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Going After Ugandan Gays a Convenient Government Diversion

Jim Burroway

February 23rd, 2012

In a New York Times blog post, Journalist Dayo Olobade sees Uganda’s LGBT community a convenitent diversion whenever government leaders have too many other problems to grapple with.

Last year, the government spent more than $500 million on new military planes while failing to build, staff or maintain maternity hospitals. This year, parliament approved payments of 103 million Ugandan shillings (about $45,000) per representative in order for each to buy a new car. A recent wave of influence-peddling scandals has left seven cabinet positions vacant. In this climate, it seems curious that (Ethics and Integrity Minister Simon) Lokodo, whose portfolio includes both “gay issues” and dealing with corruption in government, should invest such personal interest in the former and not the latter.

…The long-serving President Yoweri Museveni, meanwhile, has disavowed parliament’s activity both times the (Anti-Homosexuality) bill has been considered, primarily, it seems, out of fear that gay-bashing might endanger foreign aid from rights-conscious donors like the United States and Britain. That’s not to say he and his cohort don’t benefit from this culture-war sideshow: three days before Bahati’s bill resurfaced this month, the president signed a controversial new oil contract. Last year, after a series of opaque agreements with foreign companies, parliament had ruled that no new production-sharing agreements were to be signed until a comprehensive regulatory regime had been established. The president’s office, insisting that an engagement with the British energy company Tullow Oil pre-dated the moratorium, went ahead anyway.

“You’d think that the government, given pressure regarding the oil sector, would begin the legislative session with the oil reforms,” says Angelo Izama, an experienced Ugandan journalist on the oil beat. “But they began with the gay bill. It’s not accidental.” The semi-successful diversion, coupled with disregard for parliamentary procedures, illustrates the lack of checks on the behavior of the Museveni government.

Museveni, who has held power since winning a civil war in 1986, has spoken out against the bill. But it doesn’t take a political genius to see that he finds having the bill around benefits him politically. He elevated Lokodo, a defrocked Catholic priest, to his cabinet and Lokodo immediately set about raiding a workshop on LGBT advocacy. Museveni also undoubtedly had a hand in raising MP David Bahati, the Anti-Homosexuality Bill’s sponsor, to the position of acting chairman of the ruling party’s caucus in Parliament. It’s inconceivable that Bahati would have reached that position without Museveni’s solid support, and its very difficult to read that move as a reward for providing Museveni with a convenient diversion that he can use whenever he needs it.

Meanwhile, Museveni appeared in a BBC television interview to deny that gay people are being persecuted in Uganda. “Homosexuals — in small numbers — have existed in our part of black Africa. They were never prosecuted, they were never discriminated,” he told BBC’s Stephen Sackur just days after his government’s raid on Entebbe. Museveni made those comments during a visit to London to launch a tourism innitiativeand attend a summit on Somolia.

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