Resentment Toward the West Bolsters Uganda’s New Anti-Gay Bill


KAMPALA, Uganda — At first, it was a fiery contempt for homosexuality that led
a Ugandan lawmaker to introduce a bill in 2009 that carried the death penalty
for a "serial offender" of the "offense of homosexuality."

The bill's failure amid a blitz of international criticism was viewed by many
as evidence of power politics, a poor nation bending to the will of rich
nations that feed it hundreds of millions of dollars in aid.

But this time around — the bill was reintroduced this month — it is a bitter
and broad-based contempt for Western diplomacy that is also fueling its

"If there was any condition to force the Western world to stop giving us
money," said David Bahati, the bill's author, "I would like that."

The Obama administration recently said it would use its foreign diplomatic
tools, including aid, to promote equal rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and
transgender people around the world. Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain
has threatened to cut aid for countries that do not accept homosexuality.

But African nations have reacted bitterly to the new dictates of engagement,
saying they smack of neo-colonialism. In the case of Uganda, the grudge could
even help breathe new life into the anti-homosexuality bill.

Antigovernment demonstrations sometimes turn violent and news about corruption
scandals fills the tabloids here, but two things most people agree on is that
homosexuality is not tolerated and that Westerners can be overbearing.

The United States says it remains "resolutely opposed" to the bill, and at the
American Embassy in Uganda's capital, Kampala, officials are actively engaged
in lobbying Ugandan policy makers to oppose the bill, too.

"Our position is clear," said Hilary Renner, a State Department spokeswoman.

The pressure has worked, to a certain degree. Some of the most contentious
elements of the bill — the death penalty, and a clause ordering citizens to
report known acts of homosexuality to the police within 24 hours — would be
taken out, Mr. Bahati said in a recent interview. That could make the bill less
explosive for lawmakers.

But the diplomatic tensions surrounding the bill also seem to be increasing
its popularity.

"While covert behind-the-scenes donor pressure on the Ugandan government has
been useful in the past," said Dr. Rahul Rao, a lecturer at the Center for
International Studies and Diplomacy in London, "overt pressure can be extremely

The government of President Yoweri Museveni, while distancing itself from the
bill, defended the right for the bill to be debated in Uganda's Parliament,
saying in a recent statement that "cultural attitudes in Africa are very
different to elsewhere."

Kizza Besigye, an opposition leader who has courted the West, said Western
pressure on the issue of homosexuality was "misplaced" and "even annoying."

"There are more obvious, more prevalent and harmful violations of human rights
that are glossed over," Mr. Besigye said. "Their zeal over this matter makes us
look at them with cynicism to say the least."

When Mr. Bahati reintroduced the bill in Parliament, he did so to rounds of

In this religious and traditional society, the tug of war between advocates
and opponents of gay rights remains tense.

Days after the bill was reintroduced, a clandestine gay rights meeting at a
hotel was broken up personally by Uganda's minister of ethics.

"In the past they were stoned to death," said the minister, Simon Lokodo. "In
my own culture they are fired on by the firing squad, because that is a total

Last year, a newspaper published a list of gay people in Uganda and urged
readers and policy makers to "Hang Them."

Much of Africa's anti-homosexuality movement is supported by American
evangelicals, the Rev. Kapya Kaoma of Zambia wrote in 2009, who are keen to
export the American "culture war" to new ground. Indeed, American evangelical
Christians played a role in stirring the anti-homosexual sentiment that
culminated in the initial legislation in Uganda.

The few gay rights advocates in Uganda who work publicly on the issue have
seen their own exposure — and support — widen, too. One received the Robert F.
Kennedy Human Rights Award last year. The organization whose conference was
shut down this month receives tens of thousands of dollars from the American
Jewish World Service, according to the organization's Web site. As for Mr.
Bahati, orphaned at the age of 3 and until recently a relatively unknown
politician, the past several years have been a roller-coaster-ride of emotions,
from obscurity to fame and infamy. The American news media, he said, have
shredded his reputation.

"They really worked out on the word 'death,' " he said, referring to coverage
of the bill's death penalty provision. "We used to have friends in America, but
most of them are now scared even to identify with us."

It was in the United States, Mr. Bahati contended, that he first became close
with a group of influential social conservatives, including politicians, known
as The Fellowship, which would later become a base of inspiration and technical
support for the anti-homosexuality bill.

Mr. Bahati said the idea for the bill first sprang from a conversation with
members of The Fellowship in 2008, because it was "too late" in America to
propose such legislation. Now, he said, he feels abandoned.

"In Africa we value friendship," Mr. Bahati said. "But the West is different."

Richard Carver, who said he served as president of The Fellowship until August
2011, said members of his group were actively involved in Uganda, including one
with close ties to lawmakers. But Mr. Carver said the group never took an
official position on the proposed legislation.

"This is a very large group," said Mr. Carver, adding that "individuals can
speak for themselves."

Mr. Bahati contends that African nations like Uganda, by contrast, cannot
speak for themselves — that reliance on international aid makes

Nothing was more telling, he said, than Prime Minister Cameron's threat to cut
development aid to countries that refuse to accept homosexuality. As for the
United States, the State Department has pledged at least $3 million to civil
society organizations working on gay rights.

According to Mr. Bahati, his anti-homosexuality bill would upend that. A
clause in the bill prohibits organizations that support gay rights from working
in Uganda, potentially including the development arms of foreign governments.

"It becomes very easy," Mr. Bahati said. "Their licenses will be revoked."

A parliamentary committee has 45 days to debate the bill before sending it
back to Parliament or asking for an extension. Mr. Bahati said that he was
confident the bill would pass, but that if it did not, he had a Plan B: hope
for a Republican victory in November.

"The good thing with the West is that we know that Obama can influence the
world only up to 2016," he said. "That's a definite."


Pubblicato da Lorenzo Bernini