Botswana's president vowed Monday to fully implement a court ruling decriminalizing homosexuality in the landlocked southern African country, two months after losing an appeal to overturn the ruling.
President Mokgweetsi Masisi invited representatives of the LGBT community to assure them that he would respect the court's decision and protect their rights. "We ask and expect everyone to respect the decisions of our court," he said during his meeting with members of the Lesbians, Gays and Bisexuals of Botswana (Legabibo).
He assured them that his appeal to the court, which was rejected in November 2021, was motivated by political concerns and not by animosity towards them, recalling that "we live in a rather conservative society. The president's invitation to members of the LGBT community marks a major turning point in Botswana.
Five years ago, the Legabigo group had to go to court to circumvent a government ban on its existence. In 2019, the court in Botswana's capital, Gaborone, ordered that laws punishing same-sex relationships be amended, calling them "relics of the (British) Victorian era" that "oppress a minority."
The ruling, hailed as "historic" internationally, was eagerly awaited across Africa, where homosexuality remains illegal in more than half of sub-Saharan countries. But the government appealed the decision in October 2021, arguing that this "political issue" should be decided by parliament, not the courts.
Botswana's gay citizens have long lived in "constant fear of being discovered or arrested," Justice Ian Kirby said in November. "This has sometimes led to depression, suicidal behaviour, alcoholism or drug abuse," he said.
Botswana is one of the few African countries to have decriminalized homosexuality. The others are Lesotho, Mozambique, Angola and the Seychelles. South Africa is the only African country that allows gay marriage, legalized in 2006.