Uganda’s President on Gays: “First Talk About Railroads”

Jim Burroway

December 19th, 2011

(At 0:45) The crucial elements that we need in this region, apart from peace and democracy, is infrastructure development. … This is the policy you should concentrate on. Yes, I know homosexuals are important [laughter and scattered applause], but homosexuals also need electricity. [laughter] So before anybody gives me a lecture about homosexuals and their rights, please first talk about the railroads.

Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni lashed out at international donors at the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region. (African Great Lakes refers generally to the areas of D.R . Congo, Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi, and Tanzania.) His remarks, for whatever reason, don’t seem to have gotten much play in the major Uganda media online. The above report is from Kenya’s NTV, and here is the take from Kenya’ The Nation. Warren Throckmorton reacted:

Hard to use all of those modern conveniences if you are in jail, Yoweri. Although maybe Museveni is right. If the [Anti-Homosexuality Bill] passes, gays will need electricity in jails, and roads and railways to take them there.

Warren’s right to poke at the myopia with which African leaders are reacting to recent policy statements by the U.S. and U.K. which either implicitly or explicitly link foreign aid to how nations treat LGBT populations. But there is a legitimate concern, shared by LGBT advocates on the ground, over a backlash should the idea that human rights abuses against LGBT people are more important than human rights abuses generally take hold and become part of popular wisdom. Remember, Museveni has held power for 25 years — an achievement itself which is hardly the mark of a democratic leader — and he has done it by manipulating the constitution and media, by installing a compliant electoral commission, and clamping down hard on political opponents. The West’s failure to address those problems with similar vigor will only feed growing cynicism over western motives.

Again, I raise this point not to say that protection against LGBT abuses should not be a priority. After all, it is gay people who are being targeted for murder by the state, not members of the opposition Forum for Democratic Change. But if Ugandans are violently denied the right to peaceful assembly and redress of grievances in the political sphere, it should come as no surprise when authorities also see no need to guarantee the rights of LGBT people to those same things. Yes, gays need electricity and railroads, and so does everyone else. But everyone, gays included, also need the freedom to use them.

paul canning

December 19th, 2011

Spot on to point out that gays are first against the wall – and first to be abandoned by ‘human rights defenders’, as has happened in Ghana.

It is true that the ‘west’ has let Musceveni be a ‘democratic leader’ for 25 years (and counting) but that also means that the ‘west’ indeed has traction, and why that cannot be used to argue for LGBT human rights, like the freedom not to be killed – as many keep saying – is beyond me.

It’s Orwellian, as in Animal Farm, as in some struggles are more important than other struggles, and has a similar Stalinist lineage.


December 19th, 2011

It amazes me that Africans would deny their history and culture and sign on, tooth and nail, to the western cultures that brought homophobia to their shores, whilst simultaneously forcefully removing many of their citizens to be slaves in other lands.

It’s a shame that one of the vestiges of colonialism has taken hold so strongly, while the very cultures that exported that homophobia has moved past that.

Donny D.

December 20th, 2011

I see this one again and again from the ‘phobes: whenever they don’t want to discuss or do anything about homophobia, any and everthing is “more important” than us.

This is an intellectual dodge I don’t see many of us talking about.

This one is a favorite of every kind of ‘phobe, from hardcore bigots to passively homophobic “pro-gay” and left of center straight people.

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