Uganda’s Anti-homosexuality bill goes on hold again

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Ugandan Judges announce their decision on gay bll: Daily Monitor

In 2009 a bill that became known as the anti homosexuality bill was debated in Uganda’s parliament and following international fall out it appeared to have been shelved until December 2013 when it was reintroduced and on that occasion the legislators voted in favour of passing the bill.

As I have previously pointed out, the reasons  as to why this bill was necessary  have preoccupied some Ugandans and international observers alike because as a former British protectorate, Uganda has  laws against homosexuality on its books. But Uganda’s legislator and sponsor of the anti homosexuality bill,  David Bahati MP argued that the the existing law didn’t go far enough.

Bahati went on to argue222222;”> that homosexuality was alien to Uganda’s cultural and religious beliefs and was a threat to the traditional family in Uganda and as such the law needed to be strengthened to protect these institutions. When challenged about the issue of human rights, Bahati argued that whilst homosexuality is a human right in the Western World, it is not so in Uganda and anyone engaging in it is committing a crime.

When the legislators voted in favour of passing the bill, I reached out to two of Uganda’s top lawyers  to try and understand how this law would work in practice and this is our Twitter chat from back then

@pmagelah @dfkm1970 Good morning! Your thoughts on the anti- homosexuality bill pls? Will gay bars in Kampala be closed for instance?

— Ida Horner (@idahorner) December 21, 2013

@idahorner @dfkm1970 I doubt the law will be enforced, chances are that we will have selective enforcement. Good morning

— Magelah Peter G. (@pmagelah) December 21, 2013

@pmagelah @dfkm1970 I sincerely hope so. Do you know why it was passed now? Did something happen that led to its revival?

— Ida Horner (@idahorner) December 21, 2013

@idahorner @pmagelah The Bill is an expensive distraction from the problems and challenges that face us. It has a number of hurdles. (1/2)

— David F.K. Mpanga (@dfkm1970) December 21, 2013

@idahorner @pmagelah Was Parliament quorate? Will it get presidential assent? Does it offend the Constitution? Can it be uniformly enforced?

— David F.K. Mpanga (@dfkm1970) December 21, 2013

@idahorner @pmagelah It is illegal to brew, distill and consume Waragi without a licence. But Policemen mostly drink crude waragi.

— David F.K. Mpanga (@dfkm1970) December 21, 2013

What Peter and David meant was that it would be impossible to implement  or enforce such a law and in fact  the matter had already been tested out at Uganda’s High court  see for instance Victor Mukasa and Oyoo Vs the Attorney General.

I had hoped that that the bill would not get past the president’s office. I was wrong. In February 2014 Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni signed the anti homosexuality bill.

I visited Uganda shortly after February 24 and as I wrote on my return, the true danger that faced homosexuals in Uganda as far as I could tell are the vigilantes . But I also had questions about donor motives and interests. Western donors threatened and indeed some with held aid from Uganda but all that fell on deaf ears.

Shortly after Mr Museveni signed the bill,  a number of prominent Ugandans that included scholars, MPs, lawyers222222;”> and human rights activists had joined gay activists to oppose the Bill through Uganda’s courts. This group finally had their day in court and on 1 August 2014, Uganda’s Constitutional Court invalidated the bill citing the fact that parliament had not been quorate when the decisions to pass the bill was taken

So the bill was shelved again.

The reaction from Ugandans has been mixed and here are a collection of Tweets that caught my eye

@Kalinaki I’m surprised that people are surprised a law passed without quorum needed politics for judges to annul it. Quorum is so basic.

This Tweet is worrisome, is it possible that legislators didn’t know that a quorum is required to pass a bill in parliament or is it that they have no due regard for parliament and therefore thought they would get away with it?

@BBatwooki It’s all politics, never been about rights or family values. Plus M7 is Washington-bound

— Daniel Kalinaki (@Kalinaki) August 1, 2014

Is Daniel being sarcastic with this  Tweet or is there some truth in it? The reason I ask, Uganda remains one of the poorest countries in Africa and is heavily dependent on aid. Is It possible that the withholding of aid has impacted government coffers and that the shelving of the bill had nothing to do with human rights but a ploy on the part of Uganda’s government in order to access aid?

True the Anti homosexuality Act/ Bill can be re-tabled and passed by parliament but will the president sign it again? I doubt. — Iguma (@GabrielIguma) August 1, 2014

If it is true that the judges invalidated the bill on the instructions of the president as some have concluded, then it is unlikely that the president would sign it again.  I therefore wonder why  the president signed the bill  in the first instance? Is it indeed politic posturing as Daniel points out above?

#Uganda Const.Court renders the draconian #antigay law null & void. Victory for all #Ugandans & 4 our unity @tmsruge

— James K. Arinaitwe (@JamesArinaitwe) August 1, 2014

@JamesArinaitwe @tmsruge but only on a technicality. They just have to vote correctly for it and it’s back on the books

— Ren Reynolds (@RenZephyr) August 1, 2014

@RenZephyr@JamesArinaitwe One would think that they are going to review the huge costs already incurred and weight their next step…

— TMS Ruge (@tmsruge) August 1, 2014

I do hope that common sense has prevailed once and for all and as @tmsruge quite rightly says, legislators have spent an awful lot of money and parliament time on this bill. Could these resources be deployed elsewhere, for instance on education, hospitals or even on the road network?

What next for western donors as #uganda reevaluates law imposing harsh sentences on homosexuals? — Angelo Izama (@Opiaiya) August 1, 2014

This one got me thinking, filled me with questions and left me worried in equal measures. For instance , Is this all a big game between the government of Uganda and western donors? What if following the reevaluation, the bill is signed?

I have also pondered the extent to which western donors and media alike have due regard for Uganda’s agency. By this I don’t mean that Uganda was right to pass such a draconian law against a section of its people. In fact I am one of those people that believe that it is possible for a country to terrorise its citizens and when that happens we should not standby. The point I am trying to make here is that there is existing case law on the issue of homosexuality in Uganda, but this has not been reported widely by international news agencies whilst donor agencies were quick to use a stick.

Why is this?

I don’t know the answer to that question but live in hope that liberal democracy will triumph philosophical, ideological and cultural protagonists

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