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The Tragedy of Gay Rights in Uganda

Homosexuality is currently criminalized in the Ugandan penal code, but an extreme anti-homosexuality bill that would heavily substantiate this informal law seems doomed to pass in parliament before the end of the year. The bill seeks to eradicate homosexuality entirely from Uganda and become a model for the rest of Africa.

The bill appeared in the Ugandan parliament Paper orders on November 21st and last month, parliament member Rebecca Kadaga said it would be passed as a “Christmas gift” to the Ugandans, who are “demanding it.”

The most extreme clause of the bill calls for the death penalty for ‘aggravated homosexuality’, which includes gay sex with a minor and ‘serial offenders’. The bill also proposes negative incentive to secure the collaboration of Ugandan society through a prison sentence for those who fail to report homosexual behaviour within 24 hours.

The large support base for the bill can largely be explained by the widespread popularity of Evangelical and Pentecostal forms of Christianity, which encourage a radical approach to homosexuality. Such radical Christian movements promote the belief that same-sex relations are ‘un-African’ and an artefact of Western culture. Ironically, it is in fact a view based on the Bible that arrived with colonialism rather than traditional African culture.

The entrenchment of extreme forms of Catholicism in Uganda has propagated a malignant form of homophobia that blinds large sections of the population to the object of their hatred. The term homophobia is in fact hardly appropriate: the supporters of the bill demonstrate a complete lack of understanding of the matter and resort to biblical rhetoric to justify their case. Ugandans are being subject to the same type of religious indoctrination that created the conditions for the rise of Joseph Kony (yes, he is still around) under the identity of a Christian freedom fighter.

Even more worryingly, the proponents of the bill do not view it as a reform, but instead hopes Uganda will become the crucible of a hardliner pan-African anti-homosexuality policy. An American pastor called Uganda the “ground zero of the great war with homosexuality.” Enough other countries in Africa possess the combination of widespread fundamentalist Christianity and a need for governments to distract the population from its real issues to make this dreadful possibility a probability.

Support for anti-homosexual policies throughout Africa, but particularly the Ugandan bill which holds the most potential for success, has been continuously fanned by outside interest groups.

The architect of the bill, M. Bahati, is one of many Ugandan leaders to be part of an American evangelical movement known as The Family — a secretive group of powerful Christian politicians who wield considerable political influence, both in Washington and abroad.

According to the Political Research Associates (PRA) think-tank, The Family is not the only Christian evangelical group in the US that is attempting a ‘cultural colonisation’ of Africa. Many extremist Christian groups are in retreat in the US and are instead turning to Africa, where promoting homophobia and other conservative policies produces quick gains. For them, Africa is merely a pawn in the battle they are fighting at home.

Evangelical movements deny the accusations, but the PRA has found that their most effective way of gaining influence is by financially backing prominent political leaders that follow their agenda, and this is happening throughout Africa to an extent that is difficult to gauge.

Foreign opposition to the bill is tragically puny in comparison to the foreign support it enjoys. Obama has labelled it as “odious,” and European countries have produced a variety of unconvincing responses. Sweden has threatened to cut off foreign aid, and Germany has offered to pay money for the bill to be rejected, but so far rhetoric alone has failed to hold any sway over the outcome of the bill.

The only hope for the repudiation of the bill comes from opposition groups inside Uganda. They must, however, operate discreetly to avoid legal persecution and thus cannot reach out to the public in the way the supporters of the bill can. They also function with a fraction of the budget that the well financed architects of government ideology and foreign radical Christian groups enjoy. But gay rights activists in Uganda also point out that the bill has helped their struggle by putting what used to be a strictly taboo subject on the national agenda, albeit for the wrong reasons.

The most promising opposition group is the Ugandan Civil Society Coalition on Human Rights and Constitutional Law, established in October 2009 in response to the tabling of the Anti-Homosexuality bill. Its membership has grown to include 51 civil society organisations.

When M. Bahanti said that “homosexuals from Europe and America are luring our children into homosexuality by distributing cell phones and iPods and things like this,” he displayed the attributes of a religious fanatic more concerned with indoctrination than the progress of his country and the well-being of the people he represents.

These very cell phones are the cornerstones of a technological and educational revolution happening throughout Africa that overtime should uproot the deeply entrenched prejudices that are behind the anti-homosexuality bill. In the meantime, drastic opposition – both internal and external – is desperately needed to overturn this bill, fore its ratification would be a stain on our collective human rights.

–  Mischa Snaije

(Featured photo: AttributionNoncommercialNo Derivative Works Kaytee Riek, Creative Commons, Flickr)

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  1. It is not the religious groups that are attempting a ‘cultural colonization’ in Africa, homosexuality has always been a taboo in any African society.The only people attempting ‘cultural colonization’ are the one promoting it. I admit that there have always been cases of homosexuality in the African culture even before colonization, most notably King (Kabaka) Mwanga of Buganda Kingdom in Uganda (yes Uganda), but at no time in History was this ever condoned. This is not about just Christianity, it about out true culture.Even the moslems and other religions are in support of this bill.

    It is also not the so called financial support from these religious groups that this bill is being supported. By the way the other side has even more funding. It is because of the true African culture of the majority of the people. Imagine all the condemnation from the western governments and this bill is still as popular as ever.

    It is amazing that you talk about the bible that is the the basis of the support yet it also a result of western influence. One hundred year a go the westerner come and tell us that you African religions are wrong, only to come back and tell us that the Christianity is actually no the right one either. Now that is where the irony is. We can’t just can not keep changing our culture just because the west decided so. We seive out what we know is beneficail and what is not.

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