East Africa

Persecuting Uganda’s LGBT People Must Have Consequences: Target the Culprits Not the Population

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When they passed the Anti-Homosexuality Bill last December, Uganda’s legislators, or rather a rump of them, officially thanked the Parliament’s Speaker Rebecca Kadaga. Two months later President Yoweri Museveni signed the Bill into law on February 24th, and sealed a bleak future for Uganda’s already persecuted LGBT people: harsh prison sentences up to life for consensual homosexual acts between adults, violence in their communities, the removal of association rights, prison for anyone shielding gay people, blackmail, hostility and invisibility in society, particularly worryingly in the area of healthcare. The Anti-Homosexuality Law has been likened to some of the worst laws passed by the Nazis and South Africa’s Apartheid regime, and with good reason.

The response from American and European governments has been strong on words, but with little action. Only the Netherlands, Denmark and Norway have indicated that they would change their aid policy towards Uganda, but the news last week that the World Bank has postponed a loan intended for healthcare projects, because the passing of the law, amongst its many violations, discriminates against LGBT people in terms of access to health information and treatment, may mean that other major donors will review their policies.

Targeting the poor of Uganda with aid cuts could be counter-productive and morally dubious. Targeting the sponsors of the Bill and its extra-Parliamentary flag-wavers by imposing travel bans and asset freezing would hurt only those individuals in a way that doesn’t disturb the population at large. No more invitations to conferences and junkets; no more participation in U.S. or European sponsored programs in Uganda itself and elsewhere; it’s the least they deserve for what amounts to the attempted annihilation of Uganda’s LGBT community.

To help this process, here’s a list of the principal culprits for governments and regional bodies like the European Union to ponder.

Rebecca Kadaga, as speaker of the Ugandan Parliament, was instrumental in smoothing the Bill’s passage through the legislature in December — even though the Prime Minister claimed that not enough MPs were present to make a quorum. In 2012 she had said that the Bill would be passed as a “Christmas present” for the Ugandan people. In the same year she chaired a conference session on human rights in the UK Parliament.

David Bahati, member of the Ugandan Parliament, is LGBT public enemy number one, having proposed the bill in 2009, originally demanding the death penalty for “aggravated homosexuality.” He didn’t get his way on that, but after the Bill passed, he was quoted as saying: “I am glad the parliament has voted against evil. Because we are a God-fearing nation, we value life in a holistic way, ” which presumably doesn’t include the lives of LGBT people.

Simon Lokodo, minister of ethics and integrity, is the most grotesque figure in this rogues’ gallery. He’s been active in trying to close down LGBT organizations but is most famous for his flamboyantly absurd homophobic statements, having gone on record to say that the rape of under-age girls by men is the “natural” way and more acceptable than homosexuality: I shudder for the nation’s ethics and integrity.

James Nsaba Buturo, who preceded Lokodo at the Ministry of Ethics and Integrity, has been one of the Bill’s most vocal supporters. A pen pal of U.S. evangelical Scott Lively, he’s a great conspiracy theorist, having accused the United Nations of a surreptitious mission to “smuggle in provisions on homosexuality” behind Uganda’s collective back.

Stephen Tashobya, chair of the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee, spearheaded the report on the Anti-Homosexuality Bill for the Parliament, on the findings of which the Bill was passed.

Pastor Martin Ssempa of the Makerere Christian Centre, is well known for his motivational lectures against homosexuality and was heavily involved in agitating for more draconian anti-gay laws. He’s even gone on Ugandan television to demonstrate the nitty-gritty of gay sex with a banana and cucumber. He divides his time between Kampala and the U.S.

Pastor Solomon Male of the Coalition for Advancement of Moral Values (CAMOVA), perversely having been one of the strongest religious voices in favor of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, changed his mind after it passed, saying that it didn’t go far enough.

The staff of the tabloid Red Pepper: Richard Tusiime, Chief Executive Officer, Arinaitwe Rugyendo, Chief Marketing Officer, James Mujuni, Chief Commercial Officer, Patrick Mugumya, Chief Operations Officer, Johnson Musinguzi, Chief Finance Officer, Ben Byarabaha, News Editor, Gazzaman Kodili, Deputy News Editor. The tabloid is known for its aggressively homophobic stance. In fact, without media outlets like it, the violently anti-gay attitudes found in Uganda today might never have emerged. For example, the day after Museveni signed the Bill into law, it published the names of Uganda’s “200 top homosexuals.”

Last but by no means least, Giles Muhame, editor-in-chief of Chimp Reports, has the distinction of being the first to publish lists of LGBT people under the headline “Hang Them,” when he edited the since defunct Rolling Stone tabloid. Included was the name of gay activist David Kato, who was murdered shortly after winning a court battle with the newspaper in early 2011. Muhame said then he had no regrets.

Of course Museveni should be on the list, but as head of state there’s an issue of immunity. The scientists behind the controversial report on the innateness of homosexuality, on which Museveni based his decision to sign, might have made the list too were it not for the fact that several now say their findings were misrepresented and distorted by government press releases. Many of these other characters, like Bahati, Muhame and the staff of Red Pepper, use social media to peddle their penny’s worth of anti-gay propaganda, which should be turned against them. Every means should be used to counter the hate-speak that has overtaken Uganda. But it’s up to the U.S. and Europe’s governments to deny visas, freeze assets and revoke invitations to the people behind this cruel law. If they don’t want to appear timid in the face of Uganda’s brutal persecution of its LGBT minority, Obama, Kerry and other leading politicians must do more than talk.

Follow Kevin Childs on Twitter: www.twitter.com/KevinChilds101

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