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Wednesday 17th of September 2014 12:32:56 PM
 

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How Obama played Museveni’s hand

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The US President’s letter to his Ugandan counterpart was the trigger that could have forced Museveni into singing the anti gay bill

On February 24, 2014, President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda signed into law a bill mandating gays to be sentenced to life in prison for being who they are. It was a tragic but equally illuminating moment for Uganda and its relations with its Western “allies”. Museveni had been reluctant to sign the bill until US President Barak Obama sent him a toughly worded letter literally ordering him not to and even threatening consequences if he did. Watching Museveni speak to the press before a publically televised signing of the Anti Homosexuality Bill (AHB), I felt sympathetic to him even though I disagreed with his action. I have since joined other Ugandans in petitioning against this law in the Constitutional Court. However, I also felt that if I was in his shoes, I would also have probably acted as he did.

Although by Western standards Museveni’s view on homosexuals is retrogressive, he is actually quite progressive compared to many of his contemporaries in Uganda and Africa. For example, while virtually every anti gay politician or activist in Uganda (and Africa generally) argues that homosexuality is a Western imposition on African culture, Museveni has consistently argued that gays existed in pre-colonial Africa. He has also argued consistently that pre-colonial African societies were aware of the existence of gays but did not persecute them. At the press conference he held before signing the AHB, Museveni said the criminalization and persecution of gays was introduced in Uganda by European Christian missionaries and the British colonial state.

So what made him change and sign a bill he had opposed in an open letter to the speaker of parliament in December 2013? Museveni is a president with a reputation as a strong and powerful leader. He is seen by the Ugandan public as the man who issues commands and others obey. This brand identity has given him the myth of invincibility that has been essential to his politics. When Obama asked him not to sign the bill in a public letter that even threatened consequences, he boxed Museveni into a corner.

If Museveni declined to sign the bill, people would interpret it as a result of Obama’s threats, a factor that would have made the Ugandan president look weak and cowardly. This is an impression Museveni cannot afford to have Ugandans hold of him. This is especially so given that Museveni is a president of a country over 90 percent of whose citizens are homophobic according to the World Values Survey. And if he was perceived of bending to Obama’s threats, Museveni knows that he would have lost face, his honor and his reputation as a powerful leader. This would have been politically devastating for a politician with a warrior brand like Museveni.

I have consistently argued that Western interference in the internal affairs of poor countries – even when well intentioned – often works to the detriment of the ends sought. Whether it is foreign financial or technical aid, human rights advocacy or humanitarian intervention, it tends to distort incentives of actors. Western nations carry unbearable cultural hubris thinking that their ways are universal human standards that should be accepted by diktat by other nations and societies. Even if this was correct, Western zealots ignore the protracted political and civic struggles in their own countries that brought about the current legal and human rights standards.

For example, the vast majority of Ugandans think homosexuals are perverts threatening the moral and natural order of our societies. This bigotry is born of religious conservatism, ignorance resulting from limited exposure. These weird views against gays are not any different from those of most Americans or Europeans two generations ago. The tolerance of homosexuality in the West is a development of the 1960s and 70s. It evolved out of internal civic struggle by gay groups supported by progressive intellectuals backed by expanding scientific knowledge and growing liberalism.

Therefore, to expect that African societies can change their deeply held dogmas and prejudices overnight is to demand the impossible. Any foreign intervention that seeks to advance gay rights has to approach the problem with caution and subtlety and avoid being seen as forcing the issue. In any case, the biggest threat to homosexuals in Uganda is not state law, however draconian, but rather social stigma. Homosexuals in Uganda are alienated from their parents, siblings and other relatives and have to live in fear of exposure to public ridicule and cultural alienation.

The law may be an added a burden but is highly improbable, that the Uganda Police, whose traffic officers watch idly as motorists violate traffic rules and public officials loot the state, will not be visiting people’s bedrooms to find out which man is sleeping with another man. It seems to me that the law was passed to whet public animosity and help our politicians score political points. It will most likely be used against political rivals (many of whom may not even be gay) than to punish homosexuality.

I am aware that in issuing his threat, Obama was addressing himself to his constituency at home. May be he needed to show them that he has done something tough to threaten the Ugandan leader into not signing the bill. However, this action was not helpful to the LGBT cause in Uganda. It has stimulated heated passions in this homophobic society with many activists claiming America wants to impose homosexuality on our society. Obama and other Western leaders need to use quiet diplomacy to try to change the actions of African leaders. Public threats achieve the exact opposite.

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Comments (23)Add Comment
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written by Bayomba, February 26, 2014
Andrew I totally agree with on this one.
However we should wait to see what impact the bill has on those people in government seeking Visas to the US and Europe.
I believe the effect on funding/ aid reduction will be felt in the short run but the donors will come round in a few years.
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written by Bayomba, February 26, 2014
However i pitty the opposition politicians because everytime they give a press conference now, their views on homosexuality will be sought. If an opposition politician says they support the anti homosexuality bill then their funding from abroad will dwindle but the local support (from the masses) will not change. However if they oppose the bill their funding will increase but their party will lose support. And M7 will use it against them at every opportunity.

Yet they need both the money and local support. It is a tricky proposition for Mao, Muntu, Lukyamuzi etc. Time to show their true colours!!
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written by Diane Kenneth, February 26, 2014
A letter from the anti gay group in Ghana reads as follows:
Dear Whiteman, you asked us to wear coat under the hot sun; we did. You said we should speak your language, we've odidiently ignored ours. You asked us to tie a rope around our necks like goats, we've obeyed without questioning. You asked our ladies to wear dead people's hair instead of the natural ones God gave them, they've obeyed. You said we should marry just one woman in the midst of plenty damsles, we reluctantly agreed.
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written by Diane Kenneth, February 26, 2014
You said our decent girls should wear catapults instead of conventional pants, they've obeyed..Now you want our men to sleep with fellow men, and our women to sleep with fellow women so that God would visit us like Sodom and Gomora? White folk, we say TUFIAKWA. Na by force to be your friend? We no go agree with you this time. Cheeeze
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written by Diane Kenneth, February 27, 2014
As a matter of fact Andrew; it is not true that M7 has never spoken out against homosexuals. I think years ago, though not sure exactly when, M7 said he would use guns to chase away homosexuals from Uganda. It was reported in the media in Uganda. Any remember this? I am sure Andrew can get this information.
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written by Marvin ya Kuku, February 27, 2014
Well put. I would however dispute the claim Ugandan bigotry homophobia is entirely due to religious conservatism. Its probably more to do with fear of the unknown. The church / mosque probably exercabates this
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written by Osire James, February 27, 2014
A vice is a vice no matter the time it has been. Prostitution, bribery, incest name them existed in the bible times. The reason why Kazinda, Cheeye etc are in jail its bse of committing crimes/ sins which were before they were born.
Polygamy, Paedophile and Besthiality are all illegal in the US yet these people claim they were born that way. Why doesnt Obama first fight for the rights of paedophiles, polygamists etc?

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written by Augustine, February 27, 2014
Museveni did the right thing.Actaually this law is very weak and does't purnish enough.The law should been designed in such a wayy that offenders would be castrated!!! This Homo thing is a very despicable act by sensible human beings.Its a culture for the west.Though i've lived in the West and continue to do so over the last 20 years,i do not garee with this Homosexual business being exported to Africa.

Amend this law and add a clause that says "one found guilty of this act shall be castrated"
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written by Augustine, February 27, 2014
Africans too should encourage the West to adopt polygamy as it is a human right for one to choose whether to marry one or several women.They hate our values and so do we hate theirs.Honestly one would rather be a polygamist which is a normal thing to do as it started during the bîblical days that being a homosexual ("wrong addresser")-M7.
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written by Marvin ya Kuku, February 27, 2014
Oh the irony of someone sharing a name with Saint Augustine an early Christian theologian whose writings were very influential in the development of Western Christianity and Western philosophy lamenting about western culture being exported to Africa. Even more ironical of all ironies is that in this modern age, Augustines church was chastised by a world body for hiding homos who preyed on children. With such a name, I would seriously consider despising the vice for other reasons but importation of culture
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written by Paul Muwanga, February 27, 2014
This time Mwenda, you are spot on. I happen to be a student of system dynamics. If an analyst doesn't understand a system very well and attempts to improve its performance, the inputs can make the situation worse.
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written by Lou, February 28, 2014
I think Andrew has made some valid arguments in the above article. One of the most insightful and rational articles I have read in the Ugandan media. What is still shocking me, however, is the level of homophobia in Uganda. we should be building a more tolerant and civil society. The Gov't may be targeting gays todays and the majority of Ugandans are jubilating, what will happen if other draconian laws are passed? We should be united in fighting society evils like corruption--which btw is glamorized in Uganda, poor delivery of social services, massive unemployment and poverty. These threaten the moral fabric of the society than what two consenting females or males are doing in the privacy of their bedroom. Our double standards as a people will cause our own downfall.
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written by Emmanuel Mulisa, February 28, 2014
It is tradionally shared that before ya man earns societal recognition, a man first wins at own home. I agree with the Author that M7 decided to sign AHB well knowing that he intends to cement his leadership ability and win the admirations of Ugandans over the stance of the donors. Like any other sexual behaviour, Homos will not be noticed so easily to attract the prosecution and M7 knew this too. Why did the Obamas keep quiet about the Mini skirt issues? Before US and Europe jump to sanctions against Uganda, let us wait and see if any one will be punished for Homosexuality first of all. Thank you Andrew Mwenda.
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written by Yunus Luswa, February 28, 2014
It is time we took charge of our own affairs, we don't need to rely on handouts anymore from the west. I have always stressed this. Lets build roads, hospitals, schools etc from our own sources. This will also eliminate theft of funds as the little we have will be fully put to use, then earn respect from the west that we can easily stand on our own.I know we can stand on our own if we can be organised with the resources we have. The west you can go to hell with your stupid hand outs. Your so called welfare hand outs, if that word is reversed it means farewell to independence.
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written by Emmanuel Taita, February 28, 2014
Whereas i do not disagree that homosexuals may have existed in Africa, they must have been so few and far between. Traditionally, african stories and experiences have only been handed down from the older generation to younger ones. I have listened to many stories of this nature and nowhere have i heard of men having sex with men. The only exception being Mwanga. Mwanga's story on the other hand may have been told by the white missioneries. Who has heard of african folklore that talk about Gays?
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written by Winnie, February 28, 2014
My view on Anti Pornography Bill
1.Why is it that most of the ring leaders of Gay rights are either Baganda or are from western Uganda is it coz these people are lazy and like quick cash and fancy life styles.
2. World Bank and IMF cant cut aid coz they are not countries they are institutions whose role is to funds poor and financially constraint countries.
3.Gays don't enjoy sex it appears to me that they go through a lot of pain since the act is unnatural.
4.Lesbians dont get sexually satisfied coz if a man cant satisfy a lady how can a fellow lady sexually satisfy a fellow lady.
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written by Kajende bisetsa., March 01, 2014
M7 would have done better than express his strongman stance against his own people trying to spite Obama. What's wrong with you? Andrew puts it better this time. Obama accounts to those who elect him. I am not sure Ugandans who elected m7 asked for this debate! They wanted a debate on how to dispose off bad leaders, corrupt leader.... A debate on transparency and accountability not Gay and miniskirts give us a break. Therefore it is not only UN intended consequences on part of Obama it is for M7 too self induced woods! Andrew should also say something about this Brand of Leadership!
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written by Birungi, March 02, 2014
To those comparing, pedophiles, polygamists bestiality etc to homosexuality, you are wrong! Other than being natural, championing protection of homosexuals is also based on the argument of MUTUAL CONSENT, of which children and animals are incapable. Therefore pedophiles and bestiality are not human rights and will never be made human rights.
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written by Birungi, March 02, 2014
As for polygamy, it is not legalized because it violets the rights of or disadvantages one party/sex - the Woman. You cannot have Absolute EQUAL RIGHTS for all individuals at the same time give advantage to one sex. Societies, that still practice polygamy are those that still do not consider women equal partners in society, in other words, women are seen as property a man can own depending on his capability. For America to accept polygamy then it must be 2- ways; a man can have a many wives and a woman can have as many husbands as long as all parties are ok. So the comparisons of these to homosexuality is totally flawed.
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written by Birungi, March 02, 2014
Although i agree with Andrew on a number of points, I think we should not use the "give us time" excuse for the level of homophobia exhibited by Ugandans in this issue. Although the developed world went through tense and primitive (wars, corruption, racism, slavery, etc.) stages before it got to the level they are today, it should not take developing countries the same time and stages. Simply because, today there are more resources, more and better accessibility to information, a more connected world etc. Unlike them who had to do lots of research to understand homosexuality, for us we only need to access this research. Therefore we shouldn't be where they were in the 1950's but much more ahead hence more tolerant!
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written by mukisa, March 02, 2014
Freedom is a package that comes as a whole, with collateral pain in the ass too. Tutu disdains gays but supports their rights because it is part of freedom. With freedom there are certain tradeoffs like gays. But if M7 signed the bill like Okonkwo for the fear of being thought weak, then Ugandans are screwed, a law being signed for personal proving of prowess, what is more despicable in leadership than that Mwenda? The problem is that, if chasing Indians away again, will foster M7 prowess and popularity they are on tenterhooks too, same applies to any investor, this doesn't augur well for Uganda's future.
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written by Patrick, March 05, 2014
Hm, Mwenda, how do u conclude that poor countries fail to embrace or tolerate homosxlty because of prejudice & lack of exposure? Exposure to what? Foreign stuff? Uh? you have too much exposure to outside than you have to inside your home culture. "Because of who they are" They are naturally male organ and female organ. Orientation is choice and addiction, not natural. Do u want $.$$ from them? Then tread or trade your home values for $$$? Come on Mwenda!
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written by Mind Boggler, March 05, 2014
Just a question to get people who are so much against the homosexuals, do you know that the punishment for a man raping a child is less than that of one engaging in homosexual acts. Or a man embezzling probably half the GDP of Uganda. Or manslaughter or second degree murder. There are way more pressing issues in Uganda and more so the judicial system than denying people their right to whom they sleep with.

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