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Homophobia in Africa: The American far-right's footprint

Martina Schwikowski
March 15, 2024

Investigations reveal how American far-right activists are contributing to rising anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment in Africa. With funding and support from Uganda to Nigeria, they're influencing laws and public opinion.

A demonstrator from the Coalition of Botswana Christian Churches holds a banner reading 'We say no to homosexuality'
Sexual minorities say they have faced a wave of abuse since Uganda's harsh anti-LGBTQ+ law was enacted last yearImage: MONIRUL BHUIYAN/AFP/Getty Images

Fundamentalist Christian churches from the United States are increasingly gaining power and influence in societies and political spheres across Africa. Many of them have been whipping up negative sentiments against LGBTQ+ people and abortion rights.

Haley McEwen, a sociologist at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, has examined some of their influential networks.

"US Christian right-wing groups have been very active in the US foreign policy since the early 2000s," McEwen told DW.

"There are several organizations that have been around since the 1970s — and in the early 2000s they started to increase their influence internationally."

A protester joins supporters of the LGBTQ+ community as they stage a protest against a planned lecture by Kenyan academic Patrik Lumumba at the University of Cape Town
Conservative activists often portray LGBTQ+ people as alien imports who threaten African societiesImage: RODGER BOSCH/AFP/Getty Images

The groups have expanded into African countries like Uganda, Nigeria, Kenya, Ghana and South Africa.

According to McEwen, the networks also focused on UN organizations "in response to the advances being made by the international feminist movement to gain recognition of sexual and reproductive health and rights within the UN frameworks."

'Hatred from outside our history'

These conservative activists — who describe themselves as "pro family" — seem only interested in safeguarding one special type of family: heterosexual, monogamous nuclear families ordained by marriage.

"We continue to advocate that this is hatred that is deliberately being stirred, that it is not organic and not within our history and it is actually producing the conditions for violence and assault of LGBTQ+ persons in Kenya," Irungu Houghton, Kenya director at Amnesty International, told DW.

Homosexuality has always been being practiced discreetly in what is now Kenya, according to Houghton. British colonialists enacted the first laws that criminalized gay sex in the 1930s.

Ghana's anti-LGBTQ+ bill sparks fear

Influence comes with money

These days, it's African leaders who introduce the new laws — which is why they've been targeted by far-right networks from the US.

According to McEwen, these groups want to win over African leaders in order to implement what is being described as "family friendly agendas" — both in their home countries and internationally at the United Nations.

McEwen said this influence was also being exerted by funding African organizations which domestically propagate "nuclear family" policies and oppose LGBTQ+ rights and comprehensive sexuality education.

There is a homegrown network of such groups in Africa, but according to McEwen, they heavily rely on funding from outside Africa.

Who's funding the anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment?

UK-based media platform openDemocracy published a 2020 report that examined more than 20 American Christian groups.

The paper revealed that the groups — which are known for their campaigns against LGBTQ+ rights, access to safe abortion, contraceptives and comprehensive sex education — have spent at least $54 million (€49.5 million) in Africa since 2007. 

One of these groups is Christian conservative organization Family Watch International (FWI) which, according to openDemocracy "has has been coaching high-ranking African politicians ... to oppose comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) across the continent."

Uganda signs anti-LGBTQ bill into law

In May 2023, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni signed one of the world's toughest anti-LGBTQ+ laws — including the death penalty for "aggravated homosexuality" — drawing Western condemnation and risking sanctions from aid donors.

According to activist Frank Mugisha, director of Sexual Minorities Uganda, FWI was highly influential in the genesis of Uganda's legislation.

However, FWI said in a statement on its website that it is "opposed to the Uganda Anti-Homosexuality Act 2023" and it "opposes legislation that penalizes a person for having same-sex sexual attractions or for their gender identity."

"Family Watch opposes the death penalty or harsh penalties in the context of Uganda's pending law and other similar bills," according to the statement.

Are African LGBTQ+ rights improving?

Africa's tough anti-LGBTQ+ laws 'stirring up hatred and acrimony'

Shortly afterward, Uganda passed the law, and a Kenyan lawmaker proposed a bill that has often been described as "copy paste" of the Ugandan law. The Kenyan bill is still undergoing parliamentary procedures.

In Ghana, a similar bill was recently passed by parliament. But it's still unclear when and whether president Nana Akufo-Addo will sign it into law.

"There is a direct link between the emergence of hate bills in Uganda and Ghana and now Kenya with these interests," said Amnesty's Houghton.

"We have been very concerned that this is not only focusing on stirring up hatred and acrimony between societies but is also focusing on reversing many gains with regards to comprehensive sex education and sexual productive health rights."

This article was originally written in German

Street Debate: Queer rights in Kenya

Correction, March 15, 2024: An earlier version of this article misspelled the name of activist Frank Mugisha. DW apologizes for the error.