Africa - Stephen Lewis interview

US fundamentalists back African gay-bashing, says campaigner

Gordon Griffiths

A former top United Nations official tells RFI US-based fundamentalist Christians are a dark force in Africa, promoting homophobia. Being gay is illegal in some 38 African countries, and political rhetoric in Africa is becoming more hardline.


In Malawi, a jailed gay couple are due back in court tomorrow. If found guilty, Tiwonge Chimbalanga and his husband Steven Monjeza face up to 14 years in prison with hard labour.

Homosexuality is illegal in Malawi, and the two men have been charged with "unnatural acts" and "gross indecency".

They made history when they committed to marriage at a symbolic ceremony last December – the first same-sex couple to do so in Malawi. Two days later, they were arrested at their home.

Angry residents and relatives from their township, outside Blantyre, say they will not allow them to return home if they are set free by the magistrate.

The case comes as the world marks International Day Against Homophobia on Monday.

Stephen Lewis, Aids-Free World

Stephen Lewis, a former United Nations official who founded an NGO called Aids-Free World, says fundamentalist Christian churches in the US are stoking anti-gay sentiment across Africa.

He says the election of Barack Obama has sent them into retreat, depriving them of republican leaders to rally round.

"As they are in retreat they become more and more extreme," Lewis told RFI. "For whatever complex of reasons, they have established ties with small fundamentalist churches in Africa and they’re constantly sending money and sending the most outrageous and ugly materials around the violations of human rights. That is the new expression of colonialism.”

African politicians, including Zimbabwean and Ugandan presidents Robert Mugabe and Yoweri Museveni, often say there is a western conspiracy to make Africans become homosexual.

Museveni, for example, warned youths in Kampala that he had heard that "European homosexuals are recruiting in Africa”.

“There’s no doubt that it’s an easy road to political success to engage in gay-bashing,” said Lewis. “One of the most blood-chilling speeches I have ever heard was made by Mugabe in a wild and lunatic anti-gay outburst.”

Sam Matsikure of the organisation Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe agrees.

“It has become a political issue between two parties in Zimbabwe, trying to get mileage in terms of the elections that might come up, instead of addressing this issue for the sake of minorities,” he says.

Matsikure says gay people don’t get equal access to treatment by their health service provider and a lot of people are leading bisexual lives due to family pressure.

But Lewis says that, although politicians often loudly reject western entreaties, international pressure is effective.

A bill before Uganda’s parliament, for example, has dropped the death penalty as a punishment for homosexuality.

Daily newsletterReceive essential international news every morning