Homosexuality is explicitly illegal in 10 out of West Africa's 21 countries; the exceptions are Benin, Burkina Faso, Cabo Verde, Côte d'Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Niger, the Republic of Congo and São Tomé & Príncipe, although remember that even in these countries laws relating to 'offending public morals' may serve a similar purpose. Maximum legal penalties for homosexual acts range from the death penalty in Mauritania and possibly Nigeria, and life imprisonment in The Gambia, to lesser penalties elsewhere.

Regardless of the legality, however, all countries in West Africa are conservative in their attitudes towards gays and lesbians, and gay sexual relationships are taboo and are either extremely rare or conducted in the utmost secrecy. In most places, discretion is key and public displays of affection should be avoided as a means of showing sensitivity to local feelings, advice that applies to homosexual and heterosexual couples.

In the hotels of some countries (eg Guinea and Sierra Leone), same-sex couples, regardless of whether they are indeed a 'couple', will most likely be refused permission to share a room.

Resources

  • Afriboyz (www.afriboyz.com/Homosexuality-in-Africa.html) Worth checking out for (often-dated) links to gay issues around the continent.
  • David Travel (www.davidtravel.com) A US-based tour company offering specialist tours for gay men and women.
  • Global Gayz (www.globalgayz.com/africa) Links to information about the situation for gays and lesbians in most African countries.
  • ILGA (www.ilga.org) Another good resource with information for many West African countries.