Sunday January 5 2014

In season of giving and fellow feeling, Parliament serves up bigotry, hate

By Bernard Tabaire

Our MPs are bigots. I mean the ones who two weeks ago passed a Bill that further criminalises and marginalises same-sex relationships. I am talking about relationships between consenting adults. By any means protect our children from homosexual and heterosexual bad people. Children are children.

But here we are with men who sleep with men and women who sleep with women facing long jail terms. And all people in Uganda must report to authorities anyone they think or know to be involved in a same-sex relationship. The prospect of individuals accusing each other falsely to settle this or that score is scary.

The mindlessness that informs such a Bill cannot be explained by talk of protecting the African culture. What is this so-called all-embracing African culture thing, by the way?

The hordes in Parliament that passed the Bill must have done so out of ignorance and prejudice. We now know what happens when ignorant and prejudiced people have a little power.

I once asked Fr Simon Lokodo, the gay hunting minister, whether he knows at close quarters anyone who is in a same-sex relationship. This was on the Hot Seat talk show on KFM. He said he did not. I then asked whether it had ever occurred to him that the member of staff he thinks so highly of might be gay or lesbian or bisexual. And if he knew the fact, it would change his regard for the employee’s professionalism. He mumbled.

The thing though is that you do not have to personally know someone who is gay to be tolerant, to appreciate the common humanity in all its diversity.
Minutiae aside, let us speak to the big picture aspects. The MPs, being politicians, should know a lot about the Constitution. This includes the fact that beyond the specific articles, the document is premised on a preamble and a number of National Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy.

One of the objectives/principles is the promotion of the “culture of cooperation, tolerance and respect for each other’s customs and beliefs”. This means the overarching sentiment of our Constitution is tolerance and non-discrimination.

This is the same message that one gets from other documents that Uganda has ratified such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights. Most of our MPs are too lazy, too conceited and too ignorant to understand what this stuff actually means. We get the leaders we deserve. But do we?

It is worse on the religious side. The overriding message from the Bible, which all those Christian gay bashers love to quote, is love for thy neighbour. You would never know that listening to Uganda’s pious gang, dripping with hatred as it does.

I do not know what is in Pope Francis’ heart, but the man says a good deal when he talks about eliminating “prejudices and presuppositions” and each one of us having the responsibility to “work so that the world becomes a community of brothers [and sisters] who respect each other, accept each other in one’s diversity …”

All of this stuff leaves President Museveni in an untidy bind. He has worked to shove shady bills through Parliament before. Now the MPs, most from his party led by a Speaker on a crazed mission to prove a point, have shoved through one of their own – quorum or no quorum.

If he [President] does not sign the Bill into law, he will get into conflict with his own MPs and the intolerant and blindly dogmatic religious establishment. Also, the MPs will override his veto with a two-thirds vote to make the Bill law unless he leans hard on members as he plans to do in the coming ruling party caucus meeting.

He signs the Bill into law and he runs afoul of rights activists, sensible Ugandans and donors – this is a “foreign policy issue”, President Museveni reminded his party’s National Executive Committee in January 2010.

The gay lobby across the West is fully mobilised. We will hear more about the consequences for Uganda in this new year and beyond. Tell this to the Kadagas and Bahatis and Obua-Ogwals of Parliament and they will say they are ready for the fight in defence of only God-knows-what. That fight is a phantom war, said Dr Ruhakana Rugunda in 2010 while serving as ambassador to the UN.

Meanwhile, LGBTI Ugandans get to pay the price for being who they are. They may well go underground to the glee of the MPs, although that will not wipe out these Ugandans. Or maybe they will make a stand and fight the “odious” Bill in the courts and on the streets. There comes a time when the minority takes the fight to a terribly mistaken majority.

Mr Tabaire is a media consultant with the African Centre for Media Excellence.