Theater of Cruelty

pat Hunt

Uganda authorities are doing everything they can to clear the country of gays. In the name of God and African nationalism.


I have an hour to kill before I meet a bunch of gay activists at a pizza restaurant in the middle of Kampala. It is late April, the rainy season has set in full. It is inconvenient yet a shed just as I walk and toss along the street, so I pop into one of the city's larger bookstores and go and look at the selection of books.

Then I see the booklet neatly displayed next to the box office: “Pornography, homosexuality, lesbianism and youth. A Practical Gaid to Prevent ». I stand and wonder for a while, but end up buying it. I'm ashamed, but for reasons other than what she probably had to think at checkout.

No, this is not my country, not my government, not my business, some might point out. But each year, Norway contributes just under NOK 300 million in support of this country east of Africa. I am a citizen of one of Uganda's most important main partner countries. As I browse through the booklet that is steeped in homophobia, I wonder if the Norwegian krone has been used to sponsor this moral spell. In that case, I am even more ashamed.

Widespread homophobia

The gang I meet at the pizza restaurant shortly after have also not seen the booklet before. They get noia when I show them.

- The authorities are in front of us, Juliet Victor Mukasa smiles ironically when she gives up flipping through the booklet.

You don't have to buy this booklet to see homophobia in Uganda. It keeps scrolling in the government-friendly New Vision daily newspaper. It should be well done not to find one or more reader posts or articles that warn against the gay immorality that is about to spread in the country. Ever since President Yoweri Museveni went public in 1999, saying that all gays and lesbians should be arrested, there has been a state of emergency for gays in the country.

They are not many, but they are scared, and the situation is getting worse. They are attacked from all sides and are a target for both fundamentalist religious leaders, African nationalists, a chauvinistic government, a sensationalist press, a moral school system, a hetero-oriented women's movement, and a human rights movement that thinks the issue of sexuality orientering is a luxury debate in a country of famine and war.

Sexual intercourse between men is prohibited under Ugandan law. Sexual intercourse between women is not mentioned in the legislation, but lesbians are persecuted, harassed, arrested and abused as much as gay men, reports from Amnesty International and the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC). Last year, President Museveni and his government had an impact on what US President George W. Bush can only dream of: an explicit ban on same-sex marriage.

In coverage

Juliet Victor Mukasa is the leader of the umbrella organization Sexual Minorities Uganda (Smug), and one of the country's few open gays. She can only be open, until she stands out too much in the way she dresses and behaves. She provokes by being herself – dressed in trousers and tough.

The alley is in the middle of the crossfire between the authorities, the church and gays. In July last year, Mukasa's home was searched by local authorities. Documents were seized, and a Kenyan acquaintance who was in the house was arrested and sexually harassed at the police station. Victor – as she calls herself – went into hiding under the protection of Amnesty International.

Now Victor is waiting for the case she has brought against the Ugandan state to come up. She refuses to appear in the government's conduct.

- I have not committed any crime. That's what they have, and that's what I want to establish. I want to confirm that I also have rights as a citizen of this country, she says.

The Anglican Church in Uganda uses every opportunity to mark distance from homosexuals. Earlier this summer, it became known that in recent years the church has declined no to around a million dollars in support from the United States, despite the church being in chronic pain. The reason for the rejection is that churches in the American sister church have allowed open gays to be appointed priests. To receive this money would be to undermine the church's efforts to adhere to "Christian doctrines and support African culture," retired Archbishop Livingstone Mpalanyi Nkoyooyo told the New Vision newspaper.

One of Smug's most active groups is Integrity Uganda, a religiously based group founded in 2000. It is led by former Bishop Christopher Ssenyonjo, one of the small gay movement's strongest supporters. He himself is heterosexual, married and the father of several, but was dismissed from the Anglican Church a few years ago after it became known that he had given despairing gay soul care. "Our bishop," the gay activists say with warmth in his voice. One of the activists is David Kato, who lost his job as a teacher when it became known that he was gay. He now spends his time as an unpaid secretary in Integrity Uganda, while considering whether to go to court against the school he previously worked at. At least to compensate for lost earnings.

Persistent Minister

Next to the church and the newly-elected presidential couple Museveni is James Nsaba Buturo, Minister of Ethics and Integrity, the politician who has made the strongest mark on public attacks on gays and lesbians. Last year, a staging of the theater piece Vagina Monologues in Kampala was banned as it promoted "unnatural sex, homosexuality and prostitution", according to the state media council. Minister Buturo followed up by stating that it is the government's job to protect the population from "immoral sharks". In early July of this year, he again took the opportunity to criticize gays for "using the media to promote immorality and pornography" when he opened an orphanage.

"For a long time, gay was something we hadn't even heard of, a foreign element in African culture. It is therefore with disgust that we now see how they shamelessly demand to have their interests protected by law, "Buturo said in an interview with New Vision.

New-born Christian and African nationalists in Uganda find each other in a common belief that there were no sexual relations between people of the same sex until Africa was colonized and "demoralized" by the whites. But on the contrary, points out, among others, gay scientist Marc Eprecht, author of the book Hungochani: The History of a Dissident Sexuality in Southern Africa (2005). He points out that it was the homophobia and not the homophily that came with the colonists, in the form of laws against sexual intercourse between men. But while the colonial states today have self-decriminalized homosexuality, the laws live at their best in the former colonies, with South Africa being the lone exception.

The basic principle of Uganda's governance is so-called individual participatory democracy. It may sound stimulating and mobilizing, but in practice it is an effective obstacle for people who want to organize freely. The gay activists have noticed. For organizations to be legal, they must be registered. Sexual Minorities Uganda attempted in 2004, but was denied by the authorities because they work for gay and lesbian rights.

It does not make it better that international aid organizations are skeptical about providing financial support to organizations that do not have the papers in order. Thus, the activists end up in a vacuum, where what is registered by gay organizations sails under diffuse or false flags, in constant fear of being revealed by the authorities. At the very least, few dare to stand up and front the homopolitical work, while at the same time there is internal disagreement about the distribution of the little money and other resources.

When Victor's home was searched last year, it paralyzed most gay activists. Rumors flourished, people became paranoid, and suddenly no one trusted each other. Now, however, they are finding their way back to each other. Victor's choice to sue the authorities has given the others inspiration and the courage to fight.

Must win

Juliet Victor Mukasa has decided to be in South Africa while she waits for the case to come up. She's tired of having to hide in Uganda. But growing opposition notwithstanding – she is convinced that Smug and the rest of the gay movement will eventually win the battle to secure gays and lesbians a minimum of rights, including in Uganda.

- People sometimes say that I am crazy who does this, who thinks that things can change. But if I do not win the case in Uganda, I will pursue the case to the African court. And when we have finally won, even those in power must have learned that the time when they could treat homosexuals at will.

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