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, 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.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Who says truth is stranger than witty satire?

Oh yes, that was me (Holly)—inspired by the headlines “Christmas Bull Kills Butcher” and “Buried Girl Survives Death” which appeared in the Monitor recently.

But the Onion has given the Monitor’s “Truth Every Day” a run for their money with this one.

Congo Approves Economic Stimulus Package Of AK-47 For Every Citizen

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Do no harm--but how much do we need to know before we act?

by Holly

This blog is prompted out of a cumulative effect of reading better educated, better informed, more clever people bash the (often misguided) efforts of well intentioned but less educated, less informed, less clever people to change their world for good.

We all know where the road of good intentions leads...(historical examples abound--Biafra, BandAid, I could go on, but you get the idea)

But really, should only clever very well informed people ever take action? I mean, how much do we need to know before it's a good idea for us to do anything? Nobody with good intentions (those who are being critisized) wants to act in ways that ultimately screw things up (undermine self-reliance, create dependence, bolster power of political miscreants, corrode political accountability and good governance, feed racism and negative stereotypes, encourage false perceptions about realities on the ground to extort money and support--I could continue, but you get the idea).

Many of the critiques I find not only valid, but self-satisfying. I find myself marveling at how ignorant some interventions are--like many western run 'orphanages'--or how insensitive the use of particular language is--e.g. when I read someone's website recently talking about how they provide a "voice for the voiceless" "Who told you?" I asked the author in my mind, "that they are voiceless? They have voices and things to say if you were listening but even your tag-line smacks of a power dynamic you should resist and an unconsciousness to your own assumption of superiority." But then I read another couple of blogs that are proverbially critical of organizations like Invisible Children and Falling Whistles. I confess that I find myself equally put off by some of the self assured pomp and judgementalism (especially in the comments) as I am rather pleased with myself for arriving at many of the same critiques as the authors. Yes, I congratulate myself, (I guiltily admit this thought enters my mind), I'm more informed and more clever. Or am I? It's all so relative--and when I make mistakes and there are unintended consequeces to my interactions and writing about northern uganda someone more informed and cleverer than I will rightly point them out, critique my work and show how I could have avoided my pitfalls if only I had known more and been cleverer.

We're all in process and surely being paralyzed by a recognition of our limited understanding isn't the right way of living? We know that ignorance is no defence--but truly--we're all ignorant. I've always been of the mind that we have a responsibility to act on what we know and know as much as possible. But perhaps we equally have a responsibility to not act on what we don't know?

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Whatever Comes Next

by Holly

I was reflecting on why I have been so remiss about writing my thoughts and sharing them here.

I must admit, a small part of my aversion to our blog in the last months is that it made me sad whenever I opened it and saw Godfrey's smiling face and yet he is missing from this wonderful world that we've come back to and the friends we've been reconnecting with since we got back to Uganda at the end of September. On some level, I still expect to see him. It feels like he could just show up, or walk around a corner, or call. When I put my old Ugandan sim card back in the phone, it was painful to delete his number, especially when I clicked on "options" with a menu that suggested I might also "call" him or "send a message." Another good friend recently fell quite sick. At least this time I could take her to the hospital, check on the care she was getting and be present with her while we hoped for recovery (she's doing much better now). I can't deny, I was afraid of losing another friend. The average life expectancy in Uganda is 51 (UNICEF 2008). Of course, none of these things can be taken for granted, but it struck me that based on our nations statistics and health care I am likely to continue living while many of my friends go through the end of life. In a kind of typical life progression and western psychological expectation of the kinds of things that different age categories deal with, this seems like something that would have come later in life--my parent's generation is only just beginning to have life expectancy ages in their peer group. But lately, it seems like our peers are inviting us either to weddings, kids baptisms or burials--and these are all ceremonies happening in the same phase of life--ours. It makes me think about death more, being nearer it than I (at least felt) in the US or UK. (this preoccupation might also be encouraged by the absolutely terrifying driving conditions we sometimes encounter on Ugandan roads)

Yesterday we had a wonderful day of celebrating Ben's birthday. In the evening we sat with good friends under a canopy of stars around a fire pit near a palm tree in our garden after a delicious meal. I was quietly thinking of conversations with Ugandan friends recently that have reflected their surprise and delight at having reached another birthday and another new year. Maybe that's why my increasing cognizance of the unavoidable reality of death doesn't seem at all depressing but is producing a really lovely kind of gratitude for life. Somehow our conversation turned to some eschatological issues, life after death, what happens, what we imagine, and some theological questions that I've been rather intentionally lazy about trying to answer for myself. It's mostly because I don't think I'll be able to figure it out (if I thought I had figured it out, I would assume I was probably wrong) and because I just trust that's it's all going to be good--even better than anything I might try to imagine. For human beings to attempt to grasp it seems like a fetus trying to understand the world outside a mother's womb. After a short silence with only the sound of our crackling fire and the wind in the trees, one of our friends said, "It's nights like tonight that make you wish you could forget that there's suffering in the world." "hmm," I realized outloud, "I appreciate nights like tonight because there is suffering in the world." Someone asked why and the same friend that posed the question said, "because of the contrast." Yes. That's what makes it sweet and that's what makes whatever comes next sweet. Death has lost it's sting because of the contrast.