Uganda’s anti-homosexuality bill and Museveni’s increasingly unpopular position

For a number of years, Uganda has been an interesting case for those studying the political dynamics of the continent, especially the wave of democratisation that swept the continent in the 1990s. Yoweri Museveni accessed power in 1986 – after leading the National Resistance Movement (NRM) from the bush to the toppling of Milton Obote the year before that. Since then Museveni has been hostile to attempts to establish a multi-party democracy in the country. Instead he favoured his «movement» and a no-party democracy. Since the first elections took place in 1996, Museveni has been elected three times as president (1996, 2001 and 2006), the last one changing the constitutional two-term limit, in order to be allowed to stand. rnimg
Museveni in 1993 – Photograph by Dave Blume (Flickr)
All doubts regarding his democratic credentials however, have not resulted in international condemnation – rather the oposite: Uganda has received great deal of international support and development aid. Two main reasons explain this: first, the crucial position of Uganda on a very complicated regional context. Uganda has remained as a stable Western ally during the turbulent years of the Rwandan genocide and of the Congolese Civil Wars. Uganda has thus received support in order to resist both regional destabilisation and the interna threat posed by Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). A second reason which explains why Museveni’s democratic shortcomings have been placed on a second plane, has been Uganda’s success in fighting HIV/AIDS. The country has often been put forward as an example of effective government policy, based on the ABC (Abstinence, Be Faithbul, Condomise) policy, which saw prevalence rates decline during the 1990s. Doubts however, have been expressed regarding the real impact of these policies.rnrnRecent developments however, seem to be testing the international support which the country has received for the past twenty years, casting doubts over a potential renewal of Museveni’s tenure in the 2011 elections. First, Museveni refused to hand in Kony to the ICC, saying that he would receive a domestic trial, even though he himself reffered the case to the ICC in the first place!rnThen, in September this year, riots erupted for three days in Kampala – leaving at least 15 deaths. Violence was the result of confrontation between the police and supporters of the King of Buganda (the Kabaka) Ronald Muwenda Mutebi, after the government decided to block him from touring Kayunga district, where he was due to preside over Buganda Youth Day celebrations. rnimg
An image of the riots in Kampala last September (Reuters)
But Uganda has most recently been the object of fierce criciticism from the country’s civil society and the international comunity, over an altogether different matter, the drafing of an anti-homosexuality bill , proposed by David Bahati, MP for the Ndorwa West constituency. If approved, something which looks likely (at least before the public opinion backlash), this bill would mean life imprisonment for any Ugandan who engages in what the bill calls “same gender sexual activity”, and the prescription of the death sentence if the offender is a person living with HIV, a person with authority over a sexual partner, or if the partner is under 18. All these has been severely criticised by the Ugandan civil society: a prominent Ugandan church leader,Canon Gideon Byamugisha, has labelled the bill as «close to genocide», and last Thursday the «Civil Society Coalition on Human Rights and Constitutional Law», released a statement criticising the bill (read it here).rnAs it is often the case among African leaders – like Museveni or Mugabe – the criticism and prosecution of homosexuality ties into an anti-imperial rhetoric which seees the West as «exporting» the practice (something similar was hinted by Iranian president Mahmud Ahmadineyad, when he claimed – to international disbelief – that there were no gays in Iran). The case of the Uganda anti-homosexuality however, appears to have particularly interesting international dimensions – but not supporting the thesis of homosexuality being a Western import to Africa. rnrnOn a recent article on Ethan Zuckerman’s blog My Heart’s in Accra, he explores the connections existing between the drafting of the Ugandan bill and American Christian fundamentalists groups. The most interesting point made here is the reference to an article by Kapya Kaoma, an Anglican priest from Zambia and project director of Political Research Associates, who explores how anti-homosexual activist and holocaust revisionist Scott Lively, visited Uganda in March 2009 and played an important role in shaping public opinion in favour of the bill – he even spoke with Ugandan lawmakers and government officials. Zuckerman also mentions how Rick Warren, the leading American evangelist pastor, has condemned the bill in an attempt to separate this extreme proposition from the increasing influence of evangelican gruoups across Africa. A condemnation which has come (to the disbelief of many) more or less at the same time as the one expressed by the leader of the Anglican Church (itself split in different factions regarding homosexuality), Rowan Williams.rnrnNot all news coming from Uganda are bad news, though; on Friday, the country’s parliament passed a new law that outlaws and criminalises female genital mutilation. However, some of these news and propositions may contribute to wearing off the shine of Museveni’s command of Uganda, as perceived from the outside, and may cause increasing opposition to his re-election in the 2011 elections – although he still remains favourite. If Museveni wants to prevent public opinion from turning even more against him, he should commit himself to make his governmnent more responsive to the citizens’ needs – including a fair and efficient management of the newly found oil reserves (which for some may signal the oposite, a «resource curse» being about to fall on Uganda) – and not just trying simple publicity stunts like flying economy class to the Copenhagen summit.

3 respuestas a “Uganda’s anti-homosexuality bill and Museveni’s increasingly unpopular position

  1. toivoasheeke diciembre 18, 2009 / 2:27 pm

    Very interesting article. I must admit that i don’t know much about Uganda except that they are very pro-west and took part in many of the conflicts in the DRC. I believe that is homosexuality bill is indeed ridiculous but i am curious as to how it will be reacted to by the people of Uganda. Furthermore, i wonder again at the backstage to this scene. What has been happening behind the scenes that lead to this atrocious law coming up. All in all, very interesting article and i would like to read more of ur stuff! 😀

  2. schauzeri diciembre 19, 2009 / 10:34 pm

    Hi toivoasheeke
    thanks for your comments. I am also interested to see how this develops – esp. now that Rwanda is considering a similiar bill, but people are protesting against it….
    I also enjoy your articles, especially your series on Samori Toure, a great figure who’s history is unfortunately largely unknown

  3. toivoasheeke diciembre 20, 2009 / 5:31 pm

    Haha thanks a lot schauzeri! Yea one of the reasons why i wrote that series on Samori is because i do indeed believe that his history is largely unknown which isn’t good because he is an example of an African leader successfully (at least for a time) resisting European colonialism.

    But one question i do have for you about the situation currently in Uganda and starting in Rwanda is the strength of civil society in these countries? How strong is Civil Society versus government and is it maybe government that is passing these bills or is it them doing it pressured by civil society?

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