Countdown to Tolerance

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Tue Feb 14, 2012

Maurice Tomlinson's Countdown to Tolerance: The Deadly Bill That Refuses to Die

By Maurice Tomlinson

A deadly pall hangs over Africa: After failing to be voted on in 2011, the hateful anti-homosexuality bill that may allow for the death penalty for homosexuals has been reintroduced into the Ugandan Parliament. From the looks of things this piece of medieval barbarity is slated to pass with nearly unanimous parliamentary support. On February 7, when the bill was re-tabled in Parliament, there was thunderous applause and whoops of endorsement from the floor of the chamber as parliamentarians, almost to a person, tried to outdo each other in vociferously expressing a need for this bill, which may make it legal for the state to kill gays and arrest anyone who doesn’t inform on them.

The Ugandan president, wisely acceding to evidence about the devastating impact this bill will have on his country and international pressure calling for its rejection, has stated that his government does not support it. However, this presidential guarantee is cold comfort to gay rights activists in Uganda and others who oppose the bill as it is clear Parliament intends to overrule any attempted Presidential veto.

Tragically, the misguided members of Uganda’s Parliament actually believe that by supporting this abhorrent legislation they are actually doing something that will assist in the development of their impoverished and struggling nation. Such is the power of blind faith uninformed by science, and blind faith is the driving force behind this bill. Evangelical groups, mostly sponsored by their counterparts in North America, are engaged in a concerted effort to re-colonize the minds of Africans with hate for their fellow citizens. The legislation was first introduced in 2009 one month after a two-day conference in Uganda at which three American evangelical Christians asserted that homosexuality is a direct threat to African families. After these evangelicals had done their dastardly deeds they retreated to the safety of their home country, where access to justice and health care are more readily available, leaving Africans to wallow in the mess they left behind. Undoubtedly there were and continue to be vague promises of financial support to counter the inevitable fall-off in international aid and investment when countries, companies and allies refuse to support such backward homophobic policies, but why trouble oneself with such details? After all, this is a (cultural) war and there have to be causalities. Best that these casualties not be from your own country.

And casualties there will undoubtedly be as a result of the still deadly matter of HIV and AIDS in resource poor Uganda. Despite overwhelming evidence that laws which criminalize same-sex intimacy serve to severely retard the HIV response by driving homosexuals underground, away from effective HIV prevention, treatment, care and support interventions, the ladies and gentlemen of the Ugandan parliament have persisted in doing their best to further entrench the disease on African soil. A clearer dereliction of Parliament’s duty to make laws for the peace, order and good governance of society can hardly be found. With the African continent bearing the highest HIV and AIDS burden and in dire need of more resources to combat it, the fact is that the recent actions by the Ugandan parliament will make the UNAIDS goal of getting to zero a pipe dream on that continent. Africa’s porous borders will see to that.

A troubling footnote to this sorry story is that countries in the global north (all of whom are parties to the UN Refugee Convention) are increasingly less willing to grant visas to noted Ugandan gay rights activists under the expectation/fear that once these activists leave Uganda they will not return. This effectively condemns such persons to certain imprisonment or, worse, death at the hands of Ugandan officials and their fellow citizens. This attitude by the global north is reprehensible as there is more than enough evidence that the homophobia now gripping Uganda is largely driven by fundamentalist Christian beliefs imported from the global north. These countries therefore have a moral or, at least, ethical responsibility to assist the victims of their exported homophobia to flee if they so choose. This is no time for fine diplomatic words as, make no mistake, people will die. Exactly how many David Kato’s are needed before the world responds effectively to this looming Ugandan and African crisis?