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.