Writes Key Correspondent, Ian Hodgson.
The murder of David Kato, a Ugandan gay rights activist, has sent shockwaves around the globe. Comments from world leaders such as President Obama who praised Kato for his commitment to fairness and freedom, confirm the widespread abhorrence at this further evidence of homophobia in an African nation.
Of course, those of us who know anything of issues around sexuality in Africa will not be surprised. Writing from the Vienna AIDS conference in 2010, I reported from one session discussing homosexuality on the continent, that LGBT rights come low as a political priority, with negative views promoted heavily, partly in response to the intensifying impact of US-based conservative evangelical churches. Homosexuality is said to be ‘evil’ and homosexuals child molesters; it is accused of being un-African and a Western import. One of the most prominent pastors, Rick Warren, is on record stating homosexuality is not a human rights issue, because it is not a ‘natural way of life’.
David Kato’s death a few days ago – and continuing broad-based prejudice against LGBT in Uganda, and other countries – support strongly a view that parts of Africa remain entrenched in social attitudes that are regressive and completely out of touch with modern approaches to human rights.
Our problem, of course, is that (to steal a phrase from Paul Farmer) structural violence is often mistaken for cultural difference. African countries we are told (perhaps in response to vague notions of post-colonial guilt), should develop their own cultural and social frameworks, and ratify the legislation that they want. Well, cultural and social relativism certainly has its place, but David’s death reminds us that there must come a time when intolerant countries like Uganda should simply not be allowed to encourage attitudes leading to the suppression of minorities.
Interestingly, one does wonder where Uganda’s extreme response to homosexuality comes from, apart from imported ideas from US evangelical Christian leaders. At a ‘debate’ recently at Makere University, medical students cheered when one speaker, citing Freudian theory, suggested homosexuality is the result of a fixation rooted in an unsuccessful resolution of the Oedipal phase in childhood development.
Freud of course did have a lot to say about sexuality; some of his views have stood the test of time, though many others, including this and the associated Electra complex were, with hindsight, poorly argued and supported by limited empirical evidence (Freud tended to generalise from very small samples).
The speaker in this debate failed to mention another part of Freudian theory, the defence mechanism ‘reaction formation’. Here, an extreme response to certain characteristics in other people derives from recognising that tendency in ourselves, which we suppress, and channel the resulting frustration into violent prejudice against others with this tendency.
Shakespeare recognised this when he gave a character in ‘Hamlet’ this line: “the lady doth protest too much”, in this context to suggest an overreaction against something may indicate hidden affinity for it.
If those Africans so violently against homosexuality want to cite Freudian theory in support of their flawed view that it is abnormal, and requires drastic suppression, perhaps they should ponder the ‘shadow’ side of their responses.
Are they protesting too much?