Thursday, February 25, 2010

Ugandan death penalty petition

I received a well-intentioned request from the campaigners at http://www.avaaz.org/ to donate money to a rights' group that wishes to run an opinion poll about proposed tougher anti-gay legislation in Uganda. They believe the opinion poll will show Ugandans do not back the bill, which calls for the death penalty in cases of "aggravated homosexuality" - having gay sex while HIV positive, with a minor or a disabled person. Belief in human rights will overpower homophobia, they reason.

Sorry Avaaz, but I think you are underestimating the virulence of homophobia in not only Uganda, but the rest of East Africa. I have spoken to pleasant, reasonable, ordinary Ugandans who believe gays are an abomination and think the law is fine. When the president of The Gambia threatened to behead gays a while back, it was a Ugandan who said he was quite right. In neighbouring Kenya, a mob in Mtwapa recently had to be stopped from setting fire to a man they believed to be gay. The mob was rampaging around after a gay wedding was stopped. There are countless examples of such widespread hatred.

These people are not extremists, in the sense that they are a small minority with views different from the rest of their society. They are ordinary citizens with attitudes that have been drummed into them by religion. So I am struggling to understand where this idea that Ugandans do not support the bill is coming from.

I personally believe the bill will not be passed in its current form, simply because of the amount of international pressure being applied. President Museveni has already tried to distance himself from the bill and called it a "foreign policy issue" after having his ear bent by Gordon Brown and Hillary Rodham Clinton, amongst other world leaders.

Museveni doesn't care what Avaaz or a handful of Ugandan human rights' activists think. But with the threat of cuts to international aid hanging over Uganda's head - Sweden has said it will cut off aid if the bill becomes law - the nation can't afford to pass this legislation.

The real fight shouldn't be against the bill. It should be against Uganda's exisiting legislation, which is already draconian. Even if the bill is stopped, Ugandan gays still find themselves living in a country where their sexual preference is criminalised and they face discrimination and violence. That is something that isn't going to change any time soon.

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