Progress for Africa’s LGBTQ+ Community

Written by: McKenna Ross

Rafiki is a lesbian love story that takes place in Kenya, and recently won several awards at African film festivals. The movie is currently banned in Kenya for promoting homosexuality, but it continues to be shown all over the world. Rafiki has recently been screened at several African film festivals, including the Pan-African film festival. Samantha Mugastia, who played Kena in the film, won the award for best female lead at the festival. This is a milestone moment because homosexuality is the main theme of the movie. In the past, many parts of of Africa have seen homosexuality as taboo. Winning an award at a Pan-African film festival shows that thoughts towards LGBTQ+ rights may be changing. 

Being part of the LGBTQ+ community in Africa is tough. Before Europeans arrived, homosexuality was not talked about, but it was accepted. Women could have wives if they were rich, and there were once openly gay rulers. Colonizers brought homophobia to Africa and it stuck. Homosexuality is punishable by death in four countries, illegal in a further 33 countries and legal in just 17 countries in Africa. In many countries, even supporting LGBTQ+ rights can get one in trouble. Politically and socially, being LGBTQ+ is unacceptable. Families turn on against other and governments turn on people, throwing LGBTQ+ people in jail and isolating them from society. This is especially evident in Egypt, where people in the LGBTQ+ community reach out to others through online platforms. Government workers create fake profiles to locate people and arrest them. Not a lot of information is known about homosexuality in Africa, and what is known is usually negative, like the stigma that all gay men have HIV. More information needs to be transmitted about LGBTQ+ people in Africa, and movies like Rafiki are working to do that.

Rafiki is a movie about two Kenyan women that fall in love against their parents’ wishes. They are both getting ready to go to college and enter a new stage in life, when they find each other during the summer. Over dates disguised as hanging out as friends, they finally acknowledge their feelings for each other. They begin to see each other in private, meeting at a spot. When Kena and Ziki are finally discovered, they are both beaten by their communities. They break up, for their own safety and because their parents force them to, which results in Ziki leaving Kenya. The film ends several years later, with Kena now a practicing doctor and having a better life, even if people are still sometimes cruel to her because of her sexuality. Ziki has returned to Africa and the film ends with Kena turning towards Ziki in the spot they always used to meet in. Despite the efforts of everyone to keep them apart, in the end they are together. 
This movie and others like it can have huge impacts for African society. By making movies showing LGBTQ+ people as regular people who fall in love, they humanize African members of the LGBTQ+ community. By awarding Rafiki with best lead actress, Africans across the world are showing their support for the LGBTQ+ community. It is a step towards making it legal to have any sexuality, even if most African countries are still a ways off from legalizing gay marriage. Though there are many activists for LGBTQ+ rights in Africa, they seem to be concentrated in countries like Egypt, where the government takes a strong stance against homosexuality. In comparison, homosexuality is taboo in East Africa. It is illegal to be LGBTQ+ and people do not support it, but there are no harsh death penalties. Activists are concentrated in areas like Egypt because of the more dire consequences of being LGBTQ+. Avtivism is more urgently needed in Egypt and Nigeria because homophobia is more extreme, going as far as corrective rape or the death penalty. In East Africa, people could be arrested but they are not killed. East Africa does not have as many activists and so movies like Rafiki are important for informing people about homosexuality. Even though Rafiki was banned in Kenya, people still find ways to view it illegally, and hopefully in the future films like it will no longer be banned.