Senegal leader defends LGBT record during visit from Canadian PM

Senegal's President Macky Sall addresses the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters in New York City, New York, U.S., September 24, 2019. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz

Senegal’s president Macky Sall on Wednesday defended his country’s ban on same-sex activity, saying during a visit from Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that it “has nothing to do with” homophobia.

Canada Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is greeted by President of Senegal Macky Sall at the Presidential Palace in Dakar, Senegal on Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2020. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press via AP)

Sall said the West African state’s laws reflected its cultural norms and that Senegalese citizens would reject legalizing homosexuality.

More than half of the countries in sub-Saharan Africa – 28 out of 49 – have legislation prohibiting or repressing homosexuality.

Same-sex activity is punishable by up to five years in prison in Senegal.

Trudeau – who is in Senegal after visiting Ethiopia – said he had “briefly” raised the issue of gay rights with his counterpart.

“I bring up human rights everywhere I go, every time I have an opportunity to meet a leader I talk about Canadian values,” Trudeau told reporters.

Senegal has a reputation as a beacon of stability in an often turbulent region, which Trudeau praised, saying that it shares with Canada values such as peace and democracy.

The prime minister nonetheless admitted that “there’s always more work to be done.”

Sall said gay people are not ostracised in Senegalese society, however, and that every country had its own “metabolism” for change.

“Society will change, it will take the time it takes,” he said.