Ladies and gentlemen,
The last few days have been days of intense reflection. My heart has been ripped.
Sunday morning found me awake and watching the 5:00 am BBC news bulletin. In it was the sad news of the death of one of Ghana’s and Africa’s greatest ambassadors. We surely will miss Komla Dumor’s baritone, imposing physique on our televisions and the wonderful stories he made out of, and for Africa and the rest of the world. He gave us a fleeting moment of happiness as we enjoyed watching him do what he did best. May his soul rest in eternal peace.
And also, thanks to what has now turned out to have been a poor decision, to escape from the SMS language and illogical social media posts characterised by conversations on sex, leaking of nudes, requests for sex tapes and shallow newspaper websites, I, for four days, missed out on the biggest story of the week, and for days to come; Binyavanga Wainana had found and published his lost chapter. Close friends surprised him with a celebration not only for his 43rd birthday but, I believe, the content of his newly found chapter as well: he had had it living in the closet. Events since his declaration have illustrated that indeed, whenever something comes out of the closet, it is a gay event. Ah! The nearly all encompassing wisdom, power, and immediate influence of celebrity.
Of course, that is a story one can’t ignore. Even the afternoon hip-hop show presenter on Easy FM listed it as one of his top stories of the day – yesterday (Wednesday, January 22, 2014) that is. His detail was quite interesting.
In a hushed voice, he said “Binyavanga Wainana, the writer, has dropped the gay bombshell. He is gay. There is no other way I can say it.” And then he added, “You know strange things have been happening in Uganda.” It was the mention of my dear Uganda that set me on a quest for information.
On the same day, Daily Nation published the story of a one Bernard Randall, a retired British man at the centre of gay sex case in Uganda who will be deported because he had “kept on corrupting Uganda’s youth”. Really? Anyone who has been in Uganda knows that, for example, fortunate University students in Uganda today graduate with more addictions than diplomas or degrees. They don’t need lecturers, but counselors. What are we to say of the unfortunate ones who may have no rationale whatsoever?
Coupled with the other headlines that have literally been raining, from December 2013; US condemns Uganda’s anti-homosexuality Bill, Ugandan lawmakers adopt Bill imposing life sentence for gays, Branson urges Uganda boycott for anti-gay bill, and from five days ago, Museveni halts anti-gay Bill but brands homosexuals “abnormal”, we should be thankful that the debate has gradually been adopted in the public sphere. Unbeknownst to the gay bashing Ugandans, the more it (homosexuality and same sex marriage) is talked it, the more people support it. In these times, knowledge is not only power but how we survive.
Such is the world we live in: strange, complex, uncertain, and transforming. The world is changing and we are moving away from patterns of behavior that have traditionally been regarded as moral. We cannot keep mum and stupidly, like Andrew Mwenda, confidently say Uganda is an 80% and more homophobic nation. It is sad that now people choose the facts they want. I am inclined to believe that people like him have grown up and lived in a Uganda blind to the truth. There are more where Binyavanga came from. One simple truth, to use Dr. Ian Clarke’s words, is that provided homosexuality takes has been taking place between consenting adults in private, it most certainly is not a sad giving. Get in the cellar people because a bomb is about to be dropped.
Religions (traditional Catholicism, fundamentalist Protestantism, Orthodox Judaism, and various branches of Buddhism) are being split internally as are all societies. All societies are being torn between traditionalists and those who are attempting to redefine the family, women, and sexuality.
This conflict is going to intensify but let’s face it, events show that they are fighting a defensive and ultimately losing battle. Why? The reason is this. That over the past 100 years, the very fabric of human life has been transformed, and with it the structures of the family. We keep evolving.
In the 1858 presidential debates, Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas debated on the topics of the day like slavery, voting rights, women’s rights which never existed then. Now, we have the brave likes of Binyavanga who has stopped holding his hands over his candle and become a shining light on a continent that is generally regarded as homophobic. It is them who are on the front line fighting for LGBT (gay rights).
Another brave one that cannot be ignored is Jason Collins an NBA centre who on January, 10, 2013 became the first openly gay player in major US sports. Just the other day, while introducing Ryan Lewis and Macklemore’s “gay anthem” Same Love at the MTV VMAs 2013 said one of the smartest things a gay person has said in a while; ” Hating someone for their sexual orientation is the same thing as hating someone for the color of their skin, and the only way things change is when you stand up for what you believe in.”
What has already, and is still happening in Europe, the United States, and Japan is spreading to the rest of the world. The issues will as matter of course rip societies apart, but in the end, the transformation can not be stopped.
This is not to say that transformation is inherently a good idea or a bad one. Instead, this trend is unstoppable because the demographic realities of the world are being transformed with the single most demographic change in the world being the dramatic decline everywhere in birth rates. Women are having fewer and fewer children. The effect of this is that the population explosion of the past – driven by traditionalists and religions – is coming to an end but also that women are spending much less time bearing and nurturing children, even as their life expectancy has soared.
It is also worth noting that traditional distinctions between men and women are collapsing. As women live longer and have fewer children, they no longer are forced by circumstances into the traditional roles they had to maintain prior to urbanization and industrialization. Nor is family the critical economic instrument it once was. Divorce is no longer economically catastrophic, and pre-marital sex is inevitable. Homosexuality and civil unions without reproduction also become un-extraordinary. Ask yourself; if sentiment (love) is the basis of marriage, then why indeed is gay marriage not as valid as heterosexual marriage? If marriage is decoupled from reproduction, then gay marriage logically follows. All these changes are derived from the radical shifts in life patterns that are part of the end of the population explosion.
It is no accident, therefore, that traditionalists within all religions groups – Catholics, Jews, Muslims and others – have focused on returning to traditional patterns of reproduction, they all argue for and may have large families. I will not be surprised if our, apparently, reformist Pope Francis permits his priests and nuns to have children. Maintaining traditional roles makes sense, as do traditional expectations of early marriage, chastity, and the permanence of marriage. The key is having more children, which is a traditionalist’s principle. Everything else, particularly dominance, follows.
Religions are all about masses. More people mean a larger congregation hence more tithe. He is aware of this transformation and has, thankfully, like the Pope he is ought to be chosen to tolerate and give hope to those who subscribe to an alternative orientation. Not with that July 2013 statement, “If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge him?”
All these issues have become a global battleground as well as an internal political maelstrom in most advanced industrial countries. On the one side, there is a structured set of political and legal forces that have their roots in existing religious organisations (The Bahati Bill, and all its supporters). On the other side, there is less a political force than an overwhelming pattern of behavior that is indifferent to the political consequences of the actions that are being taken. Let it not surprise you that Uganda is making ridiculous laws which are aimed at deferring our national debates and seem to take us back to the 1900’s. Believe it or not, this pattern of behavior is being driven by demographic necessity. Certainly, there are movements defending various aspects of this “evolution”, like gay rights, but the transformation is not being planned. It is simply happening.
In fact, if you have noticed, lately, script writers in Hollywood, and the United Kingdom, either find it easier to write work characterized by gay conversations and scenes, or are paid highly to do so. Talk of TV series like Partners, Tiresome, Borgias and a whole bunch of others.
It will, as a matter if necessity, be up to us for decency to be portrayed, regardless of our various sexual orientations, by accepting that there is a class of people – these we have always called weird, abnormal and more – who have opted otherwise. This is because our nature as human beings requires us not to make choices for others but rather as firstly, humans; not, in our narrow minded expectations of who they are supposed to be, use the G word to mock them but rather be compassionate to our brothers and sisters, and, secondly, as beings; learn to hear about their alternative lifestyle, accept it and coexist with them.
Let’s not be like someone who on 3rd November 2012 told me that, and I quote “I want to go and study in Europe but because of gay issues I will study online but if I go I will wear pants with the words EXIT ONLY”. Like the Threesome character, Mo, he thought that “even though we should accept these things, we are lucky that only white people are gay”. Unfortunately, or fortunately, for him, we (Africans) know at least one or two who are. With the Binyavanga kind of declarations, legend has become fact. When legend becomes fact, you quit the legend.
I hope we will, with time, we shall stop being indifferent. Let’s appreciate the fact that gay people have hearts just like you and I. They have only been living like what the Somalia poet Warsan Shire describes as an open wound. It may make the people around you uncomfortable but it is honest in that it allows fresh air to get to the wound and heal it. Embrace them.