Wednesday, 04 November 2009 13:50 Okello Lucima
The press in Uganda this week is awash with homophobic hysteria against Gays, Lesbians, Bi-Sexual and Transgender (GLBT) Ugandans. This overt and shameless discrimination against a minority population of our citizens flows from the fact homosexuality is criminalised in Uganda. As if this was not enough suppression of personal freedom and civil rights, Ndorwa West Member of Parliament (MP), David Bahati, has tabled a private member’s bill proposing a series of measures to control and punish GLBT activities in the country, including the death penalty for gays and lesbians caught living and expressing their sexuality.
This is not only cavalier violations of human rights, but a dangerous hate campaign and incitement to harm or kill members of the GLBT in Uganda. The people of Uganda, and all people of good will, must not sit and watch while this happens. The sponsors of the bill, their supporters and political leaders- inside and outside parliament- must be identified, isolated and ostracised by the entire civilised world that respect difference and diversity. Most democratising societies have laws that criminalise purveyors of hate and incitement of hatred against a person, persons or communities; and have robust bill of rights that protect citizens and minorities. Uganda should not be an exception.
However, it is not surprising that the state should be seeking such kind of personal control, to the extent of wanting to police what people do in their bedrooms, and who else they do it with and whether their partners are of the skirt or trouser wearing sorts.
First, this comes about because of the nature and character of the Ugandan state: it is a military dictatorship that shot its way to and kept itself in power by military force. What there is in terms of a fledgling parliamentary democracy is sheer gloss of veneer for the consumption of the democratic tourist. For twenty years it outlawed political parties and suppressed freedoms of association and assembly, and the press is routinely knuckled. It rules by decree, not through free and open, well-informed debate in a deliberative, democratic process. Therefore, like all autocrats, the Ugandan ruling clique is not about to deviate from the age-old practice of control and micromanagement of all the affairs of state, and particularly the censorship and directing of the thoughts and behaviour of its citizens. Control freaks love uniformity but are threatened by freedom, diversity, and difference.
The second reason why the hate campaign against GLBT is not surprising is that most of those connected to state power, for instance Nsaba Buturo & Co. are born-again, rigid, fundamentalist, revivalist Christians who bring to the public policy process and the management of state affairs, their religious bigotry that they pass off as public morality and ethics. They completely ignore the fact that although Uganda is a majority Christian nation-state, there are people of other faiths, as well as non-believers, to whom the Muslim and Christian moralities they are so quick to refer to, cannot and should not apply. In any case, the Ugandan state is separate from the Church or Mosque, and it would be prudent for public servants to refrain from using and imposing the teachings and morals of one religion on the diverse people of Uganda, with pluralities of religion, faith, spiritual and moral inclinations.
Obviously, their positions on GLBT people are directly lifted from the dispositions and teachings of their churches. We all recall the continuing controversy over ordination of gay priests and the blessing of gay marriages in the worldwide Anglican Communion which has caused a serious doctrinal and church practice schism between conservative and liberal wings of the church. It is this struggle into which the secular state is being enlisted. The democratic forces and the people of Uganda must oppose this interference, attempt to suppress our civil rights, and fuse the state with the church. The state and the public policy process must be inoculated from religious particularities. But the NRM/A dictatorship have aligned its position on GLBT practices with church conservatives who reject a more liberal interpretation of Christian doctrinal positions on homosexuality. Not only do church conservatives oppose the admission and ordination of homosexuals, but even women bishops and ministers within the communion are unacceptable. Furthermore, they insist that, marriage is only possible between a man and a woman, and for the purpose of procreation. Anything outside of this is regarded as unnatural and irredeemable sin.
Some in this debate do not even seem to be aware that with advancement in reproductive technology, you do not need to marry anybody's son or daughter in order to have children of your own. So the thought that promoting homosexuality threatens the human race is all gibberish. There is already a bustling market and brisk business in human eggs and semen, which may account for more than 1% of some country's total births. All one has to have is the ability to purchase such services. Most of this has been to help heterosexual couples who cannot have children the natural and normal way. Moreover, those who do not want their wives to go through the barbaric “natural” processes of pregnancy and childbirth can rent a womb -euphemistically termed surrogate motherhood-for another woman to carry their child to term. Others may conceive naturally and carry their own babies to term, but opt for caesarean births.
All these are done sometimes for health reasons, but in most cases, it is for cosmetic and aesthetics fancifulness. Some go through the procedure so their wives are not aged and disfigured by the vagaries of childbirth. It is the same reason other women do not breastfeed so their breasts can remain firm longer. Such lifestyles and personal choices, and the technological response to problems within heterosexual relationships have also been serendipitous for gay couples who, like their heterosexual counterparts, want children and a fulfilling family life.
Personally, homosexuality is not for me. However, that is not sufficient reason for me to categorize it as a sin or a crime; even less so, to hate or incite hatred against those who practise it. I unconditionally accept and respect those who find themselves inclined that way, and I would even forgo my rights, if it would ensure that their civic and human rights are protected as much as mine and the next wo/man. This is because there is nothing-scientific or spiritual- and I do not think there will be any to suggest that GLBT people are less human, less civic citizens than I am and undeserving of the moral, legal, and constitutional protection and social privileges heterosexuals claim for themselves.
To understand the silliness of those who hate others just because they do not look or behave like them, it may be useful to look at sexuality as being akin to the diversity of food culture. We would all be happier if we recognised the wisdom in the axiom that one wo/man's meat is another wo/man's poison. I came face to face with this truism in travelling and living among people from southern Africa-Zambia, Botswana, Malawi and Bophutoswana. Caterpillar is to these communities what white ants and grasshoppers are to Ugandans. And not to speak about the food and food culture of Europe and North America that even grossed me out the most. I won’t be caught dead eating frogs, snails, mussels, squids or jelly fish!
Close to home in Acholi itself, food culture varies from region to region. For instance, the Lamogi in Amuru are reputed for eating bats; the Padibe in Kitgum are famous for eating certain species of rats. To those from Agoro the northern most towns in Kitgum, from where my own mother came, crabs are delicacies- which my own people from Madi Opei detest vehemently and ridicule them for it. The point is that, throughout the world, food is food and what does not kill you, must certainly be good for you and welcome nourishment for your body, mind, and soul.
So sexuality itself, although not as voluntary as eating foods choices and culture is, its variety is certainly not unlike our national or global food culture. For instance, in Uganda, we have a diversity of sex culture within the heterosexual communities. In Makerere University lingo past, we used to say in Western Uganda, they do it with low-technology, shallow quarrying, with very little ecological footprints. On the other hand, eastern and northern parts of the country were categorised as being partial to deep-shaft mining and technology intensive. The point I am labouring to make here is that, it is unreasonable to think that what is not good for you, must not be good for someone else and vice versa. Or that we should imagine some dictator from Rwakitura banning Kwete, Ajon, Mwenge Migu, Kongo Ting, and decreeing god-knows-what as the “natural” drink for Ugandans!
Homosexuality is not a crime. Those who practise it do not harm anyone, when it is done between or among consenting adults. Violating minors or gaining carnal knowledge of minors is defilement and rape. Equally, having sex with adults against their will, regardless of their sex and gender, is rape and criminal. It does not matter whether the perpetrator and victim are heterosexuals or homosexuals; defilement or rape is defilement or rape: it is criminal and punishable. But no crime, even for rape, should be punishable by death among human communities living in the 21st Century.
Rationally, one would expect that Ugandans should be more tolerant and accepting of difference and diversity, since they have gone through two or more episodes of tragic violence and persecution based solely on identity, difference, and diversity. But the latest upsurge of hate campaigns by ministers, clergy, and their brainwashed religious cult communicants against homosexuality, makes it feel like we live in the times of Jesus and we were witnessing animated polemical debates between the Pharisees, the Sadducees and Christian adherents at Jewish temples and market places in AD 47.
Unfortunately in this debate, Africans have overplayed the mythologies of creationism and the bible is wielded as the answer to all our problems, struggles and interpretations of events and as sole source for moral rectitude. This has constricted and enfeebled our minds and given us up to irrational fears of difference and the unknown and surrender to fatalism. It is the reason no significant progress will come out of Africa, because we have erected a ring fire of religious and social taboos around our lives and thoughts, that venturing beyond is not only terrifying, but patrolled and policed by authoritarians like the NRM/A who hold us hostage to the myth that human progress beyond where we are in Uganda and Africa, is impossible. And that they must chaperone us on around, including how we express our sexuality which is an entirely private and personal matter in which the state has no business acting like a voyeur.
Our progress will begin with not being content with and challenging the ordinary and venturing into the realms of self-doubt and religious scepticism. Until Ugandan Christians can interpret their experiences and aspirations not only on the teachings and morals of the bible but also on factual and observed phenomena and material life- outside the mysticisms of Christianity, we will have to put another two thousand years behind us before we can break free of the shackles and limitations of mysticisms, nature, and social taboos.
It is not scientific, but a cursory observation would reveal that societies that have fewer sexual, social and personal taboos, have made tremendous progress and have shown greater imagination, ingenuity, innovations and inventiveness among their population. They cherish freedom of thought and respect civil liberties. Conversely, societies such as Uganda, where one man is in charge of awarding market tenders from Rukingiri to Lira and his word is the law; or where vice chancellors or chancellors of national universities are political appointees rather than meritorious professionals recognised in their fields and elevated by a professional body and academic peers, the degree of restrictions on personal freedoms and civil liberties have direct relationships with the state of scientific research, social development, ingenuity, curiosity and intellectual debate on matters of public policy and interest.
Given the state of our social, economic, and political development, homosexuality is the least of our worries and vices in Uganda, than irrational religious dogmas and the cooptation of the church, or one faith, to certify public moralities in a plural society. All human rights, democracy and civil liberties advocates worth their names; and every Ugandan citizen who loves personal freedom, ought to oppose the Anti Homosexuality Bill which is nothing but the expansion of the mechanisms of limiting all our civil liberties and personal freedoms.
However, the bill provides welcome opportunity for Ugandans to begin a robust national conversation on the protection of civil rights, which ensures that there is no discrimination based on race, colour, ethnicity, sex, gender, sexuality, religion, and party affiliation or political views, in the public domain. Such civil rights debate must endeavour to entrench the separation of the state from the church and uphold the integrity of Uganda as a secular state with plurality of faith and spiritual practices and without an official state religion.
In that regard, ministers, parliamentarians and other public servants should be prohibited from imposing Christian or Islamic ethics and moralities on the state and public; or to use their personal and private belief systems and morality as the basis for national, public policy, on matters outside the regulation of religious practices. Once we can ensure these clowns like Nsaba Buturo, will think otherwise about flogging their personal beliefs and religious dogmas to restrict and control our bodies and personalities.
Ugandans and all people of good will should wake up and see Yoweri Museveni and the NRM/A government and its agents for who they are: Purveyors of hate, who have no qualms about killing those who disagree with them or are unlike themselves. No doubt, they are more dangerous to the people of Uganda, than gays and lesbians.
N.B. The opinions expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the position of Independent Publications Ltd.
written by Sukkhi Pal, November 04, 2009
I don't know what we can do to put sense into the thick brains of the likes of Butuuro and Bahati! As a Ugandan born in Western Uganda, and went through boy's schools and went through Makerere University, I know many names of distingushed gentlemen who had gay inclanations, and probabaly still have them but that has not made them in anyway bad people.
The issue at stake is bad law vs good law
written by Rev Amos Kasibante, November 05, 2009
In Uganda there is separation of church and state/religion as per the 1995 Constitution. We do not have a state church or state religion as such. But Ugandan society is overwhelmingly religious, not secular, having a plurality of religions. Consequently religious values may find expression in our laws; for some laws are expressions of the collective morality of a people. That is different from imposing a religious morality be it Islamic, Christian or African Traditional Religion (sometimes the latter's existence is forgotten). So, the issue at stake is not the separation of religion/church and state. It is whether and to what extent certain behaviours may be legislated and what the consequences of such legislation are likely to be. It is a contest between good laws and bad laws.
written by GUSTAVO SOLANO, November 05, 2009
i have learn trough the article Ugandas political situation an moreover social life , been so far away (i live in spain) it was very nice to know that there is an open mind person and a very sensitive human been
Lloret de Mar
Of fire, religion, and water
written by Rev Amos Kasibante, November 05, 2009
On the other hand, Okello Lucima's article should make us reflect on the danger of creeping (resurgent?) extreme right-wing, fundamentalist religious attitudes whether Christian or Islamic that have rendered those who hold them intolerant of "difference" or "diversity". They want to enforce comformit to their views. They go on about an invasion of Western liberal morality or immorality in 'our society', sources of contamination and moral decadence. But we do not look at the opposite, which has also been invading Africa from outside. Religion - any religion or faith - is like fire or water. It can be life-giving or life destroying. This also applies to African Indigenous Traditions which many people have appealed to in their resistance to "foreign" ideas and practices - and that includes women's liberation.
Un-holy Sacred Cow!
written by Leonardo Ricardo, November 05, 2009
Minister James Buturo and his anti-Gay circus/conference presented before the Parliament of Uganda isn´t a proud moment for pro-religious beliefs or emotionally stable sensibilities...it was a criminal act of deceit when setting up unqualified witnesses such as Scott Lively, the Holocaust denial revisionist and a handful of secondrate ex-gay blabbering con artists who HEAL LGBT people...who paid the expenses for this gangly group of exceedingly biased, and un-professional, bigots to come to Uganda and spout off? Archbishop Henri Orombi or President Museveni ought be embarrassed to be thought to be ANY PART of this hate-fearsmearing squad of extremist twits.
written by Omeros, November 06, 2009
But Reverend, what is a "good" law for your purposes or a "bad" law, for that matter? I suspect that a religious conservative on the one hand and a laissez-faire liberal on the other may well come to different conclusions on that question, particularly where what is at stake is a law proscribing sexual acts between consenting adults of the same sex. If, as you accept, Uganda's laws reflect the overwhelmingly religious values of its electorate and its politicians feel obliged to thump the bible at every turn, to what extent is there a de facto religion of state (if not a de jure state religion)?