By Edwin Okong'o
There is a joke among Africans about how colonialism began. A Christian missionary came with a Bible in hand, told our ancestors to bow their heads for a prayer, and when they opened their eyes their land was gone. Today, the same can be said about African constitutions.
American religious right-wingers are flocking to Africa and are having more success in passing new legislation criminalizing homosexuality there than they are having in Alabama, Mississippi and Georgia.
The most vicious of those laws is in Uganda, where Parliament is now considering a bill that would make some homosexual acts punishable by death. Although they have denied it, evidence suggests that American right-wingers are in the forefront of this war on homosexuality.
Among them is the Fellowship Foundation, better known as the Family, a secretive but powerful evangelical club that includes U.S. senators and congressmen. Republican senators Jim Inhofe, Tom Coburn, John Ensign, Jim DeMint and Sam Brownback belong to the group. The group includes members like Mike McIntyre, a conservative Democratic congressman, who believes that the Ten Commandments are "the fundamental legal code for the laws of the United States.”
Publicly, the Family’s most prominent event is a National Prayer Breakfast held in Washington, D.C., which has been attended by congressmen, senators, and even presidents. In his book, “The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power,” New York University scholar Jeff Sharlet writes that of the Family’s $14 million budget, “the bulk of it, $12 million, goes to ‘mentoring, counseling, and partnering with friends around the world.’”
In other words, having failed to turn the United States into a true “Nation under God,” American evangelicals are going to Africa to satisfy that calling. Is there a better place to create Christian nations than in a continent with nearly 500 million impoverished believers, and easily corruptible governments? Similar laws have been proposed, or exist, in Nigeria, Burundi, Rwanda and Malawi.
“You develop a relationship with the [African] presidents in the spirit of Jesus,” Sen. Inhofe said in a February 2009 interview posted on the website of Faith and Action, an evangelical Christian group, whose “mission is to awaken the conscience of our nation by proclaiming Truth to those in positions of power.”
In his book, Sharlet writes that Uganda’s president Yoweri Museveni is the organization’s “key man” in Africa. Museveni’s relationship with the Family goes as far back as 1986, when he came to power following a bloody civil war. David Bahati, the Ugandan lawmaker who introduced the anti-gay bill, is also a member of the Family.
U.S. evangelical groups have gotten so close to African religious and political leaders that they openly conduct their hateful crusades. In early March 2009, for example, U.S. religious extremists played a central role in the “Seminar on Exposing the Homosexuals' Agenda” held in Kampala, Uganda. Among speakers was Scott Lively, a California evangelical pastor who heads Abiding Truth Ministry.
Rev. Kapya Kaoma, a Zambian priest who went undercover to the “viciously homophobic” conference, quoted one Ugandan attendee as saying, “The man of God (Scott Lively) told us about…a movement behind the promotion of homosexuality. … I got to know that there is a force behind homosexuality, which we need to tackle with force. He also told us that these people who are behind this…evil, they have all resources that they need…to spread this evil. We need to stand firm to fight homosexuality.”
Evangelicals have managed to succeed in promoting homophobia by taking advantage of Africans’ lack of adequate information. They have presented homosexuality as a new “culture,” rather than something that has existed all along.
Kaoma quotes yet another Ugandan from the anti-gay conference: “Dr. Scott told us about Brazil where, 10 years ago, homosexuality was unheard of. Today, it is the capital. There are people that have been against homosexuality that are having to leave because of the pressure and the threats that they are putting on them. That is how serious it is.”
Africans take such filth without questions because they suffer from a severe case of inferiority complex. Even worse, they staunchly believe in the supremacy of the white man. Ill-informed Christians like the ones Rev. Kaoma quotes above, place the white man immediately below the Holy Trinity, a belief with its roots in the colonial era.
Growing up in Kenya, I heard stories about how supernatural the white man was. When we did well in school, our parents and teachers said we were as intelligent as white men. When you went to take a bath, Ma told you to come out as clean as a white man. If the white doctor at the hospital failed to diagnose your disease, death was imminent.
Even among the "educated," this plague runs deep. In 2006, I mentioned to my younger brother – a graduate of a Kenyan university – that I had co-taught a writing class at the University of California, Berkeley, where I was studying journalism.
"Come on! Stop playing," he brushed me off and laughed.
When he was finally convinced that I was telling the truth, he asked, "Were there white students in the class?"
Having gone through schools reading moistly textbooks written by white men, Africans are programmed to accept any Western literature. Add the word of God to that and the white man’s message becomes gospel truth. That’s why when a white religious fanatic like Scott Lively writes in his book, “The Pink Swastika,” that Nazis committed the Holocaust because they were gay, without hesitation Africans promise “to stand firm to fight homosexuality.”
As I ponder over this issue I’m reminded of the 1980s, when Reinhard Bonnke, a German evangelist who claimed to have healing powers, visited Kenya. Business came to a halt, as people with all kinds of ailments traveled to Nairobi to seek his miracles. Kenyans flocked Bonnke’s sermons because they believed that as a white man, he was closer to Jesus Christ than were black evangelists.
If Archbishop Manassas Kuria, who at the time was the Anglican primate of the Church of Kenya, had called a press conference to announce that he had healing powers, they would have laughed at him, and perhaps accuse him of blasphemy. Black clergymen do not perform miracles.
The belief that black people can only speak to God through white men is illustrated in the same interview Sen. Inhofe gave to Faith and Action. Inhofe describes the Family’s work in a “miserable” village in Benin. The hamlet’s name translates to “Village of Darkness,” he says, and children “drink mud and die of dysentery.” The evangelicals rescue the village by providing sanitary water.
When residents ask why the evangelicals have decided to shine light on the village, the Americans say, “Because we love you.” And when they ask, “Why do you love us?” they answer, “Because Jesus loves us.”
No one asks why Jesus didn’t send love directly to Africa without going through middlemen. Inhofe says today the village has changed its name to “The Village of Jesus”, thanks to the Savior’s “miracles.”
Now imagine telling such people that the “force behind homosexuality” threatens to corrupt their children and anger Jesus. They will “stand firm to fight” this “evil.” Enacting laws allows them to hide the blood on their hands.