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 100.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 99.

    A couple of decades ago there was a doucmentary series called 'The Africans' that examined the west's historical legacy in Africa. There was nothing positive to show for it except exploitation, poverty, and wars. Perhaps that will change in the future but Africans ought to be very wary of those who arrive wanting to 'help' them. Altruism among nations is an myth. Friendship comes with conditions.

  • rate this

    Comment number 98.

    "16-19th Century: Slaves shipped from Goree
    1776: Slave House built "

    So what's the difference between the slave traders of then and and now?

    Then they shipped them and kept them fed and housed as they worked them to death
    Now they don't need foreigners. They have own residents, pay them just enough to live, barely house them, and work them till they die.
    The slave trade hasn't died

  • rate this

    Comment number 97.

    Obama would be wise to visit Zimbabwe and visit her fast. Time to talk to "Uncle Bob" Mugabe and time to talk some sense into him. He will listen to no one else. The key words are "retirement" or "exile." If you can't help in Syria, Mr Obama, perhaps you can possibly do something positive in Africa, before the RPGs end up in the streets, too!

  • rate this

    Comment number 96.

    Where was this allowed to happen? Amazing strides indeed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 95.

    America's sudden interest in Africa is because other powers such as China have made big inroads on that continent grasping for itself what the US has long neglected but still covets Africa's natural resources. This business of creating 'allies' is the same strategy as employed in oil rich Middle-east. The US uses such allies for secretive regional operations such as drone surveillance.

  • rate this

    Comment number 94.

    Democracy should be redefined in the dictionary.
    The ancient greeks would not recognise it today.

    He must be giving tips on how to fool the people into thinking they have a say, whilst ensuring the elite have enough leg room on the gravy train.

  • rate this

    Comment number 93.

    This trip is purely for a grand stand and it is going to cost the American People over 100 million dollars. The most expensive trip a President has ever taken. The liberal media in the US does not want to comment on the price but this is criminal.

  • rate this

    Comment number 92.

    Posts here are not very supportive of Obama. Come on BBC you campaigned for this virtuous man, demonised his opponents, so now back him a little. Tough Putin made him look like an idiot, tough his teleprompter caused him to say Jefferey, and now he has found democracy in some African country. Come on...give Barry a little support. A meeting with Mandela who rises from his bed would do nicely.

  • rate this

    Comment number 91.

    Democracy, eh? Tell me more about how workers have direct power over decision making and government policy.

  • Comment number 90.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 89.

    Combatants: America v China

    Battleground: Africa

    Result: Exploitation of African people

  • rate this

    Comment number 88.

    Politicians are the perverter's of language. #democracy #terrorist

    These terms become more "loaded/ meaningless" with every year since 2001.

  • rate this

    Comment number 87.

    It is almost impossible to impose on Africa the culture of same sex marriage or the culture of LGBT. Any person trying this behavior could be killed by the local population. If Obama ever tries to introduce such a topic like LGBT before any country in Africa, he will ruin his tour. A country like Nigeria does not care if Obama visits or not.

  • rate this

    Comment number 86.

    President Obama needs to pay attention to the democracy for which he is responsible by sworn oath of office than those serving as propaganda in his glob trotting dalliance. If I were to overlay his public comments in Africa on the criticisms of the citizens of the United States, with which he is being vilified on the state of erosion of their democracy, President Obama appears as a hypocrite.

  • rate this

    Comment number 85.

    84. Finchy
    Did Obama visit the same Africa that I've been to ??

    Because the Africa I went to, was run by a bunch of genocidal despots !!
    He's gone to the nice bits.

  • rate this

    Comment number 84.

    Did Obama visit the same Africa that I've been to ??

    Because the Africa I went to, was run by a bunch of genocidal despots !!

  • rate this

    Comment number 83.

    So now Africans can choose which corrupt fat cats will sell-out their countries to foreign investors whilst being deprived of basic human rights...........sounds like old blighty!

  • rate this

    Comment number 82.

    Shame he doesn't extend the "rule of law" and "democracy" to the USA where citizens are spied on and hounded to death for exposing government lies. I sincerely hope Obama gives back his Nobel Peace Prize, because he sure didn't earn it

  • rate this

    Comment number 81.

    Democracy in Africa? ha ha ha! of course as far as African dictators obeying the west they are democrat. For eg Mugabe, Gadafi once they were democrats then their title changed suddenly to dictator. So Democracy in Africa means it is like switch on and switch off the light. Well done president Obama. We the majority of African people expect you to say the opposite, but what we are unlucky again.


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