Thursday, August 13, 2015

MORAL CONFLICTS AND LIBERTY: GAY PERSECUTION IN UGANDA AND HOW THEY CAN BE LIBERATED

The following paper was sent to me by Francis Mwine Mubwaro, a LGBT activist from Uganda, with a request to repost it on my blog.

I am honored to oblige, and it is with utmost respect and admiration that I share this document here:

TITLE OF SESSION: MORAL CONFLICTS AND LIBERTY: GAY PERSECUTION IN UGANDA AND HOW THEY CAN BE LIBERATED.


PRESENTER: FRANCIS MWINE                      

This paper is published under the responsibility of Krysler Thematic and think tank group, where the presenter is the founding member and Chairperson, affiliated to Twagalane Association.

Comments on this paper are invited.
Please contact the author and presenter at EMAIL: frankmwine22@yahoo.com 



Dear ladies and gentlemen, distinguished guests, protocol observed;

First and foremost, I want to convey my gratitude to Anne Cormack, Gillian Harvey, Rev. Pat Bumgartner and Martin Pendergast, for all their courageous efforts they ploughed in towards my participation to this Conference.

I am going to make my presentation very precise in the framework below;

a)    Trajectory of Homosexuality in Uganda and key highlights of the Uganda Anti-Homosexuality Bill;
b)      Reasons why the Uganda Anti-Homosexual Bill should be opposed;
c)      Assessment of the Human Rights for Gays;
d)     Recommendation and Conclusion;

a.      Trajectory of Homosexuality in Uganda and key highlights of the Uganda Anti-Homosexuality Bill;

Let me begin with a short true life story;
I was in a tram in Antwerp, Belgium on the 20th of April, this year when my high school friend back in Uganda, but now living in Brussels entered. I was gleeful yet embarrassed; one part of me wanted to greet her, the other to take cover. She is a successful banker in Brussels married to a celebrated female architect.

With the proposed Anti-homosexual bill in Uganda, I was wondering whether she knew that if she ever stepped back home in Uganda, together with her partner they would face the gallows.

And supposedly if she chose to continue to lead her lifestyle in Belgium, and the Ugandan government got wind of it, she would be extradited and sentenced to death and me the friend in any event that I returned home and did not report her to the police then, I would have to serve three years in jail faced with hard labour.

Since I arrived in Europe, I have been confronted with persistent questions about Uganda’s kill-the-gays bill at academic institutions that I have been to, functions name it.

The proposed Uganda, Anti-Homosexuality Bill on 13 October 2009 that would, if enacted, broaden the criminalisation of homosexuality by introducing death penalty for people who have previous convictions, are HIV positive, or engage in same sex acts with people under 18 years of age (age of sex consent in Uganda), has generated a lot of attention far and wide in the public domain.

The bill also includes provisions for Ugandans who engage in same-sex sexual relations in the diaspora, may be extradited for punishment back to Uganda, and includes penalties for individuals, companies, organisations that support LGBT rights, to mention a few.

This bill will be the most draconian law in history if enacted.  We are all created equal and endowed by our creator with certain unalienable rights such as life, liberty and sexuality to mention a few, thus homosexuals deserve the same equality.
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Digging deep into the historical trajectories of culture and sexual practices in many Ugandan communities, homosexuality existed far back before colonisation.

The effronteries that shape homophobia in Uganda and therefore shaped the anti-gay bill, is that the anti-homosexuality domain argues that it is un-African may be un-Ugandan if I were to use the term. But they do not highlight any specific traditional and cultural countenances against gays in any particular pre-colonial African society.

Instead, they bask to Christianity a religion that is not African and is indeed against many African traditions. Since we had our own traditional religious beliefs.

Uganda as a country boasts of over 100 cultures. None of these Anti-Homosexual cultural fundamentalists even knows the traditions of any pre-colonial Ugandan society in significant detail. So their claims are without any scintilla of evidence.

On the contrary studies show that homosexuality existed in pre-colonial Uganda attracting differing levels of opinion. One such study was by Prof. Tibamanya Mwene Mushanga showing that homosexuality was practised and tolerated among the Bahima in pre-colonial Ankole, which is located South Western Uganda.

Although, many Ugandan communities do not have any local vocabulary for the word homosexuality. This suggests that it existed to some less degree and most probably the society did not take a moral position on it.
The most important point to consider is that, pre-colonial Africa was not hostile to homosexuality. Instead, this hostility began with the introduction of Christianity and colonial rule.

b. Reasons as to why the Ugandan Anti-Homosexual Bill should be Opposed.

The majority of Ugandans possibly don’t understand that cultural preconceptions can be used as a moral insult against any group arbitrarily. For example, sections of white society today still believe that black people are animals like donkeys; that inter racial sex is akin to bestiality (I don’t want to sound as a racist, apologies to any it may hurt, but its true).

It was an act of considerable courage that Barack Obama’s mother married a black man in 1960; equally a difficult choice for her white parents to accept it.

In Dreams from my Father, Obama says his fellow kids then, but white used to laugh at his mother for the choice of her father. When his grandfather complained to their parents, they would answer: “Well, you ought to tell your daughter how to behave herself. White people here don’t marry niggers.”

In my last three years research about homosexuality, I have learnt from the prejudice against homosexuals in Uganda not to be hostile to racists because they are also victims of culture. It is in this through being objective to the subject that that I have been trying to conceptualise my answers to this befuddling question.

A friend of mine, a Professor of history in America, once asked me with curiosity, who Hon. David Bahati (the Ugandan legislator who proposed the bill) was. He likened him to Adolf Hitler; a man who stoked anti Semitic, anti gay and anti black hatred.

I perpetually find myself in a very unmanageable situation of explicating how good the anti-homosexual people advance their reasoning that they are trying to protect Ugandan (or Christian) culture from adulteration. This is the highest promotion of extreme injustice to mankind.

To me they are like the senator, the President, the congressman in America who for many years rejected inter racial marriage on grounds that “it is against our culture”; the male chauvinist in Togo still refusing his daughters to go to school in the name of tradition; the parent in Pakistan who marries off his 12-year-old daughter to a 50-year-old man in the name of culture; the religious cleric in Saudi Arabia who, in the name of religion, orders the stoning to death of a girl for premarital sex; the old woman in Kenya who mutilates the genitals of a young girl in the name of custom.

It seems most evil is not always promoted by evil people. A close reading of the crimes of Hitler and the Nazis shows that actually they were following an established European tradition. People of European descent had committed genocides against native populations in America and Africa. Religion (or culture) and science were always at hand to provide justification for mass slaughter.

Sven Lindquist’s book, Exterminate all the Brutes, is a refreshing and insightful account of the role of religion, tradition and science in promoting European genocides.

Many Ugandans choose to bury their heads in the sand of cultural bigotry, Stone Age customs and archaic religious dogmas to persecute gays. Unfortunately, reality and science tell a different story; being gay is as normal as being a heterosexual.

Yet what is intriguing is the similarity of the basis of argument by either side in the gay debate in Uganda. The anti gay campaigners argue that homosexuality is an alien lifestyle to our country; that it is being promoted by people from the West using money. The pro gay campaigners in Europe argue that the anti gay movement in Uganda is promoted and financed by right wing religious groups in Europe and America.

One side denies the domestic origins of homosexuality; the other, the local basis of hostility towards it. This is one way Africa is always denied initiative; events in our continent are seen as instigated from elsewhere as if we are a passive and idle people suffering from too much inertia; initiative in Africa is a sign of forces from outside.

Gays in Uganda like everywhere else in the world grow up only to realise that they are sexually attracted to people of the same sex. They do not need any money or propaganda from the West to have those feelings.
Equally, anti homosexual feelings are born of ignorance and prejudice that is entirely local. Anti gay Ugandans do not need right wing money or propaganda to be hostile to homosexuality. If external influences play a role at all, it is insignificant and secondary.

Most debates everywhere tend to fall into this false and misleading pitfall; rather than debate the objective content of the argument, people focus on the subjective motivations of the participants.

Another true-life story;
When I was about six years old in primary school in Uganda of course, I had a friend of the same age and sex, with whom we went to school with. Truly with no knowledge about sex then, this friend had only male peers. The same trend continued in high school, in a mixed sex boarding school and now at the age of 28 years, he is a self confessed gay and an accomplished doctor but cannot find any form of employment because of his sexuality. Imagine at the age of six years this poor kid didn’t need any monetary incentives to be gay.

The majority of elucidated Ugandans are afraid to openly challenge the anti-homosexuality group’s bigotry and Nazi-like campaign against homosexuals for fear of being misunderstood as either being gay or having been bribed by rich gays in the West.

If there was a referendum to exterminate all gays in Uganda, I think even my grandmother a strong Christian, deep in the village, would vote yes in the name of religion and culture.

On hearing the news from a pal of mine about my inability for not attending this conference, she rang to say that her divine prayers were answered as she could not imagine her favourite grandson’s ideology on homosexuality.

Yet the pillar of Christianity is to Love one another as you love yourself. This is an example of how debate on homosexuality is being done out of prejudice and ignorance.

The anti-homosexual coalition in Uganda is not using God but the state to promulgate draconian laws. God did not bestow judgment of sin on humankind. He kept it as his preserve, possibly knowing that humans would abuse it. The state should not be used to enforce God’s will.

Besides, there are many Christians who do not believe that the Bible prohibits homosexuality. This is because Christianity, like all other religions and cultures, is subject to different interpretations.

These differences cannot be settled by human beings. The Supreme Court of religion is God. It is therefore wrong to pass legislation based on one interpretation of one religion’s values and impose them on others. This takes away the rights of non-believers or people of different religious interpretation.

In both biblical teachings and in evolutionary science, procreation is the engine of life, another point made by the anti-homosexual group. Therefore, I appreciate why many Ugandan societies have traditionally been hostile to homosexuality. The existence of species depends on procreation.

Every evolutionary biologist will tell you that species that had high survival abilities but poor reproductive capacity became extinct. So it is reproduction that keeps us replenished.

But this also poses a vital evolutionary puzzle. If homosexuality threatens life, evolution would have biologically, socially and psychologically eliminated it. Homosexuals would cause their own extinction since they would be unable to pass on their gene.

Research shows that every human society has homosexuals to the tune of 5% to 10% of the population. Homosexuality is also found in 537 species of vertebrate mammals.
And since many oppose homosexuality because it undermines procreation, a legitimate point-oh yes.

But there are many heterosexual couples who choose not to have children. The Pope and the entire hierarchy of the Catholic Church is celibate. There are many women who are sterile and men who are impotent. There are millions of birth control programmes in the world. All this has not caused the extinction of humanity.

So homosexuality is as old as life. From ancient Greece to the Roman Empire, homosexuality has been recurrent. How can something that threatens life survive for this long?
The great Greek thinker, Aristotle, also thought that it evolved to check over- population. Modern evolutionary psychologists and biologists have developed several theories to explain it. But the debate and research continues. The good news is that there are enough heterosexuals who want to have children to sustain life.

c.       Assessment of Gay Human Rights and Way Forward.

Today, with all the economic, social and political crises facing Uganda, homosexuals present a convenient group to point fingers at as the “biggest threat” or the “real problem” to society. 

The re-criminalisation of homosexuality is meant to distract the attention of Ugandans from the real issues that harm us.  It conveniently diverts the attention of the millions of Ugandans who have been walking the streets for years with their college certificates and no jobs on offer. 

Homosexuals have nothing to do with the hundreds of thousands of families that sleep without a meal or the thousands of children who die unnecessarily every day from preventable or treatable diseases such as malaria, diarrhoea, measles, pneumonia, etc. 

Homosexuals are not the ones responsible for the lack of drugs and supplies at primary health care centres.

Social Implications;
You may think that this bill targets only homosexual individuals.  However, homosexuality is defined in such a broad fashion as to include “touching another person with the intention of committing the act of homosexuality.”   This is a provision highly prone to abuse and puts all citizens (both hetero and homosexuals) at great risk.   Such a provision would make it very easy for a person to witch-hunt or bring false accusations against their enemies simply to “destroy” their reputations and cause scandal. 

Moreover, the bill imposes a stiff fine and term of imprisonment for up to three years for any person in authority over a homosexual who fails to report the offender within 24 hours of acquiring such knowledge. 

Hence the bill requires family members to “spy” on one another.  This provision obviously does not strengthen the family unit in the manner that Hon. Bahati claims his bill wants to do, but rather promotes the breaking up of the family. 

This provision further threatens relationships beyond family members.  What do I mean?  If a gay person talks to his priest or his doctor in confidence, seeking advice, the bill requires that such person breaches their trust and confidentiality with the gay individual and immediately hands them over to the police within 24 hours.  Failure to do so draws the risk of arrest to themselves. 

Or a mother who is trying to come to terms with her child’s sexual orientation may be dragged to police cells for not turning in her child to the authorities.  The same fate would befall teachers, priests, local councilors, counselors, doctors, landlords, elders, employers, MPs, lawyers, etc.

Furthermore, if your job is in any way related to human rights activism, advocacy, education and training, research, capacity building, and related issues this bill should be a cause for serious alarm. 

In a very undemocratic and unconstitutional fashion, the bill seeks to silence human rights activists, academics, students, donors and non-governmental organizations.  If passed into law it will stifle the space of civil society.

The bill also undermines the pivotal role of the media to report freely on any issue. The point I am trying to make is that we are all potential victims of this draconian bill.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. told us many years ago, “Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is love correcting everything that stands against love.” Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights instructs us: “All Human Beings are Born Free and Equal in Dignity and Rights.”

The Legal Implications of the Bill;
The Anti-Homosexuality bill has a total of 18 clauses.  12 of these 18 clauses (i.e., 67%) are not new at all as they simply replicate what we already have on our law books. 

So the first point I want to highlight is that Parliament has been given a bill two-thirds of whose content duplicates existing laws.
So, let us examine the content of the remaining 6 clauses that introduce new legal provisions.

Clauses 6 provides for the recognition of the right to privacy and confidentiality for the victim of homosexual assaults.  This is a procedural issue that no one can dispute and it can easily be inserted in the Penal Code provisions that criminalize rape and aggravated defilement.

Nevertheless, the remaining 5 clauses are extremely problematic from a legal point of view.  They violate Uganda’s constitution and many other regional and international instruments that Uganda has ratified.

The interpretation section (Clause 1) replicates several definitions that are provided for elsewhere.  Its novel provisions lie in the attempt to define homosexuality and its related activities.  I have already alluded to the potential danger that Ugandans face in the threatening and broad fashion that the bill defines a “homosexual act.”

Clause 13 which attempts to outlaw the “Promotion of Homosexuality” is very problematic as it introduces widespread censorship and undermines fundamental freedoms such as the rights to free speech, expression, association and assembly. 

Under this provision an unscrupulous person aspiring to unseat a member of parliament can easily send the incumbent MP unsolicited material via e-mail or text messaging, implicating the latter as one “promoting homosexuality.”  After being framed in that way, it will be very difficult for the victim to shake free of the “stigma.” 

Secondly, by criminalizing the “funding and sponsoring of homosexuality and related activities,” the bill deals a major blow to Uganda’s public health policies and efforts. 

Take for example, the Most At Risk Populations’ Initiative (MARPI) introduced by the Ministry of Health in 2008, which targets specific populations in a comprehensive manner to curb the HIV/AIDS scourge.  

If this bill becomes law, health practitioners as well as those that have put money into this exemplary initiative will automatically be liable to imprisonment for seven years! 

The clause further undermines civil society activities by threatening the fundamental rights of NGOs and the use of intimidating tactics to shackle their directors and managers.

Clause 14 introduces the crime of “Failure to Disclose the Offence” of homosexuality.  As I have noted above, under this provision any person in authority is obliged to report a homosexual to the relevant authorities within 24 hours of acquiring such knowledge. 

 Not only does this infringe on the right to privacy but it is practically unenforceable.  It dangerously opens up room for potential abuse, blackmail, witch-hunting, etc.  Do we really want to move sexual acts between consenting adults into the public realm?

Clause 16 relates to extra-territorial jurisdiction, and basically confers authority on Ugandan law enforcers to arrest and charge a Ugandan citizen or permanent resident who engages in homosexual activities outside the borders of Uganda.  This law enforcement model is normally used in international crimes such as money laundering, terrorism, etc.  The Ugandan Penal Code already provides for crimes that call for extra-territoriality.  All these touch on the security of the state e.g., treason, terrorism and war mongering (see S.4 of the PCA).

Recommendation and Conclusion:
A particular problem with Ugandan society is its low levels of openness. As evolutionary psychologist Geoffrey Miller has written, openness to experience implies curiosity, novelty seeking, broad-mindedness, interest in culture, ideas and aesthetics.

Our society exhibits low levels of openness partly because of the influence of tradition.But as our society modernises and urbanises, a new cultural sophistication is consolidating.

 For example, in the current debate on Bahati’s bill, the most virulent anti-gay crusaders are largely (although not entirely) from rural areas, born in peasant families, are less travelled and are not widely read. So they lack exposure to diversity. The opposite applies to most of the people who are tolerant of gays.

It is easy to tell open-minded people; they tend to seek complexity and novelty, they readily accept innovations and changes – and as Miller writes, they prefer grand new visions to mundane, predictable ruts.

People who are low on openness tend to seek simplicity and predictability; they resist change and respect tradition. They are often more conservative, close-minded, conventional and authoritarian.

They follow the established cults as did their grand parents. Even in heterosexual relationships, they reject creative acts that increase intimacy. In the name of tradition, they support female genital mutilation, practice polygamy, beat their wives and want to decide for their children.

Sex is a very important element in our lives that cannot be limited to simplistic reasoning. It would be very dangerous for the sate to visit people’s bedrooms at night to monitor whether sex is practised through the legalised style. For example, should the government investigate whether couple X, practise oral sex or couple Y, masturbates. If this was to be done then, it would put us on a slippery sex satisfaction slope.

The Ugandan education system adds to the problem. At home, children are taught to obey their parents without question. In school, Students are taught to respect every opinion in a book or from the teacher instead of questioning it.

I belong to a community of cattle keepers, whose daily food rations are milk, yoghurt and meat with a few supplements from our neighbouring agricultural based communities. It was a taboo to eat fish, grasshoppers and chicken in my past cultural norms, reason being that if you ate them your cows will die, very archaic, since cows are seen as a source of pride and measure of wealth, I wonder what my Hindu friend, Alok, in India would say about me.

Since I have travelled around the world and I have been confronted with many challenging cultures, I have learnt how narrow minded how some of my cultural beliefs are.

I have been served snails and lizards in Nigeria, Rats in Zambia, Pig brains in Hungary, and I would not be surprised if I were to be served dog meat in South Korea. Any peasant from my community would tell you how primitive these people are who eat these foods, many would not come to terms with me, to cope requires open mindness.

Finally, while chatting with a senior legislator back in Uganda, actually the one who proposed this bill, he said, “he would not wish his son to marry my son, and then he is invited for the wedding”, dear Hon. Friend, I wish you the best, but it is always better to prepare for the worst as well.

Four decades back, it was scandalous for women to wear mini skirts and trousers, when it happened there was an outcry from male chauvinists that our culture was going to the dogs, but now its okay and they look pretty in the outfit.

When black people demanded equal rights, white people spoke of an apocalypse, read the New York Times of July 5, 1950, when Jack Johnson (black) knocked out Jim Jeffries (white), in the World boxing title challenge. Cultural change is difficult but inevitable.

The biggest threat is war, and we should instead see all the efforts of the anti-homosexual groups channelled to campaigns against nuclear arms proliferation, the other danger is climate change caused by human activity through industrial expansion and human pressure.

The challenging problems in Uganda are corruption that has killed health care systems and other social amenities, shortage of social housing, abusive partners who engage in domestic violence whether physical, sexual or emotional, sexual predators that breach the trust placed in them as fathers, teachers, religious leaders, doctors, uncles and sexually exploit young girls and boys, rapists and child molesters who pounce on unsuspecting family members, lack of social education finance support structures.

 I am aware that I am swimming against the tide presenting on this topic. But I feel strongly that keeping silent in the face of injustice, especially one promoted through culture, is a worse option to the advancement of justice for mankind.

I understand that well intentioned people like these anti gay promoters, can promote extreme injustices because of the influence of culture and tradition.

Uganda needs courageous people to challenge injustices against homosexuals perpetuated through culture and religion.

I present this paper in honour of those white people, the abolitionists, who, against the ridicule and harassment of their peers and at great personal risk opposed slavery and discrimination against black people.

It pains me that black people who have been victims of discrimination due to cultural stereotyping are the ones most virulently hostile to homosexuals. The chains of culture can be tough.

Together we can create change, like the words of Margaret Meade, “Never doubt that a small group of people can change the world, indeed it’s the only thing that ever has”

Thank You.

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