Uganda and homosexuality
Nov 12th 2009 | KAMPALA
From The Economist print edition
Hurrah for homophobia!
VISITORS to Uganda have rarely been starved of sex if they have wanted it. But there are limitations. The country’s mix of vigorous heterosexuality and religiosity have made it one of Africa’s more homophobic places. Now, say advocates of sexual freedom, a proposed new law against homosexuals will push Uganda back into a grim kind of Victorian age, Africa-style.
Fine, say members of Uganda’s parliament, who believe they are leading a global battle to defend the traditional family. Foreign embassies, they reckon, are unduly pro-gay; the UN is alleged to be “smuggling” in “agents of immorality”. “Carnal knowledge against the order of nature”, as one MP put it, is imported by corrupt white men and women.
Uganda’s handful of brave homosexual campaigners beg to differ. Some say there are 500,000 gays among the country’s population of 33m. That is impossible to verify. What is clear is that homosexuals are often isolated, discriminated against at work and in AIDS treatment clinics, and sometimes even lynched.
Despite the grumbling of human-rights groups, Parliament is likely to pass the law with the overwhelming support of Ugandans. It will probably be stripped of its more controversial bits, such as the death penalty for “aggravated homosexuality” and the prosecution of Ugandans who engage in homosexual sex abroad. Even so, talking about homosexuality in public will be punishable with prison. Spying and sneaking on homosexuals will be encouraged. Failure to report instances of anal sex, whether between gay or straight people, could become a criminal offence too.
Uganda could even set a trend for other African countries, most of which retain colonial laws against sodomy. Some Africans had hoped rapid urbanisation, together with South Africa’s recognition of same-sex marriage, would lead to greater acceptance of homosexuality in sub-Saharan Africa. But the influence of Christian evangelicals, especially from America, matched by their counterparts from Muslim countries, may have had the opposite effect.
Homosexuality fascinates many Africans as much as it repels. The recent marriage of two Kenyan men in London was headline news back home. So for the time being gay life in Africa is one of survival, with richer gays often emigrating to more tolerant climes.