Sunday, June 7, 2009

Why Africa's Liberals Can't Spell "Obama"

Barack Obama's army of African fans is incredibly long. Among his African admirers, he counts millions of Facebookers who categorize themselves as liberal, millions of teenagers who think he's cute and, of course, millions of men whose pride was fed by his historic presidency. Although Africans, like black Americans, have long associated with the Democratic Party, and specifically with Al Gore and John Kerry before Obama, the rise of a black man to lead the Democratic Party cemented that relationship. But, if a man with Obama's credentials, charisma and looks ran somewhere in black Africa on a platform that includes enhancing gay rights and legalizing abortion, he would lose in a free and fair election. While these are two of the most enduring cultural issues that helped John McCain lose to Obama, they do not in any way account for the U.S. president's popularity among millions of Africans who now find it cool to "liberal" themselves on social networking sites. They are jokers, and their real crime is to give liberalism a complicated definition.

Exhibit A: I went to school at Makerere University in Kampala, where quack doctors run illegal abortion clinics that count students among their regular clients. By 2004, when i was graduating from college, so widespread was undergound abotion that most young men had to do background checks on the women they were dating just to be sure they had no abortion record. To do an abortion check was the beginning of wisdom, and, as it were, some girls were the victims of malicious rumors that left them isolated. To be sure, even today in Kampala, i don't know of any young man who would stick with a girl after he's heard tales, true or false, that the woman he's dating has in the past aborted another man's child. It's a deal breaker.

Exhibit B: To say the very least, it's tough being gay in black Africa. Literally and physically. In fact, the best treatment gays really get in a country like Uganda is tough love, with some activists calling conferences to counsel them or impart "skills" that would ostensibly prevent young people from becoming gay. The sometimes-rabid crusade against gays, championed by a so-called minister in charge of ethics and integrity, often goes unchallenged. Uganda's Penal Code Act still categorizes homosexuality as an offence "against the order of nature." And most Ugandans, including thousands of young people who help entrench homophobic language, seem to agree. A 2007 study by the Steadman Group, a respected research firm in East Africa, found that 95 percent of Ugandans did not support demands to decriminalize homosexuality.

It's futile to postulate that Obama's African supporters, even if they are incorrigibly conservative, love him essentially because he's a black man. Such an argument would be as bogus as the claims to liberalism of his African supporters. What's true, however, is that Obama's African fans do not know him well enough.


  1. I find it fascinating that any group of people--let alone an entire nation--can find 95% agreement on any topic. How minor of an offense would result in criminal punishment for a gay person in Uganda? And what is the punishment?

  2. Well, it happens. If convicted of a crime 'against the order or nature', the maximum penalty is life behind bars. However, i must add that there are not many sodomy or homosexuality cases that have been successfully prosecuted...