What kind of science could justify President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda agreeing to sign the Anti-Homosexuality Bill into law?
Well science twisted by politics and ideology. The strange thing about the scientists’ report from Uganda’s Ministry of Health about the origin of homosexuality, is that much of it was right. But what was left out, the way the words were twisted, the flaws in the scientists’ conclusions, make it false.
In fact, the report, presented to the ruling party retreat in Kyankwanzi on Friday (14 February), is little more than science providing political cover for Museveni. It allows him to sign the bill, gain political popularity at home, dismiss criticism from the international community and blame it all on the scientists if his decision is wrong in a kind of modern-day Pontius Pilate washing of hands.
So how did it all come about?
The president requested the Ministry of Health to make a report on which he could base his decision to either sign or not to sign the 2009 Anti-Homosexuality Bill into law.
It should be pointed out the statement did not make any conclusions that were not already apparent to anyone expert in sexual orientation. In the conclusions, they stated ‘there is no definitive gene responsible for homosexuality’, a point that would seek to address the issue of whether gay people are born as gay. They clarified (at least for majority of people in Africa who believe otherwise) that homosexuality is not a disease, neither is it an abnormality. They also highlighted the fact that homosexuality ‘is influenced by environmental factors such as culture, religion, information, peer pressure’ – though that is actually true of sexual orientation as a whole.
The scientists did not carry out any original research but reviewed the studies and research already conducted all over the world. Therefore their conclusions shouldn’t have differed from the current general understanding of homosexuality elsewhere.
The statement has facts which we believe are truthful, among them are that homosexuality existed in Africa since humanity first evolved and also the coming of foreigners into Africa influenced the people of Africa’s understanding and attitudes towards homosexuality.
Many western-based evangelistic missionaries and Arabs penetrated Africa and influenced her people with their views on homosexuality. This continues today. However, different cultures practice their sexualities differently and these practices have often changed with times. The statement clearly stipulated the originality of homophobia – but the president failed to consider this whilst making his own decision.
The statement goes on to say that today the world has come to the realization that indeed homosexuality is a minority sexual expression practiced by some few members of the community. But, like heterosexuality it needs to be regulated – however it fails to indicate how heterosexuals are going to be regulated.
The scientists in their conclusion stated there is no definitive gene responsible for homosexuality however they failed to advise the president whether there is a definitive gene responsible for heterosexuality. Their conclusion leaves out the vital information that no singular determinant for sexual orientation has been found. As a result, many scientists hypothesize that a combination of genetic, hormonal, psychological, environmental and social factors determines sexual orientation. In my view I think it was necessary to compare homosexuality with what they believe is an acceptable sexual behavior – heterosexuality. This they failed to do.
Sexual functions are determined by genes and their interactions with the environment. So the causes of homosexuality can be traced to biological, social, environmental, psychological or a combination of them. These influence each other. Reparative therapies to change people’s sexual practices have not proven successful and their scientific validity has remained questionable. However in the conclusion the statement only states homosexuality can be influenced by environmental factors (eg culture, religion, information, peer pressure). This is misleading.
The conclusions were tailor-made to suit the answers Museveni wanted.
And let’s not forget there are many learned behaviors and choices in our lives – like religion and political opinions – that are protected by the laws of the state and are deemed as human rights.
The scientists’ statement concludes homosexuality needs to be regulated in order to protect vulnerable people, like the children. This sends out the wrong message to the people who may think homosexuality is forced on kids or others. We accept any law to protect those who are vulnerable but not legislation criminalizing consenting adults.
The president knows the scientific statement is going to be challenged by a lot of scientists, but to his mind this will take time and maybe by that time he will be gone.
The president has declared war on LGBTI rights lobbyists, with the backing of the scientists and the members of the ruling party. The world should not stand by while the president declares war on his innocent people. This message by the president is likely to turn the people against each other.
The president states those promoting homosexuality will be dealt with ‘harshly’. This again gives the anti-gay vigilantes a license to take the law into their hands with those perceived to be promoters of homosexuality – including members of my own Out and Proud Diamond Group.
This half-truth scientific statement re-enforces misconceptions and myths about homosexuality that will escalate into more hatred, persecution, prosecution, torture and discrimination of LGBTI people by the anti-gay vigilantes and the government.
The statement was presented to answer a political question by the ruling president – remembering Museveni is also running for re-election.
The president did not leave any room for those who disagree with the statement to appeal against it before he makes his decision to sign the anti-gay bill.
In the same retreat Museveni was put forward to run for office again. Five more years in power would mean he will have served 35 years as Uganda’s president. It is reasonable to suggest his announcement about signing the Anti-Homosexuality Bill was a ploy to divert attention from the fact he is becoming president for life.
It was very similar in 2005 when he introduced a law banning same-sex marriage in Uganda at the same time he introduced a law that lifted the term limits for the presidency.
And there is another electoral advantage to his homophobic stance – Museveni will be entering the re-election race as a candidate viewed by Ugandans as someone who can stand up to the west and is willing to protect the country from ‘social deviants’.
The Honorable Member of Parliament for West Budama North constituency Fox Odoi, who used to be the legal advisor to the president, has written to the President Museveni that the 2009 anti-gay bill is unconstitutional and violates international laws.
The president is aware of the illegality of the bill but at the same is using it to solicit votes and have an advantage over his competitors. And it is noteworthy that the opposition has not yet shown which side it is on with regards to homosexuality – despite the public being focused on the issue.
To the international community the President will always defend himself by pointing to the country’s scientists and members of parliament. To the local population he will be coming up as the person willing to defend them against western cultures and influences.
In the corridors of power as reported by the Monitor newspaper in Uganda, Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi is having presidential ambitions, so is Parliamentary Speaker Rebecca Kadaga and the former Vice President Bukenya. However Museveni now has an upper hand over them. No wonder Mbabazi has gone so quiet as he promised the international community the bill would be fully debated. The endorsement of Museveni to stand for the next Presidential campaigns as the NRM candidate came as a surprise to him
The president has always criminalized homosexuality. The day before the scientists’ statement was presented to him he introduced a bill that scraps bail for LGBTI people. This shows the president was willing to make decisions prior to any conclusive scientific evidence.
We are calling upon scientists around the world to come out with their positions on this statement. I wonder whether this statement is robust enough to be published in any science journal. As such, the peer review process scientists use to analyze each others’ work should come into force.
The president has resorted to using scapegoats to justify his actions.
Edwin Sesange is an openly-gay Ugandan and director of the African LGBTI Out and Proud Diamond Group.