Hon. David Bahati’s Anti-homosexuality Bill, which a cabinet committee was reported to have recently rejected, has generated considerable controversy and debate both within and outside Uganda. Much of the exchange has been rather emotional, akin to a dialogue of the deaf, where neither party listens to nor hears what the other is saying.
Looked at rationally, both sides have legitimate concerns justifying their stand. Ardent supporters of the Bill set out to uphold African cultural values, which without doubt have been greatly eroded not only by the colonial experience but more recently by the onslaught of globalisation. Thus determined efforts have been made to impose Western values and practices on the entire world in the political, economic, social and cultural spheres, regardless of local viewpoints and sensitivities.
Homosexual practices, gambling in casinos, striptease (ekimansulo), prostitution, etc. are examples. On the other hand, centuries old African practices like polygamy are denounced as oppressive and backward.
Those who oppose the Bill, the vast majority of whom are heterosexual themselves, are concerned about the intrusion of the State into the private lives of individuals, the draconian penalties proposed, and the effect the Bill has on Uganda’s standing internationally. Furthermore, the Penal Code Act and indeed the Constitution deal with many of the concerns which the Bill sets out to prohibit.
There is also the argument that in the days of globalisation, a country cannot act or behave as if the views of other countries did not matter.
In the midst of the controversy over this Bill, it is not realised that even in the UK, homosexuality was illegal until comparatively recently. It was not until a private Member’s Bill sponsored by the Labour MP, Leo Abse, in 1967 that homosexual acts in private between two consenting adults were legalised.
My own take on the Bill is that it is a big diversion from the real and critical problems facing our Country. Examples are the all-pervasive and endemic pillage of public funds, the deadly diseases that are a scourge on a large part of the population, and the widespread illiteracy.
Take corruption. If two men or women steal X billion shillings of public funds, their heinous crime will have a considerable adverse effect on the welfare of the nation.
However, if two men or women lock themselves in a room somewhere and, with mutual consent, indulge in some odd pleasures of the flesh, the economic loss to the country is negligible. Why then ignore the corrupt couple and sentence the other to a term of life imprisonment?
So why not sponsor some robust, water-tight and readily enforceable legislation dealing with corruption, providing for lengthy terms of imprisonment for those convicted of such crimes and the confiscation of their ill-gotten assets?
On disease, we all know that malaria, the number one killer in this country, affects the vast majority of households especially in rural areas. Why not sponsor legislation requiring the relevant authorities to carry out mosquito sprays nationally, as happened in the past with no apparent ill effects.
Regarding illiteracy, why not bring in a Bill requiring each MP, out of their allowances and emoluments, to sponsor in their constituencies at least 10 pre-school nurseries and week-end literacy classes for adults?
Ironically there are two categories of unintended beneficiaries of this Bill. Firstly, those who are trying to promote gay rights in Uganda, who will be able to generate more funds from overseas on the grounds that they are fighting for equal opportunities and basic human rights. Secondly those seeking political asylum in the West, who will claim that they are fleeing from homophobic harassment and persecution.
Personally I have not come across any gay individual in Uganda, male or female. They must be a tiny minority. Why crack a nut with a sledge hammer?
I have read in the press that President Museveni has promised to veto this Bill if taken to him for assent. Whether this claim is well founded or not, under Articles 91 (5) and 91(6) of the Uganda Constitution Parliament can, with the support of at least two-thirds of all members of Parliament, override the presidential veto, thereby enabling the Bill to become law.
Consequently, the final responsibility for the passage of this Bill into law rests with MPs. This is a heavy duty that should be exercised wisely, taking into account the overriding national interests, both internal and external.
Mr Kibedi is a consultant with a city law firm