There is no doubt that countries trying to dissuade Uganda from passing the Anti-Homosexuality Bill into law are doing it from the best motives.
But in the run-up to the bill being passed, President Yoweri Museveni and the anti-gay forces in the country have being pumping out propaganda to turn ordinary Ugandans against the LGBTI community.
And there is a real danger the west’s efforts to help gay Ugandans could backfire very dangerously.
The response from western nations has varied. Some have condemned the bill, others have engaged in discussions to persuade president. However Museveni did not listen. This has led to some countries using approaches they think can push him in the right direction. Canada, the United States of America and the Netherlands have threatened to cut aid and other ties with Uganda over the issue.
But activists in Uganda generally do not support cutting aid.
On 4 February this year, Abbey Kiwanuka, a prominent Ugandan LGBTI rights activist, petitioned the Dutch foreign affairs committee to use other ways to persuade Uganda not to make the bill law instead of cutting aid. His pleas were turned down.
I fully support his view as a Ugandan LGBTI rights activist, as do the partners in the Ugandan Kuchu Diaspora Alliance and other groups we support.
Aid in various forms helps all ordinary Ugandans, including LGBTI people who we are campaigning for. Therefore the consequences of not being able to access those services financed by foreign aid will directly impact gay, lesbian, trans and bi Ugandans wellbeing. Our parents, sisters, brothers, friends and other relatives will also become victims. By contrast, most proponents of homophobia in Uganda can afford luxurious lives without depending on some foreign aid funded projects.
There is another reason too. Politicians and the anti-gay vigilantes are using this threat from developed countries as a way of convincing people the west is using foreign aid and its influence to spread homosexuality to Uganda. We need to change this argument such people can understand the role of the western countries has is fighting homophobia, not making people gay.
I understand why taxpayers in countries that respect LGBTI rights oppose their money going to a country that doesn’t do the same. However we need to understand that we don’t want to hurt the very people we aim to help.
There are so many Ugandans on various social media platforms who have started to voice out their anger towards us, claiming we are turning the west against them. I can bear the threats but the gay people in Uganda will pay the price.
The western countries involvement in fighting homophobia is highly needed but it has to be strategic and relevant. Most Ugandans have been made to believe the west brought Homosexuality to Uganda. This belief has been a result of constant extreme religious teachings against homosexuality and the legacy of criminalization of homosexuality the British left in Uganda.
As I wrote in my previous commentary, the west brought homophobia to Uganda not homosexuality. Until the west accepts their part in turning Africans against LGBTI people, our struggles as activists will be far harder.
The west should understand the language used in persuading Museveni not to sign the bill is viewed as outsiders trying to push homosexuality into Uganda. Despite this the Ugandan scientists tasked by Museveni himself to advise him, clearly established that homosexuality existed in Uganda before the white man came to Africa. Not until we re-enforce this message will fellow Ugandans always think otherwise.
We need to engage more with the Ugandan government and the local people without creating any resentment.
The west should work more closely with groups in Uganda to reach out to the people and find tailormade strategies.
Currently Uganda finances 81% of its own budget therefore any threat to cut aid will have an economic effect but it will be less than the hatred and the scapegoating the Ugandan LGBTI persons will face.
We have a lot of international companies operating in Uganda that can help in bettering the lives of our LGBTI people through having equality policies. They can enable LGBTI people to access jobs without any threat of dismissal because of their sexuality.
Our local LGBTI groups are struggling to function without financial support even though they operate under the radar but greater economic support can help them to reach out to those in need. More sensitization is needed but this cannot be done without resources.
Empowering the people can help to turn the attitudes of the Ugandans towards homosexual equality.
It is well known to the Ugandans the aid they are receiving is coming from countries that respect LGBTI people and also the LGBTI people contribute towards it. Therefore, this will help in enabling them to understand that LGBTI people care about them as well.
The British managed to colonize us through strategies that portrayed them as caring people – a lot of schools, hospitals, roads and other facilities were established to turn the people towards them.
Western leaders need to assess the risks of their strategies before LGBTI people pay the consequences.
Edwin Sesange is the director of the African LGBTI Out and Proud Diamond Group.