By GITAU WARIG
When South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma ventured into Britain in March last year for a State visit, he was met with a torrent of virulent commentary from the rabid British press.
Reason? He had just acquired a comely young wife, Thobeka Mabhija – the fifth in his menagerie. In the West, polygamy is not only an obscene practice. It is a crime.
Tell that to Africa, where polygamy is as common as the common flu. When British Prime Minister David Cameron spoke recently at the Commonwealth summit about tying aid to tolerance for homosexuals, he was speaking as a Westerner who has been culturalised to look at gay lifestyles as normal.
The fury his comment has generated across Africa should also be looked at in its context – that of a continent that is historically culturalised to be homophobic.
Behind the Cameron-versus-Africa polemics over homosexuality is a simple truism – that of a deep-seated cultural miscomprehension. Was the premier within his rights to stand up for gay rights? Quite. Was it proper to lecture Africa to do the same? Maybe not.
This confusing chasm brings to mind the decade-old controversy within the Anglican Church over women clergy and – yes – homosexual ones. African branches of the church have severally threatened to break away from the Canterbury mother church over the twin issue.
When European and American Anglican congregations went ahead to ordain women and homosexual clergy, African branches of the church effected their threat and severed links with the particular offending dioceses.
No root name
It must be said that the African disapproval of women priests is only incidental to the Gospel injunction of a male-centric Apostolic See. It is actually an inheritance from traditional African religions of old where the spiritual intercessors or sages or shamans or whatever were invariably men. Across Africa, women hardly ever participated in high religious rites.