The radio station that I tune into every morning features news from the BBC. One morning last week, I caught just a fragment of one BBC broadcast. The part that I heard intrigued me, so I went to the internet to learn more. I first wanted to see what kind of spin the major US news outlets were putting on the story. I was somewhat surprised that I could find no mention of the BBC story at all.
What I had heard on the BBC broadcast that intrigued me was the voice of a Ugandan government spokesman, speaking in English, saying:
“There was a time when the international community believed slave trade and slavery was cool, that colonialism was cool, that coups against African governments was cool.” He then called for respect for Ugandan sovereignty.
The man spoke with a polite tone of voice. It was not the shrill, dramatic voice of outrage that one hears so frequently these days. I think that’s why I wanted to find out what was going on.
What had happened was that Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni, on 24 February 2014, had signed a bill criminalizing homosexuality. He had signed this bill despite international criticism and threats to cut financial aid. (Barack Obama and John Kerry were among those who condemned the law.)
“Harsh” is an accurate description for the law: [As reported in “The Independent” (UK)] Those found guilty of “homosexuality” may be sentenced to 14 years in jail. Life imprisonment will be the maximum penalty for “aggravated homosexuality,” defined as repeated gay sex between consenting adults as well as same-sex acts involving a minor, a disabled person or where one partner is infected with HIV. The original draft called for the death penalty for some homosexual acts, but this was removed from the legislation following an international outcry.
In “The Independent,” President Museveni was quoted as saying: The law was needed to stop what he described as the West's “social imperialism” promoting homosexuality in Africa. Museveni accused “arrogant and careless Western groups” of trying to recruit Ugandan children into homosexuality. Many of our homosexuals are mercenaries, heterosexuals who become homosexuals because of money. These are prostitutes for money,” he claimed.
Was this outlandish hyperbole, or was there some element of truth?
To try to get a grip on this story, I spent some time reading Ugandan history and the history of the AIDS epidemic in Africa. The two histories seem inextricably connected, and, the law appears to be a response to the AIDS problem as well as the issue of morality. Those in favor of the law see it as a solution to the ongoing AIDS epidemic. Those against the law see it as a violation of human rights— comparing it to Nazi Germany’s treatment of the Jews in World War II.
“We Africans never seek to impose our view on others. If only they could let us alone,” President Museveni said, speaking of Western pressure not to sign the bill. “We have been disappointed for a long time by the conduct of the West. There is now an attempt at social imperialism.”
The financial squeeze is now on, as several countries have withdrawn aid. The World Bank, ironically, is rethinking a loan that was intended to increase health services to combat AIDS in Uganda.
As I studied the Ugandan situation, I reflected on the increasing momentum of the gay rights movement here in the US. The showdown in the courts over gay rights versus the First Amendment right of free exercise of religion, as many are well aware, is currently under way. If we have not done so before, very soon each of us will necessarily end up having to draw a “line in the sand” or declare on which side of that line we stand.
I wonder, will money be an influence or deciding factor in our choice?