Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill 2009: Good Political Move for Museveni, Bad Political Move for Uganda

On February 24, 2014, President Yoweri Museveni finally signed into law Uganda’s long-awaited Anti-Homosexuality Bill.  In a rare public display, the 28-year incumbent argued that he was enacting the bill after employing a team of scientists to determine whether homosexuality is genetic or as a result of up-bringing.  Government officials cheered and clapped as he signed the legislation.

Museveni admitted that his original concern with the bill was that it might discriminate against those who were born homosexual.

I thought there were such people – those who are either genetic or congenital homosexuals. The reason I thought so was because I could not understand why a man could fail to be attracted to the beauties of a woman and instead, be attracted to a fellow man. It meant, according to me, that there was something wrong with that man – he was born a homosexual – abnormal.

I, therefore, thought that it would be wrong to punish somebody because of how he was created, disgusting though it may be to us.  This is why I refused to sign the Bill.

Museveni’s team of Ugandan scientists, as well as, a study conducted in Sweden were evidence enough for the president to conclude that individuals are not born homosexual.

Can somebody be homosexual purely by nature without nurture? The answer is: ‘No’. No study has shown that. Since nurture is the main cause of homosexuality,  then society can do something about it to discourage the trends. This is why I have agreed to sign the Bill.

Earlier in February 2014, President Barack Obama warned President Museveni in an official White House statement that “enacting this legislation will complicate our valued relationship with Uganda.”  The UK Minister of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Hugh Robertson and the Foreign Secretary William Hague have also expressed their concerns regarding the human rights impact of the bill.

According to AidData, the UK and US combined provided Uganda with over $1.2 billion in development assistance in 2010 to 2011.  In 2006, Andrew Mwenda noted that at least 50% of the budget in Uganda is covered by foreign aid.  Official US development assistance to Uganda has remained above $150 million per year since 2009, peaking at $256.6 million in 2013.  This year, the US is “obligated” or has already assigned $287.5 million to programming in Uganda. Here’s an official graphic from the US government:

Foreign Aid Allocations

Foreign Aid Dispersements Foreign Aid Obligations

According to the Ugandan newspaper, the Daily Monitor, when asked about whether he was worried about backlash from Western donors and the withdraw of foreign aid, Museveni quoted the story of Esau from Genesis 25:29-34,

29 And Jacob sod pottage: and Esau came from the field, and he was faint: 30 And Esau said to Jacob, Feed me, I pray thee, with that same red pottage; for I am faint: therefore was his name called Edom. 31 And Jacob said, Sell me this day thy birthright. 32 And Esau said, Behold, I am at the point to die: and what profit shall this birthright do to me? 33 And Jacob said, Swear to me this day; and he sware unto him: and he sold his birthright unto Jacob. 34 Then Jacob gave Esau bread and pottage of lentiles; and he did eat and drink, and rose up, and went his way: thus Esau despised his birthright. (King James Version).

Museveni declared that Uganda would not be like Esau and trade its morality for food.  “Uganda is very rich, we do not need the aid,” he told reporters.

Despite potential backlash from donors, including the possibility of aid drawdown or suspension, Museveni’s decision to sign the bill may provide a much-needed boost to the aging head of state’s popularity among every day Ugandans.

Pew polls in 2007 and 2013 show that over time, there has been little change in public opinion among Ugandans regarding homosexuality.  In 2007, only 3% of Ugandans surveyed said that homosexuality should be accepted.  In 2013, this number had increased to 4%.  Oddly, younger Ugandans (ages 18-29) tend to be less supportive of homosexuality (3%) when compared to older Ugandans (ages 50+, 7%).

So while Museveni’s decision to sign the bill might be viewed as controversial abroad, within Uganda, his failure to sign the bill might have been political suicide.

If he decides to run, Museveni will be seeking his fourth term in 2016.  His decision on this bill, and the fallout from it will likely affect that election’s outcome.

The full text of President Museveni’s signing speech can be found (courtesy of the New Vision) here.

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