Uganda’s Aggressive Pushback Over “Kill-The-Gays” Bill Publicity
January 18th, 2012
Last Friday, Perezi K. Kamunanwire, Uganda’s ambassador to the U.S. suddenly withdrew as keynote speaker for a Martin Luther King Day event sponsored by the United Negro College Fund on Monday after the UNCF expressed concern over the Anti-Homosexuality Bill which had been revived in Uganda’s Parliament. UNCF president and CEO Michael Lomax wrote the Ambassador a letter expressing alarm over what he described as the bill’s “draconian penalties” and called on the ambassador to “address this issue when you speak at the King Day and take questions at the conclusion of your remarks.” The ambassador chose instead to withdraw from the event rather than face the uncomfortable questioning.
There has been an increasing aggressiveness in Uganda’s government and media against stepped up worldwide condemnation of countries which criminalize gay relationships. In recent weeks, we’ve even seen a stepped up hostility coming from what had been until now a very well-balanced independent newspaper, Daily Monitor. (More on that momentarily.) Ambassador Kamunanwire is playing his role in that push back. Yesterday, he blasted the UNCF for sending him an “incendiary” letter and claimed that the Uganda Parliament was not reconsidering the bill, despite numerous local reports to the contrary.
The aggressive push back has been joined by others in Uganda’s diplomatic staff. Yesterday evening, we received an email from a BTB reader in the Washington D.C. who was attending a talk by Rev. Mark Kiyimba, pastor of the New Life Kampala Unitarian Universalist Church, who was speaking at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Silver Spring, MD. Rev. Kiyimba has been a vocal opponent of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. According to the emailer, Dickson Ogwang, Minister Counselor at the Uganda Embassy in Washington, DC, rose during the Q&A session to give “the familiar government spin”, including misdirection about the brutal murder of Ugandan LGBT advocate David Kato. According to our reader, “Rev. Kiyimba responded well, but clearly was put in the difficult spot of being challenged to call a government minister a liar.” Our reader also observed:
“Mr. Ogwang looked mighty pleased to snap a digital photo of Rev. Kiyimba shaking hands with MD State Senator (and local LGBT rights champion) Jamie Raskin. My inner cynic wonders whether the photo will emerge in Ugandan press as “proof” that Ugandan gay rights advocates are merely tools of the West.”
There is certainly precedent for that. Daily Monitor, Uganda’s largest independent newspaper and an until-now largely reliable source of information about developments over the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, carried a lengthy, incendiary article in its Sunday Magazine on January 8. The article by Bernard Sabiti, an aspiring born-again politician and journalist, featured a large photo of LGBT advocate Frank Mugisha receiving the Rafto Foundation’s award for human rights in Bergen, Norway. The caption under the photo however reads, “Mr Mugisha receives one of his many awards for ‘bashing’ his motherland over gay rights.” Referencing Frank’s recent op-ed in the New York Times, the rest of the article goes downhill from there:
In a December 22 high-profile New York Times Op-ed titled “Gay and Vilified in Uganda”, Mr Mugisha repeats the same over-recycled allegations against his own country, in which he adds some even more absurd statements that are not true at all. In the article, for example, he writes that: “More benignly, if people are still single by the time they reach their early 20s, what Ugandans call a “marriage age,” others will begin to suspect that they are gay.”
This is hogwash. With more Ugandans spending more time at school and tightening economic conditions, who doesn’t know that marrying in late 20s and 30s is a very normal thing in Uganda these days?
Even after the Uganda Police concluded investigations which failed to link David Kato’s killers to homophobia and court appropriately sentencing them, in the article, Mr Mugisha still insinuates that “…because of this work, David was bludgeoned to death at his home, with a hammer.”
The matter of the Rolling Stone newspaper that published a list of homosexuals which is the basis of the western gay propaganda alleging that “the press” in from page 21
Uganda promotes murdering homosexuals is even too absurd to comment about. These people know nothing about Uganda’s culture, let alone that of the tabloid, where many journalism students try many stunts to come up with a publication that can sell in a tough media market and a poor reading culture.
Even “credible” newspapers here struggle yet they have been in the market far too long to stage competition against them. But many People here also love sensationalism and gossip and some enjoy nudity. That was what Giles Mahame, the Rolling Stone publisher, was tapping into.
If not, given the shrewdness of Ugandans, it wouldn’t be farfetched to say that the Rolling Stone stunt could have as well been a stunt by the homosexuals themselves to elicit international sympathy and the cash that no doubt followed it. [Emphasis added.]
The article has had its chilling effect. Frank told Michelangelo Signorile last weekend that he now fears for his life:
“Just two days ago there was a very big piece of news about me,” said Frank Mugisha, executive director of Sexual Minorities Uganda, in an interview by phone from Kampala on my radio program on SiriusXM OutQ yesterday, referring to an article he says was written in a local newspaper, attacking him for writing the New York Times op-ed.
“It said that everything we are saying is not true. That we are just trying to get sympathy in the Western world. They put my picture in the newspaper with all these hate words and of course I got a lot of bad emails, bad phones, a lot of harassment against me.”
…”Every day of my life here in Uganda I have to be careful of what I do,” Mugisha said in the radio interview yesterday. “It has reached the point that where I even have to be careful when I’m going to get food in a restaurant, to be sure that the food I’m getting, that I trust the restaurant, because I’m scared I could get poisoned. Even when I want to go shopping I have to call a friend and say can you come with me because my face has been in the newspapers, my face has been in the media. Just two days ago when my face was put in the newspapers I received harassment already. Now it is my fear of stepping out my house. If I want to go and buy food, because I have to eat, what is going to happen to me today?”
Whether Rev. Kiyimba’s photo snapped last night will be deployed for a similarly sinister purpose remains to be seen. Clearly Uganda, along with many other African nations, are on the defensive over recent British and American announcements that the manner in which LGBT people are treated in their home countries are a matter of international concern. The predictable backlash is brewing. That’s not to say that the British and American positions are wrong or misguided. But we are seeing increasing fallout over the spotlight they have cast on Uganda and elsewhere. And it means that we need to follow those statements with greater vigilance, and we must demand that Uganda and other nations take positive actions to ensure the safety of all LGBT people, including their advocates and leaders.