Navigating LGBT Rights in Africa

Should efforts to protect the human rights of LGBT Africans accommodate cultural peculiarities?

The purpose of the United Nations 1945, as per the Charter, Article 1 is to promote and encourage respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion. This means that there cannot be any discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender peoples (LGBT). Article 2 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1945 also provides for protection of rights and freedoms provided in the Declaration without distinction of any kind. The question is whether the protection of the rights as declared in these globally recognised systems is available sufficiently for the LGBT Africans. Seeking a politics dissertation help provide deeper insights into how international institutions address all these issues.


A background review of LGBT rights in the African nations brings forth the notion that the contemporary laws and movement concerning LGBT rights in Africa is influenced by the Western gender minority politics. This is unlike the pre-colonial period that had diverse ways that enabled expression of non-heterosexuality and non-heteronormativity. The contemporary movement against LGBT rights and concerned laws is argued to be under the influence of colonial powers of the Christian or Islamic variant. The religious and legal norms existing now that have a policing determination of sexuality and gender are implication of such powers. In addition is the homegrown homophobia that adds to the problem. Considering the alien factors, the debate around LGBT Africans’ human rights cannot be considered solely African. It is transnational as could be demonstrated by the alien torts claim filed by the Sexual Minorities Uganda under the US Alien Tort Statute to hold Scott Lively liable for his role in lobbying for the Ugandan draft 'kill the gays' legislation and for exporting hatred and intolerance through religious fundamentalism to Uganda. In that regard, Ibrahim (2015) argues that the LGBT rights movement, itself is heavily influenced by the Western LGBT rights activism in terms of narratives and style and supported by Western organisations. This presents a predominance of Western discourses on sexuality in African countries that may lack narrating the experiences and identities of LGBT Africans.

  1. Monica Tabengwa and Mathew Waites, ‘Africa and the Contestation of Sexual and Gender Diversity’ in Michael J. Bosia, Sandra M. McEvoy and Momin Rahman (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Global LGBT and Sexual Diversity Politics (Oxford University Press 2020) 208; Sexual Minorities Uganda v Scott Lively, Case 3:12-CV-30051.

Considering the transnational nature of LGBT rights movements in Africa, it raises the question of the possibility of the efforts being deficiency in approach to inculcate a specific consideration to the cultural norms and practices related to LGBT Africans. This question is valid in the sense that the protection efforts, debates and movement have a global and transnational predominance. For example, in the United Nations (UN) General Assembly and Human Rights Council, a group of African nations formed an alliance with the Organisation of Islamic Conference to oppose initiatives for greater protection to LGBT rights. South Africa legally recognises gay marriage and supports LGBT rights in international forums, but it does not speak against the laws and practices of its African neighbours. Thus, debates on rights LGBT Africans are not limited to Africa alone. It is universal in nature. It is an area to determine whether or not this universality gives enough room for promotion and protection of LGBT rights in African in an African context.

Gender different may raise certain questions regarding sexuality and importantly the extent to which a person who is gender different will be socially accepted within the concerned community. In a Black culture, the issue regarding gender different or non-conformity together with sexuality and acceptance is complex. Those who are gender non-traditional may not be regarding authentically Black and may face social challenges. It is often that men and women are limitedly expressed within the artificial construction of masculinity and femininity through media images reinforcing stereotypes. Literature suggest that beliefs exist among Black heterosexuals that LGBT identify is white behaviour and is alien to Black identity, cultures, values and interests. This represents a cultural homophobia, which is a product of concerns among Blacks that deny the perpetuation of images of the community with the notion of sexually deviant. Home-sexuality is argued not to exist in Africa and is not compatible with Afrocentricity. Ellerson (2005) presents literature that same-sex attraction and gender-bending cases are alien to indigenous African cultures. Considering such a cultural-based denial of the existence of gender different, the question is to determine the extent of the effectiveness of the human rights laws and norms that promote equal rights and freedom to all in context of the African LGBT.

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  1. Abadir M. Ibrahim, ‘LGBT rights in Africa and the discursive role of international human rights law’ (2015) 15(2) African human rights law journal 263-281.
  2. Abadir M. Ibrahim, ‘LGBT rights in Africa and the discursive role of international human rights law’ (2015) 15(2) African human rights law journal 263-281.
  3. Abadir M. Ibrahim, ‘LGBT rights in Africa and the discursive role of international human rights law’ (2015) 15(2) African human rights law journal 263-281.
  4. Michele K. Lewis and Isiah Marshall, LGBT Psychology: Research Perspectives and People of African Descent (Springer New York 2011) 21-22.
  5. Michele K. Lewis and Isiah Marshall, LGBT Psychology: Research Perspectives and People of African Descent (Springer New York 2011) 24.

Africa has predominant Christian-inspired homophobia in Africa. Private organisations, such as The Fellowship of Affirming Ministries (TFAM), are putting in effort to counter the homophobia pan Africa. They are particularly challenging the American white conservative campaign against LGBT’s rights. This presents an apparent conflict between two groups, one that uses gender deviants to negates human rights of LGBT and the one that uses human rights framework to fight for protection of rights of sexual minorities. For instance, concerning the LGBT’s human rights movements in Ghana, the opponents of LGBT rights used the corruption frame to appropriate and challenge the human rights frame, which dominated the preservation frame used by LGBT activists to protect LGBT human rights. LGBT activists employed terms such as sexual minorities to draw similarities with racial minorities and persons with disabilities. The opponents employed deviants to refer to sexual minorities to deny same-sex relations human rights by comparing them with people with mental illnesses, and animals.

  1. J.B. Cole and B Guy-Sheftall, Gender Talk: The struggle for women’s equality in African American communities (One World/Balantine Publishing 2003).
  2. Michele K. Lewis and Isiah Marshall, LGBT Psychology: Research Perspectives and People of African Descent (Springer New York 2011) 7.
  3. B Ellerson, ‘Visualizing homosexualities in Africa-Dakan: An interview with filmmaker Mohamed Camara’ in L Ouzgane and R. Morell (eds.), African masculinities: Men in Africa from the late 19th century to the present (Palgrave 2005).
  4. Adriaan Van Klinken, ‘Culture wars, race, and sexuality: A nascent Pan-African LGBT-affirming Christian movement and the future of Christianity’ (2017) 5(2) Journal of Africana Religions 217-238.
  5. Elizabeth Baisley, ‘Framing the Ghanaian LGBT rights debate: Competing decolonisation and human rights frames’ (2015) 49(2) Canadian Journal of African Studies/Revue canadienne des études africaines 383-402.

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