On 24 February 2014 the Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni signed the anti-gay bill that had already seen the approval by the Parliament in December 2013. The new law allows life imprisonment as the penalty for acts of “aggravated homosexuality” and also criminalizes the “promotion” of homosexuality”, where activists encourage others to come out.
The law has been justified with the following statement by the President: “It is not a disease but an abnormal behavior that can only be learned through experience. Homosexuality has serious consequences for the health of the population and therefore should not be tolerated.”
Museveni, satisfied with the evidence that sexual orientation is dependent on the moral choice of individuals, signed the bill with the applause of the local community and the indignation of the international one. In the days following the publication, the local newspaper published a list of 200 gay men intended for public pillory; some of them had never declared their sexuality publicly.
The internationally-known cyclist Graeme Obree, former World Champion, claimed out loud his sexuality in 2011 affirming he would take a stand to strongly support this cause. He maintained his promise, indeed, and after the President officially approved the law, he launched a petition online entitled “No Hate at the Games”, where he calls for the ban of the Ugandan politicians who passed the law from the 2014 Commonwealth Games, hosted in Glasgow.
Uganda is not the only country to approve such laws. In January, Nigeria prohibited same sex relationships (punishable with up to 14 years) and membership in associations that promote gay rights (up to 10 years). Meanwhile. Kenya has become the next battleground for LGBT associations fighting the laws that consider same-sex acts to be crimes.
Africa is an area where LGBT rights are amongst the most compromised in the world. Out of 54 states, 38 have more or less stringent provisions against homosexuality. In Mauritania, Sudan and Nigeria, where the rule of Sharia is regulated, death penalty is commonplace and in Uganda, Tanzania and Sierra Leone life imprisonment is foreseen.
In the meantime, the Anglican Church of Uganda is considering a possible split from the Church of England if the UK continues to pursue Uganda for its recent laws. “The issue is respect for our opinions regarding homosexuality. If they are not willing to listen to us, then we will have no other choice than to be alone” said Stanley Ntagali, Uganda’s archbishop, “Homosexuality is incompatible with Scripture and no member of the Church should recognize these unions”, then he proceeded to invite the Church of England to not take the same positions as the West. Ntgali added, “Our doors will be open to those who are confused and want advice. We will pray for them and will help them to heal.”
Barack Obama, President of the United States said that, “if Uganda has approved the proposed homophobic law it would complicate relations with the United States.” Museveni, attracted by the opportunity to hold on to power at any cost has ignored the US warnings. However, he can afford to do so thanks to the new and largest investor in Africa these days, China.
In addition to LGBT rights violations, the application of this rule will compromise health treatments against HIV/AIDS due to the association of this disease with homosexuality. Uganda is a country historically exemplary in the fights against the disease, demonstrating until recent years a steady decline in the percentage of infected adults. In the 80s and 90s, Uganda lived an emergency situation where 18.5% of adults were HIV positive. According to the latest Progress Report (2012) UNAIDS (Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS), in 2004/2005 Uganda has seen this percentage drop to 6.4% thanks to “strong political leadership, an open approach to fighting the disease, and a strong community response.” Unfortunately, we can add to the drama of Uganda’s new gay laws the prospect of a further retreat in the fight against HIV/AIDs.