For this particular blog, I will share a post from my good friend and colleague from Uganda, Pepe Julian Onziema. In the light of the wave of regression in general respect of human rights in African nations, it is important to note that LGBT rights are not an isolation from the wider human rights discourse.
Citizens continue to be used as pawns in political wars, stripped off rights and attention shifted form pertinent issues. Emotionally charged citizens are hoodwinked by corrupt governments from questioning the biting unaccountability, insecurity, ethnic and tribal violence, terrorism and terror militia, and crippling economies. The healthcare system, education system and basic infrastructure is in shambles. Aid from development partners is misappropriated and never serves the citizens, for whom it is intended for in the first place.
Yet, above all these, legislators and heads of state place “morals” and “religion” and “African chastity” as top of the list on Africa’s ails. The Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni signed into law, an Anti-Homosexuality Act (AHL), and an Anti-Pornography Act. The latter bans miniskirts and other clothing deemed to be sexually explicit. The AHL criminalizes homosexuality with life imprisonment.
The Ugandan citizens have now gone rogue. They have forgotten that most families cannot afford three meals a day; they have forgotten that their children cannot go to school because there are either no schools in their area or no teachers; they have forgotten that thousands of women and their newborns are dying everyday; they forget that terror militia are terrorizing them, taking their young ones for child soldiers, raping and killing the women. Instead, they are ‘policing’ adults private lives, stripping women in the streets for apparently ‘dressing indecently’, raping and groping them, enriching rogue tabloid owners who are printing pictures and names of alleged homosexuals.
And the wave is now spreading to other African states ……Kenya, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Cameroon, Senegal, Ethiopia, Nigeria…..I weep for my continent. Below is Pepe’s piece.
Divide and Rule: A Resounding Success
When she entered the house, my sister didn’t speak. She was heaving and couldn’t or wouldn’t answer when I asked her what the matter was. She simply fell into my arms and wept.
A boda boda (motorbike taxi) man stopped outside our house and inquired with concern in his voice, “Is she OK?” He hadn’t finished narrating what had happened when I started to run down the now dark road to the stage where I found the two men he’d described. I arrived back home with my share of pain, but I’d drawn blood. I’d shoved these men into a world of disarray, not similar to the emotional and physical ugliness they had imposed on my sister by pushing her around and touching her inappropriately, but it was something.
That’s why I can barely stand the stories, the many trauma-filled stories that came into being the moment the Anti-Pornography Act was signed. They trigger a helpless, dangerous rage and I don’t want to end up killing or getting killed on the streets of Kampala.
The media has incredible power in this country. In a society where most of us are illiterate, we rely on radio stations and local newspapers to guide trends, feelings, reactions. Almost all of our media houses chose to focus on an irrelevant and sensationalist angle. Instead of the act making a story for the media, the media took creative license and made a story out of the act.
Our police aren’t helpful either. Yesterday, an initiative called End Miniskirt Harassment in conjunction with CEDOVIP organized a press conference to protest the sexual abuse and molestation of women under the guise of undressing them for being indecent. They were supposed to march from Makerere but police took away their permission at the last minute. Their protest and conference was peaceful, held in the beautiful gardens of national theater but that didn’t stop two trucks full of police from parking outside, simply itching for a reason to break things up. The day before, Patience Akumu, one of the organizers was beaten by a policeman called Anywar right at the police station where she had gone to get permission for the above gathering.
How are police going to react to rape cases in the light of this mass misinterpretation of the law? It would seem like Kibuule’s desire for police to inquire about the fashion choices of rape victims has indirectly come to pass.
Although this act doesn’t mention clothes and leaves indecency to a very wide interpretation, Lokodo went on national TV and said, “The police are already equipped with the parameters for determining those who offend the law; and these are already clear, the way in which one talks, dresses or walks which is deemed provocative or likely to cause sexual excitement. Anything that stirs, … provokes unnecessary sensitivity…”
The way I see it, it’s like we have given fathers a go ahead to be perverts. How many stories do we hear about fathers taking advantage of their daughters? How about now when they can use their warped understanding of the act as an excuse to molest, defile, rape their children with impunity?
Children are also less self-conscious when it comes to nakedness and clothing. With this ambiguous law, has Lokodo just handed little girls and boys over to pedophiles? It wouldn’t be surprising as he did tell Stephen Fry that he would prefer defilement to homosexuality because “at least it is the normal way of desiring sex.”
Uganda’s leaders are using rule of law to turn citizens against each other. They have succeeded in creating a tribalism that festers under the surface or our pleasant hello, how are yous. And now they are turning men against women, the population against homosexuals (do you recall how they deliberately misinterpreted their scientists’ findings about homosexuality?). In this patriarchal society where males are charged with a protective role, they have turned many of us into the kind of monsters we are expected to protect women from.
Let’s discuss the economic implications of this bill. Most of the men abusing women are boda boda men and yet most of the people who use boda bodas in Kampala are women. How will women be comfortable using bodas when they are being harangued by the men who ride them? Haven’t these men just lost a reliable customer base?
People send their children to school on bodas. How are we to trust our daughters with these men anymore? Even a formerly trustworthy fellow could have turned into a blood-thirsty misogynist overnight.
When it comes to our action as human rights activists against this noxious act, we have been failures. We all believe our causes are different. “If it doesn’t affect me, I don’t care”, we say. And yet all injustices are interlinked and one person can suffer more than one kind of injustice.
We didn’t take this bill seriously and now it is an act ruining the lives of women due to media induced hysteria. When are we going to act?