Congo-Kinshasa: DRC Looks to Follow in Uganda's Footsteps With Anti-Gay Bill

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"In the city [Kinshasa], we know gays and transvestites who are known and accepted by their communities. No-one would try to attack them," explains Okakessema Olivier Nyamana, a lawyer from an NGO that works with HIV-positive people. "To me, it seems like political opportunism."

This view was shared by Patrick Civava, a lawyer and employee at the Kinshasa University's Centre for Human Rights, who sees Mbikayi's bill as little more than attention seeking. "Seeing that homosexuality in Africa is entering the international debate, he simply wants to draw attention to himself," he says.

With the next parliamentary session looming, however, others are more pessimistic. "My fear is that the bill will pass next week without anyone noticing," says Françoise Mukuku, the executive director of Si Jeunesse Savait, a feminist organisation that also advocates for the rights of LGBT people in the DRC.

Meanwhile, Hilaire Mbwolie, director of a local organisation that conducts HIV/AIDS counselling and testing, voices his concern on the grounds of how the bill might impact on public health. "A law like that blocks the combat against HIV/AIDS. It will make it hard to conduct HIV testing," he says.

A rising tide?

If the proposed bill attracts the necessary support, it could be debated in the DRC's next parliamentary session on 15 March.

To try and ensure this, Mbikayi, who represents the Tshangu district of Kinshasa, disclosed that he intends to organise sit-ins, debates and approach various religious groups to endorse his proposals. He also expressed an interest in meeting LGBT communities to debate with them the bill's legitimacy. LGBT activists meanwhile will be continue their own campaigning against the bill in the hope it never makes its way onto the parliamentary schedule.

If the bill were to be discussed and signed into law, the DRC would become the 38th African country to criminalise homosexuality and would provide another sign of a rising tide of legislative homophobia across the continent.

Valérie Bah is a Haitian-Canadian freelance journalist who focuses on marginalization and human rights with a particular interest in gender and LGBT equality. She works at the UN's refugee agency in Kinshasa and secretly plots a debut in creative non-fiction.

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