Published date01 July 2004
Date01 July 2004
AuthorKatherine Franke
Katherine Franke*
In this essay Katherine Franke examines two contemporary cites in which
state efforts to eradicate the traces of empire and to resurrect an authentic
post-colonial nation have produced sexual subjects that serve as a kind of
existential residue and remainder of a demonized colonial past and absence.
Looking first at post-colonial Zimbabwe, Franke argues that President
Mugabe’s aggressively homophobic policies have played a key role in
fortifying his leadership as authentically African and post-colonial.
Franke then turns to current efforts by the Mubarak government in
Egypt to publically prosecute men for having sex with men. The Mubarak
government has used homosexual show trials, first in security courts, and
then in civilian courts, as a dry run for the reorganization of the Egyptian
court system’s jurisdiction over dissenters and outcasts.
When a people seek to put behind them an ignoble past characterized by
domination, exploitation or tyranny of the many by the few, they can be dogged, if
not haunted by the residue of that past. This residue can take many forms, and can
threaten the coherence, stability and forward-looking nature of the new states that
are brought into being during these periods of revolt and re-building. Residue can
also prove to be a quite productive prop to the masters of post-colonial statecraft.
In this essay, I explore twocircumstances in which the aggressive efforts of a state
Professor of Law and Co-Director Center for the Study of Law and Culture, Columbia University
School of Law.
Studies in Law, Politics, and Society
Studies in Law, Politics, and Society,Volume 33, 65–90
© 2004 Published by Elsevier Ltd.
ISSN: 1059-4337/doi:10.1016/S1059-4337(04)33003-6
to unwrite its colonial past have left smudges of erasure – not just any smudges,
but sexual smudges. In these two contexts, state efforts to eradicate the traces of
empire and to resurrect an authentic post-colonial nation have produced sexual
subjects that serve as a kind of existential residue and reminder of a demonized
colonial past and absence. They are useful residue, indeed.
We all know by now that sex is an especially dense transfer point for power
(Foucault, 1990). By this Foucault meant that sex is particularly well suited to the
projects of control, denigration, regulation or governance. It is an especially good
lever by which to wield power of various sorts. But it also may be the case that in
circumstances in which power is being transferred – from colonial to post-colonial
control, for instance – sex is not far from the scene. That is, in dense transfer points
of power, sex is likely to make an appearance. Foucaulttaught us that where there
is sex, there is likely power. But I hope to show here that where there is power,
there is likely to be sex.
Contemporary Zimbabwe and Egypt show us that at moments where state power
isbeingsolidifiedinnewforms,thestategainsanofficialsexuality, some sources of
threat are singled out and sexualized, and the management of sex becomes a tool of
governance that produces individual unfreedom in the name of expanding national
freedomorindependence.What we see in these two contextsaregovernmentefforts
to deliberately erase their colonial pasts in order to call forth a more authentic
indigenous present. Of course, this sort of erasure is impossible, in the sense that
these regimes cannot rewind the tape to a pre-colonial era and then hit the play
button anew. Nor can they either rhetorically or politically forge a rebirth of the
authentic nation purged of any trace of colonial involvementor investment. These
governments nevertheless persist in post-colonial or extra-colonial governance
aimed at indigenization. Their efforts can be understood as at once destructive and
productive – the projects to destroy the past leave a remainder, and excess–aset
of sexual perverts/abjects, whose sexual subjectivity is in large part the product of
the government’s use of sex as a tool of statecraft.
First, I look at the sexual politics of rule of President Robert Mugabe in Zim-
babwe. Mugabe has found the deployment of sex as a particularly useful wedge
issue in his mission of national freedom – that is, freedom from colonial rule by
the British. Mugabe has effectively undertaken brutally homophobic policies by
framing them within a post-colonial story that has enormous purchase with his
people, and, indeed, a story that has floated his political career.
Yet driving this deployment of a homophobic anti-imperialist progrom has
been a shrewd plan to disempower a rapidly growing civil society in Zimbabwe.
Mugabe’s repressive campaigns attacking homosexuals have supported an ever
radiating set of attacks against women, political opponents and white farmers.
One way to read this trajectory is to see that the assault on homosexuality as a

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