Anti-Homosexuality Bill Distracts From Uganda’s Real Problems, Including Birthday Parties
December 6th, 2012
It’s time for an update to the status of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. It is still now dropped to number two on Parliament’s list of “business to follow” (DOC: 39.5KB/3 pages). The second of two contentious Petroleum Bills has now dropped form Parliament’s main agenda to take the number one spot on the business to follow list.
But as I wrote yesterday, it’s not the Anti-Homosxuality Bill’s status that really matters, despite all of the attention it has gotten abroad. What does matter — to Museveni and his allies in Uganda — is that we talk about the Anti-Homosexuality bill and ignore all of the other issues: Uganda’s meddling in a guerilla war on neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo, massive corruption at home, and the theft of oil wealth that is talking place right under everyone’s noses. The gays are just a handy distractions. And if all we’re doing is talking about the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, then we’re doing exactly what Museveni wants us to do.
The issue of the hour in Parliament is oil, particularly President Yoweri Museveni’s maneuvers to gain personal control over his country’s newly-discovered oil wealth. So, what’s going on on the oil front? Yesterday, representatives of President Yoweri Museveni’s cabinet came out in full force to denounce a compromise proposal for a contentious clause in the Petroleum (Exploration, Development and Production) Bill, one of two large Petroleum Bill’s before Parliament. One of the bill’s clauses, Clause 9, currently specifies that the Petroleum Authority, a government oversight agency answerable to Parliament, will have the power to regulate the process of negotiating and signing contracts for oil exploration, drilling and refining, as well as the power to rescind those contracts. Museveni’s government is now trying to ram a change through Parliament which would give the Energy Minister, a presidential appointee, exclusive and unlimited powers to make all of those decisions. Just as Parliament was about to vote on that change on November 27 — and with Museveni’s ruling National Resistance Movement holding more than 70% of the seats in Parliament making the vote’s outcome a foregone conclusion — a minority of MPs staged an open rebellion within the chamber which brought Parliament to a halt.
When Parliament resumed on Tuesday, confusion reigned again when minority members announced that they had reached a deal with the Energy Minister to modify Clause 9 to allow for a power-sharing arrangement between the President and Parliament. Government ministers immediately countered that they had not been told of any such agreement. That led Speaker Rebecca Kadaga to again suspend the session so everyone could get their stories straight. But before suspending the session, Kadaga announce that President Museveni himself would address parliament today. Parliament didn’t meet yesterday due to a memorial service for a former member of government, and the Cabinet took the opportunity of that lull to publicly “throw out” the compromise proposal. It also announced that Museveni had cancelled today’s address.
As I’ve said before, all of this is important because many observers see Museveni’s oil grab as one of the main drivers behind the Anti-Homosexuality Bill’s re-emergence onto Parliament’s agenda. The other issues that Museveni is grappling with include a massive corruption scandal involving foreign aid that was intended to help northern Uganda recover from two decades of war with the Lord’s Resistance Army. That money instead ended up in private bank accounts of several government officials, the discovery of which has led several European countries — Britain, Ireland, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, and Germany — to announce aid cuts. Meanwhile, Museveni is also having to answer to a United Nations report, in which Uganda and Rwanda were caught supporting the M23 rebels in the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo. Those rebels recently took over the eastern provincial capital of Goma on Rwanda’s northeastern border, just 50 miles southwest of Uganda.
And, oh, by the way. Did you know that celebrating Museveni’s birthday will get you arrested? That’s what happened in Masaka when police used tear gas to arrest eight youth members of the opposition who organized a 75th birthday party. Museveni claims that he’s 68, but nobody knows how old he really is. This is important because Uganda’s constitution sets an age limit of 75 years for the president. Museveni has already scrapped term limits in 2005, and he’s already said to be angling to run for a fifth term beginning in 2016. The youth are accused of “holding an unlawful assembly and causing unrest.” For a birthday party.
With all of that going on, Museveni may soon decide that he needs a handy weapon to draw if the going gets too tough, either internationally or domestically. And there are very few issues that can rally an entire nation behind a scoundrel president better than going after the gays. The Anti-Homosexuality Bill can be just the hammer he needs to get his foreign detractors to back off — and to train his restive subjects’ minds on to something everyone can agree on. That’s why the bill remains loaded in the magazine, placed right behind the contentious Petroleum Bills on Parliament’s agenda. But it’s a bullet he can fire only once, because once the bill becomes law, it also ceases to become a threat — at least politically. Legally, it’s another matter altogether, because for Uganda’s LGBT — and straight — citizens, the weaponry of corruption and revenge will only be that much more deadly.