By Olive Mukahirwa

Pressure on Uganda over anti-homosexuality law 

International advocates are calling on President Yoweri Museveni not to sign an anti-homosexuality law that was passed almost unanimously by Uganda’s parliament in March.  U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken condemned the law, saying that it threatens human rights, and requested Uganda to not move forward. Amnesty International called on Museveni not to sign the law, calling it a “grave assault” on LGBTQ+ people. Volker Türk, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, asked Museveni not to approve the anti-homosexuality law, saying that it might be the most discriminatory of such documents in the world, and passage would seriously set back the development of the country. “If it is promulgated, (this law) will make lesbians, homosexuals and bisexuals, criminals in Uganda by the simple fact of existing … This could give a white card to the systematic violation of almost all their human rights,” he said. Andrew Mitchell, the British Minister for Africa, said he was very surprised that the parliament had approved the bill. 

According to Al Jazeera, of 389 total members of the Ugandan parliament, only two voted against the law, which carries a possible sentence of life imprisonment for anyone convicted of homosexual acts or the promotion of homosexuality, and capital punishment for a person who is found seropositive for HIV following sexual relations with a person of the same sex. Museveni, who has been in power for 37 years, is well-known for his adherence to traditional Ugandan values. In the past he has instituted bans of various sorts against homosexuality, including against media coverage relating to homosexuality.  

Africa News reported that Museveni recently said the issue of homosexuality is not urgent in his eyes, and he wants to maintain good global relations. In 2014, the Ugandan Court suspended a bill which imposed a life sentence for people convicted of homosexuality. That bill was approved by the parliament and signed by Museveni. But passage shook diplomatic relations, and some rich countries froze their aid to Uganda. Presumably, Museveni is eager to avoid a repeat of that experience. 

Beyond Uganda 

Nearly half of the world’s countries outlawing homosexuality are in Africa, according to a 2020 global review by the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, and Intersex Association (ILGA). In some countries in Africa, homosexuality is punishable by imprisonment. Some countries do not explicitly prohibit homosexuality, but it remains a taboo. Most LGBT+ people in Africa live in a state of permanent anxiety. In 2006, South Africa became the first country on the continent to legalize same-sex marriage. Botswana revoked the outlawing of homosexuality in 2019.  

Three African countries – or states within these countries – have laws on the books allowing capital punishment for homosexuality. These three are Mauritania, Nigeria, and Somalia. According to the U.S. Department of State, Mauritania’s constitution defines the country as an Islamic republic and recognizes Islam as the sole religion of its citizenry and the state. Mauritania’s penal code requires death by stoning for men convicted of consensual homosexual activity – however the last time this penalty was imposed was 1984.  

Nigeria is roughly evenly divided between Muslims and Christians, and several northern states have adopted sharia. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom states that the maximum punishment for homosexuality in these states is the death penalty, while the maximum penalty for such acts between women is whipping and/or imprisonment. Sentences may be appealed in civil courts. 

 Somalian law, according to the U.S. State Department, “criminalizes ‘carnal intercourse with a person of the same sex’ with a penalty of three months’ to three years’ imprisonment, although no official reports of enforcement were available. Under local interpretations of sharia, homosexuality is punishable by death. There were no known state-conducted executions during the year under this law; however, there were accounts over the past decade of militant Islamist groups such as al-Shabaab killing men extrajudicially for alleged homosexual acts. In Somaliland, the situation was largely the same.”