Uganda Executive, Parliament Tussle Over Anti-Homosexuality Bill

Jim Burroway

February 9th, 2012

The Uganda Media Centre, which serves as something of a press office for Uganda President Yoweri Museveni, has issued a statement distancing itself from the Anti-Homosexuality Bill which was reintroduced into Parliament this week.


***Wednesday 8th February 2012***17:00 hour
***No Embargo***

Uganda has today been the subject of mass international criticism as a result of the debate on the Anti-Homosexual Bill at parliament. What many of these critics fail to convey is the bill itself was introduced by a back bencher. It does not form part of the government’s legislative programme and it does not enjoy the support of the Prime Minister or the Cabinet. However as Uganda is a constitutional democracy, it is appropriate that if a private members bill is presented to parliament it be debated.

Cultural attitudes in Africa are very different to elsewhere in world, 2/3 of African countries outlaw homosexual activity and 80% of east African countries criminalize it. Whilst on a global level more than 80 countries outlaw homosexual acts. Contrary to reports, the bill before parliament even if it were to pass, would not sanction the death penalty for homosexual behavior in Uganda.

Many international governments and politicians, who have criticized Uganda for debating this private members bill, remain mute in the face of far graver and far more draconian legislation relating to homosexuality in other countries. One might ask for example, if Uganda enjoyed as close a relationship with the US and European countries as Saudi Arabia (which sentences homosexuals to corporal and capital punishment) would we have attracted the same opprobrium as a result of allowing this parliamentary debate.

Unlike many other countries, no one in Uganda has ever been charged with the criminal offence of homosexuality. Moreover the main provisions of this bill were designed to stem the issue of defilement and rape which in the minds of Ugandan’s is a more pressing and urgent matter that needs to be addressed.

As a parliamentary democracy this process of debate will continue. Whilst the government of Uganda does not support this bill, it is required under our constitution to facilitate this debate. The facilitation of this debate should not be confused for the governments support for this bill.

For God and my Country
Minister of State for Ethics and Integrity Hon. Lokodo Simon

There are a couple of points that must be addressed in this statement. First, if the bill is passed, it most certainly does include the death penalty “for homosexual behavior in Uganda.” Despite numerous false reports to the contrary, that provision is still in the bill. We now have confirmation that it was the original 2009 language of the bill which received its first reading on Tuesday. Throughout this saga, there have been numerous conflicting claims that there are agreements to remove the death penalty provisions (claims which have now been going on for more than two years’ running), but the closest we’ve come to it has been a proposal to make minor, inconsequential changes in the language which keeps the death penalty in place.

Second, the statement also says that “main provisions of this bill were designed to stem the issue of defilement and rape.” I’ll leave you to inspect the actual text of the bill itself, along with its proposed changes. The issue of “defilement and rape,” at most, occupies perhaps a dozen or so words in the entire eighteen clauses of the bill.

But let’s return to the bigger question: what’s going on here? The Ugandan Government has repeatedly tried to “reject” the bill, but Parliament, despite the ruling party’s nearly complete dominance over the body, continues to push it forward. Parliament’s motivation appears to be twofold. First, there is a genuine backlash brewing against what is seen as foreign meddling in Uganda’s sovereignty, a backlash which is fueled by the perceptions that Uganda is being treated as a colony of rich white Europeans and Americans.

But that doesn’t tell the whole story. One Ugandan observer who writes the blog SebaSpace believes that the dynamics are as much internal as external. Corruption is endemic in all branches of government, and with the Ugandan government signing oil contracts right and left while keeping Parliament in the dark to exploit recently-found deposits in western Uganda, and with members of Parliament also scrambling to seek their own piece of the public pie, and all of that coupled with a general dissatisfaction with an autocratic president who has sat on the executive throne, as it were, for more than a quarter century, and what you now have is a classic power grab:

Parliament is still smarting from the humiliation President Museveni dealt them on this bill in January 2010. Bahati had mobilized them, led them up the hill and then brought them back down with tails between their legs when Museveni told them in his characterically condescending manner that the matter was a foreign policy issue that only he dealt with. They have never forgiven him for that slight.

Parliament has thus been seething in a state of pique at having been publicly shown to be impotent in the face of a dismissive executive. It wasn’t the first time he had done that, of course, but this one rankled especially because Museveni made no secret of the fact that he was acting at the behest of foreigners.

Such is the hunger for Parliament to show that they matter in Uganda that, at the time in 2010, even Beti Kamya, a friend of the gay community if there ever was one, waded in and lectured the donor community about Parliament’s independence in Uganda.

…Parliament is in a such a mutinous mood that they will thumb their noses at Uganda’s donors to pass this heinous bill – just to prove to themselves that they actually matter, even if the consequences for Uganda’s foreign aid could be dire – a classic case of cutting off their noses to spite their faces

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