Sunday April 20 2014

This Easter, surely, our moral gods could pledge to do more

By Bernard Tabaire

Religious festivals such as Easter offer yet another opportunity for platitudes to be spouted about love, tolerance, respect, this and that. Religious leaders take the lead in this sort of thing, most with zero intention of living what they preach.

In Uganda, we will not miss hearing congratulations to MPs, Speaker Kadaga and President Museveni for doing the right thing in making life hard for fellow citizens who happen to be homosexual. We will hear pious declarations about how Uganda needs no aid from nobody if our part of the bargain is accepting “Western cultural practices” such as same-sex romantic relationships.

I am not a believer, but, damn, someone is gonna go to hell for reading the Bible, mouthing off about loving thy neighbour, while at the same time beating up a neighbour who happens to be gay. Bad stuff has to happen to hypocrites, zealots, and bigots. There can be no other way.

Broadly, it is not a good idea when a country’s political and religious elites agree on social issues such as who should sleep with whom and how (you would never know the Victorians left Uganda a half-century ago) and how a woman should dress. This can only lead to tighter control of citizens’ lives, shutting off the air of freedom and creativity and innovation. I suspect freedom in fashion and sexual practice somewhat translates into, or reflects, freedom in thought. Thinking people are never bad for a country – yes, a little trickier to control, but overall a good crowd for a country’s progress.

Here we are, however, in a country that does not want citizens to assemble, agitate, march, blow steam and blow vuvuzelas in the streets and even probably force a change in government. How can Uganda expect regeneration without producing change at various leadership levels often as a starting point?
An MP like Evelyn Anite and her gang that recently lit the coals from under Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi’s naked feet in Kyankwanzi think leadership change comes from no leadership change.

That is some twisted thinking, not unlike bishops who preach non-discrimination while discriminating at the same time. Our religious and political leaders are indeed reading the same script, or maybe scripture.

Next up is bail denial. The Anites of NRM will use their numbers to make such a law a reality. After that, who knows, we may have a law barring Ugandans from talking about presidential succession. The point would be to erase the very possibility of a new face smiling inside the ornate walls of State House until nature’s patient intervention.

In Uganda, just because you can do something means you should. Contrary advice is never heeded by our heedless church and political leaders leading heedless mobs. Just because you can pass a law that strangles a minority of your compatriots means you should. And once you have made the mistake there is need to pile on by holding a thanksgiving jamboree largely at taxpayer expense. That is supposed to be ubuntu.

Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu of Cape Town helped popularise the word ubuntu. He spoke up against our anti-homosexuality law before and after passage. He urged President Museveni not to sign it into law. The juicy votes of 2016 and the political expediency of returning a favour to NRM MPs who declared Mr Museveni sole candidate (no wonder we do business with North Korea) trumped the South African cleric’s voice of reason and caution.

How about corruption?
Okay, having finished off homosexuals, it is time to turn to the corrupt. I would like to see the ethics man Simon Lokodo and the firebrand religious leader Martin Ssempa lead the charge on this as well.

Corruption leads to the death of God’s own children, moreover people who do not deserve to die because they are not homosexual. When medical officers steal much needed drugs or stay away from their duty stations to “chase lines” elsewhere or steal money for buying sundries, are these not things that should concern our imams and pastors and bishops and MPs of all stripe?

If we must have a pure - if sterile - country, the puritans must go all the way. Else they have to explain why they pick this evil act over that evil act. And I want to think none of them is evil as such. I don’t want to think that thought this Easter, which should be a happy one for you all. See, no discrimination from me.

Mr Tabaire is a media consultant with the African Centre for Media Excellence.