Frank McMullan has posted a fierce riposte to my article decrying what I see as gross exaggerations regarding the homosexuality debate in Uganda.
I feel it might be beneficial to move the discussion forward by explaining further (or again?) why I am frustrated with the nature of the debate being conducted around Uganda’s gay situation.
My general thrust is simple: human rights are critical and those who fight for them need our support and thanks. What seems to me to be happening in Uganda is that the foreign friends of our gay community have decided that they are going to fight this battle on their own terms. Some of their condescending tactics include treating us (Ugandan gay men and women) as though we are helpless, hapless basket cases who cannot come up with any strategies and so all the strategies must be determined by them in New York City or talking shops in Quebec. How else can you explain the attack by Canada’s foreign minister against Speaker of the House, Rebecca Kadaga, last October, an attack that caught gays in Uganda totally by surprise?
So, when we tell the activists abroad that we feel things should be done differently, they simply brush our opinions away and go with their own decisions.
To be fair, our representatives in Uganda haven’t been terribly forthcoming in seeking out the views of the grassroots [Farug has taken some steps to change in this regard over the past 12 months]. Yet the overwhelming sentiments on the ground are that the struggle is about what three or four people in Uganda plus their handlers in London, Washington, DC and Europe decide.
No wonder that many of us look on with awe as activists, some of them carrying fictitious members lists, fly all over the world, return to Uganda only long enough to throw yet another expensive boozy junket and then fly out again to … yet more talking shops on yet another continent.
How do these activists know what message to take to all these places if, as is certainly the case, they hardly ever consult with the grassroots? we wonder. To that end, some of the activists in Uganda have been compromised by the endless foreign trips whose purpose to us remains at best nebulous. But our boys and girls are so poor and desperate that these trips seem like manna from heaven. They are thus a source of a lot of envy and jealousy in our community and, dare one say it, they make the gallivanting activists so powerful as nothing funded by foreign donors (everything is funded by foreign donors) is approved or done without their nod.
The foreign liberal and right-wing media corp who report on Uganda usually have an agenda that often has nothing to do with the poor gay boy in Kawaala, a Kampala suburb. Yet, as we all know, the truth is usually far less interesting than we would wish. When they air what is usually arrant hyperbole (often endorsed by people on the ground who also have their own personal reasons for embellishing their circumstances), the Americans, Swedes and Brits etc. get all excited … but the heterosexual Ugandans who have nothing against us also get irritated at what they see as lies, lies, lies.
We might be getting a lot of sympathy from people watching exaggerated reports in the comfort of their living rooms in London, Lisbon and Los Angeles. But we are also needlessly making enemies of our fellow Ugandans, the people we walk the streets with, because the stuff being peddled out there, often with the tacit blessing of those who lead us, is manifestly incorrect.
I have, for instance, railed against the nonsense Scott Mills’ documentary (May 2011) peddled. He spent perhaps two weeks in Uganda and called it the worst place to be gay in the world – to deafening silence from our leadership. Really? Worse than Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates? Worse than the parts of Northern Nigeria practicing Shariah law? Worse than North Dakota or parts of rural Georgia? Seriously?
I think our representatives, too, cannot really deviate from the message their sponsors want to hear because … it would be to bite the hand that feeds them. He who pays the piper calls the tune and the piper wants sensational stories from Uganda because that is what generates dollars and Euros. There is,however, only a number of stories even a “terrible” country like Uganda can produce so … the alternative is to either embellish or look on as outright fabrications are peddled by whoever has an agenda to pursue.
So, contrary to what a commentator on my previous post patronizingly suggested when she offered that James Onen (the radio personality) can’t understand what is going on in Russia., Onen is right: this battle long ceased to be about the truth.
If it were about the truth and what the gay boys and girls in Uganda really want, the focus would be on forcing the government of Uganda to make HIV/Aids in the gay community a priority since the fact that we are already dying from diseases due to official neglect is as verifiable as it is indisputable. And what would be a better way to push the government to concede that gays in Uganda must be protected than to give them equal access to medical attention as well as specialized HIV care?
This is not happening because the focus in the West is on a bill that hasn’t been debated, hasn’t killed anyone yet, likely will not change the situation on the ground since, once passed, the law will be impossible to enforce. But it should really be on sick homosexual Ugandans who can’t trust the clinics available to them to keep their confidences, provide them with simple things such as lubricant or treat their sexually transmitted diseases without turning up their noses at them.
Any Ugandan gay man or woman will readily tell you about gay people they know of who have succumbed to HIV/Aids due to neglect and/or stigma which prevented them from seeking medical attention in time. I have blogged about a friend of mine, Raymond Kiwanuka, who was taken in that fashion. He wasn’t the first, and he certainly hasn’t been the last. Raymond suffered without support long before Bahati introduced his [Nazi] bill.
What I am arguing is that the HIV/Aids crisis in the gay community needs to be used as the vehicle to fight against discrimination and the Bahati Bill. Why? Because thus far, the ‘human rights’ “we are here, we are queer” message has remained nebulous, and its intentions unclear. So, it needs to be dressed up in clothes that both gay and straight Ugandans can identify with – the human element of health/wellness which is tangible to most Ugandans.
My friends, most of whom know I am gay and don’t care, often ask what I think are justifiable questions: what rights do Ugandan gays want? To march in the streets? To have parades in public parks? To hold seminars in hotels? To have sex in public? To discuss gay sex on radio and television? To take over mainstream bars and hang by the rafters? To have sex in private, something they are already doing? What?
Unless we put a human element to what we want, and I am totally convinced HIV/Aids/Health-Wellness is the perfect vehicle for this message, my friends can justifiably assume that we think we are more special than the millions of Ugandan women and children who have died over the years due to pregnancy and childbirth complications, but who don’t have friends in Stockholm or New York City, and have thus never had an advocate such as Hillary Clinton making threatening phone calls on their behalf to President Yoweri Museveni.
With that in mind, it might make for exciting water cooler discussions in America and Europe to claim that there is a violent anti-gay movement in Uganda. The evidence on the ground proves otherwise and that sort of exaggeration merely alienates our fellow Ugandans.
It’s time , I think, to retool our message to embrace the really pressing health/wellness issues affecting the gay Ugandans in the slums of Bwayise and Najjanankumbi. It might not be as jazzy, sexy, catchy or lucrative as the “we are here, we are queer” message, but I would bet cold, hard cash that is what the grassroots want.