Bisi Alimi looks back at the first LGBT Uganda Pride with admiration for the activists who made it happen
Five years ago, in a state of panic I packed my bags, grabbing everything I could carry and made my way to the Muritala Mohammed International Airport in Nigeria. I was running for my life. I was in dire need of a place of safety; just the night before I had experienced what could have been the end of my life.
Prior to 2007, I had taken a bold step and announced my sexuality on national television in Nigeria, making me the first openly gay man on TV there. Some people have claimed I might have been the first in Sub-Sahara Africa – that is open to debate, but I am not sure I am.
Five years on, in 2012, I woke up to the amazing news that there had been an LGBT pride in Uganda. I thought I was dreaming. It was like I have been sent to Mars with the Curiosity Rover.
The pictures I saw coming out of Uganda filled me with pride. There are few things that will make me cry, but I can unashamedly say that the news from Uganda and the pictures brought me to tears.
A few years ago I had the opportunity to meet Ugandan gay activist David Kato from Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) in London on one of his many trips to the capital – previously I had just chatted or swapped emails with him.
His passion to see a Uganda without hate was beyond boundaries. And despite his workload, fame he was a very normal guy. He would still hold a conversation with anyone. And I can remember him telling me: ‘I was scared when I heard what happened to you, I just wish that we can find a place to live without fear.’
A few months later, David Kato was no more. He was murdered in Uganda, though people have different ideas about what led to his death or the motive behind it. One thing is clear, like many other people, I lost a friend, a colleague and an inspiration.
So when I heard that there was Pride march in Uganda, you can understand why I thought I was in a dreamland.
Though I was happy and excited for this act of courage, I also questioned if the people taking part had thought of the backlash and the outrage that might follow. I was even outraged when I saw the pictures of the pride all over the internet the next day. I was filled with worry.
Uganda is possibly be the last place anyone in the world would expect a pride. We should not forget Scott Mills documentary Uganda; The Worst Place to be Gay or the amazing film Call Me Kuchu that illustrated the everyday struggles of LGBT people in Uganda.
There was also the breaking news of arrests and meetings being disrupted and even the press conference given by the Uganda ethics minister on the discovery against LGBT campaigners and the international community and what he described as their efforts ‘to spread homosexuality in Uganda’.
So this pride would not have happened without the amazing energy of some of the most amazing people I have come to know in Uganda. I cannot forget the gentleness of current SMUG campaigner Frank Mugisha, or the charming Pepe.
But it is not just about them. It is about hundreds of Ugandan and African LGBT people who are taking the lead and shaping their future. I am seeing a new wave of energetic and purposeful African LGBT activists who I can only call daredevils.
At the International AIDS Conference in Washing DC recently, I had the chance to hang out with these daredevils from all parts of Africa; from Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Togo, Mali, Malawi, Zambia and beyond.
Five years after I had to run away from the grip of death in Nigeria, I can see how far my brothers and sisters have come on the continent and how ready they are to show leadership.
So I now want to tell them from my heart ‘I am proud of you’.