Shame On You Uganda (and every other country implicated!) No Human Is Illegal!

Silhouette of people holding a pride flag

By Ami Tamakloe

On Thursday March 23rd, 2023, Uganda’s parliament passed an Anti-Homosexual Bill.  Speaker of Uganda Anita Among in a statement said:

“Whatever we did, the legislation we did…the Anti-Homosexuality Bill that we passed was basically to assure people that we are a people-centered Parliament. We do it for the people, we are not doing it for a few people…I am what I am because of my people. …We are a parliament that believes in God and are going to change this country. We are not going to be intimidated,” (Parliament)

CNN, BBC, Aljazeera, and other news networks have sunk their fingers into the pot and are stirring the sauce. What else is expected of a ‘shit hole’ country steeped in the juices of backwardness. ‘Oh Africa! When will they learn!’ The media houses will make noise until they don’t. They will talk about it till they stop. Life will go on. Except it won’t for LGBTQ+ People in Uganda, allies and loved ones.  As I woke to this news, I felt legitimately blank. I wondered, what extraction plan needs to be put in place for those of us with lovers and loved ones on the continent. Let us not even begin to talk about the shit show of an immigration process it is when you bear an African passport.

Just like THAT, your kinfolks trap you to possibly kill you. The outside world shows you no way out. Your fate in your home feels like walking the plank, hands tied behind you, blindfold covering your eyes. I could ask ‘is this where we have reached?’ But I won’t because apart from being angry (that’s the one emotion I can deduce clearly), I am an anthropologist. This means my everyday life revolves around the saying ‘there is no smoke without fire’. 

While we point fingers at Uganda’s parliament for the ridiculously inhumane decision they have made, shall we take a moment to acknowledge how proudly they carry the colonial mantle. Referencing ‘unnatural carnal knowledge’ in colonial law, Asuman Basalirwa, MP of Burigi Municipality says,

We want to look at this colonial law and have it in tandem with current circumstances and situations, it is behind this background that I beseech you to join in having a new law that addresses that cancer”.

Most law practitioners (including Uganda’s parliament) agree that there is not a defined understanding of ‘unnatural carnal knowledge’ under Penal Code 145. However it is behind this ambiguous declaration that many African states are trying to criminalize LGBTQ+ community.  Past cases used in drafting the Bill oftentimes had more to do with rape, coercion, and other forms of sexual abuse than with consensual sexual relations. The ongoing witch-hunt against the LGBTQ+ community is constantly being justified on grounds that the ‘idea’ of being LGBTQ+ is foreign to African culture. While SPECIFIC language around non-heteronormativity such as gay, lesbian, queer, trans etc, might indeed come from the west, the community has always existed. LGBTQ+ people have been known and identified by names that were/are culture specific, which did not carry the taint of the ‘west’.  Because of this lack of understanding of the community, Uganda’s parliament are confusing pedophilia, rape, and underage child pimping for ‘Aggravated homosexuality’ for which there is a penalty of up to life imprisonment. 

The committee reported a rise of reported cases prohibited under section 145 in the last five years. However, their statistics contradicted this claim. 

“…the Annual Police Report for the last 5 years have reported increasing cases of unnatural offences of sodomy, lesbianism and bestiality such as in 2017 where 120 cases were reported, in 2018, 100 cases were reported, in 2019, 103 cases were reported, 79 cases were reported in 2020, 80 cases were reported in 2021 and 83 in 2022”

The sad part is, they (by they I mean the people trying to chop off heads of LGBTQ+ people) seem to be oblivious to the colonial weight they carry. Instead, they believe themselves a church-culture. Whose church? Is it the same one from the ‘west’? The very one whose ‘culture’ you do not want in your country? Once upon a time, many things considered normal now were anomalies. Women were beheaded for being opinionated. Dark skin was considered a sin. Black people were considered sub-humans. Black Africans PARTICULARLY, were considered unintelligible hence deserving of enslavement. In summary Uganda, years ago, your existence was considered abnormal, and you suffered for it. 

Let’s delve more into the language of the Bill

The Bill describes the offence of Homosexuality in Clause 2 as: …perform(ing) a sexual act on another person of the same gender or allow(ing) a person of the same gender to perform a sexual act on [you] This current Bill, irrespective of its amendments, carries extreme penalties. Some of the provisions are:

  1. Punishment for anyone who identifies outside the male/female binaries. 
  2. False sexual allegation: A person who falsely accuses another of committing homosexuality is liable to imprisonment for up to a year.
  3. A person who knows or has reason to believe a person has committed or intends to commit the offence of homosexuality and does not report it will either pay a fine or be jailed for 6 months. If a person suspects a person has committed homosexuality or intends to commit must report to the police
  4. People convicted of homosexuality will be required to disclose their record to agencies and institutions that deal with vulnerable populations such as children if they are intending to occupy a position of authority (Disclosure of sexual offences record)
  5. People who are convicted of homosexuality will lose their jobs if they work with children or other vulnerable populations (Disqualification from employment upon conviction)
  6. If a person permits LGBTQ+ people to use their facilities for ‘homosexual acts’  (homeowners, landlords, families in compound houses etc. are implicated here), they will be held liable and will be punished by fine and might lose license of operation. (Promotion of Homosexuality)
  7. If a person knowingly allows queer people to use their facility, they will be jailed for up to a year (Clause 12: Brothels)
  8. Clause 6 says “Consent to sexual act is no defense: The consent of a person to commit a sexual act shall not constitute a defense to a charge under this Act”. 
  9. A child (anyone under 18 years) who is convicted shall be liable for up to three years imprisonment. The clause does not address what happens if a child turns 18 while imprisoned (Punishment for child homosexuality)

By far, Clause 3: Aggravated Homosexuality is the lengthiest clause. Parts of it reads, 

  1. A person who commits the offence of homosexuality in any of the circumstances specified in subsection (2) commits the offence of aggravated homosexuality and is liable, on conviction to suffer death.

The circumstances referred to in subsection (1) are where-

  1. the person against whom the offence is committed is a child, (this is technically defilement)
  2. the offender is a parent, guardian or relative of the person against whom the offence is committed (technically incest, rape or other forms of sexual abuse),
  3. the person against whom the offence is committed contracts a terminal illness as a result of the sexual act; (here they attack people living with HIV AIDS’s right to having a sexual life)
  4. the offender is a serial offender (whatever the fuck that means)
  5. the offender is a person in authority over the person against whom the offence is committed.

People with disabilities, mental illness, the aged, unconscious and by threats of bodily harm make up the rest of this list. The proposed punishment for offenders of Aggravated Homosexuality in Clause 3 at some point mentions death, subsection 3 mentions fourteen years imprisonment and Clause 2 provides imprisonment for life.  The Bill is a confused witch-hunt that unfortunately has ammunition.  

The bill did not however go uncontested. Professor Sylvia Tamale and some community organizations argue against the bill. In fact, the Uganda Medical Association informed the committee that “medical science recognizes a spectrum of human sexual behavior…[which] is affected by nature, society, religion, cultures and many other factors” (Bill). However, the committee still concluded that because “there is no single gene responsible for homosexuality and no anatomical or physiological data that can fully explain its occurrence,” homosexuality is a learned practice, disregarding scientific evidence presented before them.  

Humans are meaning-making creatures and for this reason we often fear what we do not or cannot understand.  Uganda’s parliament is attempting to codify a horror story which targets LGBTQ+ people into their law.  The last line of defense currently lies in the ink of Ugandan president Yoweri Kaguta Museveni. If he signs the bill, it’s over. From sentiments he has shared in the past about the LGBTQ+ community, most of us are scared he WILL sign the bill.  In February 2014, he signed an anti-homosexuality bill. However, it was annulled by the constitutional court on grounds that parliament passed the bill without the required quorum. 

As it stands, the president has 30 days to sign this new bill into law. 30 days to officially make LGBTQ+ people formally bulliable in Uganda. I am afraid to say we might be regressing to the days of burning people at the stake. With laws like this in place, all you have to do is be suspected of being gay, queer, bisexual, lesbian, trans, intersex and its game over!  The day people wake up and realize that no human is illegal is the day a lot of the world’s problems will cease. 

To my queer fam in Uganda, ay mahn! My heart is with you. Believe that there is a whole squad of humans who are angry with you. Some of us more than others because this hits home. Too close to home. Africa is OUR home. We would rather be there than toil in another man’s land. But what choice do we have when our people do not want us because of who we are. How we choose to love! 

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