Wednesday February 19 2014

Obama view stirs fierce online debate

By John K. Abimanyi

News of President Barack Obama’s position on Uganda’s anti-gay Bill has sparked a fierce online debate on the Bill and its implications for Uganda and US relations, even drawing in the superpower’s officials.

As of press time yesterday, the Facebook post by the American Mission in Uganda, stating the USA’s official position, had attracted 1,283 comments. That is considerable, especially that posts, even of nationally gripping news by media outlets, struggle to reach the hundreds.

President Obama said that signing the Bill into law would complicate the USA’s relationship with Uganda. In the comments, Ugandans largely voiced disapproval, and on at least three occasions, elicited a response from the US embassy. It was a spectacle of common ordinary folk in a Third World country, taking on officials of the world’s strongest state on the other.

A Bob Rugambwa commented: “We greatly value and respect the US and the relationship with us. But it should never be abused to dictate what legislation we may enact or not enact. Diplomacy is also about respect. Respect the position of the Ugandan Parliament, and the culture and norms of the Ugandan people.”

To which the US embassy replied: “Uganda is a sovereign country, free to enact its laws. But the United States is a sovereign country as well, free to make statements and decisions based on its own values. This is what diplomacy is.”

Most comments of disapproval accused the US of double standards, of ignoring other human rights violations in the country, say the passing of the Public Order Management Bill (POMB). To which the US embassy’s account posted: “Glad someone brought up the POMB. There were many strong statements released after it was passed - all before anyone had actually seen it! We waited to see an official draft, and then did make a statement to press, noting our concerns about how it might be implemented.”

Some comments, however, were in support of the USA; in fact, the post had 443 ‘likes’. Jackie Nakazibwe, for instance, commented: “What someone does with their own body is their own business and no business of the government as long as they aren’t forcing or being forced into it. I don’t condone homosexuality, I possibly can’t stand it but I am also aware that my will shouldn’t be enforced on others.”