Festus Mogae, the former president of Botswana, has said that homosexuality should be decriminalised to help tackle HIV rates.

Speaking to the BBC’s Africa Network, Mr Mogae said that while he does not “understand” homosexuality, gays and lesbians should not be arrested.

He said: “I don’t understand it [homosexuality]. I am a heterosexual.

“I look at women. I don’t look at other men. But there are men who look at other men. These are citizens.

“To protect them and their clients from being infected [with HIV], you have to assist them to protect themselves. I don’t think by arresting them you help them.

Mr Mogae, the head of the government-backed Aids Council, added that the government’s refusal to hand out condoms to prisoners was making the problem of HIV worse.

“If people can go to prison HIV negative and come out of it HIV positive, it means that prisons, whatever the law says, are one of the sources of infection,” he said.

Homosexuality for men and women is illegal and Botswana and gay relationships are considered taboo in a society which sees being gay as “un-African”.

Seventeen per cent of the population have HIV.