AfricaLGBTQ+ HUMAN RIGHTS ACROSS THE COMMONWEALTH
For the majority of African countries in the Commonwealth, same-sex sexual activity is criminalised for men.
In some northern states in Nigeria where Sharia law is enforced, the maximum possible penalty is death by stoning; while in the rest of Nigeria and in 12 other countries, there is the threat of a jail term as punishment, with life imprisonment the maximum possible penalty in The Gambia, Tanzania, Uganda and Sierra Leone. The latter, however, is one of four countries where there is currently little to no evidence that the law is being enforced (the others are Eswatini, Mauritius and Namibia).
Women’s sexual activity is frequently not mentioned in law, though lesbians and bisexual women still frequently face stigma, discrimination, and violence.
In most countries, same-sex marriage is illegal, and LGBTQ+ people neither enjoy rights such as being able to adopt or serve openly in the military, nor protections from discrimination in employment or more broadly. Generally speaking, transgender rights are in their infancy.
South Africa is an outlier in the region. Same-sex sexual activity is legal, same-sex marriage is allowed, and LGBTQ+ people may adopt, serve in the military, and change their legal gender if they have had hormonal or surgical treatment.
However, LGBTQ+ people still face discrimination and violence including so-called “corrective” rape, the practice of raping lesbians to turn them straight.
Kingdom of Eswatini
United Republic of Tanzania
Same-sex sexual activity legal
Serve openly in military
has no military
Change legal gender
On National Identity
Population: 2.4 million
Botswana’s traditional acceptance of homosexuality and same-sex partnerships was erased under colonialism and Victorian-era laws but in recent years, the High Court has taken bold steps towards LGBTQ+ human rights
1885: The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland establishes the Bechuanaland Protectorate which uses a dual system of customary and Roman-Dutch law
1964: Article 164 of the Penal Code punishes “carnal knowledge against the order of nature” with up to seven years in prison, while article 167 punishes “indecent practices between persons” with an unspecified sentence.
1966: Botswana independence
2010: Employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is banned
2016: Botswana High Court orders Botswana government to register LGBTQ+ organisation LEGABIBO
2017: Botswana High Court rules transgender people have the legal right to change their gender
2019: Homosexual acts are decriminalised in a unanimous ruling by the High Court of Botswana
Botswana’s traditional attitudes and laws around homosexuality changed in 1885 when the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland established the Bechuanaland Protectorate (which would later become Botswana). Initially using a dual system of customary and Roman-Dutch law, Botswana legally criminalised homosexuality in Penal Code Article 164 on “unnatural offences”.
More recently, the Botswana High Court has made a series of decisions, including decriminalisation of homosexuality in 2019, that have placed the country on the forefront of LGBTQ+ rights on the continent. Employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation has been illegal since 2010, and in 2019, this was expanded into the delivery of goods and services and in terms of hate speech. Transgender people have had the right to change their gender markers since 2017.
While the nation appears to be moving toward expanded human rights for LGBTQ+ people, there is still stigma around being LGBTQ+. Harassment, discrimination, and violence is still a concern. LGBTQ+ people cannot adopt or serve openly in the military, and same-sex marriage is not yet legal.
Population: 27.6 million
Consensual same-sex sexual activity is illegal in Cameroon and the police’s willingness to prosecute is a difficult challenge for LGBTQ+ people who also face violence, intimidation, blackmail, vandalism, and murder
1965: Cameroon’s first Penal Code does not criminalise consensual same-sex sexual activity
1972: President Ahmadou Ahidjo issues an ordinance making same-sex sexual activity criminal
2010: The Law on Cybersecurity and Cybercrime criminalises online same-sex sexual propositions
2013: Gay human rights activist Eric Ohena Lembembe is found dead in his home; his body shows signs of torture
2014: A Cameroonian gay man who was imprisoned for sending a text to another man which read “I am very much in love with you” is found dead in prison
2016: Cameroon revises its Criminal Code but consensual same-sex sexual activity remains an offense with a punishment of up to 5 years and a fine
2018: Five LGBTQ+ human rights defenders are arrested and subjected to anal exams before they are released on bail
2019: A gay advocacy group’s office is set on fire and organisers cancel planned Pride event
2020: The Research Handbook on Gender, Sexuality and the Law published a chapter on LGBT rights in Africa that claims that Cameroon "currently prosecutes consensual same sex conduct more aggressively than almost any country in the world"
Cameroon is extremely dangerous for LGBTQ+ people who are subject to harassment, blackmail, intimidation, suppression, and physical violence from police and other citizens. Homosexuality is characterised as “deviant” and there is little to no education about sexual orientation or gender identity.
Although Cameroon denies the right to marriage, adoption, military service, and to change one’s gender identity, there are activists working in the country to promote LGBTQ+ rights. Lawyer Alice Nkom, for example, founded the country’s first anti-homophobia NGO, the Association for the Defence of Homosexual Rights (Adefho), in 2003.
Population: 2.5 million
Consensual same-sex sexual activity is a felony in the Gambia carrying a sentence of between 5 and 14 years; the charge of “aggravated homosexuality” is punishable by life imprisonment
1888: Homosexuality is made illegal with penalties of life imprisonment; vigilante torture, beatings and murder are also not uncommon
2013: A Criminal Code amendment is passed under which “any male person who dresses or is attired in the fashion of a woman in a public place” can be penalised by up to five years imprisonment and a fine
2014: Then-President Yahya Jammeh signs into law an amendment to the Criminal Code which introduces a new offence of “aggravated homosexuality”, punishable by life imprisonment
2015: The government rejects the UN recommendation of non-criminalisation of sexual orientation or gender identity
2016: Adama Barrow becomes president of the Gambia
2020: The government publicly denies it has plans to decriminalise homosexuality
Like many nations in the region, the Gambia has a history of colonisation that brings with it antiquated legislation and attitudes around same-sex sexual relations, homosexuality, and gender expression. Anti-LGBTQ+ views are rampant and intense in the Gambia. Former President Yahya Jammeh, who led the Gambia between 1994 and 2017, was an outspoken homophobe who characterised gay people as “vermin” and brought in the offence of “aggravated homosexuality” in 2014. This charge can be laid against repeat “offenders”, persons who administer drugs to have “unlawful carnal connection” with a person of the same sex, persons having same-sex relations with someone under the age of 18 or with a person who has a disability, or a person with HIV having same-sex sexual relations. Jammeh also claimed that he would kill gay asylum seekers.
In 2016, Adama Barrow won the presidency and the Gambia began the process of returning to its membership of the Commonwealth of Nations. Barrow claimed that he would ensure freedom of the press in the country, and would have the Gambia end human rights violations. Despite winning re-election in 2021, the offences of “carnal knowledge ‘against the order of nature’”, “acts of ‘gross indecency’ between males”, “acts of ‘gross indecency’ between females”, the act of a ‘man who dresses in the fashion of a woman in a public place”, and “aggravated homosexuality” remain in force.
Population: 32.2 million
Recent efforts by right-wing ultra-conservative groups and an in-country disinformation campaign have intensified an already hostile environment for LGBTQ+ people in Ghana
1960: Section 104 of the Ghanaian Criminal Code criminalises consensual same-sex sexual acts between males. Under Section 104(1)(b), "unnatural carnal knowledge" with consent is considered a misdemeanour
2019: Ghana’s National Coalition for Proper Human Sexual Rights and Family Values partners with the ultra-conservative World Congress of Families for a conference in Accra with a focus on making Ghana a “no-go area for the LGBT agenda”
2021: Proposal of the Promotion of Proper Human Sexual Rights and Ghanaian Family Values Bill; police raid a hotel and arrest 21 LGBTQ+ rights activists for promoting the "LGBT agenda"
LGBTQ+ people in the Republic of Ghana face persecution, discrimination, and violence with very few legal protections. Although not often enforced through legal means, same-sex sexual activity between men is criminalised in the Criminal Code and carries jail time. It’s unclear whether sexual acts between women are illegal. LGBTQ+ people face more danger informally through violence and discrimination than through official channels. A distrust of the police and other institutions makes recourse nearly impossible for LGBTQ+ people who are victims of crime.
Recent involvement by ultra-conservative groups like the World Congress of Families has intensified established anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment in Ghana and local journalists have become instrumental in spreading disinformation to stoke hate. A bill proposed in 2021 would criminalise a wide array of behaviours from posting a rainbow icon online to sharing information about LGBTQ+ health to same-sex activity - and require that Ghanaians report LGBTQ+ people to the police. Human Rights Watch characterised the bill as “odious” and said that it “beggars belief”.
Population: 56.2 million
Homosexuality and LGBTQ+ people are so vilified in Kenya that a rumour can spark mob violence
1930: Kenyan Penal Code criminalises sodomy as a felony carrying a maximum of 14 years in prison
2010: Same-sex marriage is banned under the Kenyan Constitution; Prime Minister Raila Odinga calls for lesbians to be arrested along with gay men; a rumour in the coastal town of Mtwapa spreads that two Kenyan men are going to marry, unleashing violence, a house-to-house search, vandalism, and ultra-homophobic national media coverage
2017: a court orders the Registrar of Persons to change the name of five trans people on their ID cards
2018: A Court of Appeal in Mombasa, Kenya, rules that conducting forced anal examinations on people who are accused of same-sex relations is unconstitutional; Kenyan Film Classification Board bans the film, “Rafiki”, about a lesbian relationship
2019: The High Court of Kenya refuses an order to declare the sections criminalising sodomy and “gross indecency” unconstitutional
LGBTQ+ Kenyans have no anti-discrimination legislation and few rights. Consensual same-sex sexual activity between males is a felony carrying a penalty of up to 14 years in prison. Lesbians, bisexual women, and trans women are targets for violence, particularly sexual violence including so-called “corrective rape”. Police brutality including forced anal exams is commonplace, as is mob violence.
Some traditional tribes have same-sex females partnerships that are not seen as romantic but rather as an inheritance adaptation for families without sons. Same-sex marriage is illegal in Kenya, and was constitutionally banned in 2010. Transgender people in Kenya face the same, often intensified, discrimination as other sexual minorities. However, there have been a series of court rulings in favour of transgender rights, such as the right to change the names appearing on legal documents.
Population: 1.1 million
King Mswati III has reportedly called same-sex relationships "satanic" and former Prime Minister Barnabas Sibusiso Dlamini has called homosexuality "an abnormality and a sickness"
1907: Consensual same-sex sexual relations between males are a common-law offence
2018: The first Pride event is organised by Rock of Hope in Mbabane; letters of protest are published in the local media
2019: Officials refuse to register Eswatini Sexual and Gender Minorities (ESGM) "on the grounds of morality"
2022: The country’s high court rejects official recognition for Eswatini Gender Minorities, a group that aims to protect, promote and advance LGBTQ+ rights
LGBTQ+ people are demonised and shunned in the Kingdom of Eswatini, forcing many to live closeted lives. Those who live openly face rejection from family and discrimination from government and other institutions. Same-sex marriage is illegal, LGBTQ+ people cannot adopt or serve openly in the military, and there is no legal way to change one’s gender. LGBTQ+ people do not have legal protections against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, and LGB people are barred by law from entering the country.
LGBTQ+ groups in Eswatini have faced bureaucratic problems in addition to cultural and social objections but nonetheless have been able to organise and operate. Eswatini held its first-ever Pride event in 2018 and the nation’s first LGBTQ+ organisation, House of our Pride (HOOP), reports incremental social change around the attitudes towards sexual and gender minorities. Still, as recently as April 2022, the court refused to register Eswatini Gender Minorities, an LGBTQ+ rights group.
Population: 2.1 million
Although same-sex relationships were a documented part of Lesotho culture for centuries, colonial forces tried to suppress these traditions and male homosexuality was criminalised in 1939; more recently, there is evidence that attitudes are changing
1939: Section 185(5) of the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act names (male) sodomy as a punishable offence
2012: Article 52 of the Penal Code replaces Section 185(5) of the 1939 Act and has no mention of sodomy thereby decriminalising same-sex activities between consenting adult males
2013: LGBTIQ+ activists organize first Pride March in Lesotho
2021: Archbishop Desmond Tutu dies
The Kingdom of Lesotho has a strong tradition of same-sex partnerships that goes back centuries but colonial influence and legislation successfully changed cultural practices and norms resulting a modern era of homophobia and hostility towards LGBTQ+ Lesothan people.
Section 185(5) of the 1939 Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act made (male) sodomy a punishable offence; female sexual activity was not specifically outlawed. In 2012 this article was changed, decriminalising homosexuality and the following year local activists held Pride celebrations including a march, a film festival, and talks. Lesotho still does not recognise same-sex marriages or civil unions, nor does it ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. LGBTQ+ Lesothans cannot adopt children or serve openly in the military. Discrimination, family rejection, violence and harassment are not uncommon.
There are, however, reasons to believe attitudes are changing. After the 2012 change to the Penal Code, opportunity arose for activists and NGOs like the People’s Matrix to do outreach and education, particularly around HIV prevention. The presence and influence of Archbishop Desmond Tutu was felt throughout the region, including in Lesotho where he lived for some time, even after he died at age 90 in 2021.
Population: 20 million
A years-long legal battle over decriminalisation has yet to be resolved; LGBTQ+ people in Malawi face legal, cultural, and political challenges
2010: A gay couple is sentenced to 14 years with hard labour for holding an engagement ceremony; Malawi Parliament amends the Penal Code by expanding the criminalisation of same-sex sexual acts to females
2012: President Joyce Banda announces her intention to repeal the laws criminalizing same-sex sexual activity and later the government suspends all laws criminalising homosexuality
2015: Marriage is defined as between opposite sex people in the Marriage Act
2016: High Court Judge Dingiswayo Madise grants an injunction requested by anti-gay pastors seeking an end to the government's moratorium on arrests under the country's anti-homosexuality law during court deliberations on that law's constitutionality; the prosecutions are free to continue pending a judicial review
2021: The Nyasa Rainbow Alliance organises the country's first ever Pride parade and the 50+ attendees deliver a petition to the city's officials demanding marriage equality and better access to healthcare
In Malawi, the issue around whether consensual same-sex sexual activities are legal or not is in flux. In 2010, the Malawi Parliament extended legislation to criminalise female homosexuality but two year later, under the direction of President Joyce Banda, the government suspended these laws. In 2016, a group of anti-gay pastors petitioned the court for an injunction on the suspension of anti-gay laws which High Court Judge Dingiswayo Madise granted. This allowed prosecutions for same-sex activity to resume. The legislation is still under review but for now, same-sex sexual activity between consenting males and females is illegal.
Population: 1.2 million
One of the most progressive nations in the region, Mauritius still has a ways to go on formalising LGBTQ+ rights; a constitutional challenge of their sodomy law is currently before the courts
1838: Sodomy is criminalised with a maximum penalty of 5 years in prison
2008: Mauritius passes the Equal Opportunities Act which results in anti-discrimination protection based on sexual orientation
2018: Threats, including death threats, against LGBTQ+ people including journalists and the Prime Minister, result in the annual Pride March being cancelled
2019: Four LGBT Mauritians bring a case to the Supreme Court of Mauritius seeking constitutional redress, asking the Court to declare Section 250 of the Mauritian Criminal Code Act of 1838 (as amended) unconstitutional
Sodomy is a criminal offence for both homosexual and heterosexual people, but it’s infrequently enforced. Mauritius has extended anti-discrimination protections to Mauritians based on sexual orientation but not gender identity, and Mauritians cannot change their legal gender identity. There is no legal way to enter into same-sex marriages or civil unions, but LGBTQ+ people are not explicitly banned from adopting.
Mauritius is a signatory of the "Joint Statement on Ending Acts of Violence Related Human Rights Violations Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity" at the United Nations, and is considered one of the more progressive nations in the region. Although the culture still has strong conservative attitudes, LGBTQ+ organisations and activists have been able to to work on affecting social change. A constitutional challenge of the sodomy law is currently before the courts.
Population: 32.8 million
One of the most LGBTQ+-friendly countries on the continent, Mozambique’s government nevertheless drags its heels on important legislation; activists persist
2007: Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation becomes illegal under Labour Law
2011: During the UN Human Rights Council's Universal Periodic Review, the Minister of Justice declares that homosexuality is not an offence in Mozambique even though the Criminal Code still contains an offence of "practices against nature"
2015: Same-sex sexual activity becomes legal under new Penal Code but there are no explicit provisions about sexual orientation or gender identity
2020: LAMBDA Mozambique delivers educational training to Mozambique police about homosexuality
2022: LAMBDA Mozambique holds an “LGBT Carnaval”
Mozambique is considered to be far more LGBTQ+-friendly than any of its neighbouring countries and indeed, consensual same-sex sexual activity has been decriminalised. There is also employment discrimination protection legislation in place covering sexual orientation but not gender identity. However, despite these steps, the government has failed to follow up with a fulsome slate of rights (same-sex couples cannot marry nor adopt). In fact, it has blocked the LGBTQ+ community on seemingly simple advancements such as formally registering the country’s only LGBT rights association, LAMBDA Mozambique.
Population: 2.6 million
Despite the lack of legal rights extended to LGBTQ+ Namibians, culturally and socially, acceptance is much higher than in many other countries in the region
1992: Sexual orientation is added a prohibited ground for discrimination in the Labour Law
2007: Updated Labour Law does not include “sexual orientation as a prohibited ground for employment discrimination
2013: Namibia’s first Pride march takes place in Windhoek and continues annually
2016: The Ombudsman of Namibia argues that a measure prohibiting discrimination on the ground of sexual orientation needs to be in the Constitution
2021: Justice Minister Yvonne Dausab calls sodomy law “outdated and discriminatory” and cabinet considers abolishing it; Namibian court grants citizenship to gay couple’s son
2022: Namibian High Court rules that same-sex marriages conducted outside of Namibia cannot be required to be recognised in-country
In Namibia, unlike in other countries in the region, there is a high amount of tolerance for LGBTQ+ despite a relative dearth of protections or rights. Namibia is one of the few places where anti-discrimination protections has been repealed, as in the Labour Law of 2007, removing sexual orientation from the list of prohibited grounds. Same-sex marriage is not legal but several cases are making their way through the courts and government officials have expressed support. Sodomy is not against the law but it remains a crime under common law for both same-sex and heterosexual partners.
Namibia appears to be on a trajectory towards more rights and protections for LGBTQ+ people. In 2021 alone, there were at least 10 cases brought to the country’s courts by same-sex couples seeking marriage equality, trans activists and victims of homophobic violence, and queer families fighting for their rights to live together. There are several LGBTQ+ groups and organizations in the country, and Pride marches have gone on without controversy since 2013.
Population: 216.7 million
Heavily influenced by conservative Christian and Muslim religious leaders, Nigeria is extremely hostile to LGBTQ+ people
1999: Alliance Rights Nigeria, an NGO working to promote and defend the interests and human rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender citizens of Nigeria, is formed
2008: Some members of the House of Rainbow Metropolitan Church, an LGBTQ+ friendly church, are threatened, beaten, and stoned by members of the public after their names are printed in the press
2014: Nigeria's former president, Goodluck Jonathan, signs the Same-Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Bill (SSMPA) into law, criminalising all forms of same-sex unions and same-sex marriage throughout the country
2017: Lagos State arrests 42 men for homosexuality
2019: The spokesperson for the Lagos State Police Command, Dolapo Badmos, warns homosexuals to flee the country or face prosecution in an Instragram post
Both male and female same-sex sexual activity is illegal and can be punished with death by stoning in the states that have adopted Sharia law. Elsewhere, the maximum punishment is 14 years imprisonment. Though the Constitution of Nigeria has various provisions guaranteeing all citizens equal rights along with other rights like adequate medical and health care and equal opportunity in the workplace, these rights have not been interpreted to include LGBTQ+ people. There are no anti-discrimination laws that set out sexual orientation or gender identity as prohibited grounds. Nigeria is so against same-sex marriage that in 2014 the president signed into law a bill that actively criminalised and same-sex unions. In addition to legal consequences, LGBTQ+ people are subject to public aggression and vigilante violence. For all these reasons, LGBTQ+ Nigerians rarely reveal their orientation.
Population: 13.5 million
Same-sex sexual activity has never been illegal in Rwanda but homosexuality is a taboo subject; marriage is defined in the Constitution as between a man and a woman
2003: The Constitution says that only “civil monogamous marriage between a man and a woman is recognized"
2009: Parliament of Rwanda debates whether to make homosexuality a criminal offence, with a punishment of 5–10 years imprisonment; the law fails
2010: Rwanda becomes one of only six African nations to sign the UN’s “joint statement condemning violence against LGBT people”
2017: Rwanda signs onto a UN resolution condemning countries who use the death penalty as a punishment for consensual same-sex relations
2021: Rwanda has its first Pride event
Same-sex sexual activity has always been legal in Rwanda, although Parliament did consider whether to table a law criminalising it in 2009. LGBTQ+ Rwandans face discrimination, harassment, and violence without the benefit of anti-discrimination protections. Marriage is defined in the Constitution as being between one man and one woman. Homosexuality is a taboo subject and even the few LGBTQ+ activists from the country often aren’t direct about the area of their work.
Despite this, in 2010, Rwanda signed the UN’s “joint statement condemning violence against LGBT people'' - one of only six African nations to do so. And in 2017, it signed a resolution against using the death penalty as punishment for consensual same-sex relations. These actions, along with the fact that same-sex sexual activity is legal, may signal a lack of will on the part of government to persecute LGBTQ+ people.
Population: 99.4 thousand
Despite being a deeply religious society, Seychelles is one of few African nations taking steps towards reform for enhanced human rights and protections for LGBTQ+ people
1952: Section 151 of the country’s Penal Code names sodomy a felony, punishable with up to 14 years in prison
2006: Sexual orientation is included as a prohibited ground for harassment in the Employment Act
2011: Seychelles signs agreement with the UN Humans Rights Council to decriminalise homosexuality
2016: President James Michel’s calls Section 151 a colonial remnant and an “aberration” in Seychelles’s “tolerant” society; Parliament votes to decriminalise same-sex sexual activity
2018: Anti-bullying policy for schools and professional centres includes specific sections about homophobia
Although Section 151 of the Penal Code, a holdover from colonial rule, was mostly unenforced in Seychelles, it helped create an unsafe and stigmatised environment for LGBTQ+ people. The 2016 decision to overturn it, therefore decriminalising homosexuality, followed an earlier 2006 move to prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. These two key pieces of legislation offer LGBTQ+ people in Seychelles more protection than in many other countries in Africa, but there is still work to be done.
Population: 8.2 million
Despite contravening Article 15 the Constitution, the 1861 colonial-era Offences Against the Person Act, which criminalises male same-sex sexual activity, is still intact in Sierra Leone
1861: Section 61 of the Offences Against the Person Act criminalises male same-sex sexual activity and sets out a maximum penalty of life imprisonment with hard labour
2002: FannyAnn Eddy founds the Sierra Leone Lesbian and Gay Association
2004: FannyAnn Eddy is brutally murdered at the offices of the Sierra Leone Lesbian and Gay Association
2011: Sierra Leone Human Rights Commission communications officer says "the law of Sierra Leone does not give the Commission mandate to advocate and support LGBT human rights" but the same year the nation is one of five African countries to join the United Nations' "Joint Statement on Ending Acts of Violence Related Human Rights Violations Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity"
Male homosexuality is taboo in Sierra Leone with many holding the belief that it is uniquely “un-African” and practised almost exclusively by foreigners. (Female homosexuality has always been legal, though it is not culturally accepted either.) Despite the fact that it contravenes Article 15 the Constitution, the 1861 colonial-era Offences Against the Person Act is still intact in Sierra Leone. LGBTQ+ people in Sierra Leone face legal and social discrimination without any formal protections.
In 2002, lesbian Sierra Leonian FannyAnn Eddy founded the country’s first LGBTIQ+-rights organization, the Sierra Leone Lesbian and Gay Association. Two years later, she was murdered in the organisation’s offices.
Population: 60.7 million
LGBTQ+ people in South Africa enjoy equal legal rights but colonialism, tradition, and the affects of apartheid contribute to a complicated sociocultural situation that can still be violent and discriminatory
1993: The African National Congress endorsed the legal recognition of same-sex marriages, and the interim Constitution prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in the Bill of Rights
1994: Male same-sex conduct is legalised; during his inauguration speech as president, Nelson Mandela speaks about a “constitutional, democratic, political order in which, regardless of colour, gender, religion, political opinion or sexual orientation, the law will provide for the equal protection of all citizens”
1996: Section 9(3) of the South African Constitution disallows discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation (and other grounds) - the first jurisdiction in the world to do so
1998: Employment Equity Act extends protections to LGBTQ+ South Africans; common-law crimes of sodomy and "commission of an unnatural sexual act" are ruled unconstitutional
2006: The National Assembly passes a bill allowing same-sex civil marriage, as well as civil partnerships for unmarried opposite-sex and same-sex couples
2007: All discriminatory provisions are formally repealed such as equalising the age of consent and gender-neutral definitions of all offences
2008: South African national team footballer Eudy Similane is raped and murdered
South Africa’s record in regards to LGBTQ+ rights and protections is outstanding not just in comparison to other African nations but also to the rest of the world. In 1996, South Africa became the first place in the world to rule that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation was unconstitutional. It became the fifth country in the world to legalise same-sex marriage in 2006. And LGBTQ+ South African enjoy all the rights and protections of their heterosexual and cis counterparts.
Despite these advances, South African society is not safe or welcoming to LGBTQ+ people across the board, with outright hostility and violence still being a risk particularly in the more rural parts of the country. Of particular concern is the violent practice of so-called “corrective” rape where someone perceived to be LGBTQ+ is raped as a way to “correct” their identity. This happens to people of all genders. It is important to recognise the effects of colonialism and apartheid, and the bearing of racialisation, on attitudes about LGBTQ+ people in South Africa.
Population: 48.4 million
Colonial rule introduced anti-LGBTQ+ laws and attitudes to Uganda; political and religious leaders continue to persecute LGBTQ+ people
2005: Same-sex marriage constitutionally banned
2011: Gay activist David Kato is murdered
2013: Uganda’s so-called “Kills the Gays” bill, the Anti-Homosexuality Act, carrying a punishment of life imprisonment for “aggravated homosexuality”, passes
2014: Uganda Anti-Homosexuality Act is annulled
2019: Activist Brian Wasswa is murdered
2021: Parliament passes further criminalisation laws on both sex work and gay sex; trans woman Cleopatra Kambugu Kentaro is issued a new ID identifying her as female
Prior to colonisation, same-sex sexual activity was common in Uganda but was criminalised under British colonial rule and later enshrined in the Penel Code of 1950. Now, it is one of the most hostile and dangerous places in Africa to be LGBTQ+, with many prohibitions, few protections, and acceptance for vigilante violence in addition to legal punishments. The government has routinely gone out of its way to criminalise LGBTQ+ people. In 2005, President Museveni signed a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage and there was an attempt in 2013 to make “aggravated homosexuality” an offence carrying a life sentence. Culturally, homosexuality is seen as a western import and as “un-African”, and vigilante violence - including torture and murder - is tolerated.
The struggle for equality in Uganda is far from over but there are several rights organisations in the country addressing the needs of the community. Most recently, campaigners are keeping a close eye on the Sexual Offenses Bill signed by outgoing Parliament. Some fear it may be a way to reintroduce the annulled Anti-Homosexuality Act from 2014.
Population: 62.9 million
Homosexuality is taboo and criminal carrying punishments of up to life imprisonment
1939: Penal Code criminalises same-sex sexual activity in Zanzibar
1945: Penal Code criminalises same-sex sexual activity in mainland Tanzania
2003: A group of Tanzanians protest the arrival of a gay tour group
2012: Activist Morris Mjomba is found murdered and mutilated
2016: Ministry of Health prohibits community-based organizations from conducting outreach on HIV prevention to men who have sex with men and other key populations, based on the pretext that such organizations are engaged in the “promotion of homosexuality”
2017: AIDS/HIV groups deported for “promoting homosexuality”
2018: Apparently without the support of government, a committee consisting of police, lawyers and doctors is formed to identify and punish homosexuals
Pre-colonisation, homosexuality was accepted in Tanzania but along with European contact came fundamental religion and criminalisation. Now, LGBTQ+ people face stigma, discrimination, harassment, and violence - and lengthy jail times and fines. Homosexual sex between males is criminal and carries a punishment of up to life imprisonment. Female same-sex sexual activity carries a maximum penalty of five years and a fine. Heterosexual oral and anal sex is also illegal. Vigilante and police violence is accepted and there is no protection from institutions like the government.
The situation was worsened in 2016 when the Ministry of Health prohibited HIV prevention organisations, equating prevention practices with “promoting homosexuality”. There exist groups in Tanzania advocating for LGBTQ+ rights but they face an uphill battle.
Population: 19.3 million
The influence of colonisers and fundamental Evangelical missionaries remains strong in Zambia; homosexuality is illegal and taboo
1999: Zambia Against People with Abnormal Sexual Acts (ZAPASA) forms to combat homosexuality and homosexuals
2006: Home Affairs Minister Ronnie Shikapwasha states that Zambia would never legalize same-sex marriage, claiming that it is a sin that goes against the country's Christian values
2013: Activist Paul Kasonkomona is arrested for speaking about LBGTQ+ and HIV-related issues on a local TV station
2014: Two women who were suspected lesbians are apprehended by citizens in Lusaka and taken to the police station
2015: An openly gay man is attacked by a mob reportedly including three police officers
Homosexuality is illegal in Zambia and carries a penalty of up to life imprisonment for men and up to 14 years imprisonment for women. LGBTQ+ people in Zambia are subject to arbitrary arrest and detention, vigilante violence, and institutional discrimination. Although the Constitution provides broad protections that could be interpreted to cover LGBTQ+ people, in practice, there are no protections. Even activism and advocacy around LGBTQ+ issues can result in arrest.