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How America Failed Uganda's Gays

By Melanie Nathan, April 22, 2023.

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni issued a press statement (see below) in his decision not to assent to the recently passed Anti-Homosexuality Act 2023, otherwise known as The Kill the Gays Bill, sending the legislation back to Parliament for amendment. Thereafter he is likely to sign the Bill into law. This press statement serves to illustrate how the United States of America has failed Uganda's LGBTQI+ community, not only through the assail of Christian Evangelicals, who for years have promoted the Kill the Gays Bill in Uganda, but also through failed U.S. government foreign policy when it comes to dealing with human rights abuses in Uganda, pertaining to all Ugandan citizens.

Let us shed some light on Museveni and his dictatorial reign, which may explain the unhinged and non-sensical nature of his statements, where he attacks imperialism and the threat Uganda now faces for the withdrawal of aid and sanctions due to the passage of The Kill the Gays Bill. All the while the reality is this is how the U.S. has been, perhaps inadvertent, in setting up the LGBTQI+ community to be scapegoats and the fall guys for failed foreign policy on the issue of human rights.

As hard as it is to understand, the Museveni Press Statement (below) points fingers at the West and Uganda’s determination to dig its heels in – to fight for its sovereignty, and its right (as it asserts) to criminalize human sexuality and gender identity. This statement yields clues to how Uganda turns on the United States in a manner that proves that the gays are the ultimate scapegoat - and how had human rights infractions by Uganda been dealt with long before the Kill the Gays Bill hit for a second time, things may have turned out a little differently for Uganda's LGBTQI+ community,

Museveni, who has been welcomed into the White House by President Biden as soon ago as 2022, is the longest hold-out dictator currently on the African continent. He has been in office for over 33 years, even presiding over a change in the Ugandan constitution to ensure he did not age-out. He is known for his oppressive political dictatorship where all forms of opposition are squashed, to include the persecution, unlawful detentions, and torture of political opponents, journalists, human NGOs and activists. The gays and the anti-homosexuality legislation make perfect scapegoating to align the country against a common enemy, with the narrative: "the bad homosexuality, a western import, yielding gays who are only on earth to recruit our children, all fueled by their disorientation through mental illness, which can be cured" - and so a symbiosis between anti-LGBTI+ hate and politician clinging to power makes for the perfect storm, and all the while the U.S. has fallen into the trap, through its own impotence to deal with all of Uganda’s human rights infractions when, for decades, such demanded attention.

The latest Country Conditions U.S. State Department Human Rights Report, of 2022 on Uganda reads:

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings; forced disappearance; torture and cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by government agencies; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest or detention; political prisoners or detainees; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; punishment of family members for alleged offenses by a relative; serious abuses in a conflict, including unlawful civilian harm; serious restrictions on freedom of expression and media, including violence, threats of violence, and unjustified arrests or prosecution of journalists, and censorship; serious restrictions on internet freedom; substantial interference with the freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, including overly restrictive laws on the organization, funding, or operation of nongovernmental organizations and civil society organizations; serious flaws with citizens’ ability to determine their government through free and fair elections; serious and unreasonable restrictions on political participation; serious government corruption; serious government restrictions on or harassment of domestic and international human rights organizations; lack of investigation of and accountability for gender-based violence, including domestic and intimate partner violence, sexual violence, and child, early, and forced marriage; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or intersex persons; and existence of laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults, albeit not fully enforced. The government was reluctant to investigate, prosecute, or punish officials who committed human rights abuses or engaged in corruption, whether in the security services or elsewhere in government, and impunity, including for serious abuses, was a problem.”

Yes! This is the man that we allowed to walk into our White House!

If you read the annual reports dating back a decade, you will see it reads similarly, almost verbatim. This we have known for a very long time.

Yet, notwithstanding years of this very climate, the White House, even Democratic administrations, have continued to accept Museveni and Uganda, as welcome visitor, the recipient of aid and funds, regardless of these horrific infractions as noted by the State department itself, and when examining these reports one will note, the same, year after year. And now it will be the fault of the gays that the aid is muted! The United States has been complicit in setting up the Ugandan LGBTQI+ community as the scapegoat for all these ills, as it now threatens Uganda with consequences that should have been applied many years ago, long before the KILL THE GAYS BILL. The reason to pull aid and apply consequences is much more than criminalization and persecution of gays, lesbians, and trans Ugandans. This is the price Uganda’s LGBTQI+ will pay for the United States being asleep at the wheel , 100% AWOL, on all the human rights infractions that should have resulted in pulling aid a long time ago! The LGBTQI+ community of Uganda is experiencing the backlash as we speak, forcibly displaced, hiding, seeking safe shelter as they are being hunted, all because the Anti-Homosexuality Act is now the reason for the complicit Western, which has to date harbored these abuses, suddenly being forced to take action due to the global outcry. Of course I understand that sanctioning Uganda over these years is a complicated notion and that diplomacy has many facets. The Russians, the Chinese, the oil, the strategic location and power of Uganda as an ally for al that is occurring on the continent. That said, the current outcome is inexcusable and could have been a lot different, proving that whatever occurred along the way to get the U.S. into this position still yields the ultimate bottom line fact – the GAYS ARE THE sacrifice.


CONTACT MELANIE NATHAN, Melanie Nathan is a country conditions expert witness, testifying in the U.S. and global immigration courts for LGBTQI+ asylum seekers from African countries, to include Uganda.

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