Peter Tatchell: Evils of colonialism still wrecking lives

Wednesday 19 May 2010 00:00
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The conviction by a Malawian court of Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga on charges of homosexuality is the latest example of how, more than four decades after most African nations won their independence, the evils of colonialism continue to wreck lives.

The two men face up to 14 years in jail under laws that were imposed on the people of Malawi by the British colonisers in the 19th century.

Before the British came and conquered Malawi, there were no laws against homosexuality. These laws are a foreign imposition, they are not African at all. Despite independence, these alien criminalisations were never repealed.

Today, the minds of many Malawians – and other Africans – remain colonised by the homophobic beliefs that were drummed into their forebears by the western missionaries who invaded their lands alongside the conquering imperial armies.

The missionaries preached a harsh, intolerant Christianity, which has been so successfully internalised by many Africans that they now claim homophobia as their own culture and tradition.

While many African leaders decry homosexuality as a "western disease" or a "white man's import", the truth is very different.

Prior to colonisation, many tribal societies and kingdoms had a more relaxed attitude to same-sex relations than their subsequent colonial occupiers.

As Rudi C Bleys documented in his book, The Geography of Perversion, the existence and, sometimes toleration, of same-sex acts was used by the colonising European nations to justify what they saw as their "civilising" mission.

To them, homosexuality among the indigenous peoples was proof of their "barbarity" and confirmation of western theories of racial superiority.

Homophobia in Africa is mostly a colonial imposition. But this is no excuse for these now-independent nations to perpetuate colonial-era anti-gay laws and attitudes.

It is time to finish the African liberation struggle by ending the persecution of gay Africans.

The writer is a human rights campaigner www.petertatchell.net

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