An anthropologist's take on Uganda and the Great Lakes region...

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The politics of anti-homosexuality

On the day that a court in Malawi has found the gay couple Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga guilty of 'unnatural acts and gross indecency' - for which they now face up to 14 years in jail - I am reminded that Uganda's infamous 'anti-homosexuality bill' is still not quite dead:

The fact that it is taking Museveni so long to kill off this bill - which he has been explicitly against since at least late October - highlights the strains that now exist been the president and parts of his parliamentary party. In particular, over the last couple of years, tensions have begun to emerge with a number of younger NRM MPs, who have begun to pursue their own agendas which are sometimes at odds with Museveni's avowed policies of social equality.

The author of the anti-homosexuality bill, David Bahati, is a prominent member of this new generation of 'young turks'.

It is illustrative that when the president, and several of his senior loyalists, first spoke out against the bill, in late 2009, they were more or less ignored by large sections of the parliamentary group. Instead, several of the young turks, and their allies (including Ethics and Integrity Minister James Butoro) went on a counter-offensive, and gave wide-ranging media interviews in which they sought to defend the draft legislation.

Eventually, Museveni issued an executive order in an attempt to quash the bill, citing the fact that it had by then become a 'foreign policy issue', due to negative donor reactions. However, even this did not silence the young guns - who were by now enjoying their 'moment in the sun' - and they continued to mobilize support for the legislation.

Finally, the president was forced to create a special committee to examine the bill. Chaired by a staunch Museveni loyalist, Adolf Mwesigye, the committee finally reported last week, and emphatically found '99 per cent' of the draft legislation to be either 'unconstitutional' or 'redundant'. It will be interesting to see whether this judgement will finally destroy the bill. We can only hope...

I will return to popular perceptions of homosexuality in Uganda in a later blog. However, it is interesting to note the political context in which the legislation itself has developed, not least because similar contexts now appear to be driving the development of anti-homosexuality legislation in other African counties as well.

However, before passing final judgement on the African lawmakers behind these new bills, we should also note that the legislation under which Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga were convinced today was in fact created by the British colonial administration of (what was) Nyasaland.

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