- Queering African Studies
Neville Hoad offers a refreshing approach to a question that has plagued studies of African sexuality: Is homosexuality African? Over the past three decades, a range of African politicians and clergy, including Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, and Bishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria have answered with a resounding no. They have argued that homosexuality is a “perversion” that was introduced into Africa. In response, queer-friendly Africanist academics and activists have claimed that homosexual acts existed and were, in some cases, valued by a range of communities across the continent.1 In addition to documenting the presence of homosexual practices, this affirmative wave of scholarship has argued that colonialism introduced homophobia into Africa, not homosexuality.2 In these debates, precolonial Africa becomes a foundational point of reference in adjudicating the status of contemporary attitudes and policies toward homosexuality.
Instead of adopting a position on the precolonial existence of homosexuality, African Intimacies “investigates the place of an entity that comes to be called ‘homosexuality’ in the production (discursive, material, imaginary) of a place called ‘Africa’ ” (xvi). This lucid thesis ties together the various strands of Africanist, postcolonial, queer, and globalization discourses that Hoad navigates with great acuity. In what is sure to become a landmark [End Page 157] statement in the emerging subfield of queer African studies, Hoad argues that “homosexuality” is “one of the many imaginary contents, fantasies, or significations . . . that circulate in the production of African sovereignties and identities in their representation by Africans and others” (xvi). This claim revisions V. Y. Mudimbe’s classic argument on the “invention” of Africa by emphasizing the foundational role of embodied, intimate practices. This argument is both timely and convincing, especially at a time when, to offer two examples, both Nigeria and Kenya have passed or have pending legislation that defines marriage, and by implication African-ness, as exclusively heterosexual—legislation that responds, in part, to the global reach of gay marriage advocacy.
African Intimacies is divided into six main chapters, which range from historical and cultural analyses to close readings of literary texts. Although not arranged this way, the chapters also line up into neat thematic units. Chapters 1 and 3 focus on the very important role of religion in its nineteenth-century imperial and late-twentieth-century neo-imperial configurations, specifically as these produce Africanness as a form of intimate practice. Chapters 2 and 6 focus on close readings of literary texts: Wole Soyinka’s dystopic postindependence The Interpreters (1965) and Phaswane Mpe’s no less dystopic postglobalization, post-AIDS Welcome to Our Hillbrow (2001). And, finally, chapters 4 and 5 take South Africa’s contradictory sexual politics—the most progressive gay-rights legislation on the continent and some of the most regressive official policies on HIV/AIDS—as particular case studies on the intersection between queer affirmative constitutional rights and the quotidian experiences of South African queers.
Chapter 1, “African Sodomy in the Missionary Position: Corporeal Intimacies and Signifying Regimes,” is a methodologically innovative case study on how to read the intimate resonances of the colonial archive. Hoad returns to one of the best-known and, as he demonstrates, perhaps least-known, accounts in African history: the 1886 martyrdom of Ugandan Catholic pages by Kabaka Mwanga, the leader of the Baganda. Standard historical accounts in African textbooks claim that the pages refused to submit to Mwanga’s homosexual advances. As a result, he ordered them burned alive and simultaneously expelled missionaries from Baganda. This action led to direct intervention from the British government, which culminated in Buganda becoming a protectorate in 1894.
Through close readings of archival church documents and imaginative reconstructions of what unvoiced Baganda might have thought, Hoad scrutinizes this historical event to elaborate how sexuality is produced under new [End Page 158] discursive regimes. As Hoad points out, the historical record does not explain what specific actions Mwanga might have demanded from the pages (7, 13–14). Terms found in archives, such as “unnatural desires” and “private vice,” fail to communicate intimate specificity and demonstrate...