Condemning innocent people to death for their sexual orientation will no longer become a reality this Christmas as a ‘gift’ to the Ugandan nation. The Anti-Homosexuality Bill was proposed by David Bahati MP, but after some debate, the death penalty clause was dropped.
Nevertheless, though the West may breathe a sigh of relief, many shocking provisions still stand. These include life sentences for ‘aggravated homosexuality’, as well as punishment for those perceived to be campaigning for the cause. The fact that the bill was even debated is most shocking, raising serious questions about gay rights in Uganda.
The bill has been introduced numerous times over the past few years. Whether the death penalty has been defeated for the final time is yet to be seen. Yet Uganda is not the only country in the region to have a dubious record for homosexual rights. Nigeria and Ghana have both introduced acts restricting the rights of gay citizens, on the basis of upholding ‘values, customs and traditions’, the roots of which frequently lie in colonialism.
So deeply ingrained are these beliefs in both African Christian and Muslim culture that not even the threat of UK aid withdrawal was enough to prevent legisation. An anti-homosexual attitude underlies much of African society, one which the ‘bullying mentality’ of Western intimidation cannot easily overturn. The change must instead come from within.
International condemnation may yet however prevent this bill from being passed, as President Museveni must sign it before it becomes law. The UN could be used to criticise Ugandan policy and thus highlight human rights violations, especially after the two 2011 resolutions concerning sexuality. However, a later resolution emphasises tradition, leading to tensions which may make criticism challenging.
Organisations such as ‘All Out’ are also still attempting to halt the bill in its tracks, through a global petition directed at Museveni, almost reaching their goal of 250,000 supporters. However, more awareness is needed for true pressure to be applied, yet African politics remains on the fringe of the world media stage.
Arguably, Western intervention, even if possible, is unjustified. It attempts to impose liberal democratic values onto cultures that the West doesn’t fully understand, almost a new form of imperialism. Nagenda, the Ugandan presidential adviser, made this argument last year, boldly asserting that ‘if the Americans think they can tell us what to do, they can go to hell’.
Nevertheless, undermining a state’s autonomy may be necessary if individuals are being oppressed. As Hilary Clinton rightly acknowledged ‘being gay is not a Western invention. It is a human reality.’