Namibian President backs down on gay attacks

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Namibian President Sam Nujoma

«We get along.»

Sam Nujoma

afrol News, 15 June - Namibian President Sam Nujoma, on an official visit to Germany and Berlin, has toned down his anti-gay rhetoric and now only talks about "cultural differences". No wonder; Nujoma was meeting with Berlin mayor Klaus Wowereit, Germany's most prominent openly homosexual politician. 

One year ago, President Nujoma had made international headlines for his hate-rhetoric against Namibian homosexuals. He had "ordered" the police to imprison and/or deports any gays found. Homosexuality was "'against the will of God" the President had stated. Namibian Minister of Homo Affairs, Jerry Ekandjo, went even further. The minister ordered police officers to "eliminate" gays and lesbians "from the face of Namibia."

After massive international protests - also from donor nations - Nujoma however has kept a lower profile on his opinions. 

In an interview with the German news agency DPA, shortly before the Berlin meeting between Nujoma and Wowereit, the Namibian President was confronted with his earlier statements. Asked about Namibia's present gay policies, Nujoma replied: "Well, certainly that is not our culture ... You can keep your culture and I keep mine." 

But the Namibian President understood the timing was right to moderate his stance. He told the German reporter that he thought "human relationships must be promoted to respecting each other's culture and way of life. We get along," Nujoma concluded. 

In a statement, Amnesty International welcomed the slightly improved Nujoma statement. The human rights group said it hoped Nujoma was signalling a new approach to human rights and was not just posturing for the European press.

Berlin mayor Klaus Wowereit was reported to be diplomatic on the issue. He praised Nujoma for being "one of Africa's greatest statesmen" and having plaid "an important part in achieving independence for his country." Wowereit therefore was "happy" to meet with Nujoma. 

As usual from the Berlin city hall, no comments on gay policies were made. Wowereit, who only un-closeted last year, shortly before elections, has not wanted to make gay politics an issue. No comments were made whether Namibian gay policies had been an issue during the talks of the two leaders. 

Sources: Based on press reports and afrol archives

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