Nujoma's "gay purges" cause international outrage

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Namibian President Sam Nujoma

«The Republic of Namibia does not allow homosexuality [or] lesbianism here»

Sam Nujoma, 22 March - Namibian President Sam Nujoma's announcement of purges against homosexuals on Monday has made global headlines. Reactions range from outrage to ridiculing the homophobic statement, sure to damage Namibia's international reputation further.

Nujoma in a speech at the University of Namibia had warned about forthcoming purges against gays and lesbians in Namibia, saying "the Republic of Namibia does not allow homosexuality [or] lesbianism here," and "the Police must arrest, imprison and deport homosexuals and lesbians found in Namibia." 

This order to involve the police for the first time in Namibia is contrary to the present Namibian legislation, which does not specifically outlaw homosexuality. 

In an apparently sober article by the British broadcaster BBC yesterday, the reporter cannot avoid to present Namibian President Nujoma in a somewhat ridiculous way. Below the picture of Nujoma, the text says, "Nujoma considers homosexuality a foreign influence." In Britain and Europe this does not mean anything else than lack of enlightenment. 

The BBC article focused mostly on the concrete statements made by Nujoma (all quotations being of the sort shocking a European readership) and on the reactions from the Namibian gay community. Members of Namibia's gay community told the BBC they were "appalled by the malicious and hateful comments made by the president," and this characterisation of Nujoma's statement somewhat became the bottom line of the article. 

The leading Spanish newspaper, El Mundo, entitled a front-page headline "The Namibian President orders the detention of all homosexuals to deport them" in an article written from Windhoek. "It is not the first time Nujoma attacks the homosexuals," writes El Mundo. 

Speaking ironically about Nujoma's clear mind, the Spanish newspaper mentions his statement about "foreign influences", which also supposedly was responsible for alcoholism and the spread of AIDS in Namibia. The characteristic is further emphasised by a human rights group's statement that Nujoma's comments were "immature and lacking of logic" - again the dominant conclusion of the article. 

The French news agency AFP quickly reported about Nujoma's statements to the world press, quoting his order to arrest, imprison and deport Namibian homosexuals. AFP also commented the history of hateful, homophobic statements by the president and other government officials, again giving the impression of a Namibia lacking respect for basic human rights. 

Yesterday, even the UN media IRIN brought a thorough report about "Sam Nujoma's attack on homosexuals". It could "lead to violence against innocent citizens," IRIN warned, quoting the country's National Society for Human Rights (NSHR). The report by the UN agency focused on the reactions to the "outrageous remark", exclusively being negative. 

Also the African news agency PANA (based in Dakar, Senegal) in its coverage of Nujoma's statements was more biased towards describing the extremely of the president's statements than explaining the logic behind Nujoma's statement. Words like "onslaught", "threats" and "intolerance" dominate in the agency's characterisation of Nujoma's statement. 

In neighbouring South Africa, where gay rights are secured by the Constitution, press reactions have been exclusively negative. "Q", the gay insert to one of the country's leading newspapers, the Daily Mail & Guardian, filed three articles on the case, one titles "Nujoma's war on gays and lesbians is nothing new in Namibia". To liberal South Africans, Nujoma's statements only seemed to have deepened the feeling distance towards Namibia, turning increasingly traditionalist. 

However, the remarks by Nujoma were not let uncontested. "We can not pretend that gays or lesbianism was imported by Europeans. It is African. I know that in my own language (Ovambo) there is a word, 'Eshenge', for a gay person. We would not have a word for it if it was imported," Phil ya Nangoloh, executive director of the Namibian Society for Human Rights told IRIN. Opposition to purges against homosexuals in the Namibian parliament is also significant.

President Nujoma, which for unclear reasons has a personal need to make homophobic statements, at large seems unaware of the negative publicity these are giving Namibia abroad. The reputation of African politics and politicians at large remains negative in Western opinion, and statements of this kind only contribute to strengthen stereotypes and prejudices about Africa, as this press review indicates.

Sources: Based on press clippings and afrol archives

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