Charles Onyango Obbo

Why the anti-gay, anti-mini crowd is Uganda’s worst nightmare

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By Charles Onyango-Obbo

Posted  Wednesday, January 1  2014 at  02:00

In Summary

Now if a woman in a miniskirt is, as the traditionalists wrongly claim, seducing men, what kind of men in today’s Uganda are able to afford these “classy westernised women”?

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So the Uganda Parliament, without notice and quorum, passed the so-called “Anti-gays Bill”.
The Bill proposes that “repeat” gay offenders be jailed for life (an improvement from an earlier version that wanted them hanged); it seeks to punish anyone who knows a gay person but doesn’t report it to the police. Parliament also passed the Anti-Pornography Bill; and in a bid to finish off on a note of puritanic fundamentalism, also aims to ban women from wearing miniskirts.

If you haven’t, please read The East African weekly’s Muthoni Wanyeki’s column on the Bill in the latest issue of the paper, “Uganda MPs Came Bearing Gifts Of Hate”, (www.theeastafrican.co.ke/OpEd/comment/And-so-the-Uganda-MPs-came-bearing-gifts-of-hate-/-/434750/2127446/-/n4mgco/-/index.html).

Muthoni spoke for me, so I will address other purely Ugandan political aspects of the anti-gays Bill. Without naming names, it is worthwhile noting that some of the politicians who have become associated with the passing of the anti-gays Bill are not great examples of moral virtue. In fact, some of them have terrible histories when it comes to morality, showing their body parts, using them, or desiring (and indeed partaking of) other people’s intimate bits.

So why are they now trying to be moral champions? Well, it is because that is not what the anti-gays Bill is about. Indeed, the reaction of President Yoweri Museveni, who has see-sawed between staunch support and soft-rejection of the anti-gays Bill for the last two or so years, tells us that it is all about politics. Museveni has said he will “study it closely” before signing, and also that he will refer it to the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) Caucus.

Why this hesitation? Because, unlike many Bills that make it through Parliament despite the President’s lukewarm support or opposition, this one was mainly driven by NRM MPs.
This should tell us that at a second level, the anti-gays Bill has become one of the tools of the internal struggle for power inside the NRM not just over the Museveni succession, but also for future control of the party.

You see, pornography is not free. To buy it in a publication on the street, you need to have money. To get it online, you need to be able to afford a laptop, iPad or some other tablet, and to have money to pay for Internet access at a café.

Next, is that matter of the miniskirt. What kind of women wear miniskirts? Not the ones in the village. The anti-gay crowd says miniskirt wearers are part of that group of “blindly westernised” Ugandans, who are bringing aberrant cultures from abroad to corrupt our traditional values. Many of these young women in Kampala who wear miniskirts are from our “middle class”, and are related to the people who have done well in the Museveni economy over the last nearly 30 years.

Now if a woman in a miniskirt is, as the traditionalists wrongly claim, seducing men, what kind of men in today’s Uganda are able to afford these “classy westernised women”?
Finally, let us go to the photos of the women that are published daily in the edgy sensational tabloids in Kampala displaying thighs and lots of cleavage. There is a kind of geographical and hue divide. More than 90 per cent of them are from below the Karuma and River Nile Line---i.e. the political South of Uganda, and of these about 70 per cent of them are what Ugandans call “brown”.

Also, go and read all the stories about alleged gay predators that have been published in the Uganda media over the last five years. They are mostly from the more advanced economic sections of Ugandan society, and from only a few parts of the country. When is the last time you read a story about a gay man or lesbian from Koboko?

So here is my take. The anti-gay, anti-pornography, and anti-mini fight in Uganda is at one level some kind of class warfare, between those who have done well in the Museveni years, and those who feel they have lost out.

Likewise, anti-gay, anti-miniskirt, and anti-pornography language in Uganda is also ethnic code word against the groups and individuals who have “eaten” the most from the hand of the NRM.
I believe that the soft-porn media is not deliberately trying to build a picture of light-complexioned women as polluters of our land’s morals. But if we combine that with both the above and below ground profile of the kind of people who have benefited unfairly from Museveni’s rule, and that some extremists believe should suffer collective punishment for Kaguta’s “sins” when he falls, I shudder.

We are playing with fire in this country. And the anti-gays, anti-pornography and miniskirt-hating politicians are either the most clueless bunch of politicians in this country, or our worst fascist nightmare waiting to happen one day.

cobbo@ke.nationmedia.com & twitter:cobbo3