Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Museveni Supporters Forced to Do a U-Turn

For years, pro-life leaders found a soul mate in Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni. Like them, he opposed abortion and even fought international efforts to sneak abortion into an African Union document. He opposed efforts to promote homosexuality, although he never went so far as Zimbabwe Prime Minister Robert Mugabe in his hatefulness toward homosexuals. However, a new bill in the Ugandan legislature is tending toward the hateful, and Museveni’s friends around the world are calling on him to oppose it.

Ugandan Bill 18, known as the Anti-Homosexuality Bill 2009, criminalizes homosexual acts. Anyone found to repeatedly engage in homosexual acts faces the death penalty. People who touch one another in a “gay way” could be jailed, as could those who fail to report such an offence within 24 hours of witnessing them or finding out about it.

The bill has been opposed by Ugandan legal experts and human rights activists. Sylvia Tamale, a law don at Makarere University, said five of the 18 clauses in the law “are problematic from the legal point of view.” She added: “The attempt to outlaw the promotion of homosexuality will affect everybody because the clauses introduce censorship and undermine freedom of expression, speech, association and assembly.”

Valentin Kalende of the Coalition on Human Rights and Constitutional Law said “a better title for this bill would have been the anti-human rights bill.”

Here in America, some of Museveni’s staunchest supporters find themselves alarmed by his silence on the bill and are urging him to come out in opposition. Four Republican members of the U.S. House of Representatives – Congressmen Frank Wolf, Chris Smith, Trent Franks and Anh “Joseph” Cao – have written an open letter to Museveni urging him to stop the bill from becoming law.

Other American supporters of Museveni expressed their opposition to the bill in even stronger terms. Republican Senator Tom Coburn called the bill “absurd,” while Republican Senator Chuck Grassley described it as an “un-Christian and unjust proposal.”

So what if Museveni doesn’t oppose this legislation, but rather supports merely an adjustment? How will his current friends in the U.S. government react?
Keep in mind that opposition to the bill is not unanimous in Uganda. Homosexuality is not popular in Uganda or other parts of Africa. Many Ugandans abhor homosexuality and are not offended by the lengths to which the bill goes to stamp out homosexuality in their country. Many members of the Ugandan clergy (though not all) are key supporters of this legislation. Despite widespread international opposition to the bill, its sponsor, David Bahati, the Member of Parliament for Ndorwa, accuses gay rights groups in the West of “engaging in a game of manipulation, deception and control.” Like other Ugandan opponents of homosexuality, he sees the opposition as a sign that he is on the right track and is encouraged to push forward.

While Bahati focuses on the criminalization of forced homosexual acts as the basis for the bill, Ugandan law already punishes rape or sexual coercion. Moreover, homosexuality is proven to be responsible for only 15%of HIV-AIDS cases. So is the potential for rampant violation of Ugandan human rights worth the enemies this bill is creating for the country?

Responsible opponents of homosexual acts do not hate homosexuals or support legislation that equates them with rapists or turn their friends and colleagues into snitches. Those in America who oppose homosexuality and support Museveni now face a dilemma. At a time when they are fighting against the legalization of gay marriage in America, a Ugandan friend appears to support a hateful piece of legislation that simply cannot accept.

If Museveni fails to oppose this bill, he will surely lose the support of American friends even though they still share stands on many issues. How that will play out in terms of aid remains to be seen, but they certainly have to distance themselves from an approach that risks disaster in a country that has seen the face of holocaust before.

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