Our fight back against Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act has started in earnest – in the courts.
The anti-gay law, signed less than a month ago, violates the constitution of Uganda and other international laws. President Yoweri Museveni knows this but assented anyway to protect his own political interests.
But this fact provides us with one of our strongest options to fight the legislation – so the constitutional challenge to it was filed this week.
The LGBT community has won in Uganda’s courts before, notably in the 3 January 2011 case against the Rolling Stonew newspaper. This can be used as precedent for the gay community. You can argue the state didn’t have so much interest in that case as they do in the present one, but it shows success is possible.
Again, it’s a stage that requires a lot of bravery – much of it from men and women who have already sacrificed so much for justice and equality for LGBTI Ugandans.
We are now facing a period of uncertainty, predictions, calculations, propaganda, blackmail, persecution, hard work, legal battles, sensitization and advocacy. A battle of facts against opinions.
Do not be deceived. This law was not brought in to protect the vulnerable. Indeed, less than two weeks after Museveni signed it, a doctor raped a 14-year-old girl in Jinja. And we have seen on-going attacks where mobs have undressed women in public under the disguise of the anti-pornography laws pushed by Museveni about the same time.
While we have condemned these acts, the president has not made a single statement against them. Rather Museveni was busy using the diversion created by anti-gay law to go after Prime Minister Amama Mbabaz, likely to be one of his political opponents in the 2016 presidential election.
On 3 March in the NRM caucus meeting in Entebbe, Museveni displayed how he has been secretly hacking and bugging the private conversations of Mbabazi. These actions are illegal, immoral – outrageous in fact – but they have not been condemned or even widely reported in the media. There is on-going harassment and persecution of Mbabazi’s political supporters at the same time the president is touring some parts of Uganda consolidating his supposed moral authority in the country.
The president is using the anti-gay law to distract from the problems ordinary Ugandans. We need to keep on pointing this out.
The anti-gay law is a political life support machine for Museveni. As such, I will be amazed if he doesn’t interfere in the judicial system. But miracles happen and we have to keep our hope for success alive.
The President of Uganda has been known for his interference in the courts, especially in cases where he has personal interests and the public have put pressure on him. This has been seen in a number of corruption cases where decisions have been overturned after lobbying him.
While opening the 16th annual judges conference in Entebbe in January, it is on record that Museveni warned the judges against crossing him on the issue of granting bail to suspects. He further cautioned them that, while they are judges, they are Ugandans first. He went on to say he was willing to go back to court to legislate against their roles and advised them to scrutinize themselves.
It is believed the president has strategically appointed judges to look after his interests, although there are, of course, still some independent judges.
If President Museveni leaves the courts to do justice in this case, this should lead to the Anti-Homosexuality Act being repealed.
Again the president will play both sides to emerge as a winner. He will tell the Ugandan public it was the courts’ fault the law was overruled against his will. He will tell the international community the law they hate has been dropped, showing justice rules in Uganda.
The anti-gay pressure groups will embark on a campaign of propaganda and blackmail of the petitioners in the court against the anti gay law. They will also threaten to oppose the president in the next elections if he doesn’t influence the courts to maintain the draconian law. More anti-gay rallies are expected in the country to create a sense of fear among those against the anti-gay law.
It should be remembered Museveni was asked during his speech after assenting the bill what he thought of the legality and the quorum that passed the bill, his adamant answer was he is willing to change the constitution to maintain this law.
Just one day after bill was signed Red Pepper newspaper started outing LGBTI people, this has created more fear and persecution.
There is also another danger in trying to repeal the law, the general public might feel betrayed by the courts and embark on more mob justice against LGBTI people.
Our best route to success is by using facts, rather than opinions, to challenge anti-gay voices. They have used false information and self-interest to make the Ugandan population dislike the LGBTI people. We need to sensitize the population through means that don’t expose our people to harm. Social media can be particularly powerful here.
Many ordinary Ugandans have been made to think LGBTI people are advocating for a right to have sex in public, recruit youngsters and above rape and defile the vulnerable. These opinions are wrong. We need to clearly establish which kind of rights we are demanding, otherwise people are faced with the unknown and base their opinions on anti-gay propaganda.
We cannot influence the courts of law but we can make the best case possible and demand fairness from the system. We need to look into the chosen judges to decide this case and hold them accountable on the basis of their international accreditations if they have them.
We should demand the government makes it clear it wants restraint – and a halt on any act that leads to persecution of LGBTI Ugandans until the courts make their final decisions.
Western nations, meanwhile, should work with the Ugandan government to encourage judicial independence and the honoring of the constitution.
The work to change hearts and minds in Uganda will be long and hard. But with all our effort, and continual support, Uganda’s LGBTI community can still hope for justice and equality.