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Dear Biden, Museveni doesn’t care about homosexuality

Your Excellency, Joe Biden, it’s amazing how, with a trillion-dollar intelligence-gathering machinery (comprising eighteen agencies), you Americans have yet to understand the mind games that my country’s despot, General Yoweri Museveni, has mastered and enjoys playing with you, and your European counterparts.

Just as amazing is how you Westerners do not recognise how your predictable behaviour has enabled (and continues to enable) warlords, autocrats, despots, and dictators alike, world over.

You see, Gen. Museveni deliberately runs a ‘government’ that is absent and present at the same time.

Absent, in terms of the things that actually matter, such as public service delivery and regulation of the economy.

Present, in terms of things that a government should have no business being involved in, such as organising so-called national prayer breakfasts (Article 7 of our Constitution designates Uganda as a secular State), beauty pageants, birthday parties for the Crown Prince, Muhoozi Kainerugaba (which featured the blocking of public roads), and social gatherings of a similar sort.

Public administration in Uganda is inverted. The Executive imposes itself on private matters like fights between religious factions, wrangles amongst boda boda (commercial motorcyclists) and matatu (passenger service vans) operators, who is sleeping with whom, and leaves public affairs to whom it may concern.

To cope with an absent and dysfunctional ‘government’, Ugandans continuously hold fundraising events for those with terminal illnesses, accident victims, road construction, renovation of public hospitals, salaries for police officers, government school teachers, school fees for orphaned children, and humanitarian missions to disaster-stricken areas, and whatever else the State has neglected. Government officials shamelessly attend these events in their official capacities and donate to these causes…and expect to be applauded for their generosity!

Over the years, this abnormality has become so normalised that millennials like myself who have not lived under a different government have no clear idea what it feels like to have a functional government in charge. I am always intrigued whenever I travel and see how governments demonstrably care about life and property—the most recent instance being when, at a public health facility somewhere in Africa, I received dignified free treatment for a fever, including an elaborate medical examination. It later turned out that I was simply fatigued. Thinking about how bewildered any Ugandan would have been if they were treated this way in a public health facility back home, I couldn’t stop grinning as the doctor checked my vitals.

You see, the absence of a functional public mass transport system has forced us to buy cars, compelled those with children to take them to unregulated private schools, and left those who wish to secure their assets with private security firms. All the while paying thirty percent of our hard-earned Shillings in Pay As You Earn tax to Museveni’s junta.

What is the connection between all the above and homosexuality, you might wonder?

Museveni has systematically kept the bulk of Uganda’s society in a self-reinforcing bubble of poverty, ignorance and disease. Simultaneously, Museveni, who claims to be a stickler for African values, has presided over a sexual revolution which has ensured that Ugandans are some of the most sexually liberated and adventurous people on the Continent. It shows in our standup comedy, our dress code, online (social media) and offline public discourse, the rise of casual sex relations, the acceptability of explicit tabloids, and liberal ideologies like feminism. He manages this balancing act by occasionally attending an Anglican church service in Namirembe or Nakasero, while giving lectures against promiscuity.

When speaking to gullible domestic audiences, Museveni waxes lyrical about African family values and Christian doctrine. Never mind that he regularly insults religious leaders and the institutions they lead as being “confused”, “disoriented”, and “ideologically bankrupt”. Even though he has previously attended Islamic functions, he is less charitable when speaking about Muslims. The same Museveni has publicly participated in African rituals and even recounted stories about how these rituals helped his bush war to succeed.

He is thus able to cast himself as a common man’s freedom fighter, family man, traditionalist, and religious person who is alive to their dreams and aspirations. At the same time, he is able to hoodwink you and your European colleagues that he is a Pan Africanist by offering you our men and women in uniform to fight your wars in Somalia, the DRC, Sudan and wherever else the Pentagon needs them.

In 2014, when Uganda was in the world news for passing the first version of a law against homosexuality, Museveni was hosted by your former boss, Barack Obama, at the US-Africa Summit. About the same period, the Constitutional Court threw out the Anti-Homosexuality Act. It was an early Christmas gift to Museveni because he killed two birds with one stone: he told his balokole (Christian evangelicals), other religious groups and conservative sections of Ugandan society that he was in support of the law, but the Judges of the Constitutional Court are the ones who failed him by ruling that it was unconstitutional. With the same tongue, Museveni defended himself in the international community by saying that Uganda is a democracy where courts function independently, and that the evidence was the judgment that threw out the Anti-Homosexuality Act. The duplicity!

Meanwhile, the NGO fraternity, Western embassies and foreign media houses which were previously lambasting Museveni for the homophobic actions of his government, turned around and praised Museveni’s courts for their progressive decision!

The trickery worked well, and gave Museveni some breathing space to pass the real draconian laws he needed, like the Anti Money Laundering Act, NGO (Registration) Act, and amendments to the Anti-Terrorism Act—all of which were used against perceived or real political opponents. In the same period (2015-2021), Museveni rigged two elections, violently removed the presidential age cap from the Constitution, ordered or acquiesced to the abduction, torture, maiming and killing of opposition supporters. Whenever Washington dared to raise human rights concerns, he threatened to withdraw from Somalia and other theatres. Silence.

Less than ten years later, Museveni’s regime has lost a lot of its legitimacy and needed to urgently sanitize itself in the eyes of the local population. The usual trick worked. They brought back the Anti-Homosexuality Act, and said that Uganda is a God-fearing, sovereign country which is opposed to neocolonialism!

The West couldn’t read the game plan and jumped headfirst into the trap! The louder America and Europe condemned the latest version of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, the cleaner and more legitimate Museveni’s regime looked in the eyes of pious and nationalistic, but equally hungry, ignorant and sickly Ugandans. Recent atrocities and massacres like the November 18/19 shootings of 2020, the callous theft of iron sheets meant for the destitute Karimojong, alongside all other scandals were immediately forgotten because we Ugandans had to fight against the evil of homosexuality, and by extension, foreign interference in our domestic issues.

In fact, the recently signed law garnered bipartisan support, and in parliament, it united Muslims, Christians, pagans and traditional healers—with Museveni as their leader! LOL!!! The mover of the new law, my good friend Honourable Asuman Basalirwa, is a Muslim, longtime opponent of Gen. Museveni, and has severally been on the receiving end of the latter’s brutality.

One of the important side shows that played out in the margins was the Attorney General’s opposition to the draft Bill. It is my considered opinion that there’s no way the AG could publicly oppose a law that his boss was in support of. It is unprecedented, especially for this particular AG. The AG was expressing Museveni’s opinion over the law. It was a covert attempt by Museveni to stall the enactment of a law which would further hurt an already broke government. Speaker Anita Among naïvely shot down the Attorney General, and for this misguided attack on Museveni’s proxy, she should wait for her day of reckoning.

Barely a week after Museveni signed the law, he addressed the press and said that “some woman from the World Bank” phoned him and pointed out “two issues” which have made him reconsider his support for the Anti-Homosexuality Act he just signed!

Should the current petition that has been filed in the Constitutional Court against the Anti-Homosexuality Act 2023 succeed, guess who the ultimate winner will be? Museveni!

He will tell his local audience that the Judges have once again disappointed and betrayed him. He will also send letters to you and your colleagues in Europe saying that the Constitutional Court has resolved the problem by throwing out the bad Anti-Homosexuality Act.

If the petition doesn’t succeed, guess who the ultimate winner will be? Still Museveni!

He will say that the Judges have finally seen the light. He will lampoon the West once more, and Ugandans will celebrate a “win” against imperialism. Churches, mosques, and traditional healers will say a prayer, if not hold thanksgiving services in praise of Museveni.

In either scenario, you in the West will continue conducting joint military exercises with Kampala, maintain trade ties, and sell lethal weapons which Museveni’s praetorian guard, the Special Forces Command (SFC), uses to kill and torture Ugandans. Sensitive sectors of our economy will remain open and unregulated to the exploitation of multinationals from your country, and other industrialized nations, to the detriment of hapless Ugandans.

The man changes positions faster than a wind vane, and because of your knee-jerk responses, and opportunistic foreign policy, you are helping him play this game, with devastating effectiveness.

It can therefore be said, with certainty, that Gen. Museveni doesn’t feel too strongly about who sleeps with whom or how they do it, except to the extent that this helps him play different factions of the population against each other, while remaining their political leader, defender, spiritual guide, cultural talisman, and ideological anchor.

What I haven’t been able to wrap my mind around is why the routine abduction, unlawful military detention, torture, disappearances, and killings of Ugandans doesn’t elicit as much attention or responses as homophobia does from the international community. Ugandans, regardless of their sexual orientations, are already oppressed people. Your loud condemnation suggests that Ugandan lives generally matter less than those of sexual minorities…even when that may not be the intent or correct interpretation of such a stance.

Let me quote Charles Onyango-Obbo as I attempt a conclusion:

“The unwritten bargain Museveni made with the Ugandan elite from about 1988 was simple. In exchange for their political support, he would allow them room for corruption, leeway for tax dodging, violation of building rules, encroachment on forests and wetlands, and government would turn a blind eye if they disregarded safety requirements that would save lives (life vests on boats, fewer seats with mandatory seat belts in matatus or taxis etc.)…”

In my opinion, the Museveni Bargain with you and the West is not different: in exchange for military, economic and political support, Museveni allows the West to use countries like Uganda as playgrounds for their interests. You may occasionally make noise about human rights, cancel the Speaker’s visa to the US, fight a little over the crude oil pipeline project, but the core military and economic relationship will never be reversed, for as long as the benefits of this symbiotic relationship continue to flow.

We all know how it ends. Once, like a sugarcane, Museveni is no longer useful after being chewed, and no longer has juice, you will do with him what you did with Yahya Jammeh, Joseph Mobutu, Hissene Habre, Kamuzu Banda, Sani Abacha, and Others.

With friends like the United States and Europe, Ugandans (and Africans in general) need no enemies.

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Written by Karamagi Andrew (2)

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Gipiir and Labongo #10

THE RED EARTH