New law brings Uganda into the global firing line


(Posted 21st December 2013)

The passing of two laws by the Ugandan parliament this week has once again highlighted the level of ignorance among the members of parliament, of what negative publicity such ‘laws’ can generate abroad.

The first one, commonly referred to as the ‘Anti Mini Skirt Bill’ was introduced by what many describe as a religious radical out of tune with reality, one Fr. Lotodo, and it brought howls of laughter on the social media from abroad while local Ugandan’s poked yet more fun at the poor Father – or former Father turned politician – for what some suggested must be his fear of the devil should his eyes accidentally or deliberately be set upon a bit of female skin.

More significant though for Uganda’s standing abroad is the new legislation against homosexuality, and while the death penalty has been removed – it was initially proposed by religiously motivate zealots under the initial version brought to the last parliament – some of the prohibited activities still carry a life sentence, once the president has assented to the bill to turn it into law.

One regular reader from a foreign mission in Kampala, understandably on condition of anonymity, had this to say: ‘The lesbian and gay communities in the West have gained significant political influence in recent years. It is absolutely no longer possible there to make negative comments, not just politically incorrect but legally prohibited under the various equal rights laws, to bash gays or lesbians. There it is recognized that what you do in your own bedroom, or your choice of lifestyle, is yours to determine and not the state’s to regulate. Uganda, while of course a sovereign country with the perfect right to legislate as they see fit, has crossed a line here which may cost them dearly. Countries depending on tourism with similar laws in place have been put on the global black list of lesbian and gay activists and are being very actively decampaigned. Once the news have spread that lesbian and gay travelers are not only not welcome but can be put in jail for their choice of partner, just wait and see what will unfold in the social media and the mainstream media. In fact I expect a number of Western nations to lodge their concerns with the government here. Travel advisories may well introduce a section, like already in place over narcotics offenses in some countries where citizens are warned to expect the death penalty if found smuggling drugs, that gays and lesbians better not go to Uganda as they may be prosecuted and jailed, so as to publicly warn them of the consequences they are faced with even as tourist visitors. Additionally these groups will now lobby hard at home to deny Uganda financial aid and support for projects and that also could hit the country quite hard, considering the ongoing dependence on donor support’.

Tourism stakeholders were unwilling to comment on this development or speculate what impact this might have for the Ugandan tourism sector and as no specific statistics are available on the number or percentages of openly lesbian and gay foreign visitors it is hard to quantify what the damage could eventually be.

That notwithstanding though, Uganda can expect bad press over this once again, as was the case when the last parliament had a private member’s bill threatening the death penalty for lesbians and gays, which prompted a number of Ugandans to actually seek political asylum abroad rather than to stay at home, more so after a gay advocate was murdered. At the time were foreign media full of anti Uganda comments and similar sentiments are certain to re-emerge when, as expected, the president puts his signature on the new bill.

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