Uganda’s Parliament has returned after a nearly two month break, with the Anti-Homosexuality Bill listed as number eight under “Business to Follow” in yesterday’s order paper (Word: 37KB/2 pages), as well as today’s ( Word: 42KB/2 pages). There are at least a couple of ways to read this. First, this is the lowest position the Anti-Homosexuality Bill has occupied on the Parliament’s agenda since the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee announced that it had completed its report on the bill. That announcement included unverified claims that the death penalty would be removed from the bill, claims that we had seen before and were proven to have been falsely made. So for those looking for signs of encouragement, the bill’s low placement on the agenda — after a report on the African Space Research Program – may be taken as something of a positive sign.
But there is also another way to look at it, and it is consistent with what I’ve observed before: the Anti-Homosexuality Bill always seems to be hanging around whenever any other divisive issue is consuming the public’s or politicians’ attention. You may recall that when Parliament was fighting over the highly controversial Petroleum Bill last December, the Anti-Homosexuality Bill was waiting in the wings at number one under “Business to Follow,” and there it remained until after the Petroleum Bill passed in a hurriedly-called session. That Petroleum Bill was extremely controversial because it gave sweeping powers to a presidential appointee to sign and cancel oil drilling licenses, opening the way to massive corruption in the oil sector. Within a week of that bill’s passage — in a very hurriedly-called session when, coincidentally, there just happened to be a bare minimum of MP’s on hand to form quorum — the Anti-Homosexuality Bill was shoved down to number six, then to number seven, under “Business to Follow,” where it more or less remains today.
So look at where the bill is today. Placed above the Anti-Homosexuality Bill under “Business to Follow” are various reports investigating payouts for road construction and a cement company (both of which are mired in allegations of financial irregularities), a report on an investigation on irregularitites in the Electrical Subsector of a Petroleum Bill (a different Petroleum Bill from last December’s), and the Public order and Management Bill. That last one is likely to be particularly contentious, as it would grant the President and his cabinet unilateral powers to quash the freedom of peaceful assembly and dissent. And none of those issues even hint at a massive controversy taking place outside Parliament over the sudden death of a popular young Member of Parliament and the government’s ham-handed attempts to repress an independent investigation of the mysterious circumstances surrounding her death.
And so once again, the Anti-Homosexuality Bill placement on the agenda follows a fairly well-established pattern, and is consistent with my earlier speculation that the Anti-Homosexuality Bill’s true role in Parliament is to remain close at hand as a potent distraction (if needed) or as a unifying rallying point after a controversial vote (again, if needed).
For our clause-by-clause of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill’s provisions, start here. For a quick view of how a bill becomes law in Uganda, click here. The bill’s place in that process is little changed since that post was written, as it has not yet gone to the plenary stage. For a review of what happens if Parliament does pass the bill, click here. And if someone tries to tell you that the death penalty has already been removed from the bill, refer them here.