Gay bashing as a political diversion?

It’s a popularly held view and here it is again on the Daily Beast – that gay bashing is being used to divert attention away from economic mismanagement and government malfeasance. The same point was also made here in the New York Times.

While one can see how they might take advantage of a culture of gay-bashing, I think it is to give these African governments too much credit to suggest that they are thinking this deeply about how to pull wool over the eyes of the world regarding their governance shortcomings. The main reason for my thinking is that most of the leaders of these gay-bashing countries don’t believe that there is anything wrong with the way they are governing their people else they wouldn’t still be in office 15-20 years past their use-by date.

Mugabe, Biya, Museveni

Think about the last time Zimbabwe’s Mugabe, Cameroon’s Biya or, indeed, Uganda’s Museveni ever showed any doubts about their style of governance or the results of their ridiculously long years in office. Precisely.

These guys are simply too crude in their operations, too megalomaniacal, too egotistic, too blind to the damage their longevity has wreaked upon their respective countries to think that they need a diversion such as gay bashing to keep them in power.  That kind of fluffy stuff is for Western politicians who have teams of advisers and spin doctors to give their every political move an air brush before and/or after the fact.

African big men of today are really no different from Idi Amin who ruled the country on whim – except that they put up a semblance of democracy by going through electoral charades to cement their rule. Men like Mugabe and Biya are really not going to be bothered with appearances.

Gay bashing in Uganda has political overtones alright but it is far-fetched to suggest that it is a government-orchestrated diversion; it isn’t for reasons I have laid out here. Museveni would like to take advantage of the anti-gay climate if he could but he no doubt realizes that the stakes for him are much higher given the interest the gay bashing has ignited in the international community which finances his [mis]rule.

At this point, Museveni’s concern is to try and make the entire thing go away because it is in fact distracting him from the battle royal he is having with a Parliament trying to wrestle political control from him and, thus far, succeeding as the nine-pin resignation of his ministers is showing. In Uganda’s case, it is Parliament that is using the gay issue as a political football – they know they have Museveni on the back foot with this issue because he has promised Western donors to “handle it.” The Bahati bill is now their perfect weapon to try and defeat his arrogance on this and other issues.

Liberia’s anti-gay sentiment is also rearing its ugly head. It is difficult to see what diversion is going on there. Cameroon’s Biya has in fact given conflicting messages about homosexuality, notably here in 2006 when he tried to defend his minister from homo-sodomy allegations. Lately, he has taken a back sit as gays are hounded in Cameroon and you don’t sense that he is trying to hide his incompetent governance, not least because there is hardly any discernible difference between the way he rules now and the way he did in 2006.

My thinking is that, with the exception of Mugabe who is leading the anti-gay brigade, likely because his atrophied mind tells him it will make him more loved by Zimbabweans, all the other presidents are following rather than leading on this contentious issue. That would thus pour cold water on the notion that they are firing up anti-gay sentiment as a distraction.  It’s a bit more nuanced than that.