Although President Yoweri Museveni has assented to the Anti-Homosexuality Bill of 2023, the consequences of this law are
expected to have a significant impact on the economy and access to health-care for people living with HIV/Aids in Uganda.
In a statement published on Twitter on May 29, 2023, speaker of parliament Anita Annet Among announced that Museveni had assented to the bill.
The executive director of the Civil Society Budget Advocacy Group (CSBAG), Julius Mukunda, expressed concerns about the detrimental effects of the law on the economy. Mukunda highlighted its potential impact on the financing of Uganda’s budget, as approximately half of the national budget relies on debt financing, with a significant portion of concessional loans coming from the European Union (EU) and the United States.
The enactment of such a law raises questions about alternative financing strategies for Uganda’s national development plan agenda.
“This law is going to have dire effects on the economy,” Mukunda said.
Mukunda noted that the law will likely affect the financing of Uganda’s budget. “Half of the national budget is financed through debt. Most of these concessional loans are from the European Union (EU) and the US. This law puts us on the spot whether we have a plan B to finance our national development plan agenda.”
According to the recently passed budget committee report for the financial year 2023/24, Uganda plans to borrow approximately Shs 6.16 trillion in addition to revenue collections to fund its Shs 52 trillion budget.
LOSING REVENUE, DONATIONS
Furthermore, Mukunda warned that Uganda is at risk of losing revenue from the exportation of commodities and donations in the health sector. Roughly 50 per cent of Uganda’s health budget is funded by the EU and the US through organizations like USAID.
These same countries are major destinations for Ugandan exports. For instance, approximately $800 million worth of Ugandan coffee is exported to the European Union. If the EU were to close its market to Ugandan coffee, it would be the farmers who suffer the consequences.
According to a July 2020 statement on the USA embassy website, the USA is the largest single donor to Uganda’s health sector, contributing 32 per cent of total health spending in the country annually and accounting for 76 per cent of all foreign contributions to Uganda’s health sector.
The USA, through USAID, has invested approximately $39 million over six years to establish a reliable system for managing the supply chain of essential medicines and medical supplies.
An anonymous tour operator expressed concerns that the new law would adversely affect tourism in Uganda. The operator emphasized the need for better public relations strategies, questioning the timing of assenting to such a law during a period when business is expected to thrive.
The period from June to September is a peak tourist season as preparations are made for the December to January period. It is crucial for Uganda to reassess its approach and strategize to mitigate the impact of canceled bookings by tourists.
“We have failed to handle our public relations very well as a country. How do you assent to such a law during a period when we expect to do business? June to September is a peak season as we prepare for December to January. We must go back to the drawing board and strategize as tourists cancel bookings!” the tour operator said.
Lawyer Andrew Karamagi added that the passage of the anti-homosexual law would likely result in negative publicity in the media and public discourse, based on his experiences while traveling to the West. He stressed that such negative publicity could have adverse effects on how people perceive Uganda as a tourist destination.
Karamagi further suggested the need to analyze visitor numbers over the past decades and compare them with figures following the enactment of the anti-homosexual law in Uganda.
Addressing journalists on Monday, May 29, 2023, Asuman Basalirwa, a member of parliament representing Bugiri Municipality, stated that speaker Among’s American travel visa had been revoked. Basalirwa expressed his acceptance of a country’s right to manage its affairs and revoke visas if they deem it necessary.
He argued against blaming America or the UK for visa cancellations due to Uganda’s stance on the law. Instead, he suggested that if visas were to be cancelled, they should include the president and all MPs except for two, highlighting the issue of selective targeting.
“I have no problem with the way a country manages its affairs. It is their right if they don’t want us in their countries. I don’t want anybody to blame America or the UK for cancelling visas because of this stand. It is their right. I will not begrudge any embassy for cancelling anybody’s visa. My only problem with these people is single picking. This law was signed by the president of Uganda; may I invite America and the rest to cancel the visa of the president and all the MPs except the two? Let all MPs’ visas be cancelled (sic!),” he said.
Regarding the suspension of aid to Uganda, Sophie Barton-Knott, the UNAIDS communications manager, emphasized that UNAIDS remains committed to supporting the people of Uganda in their efforts to end HIV/ Aids.
She acknowledged that the law would create barriers to accessing services and hinder the Aids response but clarified that UNAIDS had not spoken of withdrawing aid altogether. The impact of the law, however, would undoubtedly limit the effectiveness of the Aids response.
“UNAIDS is committed to supporting the people of Uganda in working to end Aids. We are highlighting the fact this law will create barriers to access to services and obstruct the Aids response. UNAIDS has never spoken of withdrawing. This law means that the Aids response will achieve much less,” she said.
Karamagi viewed the new law as a form of political theatrics that diverts attention from critical issues such as quality of life, cost of living, and public service delivery. He argued that the current state of the Ugandan government would hinder the effective implementation of such a law, emphasizing the need to focus on more important questions rather than engaging in an idle debate about people’s sexual orientations.
“The Ugandan state, in its current degraded situation, cannot effectively implement such a law, to begin with. Ugandans should shun this diversion and raise the important questions— not who sleeps with whom, and how. Sexual offences are already taken care of by existing laws. No need to dabble in this idle debate,” he said.
In a joint statement, the leaders of the Global Fund, UNAIDS, and PEPFAR expressed grave concern over the impact of the law on Uganda’s HIV/ Aids response. They highlighted that the Anti-Homosexuality Act 2023 would impede health education and outreach, resulting in reduced access to prevention and treatment services.
The stigma and discrimination associated with the law have already led to LGBTQI+ individuals fearing for their safety and being discouraged from seeking vital healthcare services due to the risk of attack, punishment and further marginalization.
However, Dr. Jane Ruth Aceng, the minister of Health, publicly congratulated the president and the people of Uganda for assenting to the bill, stating that it upholds Ugandan culture, dignity, and protects the country’s children.
The bill was initially passed by parliament on March 21, 2023, but was subsequently returned to the house by President Museveni.
On May 2, 2023, parliament passed the Anti-Homo- sexuality Bill, 2023 with amendments to five clauses based on proposals by President Museveni. The president emphasized the need for clarity in the law, stating that it aims to criminalize actions rather than the state of having a deviant proclivity or promoting it.
During this process, Robina Rwakoojo, the chairperson for the committee on legal and parliamentary affairs, highlighted the need to amend clauses 2 and 3 of the bill to provide further clarity on its purpose and intention. The aim was to criminalize sexual acts between persons of the same sex rather than punishing individuals based on their perceived sexuality or physical appearance.
ACTIVISTS RUN TO COURT
Eleven activists led by Andrew Mwenda, and Prof Sylvia Tamale have petitioned the Constitutional court to issue a permanent injunction against the implementation of the law.
They claim the speaker Anita Among was biased during the debate and passing of the bill. They claim her conduct was inconsistent with articles 20, 89 (1) and (2) of the Constitution. Article 20 advocates for the protection and promotion of fundamental and other human rights and freedoms.