Homosexuality was first banned in Uganda by British

Tuesday April 22 2014

By Wandera Ogalo

When President Museveni signed the Anti-Homosexuality Bill into law, Europe and the US went into overdrive. Aid was and continues to be cut. Threats were made if the law is not repealed. But I think the Americans and Europeans are taking it out on us because of a collective sense of guilt.

They are struggling to come to terms with their past and we have offered the opportunity for them to look good.
In 1533, King Henry VIII signed into law the Buggery Act. The law prohibited all homosexual activities and prescribed the death penalty for contravention. In addition, all property of the convict was confiscated. The heir(s) would inherit nothing. The death penalty was scrapped in 1861 and replaced with life imprisonment. For more than 300 years, the British courts convicted and the government hanged its citizens for male-male sexual activity. A sample of records shows that between 1806 and 1861 alone, 8,921 men were prosecuted for sodomy in Britain. Four hundred and four were sentenced to death.

The first person to be convicted under that law was Walter Hungerford who was beheaded (not hanged) at Tyburn in 1540.The last two were James Pratt and John Smith both hanged on November 27, 1835.
For attempted sodomy, the prison sentence was severe and included pillory. This sentence consisted of being put on display in a market place or crossroads with your head protruding from a piece of wood.

People would then gather to taunt, jeer, mock and laugh at the convict. Often he was pelted with rotten food and mud but sometimes the crowd used stones and bricks ending in the death or maiming of the convict. This sentence was abolished in 1837.

But too many suspects were being acquitted due to difficulties in proving sodomy. Accordingly, the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1885 introduced a new offence called gross indecency. Actions such as “lewd” touching between males fell under that offence. It became easier to prove and punish homosexual activity. Oscar Wilde, the Irish writer and poet served two years in prison with hard labour for gross indecency. It was not until 1967 that the British government decriminalised sodomy but only for males above 21 years. It remained a crime for those below that age until 2001.

In 2009, Prime Minister Gordon Brown made an official apology on behalf of the British Government in respect of Alan Turing who was prosecuted in the British courts for homosexuality. He was given a choice: prison or be chemically castrated. He chose to be castrated. He committed suicide in 1954. On December 24, 2013, the Queen gave him a post humus pardon.


Today, he is widely recognised as the father of theoretical computer science which is responsible for the technological advances we have made.
But an apology in respect of one man is not enough. The apology should extend to the thousands the British Government hanged over a period of 300 years. Their heirs should be compensated for the properties the British Government routinely seized.

President Obama and all Prime Ministers in Europe should also offer the same apology and reparations. Sodomy was a criminal act punishable by death all over Europe and the United States of America. It was decriminalised in Netherlands in 1811, Portugal 1852, Italy 1889, Iceland 1940, Switzerland 1940, Sweden 1944, Greece 1951, Ireland 1982, Germany 1994, Romania 1996 Bosnia 1998 and Northern Cyprus 2014.But laws like gross indecency were introduced instead.

The first state in USA to decriminalise homosexuality was Illinois is 1961 followed by Connecticut in 1969.Florida, both Carolinas, Idaho, Texas and 10 other states refused to decriminalise homosexuality activities until the Supreme Court forced them to do so as recent as 2003.

For Western governments to claim not to understand how we can criminalise homosexuality is the highest level of hypocrisy and diplomatic absurdity. The offence of sodomy became law in Uganda by virtue of Section 15(2) of the Uganda Order in Council 1902. By that Order, laws of general application subsisting in Britain automatically become law in Uganda. Therefore, from 1902, homosexuality was a crime in Uganda carrying a sentence of life imprisonment as provided in British law. It was amended by the Penal Code Act of 1930 by altering the sentence to 14 years with hard labour.

Attempted sodomy was maintained at seven years. By Section 10 of ordinance 21 of 1955, corporal punishment was removed.
That is what the British handed to us on October 9, 1962. The Bahati law simply builds on the British position. Even if the Bahati law is repealed, homosexual activities will continue to be a crime. Thanks to the British.

What is needed now is not this holier than thou attitude adopted by the West. What is needed is an apology to Uganda for bringing “bad laws” here. Another apology should be rendered to any Ugandan who suffered as a result of the “bad” laws and compensation made. Thereafter, we require an exhaustive explanation why values the West held dear for 500 years have now become very bad.

Mr Ogalo is a lawyer.