Uganda, a small country in Africa, is a land of diversity. It is home to over fifty different ethnic groups. It is also home to a wide variety of wildlife such as lions, leopards, rhinos, buffaloes and elephants. With such diversity it’s almost ironic that differences in lifestyles are being suppressed.
Uganda has had many recent controversies surrounding LGBTQIA+ rights. As recently as 2009, a bill was introduced to the Ugandan Parliament, officially known as The Anti Homosexuality Bill of 2009. The bill, in principle, aimed to repress support of homosexuality, even going so far as to suggest that LGBTQIA+ parents would attempt to raise their children as homosexuals – it also suggests some more sinister and outlandish ideas:
“There is also a need to protect the children and youth of Uganda who are made vulnerable to sexual abuse and deviation as a result of cultural changes, uncensored information technologies, parentless child development settings…”
Initially, the act also included the death penalty for homosexual acts. This was modified by the 2014 version which was brought into law. The current 2023 version of the law, which came into force in May 2023, is no less draconian than its predecessors, with punishments for any individual who ‘promotes homosexuality’ as ‘imprisonment for a period not exceeding twenty years’ and the death penalty can be imposed in ‘aggravated’ cases, having gay sex with someone younger than 18 or where someone is infected with long-term illness, including HIV.
This act was signed into law by Ugandan President, Yoweri Museveni, leader of the National Resistance Movement (NRM) – the majority party in the Ugandan Parliament. The NRM had previously been the party that removed former Ugandan leader Idi Amin from power in 1979. Amin was a politically corrupt, nepotistic, anti-Asian leader.
Whilst the NRM has been an improvement for many living in Uganda, there is still a clear misuse of power that aims to dehumanise and criminalise LGBTQIA+ individuals. It makes the trade of Amin for Museveni like trading poisonous trees for the fruit they bear.
The NRM’s efforts to fully suppress the rights of the LGTBTQIA+ community has been met with fierce opposition – the latest of which has involved activists finalising an appeal against this bill. One of those activists is Clare Byarugaba, who helped arrange the first Ugandan Pride event in 2012. Byarugaba has been an outspoken defender of gay rights in Uganda for a long time, and sees the struggle against the current government’s views on homosexuality as draconian and in need of immediate change:
“We are challenging the anti-homosexuality law because it does not pass any constitutional litmus test, and we shall win, because such an abhorrent law, whose only aim is to spread hate and institutionalise discrimination and exclusion, does not belong on Uganda’s law books and should never have been enacted in the first place.”
Uganda has also received some international pressure, with the US imposing visa restrictions on Ugandan legislators, amongst other restrictions. Museveni has publicly stated he takes these restrictions very lightly. In an end-of-year thanksgiving prayer at the State House, he told those present not to “be intimidated as Uganda still had its sovereignty and a strong economy.”
Museveni makes no mention as to why a bill banning LGBTQIA+ lifestyles was necessary. At the same time, violence against those who identify as such has risen drastically. He also fails to address the contradictions with Uganda’s constitution which includes: freedom from discrimination; rights to privacy; and freedom of thought, conscience and belief.
Whilst Museveni and his party members might pretend they are protecting their country’s way of life, in truth they are justifying the bigotry that Evangelical Christianity imposes on its believers.
Uganda is a beautiful country, rich in many natural wonders, but the Anti-Homosexuality Act is creating despair amongst minority groups. Repealing the law is therefore imperative to ensure that all Ugandans can enjoy their beautiful country and live without fear of violence and harassment which, after all, is a fundamental human right.