By Joe Bartuah
Just imagine a scenario in which two groups of participants are posted 239 steps apart to run in the same 26.5 miles marathon. In such a scenario, it is obvious that only the group posted at 239 feet along the route ahead of the first group would be at an advantageous point in the competition. This is because the two groups of participants didn’t start on an even keel, or on a level playing field.
As I see it, it’s a similar situation in which Africa currently finds itself this week as U.S. President Barrack Obama continues his homecoming visits to Kenya and Ethiopia. Africa is already saddle with multiple problems; nearly 50 percent of Sub-Saharan Africans live on less than $1.25 per day according to major global development indicators, far below the lowest rung of the poverty ladder. Insufficient healthcare delivery and clumsy educational systems, inadequate road networks, severe energy deprivation, under-pricing of African exports on the global market, et cetera are among such problems. Further exacerbating the unenviable plight of the nearly one billion inhabitants of world’s second largest continent are internal conflicts fueled by ethnocentric animosity, pervasive corruption, greed for power, despotic antics and the callous menace of terrorism among others.
In President Obama’s ancestral home of Kenya, heartless idiots branding themselves as al Shabab from war-ravaged Somalia have been wreaking havoc, murdering innocent people in anticipation of “70 virgin girls” for each male suicide participant. Meanwhile in Nigeria, the parents and other family members of over 200 girls seized by Boko Haram in Chibok, northeastern Nigeria continue to groan in mental anguish as the fate of their loved ones remains in limbo. In short, Africa currently faces a plethora of vexing problems which duly deserve the attention of the developed world, but as he continues his African pilgrimage, the son of the soil seems to be keen on elevating his “gay right” issue to the stature of those crucial developmental issues, a tactic that is tantamount to amplifying a cultural triviality at the expense crucial issues which are paramount to the interests of Africa.
The American democracy of which President Obama heads the executive branch is 239 years old, yet it was as recently as November 2003 that the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (the state’s Supreme Court) in Boston, headed at the time by a South African-born Chief Justice Margaret H. Marshall first asserted gay rights in a landmark opinion. It must be noted that when the Massachusetts court first gave its verdict in a lawsuit filed by Hilary Goodridge and her partner, two middle-age women who wanted to get marry, most Americans were initially enraged, because they probably felt that gay marriage was unnatural and therefore, unacceptable. Even in the very Massachusetts Supreme Court, there was division, as three justices delivered scathing dissenting opinions at the time. Up to now, many pundits reckon that the presidential candidate of the Democratic Party in 2004, current Secretary of State John Kerry slightly lost his presidential bid to President George Bush, partly due to the pro-gay verdict that had emanated from his home state’s supreme court in the preceding year.
Following the court’s verdict, many states within the American federation amended relevant provisions of their respective constitutions in a series of referenda to explicitly define marriage as a sacred union or pact between a man and a woman. When the issue of gay marriage initially aroused public attention 12 years ago, Obama, then a senatorial candidate, did not publicly support the new law, but as president, he later said his views on the issue had evolved, thus giving the issue his stamp of approval. Moreover, it in June this year that the U.S Supreme Court finally federalized gay marriage in a 5-4 decision. Despite the Supreme Court’s verdict, the concept of gay marriage is still a polarizing issue even in the U.S.
Now let’s do a quick counter-check: On average, African democracy is barely 50 years old, which suggests that our democratic process is still in its velvet—coarse and rugged—form, featuring pervasive bad governance, endemic corruption, opaque administrative practices and entrenched poverty among others. Indeed, most Africans are facing what could be termed as existential problems, coupled with the fact that our democracy still young, feeble and therefore vulnerable.
Against this backdrop, instead of insensitively subjecting the continent to sub-cultural imposition in a fashion akin to cultural imperialism, Western countries must humbly acknowledge the diversity of cultures within the global arena as a matter of upholding fundamental democratic tenets. Such cultural diversity has contrasting features from one society to another. For example, since 1882, polygamy has been outlawed in the U.S., yet in some of the Middle Eastern countries, with which the U.S. has close ties, including Saudi Arabia, polygamy is legal. I’m yet to hear echoes from the West urging those petro-rich Middle Eastern countries to abandon their core values as they are demanding African countries to do.
In order for our so-called global village to optimize its potential, mutual respect for cultural diversity, which accords due deference to other people’s values ought to be pivotal in global interactions. Imposing exotic culture mainly on poor countries on the altar of the seemingly almighty dollar is bound to have a countervailing effect on those for whom such sub-cultural advocacy is being mounted.
For centuries, more than 11 million Africans were brutally uprooted from the land of their nativity to inhumanely work, suffer and die in the so-called New World, thus depriving the continent of some of its precious gems. Today, Africa is probably the last frontier of human development; it needs a 21st century Marshall Plan in order to radically transform its economy and engender robust growth and tangible development before adding what are conspicuously unaffordable sub-cultural luxuries couched in sheer fantasy.
If it can take American democracy 239 years before legislating a pro-gay marriage law, why should anyone expect African societies to instantaneously embrace pro-gay sentiments when we are still striving to put our socio-economic, democratic house in order? It is as if the marathoners at point zero are being told to leap once and catch up with the group that had already taken 239 steps in order for everyone to continue with the marathon of human endeavor. As Akesseh Bartuah, my nine-year son would say, “This is not fair.” That’s some of the missing links in President Obama’s gay advocacy in Africa.
About the Author: Joe Bartuah is a longtime Liberian journalist currently residing in Boston, Massachusetts. Formerly editor of the Monrovia-based NEWS newspaper, he’s a recipient of two Bachelor’s degrees in English and Political Science from the University of Massachusetts Boston and a Master’s in Public Affairs and International Relations from the McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies, also in Boston. Since February of 1995, Bartuah’s “New Thinking” column has appeared in multiple newspapers and on many websites. He’s electronically accessible at: firstname.lastname@example.org