Uganda’s President Says Anti-Gay Bill Is ‘Unnecessary,’ But the Fight’s Not Over

Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni has told journalists he believes a new anti-gay law would be “unnecessary” as Uganda already has strict laws against homosexuality. This might sound encouraging, but past history tells us that Museveni’s comments don’t necessarily add up to much at all.

Speaking to reporters in Japan at a recent event designed to discuss, among other things, economic investment partnerships between countries, Museveni reportedly touched on a variety of issues including how some of Uganda’s soldiers were recently taken captive by religious extremists in Somalia, as well as Uganda’s now notorious Anti-Homosexuality Bill.

The AP reports:

Museveni, one of Africa’s longest-serving presidents, also indicated he saw no need to keep pursuing anti-gay legislation that he signed last year but was later thrown out by a court. The proposed law was widely criticized in the West, including by President Barack Obama.

“That law was not necessary, because we already have a law which was left by the British which deals with this issue,” he said, referring to an anti-sodomy law that dates from the colonial era.

Unsurprisingly, the media has latched onto this as an indication that Museveni does not support the proposed legislation which is currently working its way through Parliament.

As we have previously detailed, the Anti-Homosexuality Law which was passed in 2013 carried a number of devastating penalties. When it was first drafted it was dubbed the “Kill the Gays” legislation because it carried the death penalty for, among other things, repeat offences. After an international outcry that provision was scrubbed from the bill, however there remained a number of extraordinarily restrictive penalties, among them a mandate that family and friends most inform authorities if they even suspect someone to be homosexual.

A Ugandan court later struck down the legislation not because it was unconstitutional but because MPs had failed to wait for quorum–that is to say a representative number of MPs voting on the bill–before passing the law, thereby nullifying the law. This was a significant victory for campaigners, but almost immediately lawmakers began redrafting a version of the legislation.

Late in 2014 a version of that bill, known now as The Prohibition of Promotion of Unnatural Sexual Practices Bill of 2014, leaked to the press. We have a detailed breakdown of the main points of the bill here, but to summarize the legislation contains nearly all of the restrictive penalties that were part of the previous legislation with additional penalties like a Russian-style “gay propaganda” ban (which was technically part of the original bill anyway but is made more explicit here) and what is essentially a ban on foreign NGOs advocating for the human rights of LGBTs. It’s difficult to imagine what could have made the original legislation worse, but Ugandan lawmakers seem to have managed it with this draft legislation. 

So the above statement from Museveni against any new anti-gay bill should be encouraging, right? Unfortunately, no.

The problem is, Museveni publicly urged lawmakers against the previous anti-gay bill. As the Washington Blade points out, Museveni has said he believes the legislation has and could have a negative impact on the country’s economy as foreign governments, particularly the United States, the UK and certain European powers, threatened cuts in aid and trade with Uganda over the legislation.

To put it bluntly, however, Uganda’s MPs simply didn’t care and passed the legislation anyway (and, in case of the Anti-Homosexuality Act, even in spite of their own parliamentary rules). LGBT rights activists have been caught off-guard before when Uganda’s lawmakers have suddenly decided to act and move on the legislation, so we must guard against complacency in this case.

In addition, and as Museveni points out, Uganda’s existing anti-gay penalties, which are the result of colonial era penal code charges, are already being actively applied and with significantly harmful effects. Citizens are routinely being hounded, while a former football manager called Chris Mubiru is facing up to 18 years in prison after being convicted of sodomy offences. In fact, even without the Anti-Homosexuality Act being in force, Ugandans are still reporting heightened rates of arrest, persecution and violence. In addition, President Museveni is also on record as saying that he would support a ban on foreign couples who live in countries with same-sex marriage from adopting children from Uganda, so clearly he does support some new anti-gay legislation.

This shows that while Uganda may be going slow on its latest anti-gay bill, and Museveni may have some reservations, it by no means should be taken as Uganda’s LGBT population being out of danger.

Photo credit: UK Foreign Office via Flickr.

80 comments

Jan K
Jan S4 months ago

Thanks

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Peggy B
Peggy B4 months ago

Noted

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Lesa D
Past Member 4 months ago

how about an anti~HATE bill instead???

thank you Steve...

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Barbara S
Barbara S4 months ago

Thank you

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Lisa M
Lisa M4 months ago

Thanks.

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Lisa M
Lisa M4 months ago

Thanks.

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Lisa M
Lisa M4 months ago

Thanks.

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Lisa M
Lisa M4 months ago

Thanks.

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Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus3 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Miles F.
Miles Foster3 years ago

I wonder what Ulrich M and pam w imagine were the attitudes of pre-colonial Africa towards people we would now identify as LGBT? What is their evidence that these societies were any less 'narrow' than the Europeans? In fact, the roots of homophobia lie in tribalism, where procreation and patrimony are all important – which is why we find so much of it in the Old Testament. The history of humanity was always brutal and there never was a golden age of tolerance and brotherly love. Not in pre-colonial Africa. Not in post-colonial Mississippi. Moreover, we might reflect that it was Europe that gave the world democracy, the Enlightenment and civil rights and it was a European country, that former colonial power the Netherlands, which was the first to recognise same-sex marriage; a right denied to many Americans until some 15 years later. People who live in glass houses really shouldn’t throw stones. Contemporary African homophobia is not due to the influence of former colonial powers. Quite the opposite. As with Putin, it is due to the determination of some African leaders and churchmen to distance themselves from western influence. Robert Mugabe, for instance, has called homosexuality ‘un-African’ and ‘a white disease’. If Putin and Mugabe are on one side I know which side I’m on.

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