When Parliament reconvenes on Tuesday, the anti-homosexuality bill, which is currently at committee level, is one of several pending bills legislators will be looking to dispose of before they close business by May 12.
Unfortunately for gay people, the bill’s sponsor, David Bahati, secured his seat in the coming 9th Parliament ahead of everyone else, since nobody contested against him.
Thanks to this MP for Ndorwa West constituency in Kabale district, Uganda notched several headlines in international media last year, albeit all unflattering, including that the country was the world’s worst place to be gay.
Bahati, a UK and US educated accountant, has enjoyed a number of high-profile platforms to make his case, as it were. On March 12, the BBC World Service hosted him in Johannesburg, South Africa, along with the former president of Botswana, Festus Mogae, to debate whether homosexuality is un-African.
The subject’s implicit misconception that Africans are homogenous notwithstanding, Bahati dug in, noting that homosexuality is “inconsistent with African values of procreation, a belief in continuity of life, family and clan”.
Another panellist, Eusebius Mckaiser, a writer on gay rights issues, talk-show host and philosophy lecturer at Wits University in South Africa, differed.
“This idea that African values is all about procreation, is all about sex machines is nonsense; absolute nonsense!” Mckaiser charged.
“What would David [Bahati] have to say to a straight couple who are sterile? That they should feel less African because they can’t give birth to kids? What about a gay couple that have decided that actually, I want to have a kid but continue living in a same sex relationship the day after I have spoiled one? Would you be more comfortable with that person?”
Paula Akugizibwe, a public health activist and poet, who also sat on the panel, noted: “The question of whether it is un-African or not is really a question of whether or not we want to cling to the ideological prejudice or whether we want to let the people have the right to experience their own humanity.
“You know, you can’t change human nature, but culture is how you respond to it,” Akugizibwe weighed in to loud applause. “I would say homophobia is the un-African thing because [it] creates a culture of hatred.”
Baited by host Zeinab Badawi, Bahati emphatically stated, as his second main thrust against gay people, that the existence of homosexuals in Africa certainly compromises population growth even if he could not supply statistics to back such an assertion.
“I don’t have to give you a figure because homosexuality is illegal in our country and, therefore, there is no way we can capture this figure into our statistics,” he said.
Bahati also holds that homosexuality, and especially in Uganda, goes against our ethos as a Christian nation and, on that basis, is sin. Article 7 of the constitution, however, states that Uganda shall not adopt a state religion.
Uganda’s claim then as a Christian nation – as Michael Kyazze, the pastor of Omega Healing Centre noted – is only derivative from the fact that a huge percentage of people have been raised and socialised as Christians, which has, consequently, informed the nation’s moral basis.
Yet, how much of that moral basis exists to challenge homosexuality is debatable in a country where corruption, for instance, as the Inspectorate of Government 2008 integrity survey indicated, is an accepted way of life.
Ugandans, the survey noted, “seemed to glorify those who acquire wealth through graft, while they ridiculed those who upheld principles of integrity and moral values”.
Bahati also premises his bill on the need to curtail the promotion of homosexuality, which he says is endangering the lives of young children. According to him, “we have a number of children in Uganda who have been traumatised by the fact that they have been adopted by gay couples and they have been forced to call a man ‘mum’ or a woman, ‘dad’”.
He, however, could not offer concrete evidence to back this up, just as he would not when challenged to back up his sweeping statement that gay people were investing money to indoctrinate children into homosexuality.
“We have evidence and we are not obliged to present it to this audience,” Bahati claimed.
A Lutheran pastor, Pieter Oberholzer, then cut in. “I’m hearing you speak from one side only – the religious Christian fundamentalism – and, I’m sorry to say, the words you are using are identical to [the ones of] the three American pastors who went to your country to talk to you and your President and many leaders with their agenda, saying [homosexuals] were trying to recruit the whole world. I haven’t heard you say anything new. So, you want to be African, voicing right wing American religious fundamentalists,” Oberholzer said.
While Bahati admitted that most of what he had said was not new, he defended this apparent lack of originality, saying it was “because the problem hasn’t been solved”.
However, he said the piece of legislation he is proposing is a Ugandan legislation, proposed by Ugandans. It is a strange coincidence, however, that the bill was drafted shortly after Scott Lively, Caleb Lee Brundidge and Don Schmierer spoke at a conference in Kampala organised by the NGO, Family Life Network.
All three not only hold strong views against homosexuality, but are involved in efforts to discourage it.
To Bahati’s advantage, though, such scrutiny will be absent both in Parliament and the general public over the next six weeks when the bill is up for debate.