Sunday March 2 2014

Anti-gays law: Who wins; Uganda or the West?

Pastor Martin Ssempa and other anti-homosexuality activists

Pastor Martin Ssempa and other anti-homosexuality activists celebrate the signing of the anti-gays law. PHOTO BY MICHAEL KAKUMIRIZI 

By Timothy Kalyegira

It did not surprise Ugandans that within hours of the signing into law of the 2009 Anti-Homosexuality Bill, the West leapt to the attack, condemning Uganda and threatening the country with aid cuts and travel bans on those thought to be spreading “hate” against homosexuals.

Uganda became the most widely reported on and debated African country for the whole of last week.

Somehow, Uganda’s political leaders led by President Museveni, Foreign Minister Sam Kutesa, Speaker of Parliament Rebecca Kadaga and Minister for Ethics Simon Lokodo stuck to the new official policy and defended the law.
Even Ugandans who are usually critical of the NRM government laid aside their disagreements and said on this, they were with Museveni.

Anything up to 97 per cent of Ugandans in opinion polls expressed support for any legislation that curbed homosexual activity in Uganda. Apart from anything else and what this law involves, it was pleasing to see Ugandans, who are usually fairly cowardly, docile people, take a tough stance against the West that, in ordinary times, they worship.

The opposition parties largely remained silent on the new anti-gay law. That was because a part of them agreed with Museveni but of course were not going to appear to publicly endorse him over an issue likely to add to his political capital.

But also, it was a bitter feeling to see the hysterical Western media and governments attack Museveni. For many years, the media, civil society groups and opposition parties have tried to draw the West’s attention to the excesses of the NRM government --- corruption, police and army brutality, safe houses, election rigging and other matters.

It was insulting that the West that turned a blind eye to these grave concerns could become so vocal and threaten to act so swiftly just because the rights of a strange sexual minority were threatened.

But that is the West as it is today. Uganda is caught in the middle of the cultural battle raging between Liberals and Conservatives in the US, and between the US and the West and the rest of the world.

The state of Arizona in the western US was battling this same week over a Bill permitting some Christian businesses to deny services to gay clients on account of their faith.

The Anglican Church has been split almost beyond repair by the refusal of the Third World churches to accept the ordination of women bishops.
Museveni is too cautious about losing Western support to have signed that Bill, unless he first had firm guarantees from other sources for aid and loans.

In January 2010, in explaining to the grumbling NRM caucus at State House Entebbe why he was hesitant about signing the anti-gay Bill, he said it had “foreign policy implications”. How come, then, that four years later, with the same foreign policy implications still there and Museveni sure of an angry reaction from the West, he not only went ahead to sign the Bill, but made sure he was seen to be signing it and lecturing the West about its “social imperialism”, before the media?

He must have spent the last few weeks, not exactly investigating the science of homosexuality, but sending feelers around for possible alternatives to Western aid.

Fading global influence of the West
The fact that Uganda could remain firm even when threatened by the West reflects the waning global influence of these once mighty powers.

The face of the economy today has been transformed from one of Western influence to a mainly Eastern character. Qatar Airways and Emirates Airlines are the main cargo freighters flying the Entebbe International Airport route. Well over 90 per cent of vehicles in Uganda are Japanese.

Most of the merchandise in shops are made in China. All the major road works now underway, like the modified Entebbe-Kampala highway and the forthcoming Kampala-Jinja highway are by Chinese construction firms. It is difficult to see where heavy British industry now features in Uganda. The last time there was one such company was in 1984 to 1985 when Mowlem repaired the Kampala-Jinja highway.

Apart from US military aid and cooperation with the Ugandan army and the many humanitarian projects funded by Western countries, the heavy side of the economy is now in the hands of the East Asians.

The West might, in the long run, lose this battle over the world’s cultural values. At some stage, even minor nations and societies have values fundamental to them that they will not give up, even under pressure and threats.

The West views homosexual rights as a fundamental tenet of their definition of human rights and from that point of view simply had no choice but cut aid to Uganda.

Uganda views homosexuals as a fundamental threat to their traditional society and from their point of view are prepared to endure aid cuts if need be.
Once the West cuts back on or delays their aid, then their options will have been exhausted. Uganda will have to quickly start looking for alternatives, such as China or even learning to budget their national tax collections better.

Ugandan officials are already starting to talk of setting up an Aids trust fund to secure money to treat the country’s citizens living with HIV/Aids. It is this national resolve, serious national thinking about the country’s future without waiting for handouts from the West, that has been lacking in Uganda since about 1987.

The country has turned into one of lazy white collar professionals attending meaningless workshops and NGOs that simply exist to provide jobs for a few university graduates. Thus, the best the West can ever do for a country as lax and irresponsible as Uganda is to actually carry through with their threats and cut off aid immediately.

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