Let’s Talk About It! Kenyan Author, Wainaina Binyavanga, Gives A Tell-All On Homophobia in Africa

Kenyan novelist, Binyavanga Wainaina, who also happens to be one of Chimamanda Adichie‘s besties, came out last week to a mixture of praise and criticism. {Read here}”I am, for anybody confused or in doubt, a homosexual. Gay, and quite happy,” he said.

This week he posted a set of videos about homophobia in Africa. If you’re interested in getting a sense of the larger cultural and political issues at stake in the debate about homosexuality in African, make sure to see the videos. The point is not to convert you into a believer in homosexuality. “I am not interested in conversion. I’m interested in conversation,” Binyavanga says. So much is said in the video that will make you think deeply, but here is a quick overview to get us talking.

To those who claim that it is a very African thing to be anti-gay, Binyavanga reminds them that the anti-sodomy laws in the legal cannon of many African countries were placed there by British colonialists.  Homophobia is not cultural resistance against western influence but instead a continuation of oppressive laws that go as far back as Victorian England and the establishment of the colonial project. There is nothing new or original or uniquely African about anti-gay laws. The Nigerian government has simply picked up a set of old and tired laws formulated by the west, dusted them up, made them more vicious, and  imposed them on its people.

If the west has toned down on homophobia and gone a step further to provide legal protection for homosexuals, it is not because tolerance is a western thing. It is, perhaps, because they know the evils of legally orchestrated forms of discrimination. Lest we forget, Binyavanga reminds us that gay men and lesbians were among the victims of the Holocaust. Binyavanga calls to mind this particular history of extreme violence against homosexuals to make the simple point that in being anti-gay, African countries like Nigeria are not being African. They are simply choosing to be blind to history. And we all know what happens when people adamantly refuse to learn from history. They set themselves up to repeat the atrocities of the past.

Blindness, yes but also a crisis in imagination. Binyavanga sees homophobia as a refusal to imagine beyond prescribed limits of desire and the body, a refusal to imagine that there are multiple ways of being African just as there are different ways of defining love. Colonization was a powerful regime that sought to control how Africans lived and to define the limits of their imagination. From the colonial educational system to its religious imposition, the aim was to discourage Africans from thinking independently and from building a modern culture of innovation. This recent push to control the bodies of Africans with anti-gay laws is, for Binyavanga, a continuation of the same logic of oppression – governing the masses by blunting their ability to imagine multiple ways of being.

People say that homosexuality is not African. How can they speak for an entire continent? Isn’t that a bit presumptuous? As Binyavanga points out, it has become normal to make these grand claims without the least bit of knowledge of the diverse histories and cultures that make up the continent. In the name of what historical, linguistic, and political expertise do people speak when they claim with such authority that homosexuality is not African? It’s no secret that the average Nigerian doesn’t travel much around Nigeria, knows very little about other ethnicities and social groups in Nigeria, and even less about Nigeria’s past before colonialism. How can such a person speak so authoritatively about what defines the entire continent?

Africa is diverse. Diversity means difference. No society thrives by abolishing difference. Nazism tried it. South Africa’s apartheid government tried it. Where are they today? Liking or not liking the idea of gay sex is not what is at stake here. The lives of Africans, their freedom to live in peace and security in their own countries without fear of being harassed. That’s what is at stake. Anti-gay laws institutionalize violence against homosexuals. That’s why they wrong.

Watch the full clip of Binyavanga’s video and let’s talk about it – intelligently and respectfully.

 Ainehi Edoro is a doctoral student of literature at Duke University where she studies African novels. She is also the founder and editor of the African literary blog called Brittle Paper – an African literary journal

16 Comments on Let’s Talk About It! Kenyan Author, Wainaina Binyavanga, Gives A Tell-All On Homophobia in Africa
  • randommer January 30, 2014 at 1:59 pm

    I hate the anti-gay law with a passion but this is bull**** – crisis of imagination indeed. come and back and yarn me when all of the western world has legalized gay marriage and americans stop getting hot and bothered about every gay couple they see on TV hiss.

  • Simsi January 30, 2014 at 2:27 pm

    Couldn’t read through everything sef. Looked rily boring. *yawns*

  • Gingerpuss January 30, 2014 at 2:50 pm

    I’m tired of all this guy matters abeg. I don’t support the anti-gay law because I feel every woman/man has the right to pick who to love as long as it’s not a child or an animal who cannot give consent. As a Christian I’m against fornication, adultery as well. The bible expressly forbids any sex outside marriage and our culture and tradition used to frown on fornication especially. Sex outside marriage is against our religion and tradition but these days because we cannot keep ourselves pure we have ‘legalized’ fornication and adultery is the order of the day. One of the main reasons why we have a high rate of divorce can be attributed to adultery, if marriage and family is so important why risk all for a mistress? God’s words have not changed so let’s get that clear. Before you judge a homosexual try and ask yourself if you are blames less yourself. Jesus never condemned the adulterous woman he condemned the act and told her to go and sin no more. For the gay folks out there it know it may not be easy but try and ask for God’s healing and deliverance, if heterosexuals can be delivered of sexual sins there is nothing that God cannot do. I will continuously show love and if I meet a live homosexual I will try and show Christlike love and understanding no matter how hard it may be cos it’s the right thing to do.

    • Omo January 30, 2014 at 4:21 pm

      So aptly put and well said. We judge others so much. Only Hod knows what goes on in our homes behind closed doors and in our minds behind a smiling face! Focus on yourself as a person, not judging others!

    • I no send February 5, 2014 at 12:22 pm

      LOL @ “a live homosexual”…hey, do I think homosexuality is right? If you make me take a polygraph test and I answered yes, the lie detector will most probably prove that I’m lying. Do I support any hate-laws, intolerant laws, violent laws against peoples that are not infringing on the rights of others? My answer is a resounding NO. Most people would love the idea of having a gay friend–that guy that thinks like a man but acts like a woman–but how many people want a homosexual child? You give birth to a beautiful bouncing baby boy and over the years he starts acting like a she because he sees daddy doing what mummies do and auntie acts like a daddy in her own home…so little confused bouncing baby boy starts to think and act in a way that is alien to his nature because he grew up in an artificial ecosystem that is alien to the natural ecosystem in which he was meant to grow in…Can we really afford to have anymore confusion in this already confused world? Just because more people commit suicide each day does not mean suicide is acceptable. And I’m sorry to say this but just because some people enjoy sleeping with goats does not mean bestiality is acceptable even if some scientific method in which it can be proved that the goat wanted the human being in a sexual way was invented. The entire notion of having laws that uphold social rights originated from Christianity and while Christianity does not promote hate, violence and intolerance, it does encourage rehabilitation and forgiveness and understanding but not acceptance of things in conflict with our very obvious nature–the key goes into the keyhole, not the other way round lol. But seriously speaking, this whole madness has to be put under control because you cannot tell another man what to do, we’re too free-willed a species for that, but we must devise a way to create a harmonized and happy and harmless habitat for not only us but also for our children unborn.

  • Gingerpuss January 30, 2014 at 2:54 pm

    A friend told me he hates homosexuality and regularly participated in threesomes with girls who have sex with each other and him. I keep telling him that he actually supports homosexuality and could face 14 years but dude says it’s different that it’s only wrong when it’s between men. What are your thoughts on that? Isn’t that a double standard of some sorts?

    • Naveah January 30, 2014 at 4:32 pm

      Your friend will not say anything that will mess with his pleasure so of course conveniently, the law only applies to men. According to your friend, homosexuality is a label that only applies to gay males and not gay women. Smart guy, indeed.

      Where is the law against pedophiles? The law against men who marry children and call them wives? Nope, they make laws against grown ass consenting adults whose judgment should only lie with God. Hypocrites!

  • madman January 30, 2014 at 3:59 pm

    There are more important issues. Who is f**cking who? shouldn’t concern anyone. Let’s deal with poverty and unemployment and other important matters. Thank you!

  • niyoola January 30, 2014 at 5:49 pm

    I think people who have sex with these homosexual big men and women need to get evidence of their deeds out there. So many of these legislators and elites preaching against homosexuality practice it.
    I know of someone who was chatted up by a pretty lady at a club. She told the guy he could come home with her and they’d have sex at her place. The guy went to her house; she told him she liked kinky sex and asked him if he would like to be tied up. He was thinking he had hit jackpot with this babe.
    Turns out the girl picks guys up for her very rich father. After the guy had been tied up, daddy shows up and has 3 rounds of sex with the poor boy.
    Making homosexuality illegal was quite unnecessary ……. a waste of time really. SO many other bills are gathering dust in the house but this one passed so quickly. The politicians know how to manipulate the masses with religion. ‘people uniting against immorality indeed’

  • Tosin January 30, 2014 at 6:19 pm

    I love Bing.
    I believe in him.
    God bless his work.

  • tunmi January 30, 2014 at 8:50 pm

    so well said

  • Keshia January 30, 2014 at 9:14 pm

    As a Christian heterosexual , i do not support this anti gay law. I think it is primitive and backward. It’s just down right discrimination. The way a person chooses to have sexual relations as long as it doesn’t harm anyone , is entirely their own buisness. Some heterosexuals take part in anal sex, are we going to imprison them too. Homo , heterosexual loving relationships are much more than just sex. It’s amazing how people can subjugate a loving relationship to just pure animalistic sex. I think it’s a stupid law and the senate could have made it mandatory for all Nigerians to know their HIV status. HIV is rampant in Nigeria , and the Good lord knows it’s not all down to homo activities.

  • RIRI-ROSE February 3, 2014 at 12:32 am

    i dont supprt the anti-gay law. But when I say this people are so quick to label me bi or a lesbian. So far as its sex between two consenting adults, fine. why don’t we pass laws like ‘anti-domestic violence law’…naija and its misplaced priorities.

  • I no send February 5, 2014 at 11:20 am

    In all honesty, any unfair limitation of another’s rights is immoral because promoting anti-gay laws takes us back to our animal farm days when “all animals are equal but some are more equal than others”…At some point in history, interracial relationships were considered to be a taboo and thus illegal, alcohol was prohibited and women were forbidden from being leaders, drivers and just basically meant to always take the backseat. But, as of present, what is most evident is that things have greatly changed with time. I am no Nostradamus but what I do foresee is that sooner than later these intolerant laws will be relaxed and then eventually done away with. We are experiencing the curious case of evolution–it’s either you flow with the current or crack under the increasing pressure of a call for change by the marginalized. Now, whilst I do appreciate the respect for everyone’s social rights, I am also aware that society has a moral compass to keep in check, bearing in mind that the less moralistic a people we are, the more atrocities will occur in our communities…this issue is not an easy one for everyone and we are all truly caught between the devil and the deep blue sea. May God help us all.

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