By Hama Tuma

The dictators have not had enough–we call them tyrants, butchers, thieves and robbers, corrupt and adulterers, cruel barbarians and more but they want more. The latest epithet they want us to attach to their unholy names is that of homophobe. All of a sudden, as if coordinated, from the East to the Southern regions of the continent the tyrants have started a chorus of foul words against gays or homosexuals who, by all account, are a few million in the whole of Africa compared to the hundreds of millions wanting their so called leaders to address themselves to the burdensome continental problems of democracy and under development.

The dictator in the Sudan who started out by cutting limbs of petty thieves and appointing bigger ones as ministers has resorted to Sharia and homosexuality leads to death. Sudan? Really? Where even Revolutionary Council members, dour military men, had male lovers? No one has said hypocrisy is dead. Down South, the number one enemy of gays, the man whose president was found to be gay, strongman Mugabe, has gone on record calling gays pigs and dogs and asking the world at large “can men procreate?” and if not then being gay will just “turn our ancestors in their graves”. Something to be avoided as the hapless ancestors in the graves, the very many martyrs of the struggle against the Ian Smith racist regime have been spinning in their graves as Mugabe persistently ruined his country aided and abetted by vindictive Western powers. As Brutus did not say, Mugabe is not an honourable man but the other contender to the title of, no not honourable but, democrat, that is to say the Harvard educated (two weeks course on good governance) Morgan Tsvangirai has also joined his nemesis and attacked gays in no uncertain and rather crude terms (men breathing on top of other men and the like). 38 African countries criminalise homosexual relations and Uganda recently tried to punish gays with the death sentence following a visit to Uganda by well heeled American Christian fundamentalists. Money talks and had not the outcry been very loud Uganda would have been busy these days shooting gays just like Baganda demonstrators opposing the rule of Museveni (going for his third election after amending the Constitution). Down in Malawi two gays tried a symbolic marriage and face up to 14 years in prison if convicted.

Now, the uniformed in this world maybe excused if they conclude that the primary problem of Africans is the existence of gays or that African tyrants and legislators have nothing else to do other than turn homophobe and bash the victims. Actually, the loud homophobia comes right out of the very coveted secret manual of African dictators under the chapter of “Diverting Public Opinion”. Diverting public opinion is an art and though few can do it as well as the late Idi Amin and Bokassa (what a show the duo staged over time!) they are trying hard. Massacres and jailing of dissidents have become too ordinary to attract that much attention or to generate much uproar. The world is now used to African genocides and carnages and is only surprised by reports of development for which it has no ears anyway. Hence, the resort o gay bashing. It is not that the tyrants have nothing else to worry about. Uganda has its murderous LRA and serious dissatisfaction by the majority of the populace that considers Museveni’s rule dictatorial to boot. Sudan is a mess and Beshir detested; let us not talk of Darfur and possible secession and war in the South in the near future. Mugabe’s problem is well known and Malawi of Kamuzu Banda fame has more serious problems than two gays getting married and trying to confront their miserable lives as the majority of Malawians. Africa surely has more serious concerns and problems including the very fact that the stigmatization of the gays having a negative impact on the control of the AIDS ravaging many of these countries.

Diversion is a must, though, given the problems. The gays are not many and they are helpless and the macho society has little sympathy for them. For once, the tyrants will be joined by priests, sheikhs and the populace at large (barring South Africa and Burundi that have refused to criminalize gays) to engage in a collective orgy of violence and repression. As the French would say Haro sur les Homos or Curse on their homo heads. There are those who say that some of our literal ( does not mean literate in this instance) top officials believe that gay in this context means happy and refers to people who are happy or gay without the expressed permission of the State that has a monopoly on joy in many African countries. That aside, the gay issue is useful for diversion in that there is a loud and organized gay community in the donor countries and it will raise hell against African leaders persecuting gays instead of attacking them on the absence of good governance or democracy. As the gays in Africa get their own Geldof or Bono and the outcry increases, the shout against, say Museveni, will not be “stop killing demonstrators and protestors” but rather “end the repression against gays” which is a slogan that, sadly or otherwise, will not stir that much of emotion amongst many Ugandans including their Catholic clergy. Ditto for Mugabe and the others, Diversion par excellence. And if the homophobia stops working, the tyrants have many others diversions up their sleeves to hide their real malady which is fear of democracy or “demophobia”, a malady cured only by a revolution, alas for them.

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