Locating Neocolonialism, "Tradition," and Human Rights in Uganda's "Gay Death Penalty"

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The Case of Gender-Based Violence: Assessing the Impact of International Human Rights Rhetoric on African Lives

Abstract:

In 2009, the Anti-Homosexuality Bill introduced in Uganda's Parliament reignited homophobic sentiment across Africa. Despite a well-documented history of sexual diversity in Africa, claims that homosexuality is "un-African" are being used to justify violence and exclusion. This article, based primarily on a discursive analysis of public media sources, delves into various cultural logics that reveal the tensions and contradictions in Ugandans' widespread opposition to homosexuality. U.S. evangelical influence, postcolonial amnesia in regard to "tradition," fertility concerns, and human rights exceptionalism drive this moral panic over issues of sexual diversity. Such sentiments must be addressed by confronting neocolonial religious influence and cultivating renewed respect for human rights and Africa's history of sexual diversity.

Résumé: En 2009, la présentation d'un projet de loi anti-homosexualité dans le parlement ougandais a rallumé un sentiment d'homophobie à travers le pays. En dépit d'un historique bien documenté sur la diversité sexuelle en Afrique, des revendications déclarant que l'homosexualité va à rencontre de "l'identité africaine" sont utilisées pour justifier des actes de violence et d'exclusion. En se basant principalement sur une analyse discursive de sources provenant des media publiques, cet article étudie de manière approfondie les différentes logiques culturelles qui révèlent les tensions et contradictions émanant de l'opposition généralisée des ougandais contre l'homosexualité. L'influence évangéliste américaine, l'amnésie postcoloniale de la "tradition," les problèmes de fertilité, et la création d'exceptions concernant les droits de l'homme sont les moteurs principaux de cette panique morale concernant la question de diversité sexuelle. De tels sentiments doivent être remis en question en confrontant l'influence religieuse néocoloniale et l'encouragement d'un respect renouvelé pour les droits de l'homme et l'historique de la diversité sexuelle en Afrique.

In the fall of 2009, Ugandan Member of Parliament David Bahati introduced a bill proposing tighter strictures on homosexuality. Though sodomy laws already existed in Uganda in the 1950 Penal Code and the 1995 Constitution, the bill proposed further measures, such as the provision that a person could be put to death for "aggravated homosexuality" - meaning die commission of a same-sex act with a minor, family member, or disabled person - or in cases in which the "aggressor" is HrV-positive (BBC News 2009). Further, the bill would make it obligatory for people who "discover" that another person is gay to act as an informant to the police. Those who failed to do so would face jail time.

Dubbed Uganda's "gay death penalty, the Anti-Homosexuality Bill quickly gained media attention in Europe and the U.S., whose own "culture wars" raged over the question of gay marriage and military service. The U.K. and the U.S. expressed "grave concern" about the harsh penalties in the bill, and Sweden threatened to pull all donor funding from Uganda if the bill passed into law. In March 2010 Parliament was presented with petitions with hundreds of thousands of signatures protesting the bill, mostly signed by foreigners but well supported by Ugandan activists. But mass demonstrations in support of the bill also occurred in Kampala and Jinja, and Ugandan pastors showed gay pornography in their churches to incite violent sentiments against homosexuals. Finally, a parliamentary review committee tabled the bill in May 2010, claiming that it was weak and redundant in the context of existing laws (see Muhumuza 2010). Nevertheless, the bill became the iconic instigator of a wave of African homophobia. Debate over homosexuality - and violence against LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, and intersex) people - continues, spreading beyond Uganda's borders to other countries in Africa. …