My attention was drawn to Daniel K. Kalinaki’s question in an article, “Why does the West criminalise polygamy but allow homosexuality?” published in the Daily Monitor of January 23. John Smith might also ask “Why does Africa criminalise homosexuality but allow polygamy?” The answers to the two opposite questions lie in the concepts of legality and legitimacy.
Legality lies in books of law while legitimacy lies with the people who determine, through informal consensus (public court), what is acceptable to them as a community and what is not. What is acceptable becomes legitimate even when it is illegal, and what is unacceptable becomes illegitimate even when it is legal. Laws are then made to legalise what the people have legitimised. Sometimes, though, legality clashes with legitimacy when unpopular laws are made.
Acceptance of polygamy in Africa makes the practice legitimate, yet in Europe, where it is not accepted, polygamy is illegal, never mind that it is a union of ‘consenting adults’!
Homosexuality, another act between consenting adults, is so widely abhorred in Africa that the majority are calling for its criminalisation through anti-homosexuality laws, while the West, who accept and have legitimised homosexuality, see the African view as abuse of individuals’ inalienable right to sexual orientation.
Tanzania’s invasion of Uganda in 1979 and Museveni’s guerilla war, which included criminal acts of robbing banks, government vehicles and the application of kandoya, were legitimised by many people who supported the two wars, while Kony’s war, fought for similar reasons, was criminalised by the same people.
The West supported the Arab uprisings on grounds that they were legitimised by citizens of the various countries but condemned coups in the Central African Republic and Mali because they lacked legitimacy of the people.
Legitimacy, therefore, cannot be seen through the eyes of the West, but through communities whom an issue at hand concerns.Community values evolve from their experiences, history, culture, and aspirations, which, in turn, give birth to what is legitimate to a particular community. Imposition of values of one community over another misses the point of evolution, that is why, after a century of indoctrination and stigmatisation of African values, post-colonial Africans still practice their cultural religions.
A hundred years ago, homosexuality was an abomination in the West but has worked its way to legitimacy. Africa needs her time for her values and norms to evolve without pressure from the West, whose reasons are unconvincing, anyway. Like Kalinaki asked, why criminalise polygamy, a union of consenting adults, but legalise homosexuality, an unnatural act, on grounds that it is an act between consenting adults? If the West protects homosexuality on grounds of natural orientation, then the bestial, paedophile, rapist and thief should claim ‘natural orientation’.
When the British colonised Africa, they stigmatised and uprooted everything African – names, religion, artisanship, music, dress, alcohol, language and innovation. Now Africa is a rootless, consumer-only continent, consuming research, medicine, fashion, culture, language, religion, divorce and general permissiveness from the West. Asia, China, the Far East and the Arab world adopted some European innovations but held on to their values, still exhibited in their culture, religion, dress and language. Africa should not be pushed to adopt Western values in the name of democracy, a highly subjective ideology in the West. Africa is right to define her contemporary values and stand by them. Future generations are free to change them when they have metamorphed.
For the record, I believe the scientific explanation of hormonal imbalances that “wire” some people in an unusual way, but that should not be a licence to promote it. Instead scientists should pay more attention to research for the purpose of prevention and correction of homosexuality.
Ms Kamya is the president, Uganda Federal Alliance.