A British politician Eric Joyce, in the wake of the February 25 signing of the anti-gays law and the consequent donors aid-cut-backlash, made, perhaps one of the most thought-provoking reactions on the topic.
Mr Joyce, MP for Falkirk, wrote: “Really– why should people in Uganda and Africa as a whole do what we (West) tell them?
“The truth is, the line taken by many people in the UK now – attacking Uganda and Ugandans – is not only unfair on Ugandans (who will come to their own decisions over their own destiny) per se – it will in any case have the opposite effect from that intended.”
The Anti-Homosexuality law, first introduced in Parliament in 2009 by Ndorwa West MP David Bahati, was eventually assented to by a morality preaching President Museveni.
Mr Joyce, urging his countrymen that they “ desperately need to find ways to encourage African leaders to learn from South Africa on how to implement gay rights, of course,” rebuked them to “at almost all costs stop acting like old-world imperialists telling ‘the black folk’ how to live.”
His opinion though stirring was overtaken by events of donors, first Norway cutting Shs20 billion; Denmark redirecting Shs25 billion; Netherlands suspending Shs24 billion and Sweden cutting Shs25 billion.
The notable words used, though vague, are “redirecting”, “reviewing” and “suspended.”
Seemingly concerned a little but unshaken, the government has since assured the country that it can fully fund its own budget even if all Western countries pulled the aid plug; as a consequence of the “controversial” law, which imposes a life sentence on all those found guilty of aggravated homosexual acts.
UK foreign secretary Willan Hague said he was “deeply saddened” by Mr Museveni’s decision to sign such a legislation while Canada’s foreign affairs minister said his country is “extremely disappointed” and US President Barack Obama, who is said to have spoken with Museveni on phone before the signing, called it “a step backwards for Ugandans.”
The barrage of disapprovals from businessmen like Sir Richard Branson, urging investors and donors to shun Uganda.
The major concern put forward is that the law is a setback to protection of human rights in the country.
Notwithstanding, Mr Museveni, who celebrated 28 years in power in January, has his regime’s human rights record dotted by a thousand wrong doings, which are occasionally and halfheartedly condemned by the West but seldom attract aid cuts.
Mr George Barenzi, the International relations lecturer at Nkumba University, says: “The donors’ reaction is the highest manifestation of hypocrisy of the West — the never ending double standards.”
The New York -based Human Rights Watch (HRW) maintains that more than 40 people were indiscriminately shot dead during the September 2009 riots but the perpetrators have never been brought to book to date despite investigations into the matter.
The weight of reaction in contestation of such action by a government on rights was half-hearted.
The aftermath of the 2011 general elections climaxed into the Walk to Work protests engineered by three times presidential aspirant, Dr Kizza Besigye, which resulted in some of the worst forms of human rights violations in a “democratic society”.
Security agencies habitually beat, tortured, injured, shot and rounded up scores of protesters for questioning but Western countries although they condemned the episodes never took action.
The list of rights abuses is endless; including repression of media freedoms – a case in point is when Monitor Publications Ltd was closed for 10 days last year over a letter reportedly written by the former spymaster Gen David Sejusa on assassination claims.
Several commentators say the NRM government is backpedalling to the old days’ autocracy: at the mercy of the West yet the debate and anti-gays law is polarising.
Mr Barenzi explains that well as the timing of the law was political, it depicts what the West thinks of us and how they want us to be subordinate role.
He argues that the US champions for Women’s rights world over but “maintains enormous relations with Saudi Arabia (among other Middle East States) where women’s rights are violated by norms. But the West never raises this matter.”
“It is simply a non-issue to them, the same way here if Besigye or Lukwago [Erias] is beaten.”
Donor budgetary support to Uganda accounts for 23 per cent of the total budget. Uganda’s national budget is about Shs13 trillion.
The Swedish Finance Minister, Mr Anders Borg, responding to the question during his visit to the country as part of the tour to review economic growth in the region recently, said rights of sexual minorities are like other rights.
“We believe in human rights in general and it is the perspective we have on all our aid programmes and the democratisation process has become increasingly important,” he remarked. However, “The idea of sentencing people to life imprisonment because of their sexual orientation is unacceptable...”
Human Rights advocate Ladislaus Rwakafuzi thinks “condemnation of gay rights indicates another lip service session of donors, and is to blame for the increasing violation of human rights in this country.”
“Well, as their aid is integral; it cannot be relied upon. They are so picky on issues and I think that affects the democratisation and constitutionalism process,” Mr Rwakafuzi notes. “So, I really think that if they want to promote human rights, they need to start taking a holistic approach to issues.”
The Dutch Ambassador to Uganda Alphons Hennekens said: “Gay rights are not just prioritised, but they (as donors) stand for all human rights and equality.”
Although his country suspended aid, Hennekens said they would continue “supporting programmes and projects implemented by non-state organisations” like food security and human rights.
He added that his country would relax its policies on asylum for homosexuals from Uganda.
Once a darling of the West for fighting the HIV/Aids scourge; combating terrorism; for his big brother stance to regional problems, and merely referred to in foreign media as “longest serving leader”, Mr Museveni after signing the law is now described as “a dictator”.
Double Standards or empty threats?
Like the popular adage of “he who pays the piper calls the tune” goes, some observers maintain, it’s through aid that the West can keep their relevance in Uganda; so they cannot completely opt out.
But US Ambassador to Uganda Scott H. DeLisi at a recent event in Kampala said his government was ready to direct its assistance to another country if Uganda made it clear that it did not want it. “If Uganda doesn’t want our assistance, let the government tell us and we shall turn to another African country.”
US’ aid - both in financial and military terms - is approximated at $456.3m (Shs1.1 trillion) annually.
However, the US Mission reiterated Mr Obama’s disappointment with the law, saying it “will reflect poorly on Uganda’s commitment to protecting the human rights of its people.”
Public Diplomacy - information officer at the Mission Erin Truhler, in an email, said: “As Americans, we believe that people everywhere deserve to live in freedom and equality – and that no one should face violence or discrimination for who they are or whom they love.”
On why donors turn a blind eye to the government’s poor human rights record, Ms Truhler said they emphasise regularly with government the need to strengthen its democratic institutions.
The US has begun a broad review of its assistance and engagement with Kampala.
The UK, which cut and is yet to resume budget support since the widespread corruption at the Office of the Prime Minister, said it will “continue to lobby at the highest levels on this issue.”
The Head of communications at the British High Commission in Kampala, Mr Samuel Paice, said: “Whilst recognising Uganda’s sovereignty, we believe that this law is incompatible with the defence of minority rights and would increase persecution and discrimination of ordinary people across Uganda.”
But like former Financial Times editor for Africa Michael Holman put it last week: “So what should the West have done? For a start, it should have displayed a better grasp of regional implications of a row with Uganda, and the nature of Ugandan politics. Mr Museveni is running for re-election in 2016 and the outcome is far from certain.
He needs all the support he can get – and his anti-gays stand is backed by most voters.”
From the reactions, the stage is clearly set and events continue unfolding.