Background to the study

Same-sex relationship, also known as homosexuality or gayism, has existed throughout history world-wide (Quist-Adade, Bates, & Wathanafa, 2014). The practice has over the years received various reactions ranging from indifference to criticism depending on the cultures in which they take place and the perceived origin of the practice (Mabvurira, Motsi, Masuka & Chigondo, 2012; Sheldon, Pfeffer, Jayaratne, Feldbaum & Petty, 2007; Dai-Kosi, Asamani, & Adomako, 2016).

Scientists attribute two origins or causes to same-sex relationship: biological and psychosocial factors (Sheldon et al., 2007). Although there is no general consensus on the validity and generalizability of this claim, the biological school of thought believes that the existence of certain hormones, genes and the anatomical make-up of certain individuals predispose them to becoming attracted to members of the same sex (Sheldon et al., 2007). Thus, same-sex relationships are considered a sexual orientation because like heterosexuality and bisexuality, same-sex relationships are considered ‘immutable’, ‘uncontrollable’ and ‘cannot be helped’ (Sheldon et al., 2007, p. 2). Same-sex relationships have also been attributed to psychosocial factors. This school of thought argues that as a result of societal influences, upbringing and other such factors, individuals consciously, of their own volition, choose to engage in same-sex activities (Sheldon et al., 2007). As such, same-sex relationships are believed to be a sexual preference.

According to scholars such as Mabvurira et al. (2012) and Quist-Adade et al. (2014), same- sex relationships have existed in Africa even before the advent of the first European into the continent. This assertion is in spite of the challenge in obtaining data on the history of same-

sex relationships in Africa and claims by most of the African population that the practice is alien. The explicit drawing of men engaged in sexual acts found by Garlake, an archaeologist, in Zimbabwe Bushman caves is one evidence put forth to support arguments about the ‘Africanness’ of same-sex relationships (Epprecht, 1998; Epprecht 2008).

Epprecht (2008) however argues that although same-sexual acts existed in Africa, they were not performed for pleasure but for specific purposes. Hence, in some parts of the continent, same-sex relationships served as a birth or fertility control method. They were also used for rituals and to show affection or dominance. Same-sex relationships were said to have been common among young adults in some parts of Africa as a form of preparation for marital roles (Epprecht, 2008). In pre-colonial Cameroon also, it was believed that sexual acts (anal penetration) between two men under the right conditions was a precursor for wealth (Epprecht, 2008). Chiefs and warriors were also said to have resorted to same-sexual acts to fortify their positions over political opposition and to prepare for battle respectively (Epprecht, 2008).

Same-sex relationships were however frowned on in some circumstances in Africa. In pre- colonial Zimbabwe, two adult men who were caught engaging in same-sex relationships for pleasure were either accused of witchcraft or were perceived to have been bewitched (Mabvurira & Matsika, 2013).

Same-sex relationships, for whatever reason it was practiced, over time became unpopular and subsequently resulted in the widespread belief that the practice was alien to Africa (Epprecht, 2005). This notion that same-sex relationships were “un-African” became pronounced as a result of the entry of Europeans into the continent. They believed that the African was very close to nature and therefore could not possibly be exposed to an evil such

as homosexuality. Thus, through Christian missionaries, the Europeans launched stern campaigns to challenge and rid the continent of all “heterosexual immoralities” including same-sex relationships (Epprecht, 2005). Laws with religious undertones were also enacted by colonial administrators to deter people from practicing what was termed ‘unnatural lust’. In some instances, punishment for engaging in the practice included executions and in some cases, convicted homosexuals were prohibited by law from entering other countries (Epprecht, 2005; Mabvurira et al., 2012).

     Global context of same-sex relationships

Currently, same-sex relationships are legal in a number of western countries. As at 1930, Denmark had legalised same-sex relationships. The practice was however considered a mental illness until the 1970s (, 2017). Other countries that have legalised same-sex relationships and same-sex marriage include Argentina, the United States of America, Portugal, Austria, and Iceland (Pettinicchio, 2012). The journey to the legitimisation of the practice in some of these countries has been amidst years of political and public debate. Pettinicchio (2012) argues that, the decline in premium placed on the institution of marriage, the political system of a country and attitudes of the populace are influencing factors to the legalisation of same-sex relationships in some of the countries where the practice is recognised by law.

The practice of same-sex relationships is illegal in a number of Africa countries. According  to Vincent (2009), out of 86 member countries of the United Nations that criminalise same- sex relationships, 38 are from Africa. This could be attributed to the fact that unlike some of the countries that have legalised the practice, most African still place premium marriage.

A number of measures have been taken by some African leaders to discourage citizens from engaging in same-sex activities. These include stringent laws which have been criticised by human rights activists and international organisations (Rodenbough, 2014, Carroll, 2016). Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act 2014 popularly known as “Kill the gays bill” and Nigeria’s Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Bill 2013 also known as “Jail the gays” are among the most criticised homophobic laws in Africa (CNN News, 2014; Carroll, 2016). The Anti- Homosexuality Bill 2014, which was signed into law by Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni on February 24, 2014, prohibits same-sex relations, its promotion and its recognition. The penalty for disobeying the law is life imprisonment (Laccino, 2015). Similarly, Nigeria’s Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Bill 2013 imposes an imprisonment term of 14 years on people engaged in gay marriage or civil union. People who publicly display their engagement in same-sex relationships, according to the bill, also face 10 years imprisonment (Laccino, 2015).