A group of men gather around the burning flag of the homosexual group in Dakkar, Sunday (20/2). They chanted “Senegal will never accept homosexuality,” while others carried signs reading “Senegal says no to homosexuality” and “We demand an end to the LGBT agenda.” This group was among the thousands who flocked to the Place de l’Obélisque to call for tougher punishments for homosexuality.
The demonstration was organized by ultra-conservative Muslim groups who insist that homosexuality is an agenda that the West has imposed on them and threatens their traditional values.
Senegal, where 95% of the population is Muslim, has banned “indecent or inappropriate acts between individuals of the same sex.” This is confirmed in the country’s criminal code rules. Those who violate are punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine of between 100,000 – 1,500,000 CFA – or between 2.5 million – 37 million rupiah.
But anti-gay activists claim the government has lied to them, and that the law doesn’t actually exist. Others said the sentence was insufficient and that homosexuals should be sentenced to 10 years in prison.
A bill to increase prison sentences for homosexual acts to between 5-10 years was rejected by parliament in January.
“We just want the government to criminalize homosexuality as they criminalize rape and cattle theft,” said Ngoné Dia, a student. She heads the Women’s Department at And Samm Jikko Yi, an association of Islamic associations that organizes the event. From Wolof his name translates to “Together for the Safeguarding of Values.”
He added, “We want them (homosexuals.red) imprisoned, even if possible forever. Senegal is a homophobic country and we are proud of that.”
More than half of African countries value homosexuality as a crime
Homosexuality is considered a crime in more than half of African countries. Many of the laws enacted date back to colonial times when the British and Arab communities brought with them anti-homosexual values. But some anthropologists have found evidence of homosexuality in pre-colonial Africa.
In Senegal, for example, “góor-jigéen” which in Wolof means “man-woman,” was once accepted and even celebrated in the Senegalese community. In 1935 the British anthropologist Geoffrey Gorer wrote “they do not suffer socially, on the contrary they are sought after as the best speakers and dancers.”
But now Senegalese see homosexuality as an import from the West. “Europeans treated our grandparents with a system of slavery. But now that the youth of Africa have woken up, we know what we want and now it’s our turn to make our own decisions,” said Ibrahim Cisse, a construction worker who attended Sunday’s demonstration. He holds a poster in Wolof which translates to “if you catch a homosexual, kill them!”
He added, “Western people need to understand that this is Africa, this is Senegal, and they have to keep that to themselves. We don’t want any homosexuality here. And I’m not alone. All Senegalese are against homosexuality. So if they (homosexual group.red) show up then all Senegalese will kill him.”
Cisse said he had never killed a gay person, but was prepared to do so if he met one of them.
While visiting Senegal, a number of Western leaders called on local lawmakers to relax restrictions on sexual minorities. When Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visited Senegal and met with President Macky Sall, for example, Trudeau made headlines when he touched on the issue of criminalizing homosexuality. Sall later told reporters that “we are comfortable with our rule of law.”
And Samm Jikko Yim, an ultra-conservative Muslim group in May 2021 held the same demonstration as this week, which also attracted thousands of demonstrators. In the weeks following the event a number of LGBTQ activists reported an increase in attacks against their communities.
The president and founder of the LGBTQ rights group “Free Senegal,” Souleyman Diouf, said that apart from physical persecution, homosexuals in Senegal also face difficulties finding jobs. Diouf identified himself as bisexual and used a fake name to protect his identity.
Diouf said he survived two assassination attempts, which led him to flee to France. But she still has messages from those threatening her daughter who is still in Senegal.
The problem is that young people have been radicalized by terrorist organizations that have influence across the Sahel, he added. “I risk being killed, including at risk of being killed in Europe. For people like me, it’s only a matter of time,” he said. “But that won’t stop me from raising my voice to say that what’s happening in Senegal is still within the framework of terrorism, even within the framework of mainstream religions.”
If Senegal stays on this path, he added, sexual minorities could face “genocide.” “This is very unfortunate,” he said. [em/jm]