(This is a post from the Sunday Scholarship series, where I summarise academic articles into something a bit more easy to read. Overview here, other posts here.)

Title: Political Homophobia in Postcolonial Namibia.

Author: Ashley Currier

One-sentence summary: The attacks on gays and lesbians by Swapo politicians in the 1990s had several political purposes: they were supposed to intimidate opposition, remind Namibians of Swapo’s power, and aimed at promoting one specific view of history. Full article here.

Longer Summary:

In the mid-1990s, a number of Swapo leaders made headlines with strongly homophobic statements, sometimes seeming to incite violence against gays and lesbians. Some political scientists said this was just about Swapo becoming less democratic, and not  allowing any views they didn’t like. But Currier thinks this view is is too simple: it mattered that this attitude was expressed through homophobia and not in another way.

According to Currier, this “political homophobia” can have three uses: First, it was a method of intimidating critical voices. Secondly, it can distract from other issues (an example could arguably be Robert Mugabe’s homophobic comments in the late nineties). Lastly, this homophobia is part of a rewriting of history.

While we’re on the topic of history: the white-led apartheid regime mostly saw homosexuality as a problem for white men (this was based on racist stereotypes of black men; but that story is for another time), and often ignored gay relationships between black Namibians/South Africans. After independence, political leaders took over some of that thinking, still seeing gayness as a western(white) problem and calling it ‘un-african.’ Swapo leaders made this link explicit: gayness was “alien practices” that “destroy the social fabric” of Namibia, and according to the official Swapo statement on the matter, “most” supporters of gays were Europeans.

The founding President claimed that Ben Ulenga, founder of the CoD, had engaged in gay sex in England — a claim that was meant to a) undercut Ulenga’s manlihood and b) emphasised that gayness was supposed to be a foreign thing, therefore c) taking away his support: people would come away thinking that Ulenga was not a real man, and not a real African.

Several times, in response to claims for the human rights of gays and lesbians, Swapo dismissed these by asking where exactly these people had been during the struggle for liberation? Both in claiming that gayness is european, and in denying homosexual activists a spot in the official history of Namibia’s liberation, Swapo therefore erased the very existence of gay and lesbian Namibians – pretending, or rather deciding, that they do not even exist.

And while South Africa explicitly protected sexual orientation in its constitution after their liberation, Namibia sadly failed to do so. Or, as Jerry Ekandjo said, “We never had moffies in mind when SWAPO drafted the Constitution.”

Parting Thoughts:

This article is six years old, and much has happened across the continent in this area (looking at you, Uganda). I’d be interested in an update, or just more.

That said, it is very useful as it collects many of these incredibly damaging statements, and serves as a reminder of this time — or introduction for those of us too young to understand at the time what was going on.

The article notes that radio and tv broadcasts from this time are not available. We need to do better at ensuring that does not happen. Who knows what else has been lost.