Fearing persecution after being outed as gay, Adil fled Malawi.
Leaving behind his well-off Muslim family and four-year-old son, he headed for South Africa, where he became a sex worker to survive.
“The laws that we have in Malawi are incriminating. I wanted to get away from here. I had to take my chances,” the 29-year-old told AFP. His full name is withheld for fear of homophobic retribution.
For two years Adil laboured as a male sex worker in the tough streets of downtown Johannesburg, eventually returning home.
His case highlights the problems in Malawi, a holdout in southern Africa where legal liberalisation for gays is otherwise gaining speed.
Botswana this week joined Angola, Mozambique, Seychelles and South Africa on the path towards decriminalising homosexuality, with a verdict by its High Court to scrap decades-old anti-gay laws.
These landmark cases “set an important framework… which will hopefully be emulated elsewhere in Africa,” Anneke Meerkotter of the Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC) told AFP.
But “hopefully” is the key word. Elsewhere on the continent, the picture is quite different.
Last month, Kenya’s High Court upheld laws punishing “carnal knowledge… against the order of nature” by up to 14 years in jail. Chad and Uganda have also introduced or toughened legislation.
In Malawi, a conservative religious country, the situation seems particularly entrenched, say campaigners.
Its penal code expressly criminalises same-sex relations as an “unnatural offence”, punishable by up to 14 years in prison.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) last October said Malawi’s laws fuelled a climate of fear, arbitrary arrest, violence and discrimination against gays. Many young people, like Adil, are cast out of their families because of their sexual orientation.
Gay rights burst into the news in 2010 when a couple was jailed for gross indecency after holding the country’s first same-sex public “wedding”.
Then president Bingu wa Mutharika said the pair had committed a crime against Malawi’s culture, religion and laws. He later pardoned them on “humanitarian grounds” after a meeting with the UN secretary general.
When Joyce Banda succeeded him as president in 2012, she promised widespread reforms to the colonial-era legislation and even announced a moratorium on arrests for those breaking laws that criminalise consensual same-sex conduct.
But after Banda lost a 2014 bid to stay on as president, these gains were reversed, say campaigners.
Under Bingu wa’s brother Peter Mutharika, who recently won his second presidential term in office, “this group of people have just tended to be ignored,” gender activist Beatrice Mateyo said.
Activists have been waiting since 2013 for the courts to set a date for a hearing to repeal the anti-gay laws.
“Malawi has several court cases that are lying in the courts and we hope the case scenario of Botswana is also going to inform the legal processes here in Malawi,” Gift Trapence, head of Malawian rights group Centre for the Development of People (CEDEP) told AFP.
Mateyo believes religious conservatism has played a core part in perpetuating stereotypes and anti-gay hostility.
Most of the 18 million people in Malawi are Christian or Muslim, whose religious education often describes homosexuality as taboo or a sin.
In 2016, about 3,000 Christians marched through Blantyre and Lilongwe, carrying signs saying “Homosexuality is abomination”.
“We are seen as a God-fearing nation, so society tends to skew towards religion where you are seen as a sinner… And if you are of a different sexuality then you are perceived as a sinner,” Mateyo said.
People who are not heterosexual, “will rather remain in the closet — hidden.”
“For the very few people that are open, life is very difficult because people tend to label them.”
‘Just want to be safe’
Twenty-eight-year-old Sarah, a lesbian who is also intersex, meaning there is no self-assignment to gender, said everyday tasks in Malawi were like walking on eggshells.
“I’m scared of being attacked, even in public spaces,” said Sarah. “You go to the bank, they look at your ID… you have to prove that you’re this particular sex that was assigned to you at birth.”
Sarah has a three-month-old relationship with a local woman but said, “I cannot take her to the local market to buy vegetables because that’s going to start another issue.”
CEDP, working with activists, set up four drop-in centres in Lilongwe, Blantyre, Mzuzu and Mangochi in 2016.
Equipped with a recreation room, gym, large kitchen, medical centre and 24-hour security, the centres support around 2,000 people.
“When we are here, we know each other,” a 27 year-old carpenter who declined to be named told AFP at the centre, his partner seated next to him.
Once a week, he walks 30 kilometres (20 miles) to the Lilongwe drop-in house to collect condoms, thus escaping condemnation by people in his neighbourhood.
Adil returned to Malawi after contracting HIV in South Africa. He was unable to stay there because as an illegal, he had no access to treatment.
The centre has been a haven of hope in Malawi, he said.
“In this space you can wear whatever you want, you can feel any way you want because this is the only safe space that you have.”
“But out there it is hard.”
5 Albums We Are Excited About In 2020
Building up on the success of the previous year, 2020 promises a lot of amazing music.
2019 was quite an interesting year for African music. Heralded by Nigeria’s Afrobeats, records out of the continent penetrated the Western markets and sparked impressive engagements across the world.
Burna Boy’s album “African Giant” secured a Grammy nomination and also topped the end of the year lists of many international publications. Beyoncé also featured an all-star cast of some of the biggest names across the continent on her “The Lion King.” Of course, this helped to reintroduce them to new markets and thrust their names in global music conversations.
Building up on the success of the previous year, 2020 looks to promise a lot of amazing music. Here is a list of the five albums we are excited to get our hands on in 2020.
Wizkid – Made In Lagos
Ever since the release of his international project, “Sounds From The Other Side,” fans across Africa have been clamouring for the release of Wizkid’s fourth full-length, “Made in Lagos” which he himself has been teasing for quite a while title. Last year, Wizkid took to his Instagram to tease snippets of a couple of songs expected to be on the project. And with the official release of his 2019 singles, ‘Joro’ and ‘Ghetto Love’, fans and general music lovers are fully ready for the long-teased Wizkid project this year.
Khaligraph Jones – TBA
Coming off his big win at the 2020 Soundcity MVP Awards, picking up the Best Hip-hop act trophy over heavyweights like Sarkodie, Kwesta and Falz, the time is ripe for a new album Kenyan rapper. Popular for his distinct rapid-fire flow, Khaligraph Jones has been at the helm of Kenya’s hip-hop over the years. With the anticipated follow-up to his 2018 debut album, “Testimony 1900,” he’d seek to reassert his dominance this year in the region and the continent.
Adekunle Gold – Afropop
2019 witnessed a turning point in Adekunle Gold’s artistry and public image. With releases like ‘Young Love’ and Before You Wake Up’ in 2019, Adekunle Gold’s sound has morphed into something more pop-centric, substituting the traditional African sound for something more synthetic. The singer has also been more expressive with his fashion and outlook. This, therefore, makes his next project “Afropop” one to look out for, as we’d love to find an Adekunle Gold shed his signature sound for something more pop and trendy.
Sho Madjozi – TBA
South African rapper, Sho Madjozi was one of the most exciting acts out of the continent last year. Coming off the success of her 2018 debut album “Limpopo Champions League,” the singer went on to release her hit record ‘John Cena’, a song even the WWE superstar himself approves. Sho Madjozi went on to enjoy an amazing press run that kept her in everyone’s face. And now, she has built up so much hype around herself that her fans across the continent are waiting for what she plans to release next.
Shatta Wale – TBA
Undoubtedly one of Africa’s most controversial superstars, Ghana’s Shatta Wale is one known for his consistency across his album. Ever since 2016, not a year has gone by without a project from the self-crowned dancehall king. And given the quality of his stellar 2018 and 2019 releases, “Reign” and “Wonder Boy,” many are already wondering what king Shatta would come up with next.
Sniffing out the menace called poaching
The role of man’s best friend in the war against poaching
There is an old saying that borders on hunters learning to shoot without aiming, since birds have learned to fly without perching. In the same vein, as perpetrators of illegal activities devise new ways to escape detection and punishment, those dedicated to apprehending them need to, in turn, implement new methods to remain one step ahead. The war against wildlife poaching still rages on as the years roll by, but in recent times, poachers and smugglers have had to deal with a new adversary: man’s best friend.
In hunting for hides, skin, horns and tusks, these people, whose life’s work is to put wildlife at risk for material gain, have deployed all sorts of modern weaponry in furthering their cause, but now they will have to deal with dogs, too. Deployed in various locations across six African countries, there are scores of these dogs, who have helped in tracking down smugglers and traffickers with their efficiency in sniffing out elephant tusks, rhino horns and pangolin scales.
Since Canines for Conservation, the programme initiated to involve dogs in the fight against wildlife poaching, kicked off in 2011, there have been 400 seizures of illegal wildlife products. These days, wildlife authorities in Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Mozambique, Botswana and Cameroon require employees to be skilled in dog handling. Employees who take up the handling of dogs undergo training programmes which stretch for up to 10 weeks, and they are also carefully matched with the dogs that they would be working with.
Wild animals are being poached on a massive scale, with millions of individual animals of thousands of species worldwide killed or captured from their native habitats. Poaching poses a growing threat to elephants, rhinos, and other charismatic animals. Some animals, such as birds, reptiles, and primates, are captured live so that they can be kept or sold as exotic pets. Slaughtered animals, on the other hand, have commercial value as food, jewellery, decor, or traditional medicine. The ivory tusks of African elephants, for example, are carved into trinkets or display pieces. The meat of apes, snakes, and other bush animals is considered a delicacy in parts of Africa.
Poaching has devastating consequences for wildlife. In some instances, it’s the primary reason why an animal faces a risk of extinction. This is the case with the African elephant, more than 100,000 of which were killed between 2014 and 2017 for ivory. Poaching has also had a catastrophic impact on rhinos, with more than a thousand slaughtered a year for their horns.
Training these dogs to top levels of detecting takes about 4 to 5 months. All the wildlife products they are required to sniff out are hidden in various ways, from wrapping ivory in jars of coffee to putting a lion’s tooth in a thermos. The dogs sniff luggage and cargoes at airports, and the Canines for Conservation programme, aware of the tactics employed by traffickers, works closely with airport authorities in the countries where the dogs are deployed. These canine partners, whose role in fighting wildlife poachers over the years has been acknowledged, are also fed specially, and are kept in kennels and large spaces where they can relax.
The smiles associated with a homecoming
What the return of diasporan Africans means for the continent
Ghana declared the year 2019 as “the Year of Return”, opening its doors for African-Americans, Afro-Caribbeans and other diasporan Africans to return to the continent and obtain citizenship if they so desired. In the past couple of months, that move has not only impacted the nation once referred to as “the Gold Coast” from a socio-cultural and economic perspective, it has also signalled a renewed wave of African consciousness that is slowly but gradually reverberating across other countries.
In terms of cultural dynamics, Ghana is currently experiencing a moment similar to the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s, a movement in the United States characterised by an increased interest in African art and culture at a time when racism and segregation – aided by legislation – still thrived in many parts of America. The major difference now is that this new wave is beyond a mere display of interest in “the motherland”, it has more to do with fully experiencing and getting immersed in African culture. According to observers, the dichotomy between Africans and those in the diaspora is slowly fading away, to the extent that diasporan Africans are gradually beginning to see that, in the words of the late reggae music legend Peter Tosh, “as long as you’re a black man, you are an African”.
In the final weeks of 2019, Ghana played host to more than a few high-profile celebrities, including comedian Steve Harvey, supermodel Naomi Campbell, actors Boris Kodjoe and Danny Glover, as well as musicians T.I, Cardi B and Ludacris. In a bold statement of endearment to African roots, Ludacris would go on to obtain citizenship of Gabon, a French-speaking West African nation.
Diasporan Africans trooped into Ghana in their numbers in 2019, leading to a 6.7% increase in the country’s GDP growth rate in the first quarter of last year. There was also a noticeable growth in the country’s private sector amidst the expansion of local businesses, and the influence of this socio-cultural shift on Ghana’s tourism industry is impossible to ignore.
Beyond economic figures, the influx of returnees from the diaspora also illustrates the power in numbers. Ghana’s Year of Return has proven to be a successful experiment, and it is hoped that more African countries follow in its footsteps.
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