With Nigeria just having enacted a sweeping anti-LGBT law and similar legislation pending in Uganda, Joaquim Chissano, the former president of Mozambique, has called on African leaders to protect sexual and reproductive rights in an "Open Letter to African Leaders" published Tuesday by The Africa Report.
Chissano led the southern African nation from 1986–2005 and now co-chairs the high-level task force of the United Nations-sponsored International Conference on Population and Development. His letter calls on a group of African leaders forming future development goals, chaired by Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleif, to make clear that sexual and reproductive rights are fundamental human rights in a document outlining development goals for the continent:
Sexual and reproductive health and rights, in particular, are a prerequisite for empowering women and the generations of young people on whom our future depends.
This simply means granting every one the freedom — and the means — to make informed decisions about very basic aspects of one's life — one's sexuality, health, and if, when and with whom to have relationships, marry or have children — without any form of discrimination, coercion or violence.
This also implies convenient, affordable access to quality information and services and to comprehensive sexuality education.
We can no longer afford to discriminate against people on the basis of age, sex, ethnicity, migrant status, sexual orientation and gender identity, or any other basis – we need to unleash the full potential of everyone.
He closed his letter by quoting late South African President Nelson Mandela in anticipation of opposition to his position from those on the continent who consider homosexuality "unAfrican":
As an African who has been around a long time, I understand the resistance to these ideas.
But I can also step back and see that the larger course of human history, especially of the past century or so, is one of expanding human rights and freedoms.
African leaders should be at the helm of this, and not hold back. Not at this critical moment.
The international agenda that we will help forge is not just for us here and now, but for the next generations and for the world.
As I think about these issues, I am reminded of the words of our recently departed leader, who gained so much wisdom over the course of his long walk to freedom.
"To be free is not merely to cast off one's chains," Nelson Mandela reminded us, "but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others."
Let us live up to his immortal words.
The letter comes amid reports of sweeping arrests in Nigeria, as the country adopted a strict law banning same-sex relationships and LGBT rights advocacy, punishable by 10 to 14 years in prison. A similarly harsh law was recently passed by Uganda's parliament, but it remains unclear if the president will sign it into law. "Homosexual activity" is already illegal in Uganda, but the new law introduces harsher penalties, criminalizes the "promotion" of homosexuality, and makes it illegal to not report homosexual activities to the police.