Last week the Botswana High Court ruled in favour of decriminalising same-sex sexual activity. Three judges came to the decision unanimously, decreeing that ‘human dignity is harmed when minority groups are marginalised,’ and labelled the law as ‘discriminatory’.
The ruling means that Botswana joins a small but growing number of other African countries that have either legalised or decriminalised same-sex relationships. They include Mozambique, Seychelles, Angola, Lesotho, and South Africa. Angola is one of the few African countries that has laws in place that have completely legalised same-sex sexual activity and in which employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation has been banned. South Africa has gone a step further and constitutionally guarantees the rights of people who identify as LGBTQ+.
Met with jubilation by LGBTQ+ activists, the ruling overturns laws introduced by the British during colonial rule. The country’s penal code 164 had outlawed gay sex, and punished those who broke it with between five- and seven-years imprisonment. Judge Michael Leburu labelled the law a ‘British import’, one imposed ‘without consultation of local peoples’.
Ranked at 34/180 in the world transparency index, Botswana is one of Africa’s most democratic nations. In 2010, changes to its employment law made discrimination in the workplace against people who identify as LGBTQ+ illegal. In 2014, an LGBTQ+ advocacy group was allowed to legally register as such. In 2017, the courts ruled in favour of a transgender man identifying as male. Preempting last week’s ruling, the country’s new president Mokgweetsi Masisi declared in September 2018 that Botswana citizens in same-sex relationships ‘deserved to have their rights protected.’
Despite the progress made in Botswana and other countries, discrimination against same sex relations remains institutionalised across much of the continent. Same-sex relationships are illegal in thirty-plus African countries. A high court ruling in Kenya vetoed a campaign to decriminalise gay sex only last month. Whatever the advances, social acceptance of same-sex relations in Africa remains low.
For more information on travelling as a LGBTQ+ person, we suggest visiting the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA) website. Travelling as a LGBTQ+ person is by no means to be avoided, however we do recommend researching thoroughly prior to travel.