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Uganda defies West and resurrects anti-gay bill

At first, it was a fiery contempt for homosexuality that led a Ugandan lawmaker to introduce a bill in 2009 that carried the death penalty for a ''serial offender'' of the ''offence of homosexuality''. The bill's failure amid a blitz of international criticism was viewed by many as evidence of power politics, a poor nation bending to the will of rich nations that feed it hundreds of millions of dollars in aid.

Avatar of Alessia Valenza

1st March 2012 13:01

Alessia Valenza

But this time around – the bill was reintroduced last month – it is a bitter and broad-based contempt for Western diplomacy that is also fuelling its resurrection.

‘If there was any condition to force the Western world to stop giving us money,” said David Bahati, the bill’s author, ”I would like that.”

The Obama administration recently said it would use its diplomatic tools, including aid, to promote equal rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people around the world. The British Prime Minister, David Cameron, has threatened to cut aid for countries that do not accept homosexuality.

But African nations have reacted bitterly to the new dictates of engagement, saying they smack of neo-colonialism. In the case of Uganda, the grudge could even help breathe new life into the anti-homosexuality bill.

The US says it remains ”resolutely opposed” to the bill. This pressure has worked, to a degree. Some of the most contentious elements of the bill – the death penalty, and a clause ordering citizens to report known acts of homosexuality to the police within 24 hours – would be taken out, Mr Bahati said in a recent interview.
But the diplomatic tensions surrounding the bill also seem to be increasing its popularity.

The government of President Yoweri Museveni, while distancing itself from the bill, defended the right for it to be debated in parliament, saying that ”cultural attitudes in Africa are very different to elsewhere”.

Kizza Besigye, an opposition leader who has courted the West, said Western pressure on the issue of homosexuality was ”misplaced” and ”even annoying”.

”There are more obvious, more prevalent and harmful violations of human rights that are glossed over,” Dr Besigye said. ”Their zeal over this matter makes us look at them with cynicism to say the least.”

Days after the bill was reintroduced, a clandestine gay rights meeting at a hotel was broken up personally by Uganda’s Minister for Ethics.

”In the past they were stoned to death,” said the minister, Simon Lokodo. ”In my own culture they are fired on by the firing squad, because that is a total perversion.”

Last year, a newspaper published a list of gay people in Uganda and urged readers and policymakers to ”hang them”.