All across Africa people are commemorating the Rwandan genocide which took place twenty years ago this month. Over a million members of the Tutsi ethnic group and many moderate Hutus were slaughtered in the tragedy. Speaking on the anniversary, current President of Rwanda Paul Kagame said, ‘All genocides begin with an ideology, a system of ideas that says this group of people here are less than human and deserve to be exterminated.’
While Rwanda is now a peaceful nation wherein such terrible crimes are unlikely to happen again, the kind of hatred Kagame warned against lives on across Africa, except that it now goes by a different name: homophobia. One of the dignitaries who heard Kagame’s speech was Ugandan premier Yoweri Museveni, whose government violently persecutes the LGBT community. Yahya Jammeh, President of Gambia, has compared the gay community to ‘vermin’ and demanded that gay people leave the country under pain of being ‘wiped out like mosquitoes’. During his recent 90th birthday celebrations, Robert Mugabe, leader of Zimbabwe, called for the castration and beheading of gays because he views them as little better than ‘pigs or dogs’.
The fire of gay hatred in Africa is stoked by scientific ignorance, fundamentalist religion and colonial-era legislation. The media circulates myths about Western countries promoting gay rights in order to undermine African family values. LGBT citizens are often seen as criminals and deviants, to be blamed for exacerbating the AIDS crisis.
But just as the Rwandan genocide can partly be blamed on the European colonisers who provoked ethnic tensions between the Tutsis and Hutus as early as the 1880s, so Africa’s modern homophobia owes something to present-day American evangelical missionaries.
For this reason, better moral leadership from the United States could help to make life easier for LGBT Africans, especially given that ex-President Bill Clinton has always claimed that failing to stop the Rwanda crimes was his greatest regret. Attacks on gay people in Africa have increased dramatically and some commentators are wondering whether, in the near future, a new genocide could happen – only this time against the LGBT community.
Image source – Photographs of people who were killed during the 1994 genocide are seen inside the Kigali Genocide Memorial Museum as the country prepares to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the genocide in the Rwandan capital Kigali April 5, 2014. An estimated 800,000 people were killed in 100 days during the genocide. (Noor Khamis/Reuters)