On the 5th of May 2021, Uganda passed the Sexual Offences, Bill. This Bill was initially introduced in 2018 and the vision human rights activists had was that it would decriminalize sex work, decriminalize same-sex relations, criminalize sexual harassment, and create a clear legal definition of consent. What was passed this month was far from the progressive document non-profits were lobbying towards. The Bill reinstated that both same-sex relations and sex work are illegal and will be met with criminal sanctions of up to ten years.
Additionally, members of parliament stated that once a sexual act has started consent cannot be withdrawn. What has been most concerning about the passing of this and many others in Africa during the COVID-19 pandemic, at a time gathering are limited and public consultations as prescribed by most law-making processes are impossible to hold. African dictators have used the pandemic regulations to pass arbitrary/questionable laws while citizens are preoccupied with the difficulties of living in low-income regions without aid from governments. A clear example of this is Zimbabwe that has now made several amendments to The Marriages Bill (which also contains an anti-gay clause). The Bill will affect the entire composition of family law, how women are allocated property at divorce or death, and yet amendments continue to be made without the input of the people.
This is all happening at a time a constitutional amendment has been enacted to arbitrarily increase the Presidential term and broaden the President’s power to make decisions that affect both the Executive and the Judiciary. It is no surprise that the legislatures in both countries would be committing similar transgressions given the common history of corruption culture, state violence, and decades of dictatorship that have tanked international relations, economic growth, and progressive views. The state of these countries and several others on the African continent has left the most vulnerable groups in unprecedented marginalization.
Prior to COVID-19, the LGBTQI community has struggled with employment, home displacement, interpersonal and state violence. Now at a time when the average African person across age is the subject of lack of access to healthcare, competent law enforcement, and justice through the formal justice system, it is unimaginable to most what queer people face in addition to their typical lived experience in Africa. There are several non-profits working in both countries and now more than ever it is important to fund grassroots organizations making a difference at the community level.
While national-level organizations do plenty of work, they also have stricter parameters and rules on how to use funding and implement projects. Occasionally, this results in poorly targeted programming that does not address their true lived experiences, such as inviting the queer community to dialogues and events, when what they need is shelter and legal aid for targetted prosecution. Grassroots work creates a level community where the output of programs does not only show in statistics and numbers but in the improved quality of life and validated existence of those most ignored yet most violated. Uganda and Zimbabwe are only a drop in the ocean of the humanitarian crises seen in Africa. We have reached a point of asking whether the change will come or if donor funding is the only saving Africa will get.