Letters: Homosexuality in Africa

Ferocious witch-hunt against gay people in Africa
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The Independent Online

The European Parliament has joined the effort to raise awareness of the stream of aggressive state-sponsored homophobia that is sweeping across much of Africa, and Daniel Howden's article "The love that still dare not speak its name" (11 January) gave valuable coverage to this huge and frightening human rights threat. Just before Christmas MEPs called on the Ugandan government not to approve the anti-homosexuality bill put forward by that country's parliament.

This is not "just" about denying equal rights in society to gay people. It is not for example about refusing same-sex marriage. It is not even "just" about refusing to decriminalise gay sex. It is about persecution and witch-hunting on a ferocious scale which threaten not only limbs but lives. The proposed law in Uganda would make execution a routine penalty for gay sex and (perpetuating an ignorant myth that ignores heterosexual transmission) for those testing positive for HIV, while the familiar ban on "promotion of homosexuality" would stop organisations working in HIV and Aids prevention.

Not only is snooping and settling of scores encouraged but, since anyone knowing of homosexual activity but failing to report it would risk up to three years in prison, a fear-based incentive is given to file wild and erroneous reports.

Many of the countries going down this road are members of the Commonwealth, of which one central goal is the promotion of human rights. This organisation needs to act to enforce its core principles, not turn a blind eye to the most gross abuses of fundamental rights, including the right to life.

Sarah Ludford MEP

Liberal Democrat European justice & human rights spokeswoman

London N1

Your article makes a factual error regarding criminalising of homosexuality: the government of Rwanda has no intention of criminalising homosexuality, which we view as a private matter and not one for the state.

Indeed, President Kagame just this weekend, speaking to young leaders from 24 countries attending a human rights conference in Kigali, pointed out that, despite the anti-gay debate ongoing in the region, Rwanda has a more fair and open approach: "We have laws already in place that cater for the existence and co-existence of different lifestyles, and to create harmony in society. We plan to leave it like that rather than heightening tensions and bringing out unnecessary conflicts and debates that will not help the rebuilding of our country."

Louise Mushikiwabo

Minister of Foreign Affairs

Kigali, Rwanda

Bankers can prove they are human

The bankers' bonus season is upon us again, and there's no point in pretending that anything other than vast payouts is going to be announced, no matter what the general population thinks. Equally, there's no point in pretending that the banking system is going to be reformed any time soon.

But now each lucky recipient has an unexpected chance to prove to the world that perhaps he or she is a "normal human being" after all. Why don't they accept their bonuses, and donate them to the appeal for the victims of the catastrophic earthquake in Haiti? They could find a way round the "not payable for two years" problem if they really want to – after all, they're apparently some of the cleverest people on the planet!

Chris Santry

Chalfont St Giles, Buckinghamshire

David Buik (article, 12 January) asks that we and the politicians accept the high level of bankers' bonuses, and stop making complaints as it's getting boring.

Perhaps he could explain why they receive bonuses for doing their job. Yes, they earn large fees because they deal with large amounts of other people's money. But other people's jobs involve high risk. The heart surgeon risks others' lives and the soldier in Helmand risks his or her own life. Are they paid bonuses for success? They certainly receive a fraction of the basic salary of the bankers.

But his main argument is that high bonuses are needed to retain the top people. This assumes that the only motivation for working as a banker is to earn pots of money. If the bank's directors believe this to be the case then they ignore basic management motivational theory, and certainly Maslow's hierarchy of needs. I don't believe that bankers, just because they work with money, are simply motivated by large cash rewards.

Terry Pugh

Baildon, West Yorkshire

I believe I have a solution to the problem of justifying bankers' bonuses. The solution lies not in asking what bankers do to "earn" their bonuses, or in coming up with new schemes to tax them, but in publishing precisely what they spend their bonus money on. A register would be kept on the lines of the one for MPs. We could then give the thumbs up – or down.

You set the example in your report " 'My parents think I earn too much' – Well, he is the £10m boss of RBS" (13 January), where it is clear that the subject of the article, Stephen Hester, spends some of his bonus money on horses, some of it on fancy clothes, some on foxes and some on very big houses. If Mr Hester were given the chance to tell us more about his hobbies he would surely get a fairer hearing.

Robin Spencer

St Andrews, Fife

Memories of the frozen Fifties

I too was a child in the 1950s ("Cold? You should have been around in the 1950s", 12 January). I could sympathise with Robert Chesshyre's account of the cold bathroom heated only by a one-bar electric fire, single glazing, icy hallways and "Jack Frost" patterns on the window panes. But gas fires in the bedrooms? Luxury!

Our bedrooms at home in South Shields had open fire places that were covered with pieces of plywood cut to fit the opening, unless someone was ill, upon which occasion a fire would be lit in the grate. I can remember once when my mother was ill, a very rare occurrence, and my father lit the bedroom fire. The sight and warmth of that fire will for ever be linked in my mind to mushy peas like ball-bearings, one of my father's less successful attempts at cooking.

Shelagh Mitchell

New Brancepeth, Durham

Perhaps I can add to Robert Chesshyre's account of coping during cold spells by relating a story from an even worse cold spell, the winter of 1947.

I was a pre-school child at the time and we lived in Oxford in a house with no insulation and no heating other than a coal fire in the main room. When my mother put her dentures in a glass of water beside the bed she woke next morning to find the teeth firmly embedded in solid ice.

Jennifer Matterface

Broadstairs, Kent

Robert Chesshyre got me really shivering with his memories of the 1950s. But there was one nightmare he forgot: the short trousers that all young schoolboys wore, and the hideously chapped thighs that came inevitably with winter.

If today's youngsters had to endure that quality of life back in the Fifties they'd be yelling "abuse".

Alan Lovejoy

Symonds Yat, Herefordshire

Generosity that transforms lives

The Independent has been writing about the work of ActionAid, Computer Aid and Peace Direct as part of its Christmas appeal. I send my heartfelt thanks to The Independent for choosing ActionAid and to readers for giving so generously.

This support will enable us to reach more HIV positive children like Jaliya from Uganda, or even young men like Mohammed Mir from Afghan-istan, whose effort to rise above his early life as a child soldier was told on Christmas Eve.

At a time when many are struggling with the recession, The Independent should be applauded for concentrating on those whose lives can be transformed through the positive impact of international aid.

Richard Miller

Executive Director, ActionAid UK

London N19

No shame in our 'licentious' culture

I write in endorsement of the letter from Andrew Clifton (14 January) and to ask whether Yasmin Alibhai-Brown aspires to be the Mary Whitehouse of the present day. Her description of Britain as defined by dissipation and debauchery verges on the kind of hysteria which has emanated, almost exclusively, over the centuries, from those of a religious bent.

It is not licentiousness that breeds extremism but religious puritanism, as we have seen throughout history. If there are certain Muslims who cannot view the sexual freedoms of 21st-century western culture without going crazy, then the fault lies not in modern life but in Islamic thought patterns rooted in medieval theology.

European culture has produced better health care, education, and legal and social security systems than anywhere else on the planet and an open, honest, diverse sexual explicitness is a welcome part of that modern culture. Presumably, Ms Alibhai-Brown would have sexuality hidden away from public view as if it is something to be ashamed of. Sexuality is a fact of life. It is either wicked and shameful or it is not. It cannot suddenly become wicked and shameful when put on public display.

Contrast life and conditions in Western Europe with any Islamic country on the planet and it is not hard to see that liberal, secular culture brings more benefit to the individual than any country or society dominated by religion. And to see sexual explicitness as "sinful" requires religious belief.

Ms Alibhai-Brown needs to decide whether she wishes to be a modern secular liberal or a Muslim. The two are incompatible.

Peter Tomlinson

Shipley, West Yorkshire

There was a strange juxtaposition between two of your articles on 13 January. First we are told that the naked rambler, Stephen Gough, faces spending the rest of his life in prison if he continues to refuse to wear clothes in public. On the following pages there was discussion about the various forms of female Muslim dress.

Just as I do not believe that Stephen Gough should be allowed to walk around naked in public, I do not believe that women, or men, should be allowed to completely cover their faces in public, whether they are wearing the niqab or a mask to hide their identity from security cameras. Most people are intimidated when confronted by someone whose face is hidden, whether they are Muslim women or teenage hoodies.

Mike Stroud




While Guy Keleny is correct in saying that the phrase "both boxers traded furious punches" is an error due to one boxer being unable to trade punches (Errors & Omissions, 9 January), the suggested replacement "the two boxers traded furious punches" also contains a redundancy, as I've never seen more than two boxers take part in a contest. Perhaps Mr Keleny is punching above his weight?

Stan Broadwell


Votes for women

The question of how to achieve greater representation of women in the House of Commons once again brings the suggestion that political parties should have all-women candidate lists for certain constituencies. This would prevent men being elected for those constituencies. A more logical solution would be to have both a man and a woman MP elected for each constituency. Each party would put forward a male and female candidate, with the man and woman with the most votes being elected. Each voter would have two votes.

Michael Andrews

Cleethorpes, Lincolnshire

Sport and drink

If Diageo is serious about reaching "a wider audience with... alcohol education initiatives" (letter, 9 January) then it should promote a "Drinkaware Premiership" not a Guinness Premiership. Drinkaware undertakes to educate the public about sensible drinking. It is an alcohol education charity funded by donations from the drinks industry. The Guinness Premiership web site home page displays no reference to Drinkaware, but plenty of references to Guinness.

Ann Ashworth

Torquay, Devon

Tory gas

In criticising the shortage of gas storage capacity, the Tories' energy spokesman seems to have overlooked the tiny fact that his party flogged off the gas and electricity industries in the late 1980s and early 1990s. It is hard to see how a privatised business, answering to shareholders, is ever going to invest in additional gas storage capacity on the basis of a once-in-30-years bad winter. You can guarantee that if Ofgem should insist on extra storage, it would be the taxpayer, not the companies, who would be expected to pay.

Andrew Whyte

Northwood, Shropshire

Naked truth

Front page: "Campbell lays bare Blair's promise to Bush" (13 January). And back page: "Glazers lay bare fears for future of United". Tomorrow maybe "No nudes is good nudes"?

C Sladen

Woodstock, Oxfordshire