Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni said he would sign into law a bill imposing harsh sentences for homosexual acts. The measure has been looming over the country for some time. Here is a 10-step history of the actions already taken against homosexuals in this country, and a careful look at the dynamics of Uganda’s anti-gay bill.
In the 19th century, when Uganda was a British colonial protectorate, laws prohibiting same-sex sexual liaisons were put into effect and cemented in the Penal Code Act of 1950, which carried over after Uganda’s independence from Britain in 1962. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, Western missionaries bent on saving the “dark continent” spread the word of God all over the continent with literal interpretations of the Bible. Today, Uganda’s religious breakdown is 84 percent Christian, 12 percent Muslim, and 4 percent other.
Source: en.wikipedia.com, faithstreet.com
There are still today many American-based Christian evangelical groups active in Uganda. They have helped continue and propagate opposing views to homosexuality. NPR reported that the anti-homosexuality bill passed by parliament in December was scribed by Ugandan lawmakers with the help of Western evangelical leaders. This continues to be a form of imperial neo-colonization with possible legal ramifications. A Ugandan gay rights group based in Massachusetts recently sued evangelist Scott Lively in a federal court for violating human rights abroad.
Sources: nytimes.com, digitaljournal.com
In 2007, international activists working for LGBT rights estimated there are more than 500,000 members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community living in Uganda. The survey done by the Pew Global Attitudes Project in 2010 revealed that 89 percent of the country views homosexual acts as immoral and punishable. This is slightly better than the 1 percent in Tanzania and Kenya who view homosexuals as intolerable. In 2012, the government banned more than 38 non-government organizations which it said promotes the advancement of gay rights.
Sources: en.wikipedia.org, pewglobal.org
The bill was first submitted in October 2009 by member of parliament David Bahati. While same-sex acts were always illegal, this bill specified punishments in store for perpetrators. The bill, which can be read here in full PDF form, lists its basic objectives of “protecting the traditional family” through “prohibit(ing) and penalize(ing) homosexual behavior and related practices in Uganda.” Breaking down in graphic detail what the bill considered homosexual liaisons, it proposed life imprisonment for any violator, and the death penalty for “aggravated homosexuality.” It also called for prison sentences for those who aid or abet, including hotel owners who allow sex acts to happen in their “brothel.” After large international outcry, the bill was placed on the shelf, but that was only the beginning.
Sources: boxturtlebulletin.com, en.wikipedia.org
In 2010, popular Ugandan tabloid paper Rolling Stone published more than 3,000 copies of an issue with the headline “Hang Them.” It exposed more than 100 faces, names, and home locations of known gays in the country. “We Shall Recruit 100,000 Innocent Kids by 2012: Homos” was splashed across the front. One of the names was prominent pro-gay rights activist David Kato. On Jan. 26, 2011, Kato was beaten to death with a hammer in his home in Bukusa, Mukono Town. Sidney Nsubunga Enoch was sentenced to 30 years in prison for the crime, although the prosecution deliberately failed to notice any homophobic motives. At Kato’s funeral, the preacher openly condemned the lifestyle of gays and lesbians in Uganda. His friends, most members of LGBT community, buried him in his village.
Sources: theguardian.com, en.wikipedia.org
The 2009 bill, which President Barack Obama described as “odious,” resurfaced in December 2013. The amended bill removed the threat of death, but stressed life imprisonment for certain cases. It also specified that punishments could be given to citizens who did not report homosexual acts of others. The passing was described as a “Christmas gift” to all Ugandans by parliamentary speaker Rebecca Kadaga. The bill would not protect foreigners. Bernard Randall (pictured above with his partner) was recently charged in court with homosexual offenses after videos from his computer were leaked and published. He faces two years of imprisonment, and his Ugandan partner, Albert Cheptoyek, even more time. As of December, Museveni’s signing of the bill was all that was needed to pass.
Sources: bbc.co.uk, guardian.com, telegraph.co.uk
A 30-day window between December’s parliamentary passing and Museveni’s signature left the world wondering about the eventual outcome. The president, clearly under international pressure, announced he wouldn’t be swayed either way, and would “moderate” the bill before taking any crucial measures. Mulling over the biological and social origins of homosexuality, Museveni reached out to Ugandan scientists for opinions. He accepted opinions from 14 medical experts claiming that homosexuality was not genetic, but only acquired through training. They said that gayness was an abnormality that can be treated through economic empowerment. International efforts to halt the bill continued, including a phone call from Desmond Tutu.
Sources: thecitizen.co.tz, mg.co.za., nytimes.com
On Valentine’s Day, Feb. 14 2014, Yoweri Museveni informed members of his party, the National Resistance Movement, that he would sign the anti-homosexual bill proposed by parliament in December. “These are normal people with abnormal behavior,” Museveni concluded in a recent speech. Claiming that he was not concerned about international opinion, he also called for “helping out” those who would be influenced toward a homosexual lifestyle. The bill, when signed, will give 14 years in prison for first-time offenders, and life imprisonment for repeat offenders. Jail time will also be handed to anyone counseling or sheltering gays.
Sources: cnn.com, nytimes.com
The U.S. sent troops in 2011 to help fight David Kony’s Lord’s Republican Army, and is one of the largest foreign aid donors to Uganda. This may change. Obama immediately condemned the proposed signing: “As we have conveyed to President Museveni, enacting this legislation will complicate our valued relationship with Uganda.” He went on to specify that the bill “will be more than an affront and a danger to the gay community in Uganda.”
While the future looks grim, international attention will certainly be increased on human rights in Uganda. The country’s main gay rights group is Sexual Minorities Uganda, run by Frank Mugisha, winner of the 2011 Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award. Mugisha vows to fight to the end against any discriminatory measures taken against gays in his country. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have widely reported and drawn notice to the situation. There are stories like this single gay bar in the capital of Kampala which engender hope as well. Hearts go out to all Ugandans and citizens of the world who encounter suppression and violent discrimination toward their harmless lifestyle choices.
Sources: en.wikipedia.org, smug.4t.com, amnestyusa.org