October 10, 2014 – Reported by The Economist – IN THE argot of human rights, LGBT means lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender—a catch-all term for sexual minorities. But Yahya Jammeh, president of Gambia for 20 years, has a different reading. “As far as I am concerned,” he thundered during a televised speech in February, “LGBT can only stand for leprosy, gonorrhoea, bacteria and tuberculosis.” He compared gay people to vermin, and said his government would fight them as it does malaria-bearing mosquitoes, “if not more aggressively”.
Gay sex is illegal in Gambia, as it is in 37 of Africa’s 54 countries. Documented evidence of a criminal homosexual conspiracy to poison Gambian culture remains elusive. But politicians remain vigilant: in August the government brought in fresh anti-gay legislation. A few weeks later ministers in Chad approved a bill mandating prison sentences of 15 to 20 years for gay sex. Across Africa, and elsewhere in the world, politicians have found gay people a useful scapegoat to distract from corruption or other domestic problems, to shore up conservative constituencies, or to steal a march on political rivals.
The best-known example is Uganda. In 2009 David Bahati, an MP, introduced a bill which would have imposed the death penalty in cases of “aggravated homosexuality”, a term that covers gay sex with people under 18 and people with disabilities or HIV. There was a furious response from international human-rights groups and some governments. The bill lost its harshest provisions, including the death penalty. In February, after some apparent hesitation, Yoweri Museveni, Uganda’s long-standing president, signed the bill into law. He accused Uganda’s critics of acting like latter-day colonialists seeking to impose their values on Africa.
Similar rhetoric had been heard two months earlier when Goodluck Jonathan, the president of Nigeria, signed a bill outlawing displays of same-sex affection, banning groups devoted to gay people’s rights and introducing 14-year prison sentences for anyone entering into a gay marriage or other contractual union. As in Uganda and Gambia, Nigeria already had a law on the books prohibiting gay sex. To the extent that Nigerian gay activists had a legislative agenda, it did not include gay marriage. The UN human-rights chief said of the Nigerian bill that she had rarely seen a law that “in so few paragraphs directly violates so many basic, universal human rights.”…