What you need to know:
- This is after the popstar-turned-politician said lawmakers from his NUP party who supported the legislation, “work with General Museveni”
Uganda’s Opposition politician Robert Kyagulanyi has come under fire at home for claiming to the British public broadcaster that President Museveni orchestrated the enactment of the anti-gay law to target him.
The popstar-turned-politician, who is widely known by the stage name Bob Wine, said lawmakers from his National Unity Platform (NUP) party who supported the legislation, “work with General Museveni”.
“I want … to mention that this law, General Museveni didn’t bring it in the interest of the people of Uganda. But it was brought to target the Opposition, including myself, knowing that he can use it to crackdown on anybody that is perceived to be friendly to that (gay) community,” Bobi Wine said in a rejoinder to the interviewer’s comment about the provision of death sentence in the law.
Asked, “Your party, the National (Unity) Platform voted in favour of the law in its entirety”, Bobi Wine said, “Sure! In my party I have Members of Parliament that are working with General Museveni”.
He tendered no evidence to substantiate his claims and did not name any of the lawmakers he accused of being two-faced.
Bobi Wine made the comments to the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) on November 29 during his first visit to London, a decade after the British government barred him for his less-than-charitable views about homosexuals.
In Kampala, the Opposition Justice Forum (JEEMA) party whose leader Asuman Basalirwa sponsored the anti-gay legislation, seized on the remarks to call Bobi Wine to order and asked him not to “demonise his [Opposition] colleagues”.
“You are aware the anti-homosexuality law was brought by Hon Asuman Basalirwa, the president of the Justice Forum (JEEMA party), and it was in line with what we believe in as JEEMA. This law was overwhelmingly supported by the whole House, [including] NUP MPs who risked their lives to protect our cultural and religious values,” JEEMA Secretary General Mohamed Kateregga noted in a December 4 protest letter.
The letter is addressed to Bobi Wine, whom we were unable to reach for this article, and in it, Mr Kateregga registered their “deep concern and disappointment regarding the accusations you made against your colleagues and Members of Parliament from the Opposition.”
“Your response in which you accused these dedicated individuals of betrayal, have deeply troubled members, who are seeking to see a change of leadership in our country,” the letter reads in part.
JEEMA said whereas Bobi Wine has a right to support homosexuality, he should do so without demonising compatriots.
“We call upon you to retract your accusations and demonstrate your commitment to fostering a culture of respect and cooperation with fellow leaders,” Mr Kateregga added.
It remained unclear if Bobi Wine, who posted on his Facebook page that he was headed from London to Los Angeles and New York, both American cities, had received or responded to the letter.
Homosexuality is a touchy subject for Ugandans, more so politicians and the elite, because it is unpopular among majority citizens yet disapproving comments about it risk individual exposure to scholarship denials, travel bans and visa restrictions by Western powers, leaving many in a Catch-22 situation.
That quandary was manifest for Bobi Wine during last week’s interview with the BBC. Asked if he would repeal the Anti-Homosexuality Act if he became President of Uganda, he said “I will be very cautious”.
‘Targeting the Opposition’
He did not also directly answer the question on whether he supported or opposed the law, and instead said “it was brought targeting the Opposition and that means that anything that I say about the law puts not only me, but my loved ones, in harm’s way”.
The ambiguity was a walk back for a man who in the past sang songs whose lyrics critics characterised as homophobic, resulting in the UK travel ban.
Bobi Wine struck a nuanced tone in the interview when asked about his past stance.
“I have always mentioned that I am a product of very many second chances and I wanna be known as a leader that is respectful and inclusive for everybody. Of course, now, the same thing I am tussling out with (Uganda’s President) General (Yoweri) Museveni, who deliberately sponsored [the anti-gay law…,” he said in the BBC interview.
In Uganda, officials of the ruling NRM party, whose national chairman is Mr Museveni, some state agents and ordinary netizens widely shared clips of the BBC interview, vilifying the NUP leader in their comments as a turncoat.
Bobi Wine’s excoriation of MPs subscribing to his own party over their support for the anti-gay law and his claim that Mr Museveni was behind enactment of the Bill sponsored in Parliament by another Opposition leader, prompted JEEMA to demand he apologise.
Bobi Wine in a maiden run for president in 2021 came second after the incumbent Museveni and his NUP gained majority Opposition parliamentary seats, giving him and the party the latitude to name the Leader of the Opposition in Parliament and pick shadow Cabinet members, which requires cross-party cooperation.
Uganda’s 529-member Parliament overwhelmingly enacted the Anti-Homosexuality Act, as the law is formally called, in May from a Bill tabled by Mr Basalirwa, the MP for Bugiri Municipality. He and Parliament Speaker Anita Among later said they endured a lot of pressure and threats from individuals and camps opposed to the then draft legislation.
A first version of the Act that MPs passed earlier in the year criminalising homosexuality and obligating landlords and employers to report homosexual tenants and employers to law enforcement, was revised on the insistence of President Museveni.
The amended version does not criminalise or punish a person for simply being gay, lesbian or bisexual, but criminsalises the act or practice of homosexuality and as well retains death penalty as the maximum sentence for those convicted of aggravated homosexuality.
Aggravated homosexuality is defined in the law as the offence of homosexuality where the victim is below 14 years or above 75, a person living with disability or mental illness, or where a person contracts an illness with no scientific cure, or the convict is a parent, guardian or a serial offender.
Uganda’s enactment of the Anti-Homosexuality Act touched off the ire of the West, with the US taking the country off its African Growth Opportunity Act (Agoa), a preferential tax and quota-free trading arrangement, while condemnation flooded from the UK to Canada and the European Union.
The Biden administration imposed additional visa restrictions on unnamed Ugandans on Monday, this week, citing the anti-gay law and other rights breaches. The constitutionality of the law is currently being challenged at the Constitutional Court.
What Bobi Wine told the BBC about Uganda’s anti-gay law
You have been allowed in this country in nearly a decade because of your lyrics you wrote when you were younger. What has changed? Why have you been allowed in?
Well! I wrote the lyrics and I sang [the song] and take the responsibility [for it].
These were homophobic lyrics suggesting that gay people should be fought, should be beaten. Do you regret those lyrics?
Certainly, we grow, we transform. I have always mentioned that I am a product of very many second chances and I wanna be known as a leader that is respectful and inclusive for everybody. Of course, now, the same thing I am tussling out with (Uganda’s President) General (Yoweri) Museveni, who deliberately sponsored, now the law that…
The Anti-homosexuality Act [is] one of the strongest [legislations] that give some gay people the sentence to death penalty.
Definitely, I want also to mention that this law, General Museveni didn’t bring it in the interest of the people of Uganda. But it was brought to target the opposition including myself, knowing that he can use it to crackdown on anybody that is perceived to be friendly to that community.
But, let me just [ask you] about this. Your party, the National (Unity) Platform voted in favour of the law in its entirety.
Sure! In my party I have Members of Parliament that are working with General Museveni.
What is your view of this Anti-Homosexuality [Act]? You said it was introduced … to get [at] the Opposition. Do you support it or you oppose it?
It was brought targeting the Opposition and that means that anything that I say about the law puts not only me, but my loved ones, in harm’s way. That is why.
[Is] it why you refrain from taking a position? If I ask you. If you become a President [of Uganda], would you repeal that law?
I will be very cautious because I know it largely targets us as the Opposition, mainly myself.
Excerpts of Bobi Wine’s November 29, 2023 BBC interview