By Greg Samaita
BOTSWANA: Ex Botswana president, Festus Mogae and Zimbabwe VP Mphoko’s business partner has dismissed claims that he criticised president, Robert Mugabe on gay and lesbian rights .
The neighbouring country’s leadership has not taken kindly to Mogae’s alleged criticism of the aged statesman’s position on Lesbians, Gays, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) groups. Mogae argues that he was misquoted.
“I never mentioned Mugabe or any president in my speech. I made the speech at a UN meeting last September. What I said is that I used to hold the same beliefs as my African counterparts with regards to LGBT issues but I have since been converted. “The only country I mentioned at the UN meeting is South Africa which I said is the most liberal when it comes to issues concerning LGBT groups,” Mogae told Mmegi by phone yesterday.”
Mogae said that he did not give an interview to the UN online magazine but presented a formal speech at the UN meeting.
Mogae’s alleged comments drew a furious response from the Zimbabwean Information, Media and Broadcasting Services minister Christopher Mushohwe.
He said Mogae, a highly revered figure in world politics, criticised Mugabe in order to please the Americans.
In the United Nations backed online magazine Africa Renewal, Mogae is alleged to have urged Mugabe and other African leaders to accept LGBT groups.
“I read it, he did not mention the President by name, but if indeed he was referring to President Mugabe, it is unfortunate. He said it while he was in America; maybe he wanted to please the New Yorkers.
“Why does he wait to be in America to say it? Why not say it while he is in Africa?
He was here a few days ago, why didn’t he say it? If he couldn’t do
it here, he could have said it while in Botswana. That is the problem with most African leaders, they think if they are in Europe, they are Europeans, if they are in America, they are Americans,” said the minister in an interview with Zimbabwean publication Newsday.
The paper published the minister’s response late last week.
When asked about his views on lesbians and gays by Africa Renewal, Mogae said, “In my long interaction with LGBT groups and extensive research, I have come to the realisation that we are limited in our knowledge and must be open to new discoveries.”
“I have been converted; I used to hold the same beliefs as my counterparts. President Mugabe has said that he hates homosexuals and is on record as saying they are worse than pigs and dogs. That is still his position. Leadership is not always about you, it is about people and often circumstances. I call upon African leaders to open up to second generation rights.”
Mogae was asked about a perception by some African leaders that it is un-African to legalise and decriminalise homosexuality.
Mogae has in recent years called on African countries to legalise homosexuality and prostitution in a bid to effectively fight HIV/AIDS.
“I don’t understand it (homosexuality). I am a heterosexual. I look at women. I don’t look at other men. But there are men who look at other men. These are citizens,” Mogae said in an interview with the BBC calling for legalisation of homosexuality in Botswana a few years ago.
However, the Botswana government has been reluctant to recognise LGBT groups.