The Minister of Justice and Attorney General this week hopefully put an end to a long running smear campaign against the government of Rwanda by individuals and groups claiming or actually speaking on behalf of gay people in Rwanda and Africa in general.
The Minister of Justice, Tharcisse Karugarama, was quoted as 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.”
Many groups and individuals have in the recent past depicted the government of Rwanda as a dictatorship that denied its citizens “the right to be who they are” and drew comparisons with some of the most oppressive regimes and dictatorships.
Whereas individual members of the Lower Chamber of Deputies proposed and were supposed to have debated the draft article in the penal code under review and legislature is independent of the executive, much of the blame and smear campaign was aimed at President Kagame and the government he leads.
It is unfortunate that all the achievements Rwanda has achieved over the years were literally going up in smoke all over the globe in all forms of media over an issue that does not pose any real danger to our society.
Homosexuals and homosexuality are issues that do not get discussed in the public in many African societies and people who are involved live secret lives hidden away in their privacies.
In many countries in Africa the constitutions and penal codes are either silent or ambiguous on homosexuality, in others it is a crime punishable by imprisonment while in others it is a capital offence punishable by death.
Last year a Malawian gay couple Tiwonge Chimbalanga, 20, and Steven Monjeza, 26, were charged with celebrating their ‘engagement to be married’.
On 5th January the two men were returned to Chichiri Prison pending their trial on charges of homosexuality, scheduled for Friday 15 January in Blantyre and faced a maximum sentence of 14 years in jail, under Malawi’s anti-gay law.
The presiding Judge Nyakwawa Usiwa-Usiwa denied the accused bail saying the “couple” was at risk of mob violence and would be safer in Police custody.
Those who saw the men, handcuffed and being bundled on the back of a pickup truck with armed security guards, it was a sight to behold. Men, women and children jeered, laughed and made faces at the “couple” as they were limp-walked to the waiting truck.
In neighbouring Uganda, where homosexuality is illegal and punishable by imprisonment, a Member of Parliament in October, 2009 tabled a Private Member’s Bill entitled the “Anti-Homosexuality Bill 2009” proposing that anyone who commits the “offence” of homosexuality will be liable to a fine of 100 million shillings or prison sentences of five to seven years while those found guilty of aggravated homosexuality should be punished by death.
In Rwanda where the penal code is silent on homosexuality, talk of need for such a law surfaced on 27th September 2007 and since then, different views and statements have been attributed to law makers.
For example MP Francis Kaboneka was quoted arguing, “We don’t have a specific law on homosexuality, but we have a family law which states that a person only gets married to another person of the opposite sex…We need to have a law against this vice(homosexuality)”.
MP Henriette Sebera is quoted to have argued that “ MPs should table a motion on it (homosexuality) and come up with a law against the practice of homosexuality in Rwanda…Homosexuality is automatically illegal in our country; our culture only allows a man to have a relationship with a woman, and that is why anybody caught in that act should be punished.”
MP Ezekias Rwabuhihi was reported to have asserted that “As society changes then the laws should always be changing, too. The constitution states it clearly that a man gets married to one woman nothing more than that; whoever comes up with something different should be considered a criminal.”
It has been reported that under the revised draft Penal Code Act of Rwanda that was to be tabled in the Parliament, Article 217, stated that any person who practices, encourages or sensitizes people of the same sex, to sexual relation or any sexual practice, shall be liable for a term of imprisonment ranging from five (5) to ten (10) years and fine ranging from two hundred thousand to one million Rwanda francs.
What is clear from the passionate arguments by those who want severe punishments for people who are involved in homosexuality is the lack of information.
If you are left handed and you went to school two decades ago you may have had your hands hit several times with a stick for writing with the “wrong hand”; your left hand.
Right handed people took it upon themselves that the right hand was the ‘right hand’ to use when writing. Biologically there are people, normal people, who find intimacy with people of the opposite sex revolting.
They are attracted to people of their sex and no matter how much they try; their disposition is more towards people of their sex. According to the Royal College of Psychiatrists in the UK, “sexual orientation is biological in nature, determined by a complex interplay of genetic factors and the early uterine environment.
Sexual orientation is therefore not a choice” while the American Academy of Pediatrics states that: “most scholars in the field state that one’s sexual orientation is not a choice; that is, individuals do not choose to be homosexual or heterosexual.” Does anyone have a right to ‘biologically make-over’ another person into someone else?
It would be unfair if the acclaimed achievements in gender equality in Rwanda were to be eclipsed by well publicized denial of rights to a fraction of our society in the eyes of the world through negative news reports.
Many individuals and communities have used references to laws to kill, imprison, ridicule and deny rights to homosexual people. However many national and international laws, Conventions and Charters have provisions that affirm the right to equal protection by the state.
For example; Article 11 of the Constitution of the Republic states, “All Rwandans are born and remain free and equal in rights and duties. Discrimination of whatever kind based on, inter alia, ethnic origin, tribe, clan, colour, sex, region, social origin, religion or faith, opinion, economic status, culture, language, social status, physical or mental disability or any other form of discrimination is prohibited and punishable by law” while Article 22(1), states that “the private lives of individuals shall not be infringed upon in any way.”
It is imperative to note that neither the Constitution nor the 1977 Penal Code mention homosexuality as a crime.
How could a law that restricts the private lives of individuals co-exist with all national laws, conventions and charters to which Rwanda is signatory?
People who are wont to humiliating homosexuals accuse them of ‘Satanism”. The enthronement of openly homosexual Gay Robinson as Bishop in the USA is threatening the Anglican Communion worldwide and although homosexuality is widely acknowledged in other faiths uproar has been about sex with minors and many of these “men of God” have been simply transferred from place to place.
The most commonly referred to is the story of Lot and the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah in the Book of Genesis Chapter 19. However, many people have accused those opposing homosexuality to “those who want to remove a speck form the eyes of others but won’t remove a plunk from their own” when comparing homosexuality to other evils people do.
According to South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Homosexuals are pushed out “our communities. We make them doubt that they too are children of God - and this must be nearly the ultimate blasphemy.
We blame them for what they are”. There is an argument that Sodomites and their city were obliterated not because of homosexuality but their inhumanity and cruelty towards each other and strangers.
The effect of homosexuality on society may be negligible. Research has shown that many people are born homosexuals rather than being influenced.
The fear that all men in our society will become like zombies running after other men with no interest in fatherhood does not hold water.
Few people are influenced into homosexuality and when they are, especially lured with prospects of free money, they will have partners of different sexes or get heterosexual partners later.
People “engineered” to be homo want nothing to do with the opposite sex and if you can read this you will not become what you already are not.
Whatever transpired in the lower Chamber of Parliament and whatever Members of Parliament said in their individual capacities, it is good that Rwanda is not listed alongside countries that deny their citizens the right to be who they are. Thank you Hon. Karugarama.