The alarming developments in Uganda over the past month or so have unfortunately been utterly overshadowed by the ongoing crisis in Ukraine. The focus of international outrage is currently almost exclusively directed at Putin and his abandonment of any pretence of democracy, however, we must turn our gaze once more to what is happening right now in Uganda. There is a lesson to be learned here.
President Yoweri Museveni has now made homosexuality not only punishable by death, but has declared that all those who even condone or advocate it will be imprisoned, even tortured. This is not the first time the West has turned its back on the Ugandan people. Where were we during the bloody dictatorships of Milton Obote and Idi Amin, where were we when the LRA murdered tens of thousands and created their infamous child armies, where were we when Joseph Kony abducted thousands of children to become sex slaves? This is the ugly truth that, bar the odd flurry of public outrage, we simply ignore.
Of course we have expressed such outrage and shock at these blatant breaches of human rights in the past, but once again we only come up with half-hearted threats to suspend aid and ban trade. And once again, these threats are empty. Uganda is not only strategically important for military access into the conflict-ridden eastern regions of Africa, as well as a recently discovered source of oil, but the aid is actually essential (200,000 HIV victims are supported by US-funded treatments alone). This raises the moral dilemma of continuing to provide aid to a country openly prosecuting gay people, or withdrawing this aid in a boycott, but depriving millions of essential support.
What we must also come to terms with is our own role in facilitating international homophobia. Homosexuality is a crime in India, whose affirmation of a criminal ban was ‘frowned upon’ by the Obama administration but unchallenged. It is also banned in Saudi Arabia. Of course we would never do more than raise an eyebrow at this because of all that oil which is always at the heart of all Western interests. It has been argued that such antigay laws have actually been induced by the role of Western evangelists in advocating stringent Christian values, and we can’t really turn round now and pretend we have gone out of our way to oppose it. Whenever oil is involved, morality goes out the window.
We have no right to get all high and mighty now when we have effectively decided to turn a blind eye to the extreme homophobia of some of our most traditional allies. We can huff and puff all we like about what’s going on in Uganda, but all that’s really doing is making us look more and more hypocritical. The exact same thing is happening in Nigeria, but again, they are a valued trade partner and so we tend to look the other way. Yes, certain religions forbid homosexuality, but in this day and age, reason must prevail over such ancient and immoral values. Religion has made way for science and technology, there is absolutely no justifiable reason why it can’t incorporate homosexuality.
We must take a stand against this once and for all. Yes, emergency aid should never be suspended, however, sanctions can always be implemented. But such action must be consistent with all countries who advocate such inhumane anti-gay laws. If we pick and choose who we will punish, forever putting our own interests first, we have absolutely no right to maintain the air of having the moral high ground. British imperialism tore the majority of these countries apart, and the atrocities, prejudices and unrest we have left in our wake has scarred their histories forever.
Ultimately, we should be judged not by who we love, but, as Martin Luther King would say, by the content of our character.