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Reviewed by:
  • African Intimacies: Race, Homosexuality, and Globalization
  • William J. Spurlin
Neville Hoad . African Intimacies: Race, Homosexuality, and Globalization. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2007. xxxiii + 187 pp. Notes. Bibliography. Index. $20.00. Paper.

African Intimacies both engages the historical and social narratives surrounding homosexuality as a cultural signifier in sub-Saharan Africa (with particular emphasis on southern Africa) and simultaneously investigates the place of homosexuality in the material and discursive production of Africa. While chronicling the historical shifts in relations between homosexuality and African politics over the last century, Neville Hoad does not claim to write a linear history of homosexuality in sub-Saharan or southern Africa; instead he focuses on carefully selected moments of crisis, or "flashpoints," from which to analyze the place of homosexuality within a range of ideological conditions and signifying practices related to a legacy of imperialism, nationalist discourses of decolonization striving toward a sense of African "authenticity," and the current HIV/AIDS crisis in South Africa—all of which, in varying ways, have challenged singular meanings of homosexuality [End Page 201] in Africa and of African-ness itself. This book is important because it attempts to account for the multiple, often contradictory, meanings of African male same-sex intimacies. This distinguishes Hoad's approach from imperial legacies and more recent cultural nationalist discourses in Africa, both of which have attempted to assign a unitary, singular meaning to same-sex intimacies between men, under the tropes of sexual excess or Western decadence, respectively.

What I found most informative about African Intimacies was the historical work on Mwanga, the last indigenous ruler (kabaka) of Buganda. In 1886 Mwanga had more than thirty pages executed for refusing to have anal sex with him after their conversion to Christianity, an event that simultaneously facilitated a shift in power from indigenous to colonial rule. At this historically and culturally specific juncture, same-sex corporeal intimacies between men marked allegiance to the kabaka and to the Ganda state, and instantiated a site of anticolonial resistance; whereas Christian missionaries, and later colonial administrators, would reduce the kabaka's sexual practices with his male pages to European notions of sodomy and decadence. Hoad's historical analysis is compelling here, especially since, in later chapters, he relates it to political leaders in contemporary southern Africa—such as Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, Sam Nujoma of Namibia, and others, who have denounced homosexuality as un-African and as a remnant of empire. The analysis thus points to the multiple, contradictory meanings of homosexuality in Africa over time.

However, Hoad makes some rather problematic generalizations, especially in asserting without qualification that there has been little work on same-sex corporeal intimacies before the twentieth century outside of the North Atlantic context. This overlooks important scholarship on same-sex sexualities by Ruth Vanita, Saleem Kidwai, and others who have done groundbreaking historical work on South Asian and Indian same-sex intimacies during the colonial period, and have uncovered textual evidence on the formulation of sexual categories in ancient Hindu texts as far back as the sixth century B.C.E. In discussing forms of African cultural nationalism that read lesbian and gay rights as unwelcome intrusions disrupting homogeneous notions of African authenticity, Hoad glosses over work that would have been helpful in an analysis of African nationalisms that struggle between the imperatives of modernity and economic development, on the one hand, and the protection of an inner domain of cultural sovereignty from Western intrusion, on the other. Given Hoad's earlier analysis of Mwanga, is the "repository of tradition" that constitutes this inner domain of cultural sovereignty necessarily heterosexual?

Hoad's critique of South African president Thabo Mbeki's (mis)management of the HIV/AIDS pandemic is among the most honest I have thus far seen. Mbeki has been faulted for situating the HIV/AIDS pandemic in Africa within the broader imperial legacy of racism. But rather than completely dismissing the need to take this into account in order to understand [End Page 202] the current public health crisis in South Africa, Hoad seems to acknowledge that Mbeki is not completely off the mark This is refreshing, given current trends to dismiss Mbeki's citation of the...


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