Homosexuality refers to sexual relationships between two people of the same sex. Karl-Maria Kertbeny coined the term homosexual in 1869 in a pamphlet arguing against a Prussian anti-sodomy law. And so homosexuality, the ideology that sodomy is good, was born.
Societal attitudes towards same sex relationships vary. Some ritualistic forms of erotic attraction and sexual pleasure between males existed as part of the cultural norm in some ancient cultures. Nevertheless, nowhere in antiquity or the Middle Ages, is sodomy experienced as it is done today by homosexuals as an exclusive, permanent, or defining mode of sexuality.
As a result of campaigns that began in the West with the formation of the modern gay rights movement in 1969 (marking the 100th anniversary of the sodomite becoming the homosexual), there has been, in some countries, a trend towards increased visibility, recognition, and legal rights for homosexuals, including marriage and civil unions, parenting rights, and equal access to healthcare. But in most nations homosexuality remains illegal.
Sober Africans will tell you with religious finality that homosexuality is “un-African.” But those in the homosexual movement dismiss that notion as nonsensical. A cartoonist recently tried to discredit Kenyan clergymen pushing that argument by portraying them as hypocrites since the Bible itself is not African. Some in the homosexual movement argue derisively that there is no intellectual tradition or argument that can rely on an unexamined, uncritical sense of that abstract collectivity called “African.”
Those like the cartoonist totally miss what is meant by being “un-African.” The philosophically coherent, plausible, and sophisticated, worldview of, say, the Abakhayo (Bantu) and Iteso (Nilotes) of Busia is contained in their elaborate folklores and ritiuals (among others) that transmit their cultural values of kinship. That intellectual tradition, which is an aspect of the larger body of African intellectual tradition, places great import on the morality of both public and private life, values found in both the Bible and the Koran. Nothing in the body of Abakhayo/Iteso intellectual life glamorizes “Omulosi/Ekachudan” (the wicked one).
In African traditions, like in the Abrahamic religions, spirituality has a moral dimension. Human relationship and social harmony are vital elements in the African sense of moral aesthetics. According to John S. Mbiti, it is only in terms of other people that the individual himself is conscious of his own being, his own duties, his privileges and responsibilities towards other people: “I am because we are, and since we are, therefore I am.”
This is a morality of ‘conduct’ rather than a morality of ‘being.’ Hence, it matters to others what two consenting adults do in private. This morality occurs in contrast to emphasizing an individual’s sense of self, autonomy or being, that is, of the self which does not place much value on social relationships. Corporate existence signifies a responsibility of many for one, and vice versa.
According to A. T. Dalfovo, the fact that African ethics emphasises human relationship shows the significance attached to the individual human being, by being perceived as the centre of the relationship, and as an active agent and participant in the relationship. The emphasis is not on the autonomy, freedom, and critical inclination of the individual in the sense of Socratic ethics, but on an appreciation of the status and role of the individual in the ethical and socio-economic pattern, which entails the individual’s active agency and participation in the overriding moral imperative to pass on life.
Witches, those who engage in activities that block the natural flow of life, are not tolerated in life, and children are not named after them when they die (that is, they are not given nominal reincarnation) because their evil souls never go to rest with the ancestors.
One could thus say that whereas secular European ethics conceives the individual as an intellectual being, emphasising the faculty of reason as the basic tenet in moral conduct, African ethics conceives the individual as an ethical entity. It is, indeed, this ethical perception that makes the relationship human.
The ethical individuality of the human being is alien in African (also Christian and Islamic) ethics which places considerable value on the conformity of the individual to the social group and social consciousness.
While the sense of relationship and community underlies African traditional ethics, in contrast to the European sense of autonomy, the individual is not perceived as just a mere presence in the community. As an individual, he is perceived both as the centre of the relationship and also as contributing to its sustenance, especially through procreation. Hence, he possesses an ethical status and contributes a role in the ethical and entire social spectrum.
Hence, within this construct of morality, with reference to the particular African context and drawing on African philosophical and cultural traditions, homosexuality is un-African to the extent that it is an affront to the community as a whole, especially because it blocks perpetuation of the community and kinship, which are key African values.
That is what the Most Reverend Peter Jasper Akinola, Anglican Primate of the Church of Nigeria means when, both as an African and a Christian, he asks: "Homosexuality seeks to destroy marriage as we know it, unity as we know it, family life as we know it, so how can we endorse that?"
By Okiya Omtatah Okoiti