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Uganda and its president must learn from the life of murdered gay hero David Kato

Uganda and its president must learn from the life of murdered gay hero David Kato

Today, 26 January, President Museveni of Uganda officiates the celebrations to mark the Liberation of Uganda and his 28th year in power. At the same time the Ugandan LGBTI community will be remembering the brutal murder of David Kato, one of the greatest LGBTI rights activists.

Having witnessed the struggle to liberate Uganda by President Museveni and also spending a spell in the struggle against Apartheid in South Africa, David Kato made a brave choice of going back to Uganda in 1998 to liberate the LGBTI people.

David Kato knew that the struggle to liberate Uganda could not be complete without the rights and justice for LGBTI people, he therefore embarked on a peaceful mission to achieve his mission.

He came back to Uganda not knowing other LGBTI people, he therefore became the first openly gay person in Uganda, however this landed him in Kawempe police station on charges of sodomy.

The beginning of his struggle was faced with a lot of problems that later claimed his life on this day (26 January) in 2011. David knew that there were other LGBTI people in Uganda but living under the radar due to the fear of persecution, torture, discrimination, imprisonment worse of all murder.

The struggle to liberate Uganda by President Museveni was embraced by all Ugandans including LGBTI people, a lot of people lost their lives and other resources in anticipation of equality and justice for all. However after the struggle LGBTI people faced the reversal of the struggle for liberation.

David Kato as an activist who had witnessed how the LGBTI people in South Africa were enjoying their freedom and liberation by Nelson Mandela, thought that the Ugandan Community could also achieve the same through non-violence.

On 23 March 2004, David and others like Victor Mukasa, Val Kalende and Kamuhangire.E started Sexual Minorities Uganda, an umbrella organisation of other LGBTI organisations in Uganda currently headed by Frank Mugisha.

While speaking in Brussels on 25 March 2010, David highlighted the need for equality and justice for LGBTI people, and also to gather support from the international community towards the struggle.

He also emphasized the point that the Anti-Homosexuality Bill 2009 was brought in due to the increasing visibility of LGBTI people. But we have to remember that he took the first step for LGBTI people in Uganda to be visible, at the same time knowing the problems that were likely to befall them.

David faced many problems because to his sexuality and his activism among them including being sacked from his job as a teacher at Nile Vocational Institute in 1991, violent attacks, blackmail, and murder.

On 3 January 2011, David, Pepe Onziema and Kasha Nabagesera registered a high court ruling protecting fundamental freedoms of a right to privacy that was violated by the Rolling Stone newspaper.

David brought to attention the motives of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill 2009 to a wider global community, and his work to repeal all the existing anti-gay laws in Uganda is still unfinished business. His courageous work and commitment towards liberating LGBTI people in Uganda was viewed as promotion of homosexuality by the anti-gay vigilantes in Uganda, and unfortunately the Uganda government did not offer him protection.

David knew that even though his work was not violent he was likely to face violence, he continuously said that he will be the last person to leave the country, he lived and worked under fear for his life. As a true activist and a liberator he was unselfish and willing to sacrifice his life for the liberties and freedom of others.

The work and the movement started by David Kato has led to upbringing of many Ugandan LGBTI activists willing to non-violently fight for their rights, this has also led to international support from human rights fraternities all over the world.

Kato always emphasized the point that LGBTI people existed in Uganda long before the white man came to the shore of Africa. The white man only brought his values of criminalising homosexuality in Uganda by enshrining Sections 145, 146 and 148 in the Uganda Penal Code.

The fight for LGBTI equality in Uganda is not a way of the west pushing their values to Ugandans, even President Museveni accepts that LGBTI people existed in Uganda long before this bill. The only difference is that invisibility was a result of fear for their lives due to the introduced laws, change in attitudes by the general public, the increasing spread of hate by religious, cultural, social and political leaders. The Anti-Homosexuality Bill 2009 rejuvenated more hate.

Laws are always brought in to safeguard the rights and freedoms of the people; however these anti-gay laws in Uganda are a reverse. This is what David Kato stood for.

He left a legacy open to challenges to all those involved in seeing it through, however his courage, unselfishness, charity, drive for equality and futuristic perception motivates us to work hard in paving the way for today and tomorrow. We may not be able to witness the fruits of the struggle but our actions today are likely to change the world for those coming after us. Also with hard work we might be able to witness and enjoy the equality and justice for LGBTI people in Uganda during our lifetime.

He took the risks of coming out as an openly gay person and an activist in Uganda, however he knew that the benefits will be enjoyed by many.

Even though the President has indicated his opposition to Anti-Homosexuality Bill 2009, his remarks that LGBTI people are abnormal fuels more discrimination and violence against the LGBTI population. His failure to repeal Sections 145, 146 and 148 of the Penal Code under his leadership does not benefit LGBTI people but rather increases their prosecution and persecution.

Today we remind President Museveni that the liberation of Uganda can not be complete without the liberation, rights and justice of LGBTI people.

We also urge him to decorate David Kato with the colours like those who died in struggle to liberate the country.

The President always reminds people that he does uphold the constitution of Uganda and respects the rights and freedoms for all, however the LGBTI community in Uganda are eagerly waiting in oblivion to witness his promises. The waiting is causing a lot of problems to the entire LGBTI community.

We also pay tribute to the current torch bearers for the struggle for  equality and justice of LGBTI people in Uganda,  Nigeria, Russia, Lithuania, Jamaica, Malawi, Gambia and Cameroon among others.

The world continuously remembers those that died defending their countries and their freedoms; however we fail to decorate those that have worked so hard to liberate LGBTI people in countries like Britain, France, United States of America and others.

We therefore call upon the entire LGBTI and the human rights fraternity to have a place and a day of remembrance for all those that have contributed and those who are contributing towards the struggle for equality and justice for LGBTI people all over the world.

David Kato will always be remembered as the symbol for the struggle for LGBTI equality in Uganda. We call upon everybody to work hand-in-hand in enabling his dream to come true.

Long live David Kato’s legacy.

Edwin Sesange, Ugandan LGBTI activist and Director of African LGBTI Out and Proud Diamond Group