Monday, January 25, 2010

American opposition to the Anti-Gay Bill has potential to curb corruption and encourage fiscal responsibility

by Holly

I've been wanting to post something for quite awhile on Uganda's Anti-Homosexuality Bill that includes the death penalty for "aggravated homosexuality" that is being considered in Parliament. There is just so much to say, it's hard to know where to start. So I've included most of a slightly altered comment I made on another blog for your benefit/to get myself started: (you can find the blog post and my original comment here)

This bill is a crying shame. It’s a crying shame that Musevini and others would only consider opposing it because of money—not because it’s obvious that if enacted it would be an unjust law. I’ve been totally appalled by how the religious leaders in particular have supported it and the extreme threat that they seem to think homosexuality poses to health and family life (not to mention that in a lot of the rhetoric the words homosexuality and pedophilia are used interchangeabley..um, what?). If the Ugandan Christian clergy really wants to fight for an issue of sexual morality that is threatening their communities, spreading HIV and breaking up families it should be to promote faithfulness in marriage through their lives and pastoral work rather than throwing their weight behind this insidious and hateful legislation against homosexuality.

I'm deeply concerned about the legal impact, but perhaps even more so about the social implications. Citizens taking justice into their own hands is not only common but encouraged by police and many will inevitably interpret this bill as the state condoning violence against homosexuals (even without it we’ve heard cases of sexual violence against homosexuals to "turn them straight").

I don’t even know how to begin engaging this issue with friends and colleagues here (although I regularly try--and would love some new ideas if anyone's got them)—and have a hard time getting my mind around how people who are otherwise compassionate human beings can think that it’s okay to imprison if not kill homosexuals. (It's already illegal to be gay in Uganda, and you can get up to 7 years in prison for it--really, do we need a harsher law?) I know maybe I shouldn’t be surprised by this stuff anymore, but even Ugandan friends who are involved in human rights advocacy and that I’d consider relatively progressive will dismiss the issue as “cultural” and are at best ambivalent if not supportive of the bill. It seems that in Uganda, like the Minister of Ethics and Integrity (the irony of his title kind of makes my stomach churn) said, “gays can forget about human rights.” Seriously, I lose sleep having imaginary arguments with people about this. It’s a crying crying shame.


I should note, that since i wrote about my dismay of the Christian clergy's support of the bill, I was encouraged that at least the Catholic Archbishop has described the bill as "Un-Christian." It seems like somewhat of an understatement, but it's something.

Get off our backs, donors told was published in the Monitor the same day I had an intriguing discussion with a friend. Here is the most amazing quote in the article from Steven Mukitale, the chair of Parliament's Committee on National Economy:
"We can cover the aid money they (the US) want to stop through disciplined spending and curbing corruption."
Wow. It's not every day you hear a government official boast that all the money the US gives is lining officials pockets and undermining accountable and responsible government spending. I wonder what USAID in Kampala thinks about this...

I was discussing this article with a Ugandan friend with a refreshingly different if somewhat conspiracy-theory-esque take on it all. He's one of the first Ugandan guys I've talked to that opposes the bill, although, he really doesn't take it all that seriously. Instead, he thinks it is political posturing. He had three arguments, two that I found somewhat compelling. First, the bill has hugely distracted from the massive swindling of CHOGM (Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting) funds. The evidence of corruption was climbing up the President's cabinet. After it reached the VP hints of the big man's implication were made and then this bill was introduced and little attention has been given to it since. Second, Musevini is quite aware that he has in recent years fallen from favor in the eyes of many western leaders. As my friend says, "he's not the blue-eyed boy they once thought him to be." His plan, my friend believes, is to rush in at the last hour to kill the bill and save the homosexuals, scoring points with the west. I pointed out that this seemed an odd time to be so concerned in appeasing the international community when the constituency that has to re-elect him is warming up for the poles and seems to support the bill. "He's not worried about that. He knows he'll go through--so he only cares about restoring his image in the international community." The third, I didn't really follow the logic--somehow human rights NGOs were part of a conspiracy to attract funding for promoting human rights of homosexuals but all the money that would pour in would somehow be diverted for political campaigns. I'm not sure about all that, but I do find the idea that there's no reason to fear this bill will ever be enacted rather comforting. Sadly, I think there is still good reason to be concerned. Parliament has planned public dialogues and gathering views from the 'grassroots' that risk giving an air of legitimacy to what can only be an unjust law if enacted.

If you're interested, the Civil Society Coalition on Human Rights and Constitutional Law, that formed in response to this Bill, has compiled articles, opinions, press statements and other information on the Bill that is available to download.

3 comments:

joshkutchinsky said...

Hi,

What should we do if the bill goes through and what should we do if it doesn't?
The existing imperialist-colonialist inspired legislation is bad enough both in Uganda and elsewhere in Africa. There is a deliberate irony when we are told that homosexuality is un-African and that Africa must resist by employing British colonial tactics imported into Uganda to combat African homosexuality by missionary-led imperialists.

The wicked cruelty of this anti-gay bill has got to me.
Please see my blog posts http://thelunchtimeobservers.blogspot.com/2009/12/seeing-wider-picture-ugandan-anti.html and http://thelunchtimeobservers.blogspot.com/2009/12/most-authorative-views-i-have-seen-have.html

Jim Peterson said...

...speachless...don't know how you deal with it all, but I'm glad you do and glad you are there...it's especially painful to see hate generated from "christians", though as stated we are only slightly better about it here in the USA; we don't excute, we just persecute...Lord help us...

Holly and Ben Porter said...

Josh, sorry that I was so delinquent in responding to your post and your blogs. Your ideas on scapegoating were particularly relevant and perceptive. I did wonder how you saw this particular form of scapegoating as an expression of the "game of power politics played out against ethnic divisions"? I can see it as a power struggle, but how do you see the connection with ethnic divisions in this case? Scapegoating is certainly used as a technique in power struggles, it's also a way of asserting moral values and boundaries to define a community in a tumultuous or disordered time. Uganda, as well as many nations (including European and American) have a history of scapegoating "witches" in extraordinarily violent ways. I hope to post more on this topic in particular soon.

I have a confession. In my post I said I have a a hard time getting my mind around otherwise compassionate human beings thinking it's okay to imprison or even kill homosexuals--but really that's not true. I get it. Fear. Fear that is manipulated and based on some misperceptions (like confusing pedophilia with homosexuality) and some deeply held values (like the importance of expanding one's "life force" that is--to produce children) Many people do feel that their own children and families are at risk to sexual predators and to foreign/European recruiters (and who doesn't' feel that people who sexually abuse their children should be dealt with harshly?). They are concerned by the erosion of social and cultural values that indeed all understanding of life and social interaction is based on. (as a woman without children my value and role is perceived as incomplete--how much more so someone who "chooses" (so they're taught) to "go against the laws of nature" forever engaging in relationships that will biologically deny them a child?)

I think "what should be done" needs to take into consideration and engage this very real fear and not just dismiss it--which I admit, I am tempted to do. My visceral reactions to such things force me to acknowledge the limits of my relativism. We can get mad and pull a universal human rights card, which is morally satisfying but singularly unhelpful. I'm reticent to explain "the other side" of this debate. I think this is because at first blush, to try to explain and to understand (where they're coming from) is to somehow excuse it or to defend it. This is a mistake--and the impulse needs to be overcome. We have to understand it if we want a part in challenging it.

That said, if this law is passed and I meet/find out someone is homosexual-I won't report them.
If I encounter someone who is homosexual that has been raped or otherwise abused I will try to help them. I will break the law.

The question, that is still outstanding--in my mind and as a discussion with my partner and community here--is whether we react to such situations or seek them out.