Sasha, from Kenya, asked a question that has been troubling me. Why is the debate on homosexuality so explosive in Uganda? Why not in Kenya? Why is it that in Uganda it has continued for so long, and so hot?
After a little thought, I just could not take the credit. It is not because of us Kuchus in Uganda that the debate has been so hot. And it has not always been us. See, only one person of note actually came out at the press conference. She then went ahead on a blitzkrieg of the fm stations. Others of us applauded from the sidelines. We were happy, but too cautious.
The anti-homosexual lobby. It is these guys who reacted like they had seen a huge poisonous snake. And they have been working on hitting it on the head, with whatever means possible. And they are powerful people.
Pastor Martin Ssempa is the vocal leader. He has been leading a crusade against homosexuality for years in Uganda. Even when no Ugandan kuchu was out. Before he was battling a faceless enemy. It is understandable he was ecstatic when the enemy got a face. Matter of fact, he is not a very clever person, but he postures, and shouts, and cries. He puts his foot many times into his own mouth. Why? That is a question I am burning with curiosity about. Why is he so rabid in his opposition? I don’t know, but some reasons I can guess.
My partner says he sets off his gaydar. And there have been persistent rumours that he is, or was gay. I have no substance to that, except that my gaydar is not that sensitive, but it gets a blip when I see him. Never met him personally. Wonder why a gay man would hurt other gay people? Ask Senators Craig and McCarthy. Internalised homophobia and self hate is one of the crosses we have to bear.
Another reason is the fact that he ponders to the American right. The Republicans who are so into ‘homo-bashing’, and ‘sex is bad thing’. He preaches abstinence. Preaches as in Sex is bad, condoms are burnt, and Virginity pledges and rallies. All in the name of god. I don’t know why Ssempa’s god came to hate me so much.
Anyway, Ssempa has organised the opposition, (funded from out?) been the focal point, generated airtime and many quotes, each more reprehensible than the other. He is a charismatic leader, and powerful in HIV prevention. Oh yes, and he has the ear of the First Lady. (We have only one, officially, and you are Kenyan, you understand!)
James Nsaba Buturo, PhD is the other reason. He is a minister in the current government. A minister for Ethics and Integrity. He is soft on corruption, (Sasha, Kenyan, you understand. So many things similar!), but very hard on homosexuality. He is a ‘born-again’ Christian, or a Pentecostal. But his hate for me and mine seems to be also exceptional. I have been angered by the fact that he belittles us, and thinks we are so bad that he wants us out of the country. For him it is the politics, and a hint of a personal agenda that I don’t get as yet. He believes that for the ‘fight against homosexuality’ it is like the 'war on terror'. Anything and everything is justifiable. Us being outed, losing our jobs, anyone being tainted as gay is risking, and if the police cannot act, why doesnt the populace take it into their hands? A very unchristian Christian, I must say.
But those are only two people. The other major factor is the religious bodies. First there are the Pentecostals. Uganda has had a major ‘revival’ since the end of the troubles in 1986. Churches sprung up everywhere. They were first made of papyrus reed walls. Now they are cathedrals of stone and glass. Where I live, I am surrounded by at least 5 pentecostal churches within a 2 km radius. They are many, and politically strong. The First Lady, is a very good source of that strength. The president is a very politically savy person. When Clinton yielded to G.W Bush, the man saw where the winds were blowing. He jumped onto that ship. And that has meant ridiculous statements like there are no homosexuals in Uganda. The twinning with the American right is just impossible to ignore. And of course it has been impossible to start an HIV prevention programme. I know it is happening in Kenya.
The Church of Uganda has also generated a ground swell. Many Ugandans cared naught about homosexuality. But the Church of Uganda cares, and very much. Together with the Nigerian Anglican Church, they are leading the current schism in the Anglican Church. Yes, they have their own reasons. Simply put, they could not say nothing when the ‘evil’ of homosexuality suddenly acquired a face in Uganda. They are not politically strong, but the Sunday after the press conference, all their churches preached about it.
The others have been mainly opportunistic. The Tabliqs are a fundamentalist moslem religious group that wanted to be seen as saying something. Otherwise, it has been a moot point with the Moslems. The Red rug has simply been opportunistic, and I suspect, a tool in the hands of more powerful forces.
A result of this very powerful, very vocal opposition has been that they have done many things which were seen as ridiculous. At the press conference, people narrated ordeals of being beaten up, abused, arrested. We just asked for one thing. To be left alone. To be left in peace. I was there. I saw the journalists there. They were affected, and I bet you, none of them would have thought that it was going to be such a big deal. But Nsaba Buturo wondered how come the press conference was possible, asked the police about it, and went on rampage. The New Vision is a government paper. They have been confused in their coverage. They just did not seem to know what to say. That has been hilarious. The Monitor was fair. I know 27th will say that’s not true, but it is. They have tried to present our point of view, as they let the 95% release their hate too. So, I think they have been fair, in a way.
The ‘opposition’ has done some ridiculous things. Gaetano being suspended was one of them. It was ridiculous, so much so that people were shocked. And the media railed. The attack on the Monitor reporter was another. She was being as careful as she could, but not being Ugandan, and not having lived through the Nsaba Buturo era (he was Minister of Information) she did not understand the vehemence of his opposition. And of course was surprised to find herself the object of attack for factual reporting!
Anyway, there we are. Very interesting that I have argued so strenuously for the opposition. But I do like to think without blinders. And it is simply true to say that the opposition has been playing to their own agenda. Which is very interesting. Why has this been so? I would like to understand Nsaba Buturo and Ssempa’s motivation. Interesting.