Understanding LGBTQ+ Travel in Africa: Essential Tips for Event Organizers in 2023

by Conor Walsh & Mahi Tadesse

If you’re organizing an international conference or event in Africa, you may be concerned about the safety or well-being of your LGBTQ+ participants.

Recent laws and rhetoric against LGBTQ+ communities in Uganda, Kenya, and Ghana have drawn fresh attention to the status of LGBTQ+ rights on the continent. 

However, as usual, the reality on the ground is more nuanced – and in many places, more hopeful – than the stories and narratives dominating media coverage. 

So, in this quick guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know as an event or conference host in Africa with LGBTQ+ participants, delegates, and attendees, including: 

  • The current status of LGBTQ+ rights across Africa
  • The most LGBTQ+friendly countries and event destinations
  • General tips for organizers with LGBTQ+ participants
  • Frequently asked questions about LGBTQ+ event travel to Africa

 

If you’re organizing an international conference in Africa with LGBTQ+ participants, get in touch. We have teams of local experts across the continent who can provide up-to-date, honest insights and advice – including choosing the right destination to host your event. 

 

Current Status of LGBTQ+ Rights in Africa

Undeniably, Africa is over-represented on the list of the most anti-LGBTQ+ countries. But many countries on the continent are making fantastic progress in this area. 

At the time of writing, more than half of African countries have criminalized homosexuality. In many of these countries, LGBTQ+ communities face imprisonment, corporal punishment, and even death. 

However, as of June 2023, 22 African countries have either legalized homosexuality or simply left it unaddressed in their laws and constitutions – that’s 40% of the continent. Many governments, including South Africa, Rwanda, and Cabo Verde, have taken steps to enshrine, protect and promote LGBTQ+ rights in their countries. 

And in some cases, African countries have led the way in tackling LGBTQ+ discrimination. In 2011, South Africa introduced a UN resolution that resulted in a UN General Assembly declaration protecting the rights of LGBT people and condemning violence against them. Nine other African countries signed the resolution: Cabo Verde, Central African Republic, Gabon, Guinea-Bissau, Mauritius, Rwanda, São Tomé and Principe, Seychelles, and Sierra Leone. 

While that list is small*, in the years since, many more African governments have introduced laws and bills protecting LGBTQ+ citizens, while some have regressed. There are also plenty of active and vibrant LGBTQ+ groups and campaigners fighting for better rights, less discrimination, and equal protections in their countries. 

(*An equally small number of countries in Asia signed the resolution, but the lack of LGBTQ+ rights on the Asian continent gets much less attention than in Africa.)

Most LGBTQ-Friendly Countries in Africa in 2023

Country

Status

Angola

Legal since 2021

Benin

no law against homosexuality, but not expressly protected under law

Botswana

Legal since 2019

Burkina Faso

no law against homosexuality, but not expressly protected under law

Cabo Verde

Legal since 2004

Central African Republic

no law against homosexuality, but not expressly protected under law

Chad

no law against homosexuality, but not expressly protected under law

The Republic of Congo

Legal since 1940, age of consent is 21

Côte d’Ivoire

no law against homosexuality, but not expressly protected under law

Democratic Republic of the Congo

Homosexuality has never been criminalized

Djibouti

no law against homosexuality, but not expressly protected under law

Equatorial Guinea

no law against homosexuality, but not expressly protected under law

Gabon

Legal 1960-2019, and again since 2020

Guinea-Bissau

Legal since 1993

Lesotho

Legal since 2010

Madagascar

no law against homosexuality, but not expressly protected under law

Mali

no law against homosexuality, but not expressly protected under law

Mozambique

Legal since 2015

Niger

no law against homosexuality, but not expressly protected under law

Rwanda

there is no law against homosexuality, but not expressly protected under law

São Tomé and Príncipe

Legal since 2012

Seychelles

Legal since 2016

South Africa

Legal since 1996

We don’t have time to break down the situation in every country and provide the necessary context for why many African governments and societies are so aggressively anti-LGBTQ+ (Hint: it has a lot to do with the legacy of European colonialism and modern western religious groups spending tens of millions of dollars funding anti-LGBTQ+ campaigns on the continent)

So, instead, we’ll provide practical steps and considerations you can make to ensure LGBTQ+ participants feel safe while attending a conference or event in Africa.

The Most Welcoming African Countries for LGBTQ+ Travelers

Before going further, we want to celebrate the African countries leading the way in LGBTQ+ acceptance, rights, protections, and celebrations on the continent. 

And if you’re wondering, they make excellent conference destinations.

South Africa

The Rainbow Nation is the shining light of LGBTQ+ rights in Africa. 

South Africa’s post-apartheid constitution not only legalized homosexuality – it was the first in the world to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation. In 2006, South Africa became the fifth country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage. 

While LGBTQ+ South Africans still face considerable discrimination and threats of violence, most major cities like Johannesburg and Cape Town have vibrant and active LGBTQ+ communities. Rights groups and campaigners are still doing vital work to address anti-LGBTQ+ attitudes, with support from the government. 

And LGBTQ+ visitors to South Africa rank it the #1 destination on the continent in terms of safety and acceptance. 

Botswana

Botswana’s high court overturned a colonial-era anti-gay law in 2019, legalizing homosexuality. However, employment discrimination based on sexual orientation had already been banned since 2010. 

This kind of legal contradiction is quite common across Africa. 

Numerous challenges and appeals have been lodged against the legalization of homosexuality, and all have been struck down. In 2022, Botswana’s President Mokgweetsi Masisi committed to upholding the law, having previously campaigned against it.

 

Rwanda

LGBTQ+ rights in Rwanda are complicated, but the trend is generally positive. 

Homosexuality is legal, and despite many attempts to criminalize LGBTQ+ identities by various politicians, the Rwandan government appears committed to protecting LGBTQ+ rights in the country. 

While Rwandan society is generally quite conservative in its views on LGBTQ+ issues, and members of the LGBTQ+ community still face considerable discrimination and harassment, there are hopeful signs of progress at the community level too. 

In 2019, popular Rwandan gospel singer Albert Nabonibo came out as gay on a Christian Rwandan YouTube channel, causing shock in the country and many conversations about the status of LGBTQ+ people. 

Rwanda is also home to The Ellen DeGeneres Campus of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund, the namesake conservation project of one of America’s most prominent LGBTQ+ figures. 

 
Mauritius

Legally, LGBTQ+ rights in Mauritius are at a similar place to Botswana a few years ago. While homosexuality is criminalized and punishable with imprisonment, discrimination based on sexual orientation is also illegal. 

So, the same government that criminalizes LGBTQ+ identities also protects LGBTQ+ rights in its constitution. 

This contradiction reflects changing attitudes in Mauritius. The island is one of the most accepting of LGBTQ+ people in Africa, and many prominent politicians have voiced support for changing the laws in this regard. 

Mauritius’s resorts, hotels, and event spaces are renowned for accepting LGBTQ+ customers from overseas. 

 

Cabo Verde

Another small island nation that stands proudly in support of LGBTQ+ rights!

Cabo Verde has been described as the most LGBTQ+ tolerant country in Africa. Homosexuality is legal, citizens are protected from discrimination based on sexual orientation, and the Cabo Verde government is a regular signatory of bills advocating for and protecting LBGTQ+ rights. 

Cabo Verde hosted its first Pride festival in 2013. And in 2020, 80% of Cabo Verde residents stated they would be comfortable with a gay neighbor. 

That hospitality extends to LGBTQ+ visitors from overseas, too. 

 

Namibia

Namibia is the most complicated country on this list, but reflects many of the legal contradictions and changing attitudes toward LGBTQ+ rights in Africa.

Homosexuality amongst men is illegal, but not women. This is mostly due to successive governments maintaining outdated laws from the colonial era and its time under the Apartheid South African government’s control. 

Same-sex marriage is also illegal in Namibia. But if Namibian citizens marry a foreign national of the same gender outside Namibia, this union will be legally recognized within Namibia. 

Recent polls suggest 51% of Namibians support LGBTQ+ rights, and there has been a national Namibian LGBTQ+ advocacy group since 2010. 

Attitudes towards the LGBTQ+ community in Namibia remain very conservative. But in Windhoek and most international conference centers, LGBTQ+ visitors from overseas shouldn’t expect any issues. 

This list is not exhaustive, and we’ve left out many African countries with progressive laws and attitudes toward LGBTQ+ communities. We also want to acknowledge that even within the countries listed, LGBTQ+ citizens face significant discrimination. 

But, as you can see, there’s still plenty to celebrate when it comes to LGBTQ+ rights on the continent. And plenty of places LGBTQ+ people from outside Africa can enjoy safely.

General Tips

International LGBTQ+ event attendees in Africa rarely face issues. But if you’re organizing an event with LGBTQ+ participants, follow these tips and share them with all stakeholders, just in case. 

1. Many of these laws aren’t followed or enforced

While recent laws like Uganda’s anti-gay bill justifiably attract a lot of coverage and concern, in most African countries, anti-gay laws are not actively enforced. They’re left in place due to public support or political inaction. 

In most cases, police and government bodies are not actively seeking out LGBTQ+ citizens to prosecute. 

It’s unlikely your LGBTQ+ event participants will face any scrutiny or harassment from authorities while in-country. 

 

2. International visitors are usually exempted

At the same time Kenya’s government and courts are upholding colonial-era anti-gay laws and ratcheting up anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric, plenty of openly LGBTQ+ people are visiting the country, including Ellen DeGeneres and her wife, Portia di Rossi. 

We’ve never experienced an attendee at an event we’ve organized or any foreign citizen in an African country being persecuted for their sexuality. Most hotels, event spaces, and police actively avoid confrontations with international visitors. 

So, while the situation for local LGBTQ+ people may be very different, international LGBTQ+ visitors to Africa shouldn’t be affected by local laws. 

 

3. Follow a “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy

Most African societies respect privacy and don’t pry into visitors’ lives. As long as LGBTQ+ participants keep their sexuality to themselves, it probably won’t come up. 

This is not an ideal situation, but it is the most practical.

 

4. Avoid public displays of affection 

If any of your event attendees are bringing their partner, they should avoid kissing, hand-holding, and other forms of physical affection in most public spaces. 

This advice extends to heterosexual couples too. 

African countries are generally conservative regarding sex and relationships, and public displays of affection are frowned upon regardless of your sexual orientation. 

 

5. Book accommodation in international hotel chains

International hotel chains are more likely to accommodate same-sex couples in a single room without asking too many questions. Unfortunately, you may experience issues or outright hostility in smaller or independently-owned hotels and guesthouses.

6. Host your event in an LGBTQ-friendly country

If you’re concerned about the ethics or practicalities of hosting an event in a country that discriminates against or persecutes LGBTQ+ people, you have plenty of options to avoid them. 

South Africa and Rwanda are the top two international event destinations in Africa and two of the most LGBTQ-friendly countries. Likewise, Mauritius, Botswana, Namibia, Cabo Verde, and Seychelles are packed with fantastic international conference venues. 

 

7. Work with LGBTQ+ Event Planning Companies

In many African countries that have decriminalized homosexuality, you can find dedicated LGBTQ+ event and experience companies. Alternatively, you can work with pan-African companies that have experience working with LGBTQ+ clients and event participants. 

8. Create an info pack that includes LGBTQ+ tips in case they’re relevant

If you’re creating an info pack for event or conference participants, include a section on LGBTQ+ rights in your host country. By proactively addressing concerns, you save individuals from needing to ask, which may make them uncomfortable. 

We can help you navigate LGBTQ+ travel in Africa. For over … years, we’ve been organizing global conferences and events across Africa, and our local teams have the best insights for navigating social issues in their home countries. Get in touch today, and we’ll answer every question you have. 

Final Word

This article should not be taken as a comprehensive guide to LGBTQ+ travel in Africa. Nor do we wish to diminish the safety and rights issues for LGBTQ+ Africans by not addressing them. 

We simply wanted to share our insights and expert advice from organizing events in 14+ countries across Africa since 2010. We’ve had many LGBTQ+ participants at events we’ve helped organize and have yet to experience any persecution or discrimination, or danger. 

If you still have questions about accommodating LGBTQ+ attendees at your African conference or event, contact us today. We can provide the most up-to-date and practical advice for destinations across the continent. 

SHARE THIS
Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin

Browse our most recent blogs!

A Guide to the African Union Conference Center (AUCC)

The African Union Conference Center (AUCC) is one of Africa’s most technologically advanced conference centers.

Located inside the African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, the AUCC comprises a conference center, office complex, and state-of-the-art facilities. It’s home to the biannual AU summit and serves as a venue for African and international events all year round.

If you’re considering hosting an event or conference at the AUCC, we’ve got everything you need to know in this quick guide.

Read More »

A Guide to Tanzania’s Visa Process

Organizing an international conference or event in Tanzania can be complex, particularly with visa arrangements.

This detailed guide aims to streamline the visa process with clear, step-by-step instructions to make your planning more manageable.

At Hallpax, we’re well-versed in the latest visa regulations and procedures, guaranteeing a hassle-free experience for your attendees. With us, you’re not just getting information; you’re gaining a partner in making your event in Tanzania a success.

Read More »

The United Nations Conference Centre in Addis Ababa (UNCC-AA)

The United Nations Conference Centre in Addis Ababa (UNCC-AA) offers state-of-the-art conference rooms and spaces In the heart of Ethiopia’s capital. Located in the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) compound, UNCC-AA accommodates various event types across numerous spaces, from small workshops to large conferences.

Each space has the latest technology, dedicated staff, and everything you need for a successful event.

In this quick guide, we’ll break down everything you need to know about hosting an event or conference at UNCC-AA.

Read More »

Ethiopia Visa Guide: The Best Options for Conference Attendees

Hosting an event in Addis Ababa can be a rewarding experience, providing participants the opportunity to learn, network, and immerse themselves in a vibrant and historic city. However, you must first ensure your international participants have the necessary visa documentation.

Consider this guide a comprehensive overview of the Ethiopian visa process, including the eligibility requirements, application procedures, and fees. We’ll also offer helpful tips and advice to ensure your attendees’ visa application is processed smoothly and efficiently. Need more help? Get in touch, we are eager to aid in your journey to Addis.

Read More »

The 8 Best Event and Conference Venues in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

Dar es Salaam’s best event venues harmoniously blend contemporary styles and modern amenities with Tanzania’s rich cultural heritage and the city’s coastal location.

Hosting an international conference here offers plenty of opportunities to create a unique and memorable event. But picking the wrong venue could spell disaster for even the most meticulously planned event.

Read More »

The Best Restaurants in Victoria Falls (Zambia and Zimbabwe)

Victoria Falls isn’t just about breathtaking natural splendor; it’s also a haven for foodies.

Straddling Zambia and Zimbabwe, this iconic landmark serves as a backdrop to fantastic restaurants that offer everything from gourmet fine dining to vibrant local eateries.

Whether you’re craving a gourmet pizza under the stars, high tea overlooking the Falls, or traditional Southern African dining experiences – Victoria Falls has something for every palate.

Read More »

Contact Us

Request Form