Uganda: Stealing the Spotlight From President Museveni

Neophyte Legislator Proposes Deadly Laws Against Gays: Unleashes International Protest

Yoweri Museveni has been president of Uganda for 24 years in a country that had suffered decades of government corruption, mismanagement, bloody guerilla activity and civil war, all preceded by the the horrors of the Idi Amin tyranny in the seventies. His rise to power through danger and rebellion and military manipulations were fraught with complicated deals and reprisals along the way. The long path to power was a high-risk-high-stakes political chess game–which he won by stealth and bullets.

Holding that power from 1986 through the tumultuous eighties while ‘sort of’ leading the country to a democracy has been a delicate balancing act by this seasoned political warrior. He is big improvement over the ‘strong man’ dictators in Africa who ruled most African countries after independence in the seventies and eighties.

He has brought relative stability and economic growth to Uganda, despite widespread poverty and an intransigent rebel war in the northwest near war-torn Congo. In recent years he initiated an effective national response to HIV/AIDS. But the disease pandemic has been a complicated thorn in the side of the government as infection continues to spread and it has also stirred a long-hidden cultural taboo: homosexuality in Uganda.

There are laws that criminalize same-sex behavior but they have been unevenly applied. This has encouraged the growth of gay groups, at first in the service of HIV education and prevention, and more recently, advocating for health outreach to the highest HIV risk group–men who have sex with men (MSM) and their ‘right’ to non-discriminatory treatment. Not surprising, this activist agenda brought homosexuality onto the public stage, in full view of political and religious leaders who at first denied there were homosexuals in Uganda. Since this ruse failed they shifted to blaming the West for exporting the immoral acts to Uganda. (photo left: David Cato of SMUG gay group)

Needless to say, this heightened publicity brought increased harassment and recriminations against LGBT citizens. Some arrests were made and police tried to blame gays for the corruption of youth. It became a relatively low-level culture war for several years. Most Ugandans had much more to worry about than the presence a few ‘different’ people.

Then came 2009 and the war erupted into an international scandal. Three American ‘reparative’ advocates held a tiny but highly publicized seminar in Kampala during which they proclaimed their (unscientific and discredited) views that homosexuality was a disease that should be legally opposed and cured with prayer. Hardly anyone paid attention–with the exception of a neophyte first-term member of the Ugandan national parliament named David Bahati, who liked what he heard from the right-wing Americans.

Six months after the seminar (the Americans met with local legislators during their visit) Bahati sponsored the most deadly anti-gay bill ever presented to the government. The bill, he said, was encouraging “constructive criticism” to improve the existing laws against gays and insisted that ‘strict measures’ were needed to keep homosexuals from “recruiting” children. Among other things, the bill calls for anyone convicted of a homosexual act to face life imprisonment. “Serial offenders” also could face capital punishment.

As well, anyone who “aids, abets, counsels or procures another to engage of acts of homosexuality” will receive seven years in prison if convicted. This includes landlords who rent property to homosexuals and anyone with “religious, political, economic or social authority” who fails to report a homosexual friend or acquaintance could receive three years in jail.

Needless to say this draconian and extreme proposal has resulted in world-wide condemnation and opposition from the United Nations, the European Union, western governments and religious leaders. Sweden has threatened to cut its foreign aid to Uganda.

This now presents Mr. Museveni–a president who has survived wars, political and economic crises, corruption, poverty, and an epidemic over the course of 24 years–with being upstaged by an upstart religious zealot legislator who has grabbed a tiger by the tail and is ignorant of the global consequences of his myopic bigotry. This surely was an embarrassment to the president, especially at the recent Commonwealth Nations conference where he was taken aside and warned by the British and Canadian Prime Ministers and pressed by the American secretary of state about this bizarre and regressive proposal. Even the Vatican has opposed the bill.

And how very ironic that Mr Bahati, who reviles the west for imposing their ‘corrupt’ lifestyle on Uganda’s sovereignty should have been so attracted to another western ‘import’ in the form of a highly prejudicial and phony cure for homosexuality to the point of using it as a foundation for an evil proposal that flies in the face of all human rights decency. Talk about the blind leading the blind!

Richard Ammon, GlobalGayz
Laguna Beach, CA