Saving Uganda From Sin - Increased Activism
Thirty-eight of fifty-three African nations criminalise homosexuality in some way. In sub-Saharan Africa, the government of South Africa is the only official entity to acknowledge gay rights.
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First published: June 9, 2011
There has been a lot of activism relating to homosexuality and gay rights in Uganda in recent times. At the heart of the matter is whether homosexuality is a natural behavior or one that is learned.
According to human rights organisations, about 500,000 homosexuals live in Uganda out of a total population of 31 million. Existing laws criminalise homosexual behavior with prison sentences lasting up to 14 years. These laws are remnants of British colonialism designed to punish what colonial authorities deemed "unnatural sex" among local Ugandan people. Although many societies in Africa and elsewhere view homosexuality as a decadent practice imported by outsiders, it existed before European colonization, often varying in practice depending on individual cultures. In some, male homosexuality was age-stratified, similar to ancient Sparta and Athens where warriors purchased boys as brides, common when women were not available, or manifested as fleeting encounters as in prostitution.
Despite this past, colonial influence has been pervasive; according to a reporter in Africa, "Africans see homosexuality as being both un-African and un-Christian". Thirty-eight of fifty-three African nations criminalise homosexuality in some way. In sub-Saharan Africa, the government of South Africa is the only official entity to acknowledge gay rights, but even there curative rape is often used against men and women (such as in the murder of Eudy Simelane), and sometimes met with police inaction and apathy. Like the conditions in many other African nations, gays in Uganda currently face an atmosphere of physical abuse, vandalism to their property, blackmail, death threats, and "correctional rape".
From 5 to 8 March 2009, a workshop took place in Kampala, the capital of Uganda, that featured three American evangelical Christians: Scott Lively, an author who has written several books opposing homosexuality; Caleb Lee Brundidge, a self-professed former gay man who conducts sessions to heal homosexuality; and Don Schmierer, a board member of Exodus International, an organisation devoted to promoting "freedom from homosexuality through the power of Jesus Christ". The theme of the conference, according to The New York Times, was the "gay agenda": "how to make gay people straight, how gay men often sodomized teenage boys and how 'the gay movement is an evil institution' whose goal is 'to defeat the marriage-based society and replace it with a culture of sexual promiscuity' ". An Anglican priest from Zambia named Kapya Kaoma was in attendance, and reported on the conference. Ugandan Stephen Langa organised it, and was supported by Lively, who asserted in his workshops that homosexuality was akin to child molestation and bestiality, and causes higher rates of divorce and HIV transmission. Lively's emphasis was on the cohesion of the African family, that he said was being threatened by homosexuals looking to recruit youth into their ranks. According to Kaoma, during the conference, one of the thousands of Ugandans in attendance announced, "[The parliament] feels it is necessary to draft a new law that deals comprehensively with the issue of homosexuality and...takes into account the international gay agenda... Right now there is a proposal that a new law be drafted."
Uganda Anti-Homosexuality Bill [Wikipedia]
Scott Lively, Father of Uganda's "Pro-Family" Movement
Those against homosexuality and gay rights have accused foreign countries of inducing Ugandans with money to join homosexuality, and of recruiting children to become homosexuals. Gay rights activists have played down these allegations, insisting that homosexuality is a natural behavior and stating that the fact that few people feel attracted to people of the same sex doesn't make them less human. But as the debates continue on the issue, there doesn’t seem to be more understanding on the issue of homosexuality, despite the increasing controversies from either sides of the coin.
The almost taboo topic in the country is now widely debated, especially after increased calls for new legislation against homosexuality and gay activities in the country. Ndorwa West MP, David Bahati drafted a private member’s bill, the Anti Homosexuality Bill 2009 that has been debated in parliament and the public, although yet to be passed into law.
Interview with Ndorwa West MP, David Bahati
There has been widespread international condemnation of the bill, especially for proposing a death penalty for what the framers had termed as “aggravated homosexuality”- the forcing of underage children into homosexual acts (sodomy against underage boys). The death penalty was later dropped in favour of life imprisonment.
A cross section of religious leaders in Uganda especially the Pentecostals have been putting the Parliament under pressure to pass the ”anti-homosexuality" bill which they argue is essential to protect “Ugandan children from homosexual recruitment”.
“We as religious leaders and civil society are distressed that the Anti-Homosexuality Bill is being deliberately killed largely by the undemocratic threats of western nations," says Pastor Martin Ssempa one of the vocal proponents of the bill.
From: Pentecostal movement riddled with scandals:
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Ssempa who leads the Inter-Religious Taskforce Against Homosexuality accuses the west of promoting “homo-cracy” by pushing the rights and freedoms of homosexuals. "These same nations who promote democracy don’t want our representative to discuss laws to protect our children from the human trafficking of recruiting our children into homosexuality.”
He says there are many people in schools, media, legal profession and other professions who are promoting and recruiting young people into homosexuality. The Pastor says such people need to be severely punished under a more stringent law so that people can distance themselves from such characters.
Sempa and his group have always alleged that homosexual advocacy groups are recruiting Uganda’s children and youth to engage in homosexual acts and to support gay rights. They have on several meetings presented people they claim are former homosexuals. One such is George Oundo, who said as a founding member of Queer Youth Uganda, he was leading their mission of “recruitment of the next generation of homosexuals” until he converted. Oundo, had claimed to have been known as “Georgina, Queen Mother and Lady of the City”, says many international human rights organizations are funding gay activities in Uganda.
Interview with George Oundo of Uganda
Oundo admits to being paid to lie...
Mr. Oundo, 26, a transgender person who used to go by the name Georgina, went next.
"I used to call myself the Queen Mother and Lady of the City," Mr. Oundo said. "I was recruited into homosexuality many years back, when I was 12."
"When I joined Mr. Ssempa, I told him all my problems," he said. "I had to come out and join the struggle.
"Please help us; let the bill pass," he said.
But an hour later, in a quiet hotel, Mr. Oundo recanted much of what had been said at the meeting.
"David Kato was murdered; it was a plot," Mr. Oundo said. "I don't support the bill."
As for being a "former homosexual," that, too, was not true.
"I've always been gay," Mr. Oundo said, in a timid but growing voice. "I didn't choose it."
"David Kato was the first one who taught me to protect my human right," Mr. Oundo added.
Mr. Oundo said that his presence alongside Mr. Ssempa at Parliament had been to "protect" himself and that he had been contacted only that morning by Mr. Kagaba about the meeting and offered about $42 to attend. He said Mr. Ssempa had offered him about $2,000 in 2009 to repent and switch sides in the debate, but later reneged. Either way, Mr. Oundo became a poster-child for Mr. Ssempa's anti-homosexuality movement.
Mr. Ssempa declined to comment on the allegations.
Mr. Oundo admitted that he had picked up boyfriends at high schools and universities, what the antigay movement calls "recruiting". But he said Uganda's gay population was full of "natural-borns," like himself.
"If I live or die, I am gay, and if I am buried, bury me gay," he said.
Another anti homosexuality activist, Steven Langa, the Executive Director of the Family Life Network who appeared before the Parliamentary Committee on legal and parliamentary Affairs hearing the bill, urged parliament not “to listen to gays” who say the new bill will abuse their human rights, because according to Langa, homosexuality has never been a human right.
But concerns have remained over provisions making it a serious crime for one to know of a homosexual and not report that person to the authorities.
Those against the provision in the bill say such a provision makes every Ugandan liable to imprisonment, and even some religious leaders led by the Archbishop of Kampala, Dr. Cyprian Kizito Lwanga have criticized this provision on grounds that it will stop their responsibility to listen to and counsel young people or adults engaged in homosexuality. While this still stands, the bill drafters have dropped other charges of “attempt to commit homosexuality” after some human rights and religious leaders argued that a lot of talk on the rights of all Ugandans and equality of all people before God might be treated as an attempt to promote homosexuality.
The government has also moved in to discourage the bill, saying all the proposals of punishing homosexuality and protecting children are catered for under existing penal code act.
“The Penal code is not specific, it’s not effective, it needs strengthening. The Bill comes in to include other issues that have emerged over time-issues of promotion, it has never happened, it is happening now, issues of inducing children- it was never there, it was happening now,” says Bahati, the key architect for the bill.
Bahati says he will push for the passing of the bill as soon as possible and castigates foreign countries putting pressure on Uganda to drop the bill as undemocratic. “Homosexuality is criminal here in our country. It is not regarded as a human right here in our country. In other countries it is. In other countries you see adultery is criminal- it is unbelievable in America, but here it is tolerated. Every one of us comes from different backgrounds, different cultures and should be respected for what they are,” Bahati says.
Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera, one of the vocal gay rights activists in Uganda says they will continue to oppose and campaign against the new legislation because of what she terms as “abusing the rights of a minority group”. She says if the law is passed, they are ready to challenge it in the constitutional court.
“Bahati says homosexuality is not considered a human right here in Uganda. Then, they (the government) should not have signed all the international treaties because international treaties protect individuals from discrimination. Homosexuals are human beings, so Uganda is a party to all those human rights treaties that say do not discriminate on any grounds,” says Kasha.
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First published: June 9, 2011
Olive Eyotaru Yemima is a graduate of Mass Communication. She first worked with Ultimate Media in 2005 as an intern and returned in 2007 as a features writer.
A Ugandan talented creative writer, Eyotaru now writes for both the local and international media and continues to shine in the media every day that passes.