Given a new lease on life recently, Martin Ssempa, the charismatic but provocative, prurient and excessive proponent of gay hate Uganda has ever known, continues to try to stay relevant in the ongoing homosexuality debate.
He has a radio talk show, is on Twitter (@martinssempa) and seems to have walked away from a criminal conviction more emboldened, even if also chastened.
So, what makes Martin Ssempa tick? How come this middle-aged, balding man still manages to make such waves in Uganda?
In order to understand Martin Ssempa, it helps to look to another firebrand anti-gay crusader from a different continent and era: America’s Jerry Falwell.
When the Reverend Jerry Falwell died on May 15, 2007, the evangelical Bible belt lost one of the most vocal anti-gay leaders it had ever had, and the gay movement lost one of the most vocal enemies it had ever been fortunate to have.
With the Moral Majority movement that he established in 1979, Falwell excoriated abortion, homosexuality and pornography with such venom and ferocity that America sat up and listened. The Moral Majority galvanized the religious right behind any political candidate that agreed with their message. But they also unwittingly did homosexuality (especially) a favor by bringing it into mainstream discussion, thereby enabling America to gradually realize that homosexuals were not the threat Falwell said they were.
As evidence of Falwell’s paranoia, he condemned a cartoon character in the BBC’s children’s program, the Teletubbies, as being gay. Then he famously blamed gays for the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on New York City. Even the remaining flag bearers who still believed in Falwell’s sanity hid away in embarrassment.
Over the years, listeners had, rightly, wondered how preaching hate was compatible with the overwhelming Biblical message of love and inclusion. Others silently wondered what Falwell wanted them to do with their children, relatives and friends who were gay. So, thanks to Falwell’s fire and brimstone excoriation of homosexuals, prostitutes and single mothers, most sensible Americans resorted to education, common sense and their natural decency, and paid less attention to Falwell.
You could literally juxtapose Martin Ssempa’s anti-gay trajectory in Uganda onto Falwell’s almost to the dotted eye and crossed tee save for one element:
Always able to rely on his followers for fundraising, Jerry Falwell wasn’t driven to rant and rave against prostitutes, gays and unwed mothers by money.
But, despite clearly being desperate for a lifetime paycheck, Martin Ssempa is all but broke. For the longest time, Ssempa relied on handouts from organizations such as the Canyon Ridge Christian Church of Las Vegas, but they all cut ties when Ssempa’s message degenerated into calling for the judicial execution of his fellow citizens.
Martin Ssempa’s continuing problem is twofold:
Thanks to some spectacular advocacy, Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) and Freedom and Roam Uganda (FARUG) have repeatedly scored resounding successes, up to and including forcing President Museveni to admit in international interviews that homosexuality is not a Western import as many ignorant detractors love to argue. Led by Frank Mugisha (SMUG) and Kasha Nabagesera (FARUG), those two organizations have achieved phenomenal success in raising the profile of the gay movement in Uganda, and with their success has come endorsements from notables such as Hillary Clinton and the Robert Kennedy Human Rights Award.
In fact, for better or worse, gay activism has been the most successful minority rights movement in Uganda in recent memory.
Compare that to Ssempa’s achievements over the same period: he managed to alienate his erstwhile American evangelical friends with his vile, putrid dish showing of graphic pornographic videos even during church services. Then he got entangled in a stratagem to tar a fellow pastor, Robert Kayanja, with the brush of pedophile homo-sodomy for which he was sued and convicted in late 2012.
Ssempa is now a convicted felon who must have been relieved that well-wishers came to his rescue to pay the $400.00 the judge fined him for perverting the course of justice, coaching witnesses, and conniving with others to sully the reputation of his rival.
The second frustration in Ssempa’s continuing attempt to convince Ugandans that he is still relevant is a generational one. He appeals to and preaches mainly to young, university-educated students. But growing evidence shows that it is precisely that generation (50% of Uganda’s population is under 25) in Uganda that is increasingly looking at sex and sexuality through a much more morally nuanced prism.
So, Ssempa is trying to convert precisely those people who a) don’t have much money to pay for his sinking crusade and b) whose far more liberal socialization makes his outlandish anti-gay vituperation fall on barren ground.
Martin Ssempa also freely admits that in his heyday he spent a whole year at university having sex with any woman who could have him. Thus, at the very least Ssempa’s exhortation to the youth of today to abstain till they get married smacks of hypocrisy.
Martin Ssempa doesn’t care a hoot about whether homosexuality is eradicated from Uganda because, of course, he is educated enough to know that is impossible. He doesn’t care about the youth and, worst of all, he doesn’t care about HIV/Aids in Uganda because if he did, he wouldn’t have been doing his utmost to make sure that gay men and women continue to be excluded from HIV/Aids-related treatment programs.
Ssempa’s shrillness also belies a deep-seated problem for him. He tends to latch on to the argument about the majority of Ugandans being against homosexuality. But when you ask him if he would have joined the 73% of Americans who supported the miscegenation laws that barred blacks and whites intermarrying until the Supreme Court’s deeply unpopular 1967 intervention (Ssempa’ is married to a white woman), he ignores that question.
In a nutshell, Martin Ssempa is running a cynical, insincere campaign based on mendacity, demagoguery and sophism.
Martin Ssempa’s worst nightmare is for what happened to Jerry Falwell to happen to him: for Uganda to make an intelligent, considered, thoughtful examination of the arguments. That’s why his preferred mode of debate is showing graphic pornography in church services, waving sex toys on television, and raving like a lunatic. He hopes that if he makes as much empty noise as possible the sensible arguments for tolerance and common sense will be drowned out.
If, as the omens portend, the tide continues to ebb away from his type of mock-indignation, vitriolic, mindless hysteria, Martin Ssempa will follow Jerry Falwell into a slow but inexorable decline into total irrelevance.
Then, like Jerry Falwell in his twilight years, Ssempa will cut a forlorn, aging figure echoing in the wilderness.
But without Jerry Falwell’s money … or legacy-building savvy.
- Heroic Ugandan Activist Makes Pastor Martin Ssempa Look like the Devil in TV Debate (oblogdeeoblogda.me)
- Questions the anti-gay brigade struggles to answer (sebaspace.wordpress.com)
- Another door shuts for Martin Ssempa
- Martin Ssempa – unwanted publicity
- Martin Ssempa loses another cash cow
- Martin Ssempa forced to resign from the Oral Roberts University Board of Reference