United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has urged African leaders to respect gay rights. He told a two-day African Union summit in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa that the Arab Spring was a "reminder that leaders must listen to their people."
Huffingnton Post reports Ban lamented that discrimination against people based on their gender and sexual orientation "had been ignored or sanctioned by many states for far too long." BBC reports that Mr. Ban told the African leaders, set to elect a new AU Commission chair, that: "Events proved that repression is dead. Police power is no match to people power seeking dignity and justice." Ban Ki-moon told the African delegates that discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity encourages governments "to treat people as second class citizens or even criminals."
Ban admitted that it would be challenging for Africa to "confront this discrimination."
Strong anti-gay sentiments in AfricaBBC reports homosexuality is illegal in most African countries, including major Western allies such as Uganda, Nigeria, Kenya and Botswana. The U.S. and the U.K. have warned African countries criminalizing homosexual acts that they would withhold foreign aid.
According to Huffington Post, there was no immediate response from African heads of states to Ban's speech. But judging from precedence, many African leaders would find Ban's criticism of the anti-gay and anti same-sex legislation in their countries irritating. African countries, both Christian and Muslim, are socially conservative, especially on sexual issues, and many citizens of African countries support the criminalization of homosexual acts by their governments, a fact which provides political motivation for governments seeking re-election to take hard-line stance on homosexuality.
Global Post reports African leaders have in the past reacted angrily to calls for gay rights to be respected in their countries. Ugandan officials have complained of "bullying" tactics by the UK and Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe, who has cultivated international notoriety for his anti-gay pronouncements, once described UK Prime Minister Cameron was "satanic." Many other African leaders, including the Nigerian Senate President, have said that homosexuality is "un-African."
Digital Journal reported that the Nigerian senate recently passes a bill banning homosexual acts and same-sex marriage in the country. The bill prohibits all marriages between persons of the same sex and prescribes a 14-year jail term for anyone convicted of contracting same-sex marriage inn Nigeria. The bill nullifies all certificates of same-sex marriage contracted outside Nigeria, proscribes all gay clubs and recommends a 10-year jail term without option of fine for anyone guilty of operating a gay club in the country.
The anti-gay bill is strongly supported by both Christian and Muslim leaders in Nigeria.
"Gadaffi was a nuisance"
The African Union, at the present summit, is set to elect a new AU Commission chair. BBC reports South Africa has presented Nkosozana Dlamini Zuma, ex-wife of President Jacob Zuma, to challenge the incumbent Jean Ping of Gabon, who has held the post since 2008. If she wins Monday's vote she will become the first woman to lead the AU executive council, BBC reports
The African Union has also chosen Benin President Thomas Boni Yayi as AU chairm. He is replacing Equatorial Guinea President Teodoro Obiang Nguema.
The African delegates are meeting in the news $200 million AU headquarters funded and build by China. The building was officially opened on Saturday. According to BBC, the building is 100 meters tall and dominates the Addis Ababa skyline.
This is the first summit of the African Union since the death of Libya's Colonel Gaddafi. According to the BBC, though African heads of state refrained from voicing their feelings, Gaddafi was seen as a nuisance by many African leaders because of his "eccentric manners and grandstanding" which often delayed talks in AU summits. BBC reports that a senior African politician said: "He (Gaddafi) was a nuisance."
The summit will be discussing many pressing issues on the continent, including the tensions between Sudan and South Sudan, the war in Somalia and the escalating Islamic insurgency in Nigeria.