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Gay law: Museveni turns villain in West

After a little public hesitation weeks ago, President Museveni signed into law on Monday, the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, triggering a hostile response from western countries.

The US announced on Monday night that it would review its relationship with Uganda.

In a statement released by the American embassy in Uganda, Secretary of State John Kerry said:

“Now that this law (Anti-Homosexuality Bill) has been enacted, the US is beginning an internal review of its relationship with the government of Uganda to ensure that all dimensions of our engagement, including assistance programmes, uphold our anti-discrimination policies and principles and reflect our values.”

Without being categorical about a freeze on aid, Kerry added: “From Nigeria to Russia and Uganda, we are working globally to promote and protect the human rights of all persons. The United States will continue to stand against any efforts to marginalize, criminalize, and penalize vulnerable persons in any society.”

The message of a world “saddened” also rang out from British Foreign Secretary William Hague. A coalition of UK gay rights groups and charities has written to the Foreign Office calling on Britain to withdraw its high commissioner in Kampala.

Jonathan Cooper, chief executive of the Human Dignity Trust and one of the signatories, said: “[This] law promises to tyrannise the lives of the Ugandan lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities. This is a huge blow for anyone who values basic human rights. This bleak situation will have an immediate effect on countries like the UK, the rest of the EU, Canada and US, as people flee and seek sanctuary.”

Popular

Although the West led the chorus condemning the bill, the law could rank as one of the most popular pieces of legislation locally. Many Ugandans reject homosexuality, some seeing it as a sin in the eyes of God and others as cultural aberration. In fact, many Ugandans see the West-led condemnation as a form of cultural imperialism.

In the build-up and immediate aftermath of the signing of the bill, The Observer’s website, www.observer.ug, was jammed by readers mostly praising Museveni for his decision to assent to the bill, drowning out moderate voices.

On his Twitter account, journalist Bernard Tabaire said blood was “on the hands of Ugandan scientists who signed off on anti-gay bill”.

Dr Frank Mugisha tweeted: “I am officially illegal - President Museveni signs law to send me to jail”.

By yesterday, international media outlets were still debating the Ugandan legislation. Some Ugandans joined in the online debates on outlets such as CNN both for and against the law.

The bill imposes a life imprisonment sentence on anyone convicted for homosexual acts. There are also seven-year jail terms for “attempting to commit the offence of homosexuality”, “aiding homosexuality” and “promoting homosexuality”.

US President Barack Obama warned earlier that the law would complicate Uganda’s relations with the USA. After signing the bill at State House Entebbe, President Museveni said:

“Our relationship with any country must be based on equal relations…they cannot force us to do something.”

The president said there was no concrete scientific evidence that someone can be born purely homosexual.

“Can somebody be homosexual purely by nature without nurture? The answer is ‘NO.’

“No study has shown that. Since nurture is the main cause of homosexuality, then society can do something about it to discourage the trends. That is why I have signed the bill,” Museveni said, adding that homosexuality was a choice majorly being promoted by western groups.

Defiance

Museveni, rather unusually, assented to a bill before the full glare of media.

“This action was message-packed. First, he wanted to make a statement to the world and at the same time make his appeal to the local public who are majorly in support of the law,” said Charles Odongtho, an independent journalist.

In dramatic style, the president also signed a special copy of the law for the US-based Cable News Network (CNN). Uganda receives at least $400m in annual aid from the USA. It remains to be seen whether that cash will keep coming.

Legal test

Notwithstanding the euphoria surrounding the law, some analysts don’t see it working. West Budama North MP Fox Odoi believes it will be very hard to convict anyone under the new law.

“This bill cannot stand in light of the bill of rights as enshrined under the Constitution…,” Odoi said on Monday.

Odoi plans to challenge the constitutionality of the bill in the Constitutional court, on the grounds that it violates people’s right to privacy and freedom of speech.

skakaire@observer.ug

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