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Ugandan Anti-gay law revocation is good for all

The Ugandan Constitutional Court has ruled that the country’s Anti-Homosexuality Act was passed without the requisite parliamentary quorum and is therefore null and void. Ironically enough, beneficiaries of this decision include the most vitriolic critics of gay rights

On the day the Ugandan Parliament voted in favour of the bill passing into law, the country’s Prime Minister, Hon. Amama Mbabazi who is said to harbour his own presidential ambitions stood up to remind Parliament that there was no requisite quorum in the house. The Speaker of Parliament, Hon. Rebecca Kadaga – herself said to harbour Presidential ambitions – ignored the warning.

The Prime Minister walked out of Parliament in protest. Hon. Kadaga had earlier lashed out at the Canadian government for trying to influence Uganda to block the law, while there on official duty. She reaped heavy popularity at home. The Prime Minister did not win himself new friends by walking out of Parliament on such an insanely popular matter.

The Bill was taken to the President, Mr. Yoweri Museveni, for assent. He took his time with it, at one point writing to the Speaker warning her of having rushed the bill, and passing it without quorum. In his letter, he argued that homosexuals have always existed in Africa essentially disagreeing with the Bill.

Then something happened. And he changed his mind.

There were high-handed statements from President Barrack Obama, there was a political debate on core issues as presidential succession and of course corruption scandals. The President asked scientists to advise him on whether homosexuality is born or made. They did not give him a definite answer, but he took the liberty to interpret their very vague statement to mean that homosexuality is made. In front of cameras, he signed the bill into law and literally told the West to behave itself and stop interfering in African matters. The country went wild with celebrations. Hon. David Bahati, the bill’s sponsor’s hero status was stamped. Churches held thanksgiving prayers that the bill had become law.

David Bahati, the architect of the anti-gay bill, is blessed by  religious leaders during an antigay church service at the Christianity Focus Centre. Photo: Bénédicte Desrus/OpenSocietFoundation
David Bahati, the architect of the anti-gay bill, is blessed by religious leaders during an antigay church service at the Christianity Focus Centre. Photo: Bénédicte Desrus/OpenSocietyFoundation

Pro-gay rights activists including renown law professors Joe Oloka-Onyango and Ogenga Latigo went to court to challenge the law. The state contested the petition. Today, the Constitutional Court has agreed with the petitioners. The law was passed without quorum. It is null and void, tainted with illegality. It is not yet clear if the Attorney General will appeal the decision. I think however that many circles are relieved that the court has ruled thus, including the most virulent supporters of the law. This is why.

The government of Uganda recently wrote an interesting letter to the European Union Mission in Uganda to clarify certain things about the law. The EU had withheld a lot of money in budget support to Uganda. It is reported that the Uganda Revenue Authority did not hit its revenue collection targets for the last financial year and in this year’s budget taxes were raised on various issues that almost everything now is being blamed on the budget. It is important that the government can have the foreign aid taps open again. This is why the interesting clarification letter was written to the EU Mission. Now that the court has kicked out the big issue from the table, one assumes that the aid money taps will flow again. This is something to celebrate, from the aid-dependency perspective, however sad in itself it is considering that the argument of sovereignty was always thrown around to support the law.

The anti-gay rights lobby, despite appearing like the losers in this are in the long run winners. After the Bill had been signed into law, there was not much to quote most of the anti-gay rights activists about. Some of them had earned notoriety and media attention because of their support for the law. Hon. David Bahati got so many admirers for proposing the law. Hon. Rebecca Kadaga’s presidential ambitions got a kick from the bashing of Canada. Charlatan pastors like Martin Ssempa have been crowd-favourites so much he even showed gay pornography to an audience once, to prove how evil homosexuality is. With the passage of the bill into law, there was almost nothing left to keep these attention hungry activists relevant. Now that it has been outlawed, they will most likely re-organise and stage a come-back. They may be in the news again with a new proposal. The popularity that comes with hating gay, lesbian and other sexual minorities is simply too much to ignore for such cheap popularity seekers. The constitutional court decision has granted them a fresh lease of life.

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Mr. Museveni is also a victor. He now can bloat and talk about the independence of the judiciary. He has ruled Uganda since 1986, a fact that is usually associated with dictators world over and he is always keen to prove his democratic credentials. He will thus say that the fact that the Constitutional Court could nullify a decision by Parliament and the Executive proves that the judiciary is now independent compared to the period before he took power.

Conspiracy theorists have always said that the gay rights debate in Uganda is a big diversion from any serious matters of the moment. When the Bill was passed into law, one could say that there was nothing left to emotionally engage the population and divert them from discussing the sad state of affairs in the country. Mass graves were discovered in Western Uganda recently, after ‘civilians’ attacked the police and army offices, resulting in the loss of tens of lives. Although brushed off as a ‘tribal clash’, there is so much yet to be understood. The exact number of the dead is not known and talk of rebellion is rife. We can safely predict that the discussions on dinner tables tonight will most likely focus on the outlawing of the anti-gay law than on these mass graves and potential hidden massacres. In future, at a convenient time, we may see the bill resurrected and re-tabled to serve the same diversionary purpose.

The tears that will flow as a result of the nullifying of the law will most likely be crocodile ones because in fact everyone is a victor with the outlawing of the law.

 

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