President Museveni’s recent statement at Kyankwanzi that he would sign the anti-gays Bill into law caused a stampede. Western powers led by US President Barrack Obama have already issued stern missives. Not only are they threatening to review existing relationships with Uganda, but there are veiled threats embedded in president Obama’s communiqué which dropped in my e-mail box 24 hours after President Museveni’s speech at Kyankwanzi.
The last paragraph begun: “Enacting this legislation will complicate our valued relationship with Uganda”. President Obama’s note was followed up by an arranged visit from a senior official at the American Embassy in Kampala; Mr Michael Newbill. We spent two hours with the diplomat in a meeting at the President’s office. He wanted us to explain the significance of Kyankwanzi, and the forum in which the President chose to confirm that he would assent to the Bill. He reiterated the kind of assistance Uganda is likely to lose, emphasizing how betrayed they felt.
But is Uganda isolated in crafting anti- homosexuality legislation? Certainly no.
MP David Bahati submitted a Private Members Bill on October 13, 2009, arguing that it was primarily to strengthen the nation’s capacity to deal with emerging internal and external threats to the traditional heterosexual family. He asserted that “same-sex attraction is not an innate and immutable characteristic”, and that as a society, Ugandans needed to “protect the cherished culture and traditional family values.
The Bill divides homosexual behaviour into two categories: “aggravated homosexuality”, in which an offender, after due process gets a life sentence or “the offence of homosexuality” in which an offender would be jailed for anything up to 14 years. “Aggravated homosexuality” is defined to include homosexual acts committed by a person who is HIV-positive, is a parent or authority figure, or who administers intoxicating substances, homosexual acts committed on minors or people with disabilities, and repeat offenders. “The offence of homosexuality” is defined to include same-sex sexual acts, involvement in same-sex marriage or an attempt to commit aggravated homosexuality.
Most Ugandans agree that this is a sensible thing to do. Other sovereign states e.g Russia, Nigeria and many others agree with Uganda’s position on the issue and have enacted similar laws. But other nations including USA, Canada and the EU have been up in arms.
They say this is interfering with personal choice and abuse of human rights. This is the reason president Obama, in his latest note says: “We believe that people everywhere should be treated equally, with dignity and respect, and that they should have the opportunity to reach their fullest potential, no matter who they are or whom they love.”
It is very important to mention that issues for and against homosexuality remain unresolved the world over. It is alleged that powerful American Evangelicals gave substantial support to Bahati and probably sponsored the Bill.
In United Kingdom, the unpopular Section 28 was only repealed recently. The controversial piece of legislation stated that: ‘A local authority shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality, or promote the teaching in any government school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a preferred family relationship”. This law affected England, Wales and Scotland. It was replaced with Section 122 of the Local Government Act 2003.
We know that the same issues nearly caused a schism in the Anglican Church of England with some powerful clergy including a former Cabinet Minister Ann Widecombe defecting from the faith to Roman Catholicism due to disagreements on ordaining women and gays as bishops. We also know that the Archbishopric of Canterbury, mother to Anglican Communion has been grappling with the highly divisive homosexuality issues which remain unresolved to date.
The Episcopal church of Wheaton, USA, broke away and founded their own denomination when a gay bishop was consecrated five years ago. Homosexuality remains highly contentious everywhere.
Lastly, Mr Newbill asked us as government spokespersons to reassure the nation that gays will not be killed by mobs on the streets. The Americans seem to think that soon we will have cases of mob justice with people stoning gays. I would say this won’t happen. The most likely scenario is that gay people in Uganda will revert to their original enclaves. They have been denied space to be seen and heard promoting their stuff; but they will not be exterminated.
Mr Katungi is the media & communications manager, Office of the President.