Uganda to Pay a Price for Anti-Gay Law

Forget the color of the skin, the modern paradigm to judge whether a country is civilized or not is to assess its degree of tolerance toward homosexuals. The East African country of Uganda is not faring well in that respect since it just passed a draconian anti-gay law for which it will probably pay a price to the tune of millions of dollars in lost foreign aid.

The law, signed off by President Yoweri Museveni on Monday, introduces life imprisonment for people “guilty” of homosexual behavior and also punishes the bizarre-sounding activity of “homosexuality promotion.” The current bill is just a sugar-coated version of an anti-gay draft proposed by Uganda government in 2009, and modified following international outrage, which prescribed the introduction of death penalty for homosexuals.

Uganda is the recipient of foreign loans mostly used to pay its health services but the new anti-gay law dismayed western donors and promptly caused their reaction. Some European countries, notably Norway, Denmark and the Netherlands, have already announced a suspension of their aid and are likely to be soon joined by others.

Meanwhile the World Bank declared it will freeze a $ 90 million loan to Uganda that was committed to pay in the coming days, on the grounds that the anti-gay law might hinder the development objectives the global financer set for the country.

The United States is also reviewing its $400 million per year assistance program to the African country. Secretary of State John Kerry said to be worried about the human right abuse represented by the law and referred to its signing as a “tragic day for Uganda.”

Despite Kerry´s rebuke, the US position in the matter is rather controversial seeing that, according to the Washington Post, eight US states have anti-gay laws very similar to those adopted in Russia. Furthermore, as John Ross William´s movie God Loves Uganda pointed out recently, there are scores of US evangelist operating in Uganda in order to instigate homophobic sentiments and persuade lawmakers to pass anti-gay legislation.

In March 2012 a New York Times article reported that a gay right group from Uganda had filed suit against the American evangelist Scott Lively, accusing him of stirring up an anti-gay frenzy among religious leaders and politicians in Uganda that later resulted in the infamous “Kill-the-gay Bill” of 2009.

Notwithstanding the international community´s sharp criticism against the anti-gay law, President Museveni took a defiant stance against its Western donors, saying that his country does not need their money.

In an interview with the BBC government spokesman Ofwono Opondo defended the law calling it a sign of Uganda´s independence “in the face of western pressure and provocation” and criticized the World Bank decision as “blackmail.” He then argued that the West is not always right and that “there was a time when the international community believed slave trade and slavery was cool, that colonialism was cool, that coups against African governments was cool.”

The anti-gay law enacted by the government of Uganda represents a dangerous step against human rights and has the potential to spread hatred among a population characterized by a rampant bigotry that might unleash a violent witch-hunt for which the gay community is doomed to pay the highest price.

By Stefano Salustri