President Museveni on Monday upped the ante in the raging row with the West over anti-gay legislation, backing a special fund for HIV/Aids.
The fund is meant to keep HIV/Aids patients on ARVs, even in the face of donor aid cuts expected in response to the signing of the Anti-Homosexuality Act. The fund was first proposed by the Archbishop of Uganda, Stanley Ntagali on Monday, during the national thanksgiving at Kololo, to congratulate President Museveni for signing the bill, into law.
The thanksgiving ceremony was organized by the Inter-Religious Council of Uganda and political leaders. Archbishop Ntagali said the special fund would be instrumental in funding HIV/Aids activities if donors withheld their cash in protest at the anti-gay law that makes homosexuality a crime punishable by life in prison.
Uganda has about 1.5 million people on ARVs and the funding for ARVs is provided mainly by the American government, which has been threatening to cut aid in protest at the enactment of the law.
Responding to the proposal, Museveni said: “When I heard this idea from the bishops that we should establish a fund where people could contribute voluntarily, especially for the 1.5 million Ugandans with Aids, I supported that idea. We are going to discuss it more with the bishops and the sheiks and we see how that can be set up just in case.”
Museveni said he was also mindful of the American support towards Aids programmes before he signed the law. He said he only signed the bill after getting convinced that even if the USA cut aid, the country would support its 1.5 million Ugandans on ARVs.
“Our friends, the Americans, were handling mainly these health issues, especially our Aids people. Remember we have got 1.5 million people who have got Aids today. So before I signed this bill, I had to check with Dr Rugunda [minister of Health], how much are the Americans giving us?
I was told $450 million [about Shs 1 trillion]. But not much of that money is used usefully; some of it is being used just for kulya…… I asked how much of it is used for buying ARVs. Then Dr Diana and others calculated and found that we need about Shs 350bn. I said okay if it is 350bn, if our American friends are so careless and they want to cut off the aid so that 1.5 million people die, then we shall fund it ourselves,” Museveni said.
But he pointed out that the Americans had not spoken about cutting money for Aids programmes.
The president thanked David Bahati [Ndorwa West MP) for tabling the bill. He said he had not known that homosexuality was a serious issue, until he started getting orders from the West.
“Initially we thought they were wasting our time, but later on especially when the Western world started giving us orders, I don’t like orders from anybody outside Uganda. Uganda is a sovereign country.
Our leader Mwalimu Nyerere once said, independence means the freedom to make our mistakes, let us do our own things; if we make a mistake, we shall discover it by ourselves,” Museveni said.
The thanksgiving ceremony was mainly attended by young people drawn from different schools and universities. Museveni used the function to caution the youths against extravagant weddings and parties. He said extravagance was one of the weaknesses of Africans.
“When I got married to Janet in London, the only expenditure I incurred was 200 pounds, which I used to buy the ring and my brother-in-law John Kazoora organized a lunch of six people.
So, if you want to see a prosperous cheap wedding, here I’m. I have now got grandchildren, from a 200-pound wedding. So, such mentality of extravagance can’t allow you to create wealth,” he said.
Archbishop Ntagali said: “Uganda is known for its good laws, but implementation of the Anti-Homosexuality Act is our next task. The battle against homosexuality is not our battle; it is the Lord’s battle.”