The Biden Administration is calling out Uganda over its anti-LGBT law. This is bonkers
On May 26, just in time for LGBT+ Pride month, Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni signed one of the strictest anti-homosexuality bills in the world into law. The Ugandan parliament passed the bill with an overwhelming majority at the beginning of the month, with only two MPs voting against it.
“The Anti-Homosexuality Act, 2023” [PDF], prohibits all forms of homosexual activity, as well as the abetment and public promotion of such activity. It lays down various penalties for these crimes, up to and including the death penalty. Crucially, it states that the consent of parties to a homosexual act shall not be considered a legitimate legal defence.
Prior to the law’s passage, homosexuality was already illegal in Uganda, thanks to a colonial-era provision of the country’s penal code, which mirrors similar proscriptions still on the books in several African countries. The older law was, however, never used to convict anyone.
The new law makes it easier to prosecute and convict offenders. However, since it still relies on self-reporting for most of the violations, it’s unlikely to result in a significant rise in convictions. Additionally, Uganda hasn’t executed anyone in nearly 20 years, and is unlikely to do so any time soon, having struck down the mandatory death penalty in 2019.
Activists have already mounted challenges. These include two petitions filed at the constitutional court, one of which is supported by one of the two MPs who voted against the bill. The court struck down a similar law back in 2014 on procedural grounds, and there are reasons to believe that this one too will sink for similar reasons.
I hope it does.
As I have argued multiple times, legal prohibitions on sexual activity of any form between consenting human adults are anachronistic, needlessly oppressive, and, on account of the delicacy required to enforce them, only create pretexts for law enforcement agencies to harass free citizens. They have no place in civilised society.
This does not mean I personally support homosexual relations. Far from it. In fact, I consider them a biological aberration and a moral failure. Nevertheless, aside from the fact that I consider many other legal acts to be biological aberrations and moral failures, I am also wary of making the government the arbiter of such matters. The state is a blunt, impersonal weapon, and should not be flippantly deployed.
For this reason, despite all appearances, I am not marching in step with the Western media outlets and governments. Like a troupe of clowns, they fell over each other to condemn the law and paint themselves as servile and unquestioning allies of the LGBT+ movement.
Some, like the New York Times, went downright colonial by trying to connect the law’s passage with the American conservative backlash against the LGBT+ agenda, laying the blame partly at the feet of organisations like Arizona-based Family Watch International, which has organised and participated in pro-family conferences in Uganda.
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This is rubbish. Like it or not, anti-homosexual sentiments are stable and deeply-rooted in many African societies. The fact that they retained colonial-era proscriptions so long after independence, and even attempted to create new laws, as Uganda did in 2014, proves that.
Western conservative organisations might participate in African debates on the topic, but they are hardly the main sources of opinion, nor even the instigators of the anti-homosexuality sentiment prevalent on the continent. To portray them as such is not only silly, but also denies that Africans have the agency to decide what they believe -- which is the definition of racism, by the way.
But the media have not been alone in their babble. The president of the United States threatened various actions in response to the bill, including potentially withdrawing Uganda from the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), which is critical to Uganda’s ongoing fight against HIV.
Once again, this is silly. The homosexual community is one of the biggest victims of the HIV epidemic, even in Uganda. To withdraw PEPFAR would perhaps punish the Ugandan government, but it would hurt homosexual Ugandans the most. It would be a Pyrrhic victory for the American government. PEPFAR has worked because it has largely avoided partisan politics; now is not the time to politicise it.
The US also threatened to withdraw the Peace Corps, a programme that dates back to the Kennedy administration which places American professional volunteers in multiple countries to help out in education and health sectors and to promote global peace and cooperation. The rationale for withdrawing them from Uganda would be that LGBT+ volunteers in Uganda might be in danger.
Once again, this is much ado about nothing. The Peace Corps’s Uganda office already has guidance on its website for how LGBTQIA+ volunteers should conduct themselves, including such common-sense advice as: “for safety and security reasons, [LGBTQIA+] Volunteers are asked not to disclose their identity [and] to refrain from discussing the topic with community members…”
In any case, no sensible LGBT person would even consider serving as a volunteer in Uganda. That would be not only reckless on the part of the American government, but also hubristic on the part of the concerned volunteer.
Mr Museveni is a repulsive skunk. Since 1986, he has ruled Uganda as his personal fiefdom. He has rigged elections; he has harassed, jailed and murdered his opponents; he has weakened parliament and the judiciary; he has muzzled the media; he has backed rebels in the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In short, he has presided over one of the most perfidious regimes in the world.
If the United States were sincere, it would have sanctioned Uganda a long time ago. Yet, for 37 years, Musuveni has had the backing of the United States government. It has had no qualms about cooperating with him, supplying him with development aid and using his military to fight jihadists and to keep the peace in several warzones.
American objections to a law against the sexual activity of a vanishingly small number of Ugandans, a law which will almost certainly never be enforced, are bonkers.
The only explanation for this absurd response to an absurd law is that the Biden Administration has been captured by the LGBT lobby.
Mathew Otieno is a Kenyan writer, blogger and a dilettante farmer. Until 2022, he was a research communications coordinator at a university in Nairobi, Kenya. He now lives in rural western Kenya, near the shores of Lake Victoria, from where he's pursuing a career as a full-time writer while concluding his dissertation for a master's degree. His first novel is due out this year.
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