Anti-gay bill distracts Uganda from solving its problems

Yoweri Museveni, president of Uganda
Yoweri Museveni, president of Uganda

Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill is gaining increased prominence as a tactic that Ugandan politicians use to distract people from the country’s corruption.

“At a moment when Uganda’s longtime president, Yoweri Museveni, has finally come under scrutiny for his government’s widespread corruption and autocratic power grabs, the uproar surrounding the bill threatens to eclipse the country’s murkier problems,” says commentator Nora Caplan-Bricker of The New Republic. Her article states:

This fall, evidence that money intended for war-torn Northern Uganda’s recovery programs has instead been lining government officials’ pockets led Britain, Sweden, Ireland, Norway, and Denmark to reduce the aid they budget the country (Britain halted direct giving altogether). Just last week, Germany joined the list.

As long as the legislation is pending … Museveni can hold other countries for “ransom” instead of answering accusations of corruption (or about recent concerns that Uganda and Rwanda are backing the M23 rebel group in the Congo). Now, “when the Prime Minister calls him, he’s not going to ask him about how the money is being used. He’s calling to plead with him not to pass the bill.”  And, if the bill makes it through parliament and Museveni halts it with a veto, the good press may drown out stories about the realities of his regime.

Politicians also consider the Anti-Homosexuality Bill a helpful way to distract constituents’ attention from controversies over regulation of the oil industry, commentators say.

A similar point is made by Kene C. Esom, director of law and policy for African Men for Sexual Health and Rights (AMSHeR), a coalition of groups seeking human rights and access to HIV services for sexual minorities and others:

The Anti-Homosexuality Bill “seems to always resurface on the agenda of Parliament whenever consensus cannot be reached on such challenging issues as dealing with corruption or when there is an imminent threat to the powers of principal officers.

David Bahati (Photo courtesy of NTV)
Ugandan member of parliament David Bahati (Photo courtesy of NTV)

Hon. [David] Bahati’s Bill has become a tool for holding Parliament together in the face of crisis, and for appeasing the demands of Ugandans for transparent, accountability and financial probity in Government, a gimmick that has been so successful in the past that the Speaker of Parliament’s choice of a ‘Christmas gift to Ugandans’ was neither the prosecution of corrupt public officials and the return of their loot to the State coffers nor the decisive conclusion of the bill on access to and control over Uganda’s oil resources, nor a promise of full independence and lack of political interference in the affairs of key institutions such as the Office of the Inspector-General of Government, but a promise to pass the Anti-Homosexuality Bill before Christmas.

Esom adds that “more and more Ugandans have refused to be fooled by this ploy; they are calling out the Anti-Homosexuality Bill for what it is — ‘populist, opportunistic and hypocritical’ in the words of Pastor Solomon Male, director of National Coalition Against Homosexuality and Sexual Abuses in Uganda (NCAHSAU) and former proponent of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. According to Pastor Male, the Bill ‘is a waste of precious time, financial and other resources that should have been applied more productively elsewhere.’ ”

The way out of this mess, Esom suggests, is for Museveni to follow up on a promising State of the Nation speech by redirecting the nation’s attention to dealing with its serious problems:

It is therefore imperative for the President, in the spirit of his newfound candor, to direct Parliament and his cabinet to focus their time, financial and other resources on issues that really matter – fighting corruption in the public sector, access to health care, access to justice, curtailing unbridled nepotism and tribalism/clanism in the civil service, professionalism in the security agencies, regional peace and security, among others.

Positive changes in this regard will bring the much-needed goodwill back to Uganda and inspire the people’s confidence in their elected representatives in a way that no State of the Nation speech or diversionary Parliamentary posturing can.

Written by Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart is a 45-year journalism veteran living in Southern California. He is the president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which supports LGBTQ+ rights advocacy journalism, and editor / publisher of Erasing 76 Crimes. Contact him at [email protected]

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