By Haggai Matsiko
Did Belgium’s gay prime minister block president from Summit?
Tensions were already high when President Yoweri Museveni set off on April 1 for the 4th EU-Africa Summit in the Belgian capital Brussels. There had been an attempt to get all 82 African leaders to boycott the event. President Jacob Zuma of South Africa had refused to attend the important summit in protest at what he called Belgium’s continued treatment of African leaders as “subjects”. Zuma was unhappy that the organisers of the summit had refused to give a visa to Grace Mugabe, the wife of the Zimbabwean president, Robert Mugabe.
I think that time must pass wherein we are looked (on) as subjects, we are told who must come, who must not come,” Zuma told the South African national broadcaster SABC, “The continent has agreed that it is not the duty of the EU bloc to choose the delegation of the member states.”
The EU has a travel ban on Mugabe and his wife, but the President was given a waiver to attend the summit. His wife remained blocked.
There were also reports the Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta faced initial challenges and received his visa late. The Independent was unable to confirm this by press time. The Daily Nation newspaper of Kenya reported on April 1 that the commandant of Kenyatta’s presidential escort, Edward Njoroge, had also been denied a visa. The decision was reversed after the Belgian Ambassador to Kenya, Bart Ourvy, was summoned and delivered the visa.
As he set off, therefore, Museveni who had just signed the Anti-homosexuality Act which prescribed tough penalties for offender and very unpopular in the EU, possibly knew his hosts would not be very happy to see him.
The Belgian Prime Minister, Elio Di Rupo, is one of two openly gay prime ministers in Europe. The other is Iceland’s Prime Minister Johanna Sigurdardottir. A Belgian national, Steven Dhont had on Jan.26 been arrested in Ntinda, a Kampala suburb, for engaging in gay activity.
At the summit, it was inevitable that Museveni and Prime Minister Rupo would run into each other. Would sparks fly?
The Independent has learnt that the two leaders did, in fact, run into each other. But not in the way Museveni would have expected.
On the morning after he arrived in Brussels on April 2, Museveni signalled that he was ready to step out of the five-star Steigenberger Grandhotel where he was book and take the 7-minute drive to the EU headquarters where the summit was taking place.
Trouble started when the convoy sent to transport Museveni’s delegation to the venue arrived and his security detail requested to inspect the vehicle to ensure his safety.
According to people familiar with VIP security that The Independent spoke to, the request in such situations was not unusual. But then the Belgians refused to allow Museveni’s security to inspect the vehicle. That was unusual.
As a result, instead of attending the summit, Museveni stayed in his suite.
A short while later, one of the delegates that visited Museveni at his presidential suit told him that since the Prime Minister of Belgium, Elio Di Rupo, was openly gay, the diplomatic spat might have been touched off by Museveni’s signing of the law criminalising homosexuality. Museveni met with the Rwandan President Paul Kagame, the Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and some other delegates before flying back to Uganda soon after.
A few days later, he summoned the Belgian Ambassador to Uganda, Alain Hanssen, for an explanation.
Details of their interaction were not released to the public but there are reports that the ambassador apologised for the spat.
Speaking at a welcome dinner for delegates to the summit on April 2, Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo said African leaders need to respect the rights of minorities, including homosexuals.
“We cannot tolerate that some are denied their rights and persecuted for their origins, their sexual orientation, their religion and their convictions,” he said on Wednesday, at a welcome dinner for some 80 leaders.
If Museveni thought that was the end of his anti-gay woes that week, he was mistaken.
Raid angers Americans
As Museveni was tackling the Belgians in Brussels, back home in Kampala his police chief, the Inspector General of Police, army Gen. Kale Kayihura, was busy taking on the U.S.
A U.S. funded research facility, the Makerere University Water Reed Project (MUWRP) was at the centre of the row.
On April 3, news started filtering out that the research facility had been raided by a Ugandan police officer and one MUWRP staff had been detained.
At about 09:45 am, the Inspector General of Police, Gen. Kale Kayihura received a call.
Our sources say it was the U.S. Deputy Chief of Mission in Uganda, Patricia Mahoney. She expressed concern that the police had arrested one of the researchers at an American funded research facility.
Kayihura told her that he was not aware of the detail, would crosscheck, and call back. Then he called the head of the police station in question, Wesley Enganzi, who first said he was not aware of the arrest. Shortly, Enganzi called back and confirmed the arrest.
“But why do you arrest these people without informing us?” Kayihura was overheard telling Enganzi.
Then he called the DCM again and said; “We have located your person and ordered his release.” Sources said the conversation between Kayihura and the DCM was courteous.
Then at around 11:40 am, Kayihura received another call. It was the U.S. Ambassador, Scott DeLisi on the phone. A few seconds into the call, Kayihura’s tone changed.
“Stop intimidating me,” Kayihura said as he nodded his head, “stop yelling at me…” he added in a slightly raised voice. This call did not last long. The conversation appears to have gone badly and ended prematurely with Kayihura visibly very upset.
Soon after, Kayihura was overheard telling some officials that the police had unearthed an American racket “training young people into homosexuality”.
Kayihura was referring to material gathered by police operatives during the raid on MUWRP premises.
Sources in police say a police officer who was following up a tip about some activities at MUWRP, had previously noticed that on Fridays and Tuesdays that many young men converged at the facility.
The police officer whom The Independent talked on condition of anonymity says he had information that the project “was recruiting homosexuals”. He says every male at the programme was badgered to bring along a male partner. That is how he infiltrated MUWRP and was soon being pressed to bring a partner too.
He showed The Independent written material and gel lubricants that he said were designed for Male-on-Male sex. The literature was on safe sex practices for homosexuals.
He said the men were shown pornographic man-on-man sex acts on a wide TV screen at the facility and instructed in homosexual behaviour.
Homosexual behaviour and its promotion are illegal under Ugandan law.
The police officer said soon after President Museveni signed the revised anti-homosexuality law, security at the facility became more concerned about the safety of the men at the facility and added new security measures like fingerprint recognition technology for entry.
Although the police officer’s mission was to infiltrate the programme for a little longer, with security heightened, he decided to strike there and then. His target, he said, was to arrest at least two officials and some of the exhibits. But once he flashed his identity card and said he was a police officer, everyone scattered.
He arrested only one staff member, who made a statement and was detained at Jinja Police Station before being released.
When The Independent contacted Erin Truhler, the Information Officer, U.S. Mission Uganda, about MUWRP activities, she denied any wrongdoing.
“MUWRP’s mission is to save lives by conducting research to help prevent and treat HIV/AIDS,” Truhler said in an email, “ These activities have been conducted with PEPFAR support since 2005 in accordance with scientific principles. The suggestion that the MURWP is engaged in inappropriate activities is not true.”
She said, as an essential part of its research, MUWRP works with the Men who have Sex with Men (MSM) in Uganda. This, she said, was in accordance with the Ugandan Ministry of Health’s plan to address the HIV epidemic through engagement with vulnerable and at-risk groups.
She also told The Independent that the U.S. “remains deeply concerned by Ugandan authorities raid” on the MUWRP.
“…The incident has significantly heightened our concerns about respect for civil society and rule of law in Uganda, and for the safety of LGBT individuals,” she noted.
The Independent had learnt from diplomatic sources that Ambassador DeLisi travelled to the United States for consultations with his government over the matter. Truhler said the ambassador had not been recalled.
The Independent had also learnt that officials from police met with officials at the U.S mission.
In that meeting, the U.S. mission officials told police that the activities at MUWRP were only intended to improve public health and had nothing to do with recruiting homosexuality.
Section 13(b) (C) and (e) of the new Anti-homosexuality law prescribe fines and seven-year jail terms for anyone who “(b)funds or sponsors homosexuality or other related activities; (c)offers premises and other related fixed or movable assets for purposes of homosexuality or promoting homosexuality, and (e) “acts as an accomplice or attempts to promote or in any way abets homosexuality and related practices”.
The police told The Independent that they want the Americans to provide more information about the project.
They are suspicious of the U.S. embassy’s decision to close the MUWRP facility.
U.S. wants Museveni punished
As The Independent went to press, the motive for the undiplomatic treatment of Museveni in Brussels was not clear. Other leaders from countries that criminalise homosexuality, like President Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria, Paul Kagame of Rwanda, and Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania attended the summit. Like Museveni, Goodluck in January defied the western powers and signed a law prescribing 14-years in jail for gays.
But unlike Museveni whose act attracted angry reaction from the powers, Goodluck who heads the richest country in Africa, remained untouchable.
Meanwhile, U.S. President Barrack Obama had earlier warned Museveni that signing the anti-homosexuality law would “complicate relationship”.
When Museveni rebuffed the warning and signed, the U.S. announced it was reviewing its support. Now The Independent has learnt that top officials in Washington are consulting widely about possible punitive action against Museveni.
As The Independent reported in out cover story “Will homosexuals bring down Museveni” (The Independent Feb.28), the western powers appear determined to use punishing Museveni heavily as a means of slowing the slew of anti-gay sentiment that has swept across the globe recently from Moscow to Nigeria.
For now, the UK has stuck to an earlier decision to suspend aid over a corruption scandal in the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM).
Other powers, including the World Bank, Norway, and Denmark, promptly have cut budget support to Uganda.
The fight against the Anti-Homosexuality law, sources in the diplomatic circles say, is now a foreign policy issue to most of these western countries.
Museveni’s tight game plan
Since signing the Anti-homosexuality law, Museveni too has been attempting to allay fears of the western powers that gay face death in Uganda. After his return from Belgium, The Independent has learnt, he held a meeting with ambassadors over the issue.
However, with 2016 presidential elections around the corner, Museveni is torn between easing up on the anti-homosexual sentiment and surfing the populist wave around the law. His choice appears clear.
Before signing the law, Museveni had promised two delegations—one from the U.S. and another of top international diplomats that he would not sign this “fascist law”.
However, after meeting the diplomats, a group of religious leaders sought an audience with President Museveni.
At the meeting, their message was succinct: Mr. President, people are wondering why you can’t sign this important law, if you cannot sign it, we won’t be with you.
Caught in between, Museveni chose to trade diplomatic relations in exchange for domestic legitimacy. But he might have underestimated the consequences of such a law internationally.
UP until now, Museveni’s regime has survived politically by playing to both the local and international galleries.
Locally, Museveni has ensured steady economic growth, which gives him funds to run his operations. A firm grip on security institutions has also ensured that Museveni is in control.
Internationally, foreign aid and diplomatic support have been important for him to solidify his legitimacy locally. Foreign aid has filled a very critical resource gap.
By signing the law, Museveni seems to have jeopardised the international arm of his power consolidation strategy. These diplomatic spats are, no doubt, a clear indication of deepening fallout between him and his erstwhile western allies.