Kampala Is Gay, Warm - but Uganda's Law Will Freeze Your Heart

Cape Times (South Africa), May 16, 2014 | Go to article overview

Kampala Is Gay, Warm - but Uganda's Law Will Freeze Your Heart


BYLINE: Andrew Brown

I feel more than a little sheepish as I sit barefoot, watched by passers-by with stifled laughs as my sore feet are scrubbed by an effeminate young man. But curiosity has the better of me. And my feet hurt.

Kampala is a city of friendly anarchy. The clubs and bars, like the roads, seethe with people, sexuality and chaos. Its citizens appear to not have discovered sleep and the city remains in a heady and constant state of animation: the unregulated traffic is perpetual, the food vendors and shebeens permanently open for business, the music turned to maximum. It's exhilarating and exhausting.

And yet beneath the gaiety lurks the legacy of one of Africa's very worst leaders - Idi Amin. The army and police still reign supreme, laws are irrational, the censure for disobedience erratic but brutal. The officials pass by, with reflective sunglasses and sub-machine guns, awaiting their opportunities.

My chaperone tells me that Uganda faces a worsening crisis with its elderly: traditionally the aged will remain on their land to die, looked after by younger family members.

But as existing cultures come under pressure, more young people choose to leave their communities for the cities, abandoning the elderly in a country where the state provides little (if anything) for them. She tells me she is looking for funding for a fledgling NGO that will look to assist the elderly in their rural homes.

"But the funders are all pulling out because they are against all the new laws."

President Yoweri Museveni's government has introduced strict dress code laws (the "no miniskirts" law, which in fact means no bare skin on a woman above the knee) and the vicious anti-gay laws. It is the latter that has evoked the ire of many Western funders.

Ask Ugandans about the miniskirt law and you are faced with howls of derision and humour. And fairly open protest. Women wear long coats and strip down outside the clubs. Many simply ignore the prohibition altogether. Museveni is an old man, my host says dismissively, as if this explains his ridiculous legislation.

But ask about the anti-gay laws and the response is muted: "Andrew, this homosexuality... it is not our culture. You are from South Africa. You don't understand." Damn right I don't.

Often in African cultures, even in Westernised cities, men will hold hands when walking together. It is an endearing and soft side of our often harsh continent. But I see none of it on the streets in Kampala today.

"No, they won't do that any more," she says. …

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