When Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe started to pursue his land reform programme in 1980, there was swift backlash from Western powers.
President Mugabe was vilified at home and abroad by both Caucasian and black voices. Land and wealth redistribution was the hill that President Mugabe opted to make his last stand upon. President Mugabe's stance on the issue of land and wealth redistribution was laudable and it is regrettable that he did not receive the recognition that he deserved for taking such a bold and much-needed stance.
I am not so certain that the stance being taking by Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni and several other African presidents, including the late President Mugabe, on the LGBTQ issue is in the same league as the stance taken by President Mugabe on the land and wealth redistribution issue.
To begin with, cultural norms are not written in stone. There are many cultural practices that have been jettisoned from African societies because they did not promote their best interest.
Any society that refuses to evolve and embrace the best practices of the times may, in fact, be shooting itself in both the legs and head. Saying that something does not conform with African customs and values is not really saying anything useful. The central questions that must be asked is whether the cultural norms under consideration are in the best interest of everyone in the society and do these norms conform to the highest ethical standards of the times.
There was a period in African history when domestic slavery was very widespread. Custom and tradition allowed Africans to formally enslave other Africans. The European anti-slavery movement eventually presented a challenge to domestic slavery on the African continent. Today, it is unlikely that any African president would be so daft as to argue that since slavery was a part of traditional African culture, the Western nations should not be insisting that there should be no slavery on the African continent.
In Nigeria, some ethnic groups felt that the birth of twins was a bad omen that could plunge the society into a serious catastrophe. The solution to this problem was brutally simple. Since twins were thought to be evil, both infants were usually abandoned and left to die. Once again, African leaders would be displaying abysmal ignorance by suggesting that since this was a part of traditional African custom, it should be allowed to stand.
In an age when no nation is a separate island by itself, African countries are not immune to the demands of international law. African countries are a part of the community of global nations. As such, it is expected that African nations would conform to any binding body of rules that govern the global collective of nations. The current economic destitution of Sub-Saharan Africa mitigates any kind of maverick African leadership.
African leaders are, therefore, doing themselves and their countries a disservice by grandstanding on the LGBTQ issue. President Museveni is advanced in age and no doubt enjoys the perks and privileges of leadership in Africa. It is unlikely that any sanctions imposed on Uganda will impact on his standard of living. It is a completely different story for the poor masses in Uganda whose livelihood could be wiped out by sanctions.
Sub-Saharan Africa, unlike Dubai, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Bahrain still has both its hands in the mouth of the tiger. It would be more prudent for African leaders to continue petting the head of the tiger until a time arises when a different approach can be implemented with no fear of a backlash. When African economic development becomes comparable to Dubai, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Bahrain, then and only then will African leaders be in a position to disagree with the West.
Lastly, it is debatable whether the animus against the LGBTQ community in Uganda is rooted in traditional African customs and norms or whether it is more rooted in Caucasian conservative Christianity. Having basically lost the culture war in the US, conservative Christians set their sights on continuing their fight in other countries with Christian super majorities.
The global community is far from wrong when it decries human rights violation based on race, religion, ethnicity, language, and in more recent times, sexual preference. The international community spoke out in clarion tones after the George Floyd tragedy. People from all over the world marched in solidarity with the oppressed people of African ancestry in the US.
Black people, because of our history of oppression, should be the last people on Earth to throw obstacles in the path of other oppressed groups fighting for their right to breathe and to live. Regrettably, many Africans have been conscripted into the culture war of Caucasian conservative Christians and are preparing to launch a new inquisition against fellow Africans.
Lenrod Nzulu Baraka is the founder of Afro-Caribbean Spiritual Teaching Center and the author of Oreos, Coconuts, and Negropeans: Rediscovering Our African Identity.