Months after President Museveni signed the Anti-Homosexuality Bill into law, the United States decided to cut aid to Uganda. On June 19, the White House stated that this action would help ‘reinforce’ their commitment to global human rights.
The widely publicized Anti-Homosexuality Bill, which was signed into law in February, made ‘aggravated homosexuality’ illegal and punishable by life in prison. Such “aggravated” acts included HIV positive gay sex and sodomizing a minor. The law went on to criminalize organizations that supported the LGBT community in Uganda as well as making lesbianism illegal.
Although engaging in acts of ‘gay sex’ was already illegal in Uganda, a holdover from British colonial law, human rights groups around the world decried the passage of the bill’s harsh new measures.
The new U.S. sanctions will cut short millions of dollars in aid, and redirect it to a different African nation. Although the country has not yet been specifically named, many believe it will be in Southern Africa.
The United States is also halting 2 million dollars to a police program, after a raid on a US-backed health program at Makerere University. Reports from participants in the program, which include abuse and detention by the police, are said to have prompted this withdrawal.
Visa bans will also be put in place for any Ugandan who has been involved in public support and the creation of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, and a military exercise that had been scheduled for the East African community was canceled.
Uganda is an incredibly strategic base for Americans within East Africa and has been used by the US military for years to launch operations around the region. Uganda’s involvement in helping quell Al Shabaab and its work in African Union are seen as a stabilizing and positive feature. And despite the recent deployment of US troops to search for Joseph Kony, it seems US-Ugandan military relations have reached a standstill.
On the Ugandan side, the government spokesman Ofwono Opondo has stated that, “Uganda is a sovereign country and can never bow to anybody or be blackmailed by anybody on a decision it took in its interests, even if it involves threats to cut off all financial assistance.”
The already unstable Ugandan Shilling dropped after news of US aid cuts, falling to its lowest levels in well over a year. Many in Kampala were left wondering how, in an import-based society, food prices would fare as the year goes on.
While nobody has been sentenced to life in jail under the new Anti-Homosexuality Law, and Uganda escaped some of the vigilante justice that shook Nigeria, incidences of intimidation and harassment have risen exponentially around the country. At least 17 people have been arrested for same sex consensual relationships (although none sentenced to life).
Another major casualty of this bill has been UN staff, doctors and aid workers. Many fear outright harassment for continuing work with HIV positive patients, or reprisals from the government for ‘helping’ sexual minorities (read: treating them with basic medical care).
For many NGO workers, who put their own freedom on the line to help these groups, cuts in US aid aren’t doing them any favors. Activist communities understand cuts to governmental funds, but pulling out of health programs will only damage the LGBT community further.
“It will just make the job harder,” said one LGBT activist who wished to remain anonymous. “It makes people feel better to punish Uganda, like justice is being served, but actually it will have the opposite effect. The country will just push back harder.” For those who already work with threadbare resources at their disposal, any cut to aid programs could put Uganda’s LGBT community in considerable danger.
For those who want to help, the Civil Society Coalition for Human Rights and Constitutional Law has filed a lawsuit with the Ugandan Supreme Court to reverse the Anti-Homosexuality Law. Although such actions could take years to make their way through the system, the case is already in the courts, and with any luck it will help reverse this unfortunate law.