Paul Canning, the editor of LGBT Asylum News, writes on the defeat of the Ugandan anti-gay bill - and the prospect of it coming back.
Paul Canning is the editor of LGBT Asylum News
Uganda came within a cat’s whisker of launching a witch-hunt of gays and lesbians with a hangman’s noose attached last week. The infamous Anti-Homosexuality Bill (AHB) ran out of time at the end of the current Parliament and didn’t come to a vote – which it would definitely have passed.
The anti-gay forces who’d proposed it had made it quite clear what they intended – a witch-hunt, with not just individuals but NGOs and even one government (the Norwegians) in their sights for ‘promoting homosexuality’.
All through last week, though the rest of the world seemed to have little idea what was going on, one person, the Christian minister Warren Throckmorton, based in Pennsylvania, became almost the sole source of information on what was actually going on. It was him who discovered that the death penalty was still in the bill which could have come to a vote on Friday.
Earlier in the week the BBC led with one of the key proponents of the bill, the nasty homophobic Pastor Martin Ssempa, saying they’d take death out. Only he’d said it before, as had another author, David Bahati MP – numerous times. Bahati repeating this, as it turned out, non-existent ‘concession’, was a lead Associated Press story a few weeks back.
The internet managed to raise two million signatures calling for President Museveni to veto the bill. But Throckmorton (again) discovered that Musceveni doesn’t have veto power; he could only send it back.
What actually stopped the bill (as far as can be discerned) was that disgruntled women MPs walked out on the Wednesday over the much delayed Divorce Bill, making the Chamber inquorate. Another bill on HIV prevention which would have criminalised many women also failed to pass.
What’s also clear is that whilst the West was focused on homosexuality, Uganda was focused on the return of opposition leader Kissa Besigyne and the repression of demonstrations in Uganda over price rises, human rights and corruption. The AHB got almost no Ugandan media attention last week. This led South African writer Theresa Mallinson to suggest that the events had played extremely well for Museveni as ‘our’ focus had been elsewhere – did you get tweeted, poked or emailed about a petition against arresting Besigyne or supporting the street protesters in Kampala?
Ugandans themselves had made clear that the wider human rights links should be made. The civil society coalition opposing the ‘Kill Gays’ bill made that very clear, as did the loud blogging voice Gay Uganda.
Bahati and colleagues have said they’ll bring their bill back. If they do I hope the world has better information, better media management and a better context in which we fight it.
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