Newsweek: Is Uganda’s Anti-Gay Ferver Spreading?
December 18th, 2009
[Update: This post has been updated to include a brief statement MP David Bahati made to NPR.]
Katie Paul pulls the microscope off of Uganda and looks at the climate for LGBT citizens throughout Africa. It doesn’t look good. Much of the continent is rife with homophobia. Last year, Burundi criminalized homosexuality for the first time, with penalties of up to two years in prison. In Senegal, we’ve seen people arrested for homosexuality (many of them LGBT advocates). The president of Gambia threatened to cut off the heads of all gay people in his country. And Nigeria has its own draconian bill languishing in its legislature that ostensibly outlaws same sex marriage, but goes much further by banning any gay people from living together and all advocacy on behalf of LGBT people. Meanwhile, Rwanda, which lies on Uganda’s southwest border, is currently debating a bill to criminalize homosexuality with five to ten year’s imprisonment, along with all advocacy and counseling of LGBT people. The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission says that a vote may occur in Rwanda’s lower House sometime this week.
But despite all that, some have suggested that if the Anti-Homosexuality Bill becomes law, Uganda will represent the first domino to fall. One of those suggesting this is none other than Ugandan MP David Bahati, the prime sponsor of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. He told NPR:
“Once this bill passes, you’re going to see country by country learning from this, continent by continent. It’s a crucial time and a crucial bill, not only in Uganda but in the world.”
But as Paul points out, pointing to Uganda as the first domino as some have done is, as she puts it, “a tough sell”:
While the historical origins of anti-gay legislation are debatable, antipathy to homosexuality is by now a home-grown phenomenon throughout most of Africa. ABC’s Dana Hughes, writing from Nairobi, points out that such opinions on homosexuality are already widespread on the continet. “While American evangelicals are being examined for their role in the origins of the bill in Uganda,” she writes, “East Africa, and for that matter Africa as a whole, is decidedly, virulently against homosexuality.” In total, 37 countries in Africa have laws on the books criminalizing same-sex relations.
We’ve been on this story every since we first noticed that three American anti-gay activists were about to put on an anti-gay conference in Kampala. We did not believe and we have never suggested, as some have charged in probably the flimsiest strawman ever erected, that conditions weren’t already ripe for an anti-gay pogrom even without the meddling of three Americans who presented themselves as “experts” on homosexuality. We knew very well the conditions that already existed in that country, and that was the subject of the very second post we put up in the series.
We took notice and followed this story through the present day, and we’ll continue to follow it because Uganda has a very violent history. That violence in recent years has been directed toward that country’s reviled LGBT community. And now Ugandan leaders aim to take its violent legacy and codify it into law, turning LGBT people into candidates for the noose and a nation into an army of informers.
No, that conference didn’t start this fire, not by a longshot. The fire was already burning, but the conference was the napalm that burst the fire into the conflagration that we see today. And Uganda is hardly ground zero in Africa’s war against LGBT people. It’s just where the spotlight happens to shine at the moment. And with Ugandans’ extremely close geographical, cultural, and religious ties to Rwanda, Burundi and Kenya, these events bear very close scrutiny.