Uganda 2014: The Year The World Lost Its Head

Sophia Carter
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As 2014 draws closer to the start of 2015, it’s time to sit down and reflect on issues affecting the LGBT+ community when the press conferences, photographs and social media talk stops. In Uganda we all remember the passing of the anti-LGBT+ law and then its subsequent overturning on a technicality.

However, as of today, 4 November 2014, Ugandan lawmakers are seeking to reintroduce this law. Ssebaggala and several other legislators, including Vice President Edward Ssekandi, have been meeting since August to ‘fast track’ the bill and reinstate this homophobic legislation into Uganda.

Firstly we must examine why is it that humankind is so intent on the concentrated destruction of minority groups. Perhaps in the times of the cavemen we may have considered this acceptable – but in today’s modern world how can this still be happening? The fallout from the anti-homosexuality law passed in Uganda in February 2014 sent shockwaves throughout the globe and caused an international debate on the morality of such laws. This led to the eventual rejection of the bill on 1 August 2014.

So where did all of this begin? The LGBT+ community in Uganda began to feel the backlash of homophobic views when a recommendation from a section of the women’s movement urged the proposed equal opportunities commission to address the rights of homosexuals as members of a marginalised social group.  This could be argued as the trigger for the anti-homosexuality bill that was first drafted in 2009. The barbaric death of David Kato in 2011, who was bludgeoned to death in his home after a newspaper similar printed details of his address (and other homosexuals in Uganda), demonstrates the country’s rapid descent into homophobic fervour.

There would appear to be three main factors that are decisive in the overwhelmingly homophobic society of Uganda: Social Exchange Theory, construction of the family and society’s morals.

Interestingly enough, as much as the majority of the Ugandan population would like you to believe they are committed to heterosexual relationships as opposed to homosexual relationships which are deemed as ‘deviant’ or ‘adverse’, the country has a long, deep-rooted history of homosexuality that even predates colonialism (Murray and Roscoe 1998). I will list below some of the main research that has been found:

– The Langi people of northern Uganda treated ‘males’ as females and they were allowed to marry men. (Driberg 1923).

– Among the Iteso people homosexuality was acknowledged. (Laurance 1957).

Homosexuality was also acknowledged among the:

– Bahima people (Mushanga 1973).

– Banyoro people (Needham 1973).

– Baganda people (Southwold 1973).

In fact there is a huge history of homosexuality during the Buganda monarchy – King Kabaka Mwanga was known to be gay (Faupel 1962).

However despite the country’s clear history of homosexuality, President Yoweri Museveni not only passed the bill, but continued on his rampage against the LGBT+ community by implying that homosexuality is imported from the West and that Westerners are trying to ‘recruit’ young African men and women. The best part of this? Uganda welcomed with open arms three evangelical ministers into the country to give a series of talks on homosexuality and the ‘the gay agenda – the whole dark and hidden agenda’.

Their talks were listened to over the radio and reported in magazines and papers condemning the LGBT+ movement by calling it an ‘evil institution’. The three ministers were Scott Lively, a ‘missionary’ and author who wrote ‘7 Steps to Recruit-Proof Your Child’; Caleb Lee Brundidge, who proclaims he was a former gay man and offers ‘healing seminars’; and Don Schmierer, who is a board member of Exodus International and preaches ‘mobilizing the body of Christ to minister grace and truth to a world impacted by homosexuality’. However, after they realised Uganda’s plan to introduce a death penalty, they dropped their things and ran – claiming they didn’t expect it would go that far.

Sylvia Tamale raises a very good point on the irony of the country’s opposition to the apparent recruitment drive by the West, this being the Judeo-Christian and Arabic religions Ugandans have imported themselves to use in society for their ‘guidance’.

When this bill was passed, the Secretary General of the UN called for a revision of Ugandan law, stating that it would ‘fuel prejudice and encourage harassment’.

Police spokesperson Patrick Onyango claimed that as a result no arrests were made since the bill was passed, although two had been taken into custody. The gay activist Onziema refuted this by claiming that there were at least  six arrests and more than a dozen LGBT+ members had fled the country since December 2013. As Jacqueline Kasha stated ‘the media witch hunt is back’.

This leaves us with the question: Will things ever change? Will the law be passed again? This depends on the unity of countries around the globe. In 2011, when the UK ‘cut’ funding to Uganda, they only cut funding to certain parts of Uganda and then increased it to other parts of the country – therefore giving Uganda no loss of funding. Arguably this allows Uganda to do as they please, seeing as they know although there will be some backlash, the sanctions will be relatively meaningless.

As the Ugandan minister of ethics and integrity put it: ‘homosexuals can forget about human rights’.

The problem with cutting funding means the people who need it, such as LGBT+ organisations, will also suffer – and will most likely suffer more than other organisations who might find alternative funding elsewhere. And so the LGBT+ struggle in Uganda continues. If we provide the funding, however, the implications could be astronomical. Funding provided to activist and Professor Sylvia Tamale to ‘facilitate’ her work, caused the government to become enraged by the seemingly campaign-driven motive of the west. This could lead to further anti-queer laws being passed.

The matter of fact is that this issue will continue in a vicious cycle for a long time to come, with violence a more likely response than diplomacy. Patience Akuna, a human rights lawyer and winner of the David Astor Journalism Prize, believes that even after the anti-LGBT+ law was overturned, homosexuality might be used as a political tool for a very long time.

‘What do you think Museveni will say in 2021 when he wants to stand for the seventh time?’ she asks. ‘He’s going to pull out the anti-gay law. He will hold it over Ugandans forever.’

The future for Ugandan LGBT+ rights will remain a bleak one and a constant fight for equality. No matter the outcome,I would hope that asylum is given to LGBT+ Ugandans who arrive here, where they might continue their work in safety, and perhaps start the long road to change.  This year has seen the disgusting treatment of the LGBT+ community in countries like Russia and Uganda, so how can we change 2015? It’s all about unity and continued exposure. It’s about shouting as loud as we all can until someone is forced to listen.

So brothers and sisters, lets make 2015 something to remember.

About Sophia Carter

Sophia is a poet and writer based in Birmingham with a passion for LGBT issues, food, fashion and literature, keen blogger and lover of cats.