Friday, January 15, 2010

Uganda Won't Allow Mere Principles to Compromise Foreign Aid

Uganda's President Museveni is not known for being forbearing or fair minded, especially when it comes to men who have sex with men (or, presumably, women who have sex with women). But he has decided to distance himself from David Bahati's bill, which proposes the death penalty for certain offenses relating to homosexual behaviour and prison sentences for others who fail to report homosexual behaviour. It even proposes life imprisonment for persons engaging in same sex relationships.

This is not an instance of Museveni suddenly becoming softhearted, either. There are existing Ugandan laws against homosexuality with very long prison sentences. The country that claims to have had so much success in fighting the HIV epidemic continues to fail some of the people most at risk of becoming infected with HIV and of infecting others. Bahati's bill was certainly heading in the wrong direction but Museveni needs to do a lot more than oppose the work of a power crazed bigot.

Sadly, the Bahati bill had a lot of popular support in Uganda. Other East African countries have similarly punitive laws and there was the fear that if Uganda passed such a law, other countries would follow. It's frightening that most African countries outlaw homosexuality but even more frightening when you hear about the level of persecution homosexuals and those suspected of being homosexuals must put up with from the public, professionals, officers of the law and just about anyone else.

Museveni is said to have been reacting to international protests, especially from countries from which large amounts of donor money come. He mentions pressure from Canadian, American and British leaders and refers to the bill as a 'foreign policy issue', which it clearly is not. It's good that Museveni has decided to question the bill, but it would be more heartening to hear that he had some objection to persecution of and discrimination against homosexuals.

However, earlier on in the debate, people like Bahati said the country should forgo some foreign aid if donors objected. The debate has moved on a little and there was probably never any danger of Uganda refusing foreign aid. Their HIV efforts, and those of most high prevalence African countries, are almost totally dependent on foreign donations. But even some of the American fascist evangelists who originally supported the bill have now started to criticize it.

The best we can hope for right now is for Museveni to succeed in persuading Bahati to withdraw the bill or in persuading people not to support it. That would put Uganda back in the position it is in now with regard to homosexuality. That's not good, but it could be worse. But more pressure is needed, like the pressure against the Bahati bill, in order to ensure that the rights of homosexuals and other minority groups are recognised.

All the talk about Ugandan's and other Africans being so Christian, right minded, conservative and the rest is just so much posturing when you view it alongside people's attitudes towards those who are seen as somehow different. There's something scary about a religion whose adherents seem to behave in ways that are directly contrary to the religion's preachings.

To the Ugandans and other Africans who argue that homosexuality is an export from the West, it could be pointed out that the sort of double standards that allow avowed Christians to persecute their fellow human beings may actually be the worrying export from the West. These double standards are doing and will continue to do a lot of damage; unlike homosexuality, which has always existed in all known human societies, including African ones.

And Museveni has the cheek to talk about not compromising the country's 'principles', while at the same time taking into account 'foreign policy interests', presumably referring to hundreds of millions of dollars of aid money. Yes, it would be totally unchristian to do otherwise.



Simon said...

Looks like the 'Christians' are not content with Uganda's already punitive laws and they are actively campaigning for even more human rights to be denied:

Biche said...

Good, finally some sense regarding this bill. This bill is complete madness!