By Morris DC Komakech
If their strong reaction to the Anti-Homosexuality Act is due to human rights concerns then they have let us all down
The assent to the Anti-homosexuality Bill by President Yoweri Museveni has generated much debate, controversies and a mixture of reactions. The most unusual, and yet very strong reactions to the Act emerged from donor community and the usually docile and insensitive tribe in Uganda called the “Elites”
I think the donor and international community must be consistent in their responses to policy development in Uganda. If their strong reaction to the Anti-Homosexuality Act is due to human rights concerns then they have let us all down. These donor communities have been feeding this ogre for so many years to the point that it has matured beyond a pet they thought they were breeding.
For many years, the U.S. and EU countries have supported the regime of President Museveni even when they know he rigs elections and blatantly violates human rights. They pampered it with money and protected its corrupt officials. Sweden, Holland, USA and Denmark have never condemned the many human rights violations that the regime has afflicted on the opposition with decisive actions. The donor money has been used for procuring instrument of repression and for recruiting and sustaining a politicised police while these donors just look on.
Many of us have wondered why Sweden’s foreign policy towards Uganda has been very deliberately anti-change. We understand that Sweden provided citizenship and protection to President Museveni’s family and many current NRM officials. However, since the NRM came to power, Sweden, and most of the EU countries have never taken strong measures to admonish the regime against its human rights excesses.
Human rights preservation is crucial for every human being irrespective of culture, creed, sexual orientation or association whether one is gay or not. And yet, these very same standards are not upheld when our opposition politicians are being humiliated by the Police or our people are dying senselessly in Northern Uganda.
The donor community did not threaten this regime with stern action or withdrawal of assistance when the regime enacted the draconian Public Order Management Act, 2013. The donor community watched with glee when MPs likes Odonga Otto, Ibrahim Ssemuju Nganda and others were whisked away like ruffians from Parliamentary chambers.
I am definitely not in support of the Anti-Homosexuality Act categorically on professional and humanitarian grounds. As a member of the medical fraternity, practitioner of public health and Global Health, I know better that discrimination against any minority has profound long term implication on public health systems. However, I am also sensitive to the dominant culture of Uganda which views the same sex relationships as objectionable and alien.
The Buggery Act of 1533 criminalised gay activities in Britain which it considered sinful and punishable by death. Gay rights and activities only gained prominence between 1967 and 1982 and has just been consolidated by the Equality Act of 2012. The ultra-conservative section of the North American society still views gay marriages as improper and a violation of the institution of marriage. And, of course, the devout mainstream religious following also consider same sex relationships as a deviation from the religious norms and teachings. In the US, only 17 States of the 50 have fully legalised gay marriages.
As global leaders, we must learn to be tolerant of people who are different from us and cognizant of their stages of development and of mainstream cultures which shapes their conscience. The celebrated American, Rev. Jeremiah Wright once counseled that being different does not mean being deficient at all. Take for instance, US, Canada, UK and EU countries criminalises polygamy and yet some cultures here delight in it.
My second discomfort with the anti-homosexuality Act, outside of human rights concerns, relates to health inequities and access to other pertinent socio-economic services. Our social services are not capacitated to accommodate vulnerable groups such as women and persons with disability. Likewise, in the 60s and 70s, most medical experiments and drug tests were geared mainly to male related illnesses and conditions. This made it very difficult to contain women specific illnesses and conditions such as cervical and breast cancers.
Therefore, coming purely from a professional perspective, we have learned that discriminating against minority groups generates inequalities, institutionalises exclusion from social services and yet, exclusion does not imply extermination of such a group.
Morris Komakech is a Global Health advocate specialising in maternal-Child Health projects with a focus on PMTCT in rural Uganda.
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