This interview below was conducted by Queer Pride Botswana (QPBW) and international award-winning Queer activist, photographer and blogger Sokari Ekine. In it, Ekine speaks to QPBW about the need for queer activism in Botswana and Africa as a whole to take up more space online. She also reflects on what present queer movements such as the one in Botswana, can learn from what was done before by Black African LGBT activists.
QPB: Thank you so much for giving Queer Pride Botswana this interview. You ran the first high-profile queer African blog online called BlackLooks and it became a safe space for queer Africans to express themselves. A whole generation of Africa’s queer creative voices were mentored on BlackLooks by you and the BlackLooks community. When did you start BlackLooks?
SE: I started BlackLooks in 2004 but this was not my first online offering. Way back in 1996 I created a discussion forum on USENET called “Black Sisters Network” which was an LGBT network.
QPB: In 2004, and before in 1996 you were obviously creating an unprecedented presence of queer African voices online which now exists as an archive of African Queer discourse. Black Sisters Network brought together queer African voices. Where did you run it from?
SE: I ran the forum for free on a friend’s dial-up network in London, in the UK. I cannot remember the details beyond most of the members were queer people of colour in the US and UK and I closed it down after a couple of years. So, BlackLooks was my second online venture. In 2004 I was living in rural Spain where I had gone in 2002 to heal mentally and physically from nine months of chemotherapy.
QPB: You had already been active as an activist and also in all the protests that you participated in so you already had platforms in England where you partly grew up. What was the appeal of blogging for you?
SE: Blogging was fairly new at the time and I wanted to connect with my multiple geographies – the Niger Delta, London, LGBTIQ communities, Black artists and activists from across the African continent and the diaspora. In the early days, BlackLooks covered issues from across the African continent and Europe, from local national politics, uprisings, child trafficking, migration, racism, feminism as well as LGBTIQ+. I wrote a critical piece on the DRC, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Morocco, Haiti as well as Nigeria. It was a huge undertaking on my part that often required a steep learning curve and detailed research. As more people began to blog about individual nations and issues, I began to focus more on LGBTIQ+, the Niger Delta, and from 2010 on Haiti.
QPB: We are grateful for this work as we often struggle to find archives of queer thought.
SE: Yes, looking at the trajectory of BlackLooks there is a huge archive of Queer Africa content from Uganda, South Africa, Nigeria and across the continent documenting protests, court cases against LGBTIQ activists, queer artists such as Zanele Muholi and Gabriel Le roux and their work, poetry, literature, and contributions from writers such as Queer Pride Botswana’s Donald Molosi, Nigerian Emmanuel Iduma, Kameelah Rashid, to name a few.
QPB: In this time when the Botswana government is challenging the decriminalization of same-sex relationships by the Botswana High Court last year, a time when the homophobic resistance to equal rights across the African seems to have intensified in response to the progress being made, it would be lovely to look at what archives of queer thought from before this moment. I know that you ended BlackLooks in 2014 but it continues to exist as an archive.
SE: Yes, BlackLooks is still online as an archive. It also has in it a special archive of LGBTIQ+ documents relating to the various “Anti-Homosexuality Bills” from Nigeria and Uganda and various actions taken by queer Africans against these bills. So in terms of achievements as a blog, the archive of ten years speak for itself.
QPB: In what ways is earlier African queer activism of the 1980s and 1990s different from Black queer activism of today?
SE: The main difference in activism generally from the 80s and 90s is of course the presence of social media. I am currently living in the US and even here social media today is far more prevalent than, say, five years ago. Back in the day, we relied on face-to-face meetings to organize, our landline phones and leaflets etc. Once the internet became widely available particularly broadband, everything changed dramatically. Blogging allowed everyone who chose to, to raise their voices online, share their images. Face-to-face was no longer essential and things most likely happened more slowly. This is not to say that people would not or could not, for example, call a protest within a day or even hours if need be. I know I remember protests were a regular occurrence in my days in London from 1993 until 2002 and when I returned in 2007. Local protests, national protests, against racism, domestic violence, education of our black children, apartheid, wars, occupations etc.
QPB: Queer Pride Botswana is having this conversation with you in commemoration of a year since the decriminalization of same-sex relationships. What was your reaction June last year when you heard that the High Court of Botswana?
SE: This was a huge transformation. Any time any country decriminalizes we are moving closer to our freedom to be who we are without discrimination and prejudice. Nonetheless, we all know that decriminalization is not the end. The deeper transformation has to be transferred to the society at large. Just because a government legislates in favour of same-sex marriages does not mean the wider society will stop discriminating or parents will stop disowning their queer children as some have done.
QPB: What is the biggest threat to the global LGBTQQIA Movement’s progress today?
SE: I believe it is religion. The threat is fundamentalist Christianity and Islam. The global evangelical movement exported mainly from the US to the rest of the world. I would even state quite clearly that global evangelicalism is a threat to democracy, to civil rights such as LGBTIQ+ rights, and women’s reproductive rights to name a few.
QPB: What would you like today’s young African queer activists to know as they attempt to create their own queer archives for coming generations?
SE: I would encourage them to document everything. I would like them to also know that struggle is a process. There are no new beginnings, rather activisms are built on previous actions, activisms. The world is not static and is in a constant state of change as is capitalism, and white supremacy and technologies. So we build on what has gone before in the context of the time and the technologies available plus the new manifestations of capital and white supremacy which work hand in hand like homo/transphobia and misogyny. I see signs of “we are not our ancestors, we will fuck you up.” This is most disturbing and disappointing. Our ancestors led us here. To wipe them invisible as having done nothing which this statement implies is ignorance of our multiple geographies and histories otherwise we would still be colonized on the African continent and in the Caribbean, in slavery and Jim Crow in the US and so on. Each generation pushes on what has already been built, the boundaries to our freedoms are constantly being eradicated – that’s why it is a process. Also, let us remember that one of the most urgent challenges for Africans is climate change where we are on the frontline. Water, land and natural resources continue to be stolen by corporations, the west and China – we are still in a state of being colonized albeit not in the same format as 200 or even 50 years ago. I do think with regard to LGBTQIA freedoms, we are in a much better place than even five years ago let alone when I started BlackLooks in 2004.
QPB: Thank you so much for speaking with us. It is encouraging, as we work towards inclusivity, to note that – as you are saying – we are in a much better place.
SE: Thank you.
Queer Pride Botswana (QPBW) is a Botswana-based organization that works towards the inclusion of Queer people in all aspects of daily life. The organization hosted Botswana’s first Pride Night last year following the Botswana High Court’s decriminalization of same-sex relationships on June 11, 2019. With the current COVID-19 global pandemic and its necessary lockdowns, Queer Pride Botswana is sharing in the media free conversations with noted Queer African activists for all to read while keeping safe at home.
Queer Pride Botswana was co-founded in 2019 by Intellectual Property Lawyer Letlhogonolo Moremi and International actor-Writer Donald Molosi.
Sokari Ekine divides her time between Haiti, Nigeria, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
*Interview conducted on 20 August, 2020