The president of Uganda says he will not sign an extremely punitive anti-gay bill passed by parliament last year, but not because he thinks being gay is okay. In a letter to Parliament, President Yoweri Museveni explained the real problem with a law that criminalizes homosexuality is a that a life in prison simply won't cure "abnormal" gay and lesbian Ugandans of the habit.
According to local Ugandan news source the Daily Monitor, President Yoweri Museveni sent the eight-page long letter to Parliament back in December, expressing anger over their refusal to table the bill despite his opposition. In the angry note, he bemoans Parliament's refusal to allow the government to study the full effects of the bill — which punishes "aggravated homosexuality" with life in prison — before ushering it through the system. The bill also mandates life-long sentences in cases of sex with minors, when a sexual partner has HIV — even if the sex is protected — or when someone has been found to be a "serial offender." The punishment is actually less severe than the one the bill originally proposed, the death penalty.
The bill would also punish people trying to counsel homosexuals, like safe sex educators, with years in prison. Amnesty International's Deputy Africa Director Aster van Kregten warned last month that the bill would be disastrous and must be stopped:
Passing the Anti-Homosexuality Bill was a retrograde step for Uganda’s Parliament, which has made some important progress on human rights in recent years, including criminalizing torture. It flies in the face of the Ugandan government's stated commitment to ensure all legislation complies with human rights.
Kregten also said that "President Museveni must veto this wildly discriminatory legislation, which amounts to a grave assault on human rights and makes a mockery of the Ugandan constitution." We doubt he expected the president would veto the bill in such an ugly way.
In opposing the legislation, Museveni firmly dismissed the Western notion that gay people are not abnormal. He opined, according to the Daily Monitor, that normal people are attracted to members of the opposite sex and homosexuals are a result of mistakes in nature. In his letter, he articulates down the central question of the bill as he sees it — "The question at the core of the debate of homosexuality is; what do we do with an abnormal person? Do we kill him/her? Do we imprison him/her? Or we do contain him/her?” — and explains that none of these options will make the abnormal gay person a normal straight person. The only way to do this, he says, is through economic incentives or, in the case of lesbians, forcible straight sex. The Daily Monitor reports:
The president said apart from the people who are abnormal, it seems there is a group of those that become homosexual for “mercenary reasons” — they get recruited on account of financial inducements. He said this is a group that can be rescued and that many of the youth fall in this category. As for lesbians, the President said apart from those born abnormal and those ones that may become lesbian for mercenary reasons, there may be those that go into the practice because of “sexual starvation” when they fail to get married.
By this logic, Uganda's economic development is the only way to convert the country's gay population. Which makes us this this whole thing could just be a weird, horrible way for the washed-up president to remind Parliament of his previous economic successes. Museveni also pointed out that the law makes Uganda look bad to the rest of the world, and it therefore a threat to their business interests and foreign aid.
Museveni did concede to Parliament that he would approve a life-long sentence for adult homosexuals who lure youth into "these disgusting behaviors," adding that his National Resistance Movement Caucus would render a scientifically accurate analysis of the anti-gay legislation. Good luck with that one.
In the end, this could be a case of a very small improvement for gay rights, but for all the wrong reasons. Museveni is only solidifying the prejudices against gay people, and the bill could still become a law without his signature, if Parliament approves a two-thirds majority.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.