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How not to make matters worse for African homosexual people

How not to make matters worse for African homosexual people
Reflections from northern Nigeria

By The Rev. Canon Hassan John
Jan 5, 2016

The African context

In the African context, homosexuality is not an unusual phenomenon. In many African cultures, people with same sex attraction and those who have homosexual sex have lived within communities and not been challenged or harassed. In many Nigerian cultures they gain sympathy, as in the Berom and Anaguta tribes.

For example, within the Hausa Muslim Communities in northern Nigeria, there is a community of homosexual people which is seen as a 'cult', the 'Yan Daudu'. People who wanted some spiritual powers or wealth would consult them and engage in homosexual activities with them to gain such powers, even if the 'clients' themselves were heterosexual. In Kano and Kaduna there are small "gay communities" where people visit.

All these small gay communities exist despite the introduction of Sharia law. The Sharia law, in northern Nigeria, proscribes death by stoning of any persons caught in homosexual practices and almost all the northern states in Nigeria have the Sharia law that runs parallel to the civil laws.

Homosexuality is therefore a discreet and personal lifestyle. Despite the laws people acknowledge the practices and keep them private. They only become crimes when they are brought to public attention.

In many African cultures and tribes, especially among the Igbo tribe of eastern Nigeria, homosexuality was a taboo even before the coming of Christianity and colonialism. Families had their individual ways of managing those who appeared to be "gay" and helping them live their lives, but it was not generally considered a public matter. Indeed it was the coming of Christianity that provided a Christian community where people with same sex attraction were more readily accepted as Christians and were not necessarily segregated. The general understanding was homosexual practice was not to be encouraged for disciples of Christ, and that certainly a leadership position in the church would not knowingly be offered to a person in this category.

The Gay Rights movement: the challenge

What outside activists are succeeding in doing, in their LGBT campaign, is, first of all, to put undue pressure on the church to accept openly what was a taboo in communities before even the arrival of the church in the 19th century and what the church itself would not encourage. This negates the Christian morality which the church has preached over the decades and simply says that the Bible is a lie. These communities would rather go back to upholding their pagan religion that protects their communities from this 'cult' and its unnatural practices.

Secondly, the pro-gay policies of outside activists are being quoted as an example of western imposition of ungodly practices. As a result Muslim propagandists are able to condemn everything that has come from western countries, the church included, as unnatural practices introduced to destroy family values. Boko Haram and many Muslim clerics have used this against the church and western countries and culture.

Thirdly the consequence of the gay rights movement pushing so much money and political resource to enforce laws and legal 'cover' for gays is to set gay people apart from the rest of the community and runs the risk of portraying them as the enemies of society rather than as people to be understood and accepted.


The effect of the gay rights campaign is therefore likely to be increased resistance both from the churches and many African governments, which the west is trying to use. In Nigeria for instance, because of the reasons set out above, it will be political suicide for any politician to be associated with a gay rights movement.

And even if governments succeed in legislating, implementation in Africa, particularly in Nigeria, will be nearly impossible, because of the deep cultural inclinations of people. It is worth remembering that over 60% of Africans still live in traditional cultures.

The Rev. Canon Hassan John, Anglican Diocese of Jos, Archdiocese of Jos, Northern Nigeria

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