The New Year has begun with some good news for African LGBT citizens. On the same day that legendary Zimbabwean musician Oliver Mtukudzi died, so too did a colonial era law outlawing same sex conduct in Angola. Like most African counties, the former Portuguese colony which gained independence in 1975, inherited its discriminatory laws from its colonisers. On 23rd January, Angola’s parliament approved its first new penal code since gaining independence, and in so doing removed the “vices against nature” provision in its law, a clause used to ban on homosexual conduct.
As in many other African states, although this clause was seldom enforced, provisions such as this are often a sword of Damocles hanging over citizens “and curtail the rights and freedoms of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, subjecting their intimate lives to unwarranted scrutiny. Colonial-era laws outlawing same-sex conduct give tacit state support to discrimination against gender and sexual minorities, contributing to a climate of impunity” said Graeme Reid, Director of the LGBT Rights Program at Human Rights Watch.
In addition to removing what has often been described as a divisive clause, Angola has also prohibited discrimination against people on the basis of sexual orientation. Anyone refusing to employ or provide services to individuals based on their sexual orientation may face up to two years in prison. This is a huge step. Iris Angola Association (Associação Íris Angola), the country’s only gay rights lobby group, has reported that its members often face discrimination when accessing health care and education. Now there is legal recourse.
In June 2018, Iris Angola, which was formed in 2013, became the first civil rights organisation that advocates for LGBT rights to be legally registered by the Angolan government. The group called the decision an “historic moment” allowing the organization to defend the rights of sexual minorities in Angola. In 2015, Mozambique, another former Portuguese colony, decriminalized homosexuality, when it also adopted a new penal code, but failed to register Lambda, the country’s largest LGBT group, leaving it to operate freely, but not legally.
While countries such as India have been compelled by court rulings to strike anti-homosexuality laws from the books, others have done so through legislative reform. Recent examples in Africa include two other former Portuguese colonies Sao Tome and Principe (2012) and Cape Verde (2004), as well as Lesotho (2012) and Seychelles (2016) in Africa, and Palau (2014) and Nauru (2016) in Oceania.
While Angolans can rejoice that their government has embraced equality, there are still 69 countries that still criminalize consensual same-sex conduct, sometimes with dire consequences which include the death penalty.