Anti-Gay Bias in Mali: An African Problem

Sub-Saharan Africa, as we all know, is not the most hospitable place in the world for homosexuals. Uganda and Nigeria are often singled out as among the worst places in the world to be gay. Further, at present, the American conservative right, particularly evangelical Christians, are fanning the flames. Social media has only compounded the problem. Mali, in particular, has become ground zero for targeted anti-gay attacks that are fuelled by Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp. Social media also works both ways: a social media mob in Morocco helped release a gay couple that was dragged from their home and arrested.

Gays in Mali are in a particular tenuous position. According to the 2007 Pew Global Attitudes Project, 98 percent of Malian adults did not believe that homosexuality, as a way of life, should be accepted. That overwhelming and alarming number of Malians okay with discrimination leads to situations where mob action meets the non-enforcement of existing laws.

Although homosexuality is legal in Mali (it is illegal in 72 countries), that has not stopped anti-homosexual violence from happening, often in broad daylight with the majority of onlookers generally approving. With 98% of the Malian public being anti-gay, it is probably difficult to enforce civil rights of a minority. That is why Malian politicians should be lending their voices to bend public opinion more in line with the democratic norms around the world. But there is only silence from the leadership in Mali.

Other Francophone institutions are rising up to fill the vacuum. France24, in particular, has been doing an exceptional job, journalistically, exposing some of the websites that “out” homosexuals in Mali, those websites go as far as posting homosexuals locations. This crowdsourced bigotry essentially declares open season on coessential, legal adult sexual behavior. "It is unclear when this practice first took off in Mali, but during the summer of 2017 these web posts launched their witch hunt with new fervor," reports France24. "[…] These pages are also fond of sharing grisly videos showing supposedly gay men being beaten up or publicly humiliated,” continues the report. “The people who publish these videos often have no proof of the sexual orientation of a victim. Some of these videos get several thousand views.”

A horrific anti-gay beating that has gone viral is startling, as the attack took place in public and there appears to be little sentiment to help the young man. It is essentially a broad day mugging with people of Bamako complicit. Facebook, YouTube, and WhatsApp groups with acronyms such as LCHM (for "Lutte contre l’homosexualité au Mali" or “Fight Against Homosexuality in Mali”), unfortunately, regularly attack homosexuals.

The video is painful to watch, as the poor young man is being publicly beaten for his sexual orientation, and no one seems to be willing to stand up for him. He is totally helpless, undressed and beaten to the ground by multiple male attackers. There isn’t the cover of night, which makes i even more appalling. Why has Mali become a society where it is unpopular to do the decent thing?

Unfortunately, it is not just a Malian problem, but rather an African problem. There are certain things, bigoted things, that one can get away with in polite conversation with Africans of a certain age. Not all the time, mind you, but more often than not. Anti-homosexual activity could just as easily have happened spontaneously in Nigeria or Uganda. This is happening due to a leadership from a conservative generation, with particular views on these social issues. Also, that leadership needing to remain in power, stays silent to please a wider audience, mostly the elders and religious figures with strong influence on big communities. The youth are generally more progressive, certainly nowadays with the access to social media.

Social media is a liberalizing technology. It makes marginalized populations and minorities in general, more visible. Further, it makes it difficult to demonize these groups when they are accessible, able to speak up, and appear on your favorite television shows. In places like Uganda where the gay community is very cloistered, the majority of the population has never met an out-gay person. But the rise of social media is changing that. And as the younger generation becomes more comfortable with homosexuality being no different with the exception of sexual preference, it will become more difficult for politicians and religious figures to overlook the issue.

Anti-gay violence is an African problem. And we need to say so as often as possible. If gay violence is not reported in all its evil, then it is not made horrific. And if it is not made horrific, we end up with the situation in that video where that poor, frightened and victimized young man is seen as the other, the evil, while the majority is seen as enforcing social order.

And that is a major problem.