Uganda is on the verge of enacting one of the toughest anti-gay laws in the world; it is part of a wider rouse to divert attention from the rampant corruption, lack of services, crime, and poverty that plague Uganda. Right on cue, President Obama condemned the law and said Uganda would pay the price of such foolhardy action. This allowed Museveni to grandstand in the name of national sovereignty and fighting the dictates of neo-colonialists trying to “impose their lifestyle on us.” The law is cruel and unusual in meting out excessive punishment to any person suspected of being gay, helping gays, failing to report gays and so forth. It is a totally unworkable piece of legislation, poorly written, contradictory, and too generalised – it is more a moral statement condemning homosexuality than a workable law. I believe Africans need Gay rights like a naked man needs a hat. African homosexuals are without rights because Africans don’t have rights. Talking against your government can get you killed, exposing corruption can get you killed, a simple bribe to a court official can get you in jail for years, your property can be seized by the state without recompense. It is in this farce that we want to give a naked man a pink hat without getting him the trousers and shirt of human rights and the boots of a working constitution. In these tribal societies gays are just another tribe jostling for rights and recognition.
Rights are not in of themselves, they rely on other rights; the right to life, the right to liberty, the right to pursue happiness, the rights of the individual and the collective. None of these have been clearly redefined in our modern African discourse, what we have is isolated groups with common interests shouting in the background. The Liberal movement of the West succeeded because many causes banded together; ethnic minorities, union workers, women’s rights, anti-nuclear, socialists, anti-capitalists, and gay rights. It was this coalition that created a voting bloc that could affect social change in societies that were fragmenting due to globalisation. The communications revolution is speeding up social change like never before, what would have taken decades in Europe seems possible in Africa in a much shorter time. So countries like Uganda have become a battleground for the global Gay rights propaganda war, money from both pro and anti-gay groups abroad has flushed into Uganda. The tactics that succeeded in Europe cannot work in Africa, in Europe they fought the system, staged demonstrations, kissing parades, walked naked down the street in thongs. In a continent where most political space is restricted or co-opted and corrupted by the state, confrontation becomes a losing strategy.
Uganda was homophobic and conflicted before all the Evangelicals threw in their funding, it can’t have swayed opinions which were already fearful and hateful of gays. Google said the Uganda led in searches for gay sex, Preachers like Martin Ssempa even showed gay porn in church to create aversion. This fear and hate goes back to the Uganda boarding school system, as you sit your exams to end primary school, at the back of your mind is the awful realisation that a terrible fate awaits you in secondary school. On the first day they warn you “look out for homos” except they really extend the Hoooooooomo. It is a power thing, some older boys sodomise younger boys, you are often isolated hundreds of kilometres from town, in a harsh all-male environment. You never walk alone, always in a group, always keep your guard, always looked for an exit in case homos came around the corner. This is the context in which Ugandans understand the debate, not as loving and caring relationships but sexual predation. Counter to this is the parachuted western model, as a human right, as an alternative lifestyle, as a family-model. This western model is unsuitable for Africa where 90% are rural subsistence farmers, who rely on having many children to farm bigger plots. The west is more educated, skills count for everything, sexuality has mattered less as modes of production changed towards skills. The problem now is that Liberals point and laugh “anyone who hates gays is just stupid, look at those stupid Africans, stupid, stupid, stupid!” Yet you can rewind to 10 years ago and most politicians in the West were anti-gay. “I mean hello, didn’t you Africans get the memo? Gays are cool now. You’re so stupid!” No more persuasion just pointing at the retards in Africa.
Now the West is on a mission to civilise us stupid blacks, to teach us backward Africans the benefits of this new modern lifestyle. Except it is not new, for much of history, homosexuality was the dominant sexuality, practiced by kings and rulers. Most Roman emperors were bisexual, as were many other leaders in history, including Mwanga the former Kabaka of Buganda who fought the British. There is a theory that homosexuals have an advantage in that they are free from sexual competition and practice cooperation. This fuels the fears of them taking power behind the shadows, and spreading their network. It is in those tones that you hear the debate, of conspiracies and diabolical plans. Then the west gets paternalistic, tells Africa to love gays or else….. Perfect for a corrupt dictator to play the sovereignty card. “These Americans telling us what to do, who do they think they are?” Then we forget that we have no roads, schools, clinics, courthouses, and functioning institutions. Even if Uganda declared Gay rights for all tomorrow, they would not have the institutions to enforce it, just like they don’t have the institutions to enforce an anti-gay law. So to the naked man, a pink hat, maybe that will cover the nakedness. So Obama condemn an anti-gay bill and promises repercussions, but he never condemns lack of democracy, human rights abuses, lack of political space, corruption, impunity, neglect and tribalism. You cannot have Gay rights without basic human rights, otherwise you are building from the roof down. If you have the right to Life and Liberty, then the rest will follow.