Nigel Anthony on what’s going on

he Anti-Homosexuality Bill 2009 was introduced as a private member’s Bill on 14 October in Uganda’s parliament by MP David Bahati. When tabled, the Minister for Ethics and Integrity, Dr James Nsaba Butoro, made a strong statement in support and urged greater sanctions of individuals and organizations ‘supporting’ homosexuality. When introduced, it carried the death penalty for certain aggravated activity; this has now been dropped.

The bill would also require anyone who is aware of anyone breaking the terms of this act to report them within 24 hours. If an individual does not do so he or she ‘commit[s] an offence and is liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding 250 currency points or imprisonment not exceeding three years.’

In an attack on the freedom of expression, a new, wide-ranging provision would also forbid the ‘promotion of homosexuality’ – including publishing information or providing funds, premises for activities, or other resources.

‘This bill is a blow to the progress of democracy in Uganda,’ said David Kato of Sexual Minorities Uganda. ‘It goes against the inclusive spirit necessary for our economic as well as political development. Its spirit is profoundly undemocratic and un-African.’ Many MPs, churchmen and others are fearful of expressing opposition, on the basis of its confusion of terms. The Bill is apparently very popular as a clear and visible blow against corrupting Western culture – to be ‘pro-gay’ suggests support for this foreign post-colonial influence.

Sylvia Tamale, who teaches law at Makerere University, is one of the few prepared to acknowledge the clash of culture, ‘Homosexuality or same-sex attractions have been part and parcel of African communities for time immemorial. But the terms ‘homosexuality,’ ‘lesbian,’ ‘gay’ – those are relatively new. And those are terms many Africans attracted to people of the same sex never use or never identify with.’

It is a strangely sinister story, not least because so little detailed information comes out of Africa, even with the vaunted power of the internet. The rising threat of Islam – Sudan borders Uganda to the north – must surely have something to do with this Bill, but this is never mentioned in the press. American Evangelical fundamentalists are widely quoted as being the principal inspirations, though just as many have joined the universal condemnation that has come from around the world.

The Bill is also, surely, an opportunistic diversion from the serious issues facing Uganda’s policy-makers. This does not, however, insure that it will not become law.

In December the Swedish government said that it would revoke its $50 million development aid to Uganda if the Bill passes. Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt stated that he ‘thought and hoped we had started to share common values and understanding.’ ND