“THE prime minister of Canada came to see me and what was he talking about? Gays”. “Prime Minister Gordon Brown came to see me and what was he talking about? Gays”. “Mrs Clinton rang me. What was she talking about? Gays”- President Museveni of Uganda.
The Anti-Homosexuality Bill now in the Ugandan parliament proposes the death penalty for certain aggravated forms of non-consensual homosexuality, especially where HIV positive adults take advantage of minors or disabled persons and could lead to a prison sentence of up to three years for anyone failing to report within 24 hours the identities of any lesbian, gay, bisexual or trans-gender person.
Though homosexual acts are already illegal in Uganda, as in many countries in Africa, and punishable by up to 14 years in prison, it is hard to recall anyone being convicted because the authorities have not been overly zealous in enforcing the law.
The hullabaloo raised by this proposed law brings into the spotlight an issue that has already led to a war of words between opinion leaders in Africa and the west.
President Mugabe of Zimbabwe in his typical brash style once branded homosexuals “worse than pigs or dogs” warning that homosexuals should leave the country “voluntarily” or face “dire consequences”. He paid dearly for this when despite an elaborate security detail he was stopped in the middle of a London street and assaulted by members of a pro-gay group.
With the din created by all the noise this bill has generated, it is hard to make sense of the way forward for homosexuality in Africa. However, to be able to chart something akin to an acceptable compromise something must give.
Generally speaking, the fact of the matter is that the majority of Africans find homosexuality an abhorrent, recent import from the west. On the other extreme is the West with its double standards and questionable value system where freedom refers to the enjoyment and defense of western values to the clear detriment of others’ cultures and freedoms. In fact the post 9/11 world is dictated by the maxim enunciated by George W. Bush, “You are either with us or against us”.
It is interesting to note the robust extent to which western countries oppose laws against homosexual offences; whereas in their own countries they sometimes deny suspects basic rights in political cases, as has happened in Guantanamo Bay.
Having said that, it is clear that none of those positions are helpful in solving this apparently intractable issue and some compromises have to be made;
Firstly, it must be recognized by policy makers in Africa that in-as-much as we would like to stem the spread of and ‘normalization’ of homosexuality; it is a fact that it has been with us for quite sometime now and realistically speaking, is going nowhere.
It would also be extremely difficult and expensive to try and enforce anti-homosexuality legislation, especially the consensual one between adults.
On the other end, the West must accept that a line must be drawn between consensual homosexuality and the criminal form that may include rape and sodomy of minors.
Once these issues are ironed out, I would expect decibel levels to lower and more important issues to grab the headlines once again.
Bernard Urayeneza is a social commentator