The LGBTQ+ communities in Africa have been going through a lot of difficult times. Their trials and tribulations are known only to a few because only a handful dare to speak up. This is not surprising, given that Africa is one of the most homophobic continents in the world. Most countries in Africa have savage and extremely inhumane anti-LGBTQ+ laws which they keep ratifying every day. Most African governments have hardened their stance on homosexuality in recent times by passing laws to broaden the scope of legal punishments because in these countries, being homosexual is a crime. Sadly, the African LGBTQ+ community are not only being persecuted by their respective governments, but also by the community in general. In recent years cases of mob attacks on the LGBTQ+ community in Africa has been on an alarming rise. It is even more concerning that most of these mob attacks are never reported as that would only escalate the situation.
In 2015, two men were physically attacked by the residents of Kwale, a small town off the coast of Mombasa, Kenya. The crowd was in an uproar because they suspected the men to be gay. The police had no choice but to step in and save the men from being beaten to death by the crowd, but the two men still suffered greatly under the police. The police threatened them with more violence to get their confession. They were also forced to go through an anal examination with the purported goal of proving whether the men had engaged in homosexual acts. A case was opened against them, and the two are facing serious jail time. This is one of the main reasons why most mob attacks on the LGTBQ+ community in Kenya are never reported. The police rarely offer protection to the victims but instead add to their discrimination, violence and persecution.
At least six incidents between 2008 and 2015 of mob attacks on the LGBTQ+ community in Mombasa, Kenya has been reported. This poses a considerable threat to the LGBTQ+ community in Mombasa as rhetoric vilification of the LGTQ+ community by the region’s religious leaders continue to spread as quickly as a bushfire. LGBTQ+ activists in the area have had a hard time getting justice for victims maimed or killed during these attacks. The police outrightly refuse to bring perpetrators to justice or perpetuate violence on the victims themselves.
This is why many gay men in Kenya die senseless deaths because the community and the government are literally out for their blood.
In June 2013, cases of gay men being slashed across the country hit the headlines. Two gay men were attacked in Mombasa and their throats cut with a machete, only one survived. In June 2013, a Nairobi man suspected of being gay was sexually assaulted with a hammer. He suffered severe knife wounds to his head and arms, but the perpetrators were never caught. Another man suffered the same fate on 24 June 2013, when anti-gay vigilantes attacked him with a machete and slashed his throat, killing him instantly. Anti-gay vigilantes are rampant in Kenya. They intimidate and beat anyone perceived to be gay and according to The Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya (GALCK) the police refuse to help because they are afraid of the vigilantes.
In 2014, a group of assailants armed with nail-studded clubs and whips attacked gay people in a small neighbourhood in Abuja, Nigeria. They claimed to be cleansing the community of gays and lesbians and went ahead to beat the victims to the brink of death. They later dragged four of the victims to the nearby police station where the police continued to beat, humiliate and insult the victims. The attack came when the President at the time, Goodluck Jonathan signed a law prescribing 14 years of jail term for gay people. According to the witnesses, the vigilante group kept chanting “We are working for President Jonathan.” At least 14 young men were severely assaulted, but no mob members were arrested for the attack.
In Uganda, there has been a rise of mob attacks on the LGBTQ+ community, especially in 2019 when a minister in government proposed to reintroduce an old law known as “Kill the Gays.” This anti-gay rhetoric fuelled homophobia to a new height in the country. Mob attacks began being organized outside LGBTQ+ activists offices. In some cases, they waited and stalked the victims before proceeding to beat them once an opportunity presented itself.
In October 2019, two Ugandan transgender women were nearly beaten to death when leaving a nightclub. Another gay man was seriously assaulted when leaving his office. These mobs are especially interested in attacking and killing LGBTQ+ activists in Uganda as a way of intimidation. This was the case that leads to the death of Ugandan LGBTQ+ activist Brian Wasswa who was bludgeoned to death on his way home. Endless calls for justice for his death fell on deaf ears as the police are yet to find the attackers. Justice for these hate crimes is rare in Uganda, even in cases where the attacker is identified.
In August 2019, a lesbian woman was brutally beaten by her doctor. According to the report, the doctor allegedly used an iron bar to crack her skull and dislocate her arm. This was the only time that a doctor was facing jail time and suspension of medical license after an attack on an LGBTQ+ patient. It was a big shock because these incidents happen, but they are typically swept under the rug.
On February 11, 2020 in Ghana, a man narrowly escaped death after he was attacked by a group of ten men who suspected him of being gay. The assailants stormed his house, shouting that he was gay and having affairs with young men in the community. They beat him with clubs, machetes, sticks and stones. According to the assailants, they had been monitoring the man’s movement for some time and were sure he is gay. They were about to set him on fire when a local pastor intervened and saved his life. These cases are rampant in Ghana, all one needs is “suspicion” from the community that he or she is queer and the hits from the machetes and clubs come raining hard. Unfortunately, very few people try to help the victims during these attacks for fear of being turned against by the mob. Also, few witnesses are willing to come forward to name the assailants. They know the police will not pursue the matter, and their lives will end up being in danger. The community simply watches these vigilante groups kill these men for suspicion of being gay and carry on like nothing ever happened.
These mob attacks have had such a negative impact on the LGBTQ+ community in Africa. Most African gay men suffer from severe anxiety in fear of being caught and being beaten to death. The increase in the criminalization of homosexuality has led to dangerous acts of homophobia and stigmatization.
Most gay men in Africa are alienated because they lack support from those around them. Depression among Africa’s gay men is at an all-time high. It is hard dealing with such harsh conflicts where being gay practically means signing a death certificate. Atrocities that go unreported have forced many African gay men to try and seek asylum in more gay-friendly countries. But seeking asylum is not that easy and can be a very long process. In the end, most African gay men end up hiding their sexual orientation and taking a wife. Even if they were to survive the mob attacks, they would still face severe jail terms if they were to publicly come out. Those who have come out, have in most cases ended up jailed, dead or have had to flee to save themselves. It is time for Africa to see this issue for what it is; a human rights matter. Everyone deserves to live their lives as they see fit. A mob has no right to become judge, jury and executioner. Unfortunately, the justice system in most African countries is unwilling to offer protection to their LGBTQ+ citizens.
We have a very long way to go to even catch up to where America stands with hate crimes.
About the Author:
Judy Bokao is 20 years old and was born in Ethiopia but relocated to Nairobi two years ago. She is passionate about everyone having equal rights and is also big on conservation and speaking up for our planet. Judy loves reading and photography and is just a free-spirited young lady trying to grow into a woman her mom can be proud of.