The presence in Kampala of the United Nations AIDS envoy, Elizabeth Mataka, capped a week of increasing pressure on President Museveni and Ndorwa West MP, David Bahati, over their campaign against homosexuality.
In October, Bahati tabled the Anti-Homosexuality Bill 2009 in Parliament, seeking more severe punishment for homosexuality, which is already illegal in Uganda. Among other sanctions, the law proposes the death penalty for aggravated homosexuality – where the offender has HIV or the victim is below 18 years of age, or is a disabled person.
According to diplomatic sources, Mataka was expected to put Museveni in a tricky situation by demonstrating to him how the proposed anti-homosexuality bill will frustrate the impressive fight against HIV/AIDS in Uganda for which the President has for long enjoyed kudos.
Uganda managed to reduce national infection rates from 18% in 1992 to around 6.5% todate. Uganda’s AIDS and human rights activists have warned that the proposed law would force homosexuals further underground and beyond the reach of health workers.
On Monday, Mataka was understood to have held lengthy discussions with Bahati to press him to abandon his anti-homosexuality drive. A lady who answered the phone at UNAIDS would not confirm Mataka’s meeting with Bahati, referring this writer to a press conference she was due to hold yesterday.
She, however, said that Botswana-born Mataka was holding several “high-level meetings with ministers and other officials.”
Asked about the meeting, Bahati said it was private and declined to say whether he considered softening his position. But he said the meeting was a “positive and constructive engagement.”
Bahati also refused to clarify reports originating from the United States that his anti-gay campaign was linked to an ultra-conservative group known as The Family. As we reported last week, an American journalist and author Jeff Sharlett told National Public Radio that Museveni and Bahati were in bed with The Family, a group he said fights homosexuality and promotes dictatorship. (See Museveni, Bahati named in US ‘cult’, The Observer, November 26 - 29)
Bahati was, however, reluctant to speak about his alleged relationship with the group that reportedly holds Hitler and Stalin as great students of Jesus. He suggested that the claims were simply a ploy to derail his campaign against homosexuality.
“Since we started this cause, there has been a lot of speculation and manipulation on the part of the pro-gay community to try and divert us from defending our family values,” Bahati said. “But we are still focussed on our cause and we are happy that Ugandans are supporting the bill.”
Earlier, President Museveni was reported to have come under pressure from British and Canadian Prime Ministers over Bahati’s bill during the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Trinidad and Tobago. British newspapers suggested on Sunday that Gordon Brown and Stephen Harper told Museveni the bill was wrong.
But Bahati said he – and, he believed the President – would not be swayed by such sentiments from the most liberal and richest members of the Commonwealth. “There is no amount of pressure or intimidation that will deter us from preventing our children from being lured into this evil,” Bahati said.
Although the final CHOGM communiqué urged all members to respect all human rights, it did not mention the Ugandan homosexuality situation. This is not surprising because in most Commonwealth countries homosexuality remains a crime.
This is the second CHOGM in four years, though, where Museveni has claimed headlines for controversial reasons. In 2005, the then Commonwealth Secretary General, Don McKinnon, and British Prime Minister Tony Blair publicly complained against leaders who were arresting their opponents. President Museveni had just arrested opposition leader Dr. Kizza Besigye. Now his government is tightening the noose around homosexuals, and again some in the Commonwealth, which he has led for the last two years, are not happy.