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When the Anti-homosexuality Bill 2009 (and later 2014 Act) was passed by parliament almost a decade ago, then Speaker of Parliament Rebecca Kadaga described it as the House’s Christmas gift to Ugandans. People jubilated like the country had attained middle-income status and, if the sermons that followed in churches across the country were anything to go by, all was well with the world.

Of course, shortly after its passing, the Act was challenged by none other than the government’s Prime Minister and journalist-turned-political strategist, Andrew Mwenda. The law was annulled by the constitutional court and everyone left to their own devices on how to deal with the fallout that ensued. The president on his part, having told all and sundry that Ugandans ‘know the address for sex’, proceeded to warn his MPs to ‘go slow’.

Ten years later, having learnt nothing from the past, our Members of Parliament are at it again. Thumping their chests and sounding war cries in the apparent defence of ‘African values’ against homosexuality. They, we are told, are the last front in a fight against Western bullies who are pumping enormous funds and resources into manipulating vulnerable children into homosexuality. Behind them are the religious leaders. Usually unable to sit on the same table due to irreconcilable theological differences, they now form a united front, speaking in one voice against the scourge of Sodom and Gomorrah. And where the religious leaders go, the rest of Uganda follows. And so we are all here, in a battle of the ages, waged against Western evil-doers and their agenda. The battle lines couldn’t be any clearer. You are either against homosexuality and support the Bill tabled in Parliament or you are a collaborator with the evil West and are against the bill. No in-betweens. No fence-sitters. If you hesitate even for a second, you are part of the problem and need to be dealt with as such. 

There are several problems with this narrative. First, it cannot be further from the truth to say that homosexuality is a ‘Western value’. Although I was too young to wrap my head around the exact implications of it, my first encounter with acts of homosexuality was in primary school.  A male domestic worker that was fresh from the village with zero exposure to town life, let alone television and ‘Western values’ attempted to have sex with a boy my age. A few years later, a relative of mine was incarcerated on suspicion for theft (he was later proven not guilty). Upon being released a few months later, told me of how many male prisoners had boyfriends. I remember that conversation in part because of the way he said it. It was as though he, a married man, had come to terms with the idea and was simply recounting his experience rather than passing judgement. Anyone who went to a single-sex school- this is certainly true of the 80s and 90s-will tell you there were stories that did the rounds about classmates or schoolmates that were gay. In some cases, people were expelled or suspended on suspicion of being gay. In almost all those cases, it was impossible to point to the West or Western influence as the cause. I have since got to know lots of former classmates or schoolmates that have either come out of the closet and declared their sexual orientation or secretly dated people of the same sex while publicly adhering to societal demands. And while many of them are now quite well educated and travelled, these tendencies existed way before they were.

Historically, across Uganda, there are islands, waterfalls and other dangerous places reserved for society’s outcasts, including girls that got pregnant before marriage, suspected witches and homosexuals. Heck, a Buganda king was rumoured to be gay! It doesn’t get any more traditional than that, does it? It is one thing to say that most of Ugandan traditions have in the last 100-200 years been harsh to homosexuals (there’s historical evidence that this attitude didn’t exist prior to the arrival of Europeans) and quite another to say that being attracted to the same sex is something uniquely Western.

The second problem I have with advocates of this bill is that they point to God and the bible as the reason it should be passed. God hates homosexuality and calls it a sin, therefore, we must make it illegal and punishable by law. On this, I am fully aligned with the Pope, who was recently quoted as saying that while homosexuality is a sin, it should not be a crime. There are lots of sins from both a Christian and Muslim perspective that are not crimes. Muslims in Uganda do not go around killing or imprisoning people that eat pork, even if it is a major sin in their faith. Christians have not shown any desire to pass a law against promiscuity, sex out of wedlock or lust, even if these are in fact, very serious sins. The idea that Christians must support this anti-homosexuality bill on account of their faith is as superfluous as it is hypocritical. Again, it is one thing to argue that homosexuality is a sin (I personally find it impossible to read scripture and come away with the notion that it isn’t) and quite another to insist that this Christian view should be imposed on everyone, including those that either do not adhere to the faith or have a different interpretation of it. We have in our country people that claim to be God incarnate (some have even died) freely conning people of their worldly possessions and enjoying the government’s direct and indirect support. If we are to respect them and their followers’ religious freedoms, what of those that have differing views of homosexuality? To be clear, a distinction must be made between theological debates and positions on the one hand and legal ones on the other. It is fair and right for the Church of Uganda to take a theological position on homosexuality (as it has). But to then insist that this position should then be adopted by the nation is to disenfranchise a significant number of countrymen and women that do not share in the faith but have equal claim to the nation and the rights it bestows to its citizens. 

Thirdly, in all the discussions I have seen, heard or been part of about this bill, there appears to be an outrageously ridiculous but predominant view that homosexuality is basically about anal intercourse. I call it outrageous because surely, any person willing to be honest would admit that sex, while very much a part of, is not everything in a relationship. In fact, it is even possible to argue that sex and love/relationships are two different things. The ladies that line up Parliamentary Avenue and Speke Road every night are not in search of relationships or love. Nor are their customers (not for the most part anyway). So when MPs propose that anyone found engaging in homosexuality should be imprisoned, do they mean anyone attracted to/in love with someone of the same sex or anyone caught having sex with someone of the same sex? And this sex thing, what exactly are the parameters? A long, loving hug? A kiss? If so, how passionate should it be to transition from a harmless one, say a brother lovingly kissing his little brother on stage (yes, I went there), to a sexual one categorised as gay? Is it only anal intercourse, in which case people are free to engage in foreplay or use sex toys all they want? What of anal sex between heterosexual couples? I know of many that gladly indulge. Am I to report them to police? How about women? If the measure of homosexual acts is anal sex, what is to be done of dildo-welding Ugandan females? Is the dildo (or its equivalent, including but not limited to matoke, bogoya and test tubes) to be categorised as tools of homosexuality? I can tell you here and now, there will be hell to pay if they are, and on the frontline will be hundreds of thousands of Christian damsels, protesting and binding such action in the name of the Jesus they claim requires that they kill gay people. Do MP’s seriously think that a loving mother, father, brother or sister will out their own as a homosexual deserving of imprisonment? Have they forgotten the country they live in? All it takes is for them to dare publicly challenge the system on anything and before they know it, they’ll be in Luzira on remand, charged with engaging in, aiding or promoting homosexuality.

Appearing before parliament recently, Prof. Sylvia Tamale very accurately pointed out the absurdity of this proposed law. Those claiming it is being passed to protect our children seem to be saying that we should categorise paedophiles, punishing heterosexual predators differently from homosexual ones. If our concern is the children’s well-being, then by all means, let us come up with a law against grooming. The only problem I envision with it, given Uganda’s high rate of teenage pregnancy and marriage, is that a substantial number of Ugandans, including some lawmakers will be found guilty of it. 

And therein lies the hypocrisy of this whole farce. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Uganda had the longest school shutdown in the world. In the two years that schools were closed, we registered the unenviable record of the highest number of child marriages and pregnancies. That’s the polite way to put it. The legal (and more accurate) one is that we registered the highest number of defilements in the world. Over half a million girls were married off, deprived of their childhood and sexually abused. My own church, the Anglican Church of Uganda was reported to have been against allowing these victims back to school. How do we as a country reconcile our ability to move on from such a tragedy without so much as a protest with our claiming of the moral high ground when it comes to homosexuality?

If we were truly being honest with ourselves, we can’t. The logs in our eyes forbid it.

In my next post, I’ll share my thoughts on abortion and this thing we refer to as ‘Western influence’.

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Written by Ganzi Isharaza (1)

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