Uganda: global homophobia and its impact on foreign affairs


After weeks of waiting on so-called scientific research on the subject to arrive, Ugandan president, Yoweri Museveni, announced that he plans to sign sweeping anti-gay legislation first introduced in 2009 and passed by parliament last December.
When introduced in 2009, the law carried the death penalty for anyone found guilty of practicing, as the law states it, "aggravated homosexuality." In a not entirely surprising move, the president declined to sign the bill, stating that there were not enough members of parliament present when the vote was taken. Unfortunately, at a recent party conference, Museveni announced that after hearing about the "serious health consequences" of homosexuality that he would likely sign the bill.
Western countries such as the United Kingdom, Germany and the United States have repeatedly made it known to the Ugandan government that the bill could pose a threat to Uganda's relations with the rest of the world. This is notable since Uganda receives large amounts of foreign aid from countries in both Western Europe and North America, four hundred million dollars from the United States alone.
For a country with a life expectancy of less than 55 and with an illiteracy rate of nearly 50 percent, many outside Uganda see the move as political calculation by Museveni to draw support from what is known to be a widely conservative electorate in a widely conservative country.
Whether international pressure from the West will make Museveni change his mind is yet to be seen. US President, Barack Obama stated that the law was quote "a huge step backward," saying that the bill would threaten bilateral relations between the two countries if passed.
Leaders from Europe have also made similar statements in opposition to the law, most notably in the case of an open letter signed by more than 100 British members of Parliament. Whether or not the bill will actually be signed is still up in the air. In the past, statements from the West, especially from its former colonial master Britain, have only increased the resolve of Ugandan leaders to protect what they see as traditional African values.
The irony of this is that these values were only imported into the country during the colonial period. Unfortunately this situation is not unique to Uganda. Large numbers of African nations already have criminalized homosexuality. This is in stark contrast to a Western world that has seen support for gay rights skyrocket in the last decade.
The reality is that in many parts of Africa, political leaders continue to make use of social issues such as gay rights to distract their constituents from the real economic and political problems their country's face. In the United States, a country that has seen its fair share of conflict over this very issue, we can at least take comfort in the progress we've made so far.
While Greencastle, Indiana may seem remote when speaking about Uganda, a country that most Americans would have a hard time pointing out on a map, in this increasingly globalized world, what matters in one country really does matter to all the rest, including the United States.

-Weber is a sophomore history major from Fort Wayne, Ind.