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Why Did Uganda’s President Turn on Anti-Homosexuality Bill?

Jim Burroway

February 16th, 2014

Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni

That’s the political question being asked today. Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni is very well aware of the hit he’ll be taking internationally by giving his assent to the draconian legislation. A few months after the bill’s 2009 introduction amid international outcry, Museveni told his ruling party caucus that the government should “go slow” with the bill, citing foreign policy concerns. Later that year, Museveni’s cabinet reported that they had “rejected” the private member’s bill sponsored by M.P. David Bahati. His cabinet tried to repeat that assertion again in 2011. When the bill passed last December, Museveni lashed out at House Speaker Rebecca Kadaga for rushing it through without a quorum, and just four weeks ago he told representatives from the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights that he would not give his assent to what he called a “fascist” bill.

So why the turnaround? A Ugandan opposition paper thinks it’s purely a matter of domestic political calculations:

The Observer Editor Richard M Kavuma believes the president may have been guided by political calculations. Because he was keen to win over MPs on key issues such as denying suspects bail on certain offences, Kavuma said, the president may have decided to sign the popular bill as a concession.

“But it is also true that some of the president’s people may challenge the legislation in court and given Uganda’s largely progressive Constitution, they may get the bill declared unconstitutional,” Kavuma said.

“That way the president comes out looking good to his anti-gay electorate, while the judges will take the flak from Uganda’s generally Christian conservative population.”

Kavuma added: “Because the law is likely to fail anyway, the president may have found the political cost of signing the bill to be much lower than that of maintaining his locally ‘anti-people’ stance.  On the contrary, he will be praised across churches, shrines and mosques if he signs the bill.”

According to this analysis, there’s virtually no political cost in the short term domestically, and, if it plays out in court the way Kavuma believes, there’s no long term political cost either. In other words, it’s the most cynical plan conceivable. Nobody loses, except of course Uganda’s LGBT citizens, who don’t count in this calculation anyway.

The Observer also notes that Museveni’s announcement, made at a ruling party caucus this weekend, may have been aimed at tamping down internal challengers who may themselves have presidential aspirations. Museveni is all but assured to announce his run for re-election in 2016, when he will have already spent some thirty years as the country’s leader following a 1986 civil war.

Comments

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MattNYC
February 17th, 2014 | LINK

So we’re cannon fodder…

To be fair, this is how we got DADT and DOMA from Bill Clinton.

Nathaniel
February 17th, 2014 | LINK

Matt, to be fair, we have always been cannon fodder. For example, if you looked at the state of state budgets in 2011-12, then looked at the states raising questions about marriage (either extending or extra-denying), some of the most budget-troubled states were also some of the same states discussing marriage. I’m afraid that sometimes even our allies find us to be convenient distractions from real government problems.

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