We lost the momentum with that Hardtalk Museveni interview! 3

Anyone objective enough will have seen that the gay community were caught flat-footed when Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni gave that interview to Hardtalk’s Steven Sackur nearly two months ago. That was the interview in which Museveni categorically admitted that homosexuality is not a Western import, and that he is against the Bahati Nazi anti-gay bill that would have parents turn informant against their children.

The Ugandan gay community was caught out by those remarks because, of course, we have been arguing that Museveni is our enemy, together with David Bahati and all those other Neanderthals that have been making a living hounding gays in Uganda.

How do we get the initiative back?

In two ways:

First of all, we need homophobic religious leaders, parliamentarians, presidents in Africa to step up their loud-mouth-and-empty-mind attacks on gays as is happening in Liberia, Cameroon, Ghana and elsewhere.


Yes, you read that right; the last thing we want right now is a president  who steps to the plate and demands that gays are left well alone and his parliament falls into line.

I have always known that we have a lot to gain from overt homophobia and have said it a couple of times on this blog and elsewhere. It is gratifying to see that others in our own community are thinking along the same lines. Take this assessment from a gay Ugandan (Kay Kit) writing in another forum:

l don’t think heads of state should ever be relied on as strategic allies. A gay friendly president hardens the hearts of legislators and aggravates the attitudes of the nation sending gays behind their masks. A homophobic president tramples the rights of gays, creates ‘leftist’ legislators and steps up activism attracting local and international allies, changes perception of the nation, gays are encouraged to shade their masks and start living.

Save for the leftist legislators bit (African politicians are too cowardly, too selfish to turn left or right over anything other than money), this observer absolutely nails the point.

It’s the age-old adage of stealing one’s clothes – if you realize that your opponent might have a platform that may give him political traction at your expense, you co-opt it. Take the Greens in Europe. They grew into a portent political force in the mid to late 80s in Europe thanks to a one-track message about saving the environment. But then the mainstream parties also started talking “green” politics, which took the wind out of the Greens’ sails.

Robert Mugabe [has led to] greater understanding of homosexuality across Zimbabwe [since] he declared us worse than pigs and dogs … I don’t know any more effective activism than that! Our own [Martin Ssempa] seems to have borrowed a leaf!

In Africa, Yoweri Museveni has, whether it was by design or not, done precisely that sort of “thunder stealing.” He is on record on more than three occasions telling the world that gays have always been part of the African fabric – “we just didn’t talk about it, nor did we persecute them, ” he told Stephen Sackur. He then went ahead to again distance himself from the Bahati Nazi anti-gay bill that Uganda’s parliament is trying to revive.

Since that interview, Museveni cannot credibly be called a homophobic president. Yes, he has not joined the pro-gay camp but he has managed to render absurd the notion that he favors the persecution of gays in Uganda. I wouldn’t presume to know the man’s mind but Museveni successfully managed to leave us grasping at straws with that interview.

“But the bill is still in Parliament!” we can continue protesting lamely.

True, but in a Parliamentary democracy, the president is not the Parliament, is he? Even if he was (which he used to be until fairly recently when his own MPs rebelled), how can anyone who believes in democracy demand that Parliament muzzles itself simply because the debate to hand rubs them up the wrong way?  When, anyway, has debate ever hurt anyone? If we demand that Museveni intervenes to stop Parliament from debating the bill, won’t that be the exact type of dictatorship our friends in the West constantly warn African presidents against?

Simon Lokodo, Uganda’s Minister of Ethics, made precisely this point when he pronounced that the parliamentary process wouldn’t be interfered with. And he was right.

So, what should we do?

That brings me to the second way we can wrestle the initiative back.

We should stop pretending that Museveni is still our enemy, take the ‘I am not for the bill’ morsel he has thrown our way and push the battle lines forward by demanding even more from him.

Okay, Mr. President. You are not for the Nazi anti-gay bill. But we have an even bigger elephant in the room, one that you can do something about without going on Hardtalk.

Before the Nazi anti-gay bill is debated on the floor of Parliament, gay Ugandans are being discriminated against in the battle against HIV. Your own health ministry officials have acknowledged that 18,000 men who have sex with men (MSM) who are HIV positive are being ignored. Yes, that includes men who are married to women but who also sleep with men in secret, but we are not going to split hairs over that now, are we?

12% of all the 150,000 new HIV cases in 2011 were of MSM, Mr. President. but there is no program in Uganda to address their medical needs. What are you going to do about that?

Imagine the president taking up the HIV/Aids for MSM cry in Uganda while Parliament is debating the judicial murder of those self-same MSM. That would make for excellent political theater, wouldn’t it?

More to the point, it would hand the political initiative back to the gay community who will now be seen as victims that the president is trying to save from a Parliament determined to kill them using infectious disease and the law.