Nigeria: The Culture War Exported

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By Kat Endgame, PQ Monthly
Part One: Nigeria's Anti-Gay Problem With the formation of Insurgent group Boko Haram in 2001, the conflict between Christians and Muslims and Nigeria has spun out of control. With a population split almost 50/50 between Sunni Islam and Christianity, Nigeria has been gripped by a conflict that has resulted in the deaths of at least 3,600 in recent years, likely far more. One thing religious leaders on both sides of the fence can agree on whole-heartedly is support for Nigeria’s new “Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act.†The law, signed January 7th by (amazingly named) Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, “The measure, modeled off the one that Uganda enacted in late February, levies harsh prison sentences on anyone who makes a 'public show' of a 'direct' or 'indirect' same-sex relationship or supports an LGBT organization (10 years), and anyone who attempts to enter into a same-sex marriage (14 years), even though this would be virtually impossible in Nigeria.â€Â [source]

A wave of anti-gay backlash has flooded Nigeria since the law went into effect, creating a rise in violence, homelessness, unemployment, harassment levied at those perceived as LGBTQ in Nigeria. Additionally, UNAIDS, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, warns that “...the new law in Nigeria could lead to ... denial of HIV services and violence based on real or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity." Michel Sidibé, UNAIDS executive director, warned earlier this week that the law may also be used against organizations that regularly provide HIV prevention and treatment services to LGBT people.

Of course, it begs the question who actually qualifies as gay? Who decides? I haven’t been able to track down the full text of the Nigerian law as of writing this, but it is modeled closely on the Ugandan law that came before it. An example of the legalese involved in deciding who has the gay:

2. The offence of homosexuality. (1) A person commits the offence of homosexuality if—(a) he penetrates the anus or mouth of another person of the same sex with his penis or any other sexual contraption; (b) he or she uses any object or sexual contraption to penetrate or stimulate sexual organ of a person of the same sex; (c) he or she touches another person with the intention of committing the act of homosexuality. (2) A person who commits an offence under this section shall be liable, on conviction, to imprisonment for life.

Very little of the wave of oppression faced by LGBT Nigerians is likely to make it through the Nigerian court system. Last month The Washington Post  reported: “Assailants armed with wooden clubs and iron bars, screaming that they were going to “cleanse†their neighborhood of gay people, dragged 14 young men from their beds...†This is just the beginning. As a result of the violence LGBT folks in Nigeria are either being driven underground or are seeking asylum elsewhere. “In the first two months of 2014, 35 Nigerians contacted [Immigration Equality]†for help escaping Nigeria  and obtaining asylum in the United States, “compared with 52 in all of 2013.â€Â [source]

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The Missionary Position

The Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act seems to have widespread support among Nigeria’s highly religious population, but its origins still warrant comparison to the similar “Kill the Gays†Law passed in Uganda. The Ugandan legislation was created in concert with an assortment of US evangelical missionaries and church leaders in a process that Rev. Kapya Kaoma has dubbed “The Globalization of the Culture War.†Kaoma writes: “Through their extensive communications networks in Africa, social welfare projects, Bible schools, and educational materials, U.S. religious conservatives warn of the dangers of homosexuals and present themselves as the true representatives of U.S. evangelicalism. [source] In his piece for the Independent “How Uganda was seduced by anti-gay conservative evangelicals†Tim Walker writes:

"American conservatives first arrived in Uganda in significant numbers following the fall, in 1979, of Idi Amin, the Muslim dictator who had banned evangelical Christianity. Among them was Mike Bickle, founder of the Kansas City-based International House of Prayer (IHOP). According to Mr Williams, ‘Bickle was there on the ground on the day Amin fell… with a group of American Christian leaders, to take the country as a Christian nation.’

US Christian groups have since spent millions on schools, hospitals and orphanages in Uganda. They have also found fertile ground for their religious values. Rev Kaoma said American conservatives may have lost the culture wars on the home-front, but they believe they can win in the developing world."

Mike Bickle isn’t alone in this mission, and he isn’t the worst of them. People like the utterly deplorable Scott Lively (Oregonians remember him from his days at the OCA), and Sharon Slater were deeply involved in passing the Ugandan legislation and likely Nigeria’s legislation as well.  Lively, who has been actively propagandizing against LGBT people since the early 1990s, is believed to be connected to not only the passage of the Ugandan “Kill the Gays†bill, but also to anti-gay legislation and activism in Russia and throughout Eastern Europe.

In the above video Sharon Slater’s organization Stand for Family, in what has become a common trope for Christian missionaries, utilizes a wonderfully twisted argument of cultural imperialism to frame anti-gay values. They argue that homosexuality is a purely western phenomenon, and encourage anti-gay violence and legislation as a way to resist harmful western influence in Africa. Rev Kaoma writes in  Globalizing the Culture Wars: “Africans resonate with the denunciation of homosexuality as a postcolonial plot; their homophobia is as much an expression of resistance to the West as a statement about human sexuality.†Side Note:  I wanted to get into a discussion of Edward Said and the concepts of Orientalism and Occidentalism, but that might be too much for this piece. Besides, someone beat me to it: for an interesting investigation into the postcolonial power dynamics that influence the form of the debate on LGBT rights in Uganda specifically and Africa as a whole check out Negotiating LGBT rights in postcolonial Uganda by Anouk Evers & Anouka van Eerdewijk gay_protest2 (1)

Call To Action

Resistance has been set into motion, both within Nigeria and without, but economic sanctions won’t have much impact on oil rich Nigeria. I propose, in a general way, that we fight the sources most available to us; Christian missionaries in the United States. While neither homophobia nor homosexuality are entirely Western constructs imposed on poor postcolonial Africa, and thus Christian missionaries aren’t entirely to blame for the passage of these laws and oppression of LGBT people in Nigeria and beyond, it’s clear that they bear a great deal of culpability. They know they have lost the culture war in the United States, so they have attempted to take it somewhere where we, the resistance, will be less likely to care or fight back. It is up to us to prove to them that it doesn’t matter to us whether it’s queer Oregonian or Nigerian lives being destroyed. I haven’t provided you with a list of names of those involved in Nigerian missions, but I say we find out who is involved and do everything in our power to destroy every shred of legitimacy they have ever dared to stand upon.

And if we can’t do that we can at least bombard their websites with gay porn. Part Two: Is Africa a playing field for the power struggle between the Religious Right and Religous Left?  Editor's note: Part two coming soon. kat endgameKat Endgame is a designer and musician born and raised in Portland. She plays queer metal in a band called Labryse, and has a not so secret love of Architecture, video games and all things nerdy.