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LONDON'S FIRST African gay cultural event mixed celebration and debate. Carl Day Kina-Kuri reports on Tumaini 2004.

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“There are people here from all the diverse nations of the African continent”, said Nigeria-born event organiser Rev Rowland Jide Macaulay in his welcome address.

“We are all here because of a common interest, that of being African and gay in the UK”.

Tumaini is the Swahili word for ‘hope’ and was chosen to symbolise the aim to provide a safe, supportive and entertaining space for gay and bisexual African men to make friends and network.

Tumaini, which took place at the Lighthouse in Ladbroke Grove, west London, on 20th November, included a programme of workshops, debates, one-to-one counselling sessions, film showings and live entertainment.

Speakers included Constable Gamal ‘G’ Turawa of the Metropolitan Police, who has attracted the attention of the national media as an ‘out’ black gay professional.

Praising Tumaini as an act of collective self-acceptance for the UK African gay community, he said: “Self-acceptance is not a challenge - it’s an understanding of self.

"You don’t need anyone’s permission to be you. Don’t let the ignorance of others define you”.

Speakers from a host of other professions including representatives of Muslim and Christian organisations, journalists, business consultants, health workers and artists contributed to the workshops in the afternoon.

There were also two packed screenings of the joint Ivory Coast-French documentary “Woubi Chéri” by directors Laurent Bocahut and late Philip Brooks, the first film to give African homosexuals a chance to describe their world in their own words.

The film has been described as ‘a cry of protest against a society which refuses to see, let alone accept, homosexual relationships’.

The theme of visibility of African gay men and the directly linked issue of their acceptance in their communities were revisited during the lively panel discussion later in the day.

 - quote - We wanted to dispel the idea that African gay men are non-existent, or scared to come out to themselves and their communities  - unquote -
David Smith
Answering questions from the audience, the panel bemoaned the fact that many African gay men still get ostracised by their own and have to find substitute families.

“We have to support our brothers and sisters on the continent who still face harsher hardship in the struggle for liberation, but without attempting to impose our ideas”, said actor Cyril Nri from ITV’s The Bill.

The horrific homophobic murder in late September of Fanny Ann Eddy, a gay activist from Sierra Leone, was still on the minds of many of the panel. Fanny Ann was commemorated with a minute’s silence at the beginning of the event.

The controversial “Stop Murder Music Campaign” equally found its way to centre stage. Some in the audience felt that there was a conspicuous lack of black gay voices in the debate.