In Sunday’s Los Angeles Times, a professor Zimmerman, from an East Coast institution, wrote a rather startling article. In it, he said homosexuality “was endemic in Africa” before European colonialism bedeviled it. Endemic means constantly present and widespread.
It is a bold-faced lie, and is not supported by even a modicum of real research. The professor was commenting on Africa’s current near overwhelming rejection of same-sex coupling and marriage, in connection with President Barack Obama’s trip to Senegal, Tanzania and South Africa. His argument was that this African stance was relatively new, that South Africa’s Nelson Mandela had embraced the equality of people’s rights to marriage and other things, and that the rest of Africa just has it wrong, even according to Africa’s own history.
This is not the first time this argument has been used in the modern literature seeking to support gay marriage. The argument had virtually no credibility then, and it has not improved that status. Personally, I’m neither for nor against what grown people decide to do legally in their own lives. I am, however, against the falsification of a people’s history in order to bolster one’s own value system.
Africa has and has had for a very long time more than 1,500 ethnicities (many modern writers no longer use the term African tribes), each with its own language, customs and values. Commonalities of African culture include a long-held belief in marriage being primarily for procreation and the expansion of the community. This belief is the most fundamental motive for the practice of having multiple wives in much of the continent—it solved the issue of first wives being barren. Multiple wives meant community children and the survival of the family.
African belief systems did not extend to same-sex activity and marriage, since that did not equate with procreation. This does not mean there were no homosexuals in Africa as time passed. In fact, a few, a handful of African groups can even be found (through deep research) which tolerated same-sex activity, as long as it was private, not public. There are no known traditional African ethnicities that practiced or allowed same-sex marriage. Community justice was usually swift for those openly flaunting this way of thinking.
Thus, the general ban on such practices currently across the continent is not new and is not a consequence of colonial education and missionary zeal. Traditional and modern Africa will most likely remain an area not receptive to the present movement for same-sex marriage.
Further, most African societies have usually viewed marriage as a privilege to be earned through conduct and the satisfaction of the various financial requirements associated with marriage rather than an individual right. Although marriage as a human right is now part of the current lexicon of daily conversation, most African societies do not view marriage as a human right.
The latter, a right one is naturally born with, like the right to live, to eat, to procreate, to relieve one’s thirst, etc., is differentiated from civil rights, which are man-made legislated entitlements. The broad swath of African governments now extant (excepting South Africa, which has legislated gay rights mandates) have not yet chosen to make laws that decriminalize same-sex activity.
Whatever the West may think of where most of Africa is on the subject, we should not engage in willful lying to try and convince Africans to do something they are not currently comfortable in doing. Homosexual activity was not endemic to traditional Africa, and homophobia—if that is the correct name for it—is not a product of colonialism in Africa.
In selling a product or idea, truth and honesty bring the best results.
Professor David L. Horne is founder and executive director of PAPPEI, the Pan African Public Policy and Ethical Institute, which is a new 501(c)(3) pending community-based organization or non-governmental organization (NGO). It is the stepparent organization for the California Black Think Tank which still operates and which meets every fourth Friday.
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