In what is feared to be a witch hunt against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people in Uganda, one of its top newspapers had front page headlines, identifying “200 top homos” and warning people not to use their mouth for sex. With the headline “Exposed,” Red Pepper newspaper listed names.
This latest action follows a bill that was approved by Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni (known commonly as “M7”), solidifying a 2009 law making homosexual acts illegal with lengthy prison sentences. The new legislation incorporates promotion of homosexual relations and includes lesbians, as well. President Museveni’s actions have been widely approved by the overwhelming majority of his conservative constituents.
The history behind this action is that three years ago a gay activist in Uganda, David Kato, was killed. His death was named a homophobic attack, following his being identified on a list by the Uganda Rolling Stone newspaper. The article had recommended that gay people be executed.
Prior to the introduction of the recent law, President Museveni had ordered an investigation by scientists in his administration, asking if homosexuality is predetermined genetically. He claimed that their assertion that being gay is a choice was reason enough to condemn anyone who identified as homosexual.
One of the reasons behind the president’s actions may stem from the recent loss of support and splintering of his political party, the National Resistance Movement (NRM). With the signing of this bill, President Museveni’s ratings have boosted within his country and this helps him in the short term. Moreover, his actions follow those of Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan. US evangelical Christian groups have long been part of the Ugandan landscape, a situation that gay rights advocates say has negatively influenced the country. Internationally, the Uganda president risks losing financial backing, as well, as the country’s reputation with non-government organizations (NGOs) and public health initiatives. In fact, his action to sign the bill into law is in defiance to response from international donors, who have opposed the effort. British foreign secretary William Hague’s voice of descent on the matter was added to that of many others, including US Secretary of State John Kerry, who called it “a tragic day for Uganda.”
The top United Nations human rights official, Navi Pillay, said that disapproving of homosexuality cannot justify the violation of human rights. She cautioned that the law will have the effect of institutionalizing discrimination, and that it will encourage harassment as well as violence. Moreover, she said that the wording is so broad that it could lead to the abuse of power and affect innocent people, regardless of their sexual orientation.
Retired Archbishop Desmond Tutu relayed that President Museveni had previously given him assurance that he would not sign the bill into law. Tutu made a declaration against any scientific or moral justification for discrimination, referring to Nazi Germany as well as apartheid South Africa.
Museveni takes strength from his position as a leader among East African nations – namely, Uganda, Kenya, and Rwanda – standing up with confidence to pressures from neo-imperialist donors. He said that Africans do not impose their views on others and asked that the external forces should only let Africa alone. African solidarity against interference with internal affairs would bolster the president, and Uganda’s national elections are being held in just two years.
By Uganda’s actions – those of the president as well as the press, such as Red Pepper newspaper, in identifying gays and lesbians – rather than keeping out external influence, the country is, de facto, inviting the opinions of the world. For now, damage has been done to the lives of gays in Uganda who had not previously identified themselves as homosexual, and are now included in news reports.
By Fern Remedi-Brown