So, Uganda’s parliament once again passed a law to hang homosexuals. This was done in the most democratic manner possible: 400 out of 557 MPs (73%) overwhelmingly voted for the bill. On the same day, they even amended the bill to include a new crime called “aggravated homosexuality.” This will be punishable by death. Across our traditional and social media, Ugandans have been celebrating. Homophobia, more than soccer, is the one powerful force that unites us in our highly polarized religions, ethnicities and politics.
The passage of this draconian law may be psychologically gratifying for many Ugandans because of our bigotry, but it is a disaster for the country. It is going to cause Western countries to reduce economic and social intercourse with us – trade, investment and tourism. No major Western corporation will want to invest in a country that hangs people for being who they are. No gay and fewer non-gay tourists would want to visit our country. And of course, no international organization will want to host a serious international conference in a country with such primitive laws. Total was finding it difficult to raise money to invest in our oil pipeline over environmental concerns. Now we can say kwaheri to any Western company investing in, or Western bank funding investment into, our refinery. Right now, hotel owners are having many of their bookings cancelled.
Of course, we can retort that we are willing to suffer all these negative economic and diplomatic consequences in defense of our “family values.” But such a retort is as reckless and it is hypocritical. What is the injury we are fighting here to be worth this cost? Already, Ugandan family values are being wrecked every day by fathers who abandon their kids, by people choosing cohabitation over marriage, by sex before marriage, by cheating in marriages, etc. and no MP is complaining. It is even more absurd that many of our religious leaders, instead of doing their job of preaching morality to their followers, are now turning to the state to fight sin by supporting this law.
More critically, the law is as stupid as it is going to be redundant. It is stupid because it is passed on the basis of protecting Ugandan morals. But you cannot legislate morality and enforce it using state diktat. Morality would be best left to families and religious institutions. Besides homosexuality is not the only “immoral” problem Uganda is facing. As already stated above, Ugandans are having sex before marriage, husbands and wives (in fact 90% of the MPs who voted for this law) are cheating on their spouses with reckless abandon, kids in schools are binge drinking and fornicating as if it is running out of fashion etc. etc.
The law will be redundant because homosexuality among consenting adults is a private activity conducted in the privacy of their bedrooms. Since both parties are consenting, there is a minuscule likelihood that one party will report to police against another. If the problem is paedophilia (sex with underage kids or minors), which is what most Ugandans I listen to seem to insinuate, we have the law against defilement. If it is nonconsensual sex, then we have the law against rape.
What is clear is that this law will do nothing to stop the growth of homosexuality in Uganda as its authors, gay and liberal Ugandans plus most in the liberal West think. On the contrary, it will only increase and expand debate on sexual orientation. The more homosexuality is debated on traditional and social media in Uganda and in other fora (the church, the home, the mosque, schools etc.), the greater the curiosity, the knowledge and consequently the greater the tolerance of it. To this extent, and although it will harm some people, the law is good for the cause of homosexuality.
Therefore, to the misguided MPs and their supporters out there, trying to pass a law to ban homosexuality is as futile as trying to pass a law to prohibit promiscuity, drunkenness, cheating in marriage, teenage sex, etc. While homosexuality is as old as humanity and has existed in every society, I have a suspicion that it is more pronounced in rich and urban societies. Poor agrarian societies face the spectre of death, especially of children, every day. Thus, procreation becomes the overriding motive for sex. Parents seek to have as many children as possible as an insurance policy against the deaths of some. As societies grow richer, the mortality of children reduces and parents choose to have fewer children. Sex ceases to be driven primarily by the needs of procreation and now becomes recreational. This is true today as it was in ancient Babylon, Greece and Rome.
To this extent, if homosexuality is more pronounced in the West today, it is because they are highly urbanized and rich. Liberal traditions and values only facilitate openness about people’s lifestyles. The rich and urbanized nations of Asia such as Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Israel etc. that are liberal are also as open and tolerant of homosexuals as their western counterparts. The rich nations of the middle east are swimming in homosexual liaisons, the lack of openness about it is only a reflection of their religious conservatism.
The new anti-gay law is actually evidence of Ugandans modernization – a rapidly growing economy, increasing urbanization, the growth of a middle class and expanding liberalism. These developments have led many urban middle-class Ugandans to be open about their sexuality and gay liaisons are multiplying like flowers in June. Most middle-class young Ugandans are open and tolerant of homosexuality and are appalled by the values of their parents. This is also coming as a shock to conservative Ugandans. It is this shock of the ubiquity of homosexuality that has led to these frantic efforts to “reign this vice in.” To this extent, it is one of the last kicks of a dying horse.
Rich liberal Western societies went through this phase and I hope they see their past in Uganda’s present. I am glad western embassies in Kampala and their head offices at home have kept a low profile in this debate. This is good because it denies Ugandan homophobes the excuse to claim that homosexuality is a Western imposition on Uganda. For as long as this is a domestic issue, the homophobes will have to confront the reality that gays in Uganda are a Ugandan affair.
To conservative Ugandans, I can only say that our country can only suppress homosexuality by simply abandoning our search for modernization. Here, we would all turn our back on development and return to our villages to live as peasants. But this we will not do because our desire for development is much more intense than our hatred for homosexuality. For gay Ugandans and liberal intellectuals, ignore the subjective motivations of the homophobes. The objective outcome of this draconian law is to widen the debate and bring more knowledge, curiosity and eventually tolerance of homosexuality in our country.