Don’t lump all African countries and leaders together

The Rwandan leadership has come out very clearly on how the issue of homosexuality will be handled with authorities taking the decision not to discriminate against homosexuals by criminalizing this orientation. An article in yesterday’s issue of the UK-based Independent on anti-gay legislation in African countries makes the unfortunate mistake of lumping all African countries together and fails to realize that this issue is being dealt with differently by different nations.

The Rwandan leadership has come out very clearly on how the issue of homosexuality will be handled with authorities taking the decision not to discriminate against homosexuals by criminalizing this orientation.  

An article in yesterday’s issue of the UK-based Independent on anti-gay legislation in African countries makes the unfortunate mistake of lumping all African countries together and fails to realize that this issue is being dealt with differently by different nations.

Daniel Howden’s piece sketches a picture of anti-gay legislation and homophobic action on the continent and wrongly points to Rwanda as one of the countries where homophobic laws are being considered, ignoring the fact that Rwanda’s Parliament chose not to legislate on homosexuality.

The New Times on 19 December 2009 quoted Rwanda’s Minister of Justice, Tharcisse Karugarama, saying ““The government I serve and speak for on certain issues cannot and will not in any way criminalize homosexuality; sexual orientation is a private matter and each individual has his or her own orientation - - this is not a State matter at all”.

In a totally absurd contention, the article quotes an official of an international rights organization and singles out President Kagame as “driving new criminal statutes on to the books”.

Nothing could be further from the truth – Kagame must be the only African leader to directly address this issue publicly in a positive manner.

In an interactive session with young leaders at an international human rights conference in Kigali, which was broadcast live on television and radio, Kagame was asked by an American participant how the government should ensure the rights of marginalized people including people with disabilities and homosexuals?

This was part of the president’s response, which rejects the discrimination of people based on their orientation and contradicts the allegations in the article:

“For us we have a more fair and open approach, I believe. For me, it should not be an issue where we target people. As I learned, some people in our parliament were bringing up queries but I think that they have discussed it and found it not warranting the level to which they were taking it.

It is some kind of grey area that they are going to manage as a grey area, but not to single it out and create issues about it. We have laws already in place that cater for the existence and co-existence of different categories and create harmony in society and I think it looks like we are headed to leaving it like that rather than heightening tensions and bringing out unnecessary conflicts and debates that will not help the rebuilding of our country.”

It is not uncommon for otherwise respectable publications to carelessly or maliciously publish news that is completely un-researched and damaging, particularly on African countries and Rwanda has had more than its fair share of unwarranted bashing.

Recent cuts in budgets have led to the dearth of journalists reporting from the country in question, and where scrutiny on bad reporting is not as stringent or where the consequences of slander are not as costly as in more developed countries.

In this case failure to verify information from an NGO source that provides wrong information and supporting this accusation with further vilification is simply unacceptable.
 
Joseph Rwagatare’s column will appear tomorrow- Editor

 

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