Gay rights in The Gambia and US: a comparison beyond the pale


For anti- gay rights campaigners in The Gambia 2014 already looks like a year to remember. The Gambia has become the second country in Africa after Uganda to legislate a law that denies the rights of same -sex couples to marry and institute life imprisonment. Meanwhile, the latest move by one of West Africa’s longest serving leaders Yahya Jammeh and his government has sparked global outrage against what rights groups and the US describe as worrisome.

Not according to US-based former commander of The Gambian Army Samsudeen Sarr in an opinion piece published in The Standard yesterday. Samsudeen Sarr criticised   US hypocrisy over The Gambia’s anti-gay legislation. He went on to highlight US states that maintain laws against ‘promoting’ homosexuality. Samsudeen Sarr rightly debunked and dispelled any cultural similarity between ‘the West and Africa granted the fact that homosexuality goes against the African culture.  In Uganda last year, hostile pro-government groups dispelled any illusions about tolerance when they turned same-sex marriage into the symbol for everything wrong with the world today.

Meanwhile, bullying is behind a disproportionately high numbers of pro- gay right campaigns by the US and other Western European countries.


But there’s a problem with Samsudeen’s argument.  If we wish to compare The Gambia with the West, it’s not enough merely to draw up checklists of our respective laws. Far more important are the cultural contexts in which those laws operate. Throughout Africa including liberal South Africa, anti-gay violence is soaring hand-in-hand with tribalism. They live in fear of both public and private violence.

‘This is against our culture because our ancestors did not know this’ is a common view in Africa whenever the issue of homosexuality come in.  But many Africans with liberal postures roll their eyes at such condescension. 

Samsudeen rightly warns in his article that gay communities in Texas or Alabama are, sadly, unlikely to live, for now, without prejudice as their laws do not accept same-sex marriages. On the whole, however, rights are progressing in America in ways far beyond the reach of sexual minorities in The Gambia, Nigeria, India, Uganda or Iran. So, for Samsudeen Sarr to cite legal short-comings in America and the situation in The Gambia is a comparison beyond the pale.

If we had the opportunity to choose between launching the next same-sex marriage campaign in conservative Alabama or July 22nd Square in Banjul, few of us would pick president Jammeh’s backyard.

Yes, we must certainly guard against hypocrisy.  The West is less than perfect in its outlook and record.  But those shortcomings should not be used as an excuse to ignore, or withhold help for, vulnerable minorities in the rest of the world who are reaching out for support and solidarity.

In an article published in The Standard ,the US ambassador said they are not pushing a life style on Gambians as alleged .He added:

”We simply say there are all kinds of people in this world that have all kinds of lives and as human beings we should respect each other”. 

This is hypocrisy because the US still abuses the rights of blacks and Muslims in the post 9/11 period.

Musa Saidy Khan 

Atlanta, Georgia