January 21, 2016 at 1:01 pm EST | by Michael K. Lavers
Former Botswana president speaks in support of LGBT rights
Festus Mogae, Botswana, gay news, Washington Blade

Former Botswanan President Festus Mogae has spoken out in support of LGBT rights in Africa. (Photo by Greenweek; courtesy Flickr)

Former Botswanan President Festus Mogae has expressed his support for LGBT rights in Africa.

“While I admit that the West often push their agendas on Africa, which we must be wary of, I also believe that we must, as Africans, admit that the world is changing,” said Mogae in an interview that Africa Renewal, a newsletter published by the Africa Section of the U.N. Department of Public Information, posted to its website. “This means often abandoning some of our long-held convictions about life.”

Mogae defended LGBT rights advocates in Botswana who continue to campaign for the decriminalization of consensual same-sex sexual relations. He also specifically spoke about Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe’s anti-LGBT rhetoric, which includes an assertion he made last September during his speech to the U.N. General Assembly that people in his country “are not gays.”

“President Mugabe has said that he hates homosexuals and is on record as saying they are worse than pigs and dogs,” said Mogae in the Africa Renewal interview. “That is still his position.”

“Leadership is not always about you,” he added. “It is about people and often circumstances. I call upon African leaders to open up to second generation rights.”

Mogae was Botswana’s president from 1998-2008.

He is among the growing number of former African heads of state — former Mozambique President Joaquim Chissano and former Zambia First Lady Christine Kaseba-Sata, among others — who have publicly spoken in support of LGBT rights.

A revised legal code that decriminalized homosexuality in Mozambique took effect in June 2015. Malawian Justice Minister Samuel Tembenu last month said authorities will not prosecute gay people under the country’s anti-LGBT laws while lawmakers debate them.

Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu of South Africa publicly opposed Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act the country’s president signed in 2014. His daughter, Rev. Mpho Tutu, married her fiancée earlier this month in the Netherlands.

“Former president Mogae has joined a growing chorus of prominent African leaders that have called for the respect for LGBTI rights,” Jeffrey Smith of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights told the Washington Blade on Wednesday. “These sorts of statements from widely respected individuals could have a profoundly positive effect, and in the long-term, help dispel of the false notion that respecting LGBTI rights and promoting equality in this regard are somehow ‘un-African.'”

A State Department spokesperson made a similar point.

“We acknowledge President Mogae’s comments, and join him and others in Africa and around the world who call for respecting the human rights of LGBTI persons and of all persons,” the spokesperson told the Blade.

Special U.S. Envoy for the Promotion of LGBTI Rights Randy Berry’s trip to Africa coincides with the publication of Mogae’s comments. The State Department last week said the American official was scheduled to visit Botswana, South Africa, Namibia and Malawi between Jan. 17-27.

Former Botswanan president compared to Caitlyn Jenner

Kat Kai Kol-Kes, founder of Botswana’s Queer Shorts Showcase Festival, acknowledged Mogae’s comments in a statement to the Blade.

The Botswanan advocate criticized the former president for not mentioning the ongoing case between the country’s government and Lesbians, Gays and Bisexuals of Botswana, a local advocacy group, over its ability to legally register. Kol-Kes also compared Mogae to Caitlyn Jenner.

“Both come from positions of privilege and they are assuming the mantles of advocates,” Kol-Kes told the Blade. “They are still students who need to focus more on learning than speaking for now.”

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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