In an apparent change of attitude towards homosexuality, President Museveni has told NRM legislators that any re-enacted anti-gay law should respect the rights of two consenting adults who engage in same-sex relationships.
Addressing the ruling party caucus at State House Entebbe on Monday, Museveni cautioned MPs to tread carefully on the mooted plan to return the recently-annulled Anti-Homosexuality Act to the floor of Parliament.
“I have no problem with two adults consenting to doing their things privately, but I have a problem with those who are luring our young people,” a source quoted Museveni as having said.
Fresh from a US-Africa summit, Museveni reportedly told MPs he had gone through a difficult time on the international scene ever since he publicly assented to the controversial law in February.
“We over showed-off after the enactment of the law which landed us into problems, because many other countries passed similar laws quietly and got away with it,” he said.
Museveni chose to open up to the legislators after realising that many of them supported the re-enactment of the controversial law. His views seemed to have been formed after submissions by about eight MPs, including state ministers Bright Rwamirama (Animal Industry) and Henry Banyenzaki (Economic Monitoring), in favour of fast-tracking the process of re-tabling the bill in Parliament.
Among the challenges Museveni encountered, the source said, was a petition by 10 US senators to Barack Obama asking the American president to strike Uganda and Nigeria from the list of US’ trade partners.
“[Museveni] said we risked having our exports rejected on the American market, which would have adverse effects on our revenues. And, besides that, some investors from the US like the apparel factory at Bugolobi [which benefits from duty-free access to US markets] were also threatening to wind up their operations in Uganda,” an MP said.
Addressing a news conference yesterday, Government Chief Whip Justine Kasule Lumumba, said the caucus eventually agreed to set up a committee to study the law before its re-enactment.
Museveni’s new push for concessions on gay rights means that if the recently -annulled law is re-introduced in the House, it would have to be re-drafted so that the offence of homosexuality is redefined.
The annulled legislation had provided that someone commits the offence if-(a) he penetrates the anus or mouth of another person of the same sex with his penis or any other sexual contraption; (b) he or she uses any object or sexual contraption to penetrate or stimulate sexual organ of a person of the same sex; (c) he or she touches another person with the intention of committing the act of homosexuality. Under section 2, a person who commits an offence under this section should be liable, on conviction, to imprisonment for life.
NRM legislators who spoke to The Observer after the meeting said the president’s message to the caucus implies that he is interested in having a law that punishes only those who promote the act of homosexuality, not those who practice it in private.
Museveni advised MPs to approach homosexuality with a clear foresight of Uganda’s interests while at the same time not impairing Uganda’s international relations.
“This is a delicate situation...This is now an issue of Semusota guli muntamu, “Museveni reportedly said in reference to a Luganda saying that is loosely used in reference to delicate situations. The saying envisages a situation where a snake is in a cooking pot; if one tries to kill the snake, they might break the pot, if they don’t kill it, they will not cook.
On August 1, 2014, the Constitutional court unanimously agreed to nullify the Anti-Homosexuality Act on ground that the law was passed without the required quorum. A day after the judgment, Museveni hesitated to comment about the court’s judgment and the way forward during a press briefing at State Lodge, Nakasero, claiming that his views would be made known in the NRM caucus meeting.
In his speech to the caucus, Museveni reiterated that whereas homosexuality is not a priority of the country’s development agenda, he does not object to a move that seeks to protect the institution of family. However, he advised members to consider the likely implications, particularly for Uganda’s international trade relations.
“Even if the law threatens aid, there will be no problem. But it should not affect our trade relations,” Museveni reportedly said.
The president’s presentation was followed by a caucus discussion, in which members made a unanimous call for the re-enactment of the law. Ndorwa West MP David Bahati, the chief promoter of the annulled legislation, sought to allay the president’s worries that the legislation would affect Uganda’s trade relations. Bahati said that view was being propagated by pro-gay voices after failing on the issue of aid.
Vice-President Edward Ssekandi and Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi, both lawyers, gave differing legal opinions on the matter. Ssekandi advised that it is okay to re-introduce the bill. Mbabazi, on the other hand, said that it would be problematic to proceed on the reintroduction of the bill in light of a notice of appeal.
“This shows that the attorney general is going to challenge the decision. How, then, can we discuss a matter that is before court?” a source quoted Mbabazi as saying.
The president directed the attorney general to drop any intention of appeal and advised the caucus to set up a nine-member committee to study the matter and report back after a month. The committee, which will be chaired by Ssekandi, is mandated to study the petition, which challenged the law as well as advise the caucus on the likely implications of the law and perhaps how it should look like. Other members of the committee include Bahati, Dr Chris Baryomunsi (Kinkiizi East), Steven Tashobya (Kajara), Jim Muhwezi (Rujumbura) and Ruth Nankabirwa (Kiboga Woman).
Others are Fred Ruhindi (Nakawa), Aidah Erios Nantaba (Kayunga Woman) and Adolf Mwesige (Bunyangabu). After the select committee has submitted its report, it will then be up to the caucus to make a decision for reintroduction of the bill. Then, cabinet will okay the move through the Finance minister, Maria Kiwanuka, granting a certificate of financial implication to pave the way for the bill’s re-tabling in the House.
“The caucus will decide whether it remains a private member’s bill or it will be taken over by the executive,” Lumumba said.
On Monday, Speaker Rebecca Kadaga received a petition from religious leaders urging Parliament to re-enact the law. By press time, Kawempe North MP Latif Ssebaggala had collected 207 signatures for a petition to reintroduce the law as a special legislation. On whether the law will go through the normal process like any other bill, West Budama South MP Jacob Oboth Oboth, the chairperson of the House’s Rules Committee, said: “This bill had been debated and views from both sides are known; so, some rules will be waived.”