Uganda’s Anti-Gay Law Irks Obama’s Ire

By Kwabena Opong

President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda on February 24 signed into law an anti-gay bill recently passed by the East African country’s law makers and President Barack Obama is riled. The bill comes in the wake of similar laws that were passed in Nigeria and Cameroon Republic among other African countries, as well as Russia.
Russia eased up a bit on the queer issue to pacify the West before the winter Olympics in Sochi. Even in spite of that and other reasons, most western leaders with the exception of Denmark did not attend the opening ceremony, and President Vladimir Putin’s stance on Ukraine and Crimea may have been ignited by the snub. Coupled with Putin’s anti-gay stand and Nigeria’s draconian law against gays, Museveni entered the fray to the chagrin of Obama. Some aid moneys from the United States were immediately withdrawn; the World Bank has also done same while Western European countries and the EC plan to follow suit. Japan has, however, signaled its readiness to work with Uganda in spite of the bill.
Sad as anti-gay laws are, there are several reasons why western nations must not rush to punish developing countries that enact such laws. Any law that seeks to discriminate against any group of people is despicable, draconian and undemocratic. It is also ironic that Africans who have always been the butt of discrimination should engage in such hate for gays. A few fifty years ago, Africans living in their own countries could not be admitted in some hospitals and would not be offered membership in some social clubs because they admitted only whites. Africans had to sacrifice life and limb for political independence. Not even the attainment of sovereignty would stop the white world from imposing its ideals and will on Africa. The gay issue and western reaction to Africa and homosexuality come as some of the ironies of the times.
Britain has laws against sodomy and so do most of its former African colonies. But the laws were largely ignored and hardly enforced, even as homosexuality prevailed in several communities in Africa. In the United States itself, some states are still mulling over anti-gay legislation. Indeed an anti-gay bill in Arizona was recently vetoed by the state’s governor. The issue of same-sex marriage or unions was given the assent of the Supreme Court of the United States after lingering there for several years, but is yet to be accepted in the country.
The world Anglican community is facing a schism that could fragment the church. The churches in Nigeria and Uganda are part of a conservative group that has dissociated itself from the church’s stance on homosexuality. An obviously ambivalent attitude — hypocritical if you like – conservatives in the church including Roman Catholic and some Pentecostals all over the world, including the United States, are on the frontlines of anti-homosexuality.
Homosexuality was, until a few years ago, abhorred by the U.S. establishment. Ronald Reagan would not approve federal funding for research in Acquired Immune Disease Syndrome (AIDS) because of what he termed the consequences of deviant sexual behavior by gays. It was for political reasons that the gay issue became a civil rights issue in the United States. Until Vice President Dick Cheney’s daughter came out of the closet in 2000, conservatives in the United States led the crusade against gays. The liberal establishment, on the other hand, saw it as a political issue to gain from.
Africans’ stance against homosexuality stems from their various cultural norms. It is an abomination in Africa for a man to have any form of sexual relations with another man. Same goes for women. Like anything else among Africans, homosexuality has negative religious connotations and is abhorred like the plague. But that does not mean there are no gays in Africa. Indeed they are ridiculed more than persecuted, and in spite of themselves, one hardly finds homosexuals in Africa communing together as they do in the West. It was not until the politicization of the gay issue by western interest groups in Africa that a gay man was lynched in Uganda by hooligans.
When David Cameron tried in 2012 to insist on Western values regarding homosexuals in Africa, he was rebuffed and advised by African leaders to desist from that strategy of enforcing British values on Africa for something his own society once frowned on. While in the West homosexuality is a human rights issue, in Africa it is a social aberration. If Africans are reacting angrily to Obama it is because most Africans are questioning the propriety of the West in questioning African responses to that lifestyle considering the varying responses to the subject in the West itself.
President Obama’s reaction and letter to President Museveni is therefore seen as unnecessary interference in the affairs of the East African nation. And most interestingly, why Uganda, when Nigeria has also passed a similar law? There does not appear to be a compromise in Nigerian-American relations but Obama warns of a downturn in Uganda-American relations. To most Africans, Obama is not being reasonable with his threats. America for Gays does not apply to Africa in the same way.
There was a time in America when people suspected to be possessed by evil were burned at the stake, and several such cases that occurred in Salem, Connecticut are recorded. Gays in Africa are not stoned nor are they burned at the stake, and never has any gay person been subjected to a similar punishment Meanwhile, Gay persecution is not uncommon in America itself. In some cases even law enforcement officials are involved. Even as it took more than three hundred years for people of African descent to be accorded their civil rights in the United States blacks still have to fight every day for their birthright in their own country. They still have to fight a high incidence of incarceration as well as poverty, but the Kojo Besias – as gays are known in Ghana – in Africa are largely left alone.
Instead of exacting obedience from Museveni, Obama should rather appeal to him. Museveni is a man who loves to fight, and he loves it even more when the fight is brought to him. Not only does he regard Obama’s warning as an affront, he thinks and most of Ugandans and indeed Africans believe it is arrogant on the part of Obama to single out Uganda for that kind of confrontation. He signed the bill contemptuous of Obama’s attitude. The warning is also not timely as Uganda provides the bulk and muscle toward the fight against Al Shabaab in Somalia as well as a strong America ally in the Great Lakes area and the Horn of Africa in anti-terrorism. Museveni’s army has been very effective in ensuring peace in Southern Sudan after the recent rebel action in the country. For the aforementioned and more, Museveni is clearly not amused that Obama would confront him the way he did.
Most Africans are scornful of the moral high ground Obama has adopted to castigate Africa on the gay issue while his country for no reason invaded and destroyed Iraq on a lie.
This writer does not endorse laws against homosexuality but finds it strange that in spite of organized opposition to homosexuality and the incidence of homophobia in America, President Obama would see it fit to threaten African nations that enact anti-gay laws. Homosexuality is indeed a complicated subject that should not be used as a political ploy to sanction African nations and the stance taken by Obama against President Yoweri Museveni is very hypocritical. In much the same way, highhandedness against homosexuality in Africa is as hypocritical.
Instead of constituting itself as the moral policeman of the world, the United States must learn to understand the world. The application of muscle and threats does not benefit anyone. It creates chaos as it did in Iraq.

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Posted by on Apr 24 2014. Filed under Community News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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