A cautious response on both sides of the issue and a member of the opposition party speaks her truth
By Melanie Nathan, September 07, 2014.
Members of Uganda’s Parliament have reaffirmed their commitment to pass the Anti-Homosexuality Act which was recently invalidated by the Constitutional Court on a technicality. The Act was set aside by the Court last month, because it had passed Parliament without the required quorum, back in December, 2013. No sooner than its demise, the Ugandan legislators vowed to fast track the re-tabling of the Bill before Parliament and signed a petition calling for its return. Now is surely the time for a more subdued reaction, as hopefully the West will not be tricked again into the political play book of over zealous politicians and a duped God fearing country.
The commitment of the MPs were a direct result of the pressure brought to bear by Port Bell Road Pastors Fellowship which petitioned Parliament on Monday August 11, urging legislators to attend House proceedings when the Bill is being reconsidered by the House.
The Speaker of Parliament Rt. Hon. Rebecca Kadaga who received the petitioners in the CHOGM Gardens urged the public to support efforts by legislators to have the bill reconsidered.
“It think not withstanding what happened during the earlier consideration of the bill, the public should appreciate MPs for considering and passing the Bill that had been on the shelves for over seven years,” she told the petitioners.
MPs David Bahati (Ndorwa West) and Benson Obua Ogwal (Moroto County) have written to Parliament asking for a date to be set for the re-tabling of the legislation. The fervently anti-gay MP Bahati, who is the author of the original Bill, as influenced by USA right wing Evangelicals, to include a certain extremist Scott Lively, believes that 383 out of 385 MPs support the bill and its contents.
What underpins the resurgence is the now very familiar absurd rhetoric, which has yet to be proven by anyone, yielding false statements such as the following:
“What is at stake is the future of our country and the foundation of the state. We shall not get tired as we defend the future of our children,” Bahati said. The Parliamentary blog says that “The petitioners warned that homosexuality threatens the lives of hundreds of youth and children who are being recruited into this life style.”
However many in Uganda as well as in the West know for a fact that there is no evidence to support this ridiculous contention.
MPs were in such a hurry that under the Bahati wing, they had wanted the House to suspend handling of the ongoing budget bill to work up the anti-gay Bill, but the request was turned down. More proof positive of the desire to whip the Bill up to ensure its frenzied ploy.
However President Museveni is reported to have advised the MPs to go slow in their quest to re-table the Bill “since the issue was delicate.” To this end he is probably referring to the West denying AID and maintaining its limited sanctions against Uganda, as well as the fact that a competent court could easily oust the Bill, yet again, but this time on the merits, which will mean it would in all likelihood never be re-tabled again.
Indeed in the proposal that Deputy Speaker Jacob Oulanyah read, MPs David Bahati and Benson Obua also said they would be looking into the other human rights issues raised by lawsuit Petitioners in their case, but which were not disposed of by court last month. It is clear that the ruling NRM party of President Museveni which makes up a large majority of Parliament, are indeed concerned about the various issues raised by the LGBT and ally Petitioners against the Anti-Homosexuality Act when it was first passed. The Court, which negated the law, did not get an opportunity to rule on the human rights merits raised in that lawsuit. Now a nine-member committee led by Vice President Edward Ssekandi as proposed by the NRM Parliamentary Caucus, will look into these human rights issues raised against the initial law. It is unclear whether Bahati and Ogwal will be involved in this assessment.
Parliament has officially allowed the start of the process – Ugandan Monitor:–
“Last week, as Parliament resumed from a mini-recess, Deputy Speaker Jacob Oulanyah, said the two MPs have now been granted the leave of Parliament to allow them time to prepare the Bill, “triggering excitement among members.” According to the House Rules of Procedure, once the Bill is re-tabled, it will be referred to a committee where revisions are considered, brought back to the House for debate before proceeding to the third reading- the final stage before the Bill is passed.
Mr Oulanyah also indicated that a drive to register MPs in support of the reintroduction of the Bill had garnered the support of 254 MPs – pushing the number much higher than the required one third of all 376 MPs entitled to vote.
“So when we finish the Budget and as soon as the movers of this Bill are ready, we will proceed. When it is introduced, we will handle it appropriately about those issues that were raised that caused the nullification,” he added.
With all this said, how do we proceed here in the West?
One of the Ugandan Parliamentarians informed me that she was under immediate political pressure to sign onto the petition to re-table the Bill, and explained the milieu surrounding the petition. Parliamentarians from the shadow cabinet were in a meeting and when they walked out, the petition to re-table was placed between them and the room full of press. Given the pressure in the moment, Hon. Nabilah Naggayi Sempala said she had no choice but to sign because she is a target as a Muslim woman and member of the minority opposition party, to be isolated and even ousted. Not signing would have been political suicide. She would have been played by the opposition as someone “who is not there FOR the people,” she explained. Signing the petition to re-table does not mean she supports the bill. In fact she went on to note that the moment for her was unlike any other she had experienced since being in Parliament. Hon Nagagayi, who has been in parliament since 2006 and who did not vote on the original AHA, expressed that this was a political low point for her, where “I could not walk proudly condemning my fellow Ugandans.” So contrary to what Bahati would have the world believe, many Parliamentarians face great threats if they are not seen to be endorsing the Bill when placed in the direct firing line of press and political play.
Hon. Naggayi, while on a visit to San Francisco, also spoke to an audience at a forum held by the San Francisco Africa Leadership Institute, where she mentioned that because of the position she was in, she appended a caveat to her signature to include heterosexual people. She noted that if the Ugandan government wanted to enter people’s bedrooms, they should not only enter the bedrooms of gay people, but the bedrooms of all people.
She questioned singling out gay people for condemnation. She explained that Ugandans, once a permissive society, had now assumed the exports from the West, as delivered by extremist Evangelicals. She noted, that surely marital rape and heterosexual sodomy should be included in such legislation. She wanted to emphasize her cynicism to counter what seems to be her support of what she believes to be an unnecessary Bill that singles out gays. She also noted that it is of great interest that the very Churches which have pushed for the Anti-Homosexuality Act (AHA), have turned their backs on the much needed Marriage and Divorce Bill, failing to promote that which will truly help Ugandan families, especially women and children.
The hypocrisy of the patriarchal Ugandan Parliamentarians and the churches that seek to influence them, could not be more clear than this failure to truly take care of the interests of women and children, where, unlike the myth and lies surrounding the anti-gay legislation, there is absolute proof of the harm to ‘family values,’ resulting from the lack of protections that the Marriage Bill would provide. “Why are the Churches turning their backs on this if they are so concerned about family values,” Hon. Naggayi noted.
In focusing on the Anti-Homosexuality Act, perhaps the Ugandans should be more concerned about what impacts the majority of the community, rather than that which targets a few. The Anti-Homosexuality Act, if accorded this significance in Parliament, really serves to mitigate the importance of more critical legislation, all the while usurping so much time, energy and resources, when an existing penal code seems to cover the so called crime, in any event. Focusing on the AHA would successfully divert the international community, yet again, from all the human rights issues facing Ugandans.
While political opportunist Bahati regains the initiative on the Bill he had first tabled in 2009, perhaps the West should step back this time and not play into his hands with the scape-goating that it in essence facilitated, with its hefty focus on the Anti- LGBT legislation. Perhaps it would be more productive to focus on all human rights issues that plague Ugandans, to include the oppression of its dictatorship disguised as a democracy, corruption, the clamping down on freedom of speech and assembly, torture of those in opposition, forced confessions and unlawful detentions of police, poverty and failures in education, exacerbated by misdirection of funding, the inequality of women and the criminalization of private sexual consent.
This time around perhaps we should be aware of allowing Bahati and his duped followers to continue to use the West as the schism that endorses the Bill, turning this into ‘American vs Ugandan values.’
Lest we forget:-
1) This Anti-Homosexuality Bill is in truth not David Bahati’s Bill, nor a Ugandan initiative, but rather a Bill born in America and pushed on him and Uganda by the Western Evangelicals, over many years of trickery, to include Scott Lively’s direct participation and pay off by the Americans to Churches to ensure it progress. It is the Bill of an American wave of religious colonialism that invaded a once culturally permissive Uganda – and the motive was to resew seeds which could no longer take root in America, by turning to a God fearing poverty stricken nation for renewal.
2) This Anti-Homosexuality Bill has a foundation rooted in rhetoric and lies with zero evidence of its need.
3) It is a political tool and will probably be overturned by the Courts as unconstitutional when the time comes.
4) The Politicians should be called out not for following the law that they believe in – but for allowing a law that impacts a small group of people to overshadow laws that are of critical importance with a wider reach for the benefit of all.
Surely the time has come to take the UMPH and power away from Bahati and his cohorts. It is not Bahati’s Bill, it is American Scott Lively’s Bill. Until now our messaging has not been helpful but has served the likes of Bahati and Museveni’s political games. The Western Evangelicals have taken over Uganda’s Parliament – but that seems to have been a lost mantra – one that could have been and could still be. While the Bahati camp in countering pro LGBT human rights, accuses Americans of imposing its morality upon Uganda, Parliamentarians are the ones imposing America’s ideas on the people by accepting the Evangelical driven legislation. With so much harm already done by our obsessive focus on the bill, all we accomplish is endorsing and exacerbating that harm. If we step back from our expectation that the duped homophobic infiltrated Parliament will do anything different, then we can focus on the work that needs to be done – and that is to reach younger Ugandans with education about all human rights.
It seems the majority of Parliamentarians are either so far gone or live under threat of losing their seat. The majority of Uganda’s population is under 35. Museveni’s dictatorial 30 year time clock should be drawing to a close. The future of Uganda lies with a bright and eager youth. Cultural exchanges and Ugandans in the Diaspora present the hope to successfully impart ideas about human and civil rights. Over time, with education and effective dialogue toward a better understanding between Africa and the USA, I have no doubt that the Uganda of the future could evolve into a place where leadership will not be duped by a handful of Bible punching zealots.
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Contact: Melanie Nathan – [email protected]