Africa Matters is a blog that follows the news and offers analysis of African affairs. Our aim is to delve deeper into the issues of African politics and development. We don’t presume to be experts, and we don’t presume to have all the answers—we are just trying to ask the right questions.

Tuesday, January 5

Uganda's Anti-homosexuality Bill, 2009

Andrew Sullivan, on his Atlantic blog The Daily Dish, pointed yesterday to the NYT's a-bit-slow-on-the-uptake account of Uganda's pending anti-gay legislation. The proposed law, the Anti-homosexuality Bill, 2009, introduced in Parliament following a conference last March addressing the "gay agenda," held by three American evangelical activists, could impose the death penalty for "aggravated homosexuality," plus other penalties, such as seven years' imprisonment for "aiding and abating [sic] homosexuality." Of course, the typo in the latter offense unintentionally alters its meaning quite a bit, and may in fact prove problematic for the bill's proponents themselves—a lesson, folks, on why proof-reading is not to be taken lightly.

Sullivan points out, not without reason, that "What's fascinating is that the rhetoric the Christianists use is the same in Africa as it is in America, but in Africa, the public consensus is so anti-gay already that the consequences of this demonization are felt much more immediately and brutally." It's certainly true that Uganda is, on the whole, a more conservative country than the U.S. is, and evangelical Christianity, as in much of sub-Saharan Africa, has become a juggernaut movement there, one which only seems to build momentum; it's also true that homophobia is widespread. On the other hand, I think that there's a real possibility this bill could become law is probably less an indication of Ugandans' extremism, or susceptibility to the rhetoric of extremism, than it is an indication of the weakness of Uganda's political and legal institutions. Undoubtedly, the crazed zealotry of political theater is as popular in the States as it is in Uganda, and the stage is often as dominated by fringe fanatics—really, whom are we kidding? But that this bill is being taken seriously in Uganda (when it would never be in the U.S.), I think, is not so much a sign of a deep and pervasive hatred of homosexuals amongst Uganda's population as a whole, but rather a testament to the Parliament's vulnerability to being overrun by extremists (U.S. House of Representatives, anyone?), but without any check on their power, and with an utter lack of the open political discourse and independent news media needed to judge them objectively.

The real sin in all of this is committed by the American preachers who bankroll—financially and spiritually—Uganda's anti-gay bigotry, and then, under public pressure at home, avert their eyes and disavow the movement they incited. Sullivan writes:

If a movement is "evil" and trying to "defeat" all families, as evangelicals claim of gays (and Nazis and Communists said of gays), then of course some already predisposed against gays would believe it is essential to identify, round up, forcibly cure or execute this foul threat from within. And yet the Americans now claim they are shocked, shocked! by the results of their strategy.
Indeed, David Bahati and the other supporters of this bill are simply following the lead of Scott Lively, Caleb Lee Brundidge, and Don Schmierer, the three Americans who organized the March event—and doing so more honestly than these leaders themselves. Sullivan asks of these three men: "Why are these Christianists not following God's literal truth? Or now that they have unleashed a proto-fascist pogrom against gay, bi and trans people in Africa, have they finally come to terms with the actual consequences of what they actually believe?"

I think probably not. Jeffrey Gettleman, in the Times, quotes Don Schmierer:
“I feel duped,” Mr. Schmierer said, arguing that he had been invited to speak on “parenting skills” for families with gay children. He acknowledged telling audiences how homosexuals could be converted into heterosexuals, but he said he had no idea some Ugandans were contemplating the death penalty for homosexuality.
As I write above, though, I think it's important to keep in perspective, as we do at home, that the voices of a few, as loud as they may be, and even as close as they may be to effecting real policies with tragic consequences, still do not necessarily represent the views of the many. Sullivan points readers to the NYT article's multimedia component, which is definitely worth a visit. In particular, listen to the interview with Haj Medih, a Muslim taxi driver. He says:
I'm telling you, these people are not bad. They are not bad. ... All of us, we are going to die, and we are going to face—our what?—our god, who put us in this country, or in this world. So, if somebody tells that, I'm gay, or I'm homosexual, you leave him—until the day he will die. And he, on the day of the Judgment, he will face, face-to-face, to his god, or to his Allah. But why are you—want to punish somebody? You are not a god. Eh? You are not a god. So why are you telling somebody that I'm going to punish you—or to kill you. Do you know how to make people, to put them in this world? Are you the One? Are you the One? And I'm telling you, the president can come and say, "Okay, let us leave that—let us throw that bill in the dustbin."

13 comments:

Border Jumpers said...

Just fyi -- we wrote a column yesterday about the battle for gay rights in Uganda and Malawi on our website Border Jumpers called "Human Rights Battle in Uganda Hits Close to Home" at www.borderjumpers.org.
Here it is @ http://borderjumpers1.blogspot.com/2010/01/human-rights-battle-in-uganda-hits.html
Uganda, like most of the countries in Africa, is full of contradictions.
While everyone we met in Uganda was friendly and helpful, going out of their way to assist us when we needed directions, a Wifi hotspot, or a place to find vegetarian food, the country also has some of the most restrictive laws against human rights on the continent. While we were there, the "Bahati Bill" was introduced in parliament. The Bahati called for life in prison -- and in some case the death penalty -- for people found “guilty” of homosexual activity.
As gay marriage laws are passed around the world, including most recently in Mexico City, it's hard to believe that lawmakers would punish people for being gay or having HIV/AIDS. The Bahati bill also punishes anyone who fails to report a homosexual act committed by others with up to three years in jail, and a prison sentence of up to seven years for anyone who defends the rights of gays and lesbians.
Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni, due to mounting pressure from governments such as the United States, across Europe, and in Canada, said that he opposes the measure, and would attempt to try and soften the bill. According to a recent story in Reuters, “the president has been quoted in local media saying homosexuality is a Western import, joining continental religious leaders who believe it is un-African.” With a national election looming in 2012, politicians seem to be using hatred against gays as a scapegoat for rising corruption and the weakening of civil liberties and freedom of the press.
Yet, even the possibility that a watered-down version of the proposed law could be passed, is an alarming sign of a dangerous trend of prejudice all over Africa. In Blantyre, Malawi, for example, a gay couple was arrested last week after having a traditional engagement ceremony. Homosexuality is punishable by 14 years in jail in Malawi
However, human rights advocates continue to fight. In Latin America, they hope that the success of legalized marriage in Mexico City will spread to Argentina, Venezuela, Chile, and other places. Uruguay permits gay parents to adopt and Columbia grants social security rights to same sex couples.
In the United States, gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, and transgender rights is one of the most import civil and human rights battles we currently face. Despite recent setbacks in California, New York, and Maine -- recent success in places like Iowa, DC, and New Hampshire -- means that during next decade the battlefield for LGBT rights is not only in Africa but also right here at home.
All our best, Danielle Nierenberg and Bernard Pollack

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