Why Uganda’s LGBTQ Community is Under Renewed Fire

by David Malingha

Uganda is already a tough place to be LGBTQ, but lawmakers want to make it even harder. The east African nation’s parliament has approved a draconian “Anti-Homosexuality Bill” that would extend colonial-era sodomy laws and see violators sentenced to lengthy prison terms or even death. Civil rights groups have condemned the measure amid warnings that it may deter foreign aid and investment in one of Africa’s fastest-growing economies if it is signed into law by President Yoweri Museveni.

1. What’s the backdrop?

Homosexuality is banned in more than half of the 54 African nations and frowned upon in many others. That includes Uganda, which inherited its original anti-gay laws from Britain, the former ruling power. Ugandan lawmakers and religious leaders — often encouraged by US evangelical groups — have said LGBTQ practices are contrary to their culture and have no place in Uganda. In February, the archbishop of the Church of Uganda, Stephen Kaziimba, condemned a decision by the Church of England to allow clergy to preside over a blessing for same-sex unions — an issue that has split the Anglican Communion, of which both are part. (Uganda was among those boycotting last year’s conference of the global grouping of Anglican churches.) Museveni signed a previous version of the law that was later struck down by the courts on a technicality. At a public appearance in April, the president described homosexuality as “degeneration” and a threat to procreation, and he subsequently indicated that he’ll sign the new bill.

2. What does the new bill propose?

It states that the nation’s capacity to deal with “emerging internal and external threats to the traditional, heterosexual family” must be enhanced and that Ugandans need protection against activists who “promote” homosexuality. These are some of its main provisions:
• The death sentence may be imposed on those who are found guilty of so-called “aggravated homosexuality.” That categorization includes same-sex intercourse involving someone who is HIV positive or under the age of 18.
• Individuals can be sentenced to life imprisonment if they are convicted of engaging in acts of homosexuality.
• Persons under the age of 18 who are found guilty of homosexuality can be jailed for as long as three years.
• Legal entities that are convicted of “promoting homosexuality” can be fined 1 billion shillings ($267,000).

An earlier version of the bill approved by lawmakers in March sought to punish people for merely identifying as LGBTQ, but that provision was removed on May 2 after Museveni requested changes. The president has 30 days from when the latest draft is submitted to him to sign it into law or ask parliament to make additional amendments.

3. Is this constitutional?

The Constitutional Court struck down similar anti-gay legislation in 2014 that Museveni had signed. But that was on the grounds that lawmakers approved the law without the required quorum, and no determination was made on its constitutionality. Some legal experts have argued that discriminating against people based on their sexual identity or practices could constitute a violation of the constitutional right to freedom of expression, association and liberty. Sexual Minorities Uganda, a coalition that fights for LGBTQ rights, and other organizations have indicated that they will challenge the new law in court if the president approves it.

4. How has the bill been received internationally?

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk described the bill as devastating and discriminatory — “probably among the worst of its kind in the world” — and called on the president not to approve it. The World Health Organization cautioned that the legislation risks stunting progress made in reducing the spread of HIV in Uganda. Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and other civil rights groups warn that homophobic attacks could increase. The US and other Western governments have condemned the measure, while the African Union has refrained from commenting.

5. What’s the potential economic fallout?

The International Monetary Fund has said it expects Uganda’s economy to expand by an average of more than 6% annually over the next five years. However, the new law could make operating in the country awkward and place billions of dollars of investments at risk at a time when companies such as TotalEnergies SE are looking to start producing oil in Uganda. The World Bank and other lenders that have helped to shore up Uganda’s finances may also face pressure from shareholders and rights groups to review their relationship with the country. Almost a fifth of the country’s latest budget was funded using external financing. Muhoozi Kainerugaba, Museveni’s son, tweeted that Uganda could do without foreign investors.

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