Obama urges gay rights in Africa during trip to Senegal


The BBC's Thomas Fessy says the visit recognises Senegal's move towards a stronger democracy

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US President Barack Obama has called on African governments to give gay people equal rights by decriminalising homosexual acts.

Mr Obama made the comments in Senegal after meeting President Macky Sall on the first leg of his African tour.

Mr Sall said Senegal was a "very tolerant" country but it was "not ready to decriminalise homosexuality".

Homosexual acts are still a crime in 38 African countries, where most people hold conservative religious views.

In 2011, the US and UK hinted that they could withdraw aid from countries which did not respect gay rights.

Mr Obama said at a news conference that the issue did not come up in his discussions with Mr Sall.

'Great example'

Nevertheless, he believed that while different customs and religions should be respected, the law should treat everybody equally, he said.


While President Barack Obama's comments on gay rights may grab the headlines in the Western media, his Senegalese counterpart's response - "Senegal is not yet ready to decriminalise homosexuality" - may just be what many Senegalese wanted to hear.

As laws legalising gay marriage were being contested in the US and France recently, rumours spread in the West African country that President Macky Sall wanted to do the same. They sparked heated discussion in the local media which forced Mr Sall's administration to clarify its position that it would not legalise same-sex unions.

Many Senegalese are of the opinion that if Mr Obama came to "change" their mentality, he has had a wasted journey. Although Senegal is not one of Africa's aggressively homophobic nations, there have been cases of violent attacks against gay men and lesbians.

The fact that Mr Obama chose to visit Senegal will be what most Senegalese are likely to focus on - and the hope that this will attract more development money and investors.

Mr Obama welcomed the US Supreme Court's decision on Wednesday to strike down a law that denied the recognition of same-sex marriages.

The ruling was a "victory for American democracy and a proud day for equal rights", he said

Mr Sall said Senegal was still not ready to change its laws, but that "does not mean we are homophobic''.

This is Mr Obama's third visit to Africa since he became president in 2008.

He is also due to travel to South Africa and Tanzania.

Africa had made "amazing" strides in achieving democracy, Mr Obama said.

Senegal, a mainly Muslim country which has never experienced a coup, was one of America's "strongest partners" on the continent, he added.

"It's moving in the right direction with reforms to deepen democratic institutions, and as more Africans across this continent stand up and demand governments that are accountable and serve the people, I believe Senegal can be a great example," Mr Obama said.

Goree: Slave island

The House of Slave on Goree Island
  • 16-19th Century: Slaves shipped from Goree
  • 1776: Slave House built
  • 1978: Designated World Heritage Site
  • Notable visitors: Pope John Paul II, Nelson Mandela, Bill Clinton, George W Bush

Mr Obama, along with his wife Michelle and children, was due to travel by ferry to Senegal's Goree Island, a memorial to Africans who were caught up in the Atlantic slave trade.

"A visit like this by an American president, any American president, is powerful," said White House spokesman Jay Carney ahead of the trip.

"I think that will be the case when President Obama visits and I'm sure particularly so, given that he is African American."

On Sunday, Mr Obama is expected to visit Robben Island, where South Africa's first black president Nelson Mandela was jailed for 18 of the 27 years he spent in prison, on the second leg of his African tour.

However, it is unclear whether the visit will take place because of Mr Mandela's deteriorating health, correspondents say.

Mr Obama is due to end his African tour with a visit to Tanzania, where he will pay his respects at a memorial outside the US embassy in the main city, Dar es Salaam, in honour of 11 people killed in a bombing by al-Qaeda in 1998.

He has excluded from his itinerary Kenya, where his father was born, and Nigeria, Africa's biggest oil producer which has been hit by an Islamist insurgency.

US officials reportedly said the indictment of Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta at the International Criminal Court on charges of fuelling violence after the 2007 election, which he denies, made it politically impossible for Mr Obama to visit the country.

Map showing gay rights in Africa

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  • Comment number 80.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

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    Comment number 79.

    Obama should not be promoting LGBT in Africa. Rather, all LGBT community in Africa should either move to South Africa, America or Europe where they will feel more at home. Africa can learn a lot from the West. But general acceptance of LGBT and the so-called same-sex marriage is not and should not be one of them. Should Africa try to impose or urge the West to accept polygamy and make it legal?

  • rate this

    Comment number 78.

    One can only presume that he's over there to ask how they managed to make democracy work and for some help setting some up in his own country.

  • rate this

    Comment number 77.

    More Democracy ? We could do well without it, particularly a Western style one that spies on it's citizens, covers up evil deeds and gives all the worker's cash to the rich and famous.

  • rate this

    Comment number 76.

    Who's this man to judge progress toward Democracy?

  • rate this

    Comment number 75.

    Africa. Democratic? Who does he think he is kidding?

  • rate this

    Comment number 74.

    "He's not the messiah that many saw him as, but is a safe pair of hands, and that is a good thing."

    Depends entirely upon whether you want to be caught in his hands or not.

    I for one, want to be free of him and his type, but there's no escape in this world from him, from his country, or his paymasters in the New World Order. I simply don't want their interference.

  • rate this

    Comment number 73.

    Obama snubbing Nigeria & Kenya on his 2nd African visit as a US president should be a wake up call to these two countries to get their acts together. Especially Nigeria. As Obama was quoted to have said, democratic election is not enough. African countries must respect the rule of law & reduce corruption. Given its natural resources, Africa's standard of living should rival America's & Europe's

  • rate this

    Comment number 72.

    Dear president Obama, I hope you have a great stay in Senegal. On this very historic day to the American GLBT community, I urge you to remember and remind the hundreds of thousands of gays in Senegal that violently continue to be persecuted by the government you are meeting today. I hope you could use your visit to try and change the situation.

  • rate this

    Comment number 71.

    Democracy is simply defined as arming the rebels( look at Libya, Ivory Coast, Egypte and today syria) ....Optimistic about the results of the conference in Cameroon on securing the Golf than this shameful voyage which does not help in restoring peace in the above countries we all know who sponsored and is sponsoring.

  • rate this

    Comment number 70.

    Maybe Obama intends to have a career as a stand up comic after he leaves office. If he isn't, then he is either stupid , or thinks that the punters are.

  • rate this

    Comment number 69.

    The last time in history there was good governance and social order in Africa was when it was Pink on the map. Colonialism worked, look at South Africa,Zimbabwe both rapidly going downhill led by corrupt leaders ripping of their "people" but the West stays out in case it gets accused of racism.

  • Comment number 68.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

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    Comment number 67.

    I admit it, I once drank Obama's kool-aid. I won't apologise for the fact I'm an eternal optimist, and I thought he was genuine. But Obama has revealed himself to be an oppressor of truth, he cannot tolerate opposition, and he has upped the killing of innocent civilians using drones. He's a bully with a bright smile.

  • rate this

    Comment number 66.

    Linense, brother, we did originate from Europe; more specifically from England, which is why we are so close (or hope to be so close). We kind of fought for our independence on our own along with the French (heavy sigh)...but we made it, nonetheless. And ironically, we remain the closest of allies amongst the world, even though you think we suck. We'll continue to work on that though....

  • rate this

    Comment number 65.

    I learned in politics, you never vote for
    a man because of his color, religion and etc..Africans knew they had hope as they dreamed Dr Martin Luther's dream had come to pass..Sadly did they know it won't be " I have a dream" but rather" i have a drone",

  • rate this

    Comment number 64.

    Well Obama visits many countries many of them developed, visiting Africa is special because that's where they welcome visitors with a good heart, goodwill follows later , people of Africa have many difficulties but they accept any goodwill with grace, gone are those days where they became puppets of powerful nations, you can see how much development also done with Chinese help, let them choose.

  • rate this

    Comment number 63.

    'Europeans' founded the first colonies that became the present day USA.

  • rate this

    Comment number 62.

    Ask not what the United States of America can do for your country. Ask what can you do to improve life & commerce in your country?

  • rate this

    Comment number 61.

    If nothing else, his visit will raise awareness of some of these countries in Amwerica and I think that's a good thing.

    I suppose you coudl argue he coudl do more, but he could certainly do less.

    He's not the messiah that many saw him as, but is a safe pair of hands, and that is a good thing.


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