What you need to know:
- President launches a diplomatic charm offensive, arguing that the West’s uproar and actions over the Anti-Homosexuality Act that he signed into law on May 26, were premised on distortions and misrepresentations and not facts.
President Museveni has told the outgoing United States Ambassador Natalie Brown that the West’s backlash against Uganda over the anti-homosexuality law is unjustified and based on distortion and misrepresentation of facts.
In a lengthy meeting on Tuesday attended by Ambassador Adonia Ayebare, Uganda’s permanent representative to the United Nations, Mr Museveni clarified that contrary to popular claims by western leaders and pro-gay activists, the law that he signed does not criminalise an individual for simply being gay or lesbian.
Rather, he noted, the Anti-Homosexuality Act, 2023 forbids recruitment by homosexual(s) of non-gay persons into homosexuality, exhibitionism and promotion of the sexual orientation and performing homosexual sex on another person.
The US Embassy in Kampala confirmed the meeting between President Museveni and Ambassador Brown happened, but declined to discuss the details.
“We do not comment on the substance of diplomatic conversations,” said Ms Ellen Masi, the public affairs officer.
She added: “With the enactment of the Anti-Homosexuality Act (AHA), the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex (LGBTQI)+ community will be further marginalised, and decades of gains - and Uganda’s reputation as a regional leader in health - will be lost. The mere passage of the law by Parliament resulted in an increase of harassment and violence targeted toward the LGBTQI+ community, and we are concerned this will only get worse.”
Like the political executives in Washington and western capital who have deployed similar lines, Ms Masi did not provide cases or statistics to substantiate the claims of rising victimisation of gays and lesbians.
Ambassador Ayebare neither confirmed nor denied the interface. “No comment,” he said when asked about what the two leaders discussed at State House Entebbe.
According to western diplomatic source briefed on the Tuesday meeting, the President dismissed claims that the law will inhibit medical care or access for homosexuals, who are likely to involuntarily go underground, as untrue because no provision prevents a health worker from treating any patient.
Mr Museveni reportedly wondered if Ambassador Brown had herself read the law and if representations of the provisions by the US government and other western leaders were accurate.
In response, one source noted, the envoy said she had read the law but argued that foreign governments’ take on the legislation was not based on its text alone, but takes into account broader public proclamations by Ugandan officials that the law criminalises same-sex relations.
Ambassador Brown reportedly raised concern that individuals who supply condoms and lubricants for gays and lesbians are worried that law enforcement could, with the signing of the Act, go after them.
She reportedly took issue with Health Minister Jane Aceng, who was not in the meeting, saying her disposition on the matter of homosexuality was likely to reverse years of gains in healthcare and particularly HIV/Aids treatment, largely supported by development partners.
Washington gives Uganda nearly $1b (Shs3.7 trillion) a year, with the bigger chunk going to health, security, and agriculture.
Three days after President Museveni signed the anti-gay law on May 26, US President Joe Biden in a statement described the legislation as a “tragic violation” of universal human rights and called for its repeal.
“Innocent Ugandans now fear going to hospitals, clinics, or other establishments to receive life-saving medical care lest they be targeted by hateful reprisals. Some have been evicted from their homes or fired from their jobs,” he noted, without providing supporting evidence.
Mr Biden directed the National Security Council to evaluate the implications of the law on all aspects of Washington’s engagement with Uganda, including the country’s eligibility for the decades-old Africa Growth Opportunity Act and the US President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief (PEPFAR).
Hours later, Secretary of State Antony Blinken in a statement on the same day said the law undermined the “human rights, prosperity and welfare” of Ugandans and announced that they would explore mechanism to support LGBTQI+ individuals in the country.
Mr Blinken directed a Uganda travel advisory for US citizens and business be issued and tasked staff he supervises at the Department of State to consider “deploying existing visa restrictions tools against Ugandan officials and other individuals for abuse of universal human rights …”
It emerged that a fortnight before the threats by the American political executives, the US embassy in Kampala had on May 12 revoked a visa to Ms Anita Among, the speaker of the Parliament of Uganda, who was a vocal proponent of the legislation.
Ms Among has since revealed that she endured limitless bullying by foreign governments, gay groups and activists during the processing of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, 2023 by the House which enacted it first in March and, again on May 2, after President Museveni returned the original version for reconsideration.
Among changes the lawmakers made were removing provisions mandating reporting homosexuals to law enforcement and a ban on landlords not to rent to gays and lesbians, alterations western diplomats knowledgeable about the matter told this newspaper followed President Museveni’s telephone conversation with a World Bank vice president.
Uganda is awaiting either disbursement or approval by the World Bank of several millions of dollars for various programmes including infrastructure and human capital development.
The anti-gay law has been condemned from London to Brussels to Ottawa in the northern hemisphere, but received affirmation from different leaders and countries including in Kenya where Muslims staged a march in its endorsement.
The issue of homosexuality has polarised most countries in Africa and the Middle East and the western bloc, partly explained by cultural differences and a perception of sexual orientation being a preference that dissenters accuse the West of seeking to impose on all as a right.
This newspaper understands that Uganda’s anti-gay law has riled Washington because President Museveni signed it despite Biden’s demands to him in a “polite but firm” letter against enactment of the legislation.
At the Tuesday meeting, the Ugandan leader reportedly told US Ambassador Brown that a resort by the West to threats of aid cuts and travel restrictions are unhelpful and counter-productive and should stop or else Uganda will take action he did not specify.
Washington lists Uganda on the Department of State website as a “key” ally, with engagement, among others, spanning regional politics and security.
Uganda is the longest and largest troop contributor to the African Union Transition Mission in Somalia (ATMIS), re-baptised so from Amisom, which the US supports with technical and intelligence capabilities as well as periodic targeted airstrikes on commanders or fighters of the al-Shabaab, an affiliate of al-Qaeda’s global terror network.
The deployment of the UPDF - later joined by Kenyan, Burundian and Djiboutian troops - resulted in the expulsion of the militants from the capital Mogadishu and pacification of most of Somalia, leading to resumption of vibrant life and local and international businesses.
Control of vital security installations, coastal areas and water ways by the foreign forces and Somali National Army have diminished then frequent incidents of pirates seizing oil tankers and commercial vessels off Somalia’s coast, choking international trade dominated by western nations and companies.
The success of the 26,000-strong African Union Peace-keeping Mission before it was renamed ATMIS contrasts with the early 1990s ignominy when Somali fighters downed a helicopter carrying US Special Forces and dragged bodies of the dead victims on Mogadishu streets --- in what infamously became known as the Black Hawk incident.
Uganda’s military is also bilaterally and multilaterally involved in efforts to pacify the mineral-rich but restive eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, home to more than 100 rebel and militia groups including the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), which the US has designated as a terrorist group.
There are concerns among security analysts and scholars that a sudden disengagement of an involved military from regional security missions could plunge expansive vulnerable stretches of the Great Lakes Region and the Horn of Africa into chaos, which could breed terrorists to strike anywhere in the world.
President Museveni in the early days of Ambassador Brown’s tour of duty in Uganda briefed her that anarchy in eastern DRC could spill across the border, risking a regional conflagration of the conflict.
This briefing preceded Uganda’s deployment of troops, with Kinshasa’s consent, in North Kivu province in an inter-state counter-offensive named Operation Shujaah for which President Museveni in his State-of-the-Nation Address yesterday gave a flowery report card.
He listed the killings, capture and surrender of hundreds of ADF fighters since November 2021 in an account that putting UPDF boots on the ground is paying off.
The President in the final part of his address yesterday, which this newspaper understands was added following his Tuesday meeting, dealt with what he had told Ambassador Brown the day before were misconceptions and misrepresentations about the anti-gay law.
Homosexuals, he said during the State House meeting, have existed in African and Ugandan societies for millennia but they were not celebrated and instead frowned upon as deviants, a branding he yesterday recalibrated to “psychologically disoriented”.
Mr Museveni said conclusions by scientists he consulted in Uganda and 22 other countries that homosexuality was not a result of genetic predisposition, persuaded him that homosexuals who abandon the practice can be reformed, which is why the new law prescribes for them assistance and not punishment.
“If somebody is a victim of psychological disorientation, do you criminalise him or her on account of that? Is it logical or fair to do so? The answer is: ‘No’,” he noted.
In an echo of what he told US Ambassador Brown on Tuesday, including that he plans a televised address to explain the law to expose the false claims by its opponents, the President told Parliament which sat at Kololo Ceremonial Grounds in Kampala that:
“The three substantive points [of the law] are; being [homosexual] is your personal problem; promoting [it] is criminal and qualifies you for prison; and, [a homosexual] raping [a child or vulnerable person] qualifies you for a possible death sentence.”
How UK, EU reacted
The United Kingdom Development Minister said the Anti-Homosexulaity Act, 2023 “undermines the protection and freedoms of all Ugandans” while the law contravened international human rights law, according to European Union (EU) High Representative Joseph Borrell.
Mr Borrell noted that “Uganda government has an obligation to protect all of its citizens and uphold their basic rights.”
“Failure to do so will undermine relations with [the] international partners,” Mr Borrell noted.
The EU provides the largest bilateral support to Uganda, investing in road and rail infrastructure, agriculture, democracy, good governance and human rights as well as picking the bills for Ugandan troops deployed to pacify Somalia.
Museveni explains Anti-Homosexuality law
“Those who say that the homosexuals will be arrested if they go for medical care etc., are wrong. The law now says that a homosexual will not be criminalised for merely being so, if he/she keeps the being to oneself. What, then, does the law fight? It fights this homosexual when he/she goes from merely being and starts recruiting other people who are not psychologically disoriented like him or her to be like him by misinforming or bribing etc. There, he becomes a criminal and, if convicted, goes to prison for a period not exceeding 20 years. If he goes further and rapes a person (child, indigent, etc.), he commits a capital offence and he faces a maximum sentence of death.
This is the law I signed. These are the three substantive points; being, is your personal problem; promoting is criminal and qualifies you for prison; and, raping qualifies you for a possible death sentence. Additionally, in Uganda, sex is confidential, even heterosexual sex. Therefore, if a homosexual keeps his being to himself or confidentially seeks assistance from the doctors or priests, it will not offend this law. I have told our Members of Parliament (MPs) that if there are still some illogicalities in the law, such as forcing employers to know who is a homosexual in the company or landlords to know which tenants are homosexuals, we shall work to amend them and keep the substance.
Therefore, doctors and other health providers, should assist those patients who come to them bearing the three substantive points in mind. I will arrange a dedicated broadcast on this issue towards the end of June.”