The adage, ‘one man’s meat is another’s poison’, is a truism that can also be applied to different cultures. For instance, it is the height of rudeness in my culture to greet, gesticulate, give or receive with the left hand because that is the hand used for all dirty work, including after using the toilet. I remember during my primary school days so many decades ago, left-handed children were forced to learn to write with their right. Also, I learned during my year’s sojourn in Zimbabwe in 2003 that a man could not hug another’s wife in friendly greeting.
Until the so-called swinging 1960s, homosexuality, was a taboo in many western societies and many gay men had to conduct their affairs in secret for fear of persecution or prosecution. The famous English novelist, Oscar Wilde (who once said the only thing he couldn’t resist was temptation), was tried and gaoled for being a homosexual. Even as recent as the 1980s, most gay celebrities went to great lengths to hide their sexuality in case their fans turned against them. But the world (the western world, in particular) has moved on and nowadays it is generally accepted. Gay couples can legally marry and adopt children. That is part of the giant economic, social, technological and cultural strides the west has made.
What about Africa? Despite centuries of western political and economic domination and adoption of most aspects of western culture, some aspects of our traditions and beliefs are still deep-seated, as they should. After all, every race or creed is identifiable not only by their skin colour, but by their traditional beliefs. The open practice of homosexuality is slowly creeping into Africa, but the large majority of Africans abhor it. That abhorrence, in my opinion, doesn’t constitute bigotry or discrimination. It is just an African belief, generally, that sexual acts between members of the same sex is unnatural.
But to use economic power to try to coerce African countries to relax laws against that practice is very paternalistic, to say the least. UK prime minister David Cameron’s recent threat that his government would withhold aid to African countries that do not allow homosexuality to me is a warning too far. Ending bans on homosexuality was one of the recommendations of an internal report into the future relevance of the 54-member nation Commonwealth.