From miniskirts to communications monitoring, Uganda govt goes rogue

Sunday February 23 2014

By Bernard Tabaire

Many times President Museveni has criticised the Amin and Obote II regimes for terrorising Ugandans – state-sponsored terror. Tortures. Rapes. Lootings. Killings. All were commonplace as gun-fired lawlessness swamped the country.

Apart from two decades of mayhem in northern Uganda and Kampala’s enduring safe houses, things have been better under Mr Museveni. Yet it feels like we are coming under state-inspired siege.

Because of Amin’s and Obote II’s “incompetence and negligence”, to use a colleague’s phrase, the madness was right there in our face. So we easily dealt with it. We kept our heads low. We hid in our villages. We created bufunda. We erected walls around our houses.

We burglar-proofed home, office, shop. We went to the bush. We fled to exile. Today, well, a seemingly people-friendly State is the same one stealthily and systematically cornering us.
The wiretapping law. The public order management law. The miniskirt law. The anti-gay Bill. The proposal to deny bail to some offenders. The proposal to have newspapers acquire and keep licenses only under certain conditions.

The fresh move against civil society.
All these things have happened quietly – as part of routine government business – in the last five years. It now feels like the earth and the sky are inching toward each other, with Ugandans caught in the middle with no illuminated exit signage anywhere in sight.

The wiretapping law creates a communication centre for the “interception of communications”. The miniskirt law sets up a pornography control committee that shall “expedite the development or acquisition and installation of effective protective software in electronic equipment such as computers, mobile phones and televisions for the detection and suppression of pornography”.


Pornography being “any representation through publication, exhibition, cinematography, indecent show, information technology or by whatever means, of a person engaged in real or stimulated explicit sexual activities or any representation of the sexual parts of a person for primarily sexual excitement”. Anything goes.

Communication centre. Pornography control committee. Big Brother Uganda at work.
Then there is the anti-gay Bill. This one says no man should love and sleep with another man. Ditto woman. Whether Mr Museveni signs the law or not, things are getting ugly. I am told vigilante groups are forming in different Kampala neighbourhoods to hunt down LGBTI people.

Boda boda riders are playing an enabling role. They know where many homosexuals live. Some are outing them. A friend told me recently that a group of neighbourhood kids, average age 12, went over to a house where some homosexuals live and demanded: sodomise us and pay us. No idea how to interpret that one.

The public order management law means you cannot easily organise any protest against the government’s cuckoo laws and policies. With homosexuality being illegal, no police official will allow anyone to gather to march so that Ugandans in same-sex relationships can live and thrive in peace in their own country. Else you are jailed without bail. And no newspapers may cover such stuff. And no civil society groups may make demands.

Standing up for the rights of all Ugandans is as important today as it ever was. The government has no right to tell us who to sleep with and how; what to wear; which films to watch; what to protest for or against in a group. Otherwise we will soon be told what to think.

My heart warmed on Wednesday evening when I saw three young women in mean mini-dresses opposite Kansanga Market on Ggaba Road in Kampala.

I hoped they were dressed that way to protest the law that President Museveni signed on February 6. I almost stopped to offer them a ride. I would not have minded ordinarily. But Fr Simon Lokodo and his immoral brigade of pastors and politicians, egged on by Ugandans ready to die defending “African Culture”, have now turned a woman’s “brief” dress into an object of serious engagement. This mini business just won’t go away.

Same with homosexuality. The Bill, which has had Mr Museveni waffling but eventually going with the majority for political expediency, has Ugandans talking and searching on the web same-sex this and that like never before. That is a plus.

In any event, good lawyers out there need to round up all these despicable laws and challenge them all the way to the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights. It would help, however, if, first, someone became a martyr. I am thinking that if just one of the 30-or-so MPs said to be lesbian, gay, or bi-sexual came out, that would mean the end of a political career. Crucially, it would mark the start of something really important in our country.

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