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Uganda president playing both sides on anti-gay law

Only President Yoweri Museveni stands in the way of draconian anti-LGBTI bill becoming law. He appears to want to win domestic support without alienating international opinion
President Yoweri Museveni: Activists are appealing for him not to sign Uganda's new anti-gay act of parliament.

Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni wants to emerge as a domestic hero and appease angry foreign governments in the battle over the country’s new anti-gay legislation.

Parliament passed the Anti-Homosexuality Bill in a shock move on 20 December – now all it needs is Museveni’s signature to become law.

While the death penalty has been dropped in what was previously dubbed the ‘Kill the Gays Bill’, it punishes ‘aggravated homosexuality’ with life in prison.

If it becomes law it will make it illegal to ‘promote’ homosexuality and will also jail people who do not report homosexual activities to the police.

But Museveni has now indicated he will study the bill carefully before signing and is taking it to the caucus of his National Resistance Movement, the country’s leading political organization.

Uganda’s New Vision reports him as saying: ‘I like thinking before acting. It is not a simple matter to rush into. If the MPs bring the bill to me, I will first analyze it, take it to the NRM Caucus and see how to handle it.’

Museveni faces three choices: He can sign the bill, making it law immediately. He can reject it, pushing it back to parliament. Or he can recommend parliament changes it.

Frank Mugisha, director of leading LGBTI organization Sexual Minorities Uganda, told GSN: ‘If he doesn’t sign it they don’t vote it through again. It becomes law automatically. He has to send it back with recommendations or reject it.’

He added there is no schedule for the NRM Caucus to meet as they can do so at short notice.

Mugisha added: ‘In my own intuition I think he is going to send it back with recommendations. That is the only thing I can say now.’

Ugandan activist Edwin Sesange, director of the African LGBTI Out and Proud Diamond Group, says Museveni appears to be stalling.

Parliament’s Speaker Rebecca Kadaga has already indicated Museveni is playing politics, saying he doesn’t need to consult now as he had plenty of time to consult while the bill was being debated.

Sesange believes the president is trying to appease the international community by his tactics – if he delays long enough he can claim the bill was forced through by parliament while also gaining domestic popularity for it becoming law.

He said: ‘I think he is going to play some politics here. He is going to send it back to the parliament.

‘Museveni will say to the international community that he didn’t support it but he was overpowered by the parliament. Again to the local people, he will say democracy reigned over him and he respects it.

‘He is coming out as the winner here with answers for both sides.’

Sesange added the legislation is ‘also a distraction to other political, economical and social problems in Uganda’ in the run up to elections.

If the activists are right, it means the bill is likely to become law.

The next option to fight it will be through a constitutional challenge in Uganda’s courts – however winning a case like that could take years, during which the law will be in place.

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