Former president of Botswana Festus Mogae has called on all African leaders to embrace the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) rights.
According to him, African leaders who refuse to acknowledge LGBT rights are “selfish” and have the “wrong mentality.”
Speaking in an interview with Africa Renewal, Mogae, who was head of the country from 1998 to 2008 said that Africans must move with the times and be open to new ideas.
“Leadership is not always about you, it is about people and often circumstances,” he argued, specifically referring to Zimbabwe’s homophobic president, Robert Mugabe.
Mogae, who spoke in support of Stephen Lewis Of AIDS- Free World, appealed that All African leaders should repel their anti gay laws for the interest of the people. “One of the challenges we have in Africa is that even the traditional leaders or chiefs are against LGBT groups.” he said.
Nevertheless, he said he believes that LGBT rights will “slowly” start to be respected in Africa, where 37 countries outlaw homosexuality.
The interview came as Botswana’s LGBT rights group is fighting to be recognized by the country’s government. The group appeared in the Court of Appeal to defend its constitutional right to exist as a legal entity.
Below is an excerpt from Mogae’s interview.
When asked about his stand on the Zimbabwean President’s declaration at the UN 70th General Assembly that Africans were not gay, Mogae said the world was changing and Africa must embrace and move with it.
It’s not surprising that we appear to be speaking from different corners of the mouth. Differences in opinion are welcome. While I admit that the West often push their agendas on Africa, which we must be wary of, I also believe that we must, as Africans, admit that the world is changing and we must move with the times. This means often abandoning some of our long-held convictions about life, if the need arises. In my long interaction with LGBT groups and extensive research, I have come to the realization that we are limited in our knowledge and must be open to new discoveries. I have been converted; I used to hold the same beliefs as my counterparts. President Mugabe has said that he hates homosexuals and is on record as saying they are worse than pigs and dogs. That is still his position. Leadership is not always about you, it is about people and often circumstances. I call upon African leaders to open up to second generation rights.
Speaking further on his clash with the current Botswana president and religious organization on his persistent advocacy to decriminalize LGBT practices in Botswana, Mogae said he wont stop to advocate for what he believes is right.
Obviously not easy, but when you believe in something, nothing should stop you. Botswana inherited a law that outlaws is against homosexuality. We have not repealed it, but generally we have not harassed or arrested these groups (gays and lesbians). But the international community would say it is not enough to say you haven’t made any arrests because if you have such a law, you or another leader may wake up the next day and apply its provisions. Our argument as a country has always been that we haven’t imprisoned any member of these specific groups.
Mogae is therefore hopeful that in the nearest future, African countries will come to understand and acknowledge the need to accept the LGBT rights.
Some countries like South Africa have already paved the way and others are following slowly. Change takes time and often meets resistance in some quarters. One of the challenges we have in Africa is that even the traditional leaders or chiefs are against LGBT groups. I once participated in a debate organised by the BBC.Traditional leaders argued that they didn’t like homosexuals because young people will follow their ways. They said they wanted their children to get married, give birth and keep family names alive and bring bride prices, amongst many other benefits. I found this to be selfish and a wrong mentality towards LGBT rights.
When Festus Mogae was president, he pushed for free anti-retroviral therapy and measures to curb mother-to-child Aids transmission. He is also calling for the distribution of condoms in prisons. He told the BBC‘s Letloghile Lucas why.