Will Musevini Sign the Anti-Homosexuality Bill?
December 19th, 2009
Timothy Kincaid and I both posted yesterday’s statement by US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson about the U.S.’s concern over Uganda’s proposed Anti-Homosexuality Bill. Timothy relied on a Reuters article, while I used a report from AFP. When I prepared my report, I overlooked this potentially important tidbit from AFP:
He [Carson] added that it is premature for US government to consider withdrawing aid from Uganda because (President Yoweri) Museveni himself said he does not support the legislation and the battle is not yet lost. [Emphasis mine.]
This is missing from the Reuters article, which says instead:
Museveni has been quoted as saying that homosexuality is a Western import, joining some Ugandan and continental religious leaders who believe it is un-African.
As I said on Michelangelo Signorile’s show yesterday, it is extremely difficult to read the tea leaves from some 9,000 miles away. We have no idea whether the AFP report, which paraphrases Carson’s statement, is an accurate representation of what the Assistant Secretary actually said. It’s not not a direct quote and Reuters didn’t mention it. [Update: A State Department spokesman now confirms that Museveni committed privately on at least two occasions to block the anti-gay bill.]
This lends more support to what we’ve observed earlier. On Dec. 10, we noticed an article posted on the official governmental Uganda Media Centre web site questioning Parliament’s priorities in debating the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. This is significant because the UMC serves as the official press office of the Ugandan government, and it’s hard to imagine this article appearing without approval, at the very least, from senior governmental officials if not President Museveni himself. As of today, that article is still on the UMC web site, and accessible from the UMC front page.
The next day, we saw an op-ed published in the government-owned New Vision by John Nagenda, a senior advisor to President Museveni. Nagenda was clearer, saying “Parliament should not pass this bill.” I have been following New Vision since the current Ugandan controversies began last February, and this marks the first time that I can recall the government-own paper publishing anything remotely critical of anti-gay efforts.
Then, almost we week later we learn through the Monitor, Uganda’s largest independent newspaper, that Ethics and Integrity Minister James Nsaba Buturo has vowed, according to the paper, to “remain silent about the proposed law until it has been passed or defeated.” Buturo had been an extremely loud proponent of the bill, pushing for “strengthening” Uganda’s anti-homosexuality laws ever since the American-led anti-gay conference in Kampala last March. This same Monitor article led of by mentioning President Barack Obama’s statement opposing the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, giving ordinary Ugandans their first exposure to Obama’s position. Obama, whose father was of the Luo tribe which lives in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, is revered in Uganda and throughout East Africa.
According to all reports, the Anti-Homosexuality Bill is almost certain to pass Parliament, and will probably do so unanimously or by a vote very close to it. It would then by up to President Museveni to either sign or veto the bill. On one hand, I can’t imagine Museveni vetoing the bill while one prevalent argument for the bill is to stand up to pressure from colonial powers. In addition to being deeply homophobic, Uganda is also a very proud nation and many of the bill’s supporters have vowed not to “bend low” before international pressure. On the other hand, there are good, although admittedly tentative and circumstantial signals being sent that this may in fact happen.
There are hopeful signs, but in the end it’s all up to Museveni. And his decision will likely be based on what serves his political interests and not what’s best for the people of Uganda. A Mr. O. Kalinge-Nnyago, writing yesterday for The Monitor, says that the Anti-Homosexuality Bill would provide Museveni’s 23-year-old government with a powerful new tool to use against his political opponents to maintain power:
If we let this ill conceived and absurd law to pass, we should also be ready to see it selectively applied to the regime’s opponents who would be framed when it suits the regime. This is not the first time political opponents have been framed in this country. Former presidential candidate Kizza Besigye was framed for rape.
Who will be the next opposition politician to be arrested for suspected aggravated homosexuality or suspected concealment of homosexual practices? Because homosexuality is an abomination in Uganda, the regime, when it decides to frame you, does not have to prosecute you successfully. It is enough that your name has been dragged in the mud, you have been discredited and that possibly your political career is destroyed. I wouldn’t trust this human rights abusive regime with any far reaching law.
The question is not whether Parliament will pass the bill. If the bill remains tabled, its passage is assured. The real questions are whether Museveni prevails upon his party in Parliament to withdraw the bill (he controls more than two-thirds of Parliament through his party and the military’s seats) or he vetoes it once it passes. Those questions are much more difficult to answer.