On a continent where homosexuality is a taboo and considered inconsistent with cultural and religious norms and values, anti-gay sentiments are a vote winner. As a result, many sitting African presidents have elected to remain silent on this issue and the few that do speak, do so only to condemn gays and reinforce prejudice.
Recently however, it seems that former African presidents are feeling the need to speak out in defence of the LGBTI community.
The trend began with Festus Mogae whose tenure as president of Botswana ended in 2008. While in office Mogae ensured that Botswana became the first sub-Saharan country to introduce free anti-retroviral to end mother-to-child Aids transmissions. After his tenure he joined the Aids Champions and also continues heads the government-supported Aids body, the National Aids Council Agency (NACA).
Since leaving office, Mogae has however become very radical. He did so by saying, like he did in October 2011, that it is time to confront issues of gay rights and prostitution to fight HIV/Aids. It was radical because he said this in a country where the majority of population would prefer that homosexuality was not discussed and many choose to hide under the culture and religion banner.
Most recently there was a report that former South Africa president Thabo Mbeki also spoke about the Ugandan anti-gay Bill, telling a public audience in Kampala that what two consenting adults do in private “is really not the matter of law.”
Junior Molefe , a representative of the organisation, Lesbians Gays and Bisexuals of Botswana (LeGaBiBo) said of Mogae, “I think former president Mogae`s position on the issues of homosexuality came at the right time and as an influential leader it has came to give some people the light/better understanding of homosexuality.”
He added, “This will lend a hand in recognizing homosexuals; it may take long time but at the end of each tunnel there is light.” Molefe said that in 2012 LeGaBiBo intends to continue to advocate for the rights of LGBTI and see itself as registered organization. He added, “This year LeGaBiBo will undertake the needs assessment which will guide the advocacy strategy.”
Molefe said of Mbeki’s recent comments, “As much as some might say this [speaking out on gay issues] is influenced by donors, I believe that the man has always been a man who has stood on issues of human rights. If I recall very well same sex marriage was legalized during the time he was the president.”
Meanwhile, in Zimbabwe however, the picture remains dark for gays with President Robert Mugabe, who has in the past said that homosexuals were “worse than pigs and dogs” recently saying that if a man is seen in public holding another man`s hand they will be arrested.