African business, politics and lifestyle
Uganda gays feel threatened by bill
Being gay or lesbian in Uganda is illegal and those who are risk being locked away for up to 14 years. Now, a new parliamentary bill wants gay people to face even stiffer penalties and is proposing life imprisonment and even death sentences in some cases.
Pepe Julia Onziema and her partner, who asked that her identity be hidden, spend most of their time together — indoors. They are a lesbian couple living in Uganda where homosexuality is against the law. Pepe is also a gay rights activist in Kampala and is openly vocal about her sexuality and because of that she is often victim to discrimination and harassment.
“Myself I am at risk,” Onziema told Reuters Africa Journal “I can’t move on the streets as I used to, I can’t go to a shop … I have been picked off the streets, detained for sometime, ridiculed, intimidated, some money taken away from my wallet…”
David Bahati, an MP for Uganda’s ruling party, proposed the bill. “Homosexuality has become a huge issue in this country we know that it is not our values, it” not Ugandan, it’s a threat to our traditional family and the children of Uganda…”
The bill has the support of many Ugandans. Anti gay protests have been used to support the bill. The reaction from the west and human rights activists has been the opposite. Donors — who fund about a third of Uganda’s budget, have been piling on the pressure to get leaders to shelve the bill.
Yoweri Museveni, President of Uganda, said recently: “When I was at the Commonwealth conference, the Prime Minister of Canada came to see me and what was he talking about? Gays, Prime Minister Gordon Brown came to see me and what was he talking about? Gays, when I go to New York when I was coming back, Assistant Secretary Carson rang me, what was he ringing to talk about? Somalia and gays.”
The bill also targets straight Ugandans who will face up to 7 years in prison for withholding information about homosexuals.
According to the International Lesbian and Gay Association, the African continent is still largely against homosexuality. It is illegal in 36 countries.
South Africa is seen as the most tolerant. In 2006, it became the first African country to legalize gay civil unions. The constitution protects gays from discrimination and same-sex couples are even allowed to adopt children.
In Malawi, one gay couple has grabbed international attention lately. Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Steven Monjeza were arrested after they married in a traditional ceremony in December last year. Homosexuality is banned here and carries a maximum prison sentence of 14 years.
Uganda’s anti-gay bill goes into its second reading in February. Lawmakers may soften the punishment but they maintain that homosexuality is a crime. Lesbians and gays across the continent now face a fight to practice their sexuality freely.