) that would have seen the death penalty for certain homosexual acts after an international outcry (See Africa Research Bulletin Vol. 48. No. 5 p. 18856) but there are still people in parliament pushing for the bill to be passed. They argue that traditional values should count for more than donor funds.  You can take a look at MSBNC interview on the subject here.

One prominent Ugandan gay activist, David Kato, was murdered in January 2011, after a magazine published a list of prominent gay rights activists and their contact details, with a banner over the photos that urged, “Hang Them” (ARB Vol. 48 No 1 p. 18711).

In Ghana too, anti-gay sentiment runs high and is encouraged by politicians. After a speech by President Mills denouncing homosexuality and promising to take unspecified steps to combat it, Western Region Minister, Paul Evans Aidoo, made an order for the ‘immediate arrest of all homosexuals in the (Western) region’.”

On 4 August, however, the Coalition Against Homophobia in Ghana (CAHG), was formed to tackle ongoing anti-gay sentiment.

South Africa has by far the most liberal attitudes with a constitution which guarantees gay and lesbian rights, and legal same-sex marriage. Homophobia is still widespread however. Hundreds of activists marched on the KwaThema police station on 19 August to protest police inaction on “corrective rape”  – raping a lesbian to correct her “perversion” – in the township the Mail & Guardian online reported  Young lesbian activist Noxolo Nogwaza was raped and murdered in late April (ARB Vol 48. No 5 p.18857).

The International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans And Intersex Association (ILGA) gives details on gay rights throughout the world and displays a map comparing legislation.

ILGA has been putting pressure on Air France pilots to refuse to carry deported gay asylum seekers home from the UK.

Find out more with the following back issues of the Bulletin 


Homophobia Rife (Oct. 2010) p. 18599

Legalised Homophobia (Mar. 2010) – p 18347


Arrests (Oct. 2010) p. 18599


Anti-Gay Campaigns (March 2010) – p. 18348


‘Queer Malawi’ Published  (May 2011) – p. 18857

President Pardons Gay Couple (May 2010) – p. 18421

Test Case for Gay Couple (March 2010) – p. 18347

South Africa

Hate Crimes Task Force (May 2011) – p. 18857

Potential to Lead (Jan 2011) – p. 18712


Odious Bill Shelved (May 2011) – p. 18856

Murder of Gay Campaigner  (Jan. 2011) p.18711

Harassment (Oct. 2010) p.18599

Law Debate Continues (May 2010) – p.18421

Tougher Laws Mooted (Mar. 2010) p. 18347


Gay Offices Raided (May 2010) – p. 18421