Where Is It Illegal to Be Gay in Africa?

Uganda pride
Ugandan men hold a rainbow flag reading "Join hands to end LGBTI (Lesbian Gay Bi Trans Intersex— called Kuchu in Uganda) genocide" as they celebrate during the annual gay pride in Entebbe, Uganda, on August 9, 2014. ISAAC KASAMANI/AFP/Getty

Across much of Africa, gay people face discrimination, persecution, and potentially even death.

The East African country of Tanzania has been cracking down on expressions of homosexuality recently. The home affairs minister has threatened to shut down NGOs promoting gay rights, while even the president has weighed in, stating somewhat bizarrely that "even cows disapprove" of same-sex relations.

This attitude is indicative of widespread social norms, and indeed laws, across much of the continent. Thirty-three African countries criminalize homosexual behavior and/or attraction, out of a total of 54 nations.

Here's a map and details of where it's illegal to be gay in Africa. The information comes from the 2017 report by the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA).

ILGA map 2017
This map, provided by the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA), shows where homosexual activities or inclinations are criminalized, including in thirty-three African countries. ILGA


Gay sex is punishable by imprisonment of up to two years and a fine of up to 2,000 Algerian dinars ($19).


Sexually-active gay people can have security measures imposed on them, including probation or internment in a workhouse or farming colony for up to three years. The country is currently in the process of adopting a law that repeals provisions against same-sex relationships.


Anyone who has "carnal knowledge of any person against the order of nature"—a phrase often used in legal codes to refer to homosexual activity—can be sentenced to prison for up to seven years.


The East African state punishes homosexual activity with imprisonment of up to two years and a fine of up to 100,000 Burundian francs ($58).


The West African country punishes same-sex relations with prison sentences of up to five years and a maximum fine of 200,000 Central African CFA francs ($348).

Kenya demonstration
Members of African gay and lesbian communities demonstrate at the Nairobi World Social Forum venue in Kasarani, Nairobi, Kenya, on January 23, 2007. MARCO LONGARI/AFP/Getty


The archipelago off Africa's east coast punishes gay sex with a prison sentence of up to five years and 1 million Comorian francs ($2,322).


Egyptian law does not specifically proscribe consensual homosexual relations between adults, but other laws—including those banning debauchery and prostitution—have been used to imprison gay men in the past.


Same-sex relations are punishable by simple imprisonment—i.e. jail time which does not involve hard labor—according to Eritrea's law code; the sentence is not clarified.


The Horn of Africa country punishes "a homosexual act, or any other indecent act" with simple imprisonment, with no specified sentence. It hands out harsher sentences for homosexual activity that results in the transmission of sexually-transmitted diseases.


The tiny West African country punishes sexually-active gay people with prison terms of up to 14 years; oral and anal sex are included under the law. Gay people can face life imprisonment if one of the partners is under 18 years old or if one has HIV.

SA Gay Pride
Members of the South African Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) community chant slogans as they take part in the annual Gay Pride Parade, as part of the three-day Durban Pride Festival, in Durban, South Africa, on June 24. RAJESH JANTILAL/AFP/Getty


Ghanaian law defines consensual homosexual sex as a "misdemeanor," punishable by three years' imprisonment. Homosexual sex without consent is classified as a first-degree felony and can carry a 25-year prison term. The laws apply only to men, according to ILGA.


Sexual acts between persons of the same gender are punishable by three years' imprisonment and a maximum fine of 1 million Guinean francs ($111).


The East African giant punishes homosexual sex between men with 14 years' imprisonment, which goes up to 21 years if it is not consensual. The law only applies to men.


Liberian law defines homosexuality—along with oral sex and sex or sexual touching between unmarried heterosexual persons—as "deviate sexual intercourse," which is classed as a first-degree misdemeanour carrying a one-year prison sentence.


The North African state punishes what it regards as "illicit sexual intercourse" with five years' imprisonment.


Homosexual activity is punishable by 14 years' imprisonment, potentially with corporal punishment (such as caning or flogging).


The Islamic republic prescribes death by stoning for men who have homosexual sex, though it has had a de facto moratorium on the penalty for almost 30 years. Homosexual activity between women is punishable by two years' imprisonment and a fine of up to 60,000 Mauritanian ouguiya ($167).


"Sodomy" carries a penalty of five years' imprisonment. It applies only to men.


"Anyone who commits lewd or unnatural acts" with others of the same sex can face a prison term of up to three years in Morocco and a fine of up to 1,000 dirhams ($104), unless there are "aggravating circumstances."


Sodomy is classed as a common law offense in Namibia, though no sentence is prescribed. It applies only to men.

Nigeria court
A crowd gathers outside the Unguwar Jaki Upper Sharia Court in the northern Nigerian city of Bauchi during the trial of seven suspected homosexuals on January 22, 2014. Twelve Nigerian states prescribe the death penalty for male homosexuality under sharia law, although it is rarely enforced. AMINU ABUBAKAR/AFP/Getty


Nigerian law carries a 14-year prison sentence for homosexual activity. Twelve states in northern Nigeria—which is predominantly Muslim—have adopted shariah law, under which the maximum penalty for homosexual activity between men is death, and for women is whipping and/or imprisonment.


Homosexual sex is punishable by a maximum sentence of five years' imprisonment and a fine of up to 1.5 million ($2,613).

Sierra Leone

The act of "buggery"—generally defined as anal intercourse, but also bestiality—carries a minimum sentence of 10 years in prison or a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. It only applies to men.


Somalia's penal code punishes gay sex with a prison sentence of up to three years. The implementation of the penal code is limited, however, since the federal government in the capital Mogadishu exerts limited control over the country. In southern areas controlled by Al-Shabab, a strict interpretation of sharia law is implemented and homosexual sex is punishable by death.

South Sudan

The world's youngest country punishes what it calls "carnal intercourse against the order of nature" with a prison sentence of up to 10 years. It also proscribes qadhf—falsely accusing someone of homosexuality or other forms of sexual activity forbidden under South Sudanese law—and the offense carries a penalty of 80 lashes.

Kenya gay couple
A gay couple, who wish to remain anonymous, who fled deadly persecution in their home country due to their sexual-orientation is pictured during an interview in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, on January 12, 2012. TONY KARUMBA/AFP/Getty


Sudanese law carries incremental punishments for "sodomy," defined as anal sex between persons of the same sex or different sexes. First offenders face 100 hundred lashes and five years' imprisonment; second offenders face the same punishment; but third offenders can be sentenced to death or life imprisonment. Sudan also proscribes qadhf.


Same-sex relations are a common law offense. The law applies only to men, although homosexual women also often face discrimination and violence.


Homosexual activity is punishable by a minimum term of 30 years in prison or a maximum term of life.


The West African state punishes same-sex activity with prison sentences of between one and three years and fines of up to 500,000 West African CFA francs ($871). The law applies only to men.


"Sodomy" is punishable by three years' imprisonment; the term includes both male and female homosexual activity.

Gay rights protesters Cape Town
A group of people from the gay, lesbian and transgender community in South Africa demonstrate outside the Parliament in Cape Town against proposed changes to the constitution that would repeal a prohibition on discrimination on the grounds of sexuality, on May 19, 2012. RODGER BOSCH/AFP/Getty


Homosexual activity between men or women is punishable by life imprisonment, though its enforcement is variable.


Same-sex relations are punishable by a minimum jail sentence of 15 years, and a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.


Men who practice anal intercourse or perform other so-called "indecent acts" can face a prison sentence of up to one year and a fine.