The German government is taking advice from gay rights activists and will not cut aid to Uganda due to the anti-gay bill now before parliament but will pressure individual politicians to block it. A German official says that they have been convinced that aid cuts don’t produce the desired results.
“Activists on the ground are asking us to do it privately and talk to people responsible to see that the law does not pass,” said Mr Markus Loning, commissioner for human rights policy and humanitarian aid at the federal foreign office. Mr Loning was speaking at a conference on homosexuality and religion in Berlin on November 22.
When the Bill was first tabled in the last parliament, Mr Loning travelled to Uganda and talked to the then Speaker Edward Ssekandi and human rights activists.
Another official told us that the German foreign office told President Museveni that bilateral cooperation would cease if the Bill was passed. In short, Germany was threatening to withdraw aid to Uganda.
That threat is now on hold. “We get the backlash when aid is cut or Ugandan public figures are humiliated over gay rights,” Christine Kasha of Freedom and Roam Uganda told the conference.
Ms Kasha, who is a lesbian, says gays are also Ugandans and the projects funded by donors help them too. The anti-gay Bill is back in Parliament, she says, mainly because Speaker Rebecca Kadaga “was humiliated in Canada”.
Ms Kadaga was involved in a bust up with Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird during the Inter-Parliamentary Union meeting in Canada recently.
She has since said the Bill, which was on ice before then, “will be passed before the end of the year as a Christmas gift” to its promoters. The Bill, introduced by Ndorwa West MP David Bahati, criminalises homosexuality and sets tough sentences for “offenders”, including death for “aggravated offenders”.
“Aggravated” homosexuality includes having homosexual relations with minors, which opponents of the Bill say is already catered for under the law of defilement and rape.
Film puts Uganda in the spotlight
For about two months leading up to the conference, a documentary, Call Me Kuchu, that shows how Uganda is dangerous for gay people, was on tour in Germany. In the week of the conference it was showing in the capital, Berlin.
Built around the gay rights activism and murder of David Kato, it shows how religious leaders, the media and politicians team up to “whip up” public resentment against gays.
Silence engulfs the small room in Eiszeit cinema hall to the South of Berlin as an audience of about 50 watches the documentary.
“No, this is not happening in 2012,” Priya Behrens-Shah breaks the silence, “This is supposed to be a scene from Nazi Germany.” Ms Behrens-Shah describes herself as an “Indian east African with British citizenship.” Her family lived in Uganda but migrated to England when Idi Amin took over power.
She hoped Germany and other countries would pressure Ugandan leaders to drop the Bill and “deal with senseless homophobia”.
And the German government takes the issue seriously. “We take interest in human rights because it is an obligation from our history,” said Mr Loning. Nazi dictator Adolph Hitler infamously tortured and killed gays.
Given the experiences of Nazism and later the Germany Democratic Republic in the former East Germany, said Mr Stefan Boberg, the Germans said “Never again”. Mr Boberg specialises in Nazi history and is a guide at the former concentration camp, Sachsenhausen, where tens of thousands died of starvation, labour and execution. Some of them were gays. He said the Nazis tortured and killed gays to “cleanse the German race”.
The historian, Mr Nikolaus Wachsmann, gives figures in an article, The policy of exclusion: repression in the Nazi state, 1933-1939, published in the Short Oxford History of Germany.
During the Nazi rule, he said, almost 30,000 men were sent to jail for homosexual practices while the more unfortunate ones ended up in concentration camps.
Lesbians were exempt, Mr Wachsmann added, “Partly because sexist Nazi leaders saw female homosexuality as rather more harmless and ‘curable’.”
Germany has since recognised gay rights and gay couples can enter a contract comparable to civil marriage. The German Foreign Affairs Minister, Mr Guido Westerwelle, is openly gay, and so is the long-serving Mayor of Berlin, Mr Klaus Wowereit.
But homosexuality is still a difficult subject even in Germany. A journalist said one is likely to encounter anti-gay tendencies the deeper they delve into German villages. Also, some religious groups in Germany have not yet accepted gays. One such group is the Catholic Church, which rejected the foreign office’s invitation to participate in the conference on “Homosexuality and religion.”
But the conference broke new ground in another way by featuring an openly gay Muslim cleric from South Africa. He is probably the first in the world to argue that homosexuality and Islam can be compatible.
Until 10 years ago Muhsin Hendricks preached the orthodox Islamic gospel as an imam at Claremont Main Road Mosque in Cape Town, South Africa.
Educated as an Islamic theologian in many places, including Pakistan, Mr Hendricks taught that God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah over homosexuality.
As an imam, he wed heterosexual couples regularly and, he married and fathered three children.
But he would walk out on his family and marry a fellow man. Mr Hendricks said he got tired of pretending to be a “different person to who I really am.” And for the sake of his peace of mind, he was prepared to face the fallout that was sure to result from his declaration that he was gay.
He has received threats from all over the world, he said, but remains unfazed. “They can kill me if they want to,” he added, “The world is a cruel place anyway.” Gay marriages are legal in South Africa and in his small mosque at his activist organisation, The Inner Circle, he said, he has wed nine gay couples.
Mr Hendricks says he decided to declare his sexuality when in 1998 a lesbian girl in his mosque committed suicide because she had been told she could not be Muslim and lesbian. He sought to understand the Koran more, he said, particularly regarding the story of Sodom and Gomorrah.
Mr Hendricks said every story has a context and that mainstream Islamic interpretation of the story of Sodom and Gomorrah lacks context. So why did God destroy the condemned cities? Mr Hendricks said it was not because of gays but because people were having non-consensual sex with animals, women, slaves and men. “It was a question of rape,” he said.
Then what about Sharia, the Islamic law? Doesn’t it prohibit and prescribe severe punishment for homosexuality?
“Sharia is not divine,” Mr Hendricks said, “It is derived from Koranic sources but with the interpretation of man.” He said the quality of Sharia law is determined by the interpretation of the Koran and he deems the mainstream interpretation regarding homosexuality as wrong.
He narrated a story of an incident which he said happened during the time of Prophet Mohamed. That asked for an order to kill a man who exhibited homosexual tendencies, the prophet said: “Leave him alone because he is a person who prays and I was forbidden to kill anyone who prays”.
Mr Hendricks hadn’t carried his book of Hadith and I had none to check it out. Hadith are the sayings of Prophet Muhamed.
Mr Hendricks was not the only one at the conference preaching unorthodox gospel. Rev. Michael Kimindi from Other Sheep Africa Church in Kenya was another. He argued that the gospel has to aim at “preaching love instead of hate” and that it is “wrong” for religious leaders to condemn gays.
Tim Kuschenerus, the protestant secretary of the Joint Conference on Church and Development, approached the matter from a historical view point. He argued that homophobia was just “exported” to Africa by missionaries. “Many African societies used to have heterosexual practices,” he added.
The Germany government decided not to wait for religious leaders and others to find common ground on homosexuality.
Mr Loning says that even if some people may believe that homosexuality is a sin or a disease, they should at least accept the view that every human being has a right to choose his lifestyle. This is the line his government has to sell to the government of Uganda.