Former Uganda Vice President Specioza Naigaga Wandira-Kazibwe took a bold step on Monday in standing up to President Yoweri Museveni regarding the anti-gay law that he approved in late February. She said her decision to challenge the president was based on her lifelong support of human rights. She also asserted that to do otherwise would result in serious public health ramifications for Uganda.
On February 24 President Museveni signed a law that would mandate lifetime jail sentences for anything deemed as the promotion of homosexuality in Uganda. This followed on a law established five years prior, outlawing homosexual acts, which was fueled by anti-gay sentiment nationwide.
H.E Kazibwe was Vice President of Uganda from 1993 to 2004 under President Museveni – the first woman to hold that position. In 2013, she was appointed to be the U.N. Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa by the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. H.E Kazibwe is a champion for a public health agenda and particularly, HIV work in Africa. She is a surgeon who earned an ScD (Doctorate of Science) in Global Health and Population in 2006 from the Harvard School of Public Health.
Western countries and organizations such as the World Health Organization, World Bank, the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS, and others financially support Uganda, particularly in the fight against HIV and AIDS. Almost immediately following Museveni’s signing of the new law, countries and organizations began to withdraw their support after warning that they would do so if the law were signed. Lack of funding significantly reduces the viability of the efforts of AIDS workers in the country.
Each nation has a focus by international NGOs. For Uganda, it’s fighting HIV/AIDS. Museveni’s response to the pull-out is that he doesn’t want funds that come with strings attached. Specifically, he spoke of political strong-arming whereby countries and organizations “interfere” with the affairs of Uganda. He is defiant, saying that he will prefer to get all of his funding through Russia because they don’t mix their own politics with those of the countries they support.
Former Vice President H.E Kazibwe told her former boss, President Museveni, that the new anti-gay law will affect not only public health funding. She also mentioned repercussions and challenges for Uganda’s international reputation as well as stigma and discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people. The monetary loss is significant: so far 262 billion Uganda Shillings (Shs), or the equivalent of over USD $104 million, have been withheld in donor aid.
Gay activists in Uganda have taken up the fight along with their former Vice President. Rights activists have petitioned the Constitutional Court, questioning the validity of the new anti-gay law, saying it is a violation of the constitution because it encourages discrimination. However, the lawyer who helped write the petition says that it could be months or even years before a decision is reached.
Former Vice President H.E Kazibwe remains strong as an outspoken advocate for the benefit of human rights for LGBT persons. This is in addition to her role as supporter of the financial welfare of persons in Uganda living with HIV/AIDS. For these reasons, she is challenging the Ugandan president on the newly established anti-gay law.
By Fern Remedi-Brown