Uganda (Seemingly) Backs Off From Anti-Homosexuality Bill (Maybe) (For Now)
December 13th, 2012
Uganda’s WBS Television posted this statement from Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi, who addressed the Anti-Homosexuality Bill which is now before Parliament:
In Uganda, we have had homosexuality for generations. Everybody knows it. You know, various local languages, we have a name for homosexuals, don’t we? We do. That means it has been there. Whoever had the homosexual was.. was killed. But there is a way in our cultures, we handle them to show our displeasure and no-acceptance of homosexual activities — homosexuality and homosexual activities, you should mark the difference between the two. Okay?
We know that in our own Penal Code, we carried this from the British. We amended this law, the Penal Code by Parliament (I’ve forgotten the year). That particular provision was amended. So it is unlawful already. So to the extent that it is unlawful, and the attempt in this bill to repeat what is already unlawful is not something we’ll support, supporting what is already in the bill. Why? Why won’t we support it? Because it’s already covered.
But there are certain aspects which may be new, like promotion of homosexuality, things like that. Those are things, when we come to debate, we’ll [unintelligible]… We set up a committee which has made a report, we go through this…
It’s a puzzling statement. While he doesn’t say so directly, Mbabazi appears to distance himself and the government from the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, while simultaneously referring to perhaps retaining Clause 13 (which bans all advocacy for LGBT rights) or other recommendations which the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee has reportedly made but has refused to make public. Nevertheless, Mbabazi’s statement is notable. He was one of the figures believed to have “blocked” the Anti-Homosexuality Bill when it came up in the previous Parliament, and Ugandan LGBT advocates last week targeted him in a Twitter campaign urging him to speak out against the bill.
As always, we need to look at these latest developments in a broader context. During an unannounced session late last Friday, Parliament passed a contentious Petroleum Bill, which concentrates exclusive power to negotiate exploration and drilling contracts in the hands of the presidentially-appointed Energy Minister and cuts all outside observers out of any oversight role. Parliament has 375 members, and exactly 188 members — just half a member above the magic 187.5 halfway mark for a quorum — just happened to be in the chambers for the fateful vote, which passed easily. Wow! Who would have thought that they would have been able to round up the exact minimum number from among those who just happend to be hanging around the Parliament building late on a Friday afternoon? It wasn’t a unanimous vote — it was 149-39 — but just by showing up to form a quorum, those thirty-nine no votes were, for all practical purposes, yes votes.
President Yoweri Museveni now gained control over the country’s oil. And with word of the maneuver coming out in what we Westerners recognize as a classic Friday afternoon news dump, the country had the weekend to decide that there was no point in protesting any further. Ubiquitous corruption has a way of numbing the senses. And so the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, which had been waiting in the wings in case a diversion was needed, has now been pushed down from the top spot to number 6 under “Business to Follow” on Parliament’s Order Paper for yesterday (DOC: 37KB/2 pages). Today’s Order Paper (DOC: 33KB) shows that Parliament will meet for a Special Sitting for an address by Museveni, undoubtedly to talk about why it is so important for one person to control the country’s entire oil wealth.
Meanwhile, Speaker Rebecca Kadaga, who helped engineer the bill’s reintroduction in February and called for its passage before Parliament begins its Christmas breaks on December 15, has suddenly turned up in Vatican City yesterday, where, according to the Parliament web site, she received a special blessing from the Pope while leading a delegation for a World Parliamentary Conference on Human Rights. All of the sudden that Christmas deadline doesn’t seem so important.
Which is just as well, since Museveni has a lot on his plate right now. Back last summer when talk first emerged that the Anti-Homosexuality Bill would be revived, the only thing anyone could see on the horizon was the contentious Petroleum Bill. The Anti-Homosexuality Bill would make a handy wingman, if you will, to divert attention away from the Petroleum Bill, if needed. But other nasty surprises have cropped up since then. In addition to pushing the first and most contentious of two Petroleum Bills through Parliament, Museveni is furiously trying to broker some kind of a truce/cease-fire/peace deal between the Democratic Republic of Congo and the M23 rebels in the eastern part of that country after a United Nations report blasted Uganda and Rwanda for supporting the rebels.
And Museveni is having to contend with foreign aid cuts in response to a massive corruption scandal in the Prime Minister’s office — that would be the very same Prime Minister who issued the statement above. Germany, Britain, Ireland, Norway, Denmark, and Sweden have all announced cuts to direct government-to-government aid to Uganda following revelations that foreign aid funds have wound up in the private bank accounts of several people in the Prime Minister’s office. Uganda, for its part, has acknowledged the scandal (it was a Ugandan auditor which brought it to light). Museveni’s government has taken notice and vowed to refund the stolen funds — with the Ugandan taxpayers footing the bill. Interestingly, when Germany announced its aid cuts, Minister of Economic Cooperation and Development Dirk Niebel specifically cited Uganda’s meddling in the Congo and the Anti-Homosexuality Bill as reasons number two and three respectively (reason number one, of course, was the foreign aid scandal). But a spokesperson for Museveni took pains last week to deny that the Congo mess or the Anti-Homosexuality Bill had anything to do with Germany’s announcement:
It is not true that the suspension is a result of false allegation by the UN group of experts that Uganda supports the M23 rebels in the DRC. Being a member of the UN Security council, The Federal Government of Germany is satisfied with Uganda’s role in the pacification of Eastern DRC, under the mandate of the International Conference of the Great Lakes Region that is currently chaired by President Museveni.
It is equally NOT true that the suspension of Aid is tagged to the current debate in parliament on Homosexuality.
While that’s going on at home, Museveni found time earlier this week to take a trip to Russia where he was “decorate(d) with the highest award order of valour, honour and glory of the Eminent Military and Political leaders of Africa.” Whatever that means. Why he’s really there is anybody’s guess. The last time he went to Russia, he came home with some expensive MiG jet fighters and left it to Parliament to figure out how to pay for the unbudgeted multi-million dollar aircraft. Whatever Museveni’s doing there this time, nobody knows. But he took the opportunity to lambast the West for its “hegemonism and imperialist practices. …Whatever is pushing those actors [in the West]; they are making a big mistake. Cooperating with Africa is the wise thing to do.”
So, this is what we have. Uganda has gotten more of its share of international attention due to scandals, civil wars and the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, and all of that attention has been decidedly negative. And we see that Ugandan officials are visibly striving to put out at least two of those fires in order to get back into the West’s good graces. And with the Anti-Homosexuality Bill dropping to priority six on Parliament’s “Business to Follow” and Prime Minister Mbabazi’s statement at the top of this post, we may be seeing positive movement on the third fire. It turns out that the negative attention internationally has outweighed whatever diversionary value the bill might have had domestically. Speaker Kadaga’s “Christmas gift” to the Ugandan people just might end up being not passing the bill. At least for the time being.