By Sarah Namulondo
What has it got to do with how high up the thigh a mini-skirt is?
When Macedonian pedophile Emin Baro was arrested for luring underage Ugandan girls to perform sex acts on him on camera last year, there was no clear law under which to charge him except the Computer Misuse Act.
He could only be charged with producing child pornography for purposes of distribution through the computer under Section 23(4) of the Act. Under the Act the culprit is liable on conviction to 15 years imprisonment or a fine not exceeding three hundred and sixty currency points (equivalent of Shs7.2 million).
But when the presiding magistrates sentenced Baro to a fine of Shs 6 million or two years imprisonment and Baro quickly paid the fine and was let free, there were protests. Angry members of the public and civil society said the sentence was too lenient.
Baro was re-arrested and the Directorate of Public Prosecutions recalled the file from Nakawa Court Grade One Magistrate. The charge of pornography was switched for one of defilement because two of the girls involved in sexual acts with Baro were minors.
In reality, the presiding magistrate in the Baro pornography case probably did not have any bias but was acting within the provisions of the existing law. The law apparently penalises the publication of pornographic content but not its creation or use.
At the point it became obvious that the law needed to be modified and early this April, the minister of Ethics and Integrity, Rev. Fr. Simon Lokodo re-tabled the Anti- Pornography Bill.
The Bill has now been dubbed the “mini skirt bill” and has stirred up a furor locally and internationally. “Ugandan to ban mini-skirts,” scream the headlines in apparent misrepresentation. Even before the clauses in the Bill are read and views on its provisions are made, the buzz driving public debate is about whether the miniskirt should not or should be banned.
Several self-proclaimed miniskirt activists have come up and gone as far as printing on T-shirts and creating twitter # tags with the save the miniskirt logo. Some of them have re-created the clergy man’s online pictures and put a miniskirt on his lower body writing “what have the thighs got to do with you, Lokodo!!”
First Lady Museveni shocked
But on analysing the Bill, it is clear banning the wearing of miniskirts is not its main issue. The Bill intends to define pornography and prescribe penalties beyond the current law which fails to convict offenders like Baro.
The Bill says under the current Penal Code Act, Cap.120, only trafficking in obscene publications is penalised. Other forms of pornography; in communication, speech, entertainment, stage plays, broadcast, music, dance, art, fashion, motion picture, and audio recording, are not penalized.
The Bill states: “Following the increase in pornographic material in the Ugandan mass media and the increase in nude dancing in the entertainment world, there is need to put in place a legal framework which can regulate such vices”.
It adds: “One of the dangers pornography poses is that it fuels sexual crimes against women and children including rape, child molestation, and incest.”
Over the years the issue of pornography has become so pronounced that it is very hard to de-associate it with the Ugandan community.
In December 2012, the First Lady Janet Museveni was shocked when she saw a music video in which upcoming local dancehall musician, Maria Gladys Namuleme aka Margla leaves nothing to imagination with her G-string, bra and fishnet jumpsuit costume.
First Lady Museveni unilaterally ordered a ban on Margla’s music videos on all state media saying “they were too vulgar”.
But Margla is unapologetic. She says her music genre requires her to look “hot and sexy” if she is to compete internationally with the likes of Beyonce and Lady Gaga.
Duplication or duplicity?
Although pornography was not a serious problem in Uganda in the 90’s, the Ministry of Ethics realised in 2003 that the vice was eating away at the moral fabric of the Ugandan community.
A parliamentary committee was quickly set up to investigate the problem and how it could be contained. The investigation found that it was impossible for the Ministry of Ethics to stop, arrest, and punish people who were practicing the vice without any form of legislation.
In 2005 parliament, with support from the President’s Office which had also identified how big the problem was, an Anti- pornography bill was drafted.
The Bill, which was severally revised, was finally presented to cabinet for review in 2010 and to parliament for the first time in 2011 by Rev Fr Simon Lokodo who was appointed State Minister of Ethics in May that year.
After a year of having the Bill on the pending list, the parliamentary committee invited the different stakeholders to consult on the Bill. Immediately, the Bill ran into trouble.
Early in April, the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) officials said that the framers of the Anti-pornography Bill risked duplicating provisions in existing laws, including the UCC Act. It has also been argued that Section 166 of the Penal Code Act, Cap. 120, covers all the ill that the Anti-Pornography Bill seeks to cure.
But Lokodo argues that clause is not enough to stop pornographers because it only cites trafficking in obscene publications and yet pornography transcends publication.
The soft-spoken former clergy man says pornography can be manifested in speech, entertainment (stage plays, broadcast, music and videos, dance, art, fashion, audio recording and nude dancing) and advertising.
“This bill is looking at criminalising the practice of pornography which UCC cannot do because there is no legal framework which criminalises such acts,” says Lokodo.
From that perspective, the Anti-Pornography Bill is in no way a duplication of the UCC Act.
Still, Lokodo concedes: “It is clear to me that the Bill has some clauses which infringe on people’s freedoms just like the Uganda law society pointed out, but there are some inhumane freedoms like prostitution, indecent dressing, homosexuality and cultural practices which make people loose dignity”.
In an ironical twist, Lokodo happens to belong to the Karamojong tribe of northeast Uganda, where women are traditionally known to wear skimpy skin and bead wrappers around the waist and bare breasts.
The men strut naked, with wrappers and no under garments. Their representatives in parliament accuse Lokodo of attempting to kill off such practices which the call “their way of life”.
Lokodo appreciates the irony but is unrepentant.
“In Kampala when you walk around naked people call you mad,” he says, “So why should the so-called ministers from Karamoja who were interviewed while fully dressed encourage their people to continue in a cultural practice that makes them loose their dignity?”
“That is hypocrisy,” says Lokodo, “If walking naked for is a good cultural practice for the Karamonjongs; then why stop them from cattle raiding which is also their way of life?”
He says if the Anti-Pornography Bill is passed, his ministry will ensure that cultural practices that include walking naked are stopped.
“The Constitution of Uganda encourages leaders to only promote and enhance cultural values that give dignity to its people and walking around naked does not,” he says.
Right or wrong, Lokodo appears oblivious to the danger that such arguments detract from the objectives of the Anti-Pornography Bill. The Anti-pornography Bill, introduced soon after another important Bill on Marriage and Divorce, might suffer a similar fate unless its purpose is made clear.
Rev. Fr. Lokodo’s attitude could become a danger to the Bill because he has led it to be branded the “mini-skirt” Bill.
In fact, the Bill does not mention anywhere that strip of garment that women chose to wear to reveal rather than cover parts of their body.
Instead, the Bill deals with perverts who benefit from child pornography and the relation between sex acts seen in videography and violence in sex relations.
Does anyone consider involving children in sex acts to be OK? Does anyone think any adult should be watching video depiction of children, even babies, in sex acts?
Does any woman think it is OK for a man to force her to do things he has watched in a porn video? Is there anyone who doesn’t want these issues regulated?
As these question fail to be asked, Lokodo risks losing the support of would be natural allies like Michael Nyitegeka, a facilitator at the leadership training consultancy, Franklin and Covey.
Nyitegeka, who has lectured at Makerere University, says if nothing is done about pornography and dress code, Uganda will realise they are smaller issues compare to the “bigger morality crash in the next generation”.
He advises the ministry of Ethics to analyse why people are accessing such content. Is there something missing in our societal behavior?
“Other than using a reactive law they should come up with a proactive law which is not looking to regulate social behavior but to instill values into people,” he says.
Nyitegeka says any move towards censorship and blockage to access to information is bad because the government may abuse it for other reasons.
“The Chinese government started by just monitoring the internet but has so far banned all social media and online newspapers like New York Times, Bloomberg,” he says, “It has blocked businesses that are not in support of the government and with president Xi Jinping’s election more censors were put on the internet taking China back its former black and white state”.
Nyitegeka says blocking access to pornography is not addressing the real issue.
“Yes pornography is a vice in our society” he said, “but the real problem is the evolution of the family and the social structure.”