"I have cursed you all": religion, sexuality and human rights in Africa

At the burial of the Ugandan gay activist David Kato in January 2011 Reverend Thomas Mukasa said homosexuality is an evil act and those engaged in it have been cursed. “If animals can’t do it [homosexuality] why is it that we human beings are getting involved? I have cursed you all [gays]” (‘The Saturday Monitor’, 29/01/2011).

There is an increasingly contested political debate in many African countries around homosexuality, human rights and morality. While some outspoken African politicians and religious leaders present homosexuality in terms of a problem to be eradicated from society, liberal Western voices, from politicians and development agencies to human rights activists, react to these statements with uncompromising and accusatory responses, whilst African activists campaign for rights and recognition on the ground. Upon closer reading it is possible to discern religious underpinnings to those political discourses, drawing from religious symbols, languages and moral values. For example, according to human rights activists in Cameroon, life for homosexuals became more difficult after a Catholic archbishop made homosexuality part of his Christmas homily, blaming it for youth unemployment. According to the Archbishop, high-profile Cameroonians gave jobs to those who favoured same-sex activities (‘the Guardian online’, 16/11/2011). In a recent public speech Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe stated that homosexuals will be punished severely for their behaviour which was inconsistent with African and Christian values and “it becomes Satanic when you get a Prime Minister like Cameron saying countries that want British aid should accept homosexuality” (‘the Herald-Zimbabwe-online’ 24/11/2011). This has repercussions in terms of international relations and development programmes in developing countries, creating dichotomies between the Global North’s and the Global South’s values and judgments.


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AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, protests against the Anti-Homosexuality Bill in Uganda, New York, 19 November 2009. (image credit Kaytee Riek, kayteeriek.com/photo).


The aim of this research project is to examine how the discourse around sexuality and homosexuality is shaped in Uganda, highlighting the relevance of religious leaders and ideas in shaping national policy and political elites’ action. Against the western-centric modernist assumption that religion was destined to disappear from the public sphere in contemporary societies, religion and religious actors in Africa are central in shaping public politics and policy. Over the past 20 years, Sub-Saharan Africa has experienced a religious transformation with the rise of Pentecostal-Charismatic Churches. In the past 15 years nearly one-third of Ugandans have converted to Pentecostal-Charismatic Christianity and Ugandan Pentecostalism aims to produce a new generation of politicians and leaders. In this evolving religious landscape new voices and leaders are emerging. Driven by their theological understanding of morality, rightness and common good, these actors are profoundly influencing the public space and political decisions and it is this interconnection that will be explored by the research team.

Dr Barbara Bompani
University of Edinburgh

Barbara was awarded a Research Project Grant in March 2012; providing £79,411.