Homosexuality is one of those things that has historically been politicized the world over.
It has consistently featured as a subject of contentious and heated debate even in the most liberal of nations, including the USA, and a number of European Union nations. As an exemplar, in the USA, it is the case that the Democratic Party has consistently taken a more liberal view with regards to issues of homosexuality, while the Republican Party on the other hand has traditionally upheld a more conservative view.
The same holds true for other contentious issues such as Abortion and gun control. But what is the point of saying all this? Well, the point is to establish that heated debate on issues of homosexuality is not something unique to Zambia nor Africa at large. Perhaps what is interesting with regards the subject of homosexuality in Zambia is that this subject has been used among other things as a political weapon of choice to spearhead smear campaigns against political opponents. Before talking about these smear campaigns, I think it would be prudent to briefly look at the history of the debate of homosexuality from a Zambian perspective.
Homosexuality has been illegal in our land way before Zambia got her independence in 1964. Thanks to the British colonial laws against homosexuality which where introduced into our penal code system in 1931. Despite these laws having been introduced at that time, a serious public political debate with regards the issue of homosexuality can only be seen 67 years later after these laws where first adopted in 1931. The event was the aftermath of an interview of Francis Chisambisa, published in one of the leading newspapers in Zambia at the time, The Post.
In his interview, Chisambisa made public his gay sexual orientation. Shortly after his interview with The Post Newspaper, he launched what came to be the first Zambian LGBT organization, dubbed the Lesbian, Gays, Bisexual and Transgender Persons Association (LEGATRA). Chisambisa’s interview with The Post and his subsequent launch of LEGATRA caused “a mammoth scandal” in which sentiments of disgust where registered from many fronts including politicians, church leadership, the media, and the general public.
President Chiluba, the 2nd republican president of Zambia, is quoted as having said that “homosexuality is the deepest level of depravity” and is “unbiblical and abnormal”. It would obviously be an understatement to say that following the case of Chisambisa, issues of homosexuality have been used among other things as a weapon of choice when conducting smear campaigns against political opponents.
We see this coming to full force in 2011 when then ruling MMD carried a serious smear campaign against then PF presidential candidate Michael Sata, branding him a homosexual sympathizer. The MMD through its political campaign machinery portrayed Sata as one who would legalize homosexuality once elected as republican president.
It seems this smear campaign against Sata did not bear the expected results seeing that he was elected as 5th republican president that same year. Despite winning the elections, the pro-homosexuality smear campaign against Sata by his political opponents continued. The following year in 2012, we see the MMD (now in opposition) accusing Sata of wanting to make homosexuality legal.
This followed the first ever visit by a sitting UN secretary general to Zambia, Ban K-moon. Somehow, Ban K-moon’s visit at the time was regarded by the opposition as a sign that Sata had conspired with the UN to wanting to change the Zambian laws against homosexuality.
Other political leaders that have been politically smeared as homosexual sympathizers include Wynter Kabimba. This followed Wynter Kabimba’s announcement of the formation of his political party dubbed the Rainbow Party in 2014. According to some of the attacks levelled against him, the name Rainbow Party was a concealed endorsement of the so called gay-pride flag. We can see another notable smear campaign conducted against Fred Mmembe (now socialist party president) who was at some point in 2018 branded as being homosexual.
As one would expect, these smear political campaigns have not spared president Hakainde Hichilema (current republican president). Way before becoming republican president, president Hichilema has consistently been branded among other things, as a gay sympathizer. Just like was the case with Michael Sata, these smear campaigns have followed him into the presidency. A good example here can be seen in the aftermath of a recent event in which both the Swedish and Finish embassies flew the so called gay-pride flags on their embassies.
The event was the commemoration of the International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphopia, which annually falls on the 17th of May. Following this event, we have seen a massive political smear campaign against the UPND regime spearheaded by the Patriotic Front. This smear campaign is two-fold: firstly, the UPND government is being smeared of taking a weaker, or if you like, silent stance against the named embassies; secondly, and related to the forgoing, the UPND government is being smeared as a government which is pro-homosexuality. As may be obvious to the reader by now, there is nothing new about using homosexuality as a weapon of choice to attack political opponents.
History shows us that this is something which has been ongoing. Just to recapitulate, we saw these attacks on president Michael Sata, Wynter Kabimba and Fred M’membe. We have also seen and are still seeing these attacks against president Hakainde Hichilema. It is quite obvious and expected that we shall continue seeing these smear campaigns going forward. The questions of interest that we need to explore from the forgoing include the following: why is homosexuality consistently used as a weapon of choice for political smear campaigns against political opponents? What is it that these campaigns intend to achieve? Are these campaigns successful or not? How do we proceed from here? We shall tackle these questions in our next conversation.
About the author
Emmanuel Phiri holds a PhD in Applied Ethics. He is a researcher and expert on issues of sexual orientation. He is currently serving as researcher and lecturer at the University of Zambia. You may reach him for comments at +260972296414.