In Ethiopia, homophobia is unleashed after a video went viral on social networks

The innocuous video shows men dancing at a private party

In Ethiopia, homophobia is unleashed after a video went viral on social networks

The innocuous video shows men dancing at a private party. Nothing more. Recorded in May then shared hundreds of thousands of times in August, it was enough to unleash homophobic passions in Ethiopia and lead to a fearsome witch hunt in the capital Addis Ababa. A rejection so intense that it pushed many members of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) community into exile.

Launched on social networks – particularly on TikTok – the homophobic campaign quickly received the support of the Ethiopian authorities. In this conservative country of 120 million inhabitants, homosexuality is a crime, punishable by three to fifteen years in prison. The security directorate at Addis Ababa town hall assured, on August 10, “that it would take measures against establishments suspected of engaging in homosexual activities in our city. […] Hotels, restaurants and other entertainment venues that deviate from the culture, tradition, way of life and religion of our country.”

After the arrest of the organizer of a “deviant” evening, the municipality expressly thanked the “neighborhood communities” who helped the police. A telephone number has been set up to report any individual or fact likely to relate to homosexuality. “Anyone with information relating to homosexual acts can go to the nearest police station,” the capital’s authorities said in a statement shared on Facebook. The Tourist Office, for its part, asks hotels to be extremely vigilant in the face of homosexual customers. But it is on the Internet that denunciation is most active.

“Stalk these places of Sodom.”

Since August, dozens of young people have been “outed”: their homosexuality has been revealed without their knowledge. “Usually, homophobes target us as a group, but here, in their videos, they name our friends then show their faces and reveal their addresses, all with the blessing of the government,” laments Haimanot*, member of the queer community based in Addis Ababa, which sheltered several threatened people in its home.

On TikTok, videos, sometimes accumulating millions of views, show self-defense groups wandering through the cobbled streets of the Ethiopian capital, a knife or an ax in their hands and hateful slogans in their mouths. “We will hunt down all those places in Sodom where deviant acts are taking place,” they promise. In another clip, a pastor calls for the public stripping and whipping of homosexuals.

“Violence against these people is openly encouraged. In a dramatic expansion of the threat, there have even been calls to kill the families of openly LGBTQIA people living abroad,” notes House of Guramayle, an Ethiopian pro-LGBT association in exile based in Europe.

The virulence of the attacks is all the more curious since homosexuals and queer people in Ethiopia do not campaign for their rights. “We have never asked for anything, we have never even dared to go out in public, we are still far too afraid for that! », Relates Adanech*, a 32-year-old activist who runs a monthly podcast on these issues, in which the first names and voices of the speakers are modified.

Resistance movement

According to her, homosexuals mainly serve as an outlet. “This witch hunt allows us to put aside the problems linked to the resumption of war [in the Amhara region] and the catastrophic economic situation. Ethiopia is experiencing an identity and ethnic crisis, but homophobia is one of the rare subjects that unites the people, all Ethiopians agree,” underlines Adanech.

The country in the Horn of Africa is ranked 184th in the Equaldex world ranking on freedoms granted to homosexuals. Living “underground”, that is to say hidden, supporting each other, has become second nature for the LGBT community. Its members have code names, as in a resistance movement, and hideouts have long existed across Addis Ababa. Collective prize pools help members hunted down by the authorities or their families. This fund was used in particular to pay for plane tickets to send homosexuals to shelter abroad.