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The Queer African Reader

The Queer African Reader, by Sokari Ekine and Hakima Abbas (eds), reviewed by Mel Evans

June 23, 2014
2 min read

queer-african-readerThis diverse collection of writings – from poetry, to a manifesto, to analysis, to activist accounts, to life testimony – is a rich and expansive journey into contemporary queer African life and politics.

Queer Africans have been cast as victims of tradition by western media and NGOs, but homophobia continues to be pushed on African societies by US missionaries to this day. As described by David Kato, the Ugandan LGBT rights activist who was murdered in 2011, in his text in the reader, ‘Sodomy laws and oppressive laws (which have long been repealed in their countries of origin!), the massive investment by foreign religious groups in African communities, the recent spread of homophobia promoting sustained hatred and the global reproduction of homophobia institutionally by American evangelicals, has made matters worse for the survival of the LGBTI community.’

The poetry in the collection is powerful and affecting. Mia Nikasimo’s poem ‘Nature Ain’t Rigid’ plays on language and gender, swinging a reflective rhythm on identity and diversity. Photographer Zanele Muholi’s exploration of her own artistic process behind her celebrated collection of images of black South African LGBTI communities and histories conveys the careful methods of what she calls ‘visual activism’.

The discussion and articulation of activist strategies will fuel both organising within these movements and important understandings for readers who are not queer Africans but who want a deeper understanding beyond the headlines. At a time when the UK government continues to refuse the claims of gay and lesbian African asylum-seekers on the basis that they do not ‘look’ gay or lesbian, or they don’t know Oscar Wilde, while also assuming a moral high ground by claiming African countries are uniquely homophobic, this collection is a powerful intervention in reclaiming queer African identities. As Shailja Patel, award-wining Kenyan poet and activist, has said, ‘This is a book we have hungered for . . . African queers writing for each other, theorising ourselves, making movements visible.’

The Queer African Reader is a powerful project of documentation, of creativity, struggle, love, expression, and above all, resistance to multiple intersecting oppressions.