According to Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/FannyAnn_Eddy), gay and human rights activist FannyAnn Eddy, brutally murdered in Freetown in September of 2004, addressed the United Nations. At a meeting in Freetown in the spring of 2004, she was addressing me. I ignored her. A few months later she was dead. One day, if I go to heaven, I will say I’m sorry. As for now, I have to live with it.
Africa, a continent largely unfamiliar for many in the developed world, is mostly known for brutal civil wars, famine and obscure countries no-one has ever heard of. For people a little more familiar with the continent, economic growth, growing prosperity and an Asian (foremost Chinese) investment boom comes to mind. To me, Africa means all these things, from the horrific armed conflicts to the Chinese involvement, a rapid but unequal economic development, a growing middle class, utter diversity, beautiful sceneries, underrated tourist hubs, and so on.
The murder of FannyAnn Eddy has always reminded me of the difficulties of socio-economic development of the African nations. It reminds me that with economic growth and democratic revolution, development of society and values must follow. In many African countries, society is characterized by a very conservative stance with rather old-fashioned family values. Living in war-torn, West African republic of Sierra Leone some years ago, these issues have had a very personal impact on me.
For a decade torn by a devastating armed conflict, Sierra Leone is still one of the most under-developed countries in the world. The war is over since long and an economic and democratic development is slowly making progress. But a continuing lack of development, and lack of democracy, also means a lack of gender equality and sexual liberty.
In societies like Sierra Leone, everything that absconds from traditional sexuality is regarded abnormal, unacceptable, unheard of. In some African countries, homosexuality is illegal even (In Sierra Leone, male homosexual activity is illegal while the female equivalent is legal). In these countries, there are thus no government plans to hamper hate crimes against this kind of “deviated” behavior. Instead the government itself can be a part of the discrimination and persecution of gay and lesbian people (and other minorities). This kind of socio-economic under-development, Fanny-Ann Eddy became brutally, inconceivably and fatally aware of on September 29 in 2004.
FannyAnn founded the Sierra Leone Lesbian and Gay Association (SLLGA) in 2002, an organization that “offers social and psychological support and defends the rights of lesbians and gays vis-à-vis authorities and government”, according to Berlin-based Hirschfeld Eddy Foundation.
On their homepage they write further:
“FannyAnn Eddy lived openly and self-confidently as a lesbian woman in a society that is hostile to homosexuality and in which lesbians and gays live in fear and invisibility. She was a person of extraordinary courage and integrity who quite literally gave her life to defending human rights.
Her courage and commitment soon made her a well-known figure throughout Africa and beyond. As a member of the committee of the All Africa Rights Initiative (AARI) and the totalAfrican Coalition of African Lesbians (CAL), her work extended far beyond the borders of Sierra Leone.
In April 2004, FannyAnn Eddy addressed the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in Geneva. In her moving testimony, she lamented that in Sierra Leone, violence against lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people still goes unpunished by the authorities: “We live in constant fear,” she said. She spoke of the fear that “our families will disown us”, “the fear within our communities”, and that there is nowhere else to go. “Silence creates vulnerability. You, members of the Commission on Human Rights, can break the silence. You can acknowledge that we exist, throughout Africa and on every continent, and that human rights violations based on sexual orientation or gender identity are committed every day.” (http://www.hirschfeld-eddy-stiftung.de/en/foundation/about-us/names/fannyann-eddy/)
As an intern at UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) in Sierra Leone in 2004 I encountered FannyAnn a couple of times at the returning UN/NGO meetings in Freetown. She once asked me to lift the gay rights issue at the UNDP as a part of the development work of that organization. This never materialized and that, I feel, is partly my fault. At these meetings I could sense an uncomforting feeling of hostility towards FannyAnn from some of the other participants, an hostility that was directly connected to her sexuality. Today I regret that I didn’t stand up for her and gave her the support that she deserved.
FannyAnn appeared to be a genuinely nice person, she was hugely competent and an important front figure in the strife for human rights in Africa. During her short life, she showed an enormous courage and accomplished more than I ever will.
On September 29, 2004, at least two men (some reports say four) broke in to her office in Freetown. She was gang-raped, her face was mutilated and her neck was broken. One man, a previous employee of Eddy’s organization, was later arrested but reportedly escaped jail while awaiting trial. I do not know if he was ever caught again. Furthermore, there are no reports of the identities or whereabouts of the other perpetrators. The Police has not been able to verify that the murder was a hate crime, a statement that I believe should be regarded with much caution.
I believe that the sheer cruelty, sadism and evil of this crime might tell a different story. It gives us a horrific reminder that the work towards equality and human rights still has a long way to go, not only in Africa but throughout the world. FannyAnn left behind a partner and a nine-year-old son.