Former Botswana president Festus Mogae has admitted that while in office he put his political career ahead of gay rights.
His comments were made during the taping of a BBC News World Debate programme, titled “Is Homosexuality unAfrican?”
Asked why he had not brought up the issue of gay rights in Parliament during his term in office, Mogae replied: “I could not change the law because that would be unnecessarily stirring up a hornet’s nest. I was not willing to lose an election on behalf of the gays.”
Political analyst Eusebius McKaiser, also involved in the debate, said he found Mogae’s attitude “deeply immoral”. But Mogae defended his actions on the basis that he ruled in a democracy and could do only what was acceptable to the majority.
“The majority of our people are still opposed [to homosexuality] so I must convince them first before changing the law unilaterally,” he said. He added that, although he had not introduced any laws concerning homosexuality during his term, he had instructed the police to refrain from arresting or harassing homosexuals.
The debate’s host, Zeinab Badawi, challenged Mogae, pointing out that “no president in power in Africa has come out blatantly in support of gay rights”. Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe had compared homosexuals to dogs and pigs and Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga called for gays to be arrested.
Late last year Arab and African countries, including South Africa, succeeded in removing a reference to sexual orientation from a United Nations resolution calling for the condemnation of unjustified killings. The clause was later restored. But Mogae insisted that he supported human rights and believed that homosexuality should not be criminalised.
During the debate the idea that freedom of sexual orientation should be considered a human right was called into question. Ugandan MP David Bahati, also involved in the discussion, has become internationally notorious for proposing a Bill that would make homosexuality punishable by life in prison or, for repeat offenders, death.
“Not at the United Nations, not at the African Union, have all countries said that we subscribe to a right to sexual orientation of any kind— That’s the reason why in some countries homosexuality is a human right, in other countries it’s not a human right,” he said.
Bahati said he was opposed to homosexuality because it was unAfrican and inconsistent with the African values of procreation and the belief in the continuity of family.
He said that homosexuality compromised population growth and that he had a duty to protect Ugandan children from recruitment by adult homosexuals.