2012 is behind us so it is time to think about what to expect in 2013. On occasions like this, it’s best to let one’s mind wander and not try to be terribly structured.
2012 is a year Uganda’s Speaker of Parliament, Rebecca Kadaga, will not look back on with unbridled pleasure. When she rose to the post of Speaker in 2011, Kadaga mounted and rode a wave of public disgruntlement against Yoweri Museveni’s tired, uncaring, thieving, bungling administration, and impressed even die-hard skeptics, such as yours truly, with her crusading zeal to put “country first.” Openly warring with Museveni’s Squealer-like puppet, Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi, Kadaga emboldened the ruling NRM caucus in Parliament and hitherto docile parliamentarians started asking pointed questions about their own government’s wanton corruption, fecklessness, lack of new ideas and drift.
Rebecca Kadaga was repelled by Amama Mbabazi
Alas, Kadaga then came a-cropper when she was lured into consorting with convicted felons over the Bahati [Nazi]Anti-Gay Bill. She promised the bill to Martin Ssempa who had just been convicted of fabricating sodomy evidence against a rival pastor – for Christmas – and then failed to deliver it. Thanks to events running away from Kadaga, time run out on the Bahati [Nazi) Bill in 2012, not least because the President, who we all know is against the bill, chose to use up an entire afternoon the bill could have been debated to indulge in … gossip. Kadaga thus lost her last opportunity in 2012 to deliver her [Nazi] Christmas gift to Martin Ssempa and with it went her credibility where political maneuvering is concerned.
Museveni: took up precious Parliamentary time in December to “gossip”
Kadaga got a political bloody nose in 2012, which the death of her octogenarian father did not help. She will come back again in 2013, and you can expect her to continue making noises about this and that. She has, however, already showed that she is prone to moving her political chess pieces without a lot of thought and will, going forward, struggle to maintain her moral high ground given her failure to deliver on what should have been an easy bill to pass in 2012. She of course, should be advised to steer her office clear of political controversy as well as be more discreet about her political ambitions, but only time will tell whether she is willing to play a more subtle form of politics.
The faces of gay Uganda: Frank Mugisha & Kasha Nabagesera
2012 has been a spectacularly successful year for Ugandan gay rights activists, thanks largely to events that have been driven by others. To the activists’ direct credit, 2012 saw Uganda’s first ever gay pride march in Entebbe which was eventually broken up by the police. Yours truly doesn’t believe in such things as pride marches because they go against his sensibilities. But it is not lost on him that parades serve a useful ‘public awareness’ purpose especially when activism is faced with boorish, foolish, intemperate, obtuse and tactless foes such as Uganda’s current Minister of Ethics and Integrity, defrocked Catholic priest Simon Lokodo.
Lokodo should really have known to leave activists well alone when they met in hotels and public gardens because, of course, they were doing no harm even if they didn’t have the right to assemble which they did. But, no, he kept on charging in there, likely tipped off by someone inside the gay camp on at least one occasion, like a bull in a China store which of course played right into the gay advocates’ hands. Still, even after conferences were disrupted and a couple of gay-themed plays were stymied, one got the feeling that the gay debate in Uganda had stalled, that the public weren’t interested in it. The activists’ tactics on the ground weren’t really producing the kind of impact they wanted.
A lot of Ugandans on Facebook clearly need an education
All that changed of course when John Baird confronted Rebecca Kadaga in Quebec in late October. The furor that incident unleashed reverberated around the world, thanks to Kadaga’s intemperate, impolitic and, dare one say it, totally over-the-top response when she returned home.
So, due to foreign intervention, the last three months of 2012 have generated some of the most heated debates around homosexuality Uganda has ever witnessed – on local radio, in the papers, and most especially on social media in cyberspace. Baird’s harangue thus proved to be a godsend to the limping gay cause in Uganda in ways he likely didn’t expect.
Where to next? The Bahati bill remains in Parliament and will be passed by Parliament if it is debated regardless of what local activists and our friends abroad do. So, the way forward is to find a way for the bill not to be debated on the floor of Parliament or to prepare for a constitutional challenge if it is passed.
My own feeling is that the bill should be debated and passed so that it can be challenged in the courts. This would serve to take it out of the political arena and, hopefully, draw a line under the [mostly cynical] jockeying by both friends and detractors which has helped shape public debate, yes, but which has also left the core issues unresolved.
A lot of well-schooled Ugandans remain astonishingly illiterate on the homosexuality issue and so need an education. Raising the debate to a more intellectual, highbrow, legal, level will give a lot of our brothers and sisters who have gone to school but remain ignorant a different, less hysterical and/or hackneyed perspective.
The other reason this issue needs to go to court is precedent; the gay side in Uganda has never lost a legal ruling in the three or four times gay activists have taken our enemies to court in the recent past. With such great odds, I would bet my last cent that the Bahati Bill would be ruled unconstitutional in less time than it takes to say “bigoted.” But first it has to be passed for the courts to consider any challenges.
Is flaunting it at parades what we are after?
The activists on the ground should also continue to expect questions about what exactly they want to achieve. I have asked the questions and continue to hear them being asked by others in more muted tones.
Are they looking for acceptance in Uganda? If so, what form should it take? Is it about gay marriage? Every sinew in my body tells me it shouldn’t be and I haven’t heard any Ugandan activist argue that marriage is what it’s about so we can dismiss that line of thought. Or can we?
Is it about gay men and women being allowed to love each other freely (in private) in Uganda? What about those, like yours truly, who feel we are already doing that in the broad context of the inhibited sexual sensibilities in Uganda?
Is it about putting it out there, on the airwaves, in public parks, in bars and on the streets as one sees in San Fransisco’s Castro District? If so, how do we hope to cut and paste that model into a country like Uganda where heterosexuals frown upon flaunting their own relationships?
Or is it about attaining equal access to social services such as HIV/Aids treatment and other health and wellness programs which heterosexuals already take for granted?
Is it about lifting the confidence of gay men and women all over the country to believe in themselves enough to pool together to set up gay venues (bars, clubs etc) that they call their own?
In other words, with and without help from our friends abroad, for whom and for what are we making all this noise in the press, in conferences around the world, in dramatic stage productions, on podiums accepting accolades, in television debates with a lunatic Martin Ssempa?
If the struggle is not really about those who front it, because most struggles are usually larger than those who front them, do those we assume to be representing really know what it is we are trying to do for them, and have they bought into the agenda we espouse? How have we ensured that they are on board with what we are trying to achieve?
If we were to take a poll of gay Ugandans today, how confident are we that they would all be able to say in one sentence what gay activism in Uganda is about?
What will the matrix of success following all this gay activism in Uganda be? What will need to happen (and to whom) in order for us to say that the gay struggle in Uganda has succeeded?
When I speak to gay men and women from all walks of life in Uganda, I get the impression that those are the broad questions whose answers they still want clearly articulated.
The communication chasm between leaders and led still needs to be bridged.