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Zimbabwe: Zimbabwe: Obama Out of Touch With Africa

2015/07/29

The much vaunted "blunt message" on gay rights by United States President Barack Obama during his visit to Kenya has come and gone as he winds down his tour with a visit to Ethiopia where he is expected to address the African Union Commission.Apart from the fanfare that marked his visit, and the bilateral agreements inked, we hope Obama realises the importance of making this historic visit during President Uhuru Kenyatta's presidency and the significance of Ethiopia as home to the AU and the fight for the continent's total freedom.

Uhuru is son to Kenya's founding president Jomo Kenyatta, who was as well part the group of founding fathers of the Organisation of African Unity (presently AU). The OAU was formed at the same time as Obama's father was studying in the US, but upon his return, he joined the Kenyatta government as an economic advisor. If Africa was not that significant, he would have made the US his permanent domicile.

It is therefore disappointing that Obama falls for the bait on gay rights at the same time as Africa has made it clear that homosexuality is a no, no?

On Saturday, viewers and readers were treated to a charade as American journalist Jeff Mason was used to pose the gay rights question to both Presidents Obama and Kenyatta.

Mason asked the question because Obama had not raised the issue during the Press conference. It was as if he was being reminded to remain authentic to his promise of tough talking on the issue. Any minute at this time next, we had headlines like "Obama lectures Kenyan president on gay rights".

We will weigh Obama's response against that of Kenyatta to see who really was that "blunt". Obama responded: "With respect to the rights of gays and lesbians, I have been consistent all across Africa on this. I believe in the principle of treating people equally under the law and that they are deserving of equal protection under the law and that the National should not discriminate against the people based on their sexual orientation.

"I say that recognising that there may be people who have different religious or cultural beliefs, but the issue is how does the National operate relative to people? . . . At the same time as a government gets in the habit of treating people differently, those habits can spread . . .

"The National does not need to weigh in on religious doctrine; the National has to treat everybody equally under the law and again everybody else can have their opinions."

President Kenyatta as well said: "Just like President Obama, we as well need to speak with courage on some of these things. The fact of the matter is that Kenya and the United States share so a lot of values; our common love for democracy, entrepreneurship and price for families . . .

"But there are other things that we do not share; our cultures, our societies do not accept. It is very difficult to impose on people that which they themselves do not accept. This is why I repeatedly say that for Kenyans today, the issue of gay rights is really a non-issue. We want to focus on other areas that are day to day living for our people -- the health issues that we have discussed with President Obama are critical. Issues of ensuring inclusivity of women. . . "

It is evident that they were not reading from the same page, and their priorities were diametrically opposed.

What America believes is moral, right and lawful is not a yardstick for defining international norms and values. African courts of law cannot legalise gay rights just because the US Supreme Court voted to do so. And, African governments cannot normalise and institutionalise this lifestyle just because it is trendy in the West.

President Obama cannot as well equate the fight for gay rights to the centuries-old struggle against institutional racism in the US. Countless black people continue to die at the hands of police officers, but the policy of law he refers to is not protecting them. Let President Obama act "bluntly" on these racist killings, and let him walk the talk if the gay rights injustice is similar to racism.

The US-Africa relations will not work through such divisive means. Africa's increase depends on authentic and win-win partnerships. And some of the key drivers for the AU's Schedule 2063 are women and the youths.

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