A draconian anti-gay bill has failed to pass through parliament in Uganda.
The bill was originally presented in 2009 and put aside after international controversy. It was resubmitted earlier this year, but ran out of time as the parliamentary session finished on 13 May.
The proposed law states that someone convicted of having gay sex could face the death penalty. Anyone who did not report “homosexual activity” would face three years in prison.
The bill has created a climate of fear. One tabloid published photos and addresses of suspected LGBT people under the headline “Hang them”. Many were attacked.
This year the bill was supported by a petition signed by two million people. The Ugandan press has been full of scare stories about homosexuals “recruiting”.
Even under existing laws homosexuality is illegal.
The government is using the spread of prejudice to distract the public from its own failed policies.
Food and fuel prices have risen more than 30 percent in the past year resulting in mass protests.
President Yoweri Museveni, who has been in power 25 years, says there is no money because of the recession—but he has spent £500 million on new fighter jets.
The government has used violence against demonstrators, but hasn’t yet managed to drive them off the streets.
The blogger Gay Uganda writes, “The citizens of Uganda are simply more concerned about the rising prices of food, and the deteriorating human rights situation.
“Their homophobia is a reflex which the government wants to use. But it is not likely to work.”
Commentators on both left and right sometimes portray Africans as inherently anti-gay. African nationalists often present homosexuality as a European import. But there is plenty of evidence of homosexual customs before colonisation.
Current laws are based on those introduced by British colonialists.
The real threat to ordinary Ugandans comes from the politics behind the bill. Anti-gay ideas are being actively pushed across Africa by right wing evangelical groups from the US. And their homophobic ideas are closely bound up with an array of neoliberal politics.
David Bahati MP, who proposed the bill, built links with such groups when he worked in the US.
This is where the dog-eat-dog neoliberalism of the US conservative right meets the restructuring policies of the International Monetary Fund.