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Shooting oneself in the foot

How Western threats of sanctions are bad for the struggle for the rights of homosexuals in Uganda

THE LAST WORD | Andrew M. Mwenda | Last month, Uganda passed the most draconian and barbaric anti-homosexual law in the world. The law has a death sentence for some acts of homosexuality but does not do the same when those same acts are committed by heterosexuals. It also literally denies homosexuals the right to healthcare and accommodation in any rented house or hotel. Western countries are justifiably and genuinely angry. Sources say they are planning a scorched-earth response involving economic and travel sanctions and aid cuts. This is where good intentions collide with a complicated reality to fulfill the law of unintended consequences. The very response the West is seeking will ultimately strengthen the case of Ugandan homophobes.

Uganda’s homophobe groups argue that homosexuality is an external imposition on our society. They say that there is a grand conspiracy by Western countries to turn every Ugandan (and African) into a homosexual. Some extreme version of this conspiracy theory claims Western powers want to use homosexuality to annihilate the black race. That they spread homosexuality to contain Africa’s population growth. Many frightened elite Ugandans talk of “massive recruitment” of young people in schools into homosexuality as if it is a cult. They claim that huge amounts of money have been poured into the country, the school curriculum has been changed to include books and videos “promoting” homosexuality.

I have been asking these Ugandan elites to produce evidence of one child in one school who has been “recruited” into homosexuality. Their answer is: recruitment is everywhere. “We know you,” many Ugandans tell me with a straight face, “you have made a lot of money promoting homosexuality. You are an agent of this Western conspiracy. How can you deny a problem that is everywhere. Are you blind? You have been corrupted by money.” By claiming homosexuality is ubiquitous, these Ugandans are correct. Many young people in Kampala today openly identify as homosexuals, a shock to our society that is undergoing tremendous social change. However, the assertion that there is “recruitment everywhere” is because they have no specific evidence to prove their prejudice-driven claims.

Ugandans cannot accept that Uganda’s homosexuality is homegrown, as indigenous as the famous long-horned Ankole cattle. And it is into this minefield of fantasies that Western countries walk with their threats of sanctions, travel restrictions, cancellation of investment plans etc. If Uganda’s homophobes are short of evidence to back up their claims of a foreign conspiracy to “impose” homosexuality on the country, these Western threats do the job. “Can’t you see they are determined to force homosexuality down our throats even at the point of the gun,” many Ugandan homophobes say.

Well, given Western (read American) hubris to spread their “values” such as liberal democracy and human rights by force of arms (Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, etc.), who can blame them. America and its choir singers in Western Europe have dominated the world for so long they have lost all sense of diplomacy. They think they can and should impose their will on other societies with threats. These threats have created a siege mentality in the heads of many elite Ugandans. They feel their “traditional family values” (never mind this is invented tradition) are being undermined by the rich and powerful nations of the West. They dig-in to defend what they cherish. Ironically, these “traditional Ugandans” rally around Christianity, a Western religion imposed upon us through colonial conquest.

Up until the 1960s and 70s, homosexuality was a crime in nearly every Western society. In fact, homophobia in Uganda was imported by the British colonial authorities and their Christian missionaries. Before this current law was passed, the provisions of our Penal Code Act against homosexuality had been written by the British. Homophobia, like Christianity, fascism, communism, terrorism, anarchism and all other isms are Western ideologies, practices and attitudes imported into Africa via the colonial and neocolonial experience. Many precolonial African societies did not care about one’s sexuality and those that did, tolerated, accepted or even encouraged homosexual relationships and liaisons.

Ugandans (and Africans) do not need assistance from Western powers to defend the rights of sexual minorities. The West should abandon its hubris of presenting itself as the moral policeman of the world always flexing its economic and military muscle to get its way. This debate on homosexuality is a debate about moral tastes. People cannot change their moral values in one night due to foreign intimidation. It takes time for societies to adjust their beliefs and prejudices. Many African intellectuals, journalists, academics, religious leaders, businesspersons, activists, jurists etc. are willingly defending the rights of homosexuals in our societies. The best way to advance this debate is to keep it as a domestic matter, a conversation among citizens in the church, school, community and family.

I know many citizens of the West are appalled by the barbarity of our new law. But their leaders should tell them to look back forty years ago in USA and Europe to see where Uganda is coming from. An open debate will always make people listen, digest the issues and over years become initially tolerant and finally accepting of a change in their moral tastes. This draconian anti-homosexual law (and the previous ones before it) has furnished us with an opportunity for robust debate on matters of sexuality in this country. Contrary to Western doomsday impressions, Uganda will in future (most likely) turn out to be the most liberal and tolerant country on homosexual rights in Africa. This is because attempts to pass anti-homosexuality laws have led the country to open debate on the subject.

I understand the pressure Western politicians and diplomats must be facing from their home constituencies who are demanding something must be done. But Western leaders and their citizens should also understand the pressures our politicians are facing from the population. Over the last 70 years, the West has been involved in trying to shape different societies in Asia and Africa into a mirror image of itself. This project has always failed and most recently and spectacularly in Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan – even when done under bombs and with trillions of dollars. The lesson the West should learn is that you cannot engineer a society from without. Societies need to be left alone to change at their own pace and in directions that their people see as beneficial. This may be hard for the powerful to accept. But the West should learn that this is about us, not them. Please leave us to settle it by ourselves.



  1. Please know one thing: we were created male and female and thus nature is male plus female, as in carnal knowledge, equals relationship and pro-creation. As like poles of a magnet repel and never can attract each other, so is same sex carnal knowledge, it repels, other than that, is embracing fire in oneself’s bossom.
    For God And My Country.

  2. Dear Mr Andrew,
    Please with due respect stop undermining the lawmakers of our country and the President of the Republic of Uganda for he has done to protect the country from the imperialism of the western world.

    For you you are only interested in what they give and caring less about the danger of this homosexuality and lesbianism people. Please try spiritually awake and see beyond your nose.
    We sell the country to these kind of wickedness . Uganda 🇺🇬 in particular is a God fearing country by birth.. just in case you don’t get it.
    Please write about other things but stop this. What President Museveni has is being celebrated countrywide and worldwide…. except for the few of you who are blind and can’t see the importance of this.

    May God bless President Museveni and our lawmakers and May God bless Uganda.


  3. Mr Anderea Mujuni M9, whilst you have a valid argument In condemning some aspects of western foreign policy especially Africa, not everything western is really bad as you may want us believe. For I’m very sure you are a proud Andrew plus Mwenda, christian western name. You are a proud holder of western education academic papers, recepient of western aid, dress like the west amongst others.
    Why are you always quiet whenever the west sends financial aid and forgives Uganda’s foreign debt?
    Does the have an obligation to help poor Africa militarily or Financially?
    While still presenting “Andrew Mwenda Live” on kfm radio, you used to like saying “He who pays the paper calls the tune”!!

  4. I wanted to say does the west.. have

    He who pays the Piper calls the tune…
    Kindly accept my small corrections

  5. 1.First things first;May the good Lord heal our dear President of Covid;I dont know why Ugandans dont love giving flowers to the sick by now the KCCA workers should have been planning how to remove tonnes of flowers from statehouse.The natural sadness that engulfed the nation when M7 broke the new that he was sick could not be ignored;the stock exchange market in E.Africa recorded less translations but the citizens are hopeful that M7will heal any time.
    2.Some of the issues raised in the appeal against the Gay bill was to request the President to;(i) Use a legal discretion in law called Veto; where he is the only one with power to stop an official action but Veto can only be over ridden by 2/3 of the votes in parliament which in this case they are unlikely to raise(ii)Refer to an order of Certiorari;where where a higher court reviews a case tried in a lower court but under the certiorari rule 65;A petitioner should establish that the respondent acted in a despotic manner in exercise of its jurisdiction(iii) The petitioners claim that the law was not passed within 45 days but rather 30 days;there was no need for extra days actually it was a moral emergency.
    3.But in criminal law,discretion is the ability to judge between right and wrong and by so doing the judge is able to hold one liable for one’s conduct,now in this case;the gay activists are concerned that their Gay association will be charged with promoting Gay acts they are right to be concerned because an association is equivalent to a school.If anything; the gays should instead advocate that they are a valuable group that needs state protection which in this case the state would grant them psychological support inform of counseling and rehabilitation.
    4.Africa is not about to accept gay acts;An African will not and can not compromise on acts like being gay just because she is poor.
    5.The gay law of Uganda is very clear;it instead protects the young;for example there are penalties for aggravated rape by a gay person why should the gays feel bad about it? Its against promotion of gay acts why should they market such an acts if its natural?
    6.I have gay friends but when you speak to them;you just see total madness;Just google Pepe Onzeima she is from Westnile but she has gone through alot of transformation to be like a man her uterus was removed her breast was removed is that not sickness?
    7.To know that gays are mad people what happens when procreation ends?how will their acts be sustained in years to come when there are no more boys and girls born?

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