Ethiopian Minister’s pro-Gay tweet and the grim days ahead

Arguably, last Monday was the first day ever an Ethiopian official made the most daring remark on the LGBT(Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals and Transsexuals) issue. The remark was prompted by Uganda’s anti-gay legislation that imposes life imprisonment for gays and obliges citizens to report anyone they suspect.

Ethiopia’s Minister of Youth, Women and Children, Zenebu Tadesse , was so displeased by the Ugandan approach, that she tweeted (on Monday 6:09 pm local time):Ethiopia's Minister Zenebu Tadesse speaks against Ugandan anti-gay law

There is no place for hate, discrimination in my beloved Africa. It’s not governments’ business to make dress code or anti-gay laws. #Uganda.

Her statement brought her praise and criticism on facebook and on twitter. For many, it was her boldness to state it publicly that surprised them. Even gay activists were in disbelief they spent hours looking for a confirmation of the authenticity of the twitter account before sharing it .

The historic tweet didn’t last twenty four hours. It was removed sometime on late Tuesday afternoon. Whereas, two recent tweets (dated Tuesday 7:27 pm local time) disclaim the pro-gay tweets, saying:

This is to notify that the Honourable Minister’s account was hacked by unknown person(s). We are rectifying the matter.

Please disregard all other tweets sent from this account meanwhile, as they are not from the Honourable Minister.

However, the Minister’s twitter followers do not seem convinced. Judging, by what they wrote in reply to the disclaimer:-Ethiopia's Minister Zenebu Tadesse disclaims pro-gay tweets

Markos Lemma@eweket ·
@ZenebuTadesse which one is hacked? this one or the previous one?

Lisa Shoman@lmshoman
@ZenebuTadesse – Madam Minister, if you were silenced, you have my sincere condolences and concern.

@ZenebuTadesse So who are you? Why tweet in the third person form ?

Minister Zenebu didn’t reply to any. In fact, her twitter account was deactivated hours later – around 11 pm.

We can argue in favor of the hacking claim or against it. But then, we may never know what really happened. Perhaps, it doesn’t matter.

The mere fact that a single not-that-much-pro-gay statement resulted in the death of Zenebu’s twitter account probably speaks volumes on the direction to which the leadership is leaning.

Say what you say about the political ideology of Ethiopian ruling party, EPRDF, it hardly saw eye to eye with social conservatives. In fact, Ethiopian social conservatives – both its proponents and opponents – share the perception that EPRDF’s two decades-long rein has been an era when “our religious and cultural values were defenseless”.

Contrary to the perception, EPRDF has been opportunistic in terms of social policies. Its early leaning to cultural ‪‎liberalism had been slain at the altar of populism in more ways that I care to count. The first and symbolic case must be the 1992/3 oral decree – when the then Prime Minister Tamrat Layne shut down a couple of adult magazines by fiat.

Indeed, the ruling party had to tip toe even to recognize the reproductive rights of women. The late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi declined to publicly affirm his support for abortion, when the renowned women’s right activist, Meaza Ashenafi, asked him to in a public forum in 2004. We shall give him credit for making sure the Crime law, revised that same year, would be toothless by permitting abortion in case of incest pregnancy. Whereas, his Minister of Health, now Foreign Minister Tedros Adhanom, signed a directive that obliges hospitals to take a woman’s claim of incest pregnancy for granted.

Sneaking women’s reproductive right through the back-door certainly sent the wrong signal, however. After all, such medical services are far from the reach of most Ethiopian pregnant women. I dare say the symbolism of a public recognition of the right would have mattered most.

Thus, in the absence of a clear stand on such matters, the resistance to social tyranny rested on personal inclination of the old guards, who are fast exiting the scene.

Against this backdrop, it would not be hastily to say the differences between Ethiopia and Uganda is narrowing.

Indeed, a loose coalition of Ethiopian religious groups started lobbying for a Constitutional ban and a death sentence of same-sex practices at about the same time the Ugandan David Bahati introduced the “kill the gays” draft legislation – which MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow convincingly linked to American religious fanatics.

It is not certain how long the personal and organizational factors that made EPRDF resistant to the anti-gay lobby will last. Jumping on the anti-gay bandwagon could prove more effective than exploiting other incumbency advantages for the next election. Not to forget, the added advantage of wining the sympathy of Western right-leaning media. The international left has proven useless anyways.

Granted, there is little to suggest a new anti-gay legislation will be introduced before the election next year.

Yet, it is not unjustified to expect the state media might soon start beating the anti-gay drum; coupled with news of stricter enforcement of the existing law, which imposes up to three years imprisonment for ‘homosexual acts’ between two consenting adult. Thereby, fueling a tragic public hysteria as observed in Uganda in the past few years.

The dead twitter account of Minister Zenebu can be taken as a symbolism of the looming danger on real and perceived Ethiopian gays.


Daniel Berhane

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