LGBT People Aren’t the Only Ones Deprived of Human Rights In Uganda
November 28th, 2011
Daily Monitor, Uganda’s largest independent newspaper, has a must-read story today asking, “Is Uganda as homophobic as they say?” They begin by setting up the question this way:
It can be traced to a whirlwind of events. One year after (M.P. David) Bahati’s (Anti-Homosexuality Bill), a fledgling tabloid ran a headline that called for homosexuals to be killed. Three months after that, in January this year, one of the men pictured under the Hang them headline, David Kato, was bludgeoned to death in his home. Amin himself couldn’t have written a better script.
The reference to the Idi Amin, the bloodthirsty dictator who ruled Uganda from 1971 to 1979, is a recurring one. Playwright Judith Adong invokes Amin’s name to show how the world’s views on Uganda’s human rights problems have shifted from a historical problem to a current one:
Before, when people heard that I’m from Uganda it used to be, ‘Oh, so you’re from Idi Amin’s country.’ Now it’s ‘You’re the people who want to kill homosexuals,’” she says.
Longtime LGBT advocate Val Kalende (she bravely appeared in a 2009 Daily Monitor profile at the height of the outcry surrounding the Anti-Homosexuality Bill) pulls on that thread further. Referencing Lonely Planet’s recommendation of Uganda as the world’s #1 best tourist destination, Val refocuses on the broader problems with human rights in Uganda:
Kalende believes the commenters on Lonely Planet are blowing things out of proportion. “What such people want to do is to place gay rights ahead of other human rights and they are the reason African countries are still overly homophobic. If people want Uganda to be boycotted because of homophobia then they should make the same noise when opposition leaders and journalists have their rights abused by the State.”
In this respect, Uganda is little different from the rest of the world: the gay community functions as the canary in the coalmine. How a society treats its gay community is a good predictor for how a society is capable of dealing with other groups who are either out of favor or out of power. President Yoweri Museveni’s regime has spent much of this year violently suppressing his political opponents. Against that backdrop, the world’s focused attention on the Anti-Homosexuality Bill while ignoring the broader problems with human rights strike ordinary Ugandans as elevating the gay community’s concern above everyone else’s. And naturally, if the world condemns official homophobia while ignoring the rest, it feeds the suspicion that LGBT Ugandans are seeking “special” rights and protections which ordinary Ugandans do not yet enjoy themselves.
Ugandan LGBT advocates say that this issue is just one of the barriers they face in trying to turn public opinion around on the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. When ordinary Ugandans see official harassment, arbitrary police actions, rampant corruption, and widespread abuses of power as endemic features of daily life, worldwide concerns over the country’s treatment of its LGBT citizens looks wildly myopic. Worse, LGBT advcocates say that single-minded focus confirms in the minds of ordinary Ugandans that the outside world is out of touch with what’s really going on there. And when Britain threatens developmental aid cuts based on treatment of sexual minorities, but not on violent governmental crackdowns on opposition groups, it only reinforces the widespread erroneous belief that homosexuality is a foreign import. On those points, it becomes hard to argue with them.