Before the holidays, I posted about the anti-gay bill that a Ugandan MP had introduced, and the American evangelical connections. I was thrilled to get so many comments on the post, and to facilitate such a thoughtful discussion from people living in Uganda and the U.S. This bill was clearly huge — I saw the story (not always accurately!) everywhere, from the Guardian to the BBC, New York Times, various Ugandan publications, the Rachel Maddow Show, and many others. I wanted to give you all the latest update on the bill, which proposed the death penalty for gay people living with HIV (a.k.a. “Aggravated homosexuality” ) and life in jail for gay people who are not HIV positive. It looks like these parts of the bills may be scrapped, but we won’t know until Parliament begins debating the bill.
The international community. The reaction to this bill has been huge. The international community has a lot of weight in Uganda– about a third of Uganda’s budget is donor-financed (European Union, individual European countries like Sweden, etc.) , and many Ugandans depend on the U.S. government for antiretroviral drugs through PEPFAR. Museveni went to this year’s CHOGM and was criticized by Commonwealth leaders, a big deal if you remember all the money and time spent on promoting Uganda’s image at CHOGM in 2007, when the summit was held in Kampala. Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, the U.N.’s top human rights official, and some prominent American senators coordinating support of the Ugandan military in fighting the Lord’s Resistance Army condemned Uganda.
Reaction to the bill within Uganda. Most Ugandans didn’t seem to realize that homosexuality is already illegal in Uganda, and thought the bill would forbid the practice. Some thought the bill was meant to protect children from pedophiles. Very few seemed to realize the bill would execute gay people with HIV. When the Swedish government said it would no longer finance Uganda’s budget if they began executing gay people living with HIV, most Ugandans thought the Swedes said they would withdraw support to Uganda if Ugandans did not support homosexuality. Many Ugandans reacted as if the Western world were forcing Ugandans to be gay or support gay people, blackmailing them with foreign aid. Many Ugandans reacted as if the western world was imposing a gay lifestyle on them, then threatening to withdraw support for the neediest Ugandans if they didn’t comply. Pastor Martin Ssempa, a prominent anti-gay activist in Uganda who runs the Makerere Community Church, is planning a million-man march in Kampala to support the bill. President Museveni has tried to assure donors quietly that the bill will not pass, but top Ugandan officials said Uganda can live without the foreign aid. One American senator wanted to threaten Uganda’s AGOA trade status, a special status for Ugandan goods in the U.S that is supposed to make trader easier.
Pastor Ssempa said people attending the march could take a photo and send it as a postcard to Barack Obama. He described the Western world as failed states for supporting homosexuality. A few Ugandans have spoken out against the bill, such as prominent lawyer and academic Sylvia Tamale, who is writing a book on how homosexuality is conceptualized in African countries (Uganda? East Africa? other African countries as well? I’m not sure). A muslim cleric called for special squads to hunt down gay people in Ugnda, adding his hateful voice to the mix.
And for the American evangelicals?
In the U.S., the American evangelicals who helped MP David Bahati draft the bill faced a considerable backlash, and were criticized for importing an American cultural war into East Africa. Evangelicals like Scott Lively said they didn’t realize what was in the bill being drafted, and were just trying to protect Ugandan families.
Personally, I’m a bit exhausted of the story. I hope the bill doesn’t pass, and wish Uganda was in the news for something other than anti-gay legislation. The 2011 elections are next year, and I am concerned about the potential human rights abuse that could explode. The underlying fear of course is that there could be violence a la Kenya, but Uganda has always been less ethnically divided in Kenya, despite the September riots (the Buganda kingdom’s clash with the central government).
There was a disturbing incident where opposition candidate Olara Otunnu’s car was run off the road by the presidential guard brigade, which has barely been covered in the local press, and not covered in the international press. Hillary Clinton has said she will observe Uganda in the 2011 elections. The opposition has largely united and plans to field a common candidate. You can follow election coverage through Africa Connections here, which is updated daily with the latest bit of news about the elections. 50 female Ugandan political activists were arrested yesterday, for a demonstration calling for the Electoral Commission boss to step down. You can read more about that here, on the Voice of America website. The Daily Monitor and New Vision have also covered the story.